The Internal Chronology of Noah’s Flood, Part 1: An Overview

Ask someone who is biblically literate how long Noah’s Flood lasted and the usual answer will be forty days and forty nights. But that is not quite right. The problem is that the Flood story consists of the intermingling of two different sources with different chronologies, tightly integrated by a subsequent redactor who may have made some additional changes. Scholars refer to these two sources as J (for Jahwist) and P (for Priestly). Unless otherwise indicated, I will rely on Richard Elliot Friedman’s Who Wrote the Bible for the identification of J and P texts within the Genesis Flood account.

One problem is that the Flood story consists of three phases, rising water, receding water, and drying of the earth, and there appear to be inconsistencies between J and P as to how these three events unfold. Let’s look at an example of some of the problems that have to be solved.

Genesis 7:4 says, “For in seven days I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights.” Note here only rain is the source of the flooding. This verse belongs to the J source.

Genesis 7:6 says the Flood occurred during Noah’s six hundredth year but remains vague as to when in the six hundredth year the rain started. Genesis 7:11 says that on the seventeenth day of the second month of Noah’s six hundredth year “the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened [emphasis added].” This verse belongs to P. Note here that the same day as the rain starts, there is both a downpour and the oceans burst open, a secondary source of the flooding.

Immediately after this last verse, Genesis 12–13 says, “The rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights. On the very same day Noah with his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons entered the ark [emphasis added].” This is a J passage. On what day did Noah and the family enter the ark? It could be argued that, given the narrative sequence, the family didn’t enter the ark until after the forty days of rain. But let’s put that issue aside. There are other problems.

The narrator is trying to give the impression that on the seventeenth day of the second month of Noah’s six hundredth year the rains started and Noah’s family entered the ark. Most scholars would probably agree that the J source flood story and the P source flood story commence at the same point in time. But is this the case?

The problem is when did Noah get the seven-day warning. If we add the seven-day warning to the forty days of rain in the J source and count from the first day of Noah’s six hundredth year, the elapsed time of 47 days falls on the seventeenth day of the second month of Noah’s six hundredth year, the same day that the P source sets as the start of its version of the flood story. (This would be true with solar or lunar calendars.)

So do we have one story where rain falls for forty days (J) and a separate story where rain falls and the oceans erupt on the same day (P) and did the redactor attempt to align them so that they started on the same day, or did he mean for the rains to fall for forty days, after which the oceans erupted and the rains continued beyond forty days?

There is no simple answer to this question and we have to do a deep dive into all of the chronological data in the Flood story to make sense out of the ways J and P interact. An important detail that helps us resolve the problem is that J and P use different time descriptions to move the story along.

J uses relative chronology and P uses fixed chronology. That is, in the J source, things happen after “D” number of days; in P, events happen precisely on specific dates, i.e., on day “D’ in month “M” in year “Y” thus and thus happened. In P you have to calculate to determine how many days elapsed between events and J tells you how many days elapsed between events. J, on the other hand, is not anchored to specific dates and P is anchored to specific dates. (Here, I would add that, in a couple of instances, Friedman assigns a couple of chronological references to the P source even though they have a J format. I will argue later that these references were added by the redactor in order to further the integration of the  two sources.)

Over the next few posts on this topic, I will be looking at the J chronology in isolation from P; the P chronology in isolation from J; and the integration of the two. The chronological data will lead to interesting indications that the authors of J and P relied on differing aspects of the Egyptian calendar system for framing their narratives.

Jesus and Samson: The Remarkable Parallels

A number of Christian commentators have recognized that there are several parallels between the story of Samson and the story of Jesus. In Christian circles, it is often argued that these similarities point to Jesus. Given the strength of several of the parallels, I think an argument could be made that the influence worked in the other direction, with the story of Jesus pointing to the story of Samson as a literary source.

The story of Samson can  be found in Judges 13–16. Here is my list of parallels. See what you think. At the end of the listing, I’ll discuss another parallel that Christians overlook. Samson was almost certainly a deity figure.

