Setting the Record Straight on the Primeval Chronology of the Septuagint (part 3)

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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.

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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.

2. Straw Men and Ad Hominems

1. In my ICC paper (p. 117), I state that “He [God] certainly does not promise to preserve the OT Scriptures in the Masoretic Text alone.” C&C claim that this is a view of inspiration that “no one has ever held.” First, mine is not a statement on the doctrine of inspiration, it is a very concise statement on the doctrine of preservation. Second, I explicitly cite and quote Chronology of the Old Testament written by Floyd Nolen Jones (p. 119), who in fact, holds to the very view I describe. C&C should be familiar with this work, as it well-known in the creation community and has exerted influence on many Christians who subscribe to a recent creation and have an interest in biblical chronology. Moreover, an online search will quickly bring up videos and other articles that echo Jones’ basic position. In recent days, I received an email with a link to this abrasive and dogmatic polemic, and a grossly uninformed video presentation featuring Kent Hovind.73 Again, both reflect the same fundamental perspective as Jones.

My goal in making this particular statement was to appeal to those who may be influenced by irrational and ill-informed biases against the LXX to reconsider their position. In my articles online and in MT, SP, or LXX?, I cite other examples of the LXX’s superiority over the MT (i.e. Gen 4:8; sections of I Samuel) in an attempt persuade those who subscribe to a theologically incorrect and over-exalted view of the MT to re-evaluate their perspective.

Thus, C&C’s statement is not only a straw man, it reveals an unfamiliarity with a distorted but sometimes influential viewpoint within evangelicalism on the preservation of the original OT text.

2. C&C also state that I make “a number of demonstrably untrue and apparently prejudicial statements in the [ICC] paper.” They then quote me as follows:

     Even though the Reformers had largely accepted the Gen 5/11 MT chronology as original, a number
     of subsequent Christian chronologists argued that the LXX fundamentally preserves the
     original figures and the MT’s primeval chronology is the result of a deliberate post–AD
     70 corruption (Goodenow 1896; Hales 1830; Hayes 1741; Jackson 1752; Russell 1865; Seyffarth 1859).
     Unfortunately, modern conservatives have not engaged with their arguments. (ICC p. 119).

In their response, C&C refer to Jerome, Augustine, and Bede as proponents of the MT’s timeline.

First, Augustine was not a proponent of the MT’s entire primeval timeline. He followed the LXX in his explicit calculation and exposition of the post-Flood chronology (City of God XVI.10). Moreover, his theory on the origin of the LXX’s chronology in Gen 5 is untenable (see § II.4.1–10 below).

Second, Bede’s main arguments against the LXX’s primeval chronology are found in Letter to Plegwin and in The Reckoning of Time, chapter 66.74 In Plegwin, Bede parrots portions of Augustine’s renegade scribe theory (§ II.4.1–10), appeals to Jerome on several occasions, inaccurately cites Josephus (Plegwin, p. 409), and quotes Jerome’s erroneous argument from silence borrowed from Origen’s Isaiah commentary. Bede also appeals to Jerome’s discussion of problems in the chronology of LXX I and II Chronicles vs. the Hebrew text (Plegwin, p. 410). The text critical challenges in those books have nothing whatsoever to do with Gen 5/11 (see my discussion of this text critical fallacy in ICC, p. 119). I and II Chronicles were translated decades after the Pentateuch by different translators, from different Hebrew Vorlagen, and were likely completed in Israel, not Egypt (ICC, pp. 117–120). Plegwin is largely a rhetorical argument from authority, containing no substantive reasons why the MT’s primeval chronology represents the original text.75

Jerome is, of course, worthy of our serious consideration.76 Despite his extensive contributions to the Church historic and his familiarity with Hebrew, Greek and Latin texts of the OT, Jerome merely asserts that the LXX in Gen 5/11 is wrong. He simply never offers a substantive argument as to why. He extrapolates the Methuselah problem across the entire primeval chronology of the LXX (as does Bede),77 a methodological error still being employed today (ARJ, p. 171). He provides no viable explanation for the origin of the alleged inflations in the LXX, nor does he explain how the Hebrew text of the Samaritan Pentateuch came to match the LXX in Gen 11. Jerome’s conclusion with respect to Gen 5/11 depends entirely on his all controlling a priori, the Hebraica veritas. Bede’s dogmatic and slavish devotion to this principle is virtually identical to Jerome’s.

