SEDER OLAM - Revisited

סדר עולם - חדש



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Index of names


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

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Blessing of Isaac to Jacob

Death of Ishmael
(2171 AM - 1589 BCE)

Jacob in Charan
(2185 AM - 1575 BCE)

Death of Eber

Leah and Rachel

Birth of Joseph
(2199 AM - 1561 BCE)

Jacob plays with Genetics

Return to Canaan
(2205 AM - 1555 BCE)

Death of Rachel
(2207 AM - 1553 BCE)

(2210AM - 1550 BCE)

 Previous <<   Generation 19   >> Next

Hebrew years 2160 to 2280 (1600-1480 BCE)
~~~ Part I
~~~ Part II ~~~

Year 2171 - 1589 BCE - Isaac blesses Jacob

Isaac was already old (123 years old) at the time and nearly blind. He felt that his death would come soon and was prepared to give his final blessing to his first-born Esau. But Rebekah would have it differently: she wanted Jacob to receive this blessing. When Esau was away for his usual hunting, Isaac blessed Jacob believing he was Esau, saying:

"And may God give you of the dew of the heavens and the fatness of the earth, and lots of grain and wine. And peoples will serve you, and nations will bow themselves to you. Be a lord to your brothers, and the children of your mother will prostate themselves to you. Cursed be they who curse you, and blessed be they who bless you."
--- Genesis 27:28

Rebekah had received from her family the blessing let your seed possess the gate of those that hate them (Genesis 24:60), and now her husband Isaac added to it a more positive note: blessed be they who bless you.

When Esau came back from the hunt, he realised he had been deceived but his father nonetheless gave him the following blessing:

"Behold, from the fatness of the earth you will get your dwelling, and from the dew of the heavens above. By your sword you will be, and you will serve your brother. And it will be time, you will get rid and depart from his yoke upon your neck."
--- Genesis 27:39-40

Esau was bitter and sworn to kill Jacob after their father’s death. Rebekah had heard that Esau wanted to kill Jacob, and asked her son to flee to Charan, to her brother’s house,[1] and to choose a wife from there. To justify this departure to her husband Isaac, she made a plea to him against assimilation:

"I have had my life reduced because of the daughters of the Hittite [Esau's wives]. If Jacob would take a wife from the daughters of Heth like these, from the daughters of the land, why do I live?"
--- Genesis 27:46
So Isaac summoned Jacob not to take a wife from the Canaanite women, blessed him and sent him away to the land of Aram to find a spouse among Laban's daughters. Jacob left right away and headed north: he was 63 years old in Hebrew year 2171. The calculation of this year owes to the fact that the Biblical text ties both events, the death of Ishmael and the blessing of Jacob, in the same chapter (Genesis 28). The year of Ishmael's death is therefore also the year of Jacob's blessing.

Esau then understood that his Canaanite wives did not please his father Isaac, as he had never asked him before any approval about his previous unions. So Esau went to Ishmael and took Mahalath, daughter of Ishmael, son of Abraham, the sister of Nebaioth, as a wife for himself (Genesis 28:8-9).

Because the Biblical text mentions that Esau went to Ishmael, the Talmud asserts that the blessing of Jacob took place before the death of Ishmael because it is then that Esau went to Ishmael so that he would give him his daughter for a wife. Ishmael accepted but died soon after. Then Nebaioth completed the agreement:

And it has been taught: Jacob our father at the time when he was blessed by his father was sixty-three years old. It was just at that time that Ishmael died, as it is written, Now Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob... so Esau went unto Ishmael and took Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham's son, the sister of Nebaioth. Now once it has been said ‘Ishmael's daughter’ do I not know that she was the sister of Nebaioth? This tells us then that Ishmael affianced her and then died, and Nebaioth her brother gave her in marriage.
--- Talmud, Megilah, 17a

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Year 2171 - 1589 BCE - Death of Ishmael

Ishmael died at the age of 137 in year 2171 (Genesis 25:17). He had given birth to 12 nations who dwelt in the Arabian Peninsula and in the wilderness all the way toward Assyria. They were people who filled the deserts between Egypt and Mesopotamia, thus fulfilling God's promise that this land will be given to the descendants of Abraham, through Ishmael.

Ishmael's eldest son, Nebaioth, is the ancestor of the Nabataeans.

Then a famine started in the land of Canaan, which was probably a divine design to help the sons of Ishmael leave this land. And Isaac was also contemplating of going to Egypt as his father had done in the past. But God intervened:

And the Lord appeared unto him, and said: "Go not down unto Egypt; dwell in the land which I shall tell you of."
--- Genesis 26:2

So Isaac did not leave Canaan and sojourned in Gerar near the Philistines, like his father did before he (Isaac) was born.

