Creationism and Baraminology Research News

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An ongoing list of creationist research projects. This is not a creationism-verse-evolution site, but a site to publicize the research work done by members of the creationist community and the intelligent design community, or research work by the science community at large constructively relating to creation topics. Evolutionary critiques may be included on occasion but only under special consideration, and especially where the research pertains directly to developing a creationist model.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Sumerian King List

One of the more interesting ancient documents is the Sumerian King List, which includes a section on kings who lived before the flood. A summary of the king list is presented:

KingLength of ReignLocation of Reign
Total Years241,200

Interestingly, there are the same number of kings in this list as there are generations in the Genesis 5 list (the Sumerian list doesn't include the "first man" nor the flood hero, so we aren't including Adam or Noah in the count). Now, I don't know if the king list represents the same people as the Genesis list, but I do think it at least represents a real historical account of pre-flood history that has been misinterpreted. My main point of argument comes from this paper by Raul Lopez. I am not sure about his equating the king list and the Genesis lineages, but I think makes a lot of sense.

So why are the numbers so high? The way to understand this is to understand the way that Sumerians used numbers.

First, rather than using a positional numbering system, they used a tallying number system. That means that, for example, if we want to write one humdred and two, we would use three digits in a particular order: 102. If we used a tallying system, we would have type of tally mark for the hundreds place, a different type of tally mark for the tens place, and a different type of tally mark for the ones place. Let's pretend that we used "x" for hundreds, "y" for tens, and "z" for ones - then we would write the number as "xzz".

Second, their system was a sexagesimal system. This means it was a base 60. So, rather than having a tens and hundreds place, they had a sixties place and a three thousand six-hundreds place. But they also used an intermediate base of ten. Therefore, they had a mark for the ones place (600), a mark for the tens place (10*600), a mark for the sixties place (601), a mark for the six-hundreds place (10*601), a mark for the three-thousand six-hundreds place (602), and a mark for the thirty-six thousandths place (10*602).

So what does this have to do with how long the ages are? Well, it is Lopez's contention that the original lists were written in base ten, and the Sumerians who first translated the list misunderstood the bases. Let's look at the digits in the list, and compare it to numbers in the Genesis 5 list rounded to the tens place (the Sumerian list is obviously rounded).

KingReign10*60260210*60Genesis Patriarch103102101
Symbol Total666Symbol Total666
Numeric Total241,200670Numeric Total670

The "total" for the Genesis column is the total of the lifespans, not the total of the length of time that the list spans. The "symbol total" is the total of the symbols as they are presented. The "numeric total" for the Sumerian list is the total that the Sumerian list has, and the "numeric total" for the Genesis list is a rounded total of the exact (not rounded) ages of the kings.

Here are some notable things about the lists:

  • The same (adjusted) number of patriarchs

  • The same general magnitude of the symbols used

  • The exact same symbols could be used for the total ages

Lopez thinks that the ages in the Sumerian king list were adjusted after-the-fact to make the total line up in the sexagesimal system. In fact, with the number of textual differences among the king lists and Genesis copies, it is difficult to know if the numbers could be closer in other texts. Whether or not they are the same people, it does seem interesting that the numbers do have a rough correspondence with each other if interpreted according to a decimal tally system instead of a sexagesimal counting system.

Anyway, this may all be special pleading, but I think it is an interesting paper that probably needs some follow-up work to see if there is more or less there than Lopez indicates. A starting point for research would probably be to evaluate textual variants of both Genesis and the King list to see if other variants have closer or less close correspondences.

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