SEDER OLAM - Revisited

סדר עולם - חדש





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Creation

Generations  1-14
(3760 - 2080 BCE)

Generations 15-21
(2080 - 1240 BCE)

Generations 22-28
(1240 - 400 BCE)

Generations 29-35
(400 BCE - 440 CE)

Generations 36-42
(440 - 1280 CE)

Generations 43-49
(1280 - 2120 CE)

Generation 50
(Messianic)





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Hebrew years 960 to 1080 (2800-2680 BCE)

Cult of the Dead

Hanoch eventually got himself into trouble with the rulers of Egypt who were ruling from Abydos or Thinis, near the Nile river.[1] The ancient Egyptian religion was first established and Egyptian cosmology invented. They even asserted that their land was where the Garden of Eden had been located. Hanoch was unwilling to believe in their new idol gods and to believe in their way of rewriting the Creation to better fit their purpose of god-made rulers. He could no longer live among the Egyptian people with his rebellous attitude. His ultimate fate was unique:

All the days of Hanoch were five and sixty years and three hundred years. Hanoch walked in the path of God and he was no more, because God took him. 
--- Genesis 5:23-24

The text doesn’t state that Hanoch actually died: it is God who took him away in Hebrew year 987 (2773 BCE). This means that his soul was removed from his body but his body remained intact, meaning not being physically altered after his soul departed. It was as if Hanoch did not actually (physically) die. This occurrence must have had a strong influence on the Egyptian people who, unlike other ancient civilizations, became obsessed with death and idea of an afterlife. Some historians even go as far as claiming that the entire Ancient Egyptian civilization was based upon a "death cult".[2]

It was not by chance by this particular practice of embalming and of preparing the dead for the afterlife became much more sophisticated in Egypt compared to all other ancient civilizations. The Egyptian Book of the Dead is a compilation of these funeral rites and traditions that date back from the Old Kingdom, which started with the Third Dynasty, about 2700 BCE. Not surprisingly, this dynasty was founded by Pharaoh Djoser who was first to build a pyramid in Egypt (he reigned from about 2690 BCE).

Djoser pyramid in Saqqara

Djoser pyramid in Saqqara, Egypt

This is because they could witness the body of a dead man, Hanoch, staying intact and not being destroyed by death. So they thought that what was true for Hanoch could be achieved for other men, and their next ambition was to maintain the body of the dead as intact as in his moment of death to reach eternity. Because, since the extraordinary fate of Hanoch, the Egyptians believed that death was just a transition, not an end:

Lift yourself up, N[ut], you shall not die.
--- Pyramid Texts [part of the Book of the Dead], Utterance 373, verse 657e [3]

Eternity needed to at least have the appearance of eternity, so they developped and improved over time the techniques of embalming. 

Cult of the Dead in Egypt

Cult of the Dead in Egypt

There may also be a second reason for the Egyptians to see Hanoch as an example of life beyond death: he died at the age of 365 years, according to the Bible, which echoes the 365 days of the year (solar system, followed by the Egyptians). In other words, death was just the end of one cycle of life, an idea from which they built the belief in the afterlife. 

In later apocalyptic writings, from the 1st century CE onwards, it is said that God took Hanoch near Him and made him the angel Metatron to bear witness of the wickedness of these generations when the time of judgment would come. In his own words, Hanoch explained the point:

He answered and said to me: "Because I am Hanoch, the son of Jared.
For when the generations of the Flood sinned and were confounded in their deeds, saying unto God: 'Depart from us, for we desire not the knowledge of Your ways (Job 21:14), then the Holy One, blessed be He, removed me from their midst to be a witness against them in the high heavens to all the inhabitants of the world, that they may not say: 'The Merciful One is cruel'.
What sinned all those multitudes, their wives, their sons and their  daughters, their horses, their mules and their cattle and their property, and all the birds of the world, all of which the Holy One, blessed be He, destroyed from the world together with them in the waters of the Flood?
Hence the Holy One, blessed be He, lifted me up in their lifetime before their eyes to be a witness against them to the future world.
--- Third Book of Enoch, chapter 4

Metatron has a superior status among all the angels: he is also called the Angel of the Universe. Wary of what was going to wait for them in the afterworld, the Egyptians thus developed the cult of the Dead in order to prepare their rulers to the eventual struggle they would have to win.

