Setting the Record Straight on the Primeval Chronology of the Septuagint (part 2)

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This article is part of ongoing research for The Genesis 5 and 11 Research Project. It was originally published in electronic format only in the Fall 2018 issue of Bible and Spade.

Excerpt II. Analysis and Discussion 1. The Rabbinic Deflation of the MT’s Primeval Chronology Continue reading

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Editorial note: This article has been published in the Fall 2018 issue of Bible and Spade in electronic form only, and not in print. Download the complete PDF.

II. Analysis and Discussion

1. The Rabbinic Deflation of the MT’s Primeval Chronology

After their critique of my Ephraem citation, C&C write: “The situation doesn’t get any better when we try to verify what Smith said in the second half of this one sentence.” They then quote pages 169 and 171 from my ARJ article, where I document that Eusebius, Julian of Toledo, Jacob of Edessa, George Syncellus and Bar Hebraeus all claimed that the Jewish rabbis were responsible for the deflation of the primeval chronology reflected in the present-day Masoretic Text.

Eusebius (ca. AD 310) argued that the LXX should be followed (in part) because it “was translated from old and accurate Hebrew copies.”13 Conversely, the MT’s timeline was deflated, and Eusebius states: “Therefore we suspect that this was something which the Jews did. ” C&C acknowledge Eusebius’ claim, but then dismiss its evidential significance out of hand. Here, we have an ancient historian providing us with a very important piece of data, one which points to those who may be responsible for the origin of the shorter primeval chronology deposited in the MT.

This data can be evaluated in various ways. It can be weighed against other competing theories that attempt to explain the deliberate and systematic changes in the textual witnesses of Gen 5 and 11. A researcher can also search for corroboration from other ancient and medieval sources. In other words, do other authors in different times and different places report a similar explanation for the origin of the MT’s timeline? And this data can be used (in part) to test and evaluate any theory that attempts to explain the deliberate text critical divergences between the three textual witnesses and reconstruct the original text. In other words, it does not stand alone, but can be evaluated for its veracity when all of the relevant evidence is weighed and considered.

C&C dismiss Eusebius and other sources making similar statements by creating an arbitrary and illogical evidential standard. At the end of their article, they set forth the requirement that there must be “evidence of an early 2nd century AD Palestinian Jewish gathering that would have had sufficient authority to change the Hebrew manuscripts and had the power to disseminate them widely.”

Presumably, C&C are referring to the oft disputed Council of Jamnia, or a similar gathering. But even if we had solid evidence that Jamnia or another comparable council actually took place, would we really expect to find explicit evidence from that meeting(s) that the rabbis deflated the chronology? Of course not. Beyond the problems of such written evidence surviving over 1900+ years, the Pharisaic rabbis participating in such a meeting to perpetrate an outrageous fraud upon the sacred text would not leave behind written documentation of it. The whole point would have been to conceal what they were doing from both the ascending Jesus movement and their own religious community. To expect us to find direct, documented evidence from a formal meeting of this sort is illogical.

More importantly, a formal, documented meeting was not necessary for the rabbis to carry out their deflation scheme. There was a limited circle of rabbinic authority in Israel in the aftermath of the Temple’s destruction, one which eventually centered around Rabbi Akiba (ca. AD 50-132)14 and number of other prominent rabbis. They could have easily conspired together and have left behind no trace of their conspiracy proper and any meeting(s) associated with it.

Moreover, the rabbis did indeed have adequate authority and control over the limited number of Hebrew manuscripts that had survived the destruction of the Temple. They did not require a formal meeting to obtain or receive such authority since they already possessed it. The dominant Hebrew text that emerged from the aftermath of AD 70 (the proto–MT) was solely in the hands of the only sect that had survived, the Pharisaic rabbis. This is an indisputable historical fact:

     …after 70 CE only [MT] was left in Jewish hands. [The old LXX] no longer exerted any
     influence in Jewish circles since it was now in Christian hands, [SP] was with the Samaritan
     community, and the Qumran scrolls were hidden in caves. Other scrolls may have been circulating
     in Palestine, the likes of those that were imported to Qumran. However, we do not hear about such
     scrolls, probably because there was no organized community left in Palestine that would use texts
     like 4QJerb,d or 4QJosha, which deviate greatly from [MT]… the evidence after 70 CE is
     monolithically rabbinic

Rabbi Akiba had the authority and power to order the removal of older biblical manuscripts (MSS) and institute the use of new ones, and he could deem Hebrew texts in the Temple Court to be unfit for public reading.16 Rabbinic sources indicate that the rabbis also had the authority to dispose of entire biblical books if they deemed them unfit or inferior, and in fact, they did so on numerous occasions.17 Further, they also controlled the copying and dissemination of new Hebrew MSS.

