-Rashi failed to understand the story of the Flood and therefore distorted its chronology
-The chronology of the Flood undermines the traditional Jewish view that biblical months are lunar and implies that the Jewish calendar was a post-biblical invention.
Chronology of the Flood
The events of the flood that are covered in Parshat Noach are fairly straightforward. However, the chronology, the exact timing of when each progressive stage happened, is more difficult. There are different opinions on how to read the dates given and arrange the sequence of events. Let us look at the verses and then discuss the different ways of understanding them.(Genesis 7:11-12) In the six hundredth year of Noach's life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth; and the windows of the heavens were opened. And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights.We see the following from the above verses. The flood started in year 600 to Noach in month 2, day 17. The rain lasted, of course, for 40 days. The waters strengthened for 150 days and then the waters receded, including the date of the 7th month, day 17 (no year given) when the Ark came to a rest. In the 10th month, day 1 (no year given) the mountaintops became visible. In year 601, month 1, day 1 the land had dried and was fully dried on the 2nd month, day 27. We shall present two different ways of understanding these dates.
(Genesis 7:24) And the waters strengthened on the earth a hundred and fifty days.
(Genesis 8:3-4) The waters then receded from upon the earth, receding continuously, and the waters diminished at the end of a hundred and fifty days. And the Ark came to rest in the seventh months, on the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat.
(Genesis 8:5) The waters were continuously diminishing until the tenth month. In the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains became visible.
(Genesis 8:13) And it came to pass in the six hundred and first year, in the first month on the first of the month, the waters dried from upon the earth.
(Genesis 8:14) And in the second month, on the twenty seventh day of the month, the earth was fully dried.
Before proceeding with Rashi's view, it is important to understand his approach to explaining the Torah. In his commentary to Genesis 3:8, as well as in many other places, Rashi writes "I have come only to teach the plain meaning of the passage and such Aggadah which explains the words of the Bible." Rashi does not always give the peshat - the simple reading of the text. He sometimes quotes a midrash that explains the words of the text, even if it is not the simplest explanation.
In our case, Rashi uses the dates in Seder Olam (ch. 4) to explain the verses. As we will see, the text can be explained by the dates in Seder Olam, even if there may be a simpler explanation as well. Rashi on Genesis 7:11 quotes two opinions on whether the flood began in Cheshvan or Iyar (the 2nd month from Tishrei or from Nissan) but the rest of his calculations assume it started on the 17th day of Cheshvan. On 7:12, Rashi says that the 40 days ended on the 28th day of Kislev. After these 40 days came 150 days of the water strengthening. After the 150 days came the water receding which Genesis 8:4 tells us ended on the 17th day of the 7th month. Rashi quotes Seder Olam that this happened in Sivan, which Rashi explains was the 7th month since the water stopped and the receding began. In other words, the Ark rested during the recession of the water in the 7th month of its recession. Is this a legitimate reading of the text? Can the Seder Olam be used to explain the words of the Bible in this case? R' Eliyahu Mizrachi in his commentary on Rashi points out that, unlike Genesis 11:7 and 8:13, our verse does not contain a year. Had the verse said that it was the 7th month of the 600th year then it would have clearly meant the 7th month of the year. However, our verse is ambiguous over what this month is the 7th of. That is why Rashi can suggest that it is the 7th onth of the recession.
The next verse, Genesis 8:5, tells us that the water stopped receding on the 1st day of the 10th month. Again, we have a month with no year and can ask what this month is the 10th of. Seder Olam tells us that this month is Av which Rashi explains is the 10th month since the flood began.
Genesis 8:13 tell us that in the 601st year on the 1st day of the 1st month the water dried from the earth. Here there is no ambiguity about the month. It is Tishrei, the 1st month of the year. Genesis 8:14 tells us that the earth was fully dried on the 27th day of the 2nd month. Cheshvan was both the 2nd month of the year and the 2nd month since the drying of the land. Thus, we have the flood beginning on Cheshvan 17, 600 and fully ending on Cheshvan 27, 601. Since a Jewish lunar year has 354 days and there are an extra 11 days from day 17 through day 27, the flood lasted for 365 days. According to Rashi, the rain came down for 40 days, the water strengthened for 150 days, receded for 118 days, and the land dried for 57 days. Overall, it took 40+150+118+57=365 days. Dr. Russell Jay Hendel has a more extensive explanation of Rashi's view on his Rashi Is Simple website.
