Keywords: Primeval Chronology, Genesis 5 and 11, Septuagint, Masoretic Text, Samaritan Pentateuch, Methuselah, Josephus, Book of Jubilees
The numerical divergences found in the three textual witnesses of Genesis 5 and 11 (MT, LXX, and the Samaritan Pentateuch [SP])1 have been the subject of debate for at least 17 centuries. Each textual tradition yields a different chronology from the creation of Adam to the birth of Abraham (table 1).2 Eusebius (AD 260–340) is the first known author to explicitly cite and discuss the divergences, followed by Ephraem of Syria (AD 306–373),3, 4 Jerome (AD 340–420), Julian of Toledo (AD 642–690), Jacob of Edessa (AD 640–708), Byzantine chronologist George Syncellus (d. AD 810), and Armenian annalist Bar Hebraeus (AD 1226–1286),14 just to name a few.4
|Masoretic (MT)||Septuagint (LXX)||Samaritan Pentateuch (SP)|
|Patriarch||References||Begetting Age||Remaining Years||Lifespan||Begetting Age||Remaining Years||Lifespan||Begetting Age||Remaining Years||Lifespan|
|Noah||Gen 5:32; 7:11; 8:13-14; 9:28-29; 10:21; 11:10||500/(502)||After the Flood
|950||500/(502)||After the Flood
|950||500/(502)||After the Flood
|Terah||Gen 11:26,32; Acts 7:2–4||70/(130)||(75)||205||70/(130)||(75)||205||70||(75)||14513|
|Abraham||Gen 11:26,32; 12:1–4; 21:5; 25:7||100||(75)||175||100||(75)||175||100||(75)||175|
Most ancient Christian scholars argued for the originality of the LXX’s primeval chronology. This strong consensus lasted for over 14 centuries until the Reformation, when the MT supplanted the primacy of the LXX in the western church. Thus, a chronological interpretation of Genesis 5 and 11 using the MT’s numbers became the majority viewpoint. William H. Green of Princeton challenged the chronological interpretation with his seminal article “Primeval Chronology” (Green 1890). Green’s non-chronological interpretation of Genesis 5 and 11 eventually ascended to a position of primacy in conservative OT scholarship. (For an excellent refutation of Green, see Sexton 2015). Since Genesis 5 and 11 were deemed to be useless for chronological computation, the numerical divergences in the MT, LXX, and SP were relegated to irrelevance by most evangelicals. Only a handful of critical scholars have shown any genuine interest in examining the numbers in-depth and have attempted to reconstruct the original text. Presuppositions dominated by a critical view of Scripture unduly influence most of these reconstruction attempts, leading to a variety of untenable conclusions (Etz 1993; Hendel 1998; Larsson 1983; Northcote 2007; Tov 2015). These works provide helpful insights at the micro-level, but their macro-perspective is alien to a high view of Scripture. The minority of conservatives who have held to the chronological interpretation have largely defaulted to the MT’s numbers. Most conservative treatments of the subject are superficial in their scope and analysis, with exceedingly few serious attempts at historical and text-critical investigation and reconstruction. Notable exceptions include Shaw (2004), Young (2003), and Cosner and Carter (2015).
A full-fledged investigation into the numerical divergences in the three textual witnesses requires extensive research, far beyond the scope of a journal article. This is one of the major challenges with this subject.15 Thus, this article focuses primarily on the age of Methuselah in Genesis 5:25 at the birth of Lamech–what we call his “begetting age.” It will also survey weighty evidence that favors the originality of most of the LXX’s numbers. These two foci are inexplicably intertwined with one another.
