Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Upcoming Events and Deadlines

This Thursday (October 20 at 7 pm), Core Academy is sponsoring an event called Pies and Prayers for the local Dayton community.  I'll be serving five of my pies, and we'll spend time praying for the work of Core Academy.  In case you're curious, the pies are Triple-Layer Pumpkin pie, Apple-Cranberry pie, Quince tart, Maple Cream tarts, and English Mince tarts.  It's the flavors of fall.  Click here for more information.

Core Academy is also giving away free science equipment to Christian schools in January.  We've already had a great response to this opportunity, so if you know a Christian school that could use a few microscopes or other eqiupment, point them to our website.  The deadline for submitting proposals is November 7.  The proposals are easy, just a form to fill out.  There's no reason not to submit  one.  Click here for more information.

Also coming up:
  • Submission deadline for the International Conference on Creationism is January 31, 2017, but if you want the Creation Biology Society to pay your submission fee, you'll need to submit your proposal by December 5, 2016. Get more information at the CBS website.
  • The Journal of Creation Theology and Science wants to publish another special issue on human origins, and the submission deadline is December 30, 2016.  Topics can be anything related to human origins: Genesis, historical Adam, relevant book reviews, genomics, biogeography, fossil record, etc.  Click here to read all about it.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Primeval Chronology of William Henry Green

William Henry Green
Public Domain
For those just joining us, I am reviewing the various issues related to the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 (see part 1 and part 2 of the series).  My goal is to better understand what we evangelical Christians ought to believe regarding the lifespans of ancient humans before and after the Flood.  This week, we continue our discussion with a review of William Henry Green's 1890 article "Primeval Chronology," published in Bibliotheca Sacra (vol. 47, pp. 285-303).  Green was a well-known Presbyterian theologian and for nearly fifty years a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary.  Since his article is widely cited and influential, it makes sense to begin our close inspection of the Genesis genealogies here.  You can find a free copy easily using Google.

Green begins his article with an unfortunate over-estimate of the subject's importance:
The question of the possible reconciliation of the results of scientific inquiry respecting the antiquity of man and the age of the world with the Scripture chronology has been long and earnestly debated.  On the one hand, scientists, deeming them irreconcilable, have been led to distrust the divine authority of the Scriptures; and, on the other hand, believers in the divine word have been led to look upon the investigations of science with an unfriendly eye, as though they were antagonistic to religious faith.  In my reply to Bishop Colenso in 1863, I had occasion to examine the method and structure of the biblical genealogies, and incidentally ventured the remark that herein lay the solution of the whole matter.
Green is correct that the age of the creation is a point of contention between some theologians and scientists; however, that is by no means the entire debate. Contemporaries of Green in the United States were hotly arguing over the question of evolution and design.  That debate wasn't prominent at Princeton, but it was certainly common in the U.S.  Let us remember that the whole of science and faith does not rest on interpreting the genealogies correctly (I'll say more about that in a future article).

The rest of the paper is divided into two sections.  In the first, he rehearses the various reasons from the Bible itself that genealogies are frequently edited and abridged.  The reality of abridged genealogies is undeniable, and I will not dwell upon that here.  I'm far more interested in the second part of the article, where Green addresses the Genesis genealogies directly.  After all, those genealogies are the ones I'm interested in.

The primary question he addresses is whether or not Genesis 5 and 11 have been abridged.  His first point (helpfully numbered for us) is that by analogy, we shouldn't just assume that the Genesis 5 and 11 genealogies are complete.  Since many other genealogies in the Bible are abridged in some way, it would seem that genealogies were just abridged as a matter of course.  I would say this is his strongest point, such as it is.  He overplays it, though, when he tries to say that there are no other biblical genealogies comparable to Genesis 5 and 11 by which gaps could be deduced.  He's obviously aware of Matthew, Luke, and 1 Chronicles, so he must mean some kind of independent source.  (In other words, the later versions of the primeval genealogies copy from Genesis.)  On that point, I'm not sure he can claim that any of the other genealogies that he cited in the first part of the article are truly independent sources.  Surely some of those were copied from earlier passages of Scripture?  This is important because the genealogies of Luke, Matthew, and 1 Chronicles are the same as Genesis 5 and 11, with the exception of the extra Cainan in Luke.

Green's second point directly addresses the peculiarities of Genesis 5 and 11. After all, the ages in Genesis make the primeval genealogies completely unique among all the genealogies in the Bible.  In fact, the ages would seem to invite us to add up the years between creation and Abraham, and there is evidence that that is exactly what ancient interpreters did with the ages.  Green claims that the ages are intended to tell us about how lifespans decreased after the Flood, and thus we cannot add up the ages to give us the span of time over the same period of early history.  He supports this claim by noting that the total lifespan of each patriarch is unnecessary to establish the length of time from Creation to Abraham.  His argument here is interesting but smacks of the weird habit of modern readers to insist that Bible passages have only one meaning, which (if you can figure it out) necessarily excludes all other meanings or purposes.  I don't buy that kind of reasoning, and you shouldn't either.  Every time a New Testament writer cites a prophecy of the Old Testament, we see multiple meanings apply to the OT passage.

