Thursday, October 08, 2015

The birthday of the world

SEDER OLAM RABBA: This Day in Jewish History, 3761 BCE The World Is Created, According to the Hebrew Calendar and an Obscure Sage. Basing himself on no source but the bible, Rabbi Yose ben Halafta, who lived in the 2nd century CE, sat down and did the math (David B. Green, Haaretz).
October 7, 3761 B.C.E., is the date on which the world was created – according to the Hebrew calendar that governs the passage of time among the Jewish people.

The calculation of the year is fairly simple to understand; how the precise day and month were arrived at is a little more complicated.


It is generally accepted that the sage Rabbi Yose ben Halafta is one who made the calculation. He was a tanna, a sage of the Mishnaic period, who lived in Sepphoris, a town in the Galilee, in the 2nd century C.E.

Yose ben Halafta was one of the principal students of Rabbi Akiva, the most revered rabbinical figure of his time. Rabbi Yose was in turn the teacher of Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi, who would become the chief editor of the Mishnah, one of whose most frequently cited rabbis is Ben Halafta. He is commonly accepted as the author of the book Seder Olam (“Order of the World,” sometimes called Seder Olam Rabba, the “Great Order of the World,” to distinguish it from a later work with the same name), a history that attempts to give dates to all of the people and events mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, and up to Rabbi Yose’s time, which coincided with the Bar-Kochba Revolt of 132 C.E.

For Rabbi Yose, the only relevant source is the Bible. He does not attempt to reconcile it with any other chronology, but rather, to make sense of and quantify the chronology as it presented in Scripture.

The ascribed authorship of the tractate is traditional and should, as usual with these things, be taken with a grain of salt. Whatever its original date of composition, Seder Olam Rabba seems to have undergone a long process of editing. Its chronology is a bit dodgy in places: it makes the period of Persian domination between the building of the Second Temple (520 BCE) and Alexander the Great (c. 333 BCE) only 34 years.