Monday, September 09, 2019

The seventh position

The purpose of this paper is to focus, once morel, attention on a genealogical procedure which obtained among Hebrew chronographers2. Simply stated, this paper will hold that, in some cases, minimal alterations were made in inherited lists of ancestors in order to place individuals deemed worthy of attention in the seventh, and, to a much lesser extent, fifth position of a genealogical tree. 

It has often been noted that Enosh, third in position, was considered by S as a »repeater-of-birth« (to borrow a term from Pharaonic Egypt). His name meaning »man« appeared as a synonym of »Adam«. Hence he too was, in a sense, the founder of the human race12• It may be that the mysterious statement of 4:26 »It was then that men began to invoke YHWH by name« (which is attributed to ] by some and to P by others) was intended, at least partially, to highlight the primacy of Enosh even in the cultic beginnings of mankind. Enoch stands third in position in K. But in S, he is placed seventh. This change, almost certainly must have been due to the fact that important material concerning Enoch was remembered; »Enoch walked with God 300 years ... Enoch walked with God and then he was no more, for God took him« (5:22,24). As it is, except for an insertion to explain the name of Noah, one that is usually assigned to J, no other personality in S is provided with information. In placing Enoch in 7th position, S was forced to alter the succession of ancestors from the pattern he inherited. In this, he attempted to make minimal changes. Qenan/Qayin, Yered/Irad, Metuselah/Metusa'el, Lemek, and, to a certain extent, 'Adam were kept in their proper order. By exchanging the slots reserved for Enoch and Mahalal'el (K's Mehu/iya'el), S succeeded not only in placing Enoch in a favored position in the stock-genealogy of mankind's ancestors, but also in keeping Mahalal'el in 5th position, the same as that held by Melu/iya'el in K's line.

Biblical genealogists, as is argued here, often time display a definite predeliction for placing in the seventh-position personalities of importance to them. It is likely that such a convention was but one of many employed by ancient chronographers. In order to test this hypothesis, I shall apply its tenets to three major geneological trees preserved in the MT. A. The lines of Shem. Gen 11:10-26 preserves another table of ancestors which follows the pattern of »stock-genealogy« ten numbers deep. The line of last person in this list, as usual, spreads horizontally to divide into three branches. The great patriarch Abraham is reckoned as the seventh since Eber, the tenth since Shem and the twentieth since Adam. 

Gen 46:8-25 records the number of persons that descended to Egypt along with Jacob. Scholars have rightly stressed the »artificiality« of this list whose main aim is to present, somewhat imprecisely at that, the Hebrew as a community of 70 males (d. Ex 24:1-9; Gen 10; Num 11:16; Luke 10:1-17). The use of the number seven, and multiples thereof, is not unobtrusive. Rachel's descendants (7) and those of Bilhah (14) are added up to 21 (3 X 7); while those of Leah (33) and her maid Zilpah (16) are added up to 49 (7 X 7). It is not surprising, therefore, to note that Gad, whose gematria is 7 (gimel = 3; daleth = 4) is placed in seventh position. Furthermore, he is the only one in this list who is recorded as bearing seven sons. 

Lists (b) and (e). List (b- Gen 35:23-26) also places Joseph in seventh position. This list follows a strict order in naming the issues of Leah, Rachel, Bilhah, and Zilpah. It is interesting that without the linguistic and numerical elaborations which characterized the work of (a) and (c), there was no need to place Gad in seventh position. Freed from this exigency, the genealogist of (b) was pleased to record the sons of Rachel and those of her handmaid Bilhah, before returning to Leah's children through Zilpah. List (e- Ex 1:2-4) depended on (b). But due to the circumstances of the narration, it was necessary to mention neither Joseph's name nor those of his sons. The genealogist of (e) simply pushed up his tree one slot. In this instance, I do not attach much significance to Benjamin's occupation of the seventh position. 

Note, however, that in both (d) and (k), Dan occupies the seventh slot. That the seventh-position is favored in (d) is fairly certain for it is highlighted by a very unusual cri-de-coeur: »For your salvation I am waiting, oh Lord« (v. 18). Jack M. Sasson, "A Genealogical 'Convention' in Biblical Chronography" (1978), ZAW 90.  

This provides further evidence that the number seve often functions as a stock number in the Pentateuch. It has a numerological significance. And that, in turn, raises the question of whether the septunarian scheme in Gen 1 uses seven as a stock number rather than an actual calendar day. 