Even prior to the destruction of the Temple there is already evidence of centralized control by the Jerusalem Temple authorities over Hebrew biblical manuscripts circulating in Israel. Scribes worked in the Temple Court and used master copies stored in the Temple archives to “correct” scrolls brought to Jerusalem by local leaders. This is recorded in the rabbinic literature,18 and is also evidenced by Hebrew texts found in the Judaean Desert which possess textual affinities and exhibit scribal habits very close to those seen in later forms of the MT.19 When the Temple was destroyed and other Jewish sects disappeared (such as the Essenes at Qumran),20 the rabbis emerged with full control over the proto–MT text and the doctrines and writings of rabbinic Judaism. Theses writings became absolutely authoritative for Palestinian and Diaspora Jews.21 Akiba and other influential rabbis traveled and successfully exerted their authority in the Diaspora.22 In time, the rabbinic worldview became central to Jewish belief and practice all around the world.23

In the mid–2nd century AD, Seder Olam became the official Jewish chronology. Rabbi Yose ben Halafta, its primary author/editor, was a disciple of Akiba.24 Seder Olam supersedes the authority of the Hebrew text: “…our traditional chronology is based on Seder Olam because of the authority of its author.”25 It is rabbinic authority, and not the authority of the sacred text, that is paramount. The rabbinic Seder Olam was successfully dispersed into Jewish communities as the authoritative chronology of world history, and is followed by some Jews even today.

Long before the 2nd century AD, the Jerusalem authorities had already abandoned fidelity to the authority of the scriptural text.26 The Pharisaic propensity to exalt human tradition (those earlier man-made traditions which Jesus strongly opposed and eventually led to the rabbinic corpus of writings) over Scripture is well attested in the New Testament (Mk 7:8–12). The scribes, who maintained control over the Hebrew texts in the Jerusalem Temple, were also fierce enemies of Jesus, and on par with the Pharisees (Lk 11:53–54; 20:45–47; Mt 23:1–36; Mk 12:38–40).

During the post AD–70 era, the rabbis would also have easily been able to dispose of their older Hebrew MSS with the higher begetting ages. Then, new Hebrew MSS and Aquila’s new LXX recension (see below) would only reflect the shorter primeval chronology, consistent with the newly authoritative Seder Olam.27 The proto–MT was then rigorously controlled and transmitted by the rabbis down to the time of the Masoretes. Under these circumstances, any Hebrew MSS which may have contained the higher begetting ages could have been easily destroyed without a trace. Hebrew texts outside rabbinic control containing the longer chronology which may have survived were eventually lost to the ravages of time.28 And those who may have possessed differing Hebrew texts in either Israel or in the Diaspora had no long standing authority to challenge the ascendency of the rabbinic corpus or the shorter chronology deposited in the (now) authoritative Seder Olam. All other competing Hebrew texts which may have still existed were supplanted and replaced by the rabbinic controlled MT. Tov observes: “Had the LXX and SP not been preserved and the Qumran scrolls not been found, we would have known little about non-rabbinic copies of Hebrew Scripture."29

Additionally, Greek had become the lingua franca across the Mediterranean world. The LXX had been widely disseminated throughout the Diaspora30 and “came to be regarded as sacred scripture” by the 2nd century BC.31 Such acceptance by the Jewish community at large necessarily included the longer primeval chronology, reflected in the works of the Jewish historians Demetrius (220 BC)32 and Eupolemus (160 BC).33 The LXX was also used in Israel, as evidenced by Eupolemus in Jerusalem and LXX texts found at Qumran and in the Judaean Desert.34

After the advent of the Church, however, the “old” LXX/OG texts35 were replaced over time by the MT–based LXX recension of Aquila. Aquila’s recension was completed around AD 140,36 approximately the same time that the Seder Olam reached its near final form.37 Aquila was discipled by Rabbi Akiba and he “…followed him in regarding every word and letter of the Hebrew Bible as having significance. This explains many traits of his recension, which is extremely literal in its fidelity to the MT.”38 Aquila’s recension is known to us “almost exclusively through [Origen’s] Hexapla."39 As the 2nd century came and went, the old LXX/OG, including its longer primeval chronology, moved from a centuries old status of authoritative acceptance within Judaism to effectively being relegated to “golden calf” status (Mesechet Sopherim 1.7).

Other Jewish LXX recensions also amended the numbers from the old LXX in order to bring their new translations in line with the shorter primeval chronology. Lower begetting ages from Gen 5:3, 4, 6, 7, 10, 13, 15, 16, 20, and 22 are found in the margins of some LXX MSS. These are Hexaplaric readings which had been recorded by Origen and are documented in Wevers’ secondary LXX text critical apparatus of Genesis.40 Eusebius of Emesa (AD 300–360) also documented deflations in Gen 5/11 from Symmachus' Jewish LXX recension.41 These significant changes to the original, centuries old LXX demonstrate that the Jewish authorities/translators not only deliberately shortened the primeval chronology after the destruction of the Temple, they had the authority and ability to disseminate those changes via their new LXX recensions.

The plausibility of the rabbis deliberately changing the primeval chronology only strengthens as we examine the immense spiritual conflict that arose between Christians and Jews in the early years of the Church. The crisis in Judaism caused by the destruction of the Temple and the large-scale spread of the Gospel cannot be overstated. We have already noted that the scribes described in the NT who controlled the Hebrew texts in the Temple were enemies of Jesus and His Gospel. It would be no surprise to see subsequent scribes exhibit a willingness to change the text of Scripture in order to discredit Jesus as the Messiah. The Apostle Paul’s biography is a testimony to the lengths some unbelieving Jews would go to oppose the Church. The Apostle Peter warns that people are capable of profound self-deceit, leading them to distort the sacred text for their own selfish purposes: “[they] twist [Paul’s letters] to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (II Pt 3:16). Indeed, Justin Martyr (100-165 AD) stated that certain Jewish opponents deliberately expunged, altered or distorted Messianic verses from their Scriptures (Dialogue with Trypho, 71–73), as did Irenaeus (Against Heresies, 3.21.1).42