Similarities between the Samson and Jesus stories

  • Israel is under the domination of a foreign power. In Samson it is the Philistines. With Jesus it is the Romans.
  • An angel appears to the hero’s mother-to-be and announces she will be the bearer of a child through a miraculous birth, apparently without benefit of sexual activity. In the Samson story, the mother is barren and unable to have children.
  • The angel tells the mother that the child will be the savior of Israel.
  • The spirit of the Lord is involved in the birth of the child.
  • At some point, the spirit of the lord enters into the hero.
  • The hero likes to speak in riddles.
  • The hero has been given authority by God to act as a Judge over Israel.
  • The Jews bind the hero and hand him over to the foreign power ruling over them. In the Samson story, he manages to escape but is re-arrested later.
  • Someone close to Jesus is bribed in order to find a way to take him into custody.
  • After the hero is arrested, his sight is impaired. In the Samson story he is blinded. In the Jesus story he is blindfolded.
  • After the hero is arrested, he is mocked.
  • The hero knows that he will die pursuant to God’s plan.
  • Just before the hero dies, his arms were stretched out in a cross-like fashion.
  • Upon his death a temple is damaged. In Samson’s story, he brings down the Philistine temple. In the Jesus story, the curtain in the Jewish Temple is torn in two.

While the details in each of the two narratives aren’t identical, they are similar and abundant. As to the Samson story, if it did serve as a literary source, it existed in a contextually different situation. It wouldn’t be surprising, therefore, to see modifications made to the literary template to fit in with the later context.

Samson as deity

The name Samson, Shimson in Hebrew, literally means “sun man” or man of the sun.” This is not the kind of name one would expect from an Israelite. It suggests that Samson originates as a solar deity for a non-Israelite cult. This is reinforced by the fact that he has extremely long hair, which serves as the basis of his strength. Long hair frequently has solar implications in mythology as a symbol of the sun’s rays. Horses and Lions, having long manes, are frequently depicted as solar symbols. The Samson story also takes place close to the city of Beth Shemesh, which translates as House of the Sun.

In the story, Samson is identified with the tribe of Dan, which is located on the Mediterranean coast, in Philistine territory. Shortly after the Samson story, Judges tells the story of the Danites moving to the north of Israel, and in later times Dan was considered the northern boundary of Israel.

In the Song of Deborah, she asks “Dan, why did he abide with the ships?” Dan didn’t aid Israel in this particular battle, and Dan appears as a seafaring nation. Some scholars believe that the tribe of Dan may have been the Dnyn, one of the Greek Sea People tribes that entered Canaan at about the time of the Judges setting. Homer used the name Danoi for the Greek nations that fought at Troy.

The Philistines were another one of the Sea Peoples that entered Canaan during the Judges era. In the Samson story, despite being an Israelite and a Judge, Samson seems to spend all of his time with the Philistines, marrying a Philistine woman and socializing with the Philistines and taking up with various Philistine women..

Many scholars recognize at least a similarity between Samson and the Greek hero Herakles, who became a deity upon his death. Portions of the Herakles cycle, such as his sailing through the sky in a golden cup, suggest that he had aspects of a solar deity. In my 101 Myths of the Bible, I explore the connection between Samson and Herakles in more detail. I suggested that the Sea Peoples brought the Herakles myths with them into Canaan and they became the basis of a local solar cult with “sun man, ” i.e., Samson, as the local deity.

My ASOR 2020 Annual Meeting Presentation

I am presenting a paper at the ASOR 2020 (virtual ) Annual Meeting titled “Noah’s Flood: Babylonian or Egyptian in Origin?” Almost all scholarship on the Genesis story of Noah’s Flood sees the origins of the story in some version of the Babylonian flood myths. These include some version of the Gilgamesh epic or an early ancestor to the Flood story contained within the Gilgamesh epic.

While there can be little doubt that some sort of literary connection exists between the Genesis version and some version of the Babylonian Flood traditions, scholars see this as the starting point for studying the story. In my paper I will be arguing that the story originates with Egyptian Creation myths. At a much later time, however, the original version of the story was redacted in order to harmonize it with the Gilgamesh epic.

Because the meeting is virtual, I will not be doing a live presentation. All presenters are submitting video versions of the paper that will be available to registrants for up to six months. However, members of my panel, Archaeology in Egypt, will all be available for an online live session to take questions and engage in discussions of the papers presented by the panel members. That session will be on November 20th, from 12:30 to 1:30.

Shortly after the live panel, I will add the paper to my Writings page on this blog (and perhaps make the video version available also.) In the meantime, over the next couple of weeks, I am planning a series of posts on the very problematic nature of the internal chronology of the Noah’s Flood story in Genesis, i.e., how long did the Flood last, what happened when in the course of the story, and what conclusions can we draw. There should be a few interesting revelations in the analysis.

