Thursday, June 29, 2017

My Ten-Year-Old Dad

Math is a tough, tough business. Some people can’t do it at all and are, I maintain, worse off for it.

I can’t stop doing it, and sometimes that’s its own can of worms.

So take the first verses of 2 Chronicles 28 and 29 — please! — in which we discover that when we do a little simple addition and subtraction, it turns out King Ahaz fathered his son Hezekiah at the ripe old age of — wait for it — ten.

Drum roll please.

I Call Shenanigans

Now, if that sounds highly improbable to you, you’re having much the same reaction I did originally. The rich and powerful have always been offered certain, ah … social opportunities that you and I will never encounter, but a ten-year-old is a ten-year-old.

As my sister would say, I call shenanigans.

So to the commentators we go. Let’s see what the Bible students have to offer about that one. First, the venerable Barnes’ Notes on the Bible:
“This is not impossible; but its improbability is so great, that most commentators suggest a corruption in some of the numbers.”
Nope, sorry, not buying that one. I’m not claiming there is no numeric corruption at all in the original Hebrew Old Testament, but it’s rarer than we might imagine. This difficulty is also present in the parallel Kings account. Chronicles, as mentioned in an earlier post, was written more than two generations later for a completely different audience, and it amplifies or clarifies quite a few of the statements made in Kings. This particular statement it does not touch, but rather reiterates it precisely as originally written. That strongly suggests the writer(s) of Chronicles understood and agreed with the writers of Kings at least that far.

Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude

So let’s try another commentator (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown):
“Paternity at an age so early is not unprecedented in the warm climates of the south, where the human frame is matured sooner than in our northern regions. But the case admits of solution in a different way. It was customary for the later kings of Israel to assume their son and heir into partnership in the government during their lives; and as Hezekiah began to reign in the third year of Hoshea (2 Ki 18:1), and Hoshea in the twelfth year of Ahaz (2 Ki 17:1), it is evident that Hezekiah began to reign in the fourteenth year of Ahaz his father, and so reigned two or three years before his father’s death. So that, at the beginning of his reign in conjunction with his father, he might be only twenty-two or twenty-three, and Ahaz a few years older than the common calculation makes him. Or the case may be solved thus: As the ancient writers, in the computation of time, take notice of the year they mention, whether finished or newly begun, so Ahaz might be near twenty-one years old at the beginning of his reign, and near seventeen years older at his death; while, on the other hand, Hezekiah, when he began to reign, might be just entering into his twenty-fifth year, and so Ahaz would be near fourteen years old when his son Hezekiah was born — no uncommon age for a young man to become a father in southern latitudes [Patrick].”
Ah, those “southern latitudes”. Still, I’m not completely sold.

Thinking Outside the Box

Let’s try another. R.P. Bendedek says this:
“Hezekiah was the son of Jotham, not Ahaz.”
Okay, that’s fairly outside the box.

Having been heavily influenced by C.S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian, I was prepared to consider that there might have been a period of regency between the reigns of Ahaz and Hezekiah that would account for the difference. I had not thought about a completely different paternity.

What Really Happened

So what really happened? As with so many things that are described for us in English translations of ancient Hebrew manuscripts, I must confess this: I DON’T KNOW. I haven’t a clue. Nor, obviously, do the commentators. We are blind men leading the blind when we presume to give hard and fast answers to questions for which the evidence on both sides involves more than a little speculation.

Further, I don’t really care. What’s very important is this: the numbers recorded in both Kings and Chronicles passed muster with generations of Israelites and Judeans who were every bit as alert as we are to the observable reality that ten-year-olds don’t usually father children, who lived a whole lot closer to the events than we do, and who had the advantage of being able to make assumptions that were culturally harmonious with those of the human authors of scripture.

If there was a problem with the record, and if it had been remarkable in any way that might be useful to future generations, you can be sure we’d be reading an editorial comment to that effect. We are not. This means that whatever the story is, it was perfectly logical and acceptable to the original readers of the word of God.

And that means those who are prepared to write off the accuracy of scripture every time they happen to encounter a statement of fact that doesn’t immediately make sense to their tender twenty-first century scholarly sensibilities are welcome to take their criticisms, doubt and naysaying for a long walk off a short pier. They simply don’t hold water.

This is a point not often made, and I have to thank a secular analyst of the Old Testament named Jordan Peterson for making it.

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