jonathan sarfati

okay, but . . .

This post carries with it some fear and trepidation, primarily because I’m wandering into a field of discussion that belongs to other people (i.e. OT scholars); but I’m jumping the fence and wandering nonetheless.

I recently came across this article, which attempts to show that Adam was created c. 4000 BCE (summary), and that this round figure can be proven via chronological analysis. Further, the article also deals with the (unannounced) topics of creation and the dating of the flood–presumably to help substantiate the claims about Adam. The threefold support for a ‘young earth’ and fairly recent flood, as given by Mr Sarfati, comes from what he labels: ‘contextual, linguistic and historical analyses of the book of Genesis’ (conclusion). He employs this type of support primarily because it seems to be the most effective way to overturn the theories those who argue against the early dates of creation, Adam and the flood. However, there appear to be contextual, linguistic and (especially) historical features that go unaccounted for in Sarfati’s article; things that might not stand in his favour.

Central to Sarfati’s case is the belief that the genealogies in the OT do not contain any ‘gaps’ or any places where gaps could exist. From the evidence he presents (and the way he gives it), we might conclude that such appears to be the case. However, Sarfati provides some gaps of his own with regard to the data he presents. Specifically, he ignores some important features found in the immediate contexts of the evidence he considers. I am thinking particularly of Genesis 10 and the so-called, ‘Table of Nations’, which is not mentioned by Sarfati.[1] Period. Admittedly, this is more linguistic and historical data, but it is important to consider for contextual reasons also because it contains much of the same begetting formula that Sarfati deems vital.

On the linguistic details, I will have to be quite remedial–simply because my Hebrew sucks. In this regard, the so-called ‘Table of Nations’ needs a bit of attention. Noah’s son, Ham is said to be the father of many children, however nearly all the ‘children’ listed are names of countries. If Sarfati wants to come back at me and say, ‘the names of Ham’s children are merely the “fathers” of the countries that later emerge from them, thus the names are of specific individuals which therefore maintains my argument’; my response would begin with two questions: 1) why is one of Ham’s children given as a plural name (i.e. Mizraim),[2] which Josephus classifies as the inhabitants of Egypt (Antiquities 1.6.2–another text that Sarfati ignores), and the offspring of that ‘child’ are also listed in the plural; and 2) does this type of thing not suggest that while the sequential listing has no gaps, there are periods (i.e. gaps) of time left unaccounted for in the gapless genealogies? And does not the admission that the ‘children’ of Ham could be the founders of particular nations also point in this same direction?

More problematic, for me, is Sarfati’s assertion that his chronological reading of the genealogies places the flood c. 2500 BCE. Here’s why this is problematic for me. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that 2500 BCE is the date of the flood. (>>starting to twitch at the thought of allowing this<<). Let’s also assume that the flood was absolute in its effect, thus wiping out everything except for what was in the ark. Let’s further assume that, upon leaving the ark and embarking on the repopulation agenda, one of Ham’s son (i.e. Mizraim) is merely the founder of the Egyptian nation. Thus, on this assumption, Egypt, as a nation, did not exist prior to the flood–unless I’m missing something in Safarti’s argument. At best, we might say that Mizraim (re)founded the nation of Egypt, if we’re saying that the flood destroyed everything. This would therefore mean that everything we know about Egypt (and other ancient nations, for that matter) must either follow from or correspond with the historicity of these assumptions.

Now for the problem: it is a known (historical) fact the renown Egyptian Pharaoh, Snofru (or, Snefru) was turning out pyramids faster than modern teenage girls produce meaningless text-messages. Conventional dating places Snofru’s time in office between 2613 and 2589 BCE, although some opt for a period slightly earlier (Kitchen implies something close to 2690 BCE), while a few opt for time slightly later (Assmann places the start-date at 2600 BCE, and Schlögl posits 2590 BCE).[3] Now for the fun part: Snofru was the first Pharaoh of, not the 1st but the 4th Dynasty, which obviously means three other ‘dynasties’ preceded him. In less dramatic terms, if we go by basic numbers, conservative estimates place the 1st Dynasty somewhere around the start of the 4th millennium BCE. It should be remembered that this designation refers to a (more or less) established leadership, or ruling monarchy; it says nothing about the origins of the nation. (Things could get more interesting if we factor in the timing of the Sumerians, but I’ll leave that alone).

So, if Snofru is doing his thing from c. 2613-2589 BCE, and is following in a tradition set down by his predecessors, but Ham is the father of the founder of Egypt and Ham exited the ark somewhere c. 2500 BCE; we have a bit of a historical problem. The cross examination of PFC Louden Downey, from ‘A Few Good Men’, comes to mind. (‘If you didn’t make back to the barracks until 16.45, how can you be in your room at 16.20?’).  This historical dilemma only truly persists if Sarfati insists on maintaining a strict, overly literal, straightforward reading of the genealogies. And, to me, it seems as though the only reason to insist on this particular reading is so that he can maintain a certain belief about the time of creation, Adam and the flood–a belief that is, quite frankly, not necessarily supported by the biblical text.

I have one final concern with Sarfati’s article, and it is a methodological one. In his conclusion, Sarfati criticises his interlocutors (both listed and imagined) for only appealing to evidence or theories that support their presuppositions. Interestingly, Sarfati does not address the contextual, linguistic and historical evidence I’ve mentioned–things that do not necessarily help his case. Moreover, as I look through Sarfati’s bibliography, and excluding the small handful of those he cites in the article (and would consider whacky), I only see interaction with scholars who support his presuppositions. There is no critical engagement with alternate ideas or theories, which means he is not allowing room for the possibility that additional insight might prove beneficial. I welcome the potential correction on this, but it appears as though Sarfati views those whose theories are divergent from his as de facto wrong. That, to me, is not only a major weakness in the argument but also canoodling with a double-standard.

[1] Slightly less substantial, the notoriously intriguing ‘days of Peleg’ (Gen 10.25) receives zero discussion.
[2] A name that is never mentioned in Sarfati’s article.
[3] K. Kitchen, ‘Some Egyptian Background to the Old Testament’, Tyndale Bulletin 5.6 (1960): 7; J. Assmann, The Mind of Egypt: History and Meaning in the Time of the Pharaoh’s (2003), 478; H.A. Schlögl, Das Alte Ägypten: Geschichte und Kultur von der Frühzeit bis zu Kleopatra (2003), 87; cf. A. Erman who begins the 4th Dynasty c. 2800 BCE (A Handbook of Egyptian Religion [1907], xvi).