[Humanist] 24.579 measuring the Fall

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sun Dec 12 11:40:03 CET 2010

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 579.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Sat, 11 Dec 2010 20:17:37 -0600
        From: Alan Corre <corre at uwm.edu>
        Subject: How to measure the Fall

I am grateful to Willard for introducing us to the neologism "to 
outspotlight" which my word processor angrily underlines in red. It was 
just what we needed, we who labour in the fields of humanistic research, 
rarely achieving any kind of spotlight. The silly scholarship which he 
introduced us to in this context to was indeed amusing.  The late US 
Senator William Proxmire of Wisconsin used to bestow a monthly "Golden 
Fleece Award" on researchers who had acquired funding for what he deemed 
to be wasteful projects. I was an admirer of Bill, but disagreed with 
him on this. Old George Boole spent a lot of time meditating on 
expressing logical propositions as algebraic equations, an effort that 
seemed quite pointless at the time. In 1937 along came Claude Shannon 
who realized the relevance of all this for electrical circuits and the 
incipient digital computer world, and the rest is history. So pointless 
musings sometimes have incalculable effects.

Outspotlighting occurs in less rarefied contexts than scholarly articles 
on Computer Science or Medical Research which are frequently 
co-authored. I turned immediately to the Milwaukee Business White Pages 
of the telephone directory, and saw on the very first page a dentist 
whose name is "A A A A Toothache Dr".  The name is rather onomatopoeic, 
but a modest amount of research convinced me (are you listening 
WikiLeaks?) that this masks the identity of Dr Edward W Hoffman, of 
Brookfield, Wis, who apparently wished to spare potential patients the 
pain of going to H---.

In the holiday spirit, (and talking about falls) I should like to share 
my researches on a more serious silly subject, namely the date of Adam's 
barmitzvah. By Adam, I do not mean Adam Mendelsohn,  the genial 
moderator of the H-Judaic Studies list, but rather our first parent, who 
was the first, but not the last, to be ribbed by his wife. This research 
has been made possible by a calendar I designed for the Univac 1100 
computer in the 1970s which will calculate any year of the Jewish 
calendar and display the corresponding dates in the Gregorian. When the 
Web came along, I modified it for that platform, and since it is now 
housed on a superfast computer at my university it will give you dates 
ten thousand years hence in a blink of the eye. I should mention that 
the outstanding polymath Julius Caesar Scaliger (1484-1558) opined that 
the Jewish calendar is the most perfect ever invented, since it succeeds 
in combining the solar and lunar years on the basis of the researches of 
the fourth century BCE astronomer Meton, in particular his discovery of 
the 19-year cycle in which the solar and lunar years can (almost) come 
into synch. Meton's calculations were astoundingly accurate, considering 
the methods he had at his disposal. His slight error, however, means 
that the Jewish calendar is going off very, very slowly, and Passover is 
inexorably moving from spring to summer.

You might question whether the institution of the barmitzvah existed in 
Adam's day, or where he might find a rabbi to officiate. And how could 
he read from a Torah which had not yet been given? However, the Talmudic 
rabbis assure us that the Patriarchs observed fully the Torah in 
advance. For example, Jacob stayed (garti in Hebrew) with Laban. Garti 
has a numerical value of 613, which is the number of commandments in the 
Torah. This implies that despite his stay with the deceitful Laban, he 
observed all the Torah. And Adam would seem to qualify. He was assuredly 
a monotheist. The great medieval Jewish thinker Moses Maimonides 
explains to us that man originally worshipped one God. In the days of 
Enoch wicked men persuaded others to worship the sun, the moon, and the 
stars, since God has so distinguished them, and ultimately this gave 
rise to idol worship which continued until Abraham rediscovered 
monotheism through the power of his own reasoning. (Forgive me, Stephen 
Hawking.) Adam talked with God just as Moses did, so why would he not 
have obeyed the law to have a barmitzvah? This being so, when would it 
have happened?

My calendar determines that the first day year 1 of the Jewish calendar 
was September 7, 3761 BCE on the Gregorian calendar. But this is not the 
date of creation according to tradition. This is the period of 
tohu-wabohu "waste and void" mentioned in Genesis, when the calendrical 
clock had started ticking, but there was nothing around. Creation 
occurred in the *last week* of year 1. It seems to me that this 
conclusion is forced by the fact that the first week of year 1 does not 
end on the Sabbath, whereas the last week does. So the first full year 
of the world is actually year 2. From this we gather that the date of 
Adam's birth was Friday, August 27, 3760 BCE. This would make him 
eligible for his barmitzvah on Sunday, September 3, 3747 BCE, 13 Jewish 
years having elapsed. Interesting. The following Sabbath, September 9 is 
the Sabbath between the New Year and the Day of Atonement, designated 
the Sabbath of Repentance in the Jewish calendar. And that is surely 
appropriate, considering all the trouble that Adam got us into, with his 
fall and all. But we can assume he repented, and we can enjoy all the 
beautiful things in the world in despite of its defects. The creation 
date is at odds with the calculation of the learned Primate of All 
Ireland, Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1658), who sets the date of 
creation in October, 4004 BC. (I'll leave off the E out of respect.) But 
as recent events suggest, Irishmen are not always great at arithmetic. 
This date is still widely accepted by fundamentalist Protestants.

By the way, I assume that the year before 1 CE is 1 BCE. So if you 
accept the preference of the mathematicians to designate that year 0, 
you must adjust my numbers by one, but not my argumentation. As a 
humanist, I do not like to think of our ancestors walking around in a 
year designated zero, it seems a bit inhumane. And another thing, if you 
want to check my calendar and look for errors in my argument, you can go 
to my website
and surf to the calendar. The Safari browser does not like it, probably 
because in those far off days I used a now archaic tag <ISINDEX>, and 
Safari turns its nose up at old stuff. I haven't changed it, because it 
works still well on Firefox or Explorer, and the rule is, if it works, 
don't fix it.

Alan D. Corre, Emeritus Professor of Hebrew Studies, University of 

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