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The Lengths of the Year

 Lynn E. Rose

4  And the days of Adam after he had begotten Seth were
eight hundred years: and he begat sons and daughters:

5  And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred
and thirty Years: and he died.

6  ¶And Seth lived an hundred and five years. and begat Enos:

7  And Seth lived after he begat Enos eight hundred and
seven years, and begat sons and daughters:

8  And all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve
years: and he died.

9  ¶And Enos lived ninety years, and begat Cä-i'nan:

10  And Enos lived after he begat Cä-i'nan eight hundred and
fifteen years, and begat sons and daughters:

11  And all the days of Enos were nine hundred and five years:
and he died.

12  ¶And Cä-i'nan lived seventy years.

Elsewhere in this issue (1), Raymond Vaughan and I make use of a Midrash from the Shitah Mekubbezet in attempting to determine the lengths of the "year" in antiquity. (Words like "year" will appear in quotation marks when they are not necessarily the same as our present units.) The Shitah Mekubbezet (Gathered Interpretation) was collected by Bezalel ben Abraham Ashkenazi, who lived in Jerusalem in the sixteenth century of this era.  It is also known as the Asefat Zekenim (Collection of the Ancients), and is a compilation of various old texts and commentaries, many of which are no longer available elsewhere.  Professor Shia Moser very kindly helped in tracking down and translating the relevant portion of this material.

In Nedarim (Vows) 32a of the Shitah Mekubbezet (2) there is preserved an old and anonymous Midrash to the effect that ". . . God overturned the mazal of the Israelites—who were supposed to be there [in Egypt] for four hundred years—by means of the stars, in that he changed their positions; and they were there for only two hundred ten years. . . ."  The word mazal has a double meaning: here it seems to mean luck or fortune, but it can also mean planet.  The Midrash's immediate context in the Shitah Mekubbezet is indeed somewhat astrological, but it should be emphasized that the original context, as well as the authorship and the original intent, are unknown.

Ginzberg takes this Midrash to mean that "the sun completed four hundred revolutions during the space of time of two hundred and ten regular years" (3); his reason for mentioning the Midrash is that it has been utilized to reconcile various biblical and rabbinical contradictions.

In Worlds in Collision, Velikovsky seems willing to use this Midrash as evidence for a change in the length of the "year" at the time of the Exodus, but he is suspicious of the exact figures given: "These figures must not be taken as correct, since the intention was to reconcile two biblical texts. . . ." (4).

I agree that this Midrash should be treated cautiously, and that its principal appeal to those who preserved it might have been its usefulness in reconciling biblical and rabbinical contradictions (5).  At the same time, however, we should explore the possibility that the ratio of 210:400 is a fairly accurate measure of the difference between the pre-Exodus "year" that obtained during the Israelite stay in Middle Kingdom Egypt and the later, post-Beth-horon "year" that obtained from the fifteenth century to the eighth century.  Even the biblical and rabbinical contradictions themselves may have resulted from inadequate understandings of physical changes that are reflected more or less correctly in the Midrash.

In (1), Vaughan and I consider pre-Exodus and post-Beth-horon "years" of .593 and 1.1295 years, respectively.  One easy way in which the ratio between such "years" could have been measured would be through the revolutions in longitude of some major astronomical object, perhaps Jupiter or Saturn, that was little affected by the events that changed Earth's "year."  What would have been the nature of these observational records?  Actually, it was in order to illustrate an answer to that very question that our particular values of .593 and 1.1295 were selected.  Vaughan and I had previously proposed in (6) that the semimajor axis of Earth's orbit was 1.1 astronomical units, in which case the "year" would have been 1.1537 present years.  Our decision to reduce this to 1.1295 years in (1) is based on the fact that Jupiter's period of revolution is 11.86 years, and 11.86 ÷ 10.5 = 1.1295. Thus with a post-Beth-horon "year" of 1.1295 years, Jupiter would have completed one mean revolution (that is, one complete circuit of the sky—so that Jupiter would end up against the same background of stars as before) in 11.86 ÷ 1.1 295 = 10.5 "years."  And with a pre-Exodus "year" of 1. 1295 x 210/400 = .593 years, Jupiter would have completed one mean revolution every 11.86 ÷ .593 = 20 "years." (Notice that 20 x 10.5 = 210, which is astronomically fortuitous, but may have had some numerological appeal.)  The revolutions of Jupiter might not have taken exactly 20 "years" or exactly 10.5 "years"; nevertheless, a knowledge that Jupiter's period of revolution took about 20 old "years" and took about 10.5 new "years" would be all the information needed in order to calculate that the ratio between the old "year" and the new "year" was about 10.5 to 20, and that the 400 old "years" of the Abraham to Moses period were equivalent to about 210 of the new, post-Beth-horon "years.”

