Genesis Bible Commentary: Timeline Problems
This is part 2 of a series of 6 articles on the Bible's book of Genesis.
by Rod Martin, Jr.
(I recommend you read the series of 6 articles in sequence for the greatest understanding.)
Taken literally, the timeline of the past derived from Genesis and the rest of the Bible proves to be wildly inaccurate. Archbishop Ussher's timeline, published in AD 1650, gives us 4004 BC for the beginning of humanity and the universe. I suggest that the problem is not with the Bible, but with the interpretation of it.
For many people, their interpretation is the Bible. And it is this egotistical equivalence that is the source of a rift between religion and science. And my research has led to a possible solution.
Not many people think highly of Edgar Cayce and his clairvoyant readings. They are interesting, but potentially a mixed bag. He apparently helped a great many people heal from ailments for which medical science had given up. He was a devout Christian with an unusual talent for helping people, one which he was, at one time, reluctant to continue to use.
His date for the final upheaval of Atlantis does not match that given by Plato. Cayce places the final destruction at 10,600 BC while the date derived from Plato's works is closer to 9,600 BC.
Be that as it may, my notes included two dates found in works derived from Cayce's readings. One was that of 28,000 BC for Noah's Flood concurrent with one of three upheavals of Atlantis mentioned by Cayce. The other date was 10½ million BC for one of the earliest events of humanity (Adam)—a meeting between tribes. While I had originally considered the Flood date intriguing, I had rejected the "Adam" date as ludicrous (perhaps a sign of my own lack of restraint or humility). My encyclopedic reference told of earliest Homo sapiens at 50,000 BC. A more recent reference pegs it now at about 200,000 BC.
After I had started research for my novel, I found this note including the two dates and wondered if Genesis could confirm them. I felt I might be grasping at straws, but the potential seemed seductive enough to take a look.
If Genesis and the rest of the Bible were divinely inspired, it struck me that the non-literal timeline could be accurate. Divine knowledge would arguably be far superior to that of mortal knowledge; and perhaps only mortal interpretation was fallible. The obvious problems included,
- How to discern the intended timeline, if indeed one has remained hidden,
- What clues could legitimately be used,
- What constitutes such legitimacy, and
- Do the clues to be used have something in them which inherently connects them with the intent of providing a previously hidden timeline?
Obviously, picking numbers at random, or by some capricious convenience would prove unsatisfactory.
I looked for any kind of anomaly. There were several kinds I considered.
- Outrageousness, and
As with any exegetical interpretation, these labels were not written in stone when applied to any particular passage. Instead, they were applied loosely and then the patterns examined for possible leads.
The actual sequence of discovery was rather haphazard. Only later did a more cohesive understanding come about. Many avenues of thought had been explored and rejected. Here I will discuss the various clues grouped thematically.
Read the Book that Changes Everything
This book is from years of my own research into a biblical timeline compatible with those of mainstream science. I wasn't surprised that God's holy book would match his own creation (reality), but there were many surprises, including discovering through science the target of Noah's Flood -- a species which went extinct at that time.
Seemingly Outrageous Longevity
A critical part of the biblical timeline rests with the lifetimes attributed to the pre-Mosaic patriarchs. The youngest at death was Joseph, son of Jacob (Israel)—110 years.
Some scholars completely ignore these ages and the resulting timeline. To them, Genesis was never meant to be a roadmap to history. While this is a perfectly valid viewpoint, until we know for certain, it leaves a great many mysteries untouched concerning those ages.
Some scholars take the ages as literal truth. This seems to me to be a far less defensible position since so much in the Bible cannot be taken literally, but must be interpreted in order to resolve conflicts, contradictions or other illogicalities.
The timeline given to us by Archbishop Ussher of Ireland pegs creation at 4004 BC. Ussher's scholarship was brilliant, for its day. His attention to detail produced many dates that historians still use or which remain close to those currently accepted. All of these occur after Moses. Before Moses, it's a completely different ball game.
Science studies the products of creation and it has done a fabulous job of it, by-and-large. Too many scientific disciplines point to a far older universe. I have no doubt that Ussher would have agreed, if he had known.
To adhere to Ussher's "literal" timeline is to ignore science and postulate that God faked all of that evidence. While I personally feel this is possible, it seems as unlikely as God making Martians visible only to a few select folk in the extreme care facilities for the mentally challenged. To adhere to Ussher's timeline is tantamount to courting delusion. After all, science has a good bead on reality, and "ignoring reality" is one way to describe delusion.
Anthropological science keeps finding new evidence, some of which keeps pushing back the date for earliest Homo sapiens sapiens—further from 4004 BC.
If Genesis gives us an accurate timeline when properly interpreted, then the ages of those early patriarchs are far too short! Could Methuselah have been forty thousand years old when he passed on? This, of course, seems even more unlikely than his already unbelievable 969 years.
Next: Timeline Clues
I had established to my own satisfaction that there were interpretational errors with the literal biblical timeline. Were there any clues in Genesis which might lead to a solution? See, Timeline Clues.