Numerous scholars have treated the reading of 167 years for Methuselah’s begetting age as an insurmountable problem for any argument in favor of the LXX’s overall primeval chronology. They claim that the 167 reading is original, and then assume that its mere existence serves to discredit the Septuagint’s entire primeval chronology. Sarfati’s statement is fairly representative of this position: “The Septuagint chronologies are demonstrably inflated,16 as they contain the (obvious) error that Methuselah lived 17 [sic 14] years after the Flood” (Sarfati 2003, 14).17 Numerous other scholars have made similar claims (Beechick 2001, 68; Cosner and Carter 2015, 99, 102; Hodge 2015, n. 3; Jones 2002, 13; Sarfati 2015, 460–462; Steinmann 2017, 155; Williams 1998, 105, n. 20). Insurmountable problems with this perspective emerge when the historical and textual evidence are much more closely examined.
Ancient External Witnesses and the LXX Manuscript Evidence
Demetrius the chronographer (ca. 220BC)
Demetrius was a Hellenistic Jewish historian who wrote in Alexandria during the reign of Ptolemy IV (221–205 BC). He is “the earliest datable Alexandrian-Jewish author we know” (Finegan 1998, 141). Demetrius’ works are preserved in Eusebius’ Praeparatio Evangelica and Clement of Alexandria’s Stromata. He wrote in Greek (Hanson 1983, 183, n. 6) and is the earliest known witness to the Septuagint. In Demetrius’ chronological system, Creation is dated at 5307 BC and the Flood at 3043 BC (Finegan 1998, 145).
In Fragment 2:18, Demetrius writes, “[F]rom Adam until Joseph’s brothers came into Egypt, there were 3624 years; and from the Deluge until Jacob’s coming into Egypt, 1360 years” (Eusebius, Praeparatio Evangelica, 9.21.18).18 These figures yield a period of 2264 years from Adam to the Flood (3624–1360). Demetrius is obviously using the LXX’s longer chronology. For his antediluvian chronology to add up to 2264/2 years,19 the begetting age for Methuselah must be 187. Thus, Demetrius is the earliest known witness to an LXX manuscript that contained the 187 reading for Genesis 5:25, remarkably close in time to the original Greek translation of the Pentateuch (ca. 281 BC).
Pseudo–Philo’s Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum (LAB, First Century AD)
LAB is also known as the Book of Biblical Antiquities, a work presently extant in Latin, translated from an intermediate Greek text (Harrington 1970, 507), and originating from a Hebrew based biblical text. When modern scholars originally discovered LAB, it was incorrectly attributed to Philo of Alexandria. The author is now called Pseudo-Philo. LAB provides a chronicle of biblical history from Adam to Saul. It includes a mixture of biblical materials as well as parallels from non-canonical Jewish traditions.
Scholars who have extensively studied LAB unanimously agree that it was derived from a Hebrew text. LAB was originally written in Hebrew by an author with a strong Pharisaic background who lived in Israel proper (Harrington 1970, 508–514; Jacobson 1996, 210; Feldman 1996, 58; Ferch 1977, 135–151; James 1917, 28)20 during the first century AD, most likely before the destruction of the Second Temple, and possibly as early as the time of Christ (Harrington 1983, 299; Ferch 1977, 137; James 1917, 7). LAB 1:2–22 includes begetting ages and remaining years for the antediluvian patriarchs from Seth to Lamech. Its figures match the LXX’s numbers in Genesis 5 (save Lamech’s), including Methuselah’s (187, 782). No lifespans are recorded, apart from Noah’s (950). LAB also records Adam’s remaining years as 700, implying his age was 230 when he fathered Seth. Most external witnesses to Genesis 5 do not mention the remaining years of life, but LAB does. All its remaining-year figures also match the LXX (table 2).