Who won the war between Moab and Israel

Ataroth is an obscure Transjordanian city, referenced only twice in the Bible. Nevertheless, due to modern archaeological discoveries, it has become a central piece of evidence for reconstructing the history of the Moabite rebellion against Israel and King Mesha’s expansion of the Moabite kingdom described in both 2 Kings and the Mesha Stele.

To read the full essay go here.

Did Israel Always Have Twelve Tribes?

In my 101 Myths of the Bible, I raised questions about whether the sons of Jacob formed the twelve tribes of Israel (Myth 63). The idea wasn’t new or original at the time. Variations on the argument within the scholarly community had existed well before I put my own take into the record. In a recent essay at Thetorah.com, there is a nice academic review of the question: Did Israel Always Have Twelve Tribes? Worth a read.

Biblical Studies Carnival # 165. October 2019

Welcome to my Biblical Studies Carnival. It’s my first stroll down the midway and there sure has been a lot to see. Couldn’t catch everything, so I might have to come back another time. I’m assuming you have lots of handy candy from last night’s trick-or-treating. Hope you enjoy the show.

Commentary

Bruce Chilton has some questions about early Christian developments regarding the “empty tomb” teachings. Based on his recent book, Resurrection Logic.

The conventional presentation [empty tomb] has become so prevalent that it needs to be mentioned in order to be set aside because it flies in the face of the fact that “the empty tomb” is a latecomer to the traditions regarding how God raised Jesus from the dead. The resurrection was conceived of as bodily by Jesus’ disciples, but they did not all assert a single origin story, nor did they always conceive of his body in a physical way.

Alex asks: Did the disciples see the son of man coming in his kingdom in AD 70?

From Nijay Gupta. An Interview with Joseph R. Dodson, Co-Editor of Paul and the Giants of Philosophy.

Religion Prof, otherwise known as James McGrath, has some observations on how modern perspectives from literature and other sources can mislead us as to how we interpret the bible in the context of its own time.

Bill Heroman has some book notes on the Gospels as Biography.

An interview with Michael Bird on his collaboration with N. T. Wright for The New Testament in Its World, and the keys to fruitful New Testament study.

Scriptures

Joy? No joy? Dr. Claud Mariottini discusses translation conflicts with respect to Isaiah 9:3

Another translation question. Bill Mounce asks, “Was Moses Exposed, Abandoned, or Thrown Out? (Acts 7:19)

Lynne Moss Bahr explores time concepts in the Jesus stories in light of continental philosophy. She has a book on the subject.

Over at Zondervan Academic. Who wrote 1, 2, & 3 John?

Paul’s Opposition in Corinth in 2 Corinthians from Reading Acts by Phil Long, who has heroically kept the monthly carnivals going for these many years.

Robert Cargill argues that Melchizedek of Salem was actually King of Sodom and that Salem was not a toponym for Jerusalem. Controversial, yes. He also has a book length study of this and related issues.

Is there a connection between Jesus and Elisha and leprosy? Brant Pitre at The Sacred Page thinks so. He might want to consider Luke 4:24-27 in future discussions of the issues he raises here.

How is disagreement resolved in the Council of Acts 15? Ian Paul at Psephizo,

Revelation Roundup, from Religion Professor.

On my blog, I ask, Did God rest on the Seventh Day or the Eighth?

Text Criticism

Larry Hurtado discusses 1 Enoch: An Update on Manuscripts and Cautionary Notes on Usage. Also, an exploration of the differences in how Muslims and Christians do text analysis on the New Testament and the Qur’an.

Arthur Hunt, Harold Idris Bell, and Edward Maunde Thompson on the Date of Codex Sinaiticus From Brent Nongbri at Variant Readings.

Bart Ehrman tells us about “Crazy Things Textual Scholars Say.” I’m old enough to remember the TV prequel, Kids Say the Darnedest Things.

At Aeon: An early influential bible critic you probably never have heard of.

History

God in Conflict: Images of the Divine Warrior in Ancient Jewish and Early Christian Texts, by Scott C. Ryan. From Bible and Interpretation.

Evie Gassner asks: How Jewish was Herod?

Historian Linda Zollschan Challenges World Opinion about the Roman Coin inscription “Judaea Recepta.”

Solving the Mystery of the City in Isa 24-27: The Fall of the Assyrian Palace at Ramat Raḥel:

 “Who built these impressive structures in the seventh century and used them as a base to oversee Judah and its economy? It was a period of major historical and political changes in Judah.”