C&C claim that the Jews would not change the text of Scripture since doing so would “cut off their nose to spite their face.” I would suggest that this assertion erroneously contradicts the Scriptural portrayal of the Israelites by the biblical authors throughout the Old Testament era. A people who were willing to sacrifice and burn their own children in the fires of Molech would not be capable of altering the biblical text to discredit the Messiah their Pharisaic forebearers had conspired to murder? What of the “scribes and Pharisees” who ascribed Jesus’ miracles to Satan? Rejecting and crucifying “the Lord of Glory” (I Cor 1:8) entails the greatest self-deception of all, and is the quintessential example of “cutting off their nose to spite their face.” C&C’s assertion severely underestimates the sinful power of self-deception.

While Gen 5/11 are not messianic texts proper, they had profound messianic implications during Second Temple Judaism.43 Beckwith explains:

     There is strong evidence to show that the Essenes, the Pharisees and the Zealots all thought
     that they could date, at least approximately, the time when the Son of David would come, and that
     in each case their calculations were based upon Daniel’s prophecy of the 70 Weeks (Dan 9:24–27),
     understood as 70 weeks of years… In ancient Jewish literature, the interpretation of
     Daniel’s 70 Weeks is always linked to come kind of chronological scheme... They are alike in
     beginning from Creation, and in proceeding on the assumption that, for the earliest period of
     history, time can be computed by adding together the ages of patriarchs in Genesis 5.44

Motive, means, opportunity, an ideological context rife with chrono–messianic fervor, an extreme religious and cultural crisis, and the advancement of the Gospel all converged in the post–AD 70 aftermath, leaving the rabbis with the ideal circumstances to alter the texts of Genesis 5 and 11.

Now, let us circle back to Eusebius’s claim that the Jewish leaders deflated the primeval chronology in their Hebrew texts. While Eusebius incorrectly believed that the rabbis wanted to encourage early marriages by lowering the begetting ages, other theologians and historians pointed to a much more viable motivation: discrediting Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ.

Julian of Toledo

Julian of Toledo (AD 642-690), bishop of Spain, wrote a work in AD 686 entitled, “The Demonstration of the Sixth Age of the World Against the Jews with a Prayer Letter to King Ervig.” Sergio Stancati explains:

     Therefore, it is a reproposal of the traditional subject of the centuries–old biblical and
     theological controversy between Jews and Christians about the end of time and the coming of the
     Messiah. We can say, more specifically, the work was written by Julian for contesting the Jewish
     doctrine, based on interpretations of the Babylonian Talmud, about the era, far in the future,
     according to Jewish thought, in which the Messiah is to appear… Judaism maintained that the
     Messiah would have been born and appeared only after the sixth millennium after the creation of
     the world and humankind. Obviously, Jewish theologians believed this date to be far in the future.
     With this interpretation, they denied that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah…45

C&C refer to the Jewish Encyclopedia, which explicitly states that Julian accused the Jews of deflating their chronology: “[Julian] attempts to prove that Jesus was actually born in the sixth age, in which the Messiah was to come; ‘but,’ he adds, ‘this time should not be reckoned according to the Hebrew original, which has been falsified by the Jews, but according to the Septuagint, which is more trustworthy.’” I was fully aware of the direct quote in the Jewish Encyclopedia (which provides older Latin academic references to support its quotation of Julian). However, I referred to Stancati’s book instead to provide a more recent source in English that would also more thoroughly explain Julian’s argument and perspective. A close reading of Stancati’s work on Julian illustrates agreement with the explicit quote found in the Jewish Encyclopedia. The title of his work makes that crystal clear.46

C&C also argue that Julian’s grounds for following the LXX were based on the Letter of Aristeas, and thus, his argument about the shorter chronology should be rejected. But I am not adopting and following Julian’s reason(s) for using the LXX,47 I am documenting his claim that the Jewish authorities had deflated the original chronology and that they were promoting a false chronology reflected in the Babylonian Talmud. A person can believe something to be true that is in fact true (the LXX’s chronology reflects the original Hebrew text), but on improper grounds (Aristeas).

The viability of the LXX’s primeval chronology is not and should not be based on Aristeas. The story of the LXX’s origin in Aristeas is largely legendary, though it does contain some historical elements. Unfortunately, it was often accepted as accurate by many of the Church fathers, and its scope was expanded to include Greek translations outside the Pentateuch. Despite its shortcomings, its greatest value lies in the fact that Aristeas was effectively a Jewish apologetic for the LXX. Wright explains:

     The LXX gradually lost its relationship with the Hebrew [text used by the translators], and those
     who read it began to regard it in the manner that we see reflected in Aristeas, as an
     independent free-standing replacement for the Hebrew… The LXX came to be regarded as sacred
     scripture. But somewhere along the road to the LXX becoming scripture someone had to offer a
     justification for accepting it as a prestigious, central and sacred text… Aristeas… legitimizes
     what the LXX had become by the middle part of the second century BCE… an independent,
     scriptural authority.48

In other words, Aristeas was not the reason Jews had embraced the LXX. No, Aristeas was written as an apologetic for the LXX, after it has already been widely embraced as genuine and authoritative by the Jewish community. This included its longer primeval chronology, as evidenced by all reliable external witnesses before ca. AD 100.

