Historical Genesis

From Adam To Abraham

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Chapter 13 - "We Have Found the Flood"

Putting a date on the biblical flood using purely biblical sources is frustrated by the fact that the Genesis texts themselves disagree. Kraft highlighted the problem of textual variations:

Here the figures vary considerably between those in the Hebrew Masoretic text (A.D. 600-900), from which a part of our English Bible is translated, and the figures in such early texts and versions as the Samaritan Pentateuch (originating before 200 B.C.) and the Greek Septuagint (originating about 250 B.C.). For example, in the Hebrew text the number of years between creation and the flood adds up to 1,656 years, whereas in the Greek text it amounts to 2,242, and in the Samaritan Pentateuch, only 1,307.

Not only do the years from Adam to the flood vary from 1,307 to 1,656 to 2,242 between the three texts, the differences in years from the flood to Abraham are even more startling. The Masoretic text puts 292 years between the flood and Abraham's birth, whereas the Samaritan Pentateuch records 942. This figure agrees with the Septuagint except the Greek text lists another patriarch, Cainan, between Arphaxad and Shelah, which adds another 130 years.

Cainan is mentioned in Jubilees. He discovered a forbidden astrological inscription and transcribed it. Cainan also is dutifully recorded in Luke 3:36, but missing in Genesis from the Received Text from which a large part of our English language Bible has been derived, thereby adding credibility to the oft-neglected Septuagint.

Credit for the 4004 BC date for creation, from which a flood date of 2348 BC is calculated, goes to Archbishop Ussher who used the Masoretic text. Bernard Ramm commented:

The date of 4004 B.C. was tagged on to the Bible well before the founding of modern geological theory. This date goes back to the work of James Ussher (1581-1656), an Irishman and Archbishop of Armagh.

Ramm went on to lament, the "dates of Ussher have been almost canonized" due to their inclusion in our English language Bibles for centuries. In pursuit of even greater precision, Lightfoot refined Ussher's work. Adam's creation, according to the famed Hebrew scholar, took place on October 23, 4004 BC at approximately 9:00 AM (forty-fifth meridian time, of course). This led Edwin Tenney Brewster to quip:

Closer than this, as a cautious scholar, the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University did not venture to commit himself.

Putting dates on events that took place thousands of years ago has inherent difficulties. Take, for example, the date of the Exodus from Egypt. Two principal views predominate: ca. 1440 BC during the reign of Amenhotep II (1450-1425 BC) or ca. 1290 BC during the reign of Raamses II (1299-1232 BC). Bible scholars in roughly equal numbers defend one or the other of those two dates. In the case of the flood, we have archaeological evidence to compare with biblical evidence. One bit of corroborating data reported in The Cambridge Ancient History relates to the date of the flood.

This important landmark in the dawn of history was associated with the person of a Sumerian king named Ziusudra who was reigning at Shuruppak, precisely where a clean flood stratum has been found.

Mallowan, from analysis of the flood deposits at Fara (Shuruppak), put the flood date at about 2900 BC. According to the Watelin-Langdon chronology, the flood deposit at Kish was dated at 3000 BC. The Early Dynastic Period in Mesopotamian history commenced with the first post-flood rulers at Kish, starting at 2900 BC and ending at 2371 BC with the arrival of Sargon, who began the Sargonid Period.

Between Ussher's estimated biblical date for the flood and Mallowan's archaeological date is some 550 years. That’s not an alarming disparity, but we can narrow the gap using Ussher’s own numbers; he calculated 615 years between Abraham and the Exodus.

If the Exodus took place at 1290 BC, coinciding with the reign of Raamses II, and the years from the flood to Abraham is taken from the long-neglected Septuagint, that would yield a date of 2978 BC, nearly the same as the estimated archaeological dates. If the Exodus was in 1440 BC, during the reign of Amenhotep II, the biblical date for the flood would be 150 years earlier, still fairly close to the archaeological dates.