  1. That's an interesting possibility, though couldn't the opposite be argued? That is couldn't the significance of 7 in Jewish numerology be due to the days of creation and or the cycle of 7 in the Jewish calendar more broadly rather than the other way around? I'm not really familiar with the literature here so I don't know if there's another explanation for its significance.

    1. i) Yes, it could be that the days of Gen 1 are calendar days, and all the uses of 7 as a stock number or symbolic number are parasitic on the literal uage, the way metaphors are based on literal examples, viz. "I see" in the figurative, intellectual sense is parasitic on physical vision.

      ii) Notice I didn't say the use of 7 as a stock number rules out the possibility that it's a calendar week in Gen 1. Rather, I said that given the frequent numerological use of 7 in the Pentateuch, that raises the possibility that it's a stock number in Gen 1 as well.

      iii) I didn't offer that as a knockdown argument against literal days. Rather, it becomes a question of whether there's a presumption that Gen 1 is different in that regard.

      iv) Likewise, to make Gen 1 the exception and yardstick for all other uses of 7 lays tremendous weight on that particular text. But does that necessarily enjoy precedence over other Pentateuchal examples? Or should we interpret Gen 1 in light of the totality of Pentateuchal usage, where the entire Pentateuch functions as a hermeneutical unit?

  2. I certainly see what you're saying and I'm open to the hypothesis. While I'm generally YEC I don't think a strictly literal interpretation of the days is necessary to maintain that position.

    I suppose my only question would be if 7 is utilized as a stock number, why is it so utilized? What was the writer intending to communicate to the reader? To me something like 'completion' or 'perfection' seems intuitively appealing due to its creation significance. Again, this is just off the top of my head and I don't know what the literature suggests.

    It seems your suggestion would have the use in Gen 1 and the rest of the uses in the Pentateuch all having an alternative significance to the author/reader, though I'm not sure what you had in mind there.

    1. Seven actually appears quite frequently in nature already, so the numerological connotation could have come from that as well. For an example that has some relevance to Genesis, there were seven visible "planets" (as defined by the ancients) from Earth with the naked eye: The Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn (Genesis 1 specifically states astronomical objects serve as signs in the sky and the Sun and Moon "ruled" over their respective skies). Another referent that impacts Genesis is the fact that rainbows have seven named colors (technically they have all the colors, but our brain segments them into Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet), and of course the rainbow was used as a sign after the Flood.

      Expanding outside of Genesis, the ancients knew of only seven metals (gold, silver, copper, tin, lead, iron, and mercury), which was all we knew of up to the 13th century. Of interest is the fact that the metals were correlated both to the celestial bodies and to the days of the week: Gold = Sun = Sunday; Silver = Moon = Monday; Iron = Mars = Tuesday; Mercury = Mercury = Wednesday; Tin = Jupiter = Thursday; Copper = Venus = Friday; Lead = Saturn = Saturday. This correlation could, itself, be the reason why a seven-day-per week pattern could have come about, irrespective of the days of Creation.

      Additional (probably less relevant) examples of seven in nature include the fact that music naturally falls into a 7-note diatonic scale (built on chained perfect-fifths). I'm not sure how much of an impact that would have on Hebrews, but it was certainly obsessed over in Greece (albeit historically it would have been after the events of Exodus). Additionally almost all mammals have seven cervical vertebrae. There's also a bit of number theory that seven plays into, although much of that wouldn't be known in antiquity given the relatively recent discovery of much of it (like how seven is a double Mersenne prime, etc.).

    2. i) It may be that the use of 7 as a stock number derives from a literal 7-day week in Genesis.

      ii) However, it may simply be an idiom, like the use of 40 as a stock number in scripture. Does that have to be grounded in some historic precedent?

    3. Actually, as I thought about it some more, I'm pretty certain that it's the seven "planets" that gave rise to the seven-day week in general, even if the Hebrew calendar actually had seven days independently of that, given the fact that the days are literally named after those celestial bodies. We still have three of them that way in English: Sunday, Monday, and Saturday (the other days were renamed based on Norse mythology). Again, the Hebrews could have a seven-day week for other reasons, but I think that the evidence indicates that the reason most of the world has a seven-day week is due to the signs in the heavens which were, after all, created for the following reason: "And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for *days* and years."