C&C also claim that Julian’s argument was geared towards events in salvation history, not calendar dates. To support this assertion, they pull a paragraph from Stancati out of context, and by doing so, they misrepresent Stancati’s descriptions of Julian’s work in toto. The particular quote from Stancati that C&C cite focuses not on biblical chronology, but “the whole of historical facts” pertaining to Jesus. However, the quote used by C&C pertains to only one book written by Julian. C&C leave the impression that Julian was not concerned with biblical chronology in his apologetic and that I have mispresented his argument.

Quite the contrary.

Unfortunately, C&C have inaccurately represented Julian’s overall argument, Stancati’s assessment of his works, and my representation of both. Stancati’s own words summarize Julian’s multifaceted apologetic methodology:

     The work of Julian, therefore, was on the one hand, finalized to contest the Jewish biblical
     hermeneutics and the diffusion of its conclusions. On the other hand, it was to attract Jews to
     the true messianic faith with an appropriate exegesis of the text and with a precise mathematical
     calculation of biblical chronology

It is clear from a careful reading of Stancati that Julian used multiple, integrated methods in three books to appeal to the Jews that Jesus was the promised Messiah. This included the use of biblical chronology with a challenge to his Jewish audience that they were following a false chronology of history, ultimately derived from the deflated primeval chronology found in the MT.

George Syncellus

Byzantine Chronologist George Syncellus (d. AD 810) documented Eusebius’ statement that the Septuagint’s chronology came from an ancient and uncorrupted Hebrew copy of Genesis:

     According to the most ancient Hebrew text, which is to this day still in fact preserved by the
     Samaritans, there is, then, clear agreement with the Septuagint that the patriarchs from the
     Flood up to Abraham procreated after the passing of one hundred years plus some additional
     period of time… On this issue, then, careful reflection suggests this conclusion: there
     is no choice but to acknowledge that, with the exception of Jared and two generations after
     him, the text of scripture used by the Jews has erred in its chronology from Adam to Abraham,
     whereas the Samaritan text is in error only for the years from Adam to the Flood. For the
     years from the Flood up to Abraham are found to be in agreement with the record of years
     reported in the Septuagint. But it is abundantly clear that the Hebrew text used by the Jews
     is wrong… There is thus complete confirmation that the Septuagint translation was
     translated from, so it would seem, an ancient and a strictly accurate Hebrew text of scripture.50

Now one might argue that Syncellus in this instance is not explicitly accusing the Jews of being in error on the primeval chronology. That would be a fair point, and I should have been more precise about this in my ARJ footnote. There are two reasons I cited Syncellus. First, he notoriously blasted Eusebius with ad hominems for perceived mistakes. For example, Eusebius is Syncelleus’ regular object of derision because of his omission of Kainan in LXX Gen 11. Syncellus treats everyone else with equal contempt when he believes they have gone astray. By his silence and style, there is little doubt he agreed with Eusebius’ assessment.

Second, and more concretely, the 19th century Egyptologist Gustav Seyffarth attributes a very pointed statement to Syncellus: “I concur entirely in the opinion, that this (the shortening of the lives of several of the patriarchs, in the Hebrew text) was a criminal act of the Jews.”51 Seyffarth’s footnote reads “Syncell. p. 84 Ed. Paris.” After a thorough check, I did not find this exact quote in Adler and Tuffin’s 725–page translation and analysis of Syncellus’ Chronography. They do not provide their own text critical analysis, however, depending instead upon A.A. Mosshammer’s text critical reconstruction of the extant manuscripts.

Seyffarth is referencing a manuscript of Syncellus that was being kept in Paris. Adler and Tuffin discuss Parisian manuscripts A (#1711) and B (#1764).52 There are other known extant manuscripts of Syncelllus as well. It is possible that Mosshammer decided this statement documented by Seyffarth was an inferior textual variant. Adler and Tuffin do note that the early manuscript tradition of Syncellus was likely written in the form of two codices, leading to numerous textual divergences (p. lxxvii). Nonetheless, Seyffarth’s quotation and citation directly from an 11th century AD Syncellus manuscript seems to show that Syncellus made more overt, direct claims beyond his implicit approval of Eusebius’ argument. Further research will bear this out for sure. While the evidence for the inclusion of Syncellus is not as strong as the other references, I see no reason to exclude him from this current list unless new information requires it.

Bar Hebraeus

Bar Hebraeus was also included in my list (AD 1226–1286).53 Though his statements are from a later period, they serve as another link in the chain of evidence. Bar Hebraeus was known by numerous names, including Abulpharag.54 He was a prolific author of the 13th century AD,55 whose work includes the Chronicon Syriacum, in which he details a chronology of history from creation using the longer primeval chronology. Additional resources written by Bar Hebreaus can be found online.56

C&C dismiss Bar Hebraeus out of hand for two illegitimate reasons. First they state that “we can’t find a statement in writing that the Jews intentionally altered the text.” I provided a citation from Seyffarth in my ARJ article, who cites and quotes Albulpharag (=Bar Hebraeus). In 1663, Edward Pococke published a translation of Bar Hebraeus’ Historia Compendiosa Dynastarium from Syriac into Latin, which Seyffarth explicitly cites. This work can be found online, where there is a facsimile of the Syriac text along with Pococke’s Latin translation and analysis. Seyffarth reproduces the Latin text in a footnote, and provides an English translation of Bar Hebraeus’ statement:

