Old Testament numbers


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Bob x just posted this up elsewhere - another great piece of info:

Calendar Lore

The primordial calendar, from which all ancient time-keeping systems at least in Eurasia seem ultimately to derive, worked like this. The "break-point" ending one day and starting another was sundown, because at that time you can distinguish if it is the break-point to end one month and start another: if there is a new "baby crescent" moon following the sun down, that starts the 1st day of the month. Count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 days from new moon; the sundown ending 7th from new is the half-moon when you should see the bisection line straight up and down. Count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 days from half; then the moon should be at its fullest. Count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 days from full, and you are to waning half. Then count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 from waning half, and maybe 8, depending on whether the moon comes back or not: the cycle of phases lasts 29 1/2 days, so at least once at the full end of the month you have to let an extra day go by outside the cycle of 7, and maybe you have to do it again at the new end of the month. You count the months 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and maybe 7 from the spring equinox, and again 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and maybe 7 from the autumn equinox; observing these requires that you line up stones to note where the sun rises at the equinox, whether these stone structures are big megaliths like Stonehenge or just little "medicine wheels" as you can find among the Native Americans.

Thus the original "week" was generally 7 days, but sometimes 8. To this day in Thailand and other countries of the region, the phan wat "auspicious day" to visit a religious shrine is the quarter-phase day; usually 7 days after the last phan wat, but sometimes 8. Sargon of Akkad (3rd millenium BC) left us the earliest written account of the calendar: to the Akkadians, the 7th day of the month was sibbutu when no-one could be required to work, the 14th was sibbutu again and the15th was shappatu (a religious holiday in many months), the 22nd (not 21st because the shappatu day was outside the cycle of 7) was again sibbutu, and the 29th was a special sibbutu called biqquru from the root b-q-r "to watch" (or "to wake up", as in Hebrew boqer "morning" because you would look and see whether that moon needed a 30th day. The 30th day in Hebrew was the rosh hodesh "head of the moon", thought of as "day 0" of the next month as much as "day 30" of the previous; Exodus tells us to remember the rosh hodesh as well as the sabbaths and feasts, but doesn't really say what to do then, although I Kings 4:23 ("Why do you go see a prophet today? It is neither rosh hodesh nor shabbath" seems to indicate it was a kind of phan wat, auspicious day to seek religious guidance, even after the strict 7-day week (as opposed to the variable 7-or-maybe-8-day week) was in place.

Dice were originally not game-pieces (though early adapted as such) but counters, for tracking the days, weeks, weeks-of-weeks (Hebrew omer "measure", also used for a "bushel" of wheat), years, weeks-of-years, jubilees (50 years; after 7 weeks of 7 years each, an extra year was let slip by outside the cycle of 7), "sojourns" (7 jubilees, or 350 years; Hebrew ger "sojourn" refers to this period as an estimate of how long they were in Egypt), and ages (2500 years; Hebrew 'ulam "very long time" used in 'ad-'ulam "until ages; forever", counting in base-7 rather than base-10. That is, you count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 on a die, then "7" by turning the next die, marking the "0" in the lower place with a blank space. Because "7" of one cycle was "0" of the next, marked by leaving the die out, the root sh-b-t (s-b-t in the Akkadian) "to leave off; desist; rest" was used to form the numeral shebat "seven" (worn down to shevah in Hebrew with the usual beghadh-kephath, and a common tendency for final -t to erode all the way to -h). I do not know how the anomalous "8" was marked (in the dice-box which I keep, calling it my "Abrahamic Almanac", I use marbles to hold the place when an "8" has to go by), but the Akkadian root sh-p-t and the Hebrew root sh-m-n both mean "to be excessive": the Hebrew derivatives are shemen, as an adjective "fat" or [of the moon] "full", as a noun "fat; oil; grease", and also shmone "eight".

