Indicators of Achronology
Achronology is sometimes explicit in the text, as evidenced by dates, relative ages, or even geographical data.1
Achronology is most explicit when an event is dated2 and appears out of order. A few examples follow:
- Shemot 16:35 – Shemot 16 is dated to the first year of the Wilderness period, yet mentions the eating of manna throughout the forty years of the nation's journey to Canaan (Shemot 16:32-35).
- Bemidbar 1-9 – Bemidbar 1 is dated to the second month of the second year in the Wilderness, yet Bemidbar 7and 9 explicitly backtrack to the first month.3
- Sefer Yirmeyahu – The prophecies and events of Sefer Yirmeyahu are also explicitly achronological, switching back and forth between the reigns of Yehoyakim and Tzidekyahu.4
Sometimes, even though no calendar date is given in the text, the timing of an event can be determined through knowledge of people's relative ages as provided by genealogy lists, time markers,5 or birth and death notices. Calculations might then point to achronological ordering. For example:
- Terach's death – Terach's death is mentioned at the end of Bereshit 11, before we read of Avraham's departure from Charan, but based on his age at death and Avraham's age when he left for Canaan, one can calculate that Terach first passed away 60 years after Avraham's departure.6
- Avraham's death – Avraham's death is mentioned in Bereshit 25:7, before the text shares the story of Yaakov and Esav's birth. However, one can calculate, based on everyone's relative ages, that he only passed away 15 years afterwards.7
- Yitzchak's death – Yitzchak's death is recorded in Bereshit 35:28, before the stories of Yosef and his brothers are discussed, yet one can determine (knowing various character's ages at different events) that he first passed away 12 years after the sale.8
At times, geographical data can point to achronology:
- Laws of sacrifices in Vayikra 7 – R. D"Z Hoffmann notes that Vayikra 7 closes by stating that the laws just stated were given on Mt. Sinai, while Vayikra 1 opens by stating that its laws were relayed in the Ohel Moed. Given that once the Tabernacle was constructed, laws were issued from there, the laws given on the mountain were presumably relayed beforehand, suggesting that the chapters are achronological.
- Vayikra 25-27 – These chapters, too, were said to have been commanded on Mount Sinai,9 suggesting that they were relayed before the Tabernacle was built, and thus before most of the rest of the laws of Sefer Vayikra (which are relayed from the Tent of Meeting).
"וַיְהִי בָּעֵת הַהִוא" – General Approaches
Variations of the phrase "בָּעֵת הַהִוא" (at that time)10 appear 18 times in Torah (with 15 of these appearing in Moshe's speeches in Sefer Devarim) and 49 times in the rest of Tanakh. What does the heading imply about the timing of the story that follows it; does it occur simultaneously with the previous story, right after it, or at some previous point? When is "at that time"?
- Consecutive stories – Some11 suggest that the phrase means that the story about to be narrated chronologically follows that which preceded it. Why, though, would this be necessary to share?
- Connotes immediacy – Cassuto12 suggests that the phrase serves to highlight that the story about to be told occurred immediately after the preceding one, "בעת ההיא עצמו".
- Highlights causal relationship – Netziv claims that the words highlight a "cause and effect" relationship between the two stories.
- Marks appendices – S. Loewinstam13 suggests that, at least in Sefer Devarim, the words serve to mark off sections that act as appendices or tangents to the main story line.
- Marker of achronology – Others suggest that the phrase is employed specifically when two stories do not directly follow one another:
- Undefined time – R. Avraham b. HaRambam and R. Yosef ibn Kaspi claim that "בָּעֵת הַהִוא" refers to an undefined time, and thus often indicates that the narrative which is about to be told does not directly follow the events which were just recounted, but might have occurred at some point before them.14
- Resume previous narrative – At times, the phrase appears to function as an indicator that the text is resuming a narrative that had been interrupted with a parenthetical or achronological statement. As such, it refers back to the events right before whatever had just been recounted.15
- Overlapping – Ralbag16 suggests that the words might indicate that two consecutive stories overlapped in time, with the second story happening literally "at that time" – during the preceding events.17
"וַיְהִי בָּעֵת הַהִוא" – Specific Cases
Following are many examples where the phrase "בָּעֵת הַהִוא" appears and commentators take one of the above approaches in understanding what it connotes:
- Bereshit 21:22 – The account of the covenant of Avimelekh with Avraham is recorded after the story of Yitzchak's banishment and opens "וַיְהִי בָּעֵת הַהִוא":
- R. Hirsch assumes that the stories are consecutive and that it was specifically the banishment of Yishmael that prompted Avimelekh to ally himself with Avraham. The phrase "וַיְהִי בָּעֵת הַהִוא" serves to connect the two adjacent stories both chronologically and thematically, highlighting how one event led to the next.