     According to the Hebrew Testament there elapsed between the creation and Christ 1375 years less,
     than according to the Septuagint. This shortening of time is the work of the older Rabbis. For,
     as it had been foretold in the Law and the Prophets, that the Messiah would come into the world
     in the last days (or time) at the end of the sixth millennium, they shortened the lives of the
     Patriarchs for the purpose of rejecting Christ, and expecting another Messiah.57

C&C then employ a non-sequitur to further justify dismissing Bar Hebreaus because he “says in the same work that Jesus was born on December 25, so he’s clearly dealing with traditions outside the text proper. This is enough for us to discount this source entirely.” Are we to understand that Bar Hebraeus’ statement about the Jews deflating the primeval chronology should be dismissed because he is also engaging with extra-biblical material while trying to determine the date of Christ’s birth on the Julian calendar? What do Bar Hebraeus’ arguments about the date of Christ’s birth have to do with his views on the primeval chronology? Absolutely nothing.58

Muhammad ibn Ahmad Biruni

In The Chronology of Ancient Nations, Muslim scholar Biruni (AD 973–1048) testifies that Christians of his era accused the Jews of deflating the chronology in Gen 5/11. Biruni’s work was translated from Arabic into English by Eduard Sachau in 1879. Biruni writes:

     The Jews and Christians differ widely on this subject; for, according to the doctrine of the
     Jews, the time between Adam and Alexander is 3,448 years, whilst, according to the Christian
     doctrine, it is 5,180 years. The Christians reproach the Jews with having diminished the
     number of years with the view of making the appearance of Jesus fall into the fourth millennium
     in the middle of the seven millennia, which are, according to their view, the time of the duration
     of the world, so as not to coincide with that time at which, as the prophets after Moses had
     prophesied, the birth of Jesus from a pure virgin at the end of time, was to take place. 59

An obvious opponent of both parties and living in Persia,60 Biruni is an independent witness to the Christian claim that the Jews had deliberately deflated the primeval chronology. Note also that Biruni is referring to Christians as a group, and not just to one particular individual, indicating that this was a commonly held view in Biruni's day.

Augustine of Hippo

We also have the testimony of Augustine in North Africa (ca. AD 420), who reports that unspecified Christians of his time argued that that the Jewish scribes “made alterations in their texts as to undermine the authority of ours.” He specifically deals with the numbers in Genesis 5 (City of God XV.10–11, 13), and attempts to refute the Christian claim that the Jews had deflated the antediluvian begetting ages in the Hebrew text (see my analysis of Augustine’s arguments below in § II.4.1–10). Augustine thus serves as another ancient witness, a hostile witness, to this explanation for the origin of the MT’s primeval timeline. Since Augustine felt that the argument was important enough to respond to, it logically follows that this viewpoint was a commonly held in the Church in the 5th century AD.

Jacob of Edessa

Lastly, we turn our attention to probably the most important witness of all: the Syriac theologian Jacob of Edessa (AD 640–708). In his Commentary on the Octateuch, Jacob claims that the Hebrew text of Gen 5/11 had been deliberately deflated by Jewish authorities to demonstrate that the Christ had not yet come.61

C&C say that Jacob “asserts this without any evidence to substantiate it.” First, Jacob’s statement in its geographical and historical context is the evidence. We can see here how C&C’s arbitrary evidential standard (i.e. documentation of a conspiracy by the rabbis) allows them to discard Jacob’s statements without any critical engagement. Second, and most significantly, Jacob testifies to evidence that backs up his claim.

Jacob was intimately familiar with the OT text, had knowledge of multiple languages, and was “one of the finest scholars of the Syrian Orthodox Church."62 In my ARJ and ICC63 articles, I cited Bas ter Haar Romeny, a recognized expert on western Syriac Christianity who works directly with the Syriac text. The reader can visit Romeny’s academia page and judge for himself his knowledge of Jacob’s writings in the original language.

A careful reading of Romeny’s article reveals two important facts: 1. Jacob produced his own Bible translation, one which was designed to improve upon the prevailing Syriac translation, the Peshitta. His work still survives in part in several MSS. 2. Jacob also wrote a Commentary on the Octateuch. In it, Jacob claims that “…the original Hebrew text was falsified ‘by the same Hebrews’ in order to show that Christ had not come yet. They subtracted… one hundred years from the age of Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, and Mahalalel.”64 Jacob’s Bible translation also included the longer antediluvian chronology, and interestingly, a begetting age of 187 for Methuselah instead of the widespread and erroneous 167 reading found in many LXX manuscripts.65

As I mentioned above (§ I), my incorrect citation of Ephraem turned out to be a blessing in disguise. While I was trying to get to the bottom of things, I discovered that Jacob’s complete Commentary on the Octateuch is reproduced in Syriac and translated into Latin in Joseph Assemani’s Bibliotheca Orientalis. The text is taken directly from manuscript Vat. sir. 103,66 the same MSS examined and exposited by Romeny. On pages 65–66 (vol. I), Assemani reproduces Jacob’s Syriac text, then translates it into Latin. Adler provides an English translation of Jacob’s pertinent statement: “The Hebrews, wanting to pervert the computation of years, in order to show that Christ had not yet arrived, subtract 100 years from Adam before he fathered Seth.”67 While this statement specifically refers to Adam’s begetting age, it is clear that Jacob believed the entire primeval chronology had been altered by the Jewish scribes. To discredit the time of Jesus’ arrival, the entire timeline from Adam to Abraham was reduced. The longer chronology is also reflected in his Bible translation of Gen 5 and 11. This is confirmed above by Romeny, who paraphrased Jacob’s statements.

