Search This Blog

Monday, October 8, 2012

Luther's Chronology, Part 6c (Barr – 4000/6000 year scheme)

In Part 6b of this series (Table of Contents in Part 1 here), I reviewed the fact that Professor James Barr († 2006) is a thoroughly modern scholar/theologian, who joins a long list of those who question the Bible's historicity.
In addition to the 3 previously mentioned essays by Barr, I have since discovered a third essay by him in the Sources section of the Wikipedia article on Chronology of the Bible:
  • Biblical Chronology: Legend Or Science? The Ethel M. Wood Lecture 1987. Delivered at the Senate House, University of London on 4 March 1987. London: University of London, 1987. 
So there are now 4 essays by Barr that I will abbreviate in this way. I will use all of these to get the full account of Barr on this subject:
  1. UBCUssher and Biblical Chronology, 1985 (archived here)
  2. BCLSBiblical Chronology: Legend Or Science?, 1987 (archived here)
  3. LBCLuther and Biblical Chronology, 1990 (archived here)
  4. PSCPre-scientific Chronology, 1999 (archived here)
In this Part 6c, I will review Barr's comments on the main aspect of biblical chronology – the idea of 4000 Old Testament years and 6000 total years.  This is a "gotcha" for Professor Barr, one of his two "gotchas" for us Bible believers.  On the very title page of Luther's work is this saying:
Those who claim to be students of the prophet Elijah contend:
The world will stand for six thousand years
Two thousand empty
Two thousand of Law
Two thousand of the Messiah
Professor Barr makes several references to the Weimar Ausgabe (WA, or Weimar Edition) of Luther's Works.  In 1920, in volume 53 (or WA 53), Luther's Latin version of his chronology, Supputatio annorum mundi was printed with copious commentary and notes in pages 1 - 184.  The editor was "F. Cohrs" and Barr found a friend in him because of his critical assessment of Luther.  Mr. Cohrs pointed out that this saying is recorded in the Jewish Talmud and Barr can hardly conceal his glee in repeating this great find of Mr. Cohrs [LBC, pg 53]:
Luther was very deeply influenced by the saying of 'the Tanna of the House of Elijah', recorded in the Talmud ('Ussher' [UBC], 581, [B. Abodah Zarah 9a (Soncino ed., p. 43)]): The world is to exist 6000 years: the first 2000 years are to be void; the next 2000 years are the period of the Law; and the following 2000 years are the period of the Messiah'. Such a saying suited Christianity admirably, and was repeated again and again in the time of the Renaissance and Reformation. In his first edition Luther placed it at the head of his entire chronological work. He seems to have thought that this 'prophecy' came from the biblical Elijah himself; Cohrs remarks (WA, 12f.) that Luther 'would have been disappointed if he had realized that the saying came originally out of the Talmud'. For, although Luther had got hold of this material through Carion/Melanchthon (of whom we shall speak shortly), he was much more deeply impressed and dominated by it than they had been, so that the need to make it work out in exact chronological results was very important to him. This can be traced in detailed alterations made between the first and second editions of the Supputatio. [ref. WA, 12-15]
Aha!... Prof. Barr has us Luther followers.  Here is Luther, who blasts the Jewish Talmud as devilish and yet he not only quotes it, but is "very deeply influenced" by it and greatly needs it to make his chronology work.  Wow, we Lutherans should put our tails between our legs on this and admit Luther's attacks against the Talmud were wrong... we should sympathize with the Jews of today.

Rubbish!  Luther was "very deeply influenced" by Holy Scripture, he needed Scripture to make his chronology work out.  If the saying Luther used indeed originated from the Talmud, which is not certain, it was only presented as a general idea, not from Scripture.  Barr himself admits that many other respected scholars and theologians used the approximate figure of 4000 years of the Old Testament: BedeOrderic VitalisCarion, Melanchthon, Scaliger, Petavius, and or course James Ussher.  And Barr knew of Julius Africanus, a 2nd century Christian writer whose dating based on the Greek Septuagint (5500 years) corresponds to a 4000 year figure based on the Hebrew text.  And Barr himself admits:
A literal biblical chronology would mean a world created in seven days about 4000  b.c., give or take one or two hundred years. (PSC, page 8)
Barr uses this "gotcha" to attempt to rub it in when he says (LBC, pg 52):
This momentous quatermillenary [4000 years], bringing the end of the law and freedom from it, was a marvelous chronological illustration and vindication of Luther's own theology.
Luther did not rely on his chronology to "vindicate" his theology – he had the rest of the Scriptures to do that.  However Luther's chronology did take note of this overarching message of Scripture, a message that perhaps Professor Barr did not understand as a Calvinist.  Perhaps Professor Barr did not believe Scripture when it says:
John 1:17 – For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
In Part 6d, I will cover Barr's use of the term "theoretical schematism" – legends and myths.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments only accepted when directly related to the post.