- R. Saadia Gaon, R"Y Kara, and Rashbam, however, claim that the covenant was made before the expulsion,18 right after Yitzchak's birth. It was the miraculous nature of the birth that prompted Avimelekh to approach Avraham. The story opens with the words "וַיְהִי בָּעֵת הַהִוא" to hint to the achronology.
- Bereshit 38:1-3 – The story of Yehuda and Tamar follows that of the sale of Yosef.
- R"Y Kara, R"Y Bekhor Shor and Radak,19 following Chazal, assert that the stories are chronological and follow one another. Yehuda separated from his brothers right after and as a result of the sale. The opening "וַיְהִי בָּעֵת הַהִוא" comes to highlight this cause and effect.20
- Ibn Ezra, Ralbag and Shadal, however, claim that the two stories overlap, with the beginning of Chapter 38 occurring before the sale and the other events of the chapter happening later. The heading "וַיְהִי בָּעֵת הַהִוא" serves as an indicator of achronology.
- Devarim 1:9 – Moshe's opens his speech in Devarim 1 with Hashem's command to leave Mt. Sinai during the second year in the wilderness. He then recounts the story of the appointment of judges.
- R. Chiya claims that Moshe is speaking of the appointment of officers described in Bemidbar 11, which took place in the second year. If so, "וַיְהִי בָּעֵת הַהִוא" refers to the time period mentioned right beforehand in Devarim and indicates that the two stories are consecutive events.21
- R"Y Bekhor Shor, Ramban and R. D"Z Hoffmann all assert that Moshe is backtracking to speak of events of the first year and that the story refers to the appointment of judges advised by Yitro in Shemot 18. The phrase "בָּעֵת הַהִוא" serves to clue the reader into the fact that this event occurred before the preceding story. See Appointing Moshe's Assistants for elaboration.
- Devarim 3:23 – Devarim 3 speaks of the conquest of Og, Moshe's encouragement to Yehoshua regarding future conquests, and then Moshe's plea to enter the land. Both of the last two events are introduced with the phrase "בָּעֵת הַהִוא".
- Rashi, Ibn Ezra and Ramban22 assume that the two events happened in the reverse order. Moshe pleaded with Hashem after the conquests of Sichon and Og,23 and only afterwards did he encourage Yehoshua.24 The headings hint that the events are not being recorded in the order they occurred.
- Devarim 5:4-5 – After telling the nation that Hashem spoke to them "face to face" at Mt. Sinai, Moshe continues, "אָנֹכִי עֹמֵד בֵּין י״י וּבֵינֵיכֶם בָּעֵת הַהִוא לְהַגִּיד לָכֶם אֶת דְּבַר י״י".
- According to many commentators, Moshe is referring to his mediating role during Revelation itself. The words "בָּעֵת הַהִוא", then, connotes simultaneity (the events of verses 4-5 overlapped).
- Ibn Ezra, claims instead that "בָּעֵת הַהִוא" refers to the period after revelation; from then on Moshe acted as an intermediary. The two verses, then, tell of consecutive events.
- Finally, Ramban (in his first explanation) suggests that this might refer to the three day period before revelation, when Moshe acted as a go-between to relay Hashem's commands to the nation. The words "בָּעֵת הַהִוא" indicate achronology. For elaboration on these various readings and their implications for understanding Revelation, see The Decalogue: Direct From Hashem or Via Moshe?
- Devarim 10:8 – Devarim 10:8 speaks of the selection of the Levites which occurred in the second year. Yet, the immediately preceding verses speak of events of the fortieth year.
