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Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Tracking down Zerubbabel

Isaac Newton was a genius; no one disputes that. And no matter what he applied his genius to, he made breakthroughs that changed the way things were done. For example, turn a dime or quarter on edge. You will observe a ribbing that goes all the way around the coin. While this serves no purpose today, it was a breakthrough in its time, invented by Newton to end the practice of 'clipping' the edges of specie, a sort of do-it-yourself degradation of the money supply. He came up with this idea when put in charge of the Royal Mint, and ever since then, coins have carried ribbing--as have the tokens that replaced them. Nickels and pennies don't, because they were never made of precious metal.

One idea Newton tinkered with throughout his life (claiming to spend only his 'idle time' on it) was a universal chronology of ancient kingdoms. The unfinished manuscript has once again been posthumously released, edited this time by the same man who brought Ussher's chronology back in print. Inasmuch as it was written before any of the treasures of Ancient Egypt had been opened up by the Rosetta Stone, it could bear editing again by an Egyptologist. And inasmuch as its dates for ancient Egyptian History could be falsified by Carbon-14 dating, this also should be attempted.

But one thing Newton gave to the science of chronology in this work was the technique of dating by generations. It turns out that he didn't originate the idea--it actually underpins much of ancient Greek chronology. What he did was bring Science into the picture, thus drastically reducing dates in ancient history. For example, he set an upper limit of 26 to 28 years for generations in a dynasty, with 18 to 20 years the average length of a reign. Ancients, on the other hand, assumed 33 to 40 years per reign (and in some cases as high as 80 to 100), thus greatly inflating the dates for the earliest monarchs when calculated by generations. Newton was able to conclusively prove that the dates generally accepted for European history get off by up to some three centuries as the inflated generations take us farther and farther back. Modern historians have disregarded Newton's work in this area, to their great detriment.

Calculating chronology by generations is actually an idea I had come up with myself several years ago. I even made a post on it earlier. This post represents my latest thinking.

The Gospels contain two different genealogies of Jesus, the son of Mary. They are so different that people have puzzled for millennia how they can end with the same person. I happen to believe that Matthew's genealogy is that of Joseph, Jesus' common law father, and Luke's is that of Mary, Jesus' birth mother. But regardless, both genealogies share one name in common--or at least appear to: Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel.

Personally, I think this is just a case where two people had the same first and last name--all too common in genealogy. But the interesting thing about this name is that it doesn't really matter: we can use this unique name to date anyone who has it, regardless of how many there were.

Zerubbabel has a very specific meaning in Hebrew: literally, it's sown in Babylon. Now, whether this refers to the individual's conception or his birth, we can reasonably date it to within one generation of 598/7 BC when Jeconiah was taken captive to Babylon. Using this technique relies on only two assumptions:

1) A Jewish father would give this name to his son if he was the first in his family line to be conceived and/or born in Babylonian captivity. The name reflects both the fresh despair of captivity, and a spark of hope for eventual return.

2) The name carries such a negative connotation that it would not be passed on to later generations.

So, let's start with the working hypothesis that anyone named Zerubbabel was born between 586 and 550 BC. Plugging this date into Matthew's genealogy, we find a perfect fit: Zerubbabel was the grandson of Jehoiachin (alias Jeconiah or Coniah), who was born in 616 BC. It's apparent that his first son was born before his exile at age 18, so Shealtiel's firstborn would have been the first in his line to be born in Babylon.

One fascinating piece of information was found on Cuneiform tablets dating to the general time that Jehoiachin was "given a regular ration by the king" of Babylon. It states something to this effect:
Tablet 28122: To Jaoukin, king . . .
Tablet 28178: "10 (sila of oil) to ...Jaoukin, king of Ja[...]
2 1/2 sila to []ns of the king of Judah"
Tablet 28186: "10 (sila) to Jakuukinu, the son of the king of Jakudu
2 1/2 sila for the 5 sons of the king of Jakudu"

I don't think we can identify the men on the third tablet with those on the first two, but at any rate we do know that Jehoiachin had 7 sons, and it's likely that 1 or 2 died young. This is likely the reason why Zerubbabel is sometimes listed as the son of Shealtiel, and sometimes as the son of Pedaiah; apparently a levirate marriage was involved.

But who is Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri in Luke 3:27? He doesn't appear to be closely related to the other one by blood, but, due to the unique historical conditions of the time, must have been in his same generation.

Now, taking that information, we can plug a date into the long genealogy from Nathan (born around 1050 BC) to Jesus (born around 0 BC). The 41 generations would average 25.6 years each--very reasonable when each generation doesn't have to be a firstborn, and an indication that probably none are missing. Plugging Zerubbabel in at 575 BC, we get fore and aft averages of 22.62 and 28.75 years respectively, both of which are still within the normal range.

But trying to fit Zerubbabel into Matthew's genealogy has a big problem: he's only 11 generations back from Jesus, rather than 20. This means an average generation of 52.27 years; way too many, especially since most of these are first- or second-borns. But remember, we already know that Matthew deliberately excluded 3 or 4 generations farther up. So how many can we reasonably say he excluded between Zerubbabel and Abiud--the descendant who follows him on Matthew's list?

Well, as it turns out, 1 Chronicles 3 already gives Zerubbabel's descendants out for 6 generations--and Abiud doesn't make the list. Adding these six to the 11 already listed gives an average generation of 33.82 years--still a bit too long.

If, as Newton showed, we can use generations to fix chronology, we can also do the opposite--by counting the years between Zerubbabel and Jesus, we can show that at least six, and probably about ten, generations are missing between Zerubbabel and Joseph--and likely before we even get to Abiud. UPDATE May 2012 I recently discovered a possible factor in Matthew's dividing Jesus' genealogy into three sets of fourteen: One set getting us to David the King, one set of Davidic Kings, and one more set of exiles down to Jesus, the heir to David's throne. 'DAVID' in Hebrew gematria has the value of fourteen.

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