Green's third point is yet another analogy with a later genealogy/chronology, that of the Israelite sojourn in Egypt.  Once again, the dissimilarities strike me as more important than the similarities.

Green's fourth point is that Moses would have know about Egyptian chronology, which contradicts that of Genesis.  He also points out here that the Samaritan and Septuagint chronologies differ from the Masoretic (which he calls the "Hebrew"). To this I simply ask: Could not Moses' genealogies be intended to correct the faulty Egyptian chronology?  I don't think it's a very compelling argument.

For his fifth point, Green notes the stylistic similarity between the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11, which again I think is a point well worth considering.  Once again, though, I think he overplays the point:
...if a chronology is to be constructed out of this genealogy, Noah was for fifty-eight years the contemporary of Abraham, and Shem actually survived him thirty-five years, provided xi. 26 is to be taken in its natural sense, that Abraham was born in Terah's seventieth year.  This conclusion is well-nigh incredible.
The conclusion is incredible?  In other words, Green just doesn't believe it.  That's not an argument, and it's not compelling.

Green's article raises some important points, but in my view it gets far too much regard.  His arguments about the meaning of Genesis 5 and 11 are too conclusive.  I think there are a lot more questions that his view doesn't actually answer.  In the next article in this series, we'll continue looking at papers published on the genealogies, and we'll have a look at some additional questions about Genesis 5 and 11.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

New ancient footprints?

News reports this morning celebrate newly-discovered footprints "from the dawn of modern humanity."  They aren't.  They're quite recent, actually.  Even by conventional dating, they are at best from the "evening" of modern humanity.  They are near Engare Sero, Tanzania, which is the same general area as the Laetoli prints, but I don't think they're the prints I blogged about this past summer.  Those prints were supposed to be very old and very close to the existing Laetoli tracks.  These new prints are conventionally dated to 10-20 thousand years ago, and it was apparently quite a complicated task to get them dated.

Read all about it in their report:

Liutkus-Pierce et al. 2016. Radioisotopic age, formation, and preservation of Late Pleistocene human footprints at Engare Sero, TanzaniaPalaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology DOI 10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.09.019.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Patriarchs of Genesis 5 and 11

Photo: Pixabay
Judging by the correspondence I received about the previous post on human lifespan, my readers have a great interest in the ages of the Old Testament patriarchs and the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11.  These passages have a special importance to young-age creationists, since it is by adding up the ages recorded there that we estimate how old the earth really is.  I was reminded by a reader that these ages also hint at an eschatological importance, since we will be given a new body and live forever in that new body.  If we believe that, why is it so hard to believe that we once lived much longer than we do now?

As a young-age creationist myself, I wish I could say that our understanding of Genesis 5 and 11 is an interpretive slam dunk for young-age creationism.  I wish that the passage was clear as a bell, and we know for a fact exactly what it means.  Unfortunately, it's not that simple.  I still believe in a young earth (for many other reasons), but Genesis 5 and 11 leave me with a lot of really interesting questions.  Let me say again that these questions haven't shaken my certainty in the idea of young-age creationism.  I'm merely open to new possibilities about some passages that relate to that belief.

A few days ago I spent a few hours reading up on the genealogies, and I thought it would be good to continue this blog series on human longevity with a summary of some of the questions raised by the many scholars who have written about Genesis 5 and 11.  Most of these issues I already knew about, and I can't say that I have listed all the issues here.  There might be more I haven't come across or forgot about.  I think it's good to remind ourselves of the complexities of even this apparently simple passage.  So here we go, in no particular order:

1.  Are the Genesis 5 and 11 genealogies complete?  In 1890, Dr. William Henry Green of Princeton Theological Seminary published an oft-referenced article on genealogies and chronology in the well-known journal Bibliotheca Sacra. After comprehensively surveying the genealogies of the Old Testament, he concluded that they were sometimes abbreviated, possibly to make them easier to remember.  He is indisputably correct on this point.  Compare the line of Aaron recorded in 1 Chron. 6:3-14 with the same genealogy in Ezra 7:1-5.  Ezra omits six generations between Meraioth and Azariah.  Green takes this to mean that the Hebrew terms for "begat" or "the son of" could include more distant ancestor-descendant relationships than just father/son.  If it is the case that the ancient writers of Scripture had a looser understanding of the genealogies than we do here in Western evangelical Christianity, then it is at least possible that some generations might have been omitted from Genesis 5 and 11.  Perhaps more importantly, we might conclude this: If genealogies were often shortened as a matter of common practice, then we should not automatically assume that any ancient genealogy is complete.