|Septuagint (LXX)||Josephus||Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum|
|Patriarch||References||Begetting Age||Remaining Years||Lifespan||Begetting Age||Remaining Years||Lifespan||Begetting Age||Remaining Years||Lifespan|
|Noah||Gen 5:32; 7:11; 8:13–14; 9:28–29; 11:10||500/(502)||After the Flood
|950||—||—||950||50021||After the Flood
LAB contains a few accidental scribal errors, but they are rather easily reconstructed and are compatible with the LXX alone, and not the MT/SP of Genesis 5.21 LAB not only confirms the correct figures for Methuselah (187, 782), but it also provides an independent, first-century AD witness of Hebrew, Pharisaic provenance that attests to the longer antediluvian chronology found in the Septuagint. Since LAB was written in Israel at least three centuries after the Pentateuch was translated into Greek in Egypt, it is completely independent of the LXX translation enterprise. Further, manuscripts of the LXX record 188 as the begetting age for Lamech in Genesis 5:28.6 The begetting age of 182 and remaining years of 595 for Lamech in LAB match the MT, undoubtedly supporting LAB’s Hebrew textual origin.21 LAB offers definitive proof of Hebrew texts circulating in Israel that contained the higher begetting ages and lower remaining years also found independently in the Greek LXX, including Methuselah’s correct figures.
Josephus (ca. AD 90)
Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews corroborates the evidence adduced from LAB.22 The higher begetting ages in the LXX of Genesis 5 and 11 appear in Ant. 1.83–87, 149–50 (table 2).23 Moreover, in accordance with the longer chronology found in the LXX, Josephus states that the history recorded in the Hebrew Bible covers 5000 years: “Those antiquities contain the history of 5,000 years; and are taken out of our sacred books, but translated by me into the Greek tongue” (Against Apion 1.1; emphasis added). Further, he states: “The things narrated in the sacred Scriptures are, however, innumerable, seeing that they embrace the history of 5000 years” (Ant. 1.13). This is highly significant historical evidence, since Josephus explicitly states that he worked from Hebrew biblical texts (Ant. 1:5; 9.208, 10.218; Ag. Ap. 1.54). Josephus’ statements concerning his use of Hebrew manuscript(s) are widely affirmed by modern scholars, confirming that Josephus used a Genesis Hebrew text when he wrote Antiquities (Attridge 1976, 29–33; Feldman 1998, 30, 63–64; Gera 2011, 125; Norton 2011, 69–71). For example, Thackeray argues extensively that Josephus used a “Semitic” text (Hebrew, and possibly Aramaic) for Genesis through Ruth (1967, 75–99). After a careful and extensive analysis of more than 100 Josephus passages that deal with the Pentateuch, Nodet concludes that “Josephus’ ultimate Hebrew source (H) is quite close to the Hebrew Vorlage of G [LXX],” and probably came from the Temple library (1997, 174, 192–194).24
For Methuselah’s begetting age, no MSS of Josephus contain the erroneous 167 reading. Manuscripts of Josephus attest to the 187 reading (Ant. 1.86), as affirmed by Niese, Noe, and Marshall (2008, 20), Thackeray (1931, 40), and Whiston (2009, 851). There is no doubt that 187 is the correct number in Josephus, and this figure, along with the other higher begetting ages in Genesis 5 and 11, were originally derived from the Hebrew text of Genesis.7, 23
The combined Hebrew textual witness of Antiquities and LAB provides irrefutable evidence against the claim that the Alexandrian scribes inflated the primeval chronology of the LXX to bring it in line with Egyptian chronology. Instead, the higher numbers already existed in the Hebrew text of Genesis at the time of the Septuagint’s translation, and were also later present in Hebrew manuscripts used by Pseudo-Philo and Josephus in Israel during the first century AD.
