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Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Part VII


Part IX


Part I: Longevity in Antiquity and Its Bearing on Chronology



1. The Hebrew of Genesis 6:3

     The following comments are based on the conclusions of Theodore Preston, in his Notes on the Hebrew Text of Genesis, Cambridge, 1853, p.45ff. Although this is an early treatment of the passage, modern translators adopt this interpretation for substantially the reasons given.
     The Hebrew text is as follows:
     The Authorized Version translates this, ". . . shall not strive with man," but the Revised Standard Version has "shall not abide in man," a translation which seems to tie in with the idea that the period of 120 years mentioned at the close of the verse refers to the age limit thenceforth appointed for man.
    If the verb
be construed as identical in meaning with the Hebrew word , the clause must be rendered "My spirit shall not always strive in man," or "judge in man" (dictating authoritatively and determining his moral conduct as his conscience).
     But the verb  seems to have been taken by the Septuagint and by the Targom of Onkelos as equivalent to
, best represented by the Latin permanebit as used in the Vulgate. With this may be compared the Septuagint which has:


    The Targum of Onkelos has i.e., "this evil generation shall not always continue before Me." Some of the Rabbins derived from "a sheath," translating the clause "my spirit shall not always be enclosed (i.e., contained) in man."

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     pg 1 of 4      

2.  The Shorter Value of the Saros

     There is some disagreement regarding the possibility of the saros having the 18 year value. In his book, A History of Science (Harvard, 1952, p.120), George Sarton argues that the Babylonians could not have been able to extract this eighteen year cyclical period from their observations of the heavens, and bases this conclusion on the work of Dr. A. Pannekoek. The latter bases his argument on the fact that the ancient astronomers could never have achieved sufficient scientific insight to discern the periodicity of the lunar eclipses which seems to lie behind the short value for the saros.
     The force of his arguments may be evaluated by the following series of quotations from the original paper in the Proceedings of the Royal Academy of Amsterdam (vol.20, 1918), entitled "The Origin of the Saros" (communicated by Prof. W. De Sitter, Sept. 29, 1918, pp.943-55). Some personal comments have been added. The reader may judge for himself whether the arguments against the statement of Suidas are valid or not. It will be noted that the value is said to be 223 months, as opposed to the 222 of Suidas. This does not greatly alter the shorter chronology.
     In his original paper in the Proceedings (p.943) Pannekoek said:

     The forecast of eclipses, which to the uneducated is such a convincing proof of the power and accuracy of astronomical science, is not the fruit of highly developed modern theory, but belongs to the oldest products of human science. Greek writers tell us that the Babylonians were already able to predict the eclipses by means of a period of eighteen years, which they called a saros, and which rested on the fact that 223 synodic lunar periods and 242 draconic revolutions are practically equal (both 6585.3 days), that after the period therefore, full and new moon return to the same position relative to the nodes. . . .
     According to the theory of Hugo Winckler's school, Babylonian astronomy had reached its highest perfection as early as 2000 to 3000 B.C., and therefore the origin of the saros lay in such a far off time that there is no possibility of following the road to its discovery.

     But he then proceeds to show that the Babylonians could not possibly have had the insight to observe this astronomical measure, because it required a kind of "scientific" attitude they could not have had so early. He dismisses any possibility of a 3000 B.C. date, and questions even an 8th or 7th century B.C. date, at which time the first useful Babylonian observations of lunar eclipses appear of any value, according to Ptolemy.
        He continued subsequently (p.945):

     pg.2 of 4     

     It would first be necessary that someone should conceive the idea of compiling a continuous list of this sort and moreover of looking for a period in it, only then would he stand before a problem of the same nature...A super-human genius was necessary for this, capable of conceiving as it were from nothing, scientific aims and scientific methods in a world which did not yet know the meaning of science and of applying them.

     Yet Sarton said they did know these things and in fact claims considerable scientific ability for them. Moreover, a scientific attitude may be shown in at least two ways, in the realm of experiment (physics, chemistry, etc.), and in the realm of observation (astronomy, etc.). They did remarkably well in the realm of observation, where no experiment was required or possible i.e., in astronomy.
     But Pannekoek concluded (p.945):

     If therefore we do not want to regard the origin of science as a miraculous creation, such a discovery as that of finding the saros may be conceived only as a gradual process, as the outcome of many steps each of which followed naturally and spontaneously from the former and in which several succeeding generations took part.

     This is simply to insist once more that everything must have a long evolutionary history. But what about scientific insights -- sudden, illuminating, entirely free of such evolutionary history? Such insights are not uncommon.
     One cuneiform tablet gives such a list of eclipses, but although it is late, there is no reason to assume that it is the only, or the first such list. This tablet is referred to by Pannekoek (p.946) as ". . . a remarkable cuneiform text in the British Museum (Sp. 11 71) of which Strassmaer gave a transcript in 1894." It is a list of lunar eclipses arranged according to saros periods.
     On page 953 he stressed again that only after such lists of eclipses had accumulated "in the course of centuries" could their periodical recurrence be noticed at last. This he regarded therefore as a demonstration of the fact that the word did not have the shorter value till very much later.

Thus he concluded (p.955):

     This shows at the same time that the familiar story according to which the Greek Philosopher Thales predicted a total sun-eclipse in 585 B C, by means of a knowledge of the saros borrowed from the Babylonians can only be regarded as a fiction. At that time the saros was still unknown. . . .

     pg.3 of 4     

     The argument is in effect based on prejudice and silence, namely:

1. that the Babylonians could not possibly have been brilliant enough to spot the periodicity;
2. that all such insights must be accounted for by an appeal to a long evolutionary history marked           by very small steps in the development of scientific data;
3. that tradition (i.e., re Thales in this instance) is quite worthless as a guide to the past;
4. that we do not have any cuneiform tablets giving lists of such eclipses, therefore there were no           such earlier lists.

     pg.4 of 4     

Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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