Popular Science Monthly/Volume 20/April 1882/Correspondence

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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 vindicated only at the expense of his good sense and intelligence.

Yours truly, C. M. Mead.
Andover, Massachusetts, January 31, 1882.

Messrs. Editors.

A note in your department of correspondence, February number, page 553, on "The Duration of Human Life," by Charles S. Bryant, of St. Paul, Minnesota, calls for an answer. I do not undertake or need to reply to it in full. It would be enough to follow the saying, Ex uno disce omnes.

Says Mr. Bryant, "Seth was born when Adam was one hundred and thirty years old, and was his last child." He says this which I have italicized, although, in the Scripture account, the very next words to those concerning the birth of Seth (Gen. v, 3) are, "And the days of Adam after he had begotten Seth were eight hundred years, and he begat sons and daughters" (Gen. v, 4).

Here I might drop the matter, simply saying that this is a specimen of Mr. Bryant's statements throughout the letter. But I will follow them a little further. Mr. Bryant does not pretend to question the record that "Adam lived a hundred and thirty years and begat. . . Seth"; but, where the account adds, as quoted above, that "after this he lived eight hundred years," he gives him nine years! Now, even his own so-called "rule" about the Hebrew reading of "concrete" (sic!) numbers—the largest, first could not twist eight hundred (800) into nine (9). This "rule" itself applied to eight hundred would give a hundred and eight, which added to one hundred and thirty, would be two hundred and thirty-eight, instead of Mr. Bryant's one hundred and thirty-nine, for Adam's lifetime.

Carry out this process of examination (and any bright school-boy can do it), and Mr. Bryant's amazingly shrunken "table" of the ages of the antediluvian patriarchs at death (page 554) is, according to his own (and I know not whose it is, if it is not his own) "rule," elaborately wrong in every instance.

But, now, whence comes this "rule"? The Hebrew grammar (see Conant's "Gesenius," for instance) teaches that "when units and tens are written together, the early writers commonly place the units first, as 'two and twenty'; the later writers almost invariably reversing them, as 'twenty and two.'" But what has this to do with writing hundreds, thousands, etc.? Nothing at all. The "rule" is—mythic—to say the least of it.

Again, that "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," is as untrue as it is to say that we now have no such means. Mā-âh was one hundred; mâthăyim (a dual form) was two hundred; sh'lōth mā-ōth (the last a "construct form" of mā-âh, one hundred) was three hundred; and so on throughout. There was just as much "circumlocution" in this as there is in our language, and no more.

The fact is, that in Gen. v, 3, the Hebrew says, "Adam lived thirty and a hundred years (sh'lōshïm u m'ăth shânâh)," i. e., one hundred and thirty years; while in the fourth verse it says, "And all the days of Adam after he had begotten Seth were eight hundred years (sh'mōnĕh mā-ōth shânâh)," with no and (u or v) between eight and a hundred; and no "rule," let us remember, but Mr. Bryant's fictitious one, for putting the "larger" number one hundred before the "smaller" eight. In the fifth verse, in exactly the same unmistakable way, the Hebrew says, "And all the days that Adam lived were" (not "a hundred years and thirty years and nine years," as Mr. Bryant expressly and untruly states it, but) "nine hundred years and thirty years," just that and nothing else.

I am prompted to take the trouble to write this, and ask you to publish it, because the positive and yet positively false and misleading article in hand not only might do, but is doing, violence to truth between the covers of a scientific journal. In the Teachers' Institute of our city, a company numbering some two or three hundred, I had, not long ago, given a summary of general history, when this very article was referred to by a teacher, in remarking upon the exercise as perhaps affording an explanation of, and a way to remove, the "difficulty" (?) in the Bible account of the longevity of the antediluvians. Even though there were any real difficulty here (I am glad to see that M. de Solaville does not feel obliged to get rid of a difficulty at this point, but only mentions some offered explanations of a remarkable fact), the cool fabrications of the letter I criticise are not the means that would remove it.

Albert Bigelow.
Buffalo, New York, February 15, 1882.


Messrs. Editors.

The scientists will confer a boon on one of our mechanical trades if they will suggest some practical solution to the following difficulty: Every one conversant with the machinery of the press-room of a large printing establishment has heard of the great annoyance caused by the generation of electricity while the sheets are passing through a cylinder press. The action of the fluid causes the sheets on issuing from the press to adhere closely, and at all angles, to the "fly" or rack which takes the sheet and inverts it upon the receiving-table. After leaving the fly, the sheets, as they are piled a hundred or two deep, are attracted to each other, so much so that more than ordinary force is necessary to remove one sheet from another. The pile of printed matter, as placed by the fly on the receiving-table, should be evenly and neatly placed, but because of this difficulty it is left at all sorts of angles. The result is, that not more than one half the work can be accomplished that might otherwise be done. My own observation of the matter leads me to the following conclusions: 1. That the electricity is generated by some paper in greater force than by others, sized and calendered book-paper proving the most troublesome. 2. That the paper, if wet, causes an instant solution of the trouble. 3. That experiments tried, such as connecting the wooden fly with gas or water mains, by means of a good conductor, covering the receiving-table with a metal surface and wiring this to conductors, or connecting different parts of the press when in motion by wire connections, with the hope of neutralizing the positive and negative currents, have all failed, and in the language of the foreman of one of our largest printing establishments, "We must keep our temper, and endure the annoyance till science comes to our aid," by a practical solution of the problem, we mean a solution subject to the following conditions: We can't afford to hire a boy to make adjustments for the escape of the nuisance. We can't wet a book paper without ruining it. We can't have the "fly" of iron rather than of wood, as that would make it too heavy. With these conditions, can you, Mr. Editor, give us help, and do the printers a service?

A. W. Bacheler.
Manchester, New Hampshire, Feb. 20, 1882.