Embedded in the Hebraica veritas a priori is the added assumption that the Hebrew text of Gen 5/11 extant in Israel in Jerome’s day (the late 4th and early 5th centuries AD) had never been subjected to deliberate changes previously. It assumes the originality of the MT in Gen 5/11 from the outset and never critically questions its veracity. This is purely circular reasoning, and it therefore explains nothing. Septuagint scholar Peter Gentry’s statement bears repeating here (ICC, p. 120):

     Differences, therefore, between the LXX and other witnesses to the text which are genuine
     textual variants should be evaluated on a case by case basis, and one should not prefer a priori
     either the LXX or the MT.

Third, Jerome, Augustine, and Bede are not relevant to what I was saying, anyway. I was referring to authors in the post-Reformation period who still held to the LXX’s chronology when its influence had waned significantly, and, to “modern conservatives” (not ancient authors) who have not engaged with the arguments made by those authors I specifically listed. When one reads the conservative academic literature, one will discover that my statement is, in fact, true. Modern conservative scholars have not engaged with the specific arguments delineated by Goodenow, Hales, Hayes, Jackson, Russell and Seyffarth.

Part of my overall point should have been obvious: despite the change to the priority of the MT’s primeval timeline during and after the Reformation, numerous Christian scholars still argued in favor of the LXX, and modern conservative scholars have all but ignored their particular arguments. By appealing to ancient authors instead, C&C have erected a straw–man they can subsequently tear down with uncharitable epithets.

3. C&C then claim the following statement is “also untrue”:

     Moreover, evangelicals tend to quickly dismiss LXX Gen 5/11 either because of the numerous (and
     often substantial) text critical divergences between the LXX and MT in other OT books, or because
     of unsubstantiated theological predispositions favoring the MT. (ICC p. 119).

After making this statement, I survey a number of conservative authors who have done exactly what I describe. C&C object, however, because they seem to believe I have misunderstood their previous article, “Textual Traditions and Biblical Chronology” (TTBC).

First, my statement included two general (not all) reasons why evangelicals tend to quickly dismiss the LXX’s numbers in Gen 5/11. I describe and interact with said dismissals from the works of Williams, Ray, Merrill, Green, Whitcomb/Morris and Jones. C&C have not shown why my descriptions of their arguments are inaccurate. The two reasons do not include TTBC, which is clear from reading my actual critique of TTBC and my other statements about it.

Second, I briefly interact with their article, and in no place do I state that their article is dismissive of the LXX due to the two general reasons often framed by other conservatives. This is a strong tendency in the literature, but it does not apply to all conservative scholars. Instead, the fair minded reader should clearly be able to see that I state TTBC is “methodologically deficient."78 In my brief critique, I specifically outline what I believe are the fatal deficiencies in C&C’s methodology.

Third, I positively categorize their article (along with the work of Shaw, Young, and Sexton) as an “exception” (ICC p. 117; ARJ, p. 171) to the superficial approach employed by most conservative scholars since the publication of W.H. Green’s “Primeval Chronology” in 1890. Both my critique and positive statements combine to clearly place TTBC in a different category.

Thus, my statements are not untrue. Instead, C&C have distorted them.