2.  Is there a generation missing in Genesis?  If you compare Luke 3:35-36 to Genesis 11:10-20, you'll see an extra name.  Genesis gives the lineage as Shem - Arphaxad - Shelah, but Luke records it as Shem - Arphaxad - Cainan - Shelah.  Is this confirmation of Green's genealogical gaps, or is the extra Cainan just a scribal error?

3.  Are the Genesis 5 and 11 genealogies stylized?  If Green is right, we might expect to see that the Genesis genealogies have been altered to make them easy to remember.  Some scholars say that that's exactly what happened: Genesis 5 records the generations from Adam to Noah, and we see that there are ten such generations, ending with a man who had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.  In Genesis 11, we have the line from Shem to Abram, which also includes ten generations and ends with a man Terah who had three sons, Abram, Nahor, and Haran.  The counting here is a bit muddled, since the ten generations in Genesis 5 must include only Adam through Noah and exclude Noah's sons, but Genesis 11 has ten generations only if you include Terah's three sons.  Ironically, you get an exact stylistic match if you include the Cainan of Luke 3.

4.  Should we reject the idea of gaps in the Genesis genealogies because of the precise ages?  This has long been my fall-back argument with presented with claims 1-3 above.  The precise formulas followed in Genesis 5 and 11 don't seem to allow intentional editing while preserving inerrancy.  In Genesis 5:15-16 we read,
When Mahalalel had lived 65 years, he fathered Jared. Mahalalel lived after he fathered Jared 830 years and had other sons and daughters.
Now it seems to me that the precise nature of "fathering" or "begatting" isn't necessarily the important question.  Whatever that relationship was, it began when Mahalalel was 65 years old.  This level of precision is not found in other genealogies of the Bible, which suggests that the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 are unique.  Perhaps they do not play by the same rules as other genealogies?

5.  How old was Terah when Abram was born?  Here's an interesting puzzle related directly to the previous question.  Genesis 11:26 tells us that Terah had lived to be 70 when he "he fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran."  At the end of that same chapter, we read that Terah was 205 when he died in Haran, and the beginning of chapter 12 tells us that God told Abram to leave Haran when Abram was 75 years old (12:4).  Now, let's do a little math.  If God called Abram out of Haran after Terah died, then Terah must have been no younger than 205 (Terah's total lifespan) - 75 (Abram's age after Terah died) when he fathered Abram.  That would make him 130 years old, or sixty years after the age recorded in Genesis 11:26.  I think here we have some inescapable evidence within Genesis itself that there's been some stylistic arrangement to the end of the Genesis 11 genealogy.  On the one hand, it doesn't seem likely that the brothers Abram, Nahor, and Haran are all exactly the same age (although it's certainly possible given polygamous pregnancies), which suggests that Terah's age of 70 might only be the age he began to have kids.  Since the book of Genesis is about to shift its focus to the story of Abram, it makes sense that the author would put him first in a list of brothers, even if Abram wasn't the first born.  So there is at least a possible explanation, but what does this mean for the other ages given in Genesis 5 and 11?

6.  What ages are the right ages?  We have three basic manuscript "versions" of the Old Testament: The Masoretic, the Septuagint, and the Samaritan.  The Masoretic is the one that Protestants use today to translate the Old Testament.  The Septuagint is an ancient Greek translation, and the Samaritan was an independent Hebrew version of the Old Testament preserved  in the city of Samaria (the old capital of the northern ten tribes of Israel).  They are mostly the same and definitely tell the same stories, but there are some differences.  One of those differences is the ages of the patriarchs.  If you add up the ages of the Masoretic, you get 1656 years between creation and the Flood.  The Septuagint records 2244 years, and the Samaritan 1307.  I suspect some of you might wonder, as I phrased it above, "Which one is right?"  I would prefer to ask, "Why in the world are they different at all?"  They're just ages.  They don't seem to impact on important doctrines, so why change them?  Is there some significance to these ages that we moderns do not understand?

7.  Are the ages symbolic?  A common observation about the lifespans of the Genesis 5 patriarchs is how close they are to multiples of 60.  Most of the patriarchs lived more than 900 years, which is 15 x 60.  Enoch lives 365, which is close to 6 x 60, and Lamech lives only 777 years, which is close to 13 x 60.  This might seem random, except that the ancient Sumerians used a number system based on 60.  What exactly this could mean is not clear.