When time is counted in base-7 rather than, as all other things were counted, in base-10, the numeral tish'ah "lacking" does not mean "nine" but rather "six or seven, whichever is one short of the full cycle [depending on whether there is an "8" in the cycle in question]"; and the large numerals do not mean multiples of 10, but rather cycles of 7. Thus shloshim "30" is just the plural of shelosh "3" and means literally "threes": in almost every context this is "ten threes", but in time-keeping contexts it is typically "seven threes; 21". This causes havoc when old numerals left over from the days when base-7 was in common use were misread by later scribes who knew only the base-10 system; many of the number discrepancies in the OT are caused by scribes trying to "fix" numbers that don't add up in base-10. The lengths of the reigns of the kings of Judah and Israel are cross-correlated (in year such-and-such of king so-and-so of Judah, so-and-so began to reign in Israel and reigned this-many years.... then... in year such-and-such of king so-and-so of Israel, so-and-so began to reign in Judah and reigned this-many years) and notoriously fail to add. An author that I wish I could credit (but his book was a private printing, and I don't have it any more, and cannot find it: it was called The Bible Dates Itself and if anyone stumbles over it, I would greatly appreciate being told) points out that everything adds up fine as soon as you understand that the numbers are base-7.

Lots of other things start to make sense also, from this perspective: Abraham was meah years old, which is not "100" but "a week of weeks; 50", and Sarah was tish'im, not "90" but "lacking a week; 43" when she became pregnant. OK, if you were a 43-year-old woman and your periods stopped, you would think "menopause" rather than "pregnancy", especially if you had been trying to get pregnant for years; it is marvellous that she finally became pregnant, but hardly out of the realm of the naturally possible. Again, Moses was "120" years old when he died, after "40" years of leading the Hebrews around the desert; so he is depicted as an 80-year-old greybeard when he led the slave revolt; re-render that as "a jubilee, and two weeks; 64 years" old when he died, and he led the Hebrews for "28" years, and we see that he was in his mid-thirties when he led the revolt, a much more typical age for a rabble-rouser, don't you agree?
That certainly does make for interesting reading. Yet if this is so why does the Bible still not implement this insight? I fear that bob x, for all his learning and interest, has greatly erred on the understanding of the matter.
Ah - bob x posted this after - sorry, I didn't see it until this morning -​
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Because of the base-7 counting, the traditional number of days in the month was arba'im "fours" (that is, "four weeks" not shloshim "30". That is why a "vision quest" to go out in the desert would last "40" days: actually that meant, stay out there until the moon has gone all the way around its phases. Thus arba'im yomim w-layloth "40" days and nights would mean "one entire month"; and meah w-chmeshim yomim "150" days would mean "a week of weeks and five weeks; that is, 12 quarter-phases; that is 3 months or one full season."​
So, to get back to the original question of what is happening with those numbers in the Noah narrative: I believe that the references to the "7th" month and to the "10th" month both originally said "5th" month, but have been "fixed" by a later scribe trying to make sense of it without knowing the old base-7 notation. That is, starting in the middle of the 1st month ("17th" day is actually the 14th; a week, and seven days, but not up to the 8th day of the pseudo-week from half-moon to full), there was one entire month ("40 days" of rain, until the middle of the 2nd month; then came three entire months ("150 days" of high water, until the middle of the 5th month; then came a month ("40 days" of waiting around, and a week ("7 days" of waiting for the bird, and another week of waiting for the bird again, to the start of the "1st" month (both the spring equinox month and the autumn equinox month were called the "1st" month; the numeration was through the warm half or cold half of the year; only very late did Semitic peoples start counting months 1 through 12 all the way around the whole year, and then they couldn't agree on whether the warm half or the cold half should be the starting point).​
Scribal error is certainly possible. I have seen similar postulated for the rrors or exaggeration of numbers in the old Hebrew texts. But on something so obvious would the numbers not have been changed or corrected, or would that be too far against the grain of popular Christian opinion?
Certainly - can you imagine the resistance from the Catholics and US Protestant hardliners about making Noah younger? They would see it as tampering with Sola Scripture. Apparent scribal errors are apparently Divinely inspired. :-