4. Referring to their TTBC article, C&C state that I say their “approach was biased from the start,” and that I “systematically misinterpret(s) our main arguments.” Here is what I wrote, in full:

     Cosner and Carter attempt to approach the subject more objectively than most: “We did not come
     into the analysis with the agenda of proving MT superiority” (p. 105). While I certainly accept
     their intention as earnest, their method immediately moves into a pro–MT/anti–LXX stance.
     First, they quickly appeal to very brief pro–MT opinions from two conservative scholars.
     They do not adequately develop or defend the basis for these opinions. Second, they
     speculate that the LXX may have been inflated by the Alexandrian Jews to “agree with the
     Egyptian chronology of Manetho” (p. 99), a theory that has at least 8 fatal flaws (see below).
     No other viable motive for alleged LXX inflations is presented. Third, they utilize lifespans
     in SP Gen 11 as the foundation for reconstructing the post–Flood chronology. These numbers were
     added to the SP by uninspired scribes over 1000 years after Moses, and are not original
     (Hendel, p. 73). They cannot be used as a reliable foundation for textual reconstruction.
     Fourth, they provide no viable explanation for how/why the chronology in Gen 11 SP was (allegedly)
     inflated independently of the LXX. Fifth, they provide no analysis of external witnesses to
     Gen 5/11 from antiquity. This absence is striking and at odds with text–critical scholarship
     on the OT (Wevers 1974b; Hendel 1998; Kauhanen 2013). Sixth, there is no substantive
     interaction with LXX scholars who argue that the LXX translators treated the Genesis text very
     conservatively, and that the numbers came from the Hebrew Vorlage. In the end, Cosner and
     Carter deduce that the MT’s chronology is original, a conclusion that was baked into the
     methodological cake from the outset. (Despite my criticisms of their methodology and
     conclusions, their article contributes positively to the subject).

A few observations from this:

a. I accepted their personal motives/intentions as “earnest.”

b. I critiqued their methodology and made no mention of their personal/internal motivations, a courtesy they have not extended to me.

c. I stated explicitly that “their article contributes positively to the subject” and also indicated earlier that TTBC was an “exception” to the superficial arguments often found in the conservative literature.

d. I provided two main reasons (along with others) why their method and conclusions are fatally flawed: the immediate move in a pro-MT/anti-LXX direction at the very beginning of their article, and the use of the SP’s uninspired lifespans to reconstruct the post-Flood chronology. In private email correspondence with both authors independently, I pointed out some of these flaws and received either no reply or no substantial interaction from either author.

e. I argued that the methodology C&C used biased the conclusion in favor of the MT (especially in Genesis 11), but I did not accuse them of deliberately employing a biased methodology in order to reach a pre-determined outcome. A person can employ a method that biases the outcome of a study without setting out to do so. Let me be clear: I accept C&C’s biased, pro–MT methodology as coming from a place of sincerity. Here, I will explain further why a pro-MT bias is imbedded into their reconstruction of Genesis 11.

The post-Flood reconstruction that C&C present in TTBC must depend on the assumption that the uninspired SP’s lifespans are correct. However, the SP’s lifespans have no corroborating and independent textual evidence as stand-alone figures since the MT and LXX do not preserve lifespans in Gen 11: lifespans were not originally included by Moses. They are unlike the original Genesis 5 lifespans, which appear in multiple textual witnesses and can be used for mathematical cross-checking (what C&C refer to as “check sums”) due to their inspired, original, and accurate nature. Moreover, the SP’s lifespans in Gen 11 appear in no external witnesses until Eusebius (ca. AD 310). They are extremely late additions to the SP text, appearing for the first time over 1,000 years after the time of Moses. Thus, they only represent the state of the SP text at the time that the unknown, uninspired scribe(s) amended it. Therefore, and this is most significant, we cannot and must not assume the SP lifespans represent the accurate sum of the original begetting ages and the original remaining years as they were given to Moses. To assume they are accurate is to bias the conclusion in a certain direction from the start, and this is exactly what C&C have done.