- R. Avraham b. HaRambam (elaborating on his father), thus, points to this verse as evidence that the phrase "בָּעֵת הַהִוא" need not refer to the immediately preceding narrative but might relate back to an event discussed earlier. In this case it refers back to the discussion in Devarim 9-10:5 regarding the Sin of the Calf.25
- The Netziv, disagrees, suggesting that the events are chronological and "בָּעֵת הַהִוא" implies continuity. This leads him to suggest that the Devarim 10:8 refers not to the initial selection of the tribe, but to their being chosen in the fortieth year to act as teachers of Torah.
- Yehoshua 5:1-2 – Yehoshua 5 opens with the narrator announcing that the miracle of the splitting of the Jordan induced fear in the hearts of the Canaanites. The next verse shares that "at that time" Yehoshua was commanded to circumcise the nation. Since Yehoshua 5:1 is parenthetical, momentarily shifting the reader's focus from the Israelites (the subject of Chapter 4) to the Canaanites, the text employs the phrase "בָּעֵת הַהִוא" to bring the reader back to the events happening in the Israelite camp.
- Yehoshua 6:26 – Yehoshua 6:24 speaks of the burning of Yericho and sanctifying of its booty to Hashem. The following verse shifts focus, sharing how Rachav and her family became a part of Israel "until this day". Verse 26 then states that "at that time" Yehoshua cursed all those who would rebuild the city. Due to the intervening achronological remark "until this day", verse 24 employs the formula "בָּעֵת הַהִוא" to resume the original narrative and bring the reader back to the timing of verse 24.
- Yehoshua 11:7-12 – After sharing how Yehoshua smote the Northern confederation, verse 10 states, "וַיָּשׇׁב יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בָּעֵת הַהִיא וַיִּלְכֹּד אֶת חָצוֹר וְאֶת מַלְכָּהּ הִכָּה בֶחָרֶב".
- A simple reading might imply that Yehoshua first smote the armies of the confederation and then returned to destroy the city of Chatzor.
- According to Ralbag, however, the destruction of Chatzor occurred previously, as part of the conquest described in verse 10. The words "בָּעֵת הַהִוא" expresses the simultaneity of the two events.26
- Yehoshua 11:21 – After summarizing how Yehoshua fought the Canaanites over "many years", verse 21 shares that "at that time" Yehoshua killed the giants of Chevron. Ralbag asserts that this occurred during the years of conquest and not afterwards. As such, the term "בָּעֵת הַהִוא" points to simultaneity or overlapping events, not to two consecutive stories.
- Shofetim 4:4 – Shofetim 4 tells how the nation cried out to God in face of the Canaanite oppression and then continues "And Devorah was the judge at that time". Ralbag suggests that the phrase comes to highlight that Devorah became the judge not during the initial oppression, but specifically when the nation cried out to Hashem.27 Since the text had tangentially mentioned the oppression, though, it employs the phrase "בָּעֵת הַהִוא" to connect her judging back to the nation's cries.
- Melakhim I 11:29 – Verses 26-28 speak of Yerovam's rebellion against Shelomo and then the text shares that "at that time" Yerovam encountered Achiyah who prophesied about the tearing of the kingdom.
- Radak claims that despite the order in the text, Achiyah prophesied before Yerovam rebelled. If so, the phrase "בָּעֵת הַהִוא" might be an indicator of achronology here as well.
- One might alternatively suggest that the verses are chronological, and that it was specifically Yerovam's rebellion that merited Yerovam the throne. The phrase might then come to highlight the cause and effect. See Yerovam's Rebellion for how the two possibilities might affect one's reading of the rebellion as a whole.
"אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה"
Variations of the phrase "אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה"28 appear 13 times in Tanakh.29 R. Avraham b. HaRambam points out that in contrast to the term, "וַיְהִי בָּעֵת הַהִוא"30 this heading always refers to a story which chronologically follows that which preceded it. If so, though, one may question why it is necessary to share the fact. As the default ordering in Tanakh is to recount events chronologically, it would seem to be redundant. Commentators raise several possible answers::
- Chronological connector – R. Huna in Bereshit Rabbah and Rashi31 suggest that the phrase "אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה" tells the reader that the coming event happened immediately after whatever preceded it,32 while the variant "אַחֲרֵי הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה" suggests that the upcoming event only occurred after a significant amount of time had elapsed.33 Elsewhere (when no heading is included) the recorded events follow each other, but neither immediately nor significantly later.