Moreover, there was another significant statement made by Jacob. A couple of years ago, I came across this footnote written by William Hales: “*Jacobus Edessenus, who flourished about A.D. 700, states, that he found in some sufficiently accurate Hebrew histories, that Adam begat Seth when he was 230 years old.”68 This, of course, grabbed my attention, but I had been unable to independently corroborate Hales’ quotation of Jacob, so I did not use it… until now.

Discussing the numerical divergences in Gen 5/11, Adler turns to Jacob and quotes him (above). Adler then says this: “In this same notice, Jacob claims also that in his time there were certain Hebrew manuscripts that confirmed the Septuagint chronology.”69 After reading this, I went back to Bibliotheca Orientalis and was able to verify that Adler’s assessment was correct. Four scholars (Assemani, Hales, Adler and Romeny) are all in agreement on this point.70

Jacob went beyond the mere charge that the rabbis had deflated the original, longer chronology. No, Jacob knew of concrete evidence that supported his argument and vindicated his inclusion of the LXX’s numbers in both his Bible translation and commentary. He did not merely appeal to Church tradition or to Aristeas: Jacob had knowledge of copies of Hebrew manuscripts that existed in his day that confirmed the Septuagint’s longer primeval chronology.71


When we take these statements, arguments, and evidence in their totality, we have an explanation over a long period (ca. AD 310–1275) and in disparate geographical locales (Israel, North Africa, Spain, Syria [twice], Constantinople, and Persia) for the origin of the MT’s shorter chronology. Jacob of Edessa’s account of Hebrew manuscripts that contained the longer chronology is powerful evidence, and his witness needs to be taken very seriously. The reader who dismisses Jacob’s statements out of hand or resorts to impugning his credibility without evidence is simply not serious about getting to the truth.

As I have stated on numerous occasions, these sources serve as one component in an overall matrix of data. They do not prove the MT was deflated, rather, they provide a testable explanation for its divergences from the LXX. We can examine this explanation for the origin of the MT’s primeval timeline by weighing the textual evidence, internal phenomena, and external witnesses.

This leads us to two important points. First, it was not practical to include all of these details in the respective articles I previously published. The underlying rationale and more detailed documentation will eventually appear in book form. I have included some of this information in this article to refute C&C’s specious claim that my Ephraem mistake is indicative of a larger “pattern” of errors.

Second, C&C dismiss all of these important references out of hand and employ several fallacies while doing so. They also mispresent the arguments of Julian of Toledo, Stancati, and myself. In the cases of Syncellus72 and Bar Hebraeus, they have superficially interacted with the academic literature. Their arbitrarily imposed evidential standard gives them carte blanche to dismiss any evidence pointing to the Jewish rabbis as being responsible for the origin of the MT’s primeval timeline.

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Quick link: Setting the Record Straight on the Primeval Chronology of the Septuagint: Part 1 > Part 2 > Part 3 > Part 4