An impartial text-critical reconstruction of Genesis 11 must begin by using the matching MT/LXX remaining years after accounting for accidental scribal errors (See: ICC, pp. 127–28, 130–31; “MT, SP or LXX?,” p. 26). By doing so, these dual textual witnesses eliminate any a priori assumptions about inflation or deflation in the begetting ages, and are not dependent on the spurious lifespan additions of an uninspired scribe. When this is done, it shows that the remaining years in the SP have all been deflated by 100 years each (sans Shem; 50 years for Nahor). Since the SP’s remaining years are all wrong, the only way to conclude that its lifespans are correct is to assume that the SP’s begetting ages have been inflated, which is exactly what C&C do in their methodology. This is a second pro–MT assumption embedded into their reconstruction.

Instead of necessarily assuming inflation, we must turn to the two-fold, matching and independent textual witness to the begetting ages in the SP/LXX. When the SP/LXX begetting ages (confirmed by 3 additional witnesses: Demetrius, Eupolemus and Josephus) are added to the SP’s incorrect and deliberately deflated remaining years, we discover that the SP lifespans are wrong. Since the SP’s lifespans are wrong, the MT’s calculated lifespans are also wrong, since they match the SP’s. Since the MT’s remaining years are correct (confirmed independently by the LXX and other external witnesses), we can only conclude that the MT’s begetting ages are also wrong.

Let us use the example of Peleg as an illustration (Gn 11:18–19). His remaining years are 209 in the MT/LXX, and 109 in the SP. The remaining years for Peleg in the SP are therefore incorrect by 100 years. Peleg’s begetting age is 130 in SP/LXX and 30 in the MT. Including external sources, the 130 appears in or is necessarily entailed in five witnesses before AD 100. Following the preponderance of evidence, Peleg’s begetting age of 130 in SP/LXX should be added to his remaining years of 209 in MT/LXX to yield an original lifespan of 339 years. The SP’s lifespan for Peleg incorrectly reads 239 years (130 + 109). The MT’s calculated lifespan of 239 for Peleg is therefore also wrong (30 + 209). Thus, Peleg’s begetting age of 30 in the MT is wrong.

This is the only valid way to text critically reconstruct the numbers in Genesis 11. By accepting the SP’s lifespans as authentic up front, C&C’s method immediately biases the conclusion against the matching SP/LXX begetting ages and in favor of the MT’s. Inflation in the SP’s begetting ages (and therefore the LXX’s) is “baked into the methodological cake” from the outset. Moreover, TTBC omits relevant external evidence, which unanimously favors the SP/LXX prior to ca. AD 120–160. C&C also provide no coherent explanation for why the SP scribe would have changed the numbers to begin with. Nor do they explain how the allegedly inflated begetting ages appeared independently in both the LXX and SP. Lastly, they overlook the internal evidence in Gen 11 which exposes the MT’s begetting ages as deliberate deflations (Sexton and Smith, “Primeval Chronology Restored,” pp. 48–49; ICC, pp. 122–23). For these reasons, their conclusions favoring the MT in Genesis 11 should be rejected.

5. To make the brief point that a majority of published Christian works dealing with matters of biblical chronology prior to the Reformation followed the LXX in Gen 5/11 instead of the MT, I cited a summary list of chronologies provided by Hales (pp. 211–14). This was done at the behest of an academic reviewer who suggested that I provide a citation for my statement. Hales’ list includes many chronologies, both Christian and non-Christian. While Hales’ objective was to point out the large variety of creation dates published over the centuries, anyone can easily pick out the Christian chronologists who followed the MT, and those who followed the LXX. My purpose was quite simple: I was merely illustrating the point that a majority of chronologists in church history prior to the Reformation accepted the LXX’s chronology, so we ought to take that fact seriously today. Hales’ summary list provided an easy way to document a fact that is beyond dispute.79

C&C’s reaction to the Hales citation is closely tethered to an egregious effort to impugn my motives. They write: “he dearly hopes that no one will look up what Hales actually wrote.” C&C never wrote to me and asked me why I cited Hales in this manner, which would have been the charitable approach. I could have cleared up the matter in five minutes, as I just did above. Instead of doing their due diligence, C&C leap to invalid conclusions and say that “[t]he only reason [they] can imagine” that I used Hales as a reference was because I was hoping that no one would ever check my source.

