Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/864

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Messrs. Editors.

A LETTER in your February number, from Mr. C. S. Bryant, propounds a new view respecting the age of antediluvian patriarchs, and expresses a hope that the revisers of the Old Testament will give heed to what he regards as cases of apparent errors in the reading of Hebrew numbers. Being one of those revisers, I may, perhaps, properly ask for a little space in which to comment on his suggestions. While I have no doubt of his sincere desire to solve a serious difficulty, I must say that his theory is utterly untenable. This can be easily shown. Mr. Bryant says, "In reading concrete numbers, the Hebrews gave the larger number first." This is true in some cases, in others not. Thus in Genesis xiv, 14, the Hebrew gives the number of Abram's servants as "eighteen and three hundred," the larger number last. Even in Genesis v, 3. adduced by Mr. Bryant, the Hebrew reads, "thirty and a hundred years" the larger number last. In like manner also in verse 5, Adam's age is said to have been "nine hundred years and thirty years." I do not see, therefore, the bearing of this inaccurate observation. Mr. Bryant's point really is (though he does not state it) that, though the Hebrew inserts no conjunction "and" between "nine" and "hundred," we may read it "nine and a hundred and thirty." When he speaks of an inverted rule in the case of verse 5 (authorized version), and says that verse 3 translated in the same way would read "thirty hundred years," he overlooks the fact that in verse 3 the Hebrew has a conjunction between the two numerals, reading "thirty and a hundred," so that the most literal translation would still give us one hundred and thirty. In short, the authorized version renders with perfect exactness.

The real question, then, is whether Mr. Bryant's method of putting in a conjunction where there is none in the Hebrew is justifiable. In the case in question the word "hundred" is in the plural, so that, exactly rendered, it would be "nine hundreds year, and thirty year" ("year" being singular, as we often say, colloquially, "a hundred foot"). Mr. Bryant overlooks this fact, which is very inconvenient for his theory. Even, therefore, though we might imagine that "nine hundred and thirty" really should be read "nine, one hundred, and thirty," the plural form "hundreds" is unexplained.

Mr. Bryant says, "At the date of this writing the Hebrews had no means of writing 'nine hundred,' or any number of hundreds above one, without repetition or circumlocution." This is an assertion without proof, and needs no answer. That it borders on the absurd is obvious to almost any one.

But more conclusive proof of the error of Mr. Bryant's hypothesis is yet to come. It prepares any one to expect it when, e. g., Seth's age, according to him, is stated (verse 8) as "twelve years, and nine [and] a hundred years," and so is equal to one hundred and twenty-one! Circumlocution indeed! Could not the poor Hebrews express even 21 better than by adding 12 to 9? So Enos's age is got by adding 5, 9, and 100!

But the absolutely knock-down argument is this: Mr. Bryant says (without telling us how he learned it) that "Seth was born when Adam was one hundred and thirty years old, and was his last child." But he forgets to quote verse 4, which says (according to his own method of translating), "And the days of Adam after he had begot-ten Seth were eight [and] a hundred years." Thus, adding 130 to 108 we get necessarily 238 as Adam's age at his death. And yet, absolutely overlooking this, Mr. Bryant makes Adam's whole age to have been only 139! Precisely the same absurdity results in the following cases: Seth at the birth of his son was one hundred and five years old. But after the birth of Enos he lived (verse 7), according to Mr. Bryant's own way of translating, "seven years, and eight [and] a hundred years." So, then, at his death, Seth must have been 105 115 220 years old. But Mr. Bryant, translating verse 8 in his peculiar way, makes the age to be one hundred and twenty-one! We have, in the mention of the age before and that after the birth of the son, an absolute test of the correctness of Mr. Bryant's theory as compared with the ordinary one. According to the ordinary one, the two numbers added together make exactly the number given as the whole age. According to Mr. Bryant's theory, the narrator can not add together any of the two numbers correctly. He contradicts himself, so that the merest child can see the blunders.

If Mr. Bryant thinks that this method of reducing the ages of the patriarchs is going to relieve the biblical narrative of difficulty, he is obviously mistaken. I repeat that, he may be very sincere; but, in view of what has been presented, his sincerity can be