- This supposition is somewhat difficult to test as the only chronological marker given for many of these stories is the heading itself. Nonetheless,in most of the cases, the theory can can feasibly work with the surrounding content, even if it cannot be proven.34
- However, in the one case where dating is included, Ezra 7:1, the theory appears mistaken. The chapter opens with "וְאַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה", implying, according to these sources, that it immediately follows the events of the previous chapter. Yet, while Ezra 6 takes place during the reign of Darius, the events of Ezra 7 first take place in the seventh year of Artachshasta.
- In addition, in contrast to this theory, in at least two cases where the longer "אַחֲרֵי הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה" appears, Bereshit 48:1 and Yehoshua 24:29, the text implies that a long time did not elapse after the previous story. In both cases, the previous chapter speaks of the the main protagonist (Yaakov / Yehoshua) getting old and standing close to death while the following stories speak of their death or deathbed announcements.35
- Content connector – Rashbam alternatively suggests that the phrase "אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה" is used to relate the content (rather than timing) of two stories, perhaps to show a causal relationship or the like. Several examples follow:
- Bereshit 15:1 – Rashbam maintains that Hashem's reassurance of Avraham in this chapter is a direct reaction to his fear in the aftermath of the battle of the 4-5 kings described in the previous one. The heading hints to the causal relationship.
- Bereshit 22:1 – Rashbam suggests that the story of the Akeidah opens with "וַיְהִי אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה" to connect it to the story of Avraham's covenant with Avimelekh discussed at the end of Bereshit 21. He claims that Hashem's testing of Avraham at the Akeidah was a punishment for making the covenant36 and that the Akeidah was a direct result of the previous event. See Purpose of Akeidat Yitzchak for the ramifications of this reading.
- Esther 3:1 – Rashbam suggests that the phrase "אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה" which introduces the promotion of Haman and his hatred of Mordechai in Esther 3:1 serves to connect these events to Mordechai's unfoiling of Bigtan and Teresh's ploy recorded right beforehand. The text thus subtly foreshadows that this revelation of Mordechai will be the undoing of Haman.
- Divrei HaYamim II 32:1:1 – One could suggest that the story of Sancheriv's campaign and Yehuda's salvation is linked specifically to Chizkiyahu's reforms mentioned right beforehand ("אַחֲרֵי הַדְּבָרִים וְהָאֱמֶת הָאֵלֶּה") to teach the reader that it was these religious reforms which merited the nation salvation.
- Turning Point – R. Hirsch suggests that, often, the phrase "אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה" is used to mark a major turning point in someone's life or in the plot of a given story.
- He suggests that, therefore, the two most seminal events in the Avraham narratives, the covenant between the pieces (Bereshit 15) and the Akeidah (Bereshit 22) both open with "אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה".
- Bereshit 48:1 - Yaakov's giving firstborn status to Yosef is similarly introduced with "וַיְהִי אַחֲרֵי הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה" as it, too, marks a significant change.
- Divrei HaYamim II 32:1:1 – Sancheriv's campaign against Yehuda opens with "אַחֲרֵי הַדְּבָרִים וְהָאֱמֶת הָאֵלֶּה". This, too, can be explained as marking a new era or turning point, being one of the most significant events in Judean history.
"וַיְהִי בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם"
Variations of the phrase appear 40 times in Tanakh.37 The phrase appears to function in one of two ways:
- Indicate overlapping events – Ramban maintains that this phrase, as opposed to "ויהי אחרי כן", teaches that the event about to be described happened during the same general time period spoken about previously. In other words, the two events are not consecutive but rather overlapping.
- Melakhim II 10:31-32 – The verses share that Yehu began to stray away from Hashem and that "בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם הֵחֵל י״י לְקַצּוֹת בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל וַיַּכֵּם חֲזָאֵל בְּכׇל גְּבוּל יִשְׂרָאֵל". The chronological marker "בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם" might come to to highlight that it was specifically when Yehu veered that the nation was attacked.
- Melakhim II 20:1/ Yeshayahu 38:1– See Seder Olam Rabbah who suggests that Chizkiyahu's illness and cure did not follow the campaign of Sancheriv, but rather overlapped with it. Modern scholars go further to suggest that it might have preceded the campaign altogether.38 According to both, the heading "בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם" might allude to the achronology.