     13Chronicle 30; Karst’s translation is as follows: “Es ist daher allenthalben wohl klar, daß die Siebenziger-Übersetzung aus alten und fehlerlosen Vorlagen der Hebräer übersetzt worden ist” (It is therefore well known everywhere that the seventies’ translation has been translated from ancient and faultless Vorlagen of the Hebrews). Josef Karst, Eusebius Werke: Die Chronik, vol. 5 (Leipzig: J.C. Hinrichs’sche Buchhandlung, 1911), 45. Cf. Edmon L. Gallagher, “The Septuagint’s Fidelity to Its Vorlage in Greek Patristic Thought,” in XIV Congress of the IOSCS, Helsinki, 2010, ed. Melvin H.K. Peters, Septuagint and Cognate Studies 59 (Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2013), 667.
     14For a brief overview of Akiba’s life, see: Also: Louis Finkelstein, Akiba: Scholar, Saint and Martyr (New York, NY: Covici Friede Publishers, 1936).
     15Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible: Revised and Expanded, 179–80 (Emphasis mine).
     16Étienne Nodet, “Josephus and the Pentateuch,” JSJ 28 (May 1997): 193–94.
     17Armin Lange, “‘They Confirmed the Reading’ (y. Ta’an. 4.68a),” in From Qumran to Aleppo: A Discussion with Emanuel Tov about the Textual History of Jewish Scriptures in Honor of His 65th Birthday, ed. József Zsengellér, Armin Lange, and Matthias Weigold (Gӧttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2009), 74–77; Nodet, “Josephus and the Pentateuch,” 193, n. 55.
     18Lange, “‘They Confirmed the Reading’ (y. Ta’an. 4.68a),” 78–80.
     19Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible: Revised and Expanded, 28–29.
     20The texts at Qumran exhibited more variation than the proto–MT. This should not be surprising given the Essene contempt for the Jerusalem priesthood. The texts in the Temple archive were likely never used to “correct” many of the biblical texts from Qumran, though quite a few of them closely resemble the MT as well. The evidence is complex.
     21Daniel Gruber, Rabbi Akiba’s Messiah: The Origins of Rabbinic Authority, Revised Edition (Hanover, NH: Elijah Publishing, 2014).
     22Peter Schäfer, “R. Aqiva and Bar Kokhba,” in Approaches to Ancient Judaism, ed. William Scott Green, vol. 2 (Ann Arbor, MI: Scholars Press, 1980), 114–17.
     23C&C cite a DNA study which argues that Jews were living in places such as Burma. While such a study can make genetic, ethnic connections, it cannot verify belief, practice, and language employed. And it certainly cannot verify what kind of biblical text Jews were using in Burma, or anywhere else for that matter. Besides, we have no ancient Hebrew biblical texts from Burma, we have the MT, which was controlled for many centuries by the Pharisees/rabbis.
     24Heinrich W. Guggenheimer, ed., Seder Olam: The Rabbinic View of Biblical Chronology (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998), x.
     25Simon Schwab, “Comparative Jewish Chronology,” in Dr. Joseph Breuer Jubilee Volume (NY: Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch Publications Society, Philipp Felheim Inc., 1962), 186.
     26In my article “MT, SP or LXX?,” I discuss the influence of Second Temple Jewish literature on (messianic) chronology, and in particular, the negative influence of the artificial chronology found in the Book of Jubilees. In detail, I argue that the matching, lower begetting ages in the SP and MT of Genesis 5 originated not from a Hebrew text, but from the artificially constructed chronology of Jubilees. The alteration of the original numbers in Gen 5 and 11 had been occurring amongst certain sects in Judaism even before the turn of the millennium, setting the stage for the creation of the Seder Olam and the reduction of the primeval timeline in the proto–MT.
     27Sexton, “Who Was Born?,” 215–16; Sexton and Smith Jr., “Primeval Chronology Restored,” 47–48.
     28The Hebrew text of Genesis used by Josephus in Rome when he wrote earlier sections of Antiquities serves as an exception. It had escaped destruction by the Romans in AD 70 and did not fall into the hands of the rabbis. Nodet suggests from Josephus’ own statements that his Hebrew OT text was given to him by Titus, came from the Temple archives, and was likely several decades old (“Josephus and the Pentateuch,” 193). Jacob of Edessa’s Hebrew MSS containing the longer chronology are also an exception (see below).
     29Emanuel Tov, “The Text of the Hebrew/Aramaic and Greek Bible Used in the Ancient Synagogues,” in Hebrew Bible, Greek Bible and Qumran: Collected Essays (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008), 188.
     30Tessa Rajak, Translation and Survival: The Greek Bible of the Ancient Jewish Diaspora (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).
     31Benjamin G. Wright III, “The Letter of Aristeas and the Reception History of the Septuagint,” in Praise Israel for Wisdom and Instruction: Essays on Ben Sira and Wisdom, the Letter of Aristeas and the Septuagint, ed. John J. Collins, Florentino Garcia Martinez, and Hindy Najman, vol. 131, Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism (Leiden: Brill, 2008), 294.
     32Carl R. Holladay, Fragments from Hellenistic Jewish Authors: Volume I: Historians, ed. Harold W. Attridge, Texts and Translations 20 (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1983), 51–91.
     33F. Fallon, “Eupolemus: A New Translation and Introduction,” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume 2, ed. James H. Charlesworth, vol. 2, 2 vols. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1983), 861–72; Holladay, Fragments, 93–156; Wacholder, Eupolemus.
     34Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible: Revised and Expanded, 132.
     35In this instance, the use of the term “LXX” refers only to the Pentateuchal translation done in Alexandria, while the term “OG” refers to the rest of the OT books, which were translated later. The Jewish authorities replaced these “old” Greek translations with Aquila’s new recension.
     36Tov, “The Text of the Hebrew/Aramaic and Greek Bible Used in the Ancient Synagogues,” 186–88. See 187, esp. n. 77. Also, Karen H. Jobes and Moisés Silva, Invitation to the Septuagint, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015), 26–28.
     37Milikowsky notes that Seder Olam underwent additional edits after the time of Rabbi Yose, but the details are not altogether clear. Chaim Milikowsky, “Seder Olam: A Rabbinic Chronography (Volumes I and II)” (PhD Dissertation, Yale University, 1981), 17.
     38Ernst Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament: An Introduction to the Biblia Hebraica, ed. Alexander Achilles Fischer, trans. Erroll F. Rhodes, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014), 107.
     39Natalio Fernandez Marcos, The Septuagint in Context: Introduction to the Greek Version of the Bible, trans. Wilfred G. E. Watson (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 155.
     40Some readings are attributed to unknown Jewish translators (John W. Wevers, ed., Septuaginta. Vetus Testamentum Graecum: Genesis, vol. 1 [Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1974], 59; 102–106).
     41Bas ter Haar Romeny, A Syrian in Greek Dress: The Use of Greek, Hebrew, and Syriac Biblical Texts in Eusebius of Emesa’s Commentary on Genesis, Traditio Exegetica Graeca 6 (Leuven: Peeters, 1997), 248–250.
     42Gregory of Nyssa (AD 335-395) and Epiphanius of Salamis (AD 310-403) grappled with the differences between the Hebrew text of that time and the old LXX, proposed a variety of solutions to textual differences, and sometimes concluded that Jewish scribes/translators had corrupted Hebrew and/or Old Greek texts (Gallagher, “The Septuagint’s Fidelity to Its Vorlage in Greek Patristic Thought,” 665–76).
     43Roger T. Beckwith, “Daniel 9 and the date of Messiah’s coming in Essene, Hellenistic, Pharisaic, Zealot and early Christian computation.” Revue de Qumran 10, no. 4:521–42.
     44From the 3rd century BC through the 2nd century AD, the Jewish writers tried to “…project the chronology into the future, so as to give a date to events foretold in prophecy, such as the coming of the Messiah.” Roger T. Beckwith, Calendar and Chronology, Jewish and Christian (Leiden: Brill, 1996), 217. I disagree with Beckwith’s categorization of Josephus’ chronology as “Hellenistic,” and a number of his other points. But the fundamental thrust of his study, and his documentation of sources, provides valuable insights into the “chrono-messianism” that influenced and came out of Second Temple Judaism.
     45Sergio Tommaso Stancati, Julian of Toledo: Prognosticum Futuri Saeculi, vol. 63, Ancient Christian Writers: The Works of the Fathers in Translation (Mahwah, NJ: The Newman Press, 2010), 123-124.
     46Julian’s Jewish opponents “… were basing their eschatological interpretation on the Babylonian Talmud.” The messianic chronology statements found in the Babylonian Talmud are dependent upon and derived from the MT of Gen 5/11 and Seder Olam. And these can be traced back to messianic chronological speculations which originated during Second Temple Judaism. These connections have been made in detail in Beckwith’s Calendar and Chronology, and in numerous other sources which I have cited previously (see footnote 3).
     47Stancati states that Julian followed the LXX because he believed it was inspired (p. 127). This may or may not represent Julian’s entire rationale for using the Septuagint.
     48The Letter of Aristeas and the Reception History of the Septuagint,” 293–95.
     49Stancati, Julian of Toledo, 124–25 (emphasis mine).
     50George Synkellos, The Chronography of George Synkellos, trans. Paul Tuffin and William Adler, 1st ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 124–25.
     51G. Seyffarth, Summary of Recent Discoveries in Biblical Chronology, Universal History and Egyptian Archaeology (New York, NY: Henry Ludwig, 1859), 139.
     52Tuffin and Adler, lxxv–lxxvii. Both MSS can be seen online: A (#1711) and B (#1764), along with others.