Julius Africanus (ca. AD 221/222)
Julius Africanus (AD 170–240) wrote his Chronographiae while living in Israel, and was an advocate of the LXX chronology. Fragment 16a details the Septuagint’s antediluvian begetting ages, listing Methuselah’s as 187 years old. In 16b, Africanus provides a pre-Flood summation of 2262 years, which places Methuselah’s death six years before the Flood, consistent with the 187 figure (Wallraff, Roberto, and Pinggera 2007, 27–29, 35).25
Eusebius (ca. AD 260–340)
Eusebius is an early witness to the 187/167 discrepancy between LXX manuscripts. In his Chronicle, he writes,
Methuselah fathered Lamech when he was 167 years of age. He lived an additional 802 years. Thus he would have survived the flood by 22  years. However, in other versions he died before the flood having lived an additional 782 years [after Lamech’s birth] (Chronicle 24:8).26
Eusebius’ record places multiple extant manuscripts of the LXX with the 187/782 figures in the early fourth century AD. The manuscript evidence now available to modern biblical scholarship fully supports his statements. Codices Alexandrinus (A), Cottonianus (D), and Coislinianus (M), and over a dozen miniscules contain Methuselah’s correct begetting age of 187 (Ray 1985, 28, 31; Wevers 1974a, 106). Several prominent scholars have agreed that 187 is the Septuagint’s original reading for Methuselah. Swete, though he was primarily using Codex Vaticanus for his work,27 notes that the correction from 167 to 187 made in Codex A may have been written in the margin by the original scribe (and not later), and he accepts 187 as the original reading in the LXX proper (1930, 8). Brooke and McLean surmise that 167 was corrected in Codex A by the first successive scribe, but they note their uncertainty with a question mark (1906, 12). Brenton, who documents few variants, accepts 167 as original, but has “Alex. 187 years” in the footnotes (1879, 6). More recently, OT scholar Eugene H. Merrill also argued for the originality of the 187 reading (2002, 115). Papyri 911 (late third century AD) and 961 (fourth century AD) both contain the original reading of 187 for Methuselah (Wevers 1974b, 13, 15). These papyri, Eusebius’ statement, and Africanus’ chronology occur prior to the correction found in Codex A (fifth century AD), indicating that its 187 reading was not just an ad hoc modification based on the obvious chronological problem with Methuselah’s death, but was supported by other existing (and earlier) LXX manuscripts that had retained the 187 figure.
Jerome (ca. AD 340–420)
By Jerome’s day in the late fourth and early fifth centuries, the church at large was aware of the numerical differences between the Hebrew and Greek texts of Genesis 5 and 11. Specifically, Methuselah’s begetting age was “a celebrated question, and one which has been publicly aired in argument by all the churches” (Hayward 1995, 35). Living in Israel and closely interacting with the Jewish rabbis of his day, Jerome had before him a manuscript of the LXX that contained the 167 figure. Concerning this, he writes:
Therefore, as in many other instances so also in this, it remains that there is a mistake in the number. However, both in the Hebrew books, and in those of the Samaritans, I have found it written thus: And Methuselah lived for 187 years and begat Lamech. And after he had begotten Lamech, Methuselah lived 782 years . . . and all the days of Methuselah were 969 years, and he died. And Lamech lived for 182 years and begat Noah (Hayward 1995, 36).
In Jerome’s copies (plural) of the Samaritan Pentateuch, the figures for Methuselah and Lamech in Genesis 5:25–28 do not match the numbers in any of the SP manuscripts that have survived up until today (table 1). Instead, Jerome testifies that his copies of the SP contained for Methuselah the higher begetting age of 187, the remaining years of 782, and the lifespan of 969, matching the MT, numerous extant LXX manuscripts, Demetrius (LXX), Josephus (Hebrew), LAB (Hebrew)and Africanus (LXX). This powerful evidence from Jerome not only confirms the accuracy of the 187 reading for Methuselah, but it also indicates that our present day manuscripts of the Samaritan Pentateuch have been deliberately reduced for the lives of both Methuselah and Lamech (at minimum). Any attempt to reconstruct the textual history of the primeval history must take into account Jerome’s historically weighty testimony as it relates to the Samaritan Pentateuch of Genesis 5.5
Augustine (ca. AD 350)
Augustine provides an eyewitness record of five additional ancient manuscripts (three of which were the LXX) that contained a begetting age of 187 for Methuselah: “For there are three Greek mss., one Latin, and one Syriac, which agree with one another, and in all of these Methuselah is said to have died six years before the deluge.” (City of God XV:13 in Schaff 1886, 675).28 He later states that the pre-Flood period lasted 2262 years (City of God XV:20). Clearly aware of the 167/187 discrepancy, Augustine provides the most logical and plausible explanation for the reading of 167:
One must therefore more plausibly maintain, that when first their labors began to be transcribed from the copy in Ptolemy’s library, some such misstatement might find its way into the first copy made, and from it might be disseminated far and wide; and that this might arise from no fraud, but from a mere copyist’s error. This is a sufficiently plausible account of the difficulty regarding Methuselah’s life (City of God XV:13).29
With all of the evidence outlined above, we can firmly claim that the 167 reading for Methuselah’s begetting age in some LXX MSS of Genesis 5:25 is an early scribal error, and was not part of the original LXX translation.30
Upon examination of the Greek text surrounding Genesis 5:25, it becomes quite understandable to see how the error occurred. On two occasions, the number 60 appears in the immediate context regarding Enoch (Genesis 5:21 and 23). The most logical explanation is that the “6” in “60” (ἑξήκοντα—hexēkonta) was picked up from 5:21 and accidentally replaced the “8” in “80” (ὀγδοήκοντα—ogdoēkonta).31 This would have been an especially easy mistake to make, since the words and their order in 5:21 and 25 are almost identical, except for the words and letters here in bold. (My English translation is rigidly wooden).