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Year 2185 - 1575 BCE - Jacob arrives to Charan

The chronology between Jacob and Joseph would however show a gap of 14 years from this departure of Jacob at the time of Ishmael's death. As we know for certain the year when Jacob actually reached the house of Laban, the Seder Olam assumes that Jacob spent these 14 years with the patriarch Eber after his departure from his father's house and before going to Charan. Although we agree with the 14 years gap, there is a doubt about how Jacob spent these years. Eber was a descendant of Arpachshad who had founded and settled in Ur. Presumably Eber and all this family until Terach had settled in Ur. It was the generation before Arpachshad who remained in Canaan, of which Shem. Although it is possible to assume, as the Seder Olam does, that Eber also left Mesopotamia to come to Canaan. And this is where Jacob would have met him. 

So what did Jacob do?

And Isaac sent away Jacob; and he went to Paddan-Aram [the land of Aram] unto Laban, son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, Jacob's and Esau's mother.
--- Genesis 28:5
And Jacob went out from Beer-sheba, and went toward Charan.
--- Genesis 28:10
Then Jacob went on his journey and came to the land of the children of the east.
--- Genesis 29:1

So we can only assume from the Biblical text that it took 14 years for Jacob to arrive to Charan. He must have been absorbed into divine study and thoughts that made look these 14 days like a few days. How do we know this? Because a bit further in the text, when Jacob met Rachel and immediately fell in love with her, the total duration of his working for Laban (during twice 7 years, in order to obtain her as a spouse) felt to him like a few days (Genesis 29:20). The term few days is written in the Hebrew text as unique days (יָמִים אֲחָדִים). There must be a correlation between these 14 years to reach Charan, and the same duration of 14 years spent to earn the right to obtain Rachel as a spouse: both periods seemed as a few days, and Jacob had spent the former ones in divine thoughts and had spent the latter ones in husbandry.

So Jacob arrived in Charan in Hebrew year 2185, when he was 77 years old: the calculation is made from the chronology of the events of his future son Joseph, and in parallel to the age of Jacob when he will go down to Egypt.[2]

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Year 2187 – 1573 BCE  – Death of Eber

Eber, the last ancestor of Abraham from Ur died in that year. If one would follow the chronology of the Talmud mentioned above, Eber would have moved to Canaan so that Jacob would have indeed sejourned with him for 14 years. Otherwise the other logical assumption is that Eber died in Ur, as his predecessors who moved away from Canaan and founded that city.

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Year 2192 - 1568 BCE - Jacob obtains Leah and Rachel as wives

At the end of the first 7 years term, Laban deceived Jacob and brought in his older daughter Leah as a wife instead of the promised Rachel, invoking their customs that no younger daughter would marry unless her older sisters are. Laban promised Jacob to give him Rachel as well after one week, in exchange for another seven years work. Jacob remained in Charan with his two wives:

God saw that Leah was unloved, so he opened her womb but Rachel remained barren.
--- Genesis 29:31

Leah successively gave birth to Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah. Rachel was envious and pushed her maidservant Bilhah to Jacob. She gave him two sons, Dan and Naphtali. Meanwhile Leah had stopped producing children so she pushed her maidservant Zilpah onto Jacob: she gave him two sons too: Gad and Asher. Then Leah conceived again and gave two new sons to Jacob: Issachar and Zebulon. And also a daughter: Dinah.

And then God remembered the condition of Rachel and opened her womb: she gave birth to Joseph. The births of these 12 children happened between years 2193 and 2199. It is assumed that they were all born within 7 years, one after the other every 7 months (Seder Olam, 2).[3] So the years of birth would be as follows, assuming that the union of the spouses would have taken place on the beginning of Hebrew year 2192 (month of Tishri). However there is of course some uncertainty about the precise date of birth of each of them, but it is generaly assumed that the 12 children were indeed born in 12 different months.

