Friday, February 02, 2007

Genealogy and Chronology in Egypt

An excellent article by Harav Yaacov Meidan that discusses the population growth of the Jews in Egypt and the chronological difficulties it entails (link). I particularly enjoyed the piece because it dovetailed beautifully with a similar argument I advanced here.


Yehuda said...

Nice article, thanks for the link. Check out my newest post - it has a really amazing link to the text of R' D.T. Hoffman's commentaries on Breishit and Dvarim.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

I had already checked it out before receiving your email. I tried to comment on your blog but haloscan decided to have my words for lunch. I have no idea how you find these things, but it is a great public service to share them. Ata Yoducha Ahecha, Yadcha b'Oref Oyvecha.

avakesh said...

Once you suggest that the list of generations is only a partial list, how do you reject an interpretation such as that of N. Sarna who claims that the list of generations between Adam and Noach is also a partial list and that the fantastically long lifespans are simply an attempt on the part of later editors to make a partial list make sense for the number of years that they found recorded. Shdal's explanation opens the door to much more radical interpetations.

Why couldn't each woman have an average of 12 children? Each generation is 14 years - from birth to first baby. The population would double much faster then.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

In a previous post on this blog, which I linked to in this post, I argue that Sarna is in fact substantially correct in his assumption that the genealogies of Beresheet are not comprehensive. However, I see no need to assume that the long lifespans of people before the Flood are not literal. In fact, Kenneth Kitchen cites evidence that shows that all Ancient Near East histories stated that people enjoyed extraordinarily long lives before the Deluge, and that the more modest life expectancies of today gradually became the norm after the flood. The convergence of traditions on this point supports the notion that they reflect factual reality.

I don't see any problem per se with assuming that the women had so many children. But Rav Meidan's explanation seems smoother because it resolves several difficulties simultaneously.

littlefoxling said...


Very nice, if we take as a premise that these questions need to have answers. But, what if we don’t?

What both you and Rav Meidan have essentially done is advance interpretations in verses that are extremely far fetched. In order to justify these interpretations you have presnted a mountain of evidence against the simple meaning of the text. I don’t doubt the great size of your evince. It is quite compelling at all points. But, given that I see your interpretations as very weak reads in the verses, to me, the logical conclusion is not that you have an accurate understanding of the text, but rather that the text is flawed.

In order to advance my viewpoint, I don’t need to start quoting fancy verses from all over Tanach, I just need to quote the verses in question. For example,

וּבְנֵי קְהָת--עַמְרָם וְיִצְהָר, וְחֶבְרוֹן וְעֻזִּיאֵל

It’s quite clear. Kehas was Amram’s father. Period. And, it would be bad enough of this happened once. But, Rav Meidan is forced to, by his own admission, do this sort of rereading into countless verses.

But, of course, a broader view on the Torah only makes Rav Meidan’s position weaker.

1. The lineage of Levi, Nachson, and Machir are repeated numerous times. Rav Median does not merely need to reinterpret one or two chapter, but explain why consistently some generations are left out again and again in many different families

2. As Josh Waxman . (I couldn’t find the post now) pointed out, Ex 2:1

וַיֵּלֶךְ אִישׁ, מִבֵּית לֵוִי; וַיִּקַּח, אֶת-בַּת-לֵוִי

In conjunction with Ex 6:20

וַיִּקַּח עַמְרָם אֶת-יוֹכֶבֶד דֹּדָתוֹ, לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה,

suggests that Amram was indeed Levi’s grandson.

3. I am admittedly quite ignorant about these things, but from what I am told, even if we assume that the Exodus was 210 years, the dates place the avos in an era that is too early for them. A 430 year Exodus only complicates matters. Though, admittedly I am quite ignorant of these matters and am anyway skeptical as to if archeologists have a clue.

I would disagree equally with your application of this idea.


וַיְחִי-שֵׁת, חָמֵשׁ שָׁנִים וּמְאַת שָׁנָה; וַיּוֹלֶד, אֶת-אֱנוֹשׁ

For example is quite explicit that in fact Shes was Enosh’s father.