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Corruption of mankind

In Canaan, Seth lived until Hebrew year 1042 (2718 BCE) and was of great influence over Metushalach keeping him in the path of God. Because of his father Hanoch's short life, God made Metushalach live to the longest old age, for a total of 969 years. Just after Metushalach died, God exacted the Flood, a punishment over mankind. The reasons for God’s decision are given in Genesis 6 where the reader can find an account of the perversion of morals in mankind:

The Nephilim were on earth in those days, and also afterwards when the sons of the gods would consort with the daughters of man, who would bear to them. They were the mighty who were forever men of fame. 
--- Genesis 6:4

At the turn of the first millennium, mankind fell to its lowest level, as expressed by the word nephilim [נְּפִלִים] which means the fallen ones. This term refers to the decadence of mankind and is identical to Cain’s countenance which also fell [נָפְלוּ] after the murder of Abel (Genesis 4:6). The parallel of the two texts is particularly striking because of the similarity of the numbers of these two verses, as if one echoes the other: Genesis 4:6 for Cain who fell and Genesis 6:4 for the Nephilim. And, as the text mentions that these mighty people were forever men of fame, it is generally assumed that they survived the eradication that God was aiming to do: the Flood. But the animals were destroyed too, as they had also been corrupted by mankind through practices of abomination. 

And God said: "I will wipe out the mankind I have created from the surface of the earth, from man to beast, to the creeping creature, to the bird in the sky, so that I would get consolation from what I have done." But Noah found grace in God’s eyes. 
--- Genesis 6:7-8

But, because of the character of Metushalach and of Noah, God postponed the time of punishment, and also decided to spare His Creation. However, He decided to reduce the lifetime of man on earth:

And God said: "My spirit shall not contend evermore concerning Man since he is but flesh. His days shall be a hundred and twenty years."
--- Genesis 6:3

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Birth of Noah

Noah was born to Lemech in Hebrew year 1056 (2704 BCE). He was a righteous man and so was his wife Naamah, who had left the land of her Sumerian parents in order to escape the fate of many of the women of these times, being the prey of men and of Nephilim. The name Noah (נֹחַ) is derived from comfort: his father named him so because he hoped that this new son would bring them comfort from all the hardship of working the earth, as God had ordered since Adam’s original sin.

But, when Adam died in Hebrew year 930 (2830 BCE), 800 years after having begot Seth, those who followed his path may have believed that the world would probably come to an end soon after his death. They were fast approaching the first millennium since the Creation. God was not showing His presence anywhere on earth and mankind had badly turned away from His path: the few righteous people surely expected some divine punishment, much worse than the one that Adam had brought to himself with the original sin. Thus the spirits were low after Adam’s death. But, at the time of Noah's birth  in the new millennium when the earth had not been destroyed, people probably thought that the fears were unfounded and this may explain the name of Noah, derived from comfort. And there was another reason for hope with Noah because, while Adam died when Lemech was 56-year old, Noah was born to Lemech 56 years after the start of the new millennium. Lemech may have felt that the birth of Noah, which occurred at a coincidental time, may be a sign that God will eventually accept the redemption from Adam’s curse, in another word it will be the sign of a comfort from the hardship they endured since Adam’s sin.

This 9th generation provided the bridge between the era of the first millennium, which symbolically ended with the death of Adam, and a new era of hope with the birth of Noah, a character who found grace in God’s eyes. The hope that characterized this generation is also symbolized with the two events that marked its beginning and its end: it started with the departure of Hanoch, who walked in the path of God, and it ended with the arrival of Noah, who found grace in God’s eyes.

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Notes:

[1] Although the city of Thinis has been mentioned in various antique texts, its ruins have never been found; it is assumed to have been located near Abydos`

[2] Tirard, H.M., The Book of the Dead, with an introduction by Edouard Naville, London, 1910, chapter 1, page 13: "No nation of the ancient world has cared for their dead to the same degree as the Egyptians; their care for the dead, indeed, far exceeded their care for the living."

[3] See online version of The Pyramid Texts, translated by Samuel A.B. Mercer, 1952




Copyright Albert Benhamou 2013 - All rights reserved.