Hebrew year






Jacob’s union

Leah and Rachel



Reuben born




Simeon born




Levi born




Judah born




Dan born




Naphtali born




Gad born




Asher born




Issachar born




Zebulon born




Daughter Dinah born




Joseph born


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Year 2199 – 1561 BCE  – Birth of Joseph

After Zebulon was born, Leah was pregnant again and, so far, all the children of Jacob had been sons. The Talmud mentioned what happened next:

Rabbi Joseph cited the following in objection: And ‘afterwards’ she bore a daughter and called her name Dinah [Genesis 30:21]. What is meant by ‘afterwards’? Rab said: After Leah had passed judgment on herself saying, ‘Twelve tribes are destined to issue from Jacob. Six have issued from me and four from the handmaids, making ten. If this child will be a male, my sister Rachel will not be equal to one of the handmaids’. Forthwith the child was turned to a girl, as it says, ‘And’ she called her name Dinah [which means Judgment].
--- Talmud, Berachot, 59a

Then Rachel finally became pregnant. She conceived a son they called Joseph. The Hebrew year was 2199, as it will become clear later from Joseph’s life chronology. When Joseph was born, the 14 years period were just over, and Jacob wanted to leave Charan.

And it came to pass, when Rachel had borne Joseph that Jacob said unto Laban: "Send me away, that I may go unto my own place, and to my country. Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you, and let me go; for you know my service wherewith I have served you."
--- Genesis 30:25-26

But Laban tried to deceive Jacob again and the latter worked for another 6 years, during which he built his own wealth and cattle.

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Year 2200 – 1560 BCE  – Jacob plays with Genetics !

Jacob accepted to work further for Laban so that he could build his own wealth too. The deal was that Jacob would attend the cattle but that any animal that is "speckled and spotted" or any "dark" one was to be considered belonging to Jacob (Genesis 30:32). But Laban used ruse again: he sent his sons to check all the cattle and remove all the ones that Jacob was supposed to get and take then at a distance three days distance from Laban's cattle. So, when Jacob checked the cattle, there was none left he could own: all the animals were single coloured. There eas potentially no chance for any newborn lamb to be suddently with a spot or a streak, since only the white ones were left in the cattle. What did Jacob do?

And Jacob took him rods of fresh poplar, and of the almond and of the plane-tree; and peeled white streaks in them, making the white appear which was in the rods. And he set the rods which he had peeled over against the flocks in the gutters in the watering-troughs where the flocks came to drink; and they conceived when they came to drink. And the flocks conceived at the sight of the rods, and the flocks brought forth streaked, speckled, and spotted. And Jacob separated the lambs--he also set the faces of the flocks toward the streaked and all the dark in the flock of Laban--and put his own droves apart, and put them not unto Laban's flock. And it came to pass, whensoever the stronger of the flock did conceive, that Jacob laid the rods before the eyes of the flock in the gutters, that they might conceive among the rods; but when the flock were feeble, he put them not in; so the feebler were Laban's, and the stronger Jacob's.
--- Genesis 30:37-42

Jacob knew, or learned from experience, some key principles of Genetics, that only were "discovered" in the 19th century thanks to the experiments that a Czeck scientist, Johann Gregor Mendel (1822-1884), performed in Brno with yellow and green peas. The two rules that Jacob used were as follows:

1- Jacob had noticed that, even if a goat was single coloured, it did not mean that it could not give birth to a different lamb: because the initial cattle was composed of all sorts of goats, there was necessarily a potential to produce goats with the desired effect, even from single coloured goats; the key was to find out how to translate this potential into reality; in Genetics, this is known as inheritance of the genes

2- Jacob put peeled rods in the water where the flocks came to drink; he observed that this was a time when the animals copulated and, further, that the she-goats looked at the peeled rods when copulation was happening; the first rule is that the conceived fetus can be influenced by sight (or even desire for humans, such as the well-know desire of strawberries for pregnant women)

3- Jacob also observed that the rams were of two kinds: strong or feeble. The strong ones were producing more lambs and more with the desired result,
"speckled" or "spotted". So Jacob played with another rule of Genetics, called heterosis or hybrid vigor (or evolutionary fitness): he removed from his flock the feeble he-goats that would not produce the desired result; consequently, with such gene selection of only keeping the stronger animals that would produce the right result, he obtained a cattle with stronger and stronger animals, which at their turn produced more and more lambs, with greater percentage of desired result over time

So, in fact, Jacob understood well genetic rules that were only discovered some 3500 years later ! [4]

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Year 2205 – 1555 BCE  – Jacob returns to Canaan

At the end of the 6 years period, and Laban would still not give to Jacob the blessing to leave. So God sent a messenger to Jacob in a dream:

"I am the God of Beth-el, where you did anoint a pillar, where you did vow a vow unto Me. Now arise, get you out from this land, and return unto the land of your nativity.'
--- Genesis 31:13

So Jacob decided to leave with his family, servants and cattle without further notice (Genesis 31:20). In total he had stayed 20 years in Charan. But before she left, Rachel acted wrongly: she took away the idol amulets belonging to her father, without mentioning it to Jacob.
Laban rode up after Jacob and they met north from the Sea of Galilee. He couldn't find his amulets that Rachel concealed from him but, there, he made a covenant with his son-in-law: the place was called Gilead, and was located on the eastern side of the Jordan River.

