Judgment Day November 14?

(Crossposted to Mah Rabu.)

So the world didn’t end yesterday. To be fair, they weren’t actually predicting the end of the world until October 21, at the conclusion of five months of torment for those of us left behind. Yesterday was supposed to be only Judgment Day. But that didn’t happen either.

Of course this is all nonsense, but we can check their math and see whether it is at least internally consistent nonsense.

Let’s start with the year:
According to the tract explaining the calculations, the world was created in 11,013 “BC”, so we are now in the year 13,023 from creation. (It’s one less than you think because there was no year zero; 1 BCE was followed immediately by 1 CE.) The biblical flood occurred in the year 4990 “BC”, 6023 years after creation. God says in Genesis 7:4 that the flood will come in 7 days, and since one day to God is like 1000 years to us (they cite a New Testament verse for this, but we have the same idea in Psalm 90:4), this means the world will be destroyed 7000 years later, which comes out to 2011 CE.

I was baffled at how they arrived at this year count in the first place. According to the Jewish calendar, we are now in the year 5771 from creation, and the flood took place in the year 1656 from creation (4115 years ago, or 2105 BCE). While the exact count of the number of years from “creation” is somewhat controversial (particularly at the interface between biblical chronology and real history), counting the years in Genesis from creation to the flood is very easy, since we have a detailed list of how long each ancestor lived before the next generation was born. Assuming they’re reading the same Bible (and I just checked the King James and the numbers are the same), it’s hard to see how the totals could be off by so much. At first glance I thought they were just applying the same principle that 1 day to God is 1000 years to us, so the six days of creation would add an extra 5999 years (subtract one because, according to the rabbis, humans were created on Rosh Hashanah of the year 2, so creation began on 25 Elul of the year 1). But that can’t be it, because the time from the end of creation to the flood has to be much more than 24 years.

So I did some googling and it turns out that they get this chronology based on a general principle that a generation is a lifespan, so in these biblical genealogies, we can assume that the son was born in the year that the father died. For example, since Genesis 5:11 says that Enosh lived 905 years, they ascertain that the time from Enosh’s birth to his son Kenan’s birth was 905 years. Thus they completely disregard the explicit statements in Genesis 5:9-10 that Enosh lived for 90 years and then fathered Kenan, and then lived 815 years after that. By this method, they arrive at a stretched-out chronology. If they hadn’t done this, then the 7000-year anniversary of the flood wouldn’t take place until 4896 CE, so the end would be far from nigh.
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In case you thought Kentucky couldn’t get any crazier…

They brought you the Answers in Genesis ministry. They brought you the Creation Museum, showing that humans and dinosaurs coexisted on God’s 6-day creation 6000 years ago. Now, they are bringing you Ark Encounter–an 800 acre Noah’s Ark theme park complete with life-size replica of the ark and a model of the Tower of Babel. Crazy? Perhaps. But also lucrative!

According to a report in the NYT

The developers of Ark Encounter, who have incorporated as a profit-making company, say they expect to spend $150 million, employ 900 people and attract 1.6 million visitors from around the world in the first year. With the Creation Museum only 45 miles away, they envision a Christian tourism corridor that would draw busloads from churches and Christian schools for two- and three-day visits.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the article:

“It’s our opportunity to present accurate, factual biblical information to people about a subject that they’re really interested in,” said Mike Zovath, a senior vice president of Answers in Genesis.

this one makes me laugh because if it’s accurate and factual to the Bible, it’s not accurate or factual to those pesky things called history or reality! If it’s accurate and factual to history and reality, well, then it will likely not be so much in line with the Bible…

“We think that God would probably have sent healthy juvenile-sized animals that weren’t fully grown yet, so there would be plenty of room,” said Mr. Zovath, a retired Army lieutenant colonel heading the ark project. “We want to show how Noah would have taken care of them, taken care of waste management, taken care of water needs and food needs.”

that God, always thinking about practical matters! sounds like someone needs to do a little reading of some midrash! healthy juvenile-sized animals. hilarious.

The Trial of the (Last) Century

In honor of the 83 year and 10 month anniversary of the so-called Scopes monkey trial (conceived as a publicity ploy by the city elders of Dayton, Tennessee and ending up as a film polemicizing against the McCarthy witchhunts) I bring you the all-important Jewish connection.