     53 In the ARJ article, I stated that Bar Hebraeus was Armenian, which is technically correct. However, it would be more precise to say that he was Armenian by birth, his father was Jewish, and his family migrated to Syria during his childhood.
     55E.A.W. Budge, The Chronography of Gregory Abu'l Faraj, The Son of Aaron, The Hebrew Physician Commonly Known as Bar Hebraeus Being the First Part of His Political History of the World (London: Oxford University Press, 1932).
     57Seyffarth, Summary of Recent Discoveries in Biblical Chronology, 144.
     58C&C employ a similar fallacy to my use of Augustine’s statements on Methuselah’s begetting age in the LXX (see § II.4.1–10).
     59Muhammad ibn Ahmad Biruni, The Chronology of Ancient Nations; An English Version of the Arabic Text of the Athâr-Ul-Bâkiya of Albîrûnî, or “Vestiges of the Past, trans. Eduard Sachau (London: W.H. Allen and Co., 1879), 18.
     60Ibid., vii–xiv.
     61Bas ter Haar Romeny, “Jacob of Edessa on Genesis: His Quotations of the Peshitta and His Revision of the Text,” in Jacob of Edessa and the Syriac Culture of His Day (Leiden: Brill, 2008), 154.
     62Ibid., 145.
     63Henry B. Smith Jr., “The Case for the Septuagint’s Chronology in Genesis 5 and 11,” in Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference on Creationism, ed. John H. Whitmore (International Conference on Creationism, Pittsburgh, PA: Creation Science Fellowship, 2018), 117–32.
     64Romeny, “Jacob of Edessa on Genesis,” 154.
     66Romeny, “Ephrem and Jacob of Edessa in the Commentary of the Monk Severus,” 543; Kruisheer, “Ephrem, Jacob of Edessa, and the Monk Severus. An Analysis of Ms. Vat. Syr. 103, ff. 1–72,” 599–605.
     67William Adler, Time Immemorial: Archaic History and Its Sources in Christian Chronography from Julius Africanus to George Syncellus (Washington, D.C: Dumbarton Oaks Pub Service, 1989), 48. The Latin reads: “Verum Hebraei computum annorum pervertere volentes, ut Christum nondum advenisse ostenderent, centum annos Adamo, antequam gigneret Seth, detraxerunt” (Assemani, Bibliotheca Orientalis, 66).
     68A New Analysis of Chronology, 280, italics original. The Latin text reads: “In quibusdam, inquit, satis accuratis Hebraicis Historiis scriptum reperimus, Adam genuisse Seth, quum esset annorum ducentorum et triginta” (Assemani, Bibliotheca Orientalis, 66).
     69Time Immemorial, 48, n. 26.
     70Dirk Kruisheer is presently working on a complete publication of Jacob’s Commentary on the Octateuch.
     71It is possible Jacob choice of the 187 reading for Methuselah in his translation was based its appearance in the Hebrew manuscripts containing the longer chronology.
     72C&C reduce Syncellus’ rationale for using the LXX to one internal argument he uses with respect to the begetting ages in the LXX’s post-Flood chronology. This is hardly a fair or careful assessment of Syncellus.

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