- Contrast two eras – In other cases, the phrase might come to contrast two eras, pointing out that something that was true or occurred in one time period, might not have been true of others.
- Shofetim 17 – The phrase "בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם אֵין מֶלֶךְ בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל" serves as a refrain throughout the stories of the idol of Michah and the concubine of Givah, highlighting how in that era, as opposed to later, there was no monarch in Israel. It was this that caused the atrocities of the era.
- Shofetim 20:27-28 – These verses perhaps stress how "in those days" the ark was in Beit El and Pinechas was the priest, since this was not true of other eras.
- Shemuel I 3:1 – This verse emphasizes "וּדְבַר י״י הָיָה יָקָר בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם" to teach that, in contrast to many eras in Tanakh, at the time of the story of Shemuel, prophecy was not prevalent.
Tanakh normally expresses the perfect (past) tense by using the vav conversive form of the verb followed by the subject ("וַיֵּלֶךְ אַבְרָם" or "וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה") . At times, though, Tanakh employs a form known as "עבר מהופך", beginning with the subject and following with the simple form of the verb ("וְהָאָדָם יָדַע" or "וּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הָלְכוּ"). According to many commentators this construct is used when Tanakh wants to express that an action took place in the more distant past, prior to the events being discussed (being equivalent to the past perfect).39 As such, its usage might be an indicator of achronology.
- For many examples (and other understandings of the verbal form) see:Tenses in Tanakh.
Resumptive repetition is a literary technique where the text resumes an earlier narrative (which has been broken off by another story or parenthetical comment) by repeating the last sentence of the original story in similar or identical language. In several of these cases, the technique might imply that the intervening story overlapped with the original.40
- Shemuel I 28-29 might illustrate the phenomenon. Chapter 28 opens with the Philistines gathering for battle, sharing: "וַיִּקְבְּצוּ פְלִשְׁתִּים אֶת מַחֲנֵיהֶם", but then cuts off to tell the story of Shaul and Ba'alat Ha'Ov. The original narrative is resumed in Chapter 29, echoing "יִּקְבְּצוּ פְלִשְׁתִּים אֶת כׇּל מַחֲנֵיהֶם". It is likely that the technique indicates that the two stories overlapped in time, with Sefer Shemuel alternating between events related to Shaul and those related to David.
- For other examples where resumptive repetition might indicate achrnology, see Redundancy: Resumptive Repetition.
At times, masoretic markers, such as a break in the middle of a verse, might also indicate achronology, telling the reader that the two events mentioned in the verse do not really follow one another:
- Bemidbar 26:1 - The verse opens, "וַיְהִי אַחֲרֵי הַמַּגֵּפָה", presumably referring to the plague of Ba'al Peor which was just mentioned.41 This is followed by a break in the verse after which Hashem commands the nation to take a census. It is possible that the break hints that the census is not related to and does not follow the plague but took place at some earlier point. It was perhaps commanded previously, after the events of Bemidbar 21, when the conquests of Sichon and Og paved the way for entry into and inheritance of the land.42
- Yehoshua 4:1 – The verse states that the nation finished crossing the Jordan. This is followed by a break in the text and then Hashem's command to appoint 12 people to take stones from the feet of the priests. Here, too, the break might come to disconnect the two events and hint that they are not consecutive. Hashem's command regarding the stones might have taken place earlier, as suggested by the fact that already in Yehoshua 3:12, Yehoshua commands, "קְחוּ לָכֶם שְׁנֵי עָשָׂר אִישׁ מִשִּׁבְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אִישׁ אֶחָד אִישׁ אֶחָד לַשָּׁבֶט" (see Radak).43 [It is mentioned again here, since the fulfillment of the rest of the command is about to take place.]
- Shemuel I 4:1 - The verse opens by declaring "וַיְהִי דְבַר שְׁמוּאֵל לְכׇל יִשְׂרָאֵל" but does not continue with the content of Shemuel's speech. Instead there is a masoretic break in the verse and then the story of the Philistine battle. It is possible that the break hints to the reader that Shemuel's speech is not connected to the Philistine battle mentioned right afterwards, but to Shemuel's later call to repentance in Chapter 7:3.44 If so, chapters 4-7 might be viewed as parenthetical background to the speech, explaining why the nation needed to repent.