One aspect of the defense strategy was to produce expert witnesses who argued that there was no contradiction between the biblical accounts of creation and the theory of evolution. Although the judge ultimately agreed to the prosecution’s motion to not allow the experts to testify, their testimony was read into the record (and became a part of the mythical trial in the form of “Clarence Darrow’s” [=Spencer Tracy's] cross examination of William Jennings Bryan [=Frederic March]). One of the experts on Bible who made the argument that all the problems stem not from the bible but from the King James translation, was none other than Rabbi Herman Rosenwasser (HUC ordainee, 1908; MA from the Western Reserve University of Cleveland in semitics and philosophy). He contributed the following to the defense:

In the first chapter of Genesis, the word ‘Adam’ is used. The word Adam means a living organism containing blood. If we are descended from Adam we are descended from a lower order—a living, purely organism containing blood. If that is a lower order of animal, then Genesis itself teaches that man is descended from a lower order of animals.

and also

If the Hebrew Bible was properly translated and understood, one would not find any conflict with the theory of evolution which would prevent him from accepting both. [creation and evolution]

(His full testimony is available here at page 227.)
While both of these claims (the former even more than the latter) are, you know… hooey, they did make for good cinema.
Happy Scopes week!

Papal Urges

Nothing brings people together during the holidays quite like messages of love, respect for all, the golden rule… I think the Pope needs to remember that.

In an address made yesterday, the Pope said that just as people are concerned about ecology, in order to protect rain forests and such, so too should we be concerned in an “ecology of man,” in order to protect the distinct roles of men and women as were determined during creation. He asks us to remember the order of creation, man then woman, and asks that it be respected. Ignoring it would be destruction of humans and of G!d’s work.

Italian LGBT groups have, understandably, taken offense with this speech. I’m wondering why I haven’t seen a Jewish reaction yet.

There are two versions of the creation story in Genesis; our sages have suggested that one shows that the first being was actually an androgynos. But we don’t have to go that route to see that the Pope is just, well, wrong. Gender roles and norms change from generation to century. Is he really suggesting that men should behave today as they did in the Bible? Should we be like Cain and murder our brothers? Like Noah and drink to excess? Like Abraham and alienate our wives and sons? Like Jacob and steal from our brothers? We really don’t need to think too hard about this to find that surely the Pope can’t actually believe what he’s saying.

(Besides, how can anyone listen to a speech about the preservation of ‘real’ men from a guy wearing red Prada shoes?!)

How Would God REALLY Vote – A call for collaborators

David Klinghoffer, resident Jew at the Discovery Institute, has just come out with a new book: How Would God Vote: Why the Bible Commands You to Be a Conservative.

Longtime readers of Klinghoffer’s Forward column won’t be surprised to find the book maddening in its refusal to engage in serious thinking. He ignores whole swathes of Torah and Talmud; doesn’t bother thinking of the actual consequences of his policies; and lines up enough straw men to constitute a fire hazard.

Klinghoffer does surprise on occasion. He praises the idea of reparations to African-Americans for slavery. He downplays the need for global conflict. (Better, he says, to fight “cultural decadence” at home.) And if you’re looking for a Republican propagandist for whom opposition to abortion is only a first step toward banning contraception and no-fault divorce, Klinghoffer is your man.

However, as someone who does think the Torah has something to say about economic and political arrangements, I’m looking at this book as an opportunity. Get ready for: How Would God REALLY Vote: A Jewish Response to David Klinghoffer.

I’m looking for volunteers to write a chapter or two of the book. Chapters can come in a variety of genres:

  • You can rip into Klinghoffer’s logic
  • You can show where Klinghoffer misunderstands Torah
  • You can show how Torah addresses a policy area that Klinghoffer doesn’t deal with

Contributions can be repurposed from already-published articles, op-eds, and blog posts.

Deadline is July 7. Publication date is planned for August 15, in time for political conventions and the high campaign season.

If you’re interested, raise a virtual hand below, or drop me an email at larry at yudel dot com.

One year away!

(Crossposted to Mah Rabu.)

One (solar) year from today, Wednesday, April 8, 2009, is birkat ha-chamah, the blessing for the sun that is said only once every 28 years!

Why every 28 years?

The short version: It’s based on bad science, but it’s still cool to have something like this that only happens a few times per lifetime. We should brainstorm about how to take advantage of this opportunity!

The longer version:
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