Then, while he advanced into Northern Canaan, his brother Esau marched onto him with 400 men. Jacob, fearing his brother’s intent to kill him, sent presents ahead of him as greetings. He then sent all his family ahead. Then during the night:

Jacob was left alone and a man fought with him until the break of dawn. When he saw he could not overpower him, he struck the side of his hip, so Jacob’s hip side was strained. Then he said: "Let me go because the darkness is over." And he said: "I will not let you go unless you bless me." He said to him: "What is your name?" He said: "Jacob." He said: "Jacob will no longer be your name, but Israel (ישראל). Because you fought with God (שרית עם-אלהים) and with men and you won."
--- Genesis 32:25-29

The reunion with Esau however went well. Then Esau decided to settle on the other side of the Dead Sea, in Seir, and to leave Jacob in Canaan. Jacob pursue his march to a place he named Sukkot which means shelters. Then he continued to Sichem (today the city is called Samaria or Nablus) where he bought a land to settle his camp there. Then occurred the dramatic episode with the rape of Dinah, the ruse of the sons of Jacob to revenge their sister, and the final killing of the males of Sichem by Simeon and Levi (Genesis 34). The sons of Jacob took away women, children and cattle.

Then God asked Jacob to move his camp to Beth-El, and to purify themselves and to remove all alien gods that were brought by the women of Sichem (also, Rachel had taken the idol statues from her father Laban when she left Charan).

And God appeared unto Jacob again, when he came from Paddan-aram [which is Charan], and blessed him.
And God said unto him: "Your name is Jacob: your name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be your name"; and He called his name Israel.

And God said unto him: "I am God Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of you, and kings shall come out of your loins;

and the land which I gave unto Abraham and Isaac, to you I will give it, and to your seed after you will I give the land."
And God went up from him in the place where He spoke with him.

And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where He spoke with him, a pillar of stone, and he poured out a drink-offering thereon, and poured oil thereon.
And Jacob called the name of the place where God spoke with him, Beth-el.
--- Genesis 35:9-15

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Year 2207 – 1553 BCE  – Death of Rachel

But one of Jacob’s family members did not follow God's command for purification:

And they journeyed from Beth-el; and there was still some way to come to Ephrath; and Rachel travailed, and she had hard labor.
And it came to pass, when she was in hard labor that the mid-wife said unto her: "Fear not; for this also is a son for you."
And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing --for she died-- that she called his name Ben-oni (בן-אוני); but his father called him Benjamin (בנימין).
And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath -- the same is Beth-lehem.
And Jacob set up a pillar upon her grave; the same is the pillar of Rachel's grave unto this day.
--- Genesis 35:16-20
Rachel was punished by death for having taken idol statues from Charan, an act for which Jacob had sworn death to the transgressor not knowing it was any member of his family, and for not having given them away after God specifically required all Jacob’s household to do so and purified themselves from symbols of idolatry. As she had hidden them from her father and from her husband, maybe feeling ashamed about these statues, she never had done repentance about them. On her death, she had named her newborn son the son of my distress (בן-אוני), but the word can also mean son of my iniquity as she knew she had done wrong. After her death, Jacob did not want her son to bare such name for ever as a burden, and changed it to son of my right side (בנימין). God probably did not allow Rachel, to approach Hebron, the sanctuary where Abraham was buried and where Isaac was still sojourning. Instead she died a short distance from it, in Beth-lehem. Her tomb still exists today and is a site of Jewish pilgrimage.

Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem
Tomb of Rachel in Bethlehem (early photograph)

It is important to note here the exact words used by the Biblical text to mention Rachel's death: (Genesis 35:18)
בְּצֵאת נַפְשָׁהּ  meaning when her soul departed from her. Rachel did not die from the result of her pregnancy or the birth going wrong, bue she died because her soul had abandoned her. Her soul was applying the death decree stated by Jacob earlier, which was only postponed because Rachel was pregnant at the time of the decree. But, as soon as she gave birth, and in fact at the very same time that she gave birth, her soul was departing. Rachel knew it will happen and this is way she called her son as Ben-Oni, son of my distress/sin/iniquity. Her death was a necessity she understood to redeem her soul, and return to the world of the Justs, in the future world if not in this world where she had sinned. There is a parallel, many years later, when the Hebrews will leave Egypt as we shall see here.