In other words, C&C insinuate that my intention was to mislead the reader.

Since they conclude that I was “dearly” hoping that no one would ever check my sources, C&C must evidently be familiar with my research practices and the inner workings of my heart and mind.80 The reader can judge for himself what place this kind of accusation has in Christian scholarship.

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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

     73I would generally describe this perspective as “Masoretic fundamentalism” or “MT onlyism,” which invariably sees the Septuagint as a lie, a forgery, or the like. One recent author, for example, absurdly claims that Codex Sinaiticus was a forgery created in 1840! Masoretic fundamentalism is often closely connected with “King James onlyism,” but not always. I should add that while every person deserves our respect because they are made in God’s image, every idea does not. Some ideas are atrocious ideas, and King James onlyism and MT onlyism fall into that category.
     74Bede, Bede: The Reckoning of Time, trans. Faith Wallis, vol. 29, Translated Texts for Historians (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1999), 157–58, 239–40, 253–54, 353–59, 405–15; Calvin B. Kendall, On Genesis: Bede, trans. Calvin B. Kendall, vol. 48, Translated Texts for Historians (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2008).
     75It is worth noting that Bede’s rhetoric is somewhat understandable since he was being labeled a “heretic” by the chiliasts of his day.
     76Adam Kamesar, Jerome, Greek Scholarship, and the Hebrew Bible: A Study of the Quaestiones Hebraicae in Genesim (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993); C. T. R. Hayward, Saint Jerome’s Hebrew Questions on Genesis, trans. C. T. R. Hayward (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995).
     77Ibid., 36.
     78I would also apply this description to Young’s 2003 ICC article, as well as to various elements of Benjamin Shaw’s 2004 doctoral dissertation, but both are valuable and exceptions to most superficial conservative treatments. I plan to interact with these works in future publication(s).
     79C&C briefly appeal to the western church’s widespread use of the Latin Vulgate, translated by Jerome from proto–Masoretic, rabbinic texts in Israel during his lifetime. C&C move from saying “the Vulgate quickly became the predominant text in the Western church” to conclude, “[t]herefore, the MT became the ‘default’ chronological text over 1,000 years before Smith claimed it did (4th century vs. 16th century).” First, it is obvious from my statements in both ARJ and ICC that I am not making any claims about the usage of the Vulgate vs. the LXX overall. That is a different and much more complicated question than the one at hand, since it involves evaluating the usage of all books of the OT and the entirety of Church writings during this period. In both articles, I refer to the specific issue of the primeval chronology and Christians who provided chronological calculations from creation. Second, we only have one way to gauge which chronology was more widely-accepted: look at the writings from this period from Christian authors who made statements about a date for creation, or those who constructed a detailed chronology from creation. In my ICC paper, I refer to these individuals broadly as “chronologists” (p. 117). Concluding that the predominant use of the Vulgate in general necessarily means that the MT’s chronology was accepted by a majority in the western Church over the LXX’s in particular is a non-sequitur.
     80Another typical ad hominem is found in this statement: “…his bibliography does not look like he started out with an unbiased search for the truth.” C&C cannot know possibly know my internal intentions or inclinations from the start of my research, since they never asked me about them. My initial search for the truth regarding the interpretation of Genesis 5 and 11 and the numerical divergences extends back to the year 2001, fifteen years before I published any articles. Along the way, I have changed my views numerous times. Moreover, it is impossible for C&C to deduce my motivations from published bibliographical citations. My complete bibliographical archive presently exceeds 600 sources, including the works of many pro–MT advocates such as Bede and Jerome.

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