Genesis 5:21 “And Enoch lived 100 and 60, 5 years, and he fathered Methuselah . . .”
καὶ ἔζησεν Ενωχ ἑκατὸν καὶ ἑξήκοντα πέντε ἔτη καὶ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Μαθουσαλα
Genesis 5:25 “And Methuselah lived 100 and 80, 7 years, and he fathered Lamech . . .”
καὶ ἔζησεν Μαθουσαλα ἑκατὸν καὶ ὀγδοήκοντα ἑπτὰ ἔτη καὶ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Λαμεχ
As the scribe was writing, “lived 100 and . . . years, and he fathered . . .” he accidentally replaced ὀγδο (ogdo, 8) with ἑξ (hex, 6) on the front of ήκοντα (ēkonta) by a simple slip of the eye—a phenomenon termed homoioteleuton. The scribe who committed this error would not have changed the remaining years (782), since he obviously reduced the begetting age to 167 by accident and did not realize it. However, when the next scribe who copied the manuscript came along, he noticed the discrepancy. Realizing that the sum of the begetting age and remaining years (782 + 167 = 949) would not equal Methuselah’s correct lifespan (969), the scribe changed the remaining years to 802 in order to “fix” the problem. It is likely that the lifespan figure of 969 was so well known and revered in Jewish thinking (Methuselah being the oldest person recorded in Scripture) that the scribe would not have altered it. This “correction” of the remaining years to 802, along with the already accidental and incorrect 167, and preservation of the revered 969 lifespan figure, entered the textual stream and was transmitted and copied over several centuries until it came down to Eusebius, Jerome, Augustine, et al. The historical and manuscript evidence show that the 187/782 readings were preserved in other LXX textual streams, and are both original and correct.
In any case, the number 167 is certainly not the result of deliberate reduction by the LXX translators. Even if the original Greek translation somehow did read 167, the only plausible explanation for this would be that the error was accidental. For by everyone’s account, the Greek translators were not motivated to reduce the chronology, and we have no reason to think that they deliberately put Methuselah’s death beyond the Flood. There is no discernible motive for the LXX translators to lower Methuselah’s begetting age intentionally from the original 187 to 167. Such a move would be inexplicable, especially since the Septuagint’s begetting ages are (almost) always higher than the MT/SP in Genesis 5. It turns out that Augustine’s centuries old solution to the problem was correct all along.
