Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 4 (2002-2003) - Review

Bruce K. Gardner, The Genesis Calendar: The Synchronistic Tradition in Genesis 1-11 (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2001), pp. 400, paper ISBN: 0-7618-1969-X $ 48.50; cloth ISBN 0-7618-1968-1, $ 68.

The Genesis Calendar offers "a presentation in this hereby-inaugurated biblical-critical field of covert calendrics" (p. xviii). The inspiration for this field and the ensuing work derived both from a visit to Macchu Picchu where the author "noted the parallels between city architecture and astronomical data" (p. xvii), and recent research of calendars disguised within the genealogies of Genesis 1-11. As astronomy (the basis of calendrics) and architecture (representative of culture including religion) were connected among the Incas, so too could the same correspondence be found within the Judaic calendar as reflected in the Massoretic Text. Why such secrecy in presenting the calendar in the MT? Gardner's exploration suggests that the calendar was considered "holy ground" by the pre-Hasmonean Jerusalem priesthood (p. 230); the educated could readily accept non-Jewish elements (Babylonian) in the calendar, not so the average adherent.

In attempting to uncover the calendrics of Genesis' Primeval History Gardner presents six problems that are to be understood as" not discrete, but cumulative, arguments showing there was a covert, sophisticated synchronistic tradition of 364-day calendrics in the post-exilic Priestly Writer P" (p. 5).

Problem 1: understanding Hebrew lunar evidence.
Problem 2: the Hebrew calendar's contexts.
Problem 3: the Mishnah's out-of-step calendrics.
Problem 4: 364-day calendars and intercalation.
Problem 5: the "Key of Enoch" and PH calendrics.
Problem 6: pre-history of Qumran's synchronism.

For each problem Gardner emphasizes that three factors must be given serious consideration: the calendrical factor (basic understanding of the types of calendars that exist and the ensuing lack of knowledge of their nature); the historical factor (the level of technical sophistication [p. 2]) in a given period and the concern whether the decimal or sexagesimal systems are at use; and finally, the cultural factor (every calendar develops in a specific cultural milieu and as such reflects that perspective, both secular and religious).

Gardner likewise notes that part of the difficulty in understanding and accepting the manner in which the ancient calendar was presented is due to the mindset of the West, a mindset entrenched in Gregorian calendrics and unaccustomed to accepting biblical-calendrical images interwoven with universal, mythic art-metaphors of humankind (p. 3). So, for example, the Creation narrative of Genesis 1 is not merely mythic but covertly depicts the "organised sacred calendar" p. (64). Similarly the reference to the Flood in Gen 11:10 is not merely to the deluge. Rather by examining the term used here (mbwl) elsewhere in the MT and other terminology related to the Flood, Gardner believes "mbwl has not merely a factual, but a mythic, connotation." Gen 11:10-26 takes on a new meaning representing "a fresh start; a renewed time" (p. 210). The text of Genesis (and the Hebrew Bible generally) need not be read at the literal level; a deeper meaning can be found with a significance related to calendrics.

One of the most fascinating and tenuous problems addressed in this study is the Key of Enoch. Gen 5:23 records the years of Enoch as 365. As Gardner notes "From Gen 5:23 comes the critical idea that Enoch's full age (i.e., at death) of 365 years", alludes to a solar year of 365 days (p. 9). The correspondence of one year = one day has not gone unnoticed; however, for Gardner it has gone untested. If the Key of Enoch is to bear any credibility, it must be tested and so he does test to the extreme in Chapter 6, wherein he emphasizes that this correlative principle cannot be accepted at face value; it is not self-evident that Enoch's age should be accepted as a metaphor that the Jerusalem Temple used a solar calendar (p. 186). If Gen 5:23 is a key, then it will have a lock in which it works interpretatively (p. 197). The lock Gardner selects to test the key is the genealogy of Shem in Gen 11:10-26, selected on the basis that both the Gen 5 and 11 genealogies derive from the same source and Gen 11 is much less complex. (Applying this key to its original setting was not included with plans for a later exposition [p. 197]!)

Gardner's argument is technical (as noted by James C. VanderKam in the Foreword) which may prove difficult for those not savvy to the deep intricacies of calendrics. Nonetheless, biblical scholar and student alike will come away with not only the understanding that the calendar presented by P whether covert/mythic or straightforward in Genesis 1-11 is a synchronistic one, based on lunar, solar and priestly courses (p. 181). That this choice was intentional is also made clear (p. 23); post-exilic Judaism had the knowledge of sophisticated cultures, and could have adopted a "constant calendar" (p. 40). Their choice was "introspective and subjective, creating (or perceiving) a superior world" (p. 47). Those readers lost in the technicalities of calendrics will, however, be rewarded by Gardner's poignant insights into the nature of ancient calendars, his unique analogies within and beyond the ancient Near East of calendrics, and the intriguing analyses of biblical passages in which he finds covert references to calendrics.

Heidi M. Szpek
Central Washington University