2. Once again, this lineage is repeated elsewhere (divrie Hayamim) with no changes

3. If Shes was Enosh’s grandfather or great – grandfather, what is meant by

וַיְחִי-שֵׁת, חָמֵשׁ שָׁנִים וּמְאַת שָׁנָה; וַיּוֹלֶד, אֶת-אֱנוֹשׁ

What happened at age 105? If it means that was his age of giving birth to his son, it reads quite poorly

4. It’s clear that the generations from Adam to Noah are meant to be parallel to the generations from Adam to Lemech

, אֱנוֹשׁ. ב קֵינָן מַהֲלַלְאֵל, יָרֶד. ג חֲנוֹךְ מְתוּשֶׁלַח, לָמֶךְ


אָדָם קַיִן חֲנוֹךְ עִירָד מְחוּיָאֵל מְתוּשָׁאֵל לָמֶך

With Adam taking the place of Enosh (since Enosh = man). Now, if we are to assume that Kain lived all the way till the birth of tuval kain, that would imply that at least those generations are not skipping any. Though, I’ll concede there’s nothing in the text that implies that though it is generally assumed. In any event, your 10 generations are not relevant there and presumably the parallelism suggests the same basic structure in each case.

5. The precision throughout these chapter with dates and ages ad nausea suggests to me that they are meant to be taken literally. Notice for example Gen 11:10

אֵלֶּה, תּוֹלְדֹת שֵׁם--שֵׁם בֶּן-מְאַת שָׁנָה, וַיּוֹלֶד אֶת-אַרְפַּכְשָׁד: שְׁנָתַיִם, אַחַר הַמַּבּוּל

I guess my main point is that these verses are rather explicit that they do not mean what you say they mean. Now, you will tell me that they are metaphoric and I need to understand the way literature works etc. But, I really don’t think that’s the point. I don’t disagree with you that there is such a thing as metaphor. But, I think one has to recognize there are limitations on that idea. When you have a text that is rather explicit about what it is saying and it reads like non fiction you can not go and start interpreting it metaphorically because it suits you purposes.

littlefoxling said...

In fact, Kenneth Kitchen cites evidence that shows that all Ancient Near East histories stated that people enjoyed extraordinarily long lives before the Deluge, and that the more modest life expectancies of today gradually became the norm after the flood. The convergence of traditions on this point supports the notion that they reflect factual reality.

Are you suggesting that the ages are factual?

1. Scientifically, this is hard to understand. We know cells begin to degrade well before the age 900. And, what would have caused the shift?

2. The exceptionally long ages continue all the way to Joshua. Are you prepared to argue that even in that time period people lived that long?

3. I assume you hold of evolution. Since chimpanzees also do not live that long, nor do any primates, it would be quite odd for that to have evolved and then gone away.

4. Scientists have several methods of estimating age at death for mature fossils. None are totally reliable. I really don’t know that much about it. However, I don’t think there’s any evidence to suggest people used to live that long.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...


First of all, let me say that I am impressed that you read through the material so carefully.

Regarding the ages, I am saying that they must have some factual basis given the convergence of several traditions on this point. But I see no reason to assume that all people at a certain time lived that long; only specific individuals may have. It is also possible that the method of calculating ages was different, and that the numbers are symbolic. I don't see the ages of the Avot or Yotsei Mitsrayim as impossible, although some of their lifespans were exceptionally long.

You confuse me - first you said that my "mountain of evidence" is compelling on all points, then you say it is a far-fetched interpretation. Which one is it?

Primates generally don't live as long as humans, so I am unsure what the comparison to chimpanzees adds.

In terms of the genealogies; again, even if you were to assume my interpretation as fact, the format of presentation of the generations necessitates that they be written the way they are. Same goes for Rav Meidan's interpretation. And since the intervening generations are omitted, why should we assume they would resurface in other books/pesukim of Tanach?

You keep insisting on a metaphor - non-fiction dichotomy. But it is a false dichotomy. Saying that a passage is metaphoric, or that a genealogy is a summary, is not saying that it is fictional. It is suggesting we understand it from a different standpoint, which makes perfect sense in the context of "Torah", which is supposed to instruct us. What other reason would a religious text incorporate this kind of information, if not to enlighten us with some conceptual knowledge? When you were younger, did you assume God wanted to let you in on some of the details of anthropology and prehistory. Clearly, Hazal never held that way, although they didn't possess much of the "scientific" knowledge of the past that we currently have.

Sorry, this is choppy and incomplete, but I just finished a post and if I don't stop typing, my hand is going to fall off!!! :)