Mythism debate. Back in 2016, Craig Evans and Richard Carrier debated whether or not Jesus existed. Evans Yea and Carrier Nay. No surprise there. Shortly thereafter, Evans published an assessment of the arguments, which was reprinted in March of 2018. Carrier recently learned of the publication and responded.

Book Reviews

To Cast the First Stone by Jennifer Knust and Tommy Wasserman. It is widely accepted among biblical scholars that John’s account of Jesus and the Adulterous Woman (John 7:53-8:11) was not original to the Fourth Gospel, although a number of Evangelical text critics disagree. (I don’t say that as a put down.) At the 2018 SBL annual conference, in a panel discussion of this work, Bart Ehrman declared that he was sad to report that he had nothing critical to say about this book and considered it the definitive work on the story of Jesus and the Adulteress. Many scholars agree, but not James Snapp, Jr, who provides a lengthy critique.

The Apostolic Fathers: A New Translation. H. H. Drake Williams review’s Rick Brannan’s book. The text focuses on a translation that adheres more closely to the underlying Greek.

The Emperors and the Jews, by Ari Lieberman. Favorably reviewed by Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein.

That All shall be Saved by David Bentley Hart.  Reviewed by Andrew Perriman. (O.K. I admit. I had to look up “magniloquent.” Thought it was a Disney Princess. Guessed again. Still wrong.)

“I’ve done a couple of posts so far critically reviewing aspects of David Bentley Hart’s magniloquent anti-infernalist treatise That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, & Universal Salvation. My interest has been mainly in his use of the biblical material; I am not convinced that the theological arguments against hell and for universal salvation need to be made.”

Essential Companion to Christian History from Zondervan. Reviewed by Jim West.

The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Full History by Weston W. Fields. Reviewed by Anthony Ferguson at Evangelical Textual Criticism.

Miscellaneous

Bart Ehrman is leading a tour to Rome and other sites April 14–24, 2020, featuring lectures on pagan-Christian relationships in the early centuries. Interested?

The Evangelical Textual Criticism blog-folk are organizing their annual dinner gathering at SBL 2019 in San Diego. Details here.

This is troubling. More here. And here. And here.

A is for Apple, Alef Beth is for Learn Wisdom. A chart based on Talmudic teaching for learning the Hebrew Alphabet.

Some video lectures on Christian History by Diarmid MacCollough. These were recommended to me for inclusion in the roundup but due to time constraints I haven’t viewed them yet.

And lastly,I shamelessly plug my forthcoming book, The Case for a Proto-Gospel: Recovering the Common Written Source Behind Mark and John. From Peter Lang, tentative release in November or December.

So. That’s it. Gonna stroll down the midway, catch some of the verse jugglers, hop on the camel ride through the eye of the needle, and check out that leopard-bear-lion thingie with the ten horns and seven heads.

Upcoming Carnivals

#166 November 2019 (Due December 1) – Derek DeMars, Theology Pathfinder 

#167 December 2019 (Due January 1) –  Alex Finkelson,  Scribes of the Kingdom

#168 January 2020 (Due February 1) –  Jim West  on Twitter as @drjewest,  Zwinglu Redivivus

And: If you’d like to host a future carnival, contact Phil Long at this email plong42@gmail.com or @plong42 on Twitter.

Did God rest on the seventh day or the eighth?

This is a follow up to my earlier post, A Genesis editing error? Separating the second and third days of Creation. The earlier post argued that with the exception of the second day, God declares at the end of each day’s work that “it was good.” On the second day, the expression is missing but on the third day it is used twice, in the middle and at the end. I suggested that thematically, the activities occurring in the first part of the third day fit better with the second day’s activities than the third’s, and suggested that there was an editing error in which the second day’s activity should have included that part of the third day’s activities that occur prior to the first of the two notices that “it was good,”, and that notice originally signaled the end of the second day.

If correct, that would leave us with six days each including the phrase “it was good.” But the sixth day also includes two separate claims that the day’s activities were good. The first part of the day brings forth the animals “And God saw that it was good.” Then God created “man.” Several translations substitute “humankind” for “man” but the underlying Hebrew uses Adam, meaning “man.”

The problem here is that if the phrase “it was good” is used to mark off a day’s activities, as it does for five of the six days (and all six days per my analysis of the second day), then we should consider that the double use of “it was good” should indicate that there were two separate days of activities combined into one day. The creation of the animals happened on the sixth day, as the text indicates, but the creation of Adam, after the first statement that “it was good” should have occurred on the seventh day. If this is the case, then God rested on the eighth day, and we have the Sabbath traditions all wrong.

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