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Biblical longevities: reply to Huebner.

Donald A. Huebner, "Biblical Longevities: Some Questions and Issues" (PSCF 63, no. 4 [2011]: 287-8) has published a five-point critique of my article on biblical longevities, "Biblical Longevities: Empirical Data or Fabricated Numbers?" (PSCF 63, no. 2 [2011]: 117-30): two of his points are mistaken, and the other three do not relate to the content of the article but are based on what the article did not contain.

First, Huebner states that Table 1 is a "... listing of all generations from Adam to Manasseh." This is incorrect: Table 1 lists longevities (as the label states) not generations. The second paragraph of Huebner's critique is devoted to an argument that the table is not a satisfactory list of all generations; I agree with Huebner on this point because that is not what the table is intended or represented to be.

In his next paragraph, Huebner states, "The author ignores the clear lack of expected randomness in many of the entries of Table 1." This also is mistaken: the article addresses randomness, expected or otherwise, in the sections on the error distribution, statistical independence, Benford's law, rounding, and the systematic properties expressed by the equation for longevity. The rest of his paragraph consists of a discussion of various probabilities, but these points lack specifics (only one numerical probability is specified, and that one is incorrect), lack support by computations or other evidence, and lack awareness of the problems associated with post hoc probabilities. His use of an equation that yields longevities as though it yielded dates of birth, shows a misunderstanding of the points he intends to criticize.

Huebner objects that I failed to explain why some of the numbers are rounded and others are not, and that I did not cite evidence of the rounding of ages in the first millennium BCE. I acknowledge that I do not know why some were rounded and others were not, but I do argue that such is the case; and I also argue that the evidence of rounding contained in the article is sufficient.

Huebner would like to know how the longevities reported in other sources, such as the Septuagint, the Samaritan Pentateuch, and Josephus, affect my conclusions. Although I agree that it would be interesting to subject other sources to the analysis applied here, the outcome of such an analysis cannot affect my conclusions: if the results are the same, the conclusions, of course, are the same; if the results differ, it shows how the Masoretic sources differ from these other sources. Note, parenthetically, that I chose the Masoretic-based sources owing to the extreme measures the Masoretes used to promote accuracy (H. S. Miller, General Biblical Introduction: From God to Us 2, rev. ed. [New York: Houghton, 1960], 183-4).

Finally, Huebner objects that I did not address "... how the earliest genealogical numbers were accurately transmitted." However, I do not say that the numbers were accurately transmitted. My analysis simply provides evidence against fabrication as one particular source of inaccuracy. Errors may have arisen from many other sources, as Huebner points out. A particularly likely source of error that he does not mention may have arisen in the translation of numbers from hexadecimal to decimal notation, as pointed out by Philip Metzger (personal communication).

Walter Makous

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Title Annotation:Letters
Author:Makous, Walter
Publication:Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2012
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