The simplest and most plausible explanation for the erroneous 167 reading in some manuscripts of LXX Genesis 5:25 is that it was the accident of a scribe near the beginning of the Septuagint’s transmissional process. A basic text-critical reconstruction affirms this claim. Our earliest witness to LXX Genesis 5:25 is the chronology of Demetrius (who lived in Egypt less than 70 years after the original Greek translation), which confirms 187 as the LXX’s original begetting age. Josephus (187, 969) and LAB (187, 782) also contain the correct numbers. All three of these external witnesses predate Theophilus of Antioch (d. AD 183), who is the first known source to record the 167 figure (Ad Autolycus 3:24; Grant, 1947, 191).32
The 187/167 divergence has virtually no bearing on the ultimate question of the original primeval chronology. Text-critical divergences such as 187/167 must be evaluated on an individual basis. At no point does the variant become a legitimate argument against the possible precedence and superiority of the overall primeval chronology derived from the LXX. Using this scribal error to discredit the overall veracity of the LXX’s primeval chronology is superficial in its scope and methodologically unacceptable. Basic text-critical principles militate against drawing such a conclusion. The numbers in the three witnesses ought to be evaluated on their own merits, carefully taking into account both external and internal evidence. Septuagint scholar Peter Gentry explains:
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 (2009, 24).
Scholars predisposed towards the MT have overblown the significance of this variant, and have merely created a distraction from the complex text-critical issues surrounding the MT, LXX, and SP of Genesis 5 and 11, and the associated external historical evidence. As such, the argument that the LXX’s primeval chronology should be dismissed from serious consideration because of the 167 begetting age variant for Methuselah should be abandoned by biblical scholars and young-earth creationists, post haste.
While examining the date of Methuselah’s death in the LXX, we have necessarily introduced several issues closely connected to ascertaining the original figures given to Moses in Genesis 5 and 11. Since everyone agrees that the chronology in Genesis 5 and 11 was either inflated or deflated intentionally, someone in antiquity must necessarily be accused of altering many of the begetting ages by 100 years each (and by 50 in Nahor’s case). There are only two viable choices: either (1) the third-century BC Alexandrian Jews inflated the numbers during their translation of the Pentateuch into Greek, or (2) the second-century AD rabbinic Jews deflated the numbers in the few remaining Hebrew manuscripts that survived the Roman devastations of ca. 70 and 135 AD. There is no textual or external historical evidence from antiquity to support the LXX inflation hypothesis.16 However, evidence abounds that the rabbis in Israel (living in an age filled with chrono-messianic speculation) deflated the proto-MT’s primeval chronology in the second century AD to discredit Jesus’ messianic claims. In the aftermath of the destruction of the Temple and the horrors of the Bar Kochba revolt 65 years later, it became possible for the rabbis to amend their Hebrew manuscripts and hide the trail of evidence. Judaism was no longer variegated, but dominated and controlled by one sect, the Pharisees. Their motive to discredit Jesus has profound New Testament theological support. The rabbis possessed adequate motive, authoritative means, and unique opportunity. No other group in history was in the position to change the biblical text in this way. The LXX translators certainly were not. Numerous ancient historians and several important Christian chronological works in the post-Reformation period consistently argued these points.4, 16 Actually, it appears that the LXX inflation hypothesis did not even exist until the nineteenth century AD. The LXX, LAB, and Josephus provide a triple textual witness to an exceptionally ancient Hebrew text with the higher begetting ages in Genesis 5, while the LXX, SP, and Josephus provide a triple textual witness to the same Hebrew text’s higher begetting ages in Genesis 11. This evidence of the longer chronology from the first century AD and earlier affirms the claim that the begetting ages in the second century AD Hebrew manuscripts were deflated by at least 1250 years by the rabbis. Significantly, no unbiased external witness to the MT’s complete primeval timeline exists before the time of Eusebius in the early fourth century AD.
In conclusion, young-earth creationists and biblical scholars would do well to abandon the LXX inflation hypothesis (along with superficial arguments in favor of the MT) and explore alternative models of textual reconstruction for Genesis 5 and 11 through further research and study.
I extend thanks to Pastor Jeremy Sexton, Dr. Douglas Petrovich, Rodger C. Young, Rick Lanser, Scott Lanser, Dr. Bryant Wood and Dr. Scott Stripling for reviewing this article, and for their positive suggestions to improve it. Any errors are mine and mine alone.
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