9/17/600↓ 11/1/600↓ ↓1/1/601 ↓2/27/601 40
Are Seder Olam's calculations the simplest way to read the verses? Perhaps not, which is why other commentators explain differently. However, Rashi was following his approach of bringing a midrash that explains the text. Note also that Rashi is quoting Seder Olam, which starts counting the years from the year in which Adam was created and not the year before (called "the year of chaos"). Therefore, Seder Olam's 1656 (the year of the flood) is 1657 from "the year of chaos" which is the third year of the 19 year cycle and therefore a leap year. This explains Chizkuni's comments on Genesis 8:4.
Ramban on Genesis 8:4 has two other explanations of the events. The first is that the 7th and 10th months are the 7th and 10th from the start of the rain. The second, on which we will focus, is that the 7th and 10th months are the 7th and 10th of the year, perhaps the simplest understanding. However, in order to make the calculations work, Ramban has to assume that the 40 days of the flood are part of the 150 days of the water's strengthening. He also has to assume that months are 30 days long, like solar months, rather than the 29 1/2 days of the Jewish lunar calendar.
According to this view, the events occured as follows. Starting month 2, day 17 of Noach's year 600 were 150 days of the water strengthening. The first 40 of these 150 days was the water falling. The last 110 days was the water remaining strong. These 150 days ended on month 7, day 17 and composed 5 months of exactly 30 days per month. 73 days later, on month 10, day 1 the mountaintops became visible. Again, the months are 30 days each. 90 days later, on month 1, day 1 of year 601, the waters dried from the earth. 57 days after that, on month 2, day 27, the land was fully dried. Altogether there were 150 days + 73 days + 90 days + 57 days = 370 days. Malbim on Genesis 8:4 seems to agree with this view. Adding an extra 5 days at the end of the year based on the Egyptian method of calculating a solar year makes no significant difference to the explanation of the verses. The 90 days of drying become 95 days and the total time expands from 370 to 375 days.
↓7/17/600 ↓10/1/600 ↓1/1/601 ↓2/27/601 150
Receding and Drying
The question remains whether the use of a 30 day month proves that at the time of the writing of the Torah solar months of 30 days were used and lunar months were a post-Biblical invention. Does the Ramban's above explanation prove this?
Not at all. In fact, the Ramban's explanation implies what earlier sources say outright. The Mechilta of R' Shimon bar Yochai and the Midrash HaGadol on Exodus 12:2 say, "'This month is for you' - The forefathers did not count from it." This is similar to what the Mechilta (of R' Yishmael) says on that verse, "'This month is for you' - Adam did not count from it." In other words, the entire concept of calculating months based on the moon and starting from Nissan did not apply before the Jews left Egypt. Similarly, R' Avraham bar Chiya HaNasi (early 12th century) writes in his Sefer HaIbbur 2:5, arguably the most important book ever written on the Jewish calendar, "Observing this commandment, that is the lunar month and the intercalation of the year, we were obligated only from the Exodus." R' Yitzchak HaYisraeli (14th century) writes similarly in his Yesod Olam 4:2. Indeed, the Midrash Sechel Tov on Genesis 34:25 says outright that solar months were used until G-d commanded "This month is for you."
This is not to say that there are no sources that disagree with the above. It seems that there was a disagreement on this subject. Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer ch. 8 says that Adam used lunar months and that this continued throughout the time of the patriarchs. See Torah Shelemah vol. 13 ch. 1. However, as we have shown, there are many sources that say that solar months were used before the Exodus.
Therefore, the use of solar months in the story of the Flood should not be a surprise at all. According to many, at that time in history all months were solar. A reference to that time period had to reflect the length of the months as they were used at that time. Only later at the Exodus did Jews start to use lunar months.
A similar case can be found in the switch in the late 16th century (in continental Europe; in Britain and America the switch was in the 18th century) from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar that has a slightly longer year. In the year 1582, 10 days were removed in order to convert calendars. When historians refer to dates before the switch, they do not convert the dates into the Gregorian calendar by subtracting 10 days. Rather they refer to the Julian date. For example, historians say that the Magna Carta was signed by King John of England on June 15, 1215 and not June 5. Similarly, when the Torah refers to dates before the Exodus, it does not convert it into the post-Exodus lunar calendar. Rather, it uses the dates as they were calculated at that time.
Contributor(s): Gil Student
Last revised: 10/25/01
© Aishdas 2001