One major advantage of the ratio of 210:400 is that our proposed pre-Exodus "year" of .593 present years makes good sense of the biographical information about people in the Bible from Abraham to Moses and Joshua: just multiply every reported age by .593, and you then have the true age expressed in modern years.  Thus Sarah's unusual pregnancy occurred not when she was 90, but when she was 90 x .593 = 53.  She died not when she was 127, but when she was 75.  When Isaac was born to Sarah and to Abraham, Abraham was not 100, but 59.  Abraham died not at 175, but at 103 or 104.  Isaac married not at 40, but at 23 or 24, and he died not at 180, but at 106 or 107.

Now consider the information about people in the Bible from Adam to Noah.  No number can be found such that the product of that number and each of the ages mentioned from Adam to Noah will make sense.  This is because the proportion of the lifetime that extends from parenthood to death is far greater than what we (and the Abraham to Moses people) have experienced.  Paternity takes place at ages as low as 65 (Mahalaleel and Enoch), yet death does not occur, in many cases, until well over 900 "years." The highest of these ages is the 969 "years" reached by Methuselah.

This same proportion is reflected in the vital statistics given for the period from Arphaxad to Terah. (Arphaxad, the grandson of Noah and the son of Shem, was born two "years" after the Flood; Terah was the father of Abraham.)  But here the length of the "year" may have been much longer than in the Adam to Noah period.  For paternity occurs as early as 29 (Nahor), yet death typically does not occur until such ages as 200, 300, or 400 "years."  The highest of these ages is the 464 "years" reached by Eber.

The present ratio of the entire lifetime to the portion of the lifetime from birth to parenthood is frequently about 3 or 4 or 5 to 1, and seldom more than 10 to 1.  In view of the relatively high ages of people like Abraham and Isaac, it seems that the Abraham to Moses ratios may have been slightly higher than the ratios of today, but it is difficult to tell with any confidence.  Both the Adam to Noah ratios and the Arphaxad to Terah ratios, however, were considerably higher than what either we or the Abraham to Moses people have experienced, for ratios in excess of 10 to 1 were common in both of those earlier periods.

What can be inferred from all these reports, if they are reliable, is that the Adam to Noah people and the Arphaxad to Terah people were biologically similar to each other, but that they were biologically different from us.  Whether this difference was genetic or environmental is not known, but it is impossible to avoid recognizing the difference if one attempts to make any sense at all of the reported vital statistics.

The lowest ages of paternity suggest that the Adam to Noah "year" was 29 ÷ 65 = 44.62% as long as the Arphaxad to Terah "year."  The highest ages of death suggest 464 ÷ 969 = 47.88%. Splitting the difference gives us 46 1/4%.  How those two "years" would compare to the Abraham to Moses "year" is more difficult to assess, but it does seem that the Adam to Noah "year" must have been very short indeed.  If the Adam to Noah "year" was, let us suppose, 55% as long as the Abraham to Moses "year" of .593 present years, then we would be dealing with a situation in which Earth, prior to the Flood, would have been less than one-half of an astronomical unit away from the Sun.  This cannot be rejected out of hand, since there are so many unknowns affecting life conditions on such a planet: solar activity, cloud cover, ocean level, obliquity, rate of rotation, latitude of habitation, altitude of habitation, and so forth.  Nevertheless, this proximity to the Sun does strain the imagination to the point where some may find it more attractive to imagine that the pre-Flood "year" was not a measure referring to the sidereal period of Earth ( = the period of the Sun), but that it was based upon some other cycle, such as a synodic period of the Moon.  Still others may suppose that the pre-Flood "year" was indeed the period of Earth's revolution, but that Earth was revolving around some body other than the Sun (7).

