[Editor’s Note: This is a two-part question, as the one asking clarified his initial question]


Can you explain to me why there is such a difference in the Genesis 5 and 11 chronologies of the antediluvian and post-flood patriarchs? I understand there is about 1380 years difference between the Septuagint and Masoretic translation texts, and the Samaritan translation is different also. There can only be one right version. The other two are corrupted for some reason other than mistranslating them. I would think the ages of those listed when their sons were born would be fairly easy to translate.


I am not sure exactly what you  mean by the “difference” between the pre-flood genealogy of Genesis 5 and the post-flood genealogy of Genesis.  The two genealogies cover completely different sets of male descendants, so I do not see how there can be a discrepancy between Genesis 5 and Genesis 11.  Perhaps you misspoke here and perhaps you can clear up what you mean when you say there is a 1380 year difference between the two accounts of different genealogies.
Let me guess.  Maybe you mean that if we compare Genesis 5 in the Masoretic and Genesis 5 in the Septuagint there is a difference.  Is that what you mean?  Or perhaps are you talking about a difference in Genesis 11 between the Septuagint and the Masoretic or Samaritan texts.  And, if we are talking about two different genealogies, where do you get the figure of 1380 years?  Can you please clarify your question and where you get your numbers?  [Editor’s Note: He does so below!]
Because your question is not clear, let me at least try to give you a generic answer.  I am sure you are aware that there have been copying errors over time between the autographs and the oldest manuscript of the Septuagint and/or the Masoretic texts.  Our Hebrew text has mistakes in it due to copying errors.  Generally, the amount of change is remarkably small, but there are copying errors in our current best texts.  The case with numbers is particularly problematic.  The Jews used a letter-based number system, similar to Roman numerals.  One major problem is that some of the Hebrew letters used to express numbers are really quite similar in appearance, making copying errors very easy to happen.
Add to this the fact that words are far less likely to have a copying error than numbers.  For example:   Which is correct:   bought or bouxht?  That is an easy question, because bouxht is not a word.   On the other hand, which is correct   5780 or 5790?  There is no way to know.  Unlike words, which copiers can self-correct rather easily, copying errors in numbers are far more difficult to detect and to correct because of the fact that every number is possible, but not every letter combination is possible.
For this reason, the numbers we have in our Hebrew Bibles are relatively unreliable.  Did Enoch live 650 or 850 years?  (I am making up the numbers, just to make a point).  The honest truth is that numbers of soldiers or numbers of years a king ruled or numbers of years a person lived is fairly unreliable in the Hebrew Bible.  It is no surprise at all to biblical text scholars to find significant differences in the ages of persons in Hebrew chronologies such as in Genesis.
Two points about this:  1. Although the numbers in Old Testament texts are fairly unreliable, as a rule, the age of a person or the number of soldiers in an army have little to no importance as to the meaning of the biblical text.  Does it really matter to the Christian how long Lamech lived, or how many soldiers were killed in a particular battle?  The answer is a definite no.
2. Although the precise numbers are really not all that important in the biblical text, one might be able to speculate that the Masoretic text is more likely to be accurate than the Septuagint text, as the Septuagint is a translation.  But even that is debatable, as the Septuagint translation was made about 220 BC, whereas the Masoretic text comes from about AD 800.
So, the difficulty of accurately copying numbers in a biblical text is probably the correct answer to your question (although I cannot comment on your specific question unless you clear it up as I request above).  Please take the numbers in the Old Testament with a little grain of salt and do not make strong arguments about things related to the length of reigns of kings, the ages of people in genealogies and the like.
I hope this makes sense, and please consider replying to clear up your original question.
John Oakes

Second Question:

Thanks for your quick reply. Sorry about not making myself clear. I assumed my second sentence would explain I wasn’t comparing Genesis 5 to Genesis 11 but was comparing the two different translations (Septuagint and Masoretic) for both of these chapters. Regarding my question, I am only concerned with the chronologies within these two chapters.  When you add up the chronology from Adam to Abraham, there are 3388 years in the Greek Septuagint, 2309 years in the Samaritan Pentateuch, and 2008 years in the Hebrew Masoretic translation. I understand the problems with copying errors and you touched on the difficulty of copying errors for numbers, but this is a huge discrepancy. Would there be any motive for a deliberate corruption of these chronologies? Which one are we to believe and which one do you think is the most accurate?   Also, regarding Exodus 12:40, do you believe the children of Israel were in Egypt for 430 years as the Masoretic text seems to indicate (depending on which English translation you like best) or that they were in Canaan and Egypt for 430 years, as the Septuagint reads? The 430 years would be from Abraham entering Canaan until the exodus from Egypt.  I personally believe the Masoretic translation is the best one for these chronologies, however, I think the best translation for Exodus 12:40 is the Septuagint.  The following is an article I wrote concerning these chronologies. Chronology of Mankind: 6,000 Years of History Pt 1 :: By Randy Nettles – Rapture Ready


I agree with you that it is somewhat likely that the Masoretic text is the most reliable for these numbers, but this is not so obviously the case.  The Masoretic text represents the best Hebrew text of the Old Testament from about AD 700-800 when it was put together.  The Samaritan Pentateuch is a translation made about 500 BC, and the Septuagint translation was made around 200 BC.  For this reason, it is not unreasonable to propose that these translations might just be more accurate than the Masoretic.
Here is the bottom line.  We cannot know with absolute certainty which is the correct genealogy.  Whether the correct time span was 3388 or 2309 years we simply cannot know for sure.  I find it hard to think of a reason that it is important to know the precise number of years in these genealogies.  Why is it important for a Christian to know the exact number of years between Enosh and Abraham?  It is not important.  If you want to know for sure the length of time, I am afraid you will be disappointed.
The same with the number of years in Egypt.  Scholars debate which is the correct number of years, but, because of the significant likelihood of copying errors–in particular with numbers–any claim to be sure about the correct number of years would be over-confident.  Again, why is it essential for a Christian living today to know the exact number of years that Israel was in bondage in Egypt?  Answer: It is not important.  I know that as modernist/Westerners, we tend to worry about exact chronologies, but to the people of the ancient Near East, this would not have been particularly important.  The identity of the people in the genealogy would have been important to the Jews, but the number of years would not.  Sorry, but I am afraid that your desire to know the “correct” answer will probably not be met.
Again, I agree with you that the careful scholarship of the Masoretes makes their Hebrew text superior, but I also agree with you that this will not be the case for every passage.  We are so fortunate to have multiple sources for our Old Testament text, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Septuagint, the Masoretic Texts, the targums and more.  But, no text is perfect.
John Oakes

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