8.  Are these genealogies related to the Sumerian King List?  Genesis isn't the only record of extreme lifespans from the Ancient Near East.  The Sumerian King List, known from a number of archaeological discoveries, records reigns of 18,600 - 42,000 years for their earliest eight kings.  One interpretation might be that the Sumerians remembered incorrectly a time when people really did live very long lives, but others might say that the cultures of the Ancient Near East assigned unreasonably long lives to individuals as a sign of honor.

These are just a few of the issues that come up when digging into these apparently simple genealogies.  I'll be looking more closely at the genealogies in the coming weeks as we work through these questions together.  Please email me your ideas and thoughts about anything I've written.  I will be glad to read your reactions.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Methuselah and New Research on Human Lifespan

Source: NYPL
The Bible records a remarkable list of patriarchs with lives that spanned centuries. Among the men listed in the genealogy of Genesis 5, we find the oldest person mentioned in the Bible:
When Methuselah had lived 187 years, he fathered Lamech. Methuselah lived after he fathered Lamech 782 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Methuselah were 969 years, and he died. (Gen. 5:25-27).
Methuselah is mentioned only twice outside of Genesis, both of which merely recap the Genesis genealogy.  It's also important to note that the numbers given in Genesis for Methuselah's ages differ in different manuscript sources.  The Masoretic text, which is the basis of most modern English Bibles, is translated above (in the ESV).  A version of the Septuagint, an ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, gives his age as 167 at the birth of Lamech but still has him living to be 969.  Another ancient source, the Samaritan Pentateuch, lists his age as 67 when he fathered Lamech and only 720 years at his death.

Young-age creationists have taken these references to be accurate historical records of extreme longevity in the ancient patriarchs.  After the Flood, the lifespans of the patriarchs listed in Gen. 11 drop off precipitously, which implies that something happened to change our lifespans to the pitiful century or so that we survive today.

There are many different issues related to these genealogies and the Ancient Near East, but today I just want to focus on one: the feasibility of living 900+ years.  Think for a moment about the "wonders" of getting older.  Teeth fall out.  Hair falls out.  Organs stop working.  Joints wear out.  Do you really want that to go on for 900 years?  Is that even possible?

Some creationists claim that something in the environment changed our lifespan, perhaps radiation or something in our diet (like widespread meat consumption).  Other creationists argue that it's more likely to be a genetic change.  In other words, we're programmed to die when we do.  A genetic change could help explain why we undergo senescence, all those unpleasant changes to our bodies as we age.

New research published this week in Nature relates directly to this question.  A study of mortality data by Dong and colleagues suggests that human lifespans may have a natural limit of about 115 years.  We've known for a long time that human life expectancy has been going up steadily since we've been keeping careful track of such things.  In 1900, the average life expectancy for men and women was below 50, but today men and women can expect to live into their 70s.  That's a dramatic change over the course of just 117 years, and much of it can be attributed to advances in medicine.  We know more about how to live healthy lifestyles, and modern medicine really can cure what ails us.

By looking at the fraction of people surviving to old age (defined >70 years old), the researchers found that the greatest changes occurred for people more than 80 years old.  In other words, there was a steep increase in the number of people surviving beyond 80 years old over the last century, but that sharp increase was not seen in people living beyond 100.  Longevity hasn't changed much at all for people who live to see their 110th birthday.  Dong et al. interpret their findings as a natural limit to human lifespan of about 115 years.  They estimate that people who make it to 110 have about one chance in 10,000 of living to see their 125th birthday.

A superficial reading of this new research might suggest that it invalidates a straightforward reading of Genesis 5 and 11.  If humans can't live longer than 115 years, they surely can't live to be 969.  That would also make sense in light of our experience of aging and senescence.  Human bodies wear out as they age.

But let's think a little more carefully about this work.  Remember that one creationist suggestion is that a genetic change (or many genetic changes) brought about an alteration in longevity.  Aging involves constant and unavoidable senescence, and if someone was to live to 969, that entire sequence of senescence would have to change.  Otherwise, they'd be miserable.  They certainly wouldn't be having children at 187 years old like Methuselah!  Indeed, the entire idea of extreme longevity requires a change in senescence and aging.

Now we have more evidence from Dong et al. that there is a real limit to modern human lifespan.  It's not merely a matter of improving our environment.  With all the environmental improvements we've experienced over the past century, the extremely old individuals still don't make it much past 110 years old.  That would support the notion that human lifespan is determined internally rather than externally, which is the most likely explanation of how the patriarchal longevity could have changed so drastically.  So even though this research sounds like a slam dunk refutation of Genesis, it isn't nearly that simple.

There is much more to be said about longevity and life history, and there is a lot more to be said about the ages of the patriarchs as recorded in Genesis.  If you'd like more blog posts about this subject, shoot me an email.  I'd be happy to write more.

Dong et al. 2016. Evidence for a limit to human lifespanNature doi:10.1038/nature19793.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.