Later on, as Jacob and his family settled in the south, Reuben, his first-born son, laid with Bilhah, Jacob’s concubine and mother of Dan and Naphtali (Genesis 35:22). Reuben will be excluded from Jacob's inheritance as a result of his act.

It is only at this time, 2 years after returning to Canaan, that Jacob met again with his father Isaac. In total, he had been absent from his parents’ house for a total of 36 years: 14 years after leaving his parents' house, 20 years working for Laban in Charan and then 2 years in Canaan.

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Year 2210 – 1550 BCE  – Idri-mi

In 1939, an archaelogical expedition found in an ancient site, Alalakh (modern-day Tell Atshanah), the statue of the king Idri-mi who ruled in that city around 1550 BCE. The statue bears cuneiform inscriptions that narrated the story of this king, his flee south into Canaan and his dwelling there for 7 years among the Hebrews (called Hapiru people):

On the next day, I left and went towards Canaan. In Canaan, Ammi-ja is situated. Also staying in Ammi-ja were people from Halab, people from the country Mukish, people from the country Nihi and people from the country Amae. They lived there. When they saw me (and knew) that I was the son of their lord, they assembled around me. Thus I was made noble and received the command authority.
I stayed among the Hapiru people for seven years. I let birds fly and sacrificed lambs.
In the seventh year, Teshub turned to me. Thereupon I built ships.
--- Idri-mi inscription, transcription available online in this site

The interest of this text is that Idri-mi mentioned the people he came across in the land of Canaan. It is a first historical and archaeological evidence that confirms the Biblical narrative that the land was called Canaan. There he stayed seven years with the Hebrews (Hapiru), who also came down to Canaan (Jacob and all his family and followers) at about the same time than he did so they were not "locals". They lived with other immigrants, probably the Aram people (Amae?) who followed them from Charan. They lived in a place called Ammi-ja. And there he sacrificed lambs and let birds fly which is typical of the custom of the Hebrews for two reasons: first the sacrifice of lamb is not typical from the Canaanite people who, influenced by the Egyptian customs, rather considered lambs as sacred; second the Hebrews always had two parts of a divine service, one part that is sacrificed and one part that is released. Last, what is the name Ammi-ja? It strangely corresponds to the meaning of the People of the Almighty (Ammi= people, Ja= the name for God). The Hebrews have been considered by their neighbours, since the days of Abraham, as expressed many times in the narrative of Genesis. But furthemore, when God appeared to Jacob in Charan, He presented Himself as the God of Beth-El:

"I am the God of Beth-el, where you did anoint a pillar, where you did vow a vow unto Me. Now arise, get yourself out from this land [of Charan], and return unto the land of your nativity [Canaan].'
--- Genesis 31:13

And Jacob returned to Canaan, and raised an altar to God in Beth-el, which also means the House of God. In other words, there is little doubt that the Hapiru that Idri-mi referred to were the Hebrews, and that he sacrified according to their customs in Beth-El, that he called Ammi-ja.

Last Idri-mi mentioned that he remained seven years with the Hebrews/Hapiru. This may have be the time when the famine fell upon Egypt and all the region. The Hebews went down to Egypt, while other people fought each other in search for food and possessions. This may explain the period when Idri-mi himself waged war against cities of Canaan.

Statue of Idri-mi
Statue of Idri-mi (British Museum)

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[1] Laban used to live in Aram-Naharayim, as mentioned previously, but he was ambitious and cunning, so he probably managed to take over the whole inheritance of his grand-father Nahor and took over his house in Charan.

[2] This chronology has been confirmed by the Jewish chronographer of the 3rd century BCE, Demetrios, who lived in Alexandria and based his calculations on the first translation of the Bible in Greek, the Septuagint (to go to the related page in this chronology, click here); it is also in compliance with the Seder Olam

[3] This makes that each of the 12 first children, including Dinah but not Benjamin, was born on a different month of the 12 months of the Hebrew calendar, starting with Reuben born in the month of Kislev, so 9 months after the union between Jacob and Leah on the first month of the Hebrew calendar (it was the month Nisan at the time)

[4] The breed of sheep of Jacob can be found today in Canada, and some animals as mentioned in the following article (click here). Some 119 specimens were brought back to their ancestral Land of Israel in the end of 2016. To read more about it, click here.

Go to >> Part II

Copyright Albert Benhamou 2013 - All rights reserved.