In distinguishing between the Adam to Noah period and the Arphaxad to Terah period, I left out of account Shem, who was the son of Noah and the father of Arphaxad.  Actually, both Noah and Shem are peculiar cases, in that their lifetimes included the Flood.  Noah is reported to have lived for 350 "years" after the Flood, making him 950 at death; and Shem is reported to have lived for 502 "years" after the Flood, making him 600 at death.  If the 350 "years" and the 502 "years" were measured in post-Flood "years," and if the pre-Flood "year" was 46 1/4% as long as the post-Flood "year," then it would follow that Noah lived for 600 + ÷ .4625) = 1356 pre-Flood "years," and that Shem lived for 98 + (502 ÷ .4625) = 1183 pre-Flood "years."  These ages seem far too high, even in an inquiry as speculative as this one.

An alternative is to suppose that the 350 "years" of Noah and the 502 "years" of Shem were measured in the old pre-Flood "year" rather than in the new post-Flood "year."  In that case Noah's lifetime of 950 pre-Flood "years" and Shem's lifetime of 600 pre-Flood "years" would both be in general agreement with the other pre-Flood ages.  Noah's lifetime would have been 439 post-Flood "years," and Shem's lifetime would have been 277 post-Flood "years."  These figures, too, are not out of line with the other post-Flood ages, the highest of which is the 464 reached by Eber. (Notice that Methuselah's 969 pre-Flood "years" would have been only 448 post-Flood "years.")  Just as oral or written records of the "years" that it took for a revolution in longitude of Jupiter or Saturn could have been used to calculate that the 400 pre-Exodus "years" were equal to about 210 post-Beth-horon "years," so similar records of an earlier time could have been used to convert the post-Flood "years" lived by Noah and Shem into pre-Flood "years."  The planet used as a chronometer need not have been Jupiter or Saturn; any planet not substantially affected by the Flood would have sufficed for this purpose.

All of these speculations are summarized in the accompanying table.

Length of     Semimajor
            Axis of

Pre-Flood                0.3262        0.4738

Post-Flood               0.7052        0.7923

Pre-Exodus               0.5930       0.7058

Post-Beth-horon      1.1295         1.0846

Present                    1.0000         1.0000


(1)        Lynn E. Rose and Raymond C. Vaughan, "Velikovsky and the Sequence of Planetary Orbits."

(2)        [Bezalel ben Abraham Ashkenazi?], Shitah Mekubbezet.  Nedarim. (Berlin: Kornegg, 1860), 32a. (Opinions differ as to whether Ashkenazi himself was responsible for the Nedarim portion of the Shitah Mekubbezet.)

(3)        Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1925), V, 420.  The Midrash is in 32a.  Ginzberg's reference to 31b is an error that seems to have resulted from an error in the Shitah Mekubbezet itself, where 32b is misprinted as 32a.  Ginzberg probably saw the 32a (the misprint) just below the Midrash, and wrongly took the Midrash to be in 31b.

(4)        Immanuel Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision (New York: Macmillan, 1950), p. 124.

(5)        Ginzberg, Legends, II, 318, and V, 420.

(6)        Lynn Rose and Raymond Vaughan, "The Orbits of Mars, Earth, and Venus," Pensée, May, 1972, p. 43.

(7)        Frederic B. Jueneman, "A Most Exciting Planet," Industrial Research, 15 (July, 1973), p. 11.


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