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SOME USES OP NUMBERS 

John P. Peters 
New Yoke City 

Every reader of the Bible is conscious to some extent of the 
part which numbers play in the division of Biblical Books, or in 
the organization of those books. Most notably is this the case 
with the number five which, originally merely mnemonic, derived 
from the body — the two hands with five fingers each were the 
reason for the two tables of stone with five laws on each ; equally 
the ten fingers were the basis of the decimal system, and for 
the duodecimal also for that matter, the latter by counting each 
hand in addition to its ten fingers — assumed ultimately what we 
may call a mystical character, owing to its relation to the "Words 
of the two tables, so that finally the Law was arranged in five 
books, the Pentateuch. Later the Psalter, which we may call 
the prayer and hymn book, or the book of liturgy, in distinction 
from the Law, was arranged in five divisions to correspond with 
the Law. It is curious to see how mechanically this arrangement 
was effected. Three books of psalms had grown up, the third 
ending with Psalm 89. The growth continued, and there came 
to be a fourth collection, outside of and beyond the three books. 
It seemed good to divide this fourth collection in two, in order 
to harmonize the Psalter with the Law. The division was made 
mechanically, by counting from the beginning of this new collec- 
tion, commencing with Psalm 90, a number of psalms equal to 
those in the third book, 73-89 inclusive. As there were seventeen 
psalms in that book, therefore the division was made after the 
seventeenth psalm of the fourth book, that is, after Psalm 106. 
The result is that the book division falls in the midst of a litur- 
gical series, between Psalms 106 and 107, which belong together, 
being properly a part of one larger whole. Incidentally, this 
division of the Psalms at this point is valuable for critical study 
of the growth of the Psalter. 

These two books, the Law and the Psalter, are the best known 
examples of the fivefold division. There are, however, other 
fives, as in the Book of Isaiah, but these are not carried out so 



16 JOURNAL OF BIBLICAL LITERATURE 

systematically, nor are they so clearly recognizable in the present 
arrangement of that Book. Besides the fivefold we have fre- 
quently a threefold division. This appears in Isaiah, both in 
Isaiah proper and in Deutero-Isaiah. The three-scheme appears 
also in the discussions of the book of Job. It appears in the Book 
of Revelation, in combination with the number seven, in utmost 
elaboration. Seven appears also in the Beatitudes in St. Mat- 
thew, and the petitions of the Lord's Prayer. 

These numerical schemes are all familiar to the Bible student. 
I desire to call attention to some other numerical schemes in the 
sectional division and literary organization of books of the Old 
and New Testaments which have been more or less overlooked. 
Preparing in 1896 a study of Genesis as a piece of literature for 
a volume called the "Bible as Literature," I first became con- 
scious of the fact that that Book, as we have it, is a finished and 
well-rounded whole, a true artistic creation, entitling its maker 
to the name of author, and not merely compiler. The Book is 
arranged according to a very definite and simple scheme. In 
the first place, it is divided into two volumes, corresponding to 
the two parts in the Egyptian and Babylonian accounts of the 
beginnings of those countries, which have come down to us in a 
more or less fragmentary form through the Greek. (Apparently 
the Phoenicians also possessed a record of the same general type, 
and indeed the division is almost universal.) In each case the 
first part of the history deals with a mythical period of the 
beginning of the world, in which gods and demi-gods play the 
leading role, and where the ages are enormous, reckoned by 
thousands and hundreds of thousands. The second part in each 
case is more human, sober and sane. In Egyptian lore this part 
begins with the first Egyptian dynasty. The first part of these 
histories seemed to the ancients themselves to partake of the 
nature of mythology. The second part was, supposedly, plain 
history. The Hebrew Book of Beginnings is divided in precisely 
the same way into two volumes. The first volume, consisting of 
the first eleven chapters, deals with the beginnings of the world, 
and contains among other things the lists of those mythical, semi- 
divine heroes who lived for enormous periods of time. The 
second volume contains the supposedly sane history of the race, 
commencing with the patriarch Abraham. Here our feet are on 
the ground. Each of these volumes is divided into sections or 



PETERS: SOME USES OP NUMBERS 17 

chapters according to a very definite and simple scheme, to each 
section being prefixed what we may call a chapter heading, stat- 
ing the contents of that particular chapter or section. These 
chapter or section headings are unmistakable, and they are 
practically identical : These are the generations, nTl^D H^K , 
or in one case, This is the book of generations, iTn^in "12D Hf • 
Only the first chapter of each volume has no heading, because 
the first page or chapter or section is always clear as such to both 
eye and ear without anything further. The chapters themselves 
are arranged in a thoroughly systematic order. 

According to the conception of the author Israel began with 
the creation of the universe, because God had Israel in mind 
when He began to create, and the history of the beginnings of 
Israel must commence with the history of the beginnings of the 
universe. This is the chapter of creation: "In the beginning 
God created the heavens and the earth." The second chapter, 
which commences at 2 : 4, seems at first sight to overlap the first, 
and it does do so to some extent. It is entitled : ' ' These are the 
generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were 
created ; in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the 
heaven. ' ' This chapter is concerned with the preparation of the 
earth for the dwelling-place of man, and the formation of a 
garden of delight, wherein man is placed. Everything in the 
garden is given him to use, except one tree ; and out of his very 
flesh and bones a help-meet is formed. But with sex sin comes 
into the world ; they eat of the forbidden fruit ; man and woman 
are driven out of the garden, and there begins for the human 
race the hard life of toil and child-bearing and strife and envy 
and murder, out of which came the knowledge of proper sacri- 
fice, city building, metallurgy, music and much more. It is the 
chapter of the preparation. The third chapter, 5 : 1-6 : 8, is 
' ' The book of the generations of Adam, "i.e. man, but man in an 
ante-diluvian, mythical state. This contains a list of names of 
long-lived patriarchs, corresponding largely with the Babylonian 
prehistoric ancestors who reigned for aeons, intermingling with 
the gods. The fourth chapter, 6-9 : 29, is ' ' The Generations of 
Noah, ' ' where the sheep and the goats, as it were, are separated ; 
all mankind is destroyed but Noah and his family, and that man- 
kind from which practical, present-day men are descended begins, 
with husbandry and the vintage and control and use of the beasts 
2 



18 JOURNAL OP BIBLICAL LITERATURE 

of the earth. The fifth chapter, 10-11 : 9, is "The Generations of 
the Sons of Noah," the repeopling of the earth, and the divi- 
sion of the nations. The author is concerned, however, with only 
part of the peoples of the world, that race to which the Israelites 
belonged ; so the sixth chapter, 6 : 10-11 : 26, is ' ' The Genera- 
tions of Shem," a typical race genealogy. Among the Semites 
he is concerned only with the Aramaean race, that particular 
group of Semites from which Israel is descended. Accordingly 
the seventh chapter, 11: 27-32, is "The Generations of Terah," 
similar in character to the preceding. It will be observed that 
the mystical number seven, peculiarly emphasized in the very 
first section of this book in connection with the creation of the 
world, is the number selected for the chapters or sections of this 
volume. 

The second volume, like the first, has no heading, because the 
heading is not needed, the object of a heading being to set section 
off from section. This volume begins with the story of Abraham, 
the father of the Hebrews. At this point, *j'? ~fi J"IEHfl, there 
is a marked break ; the manner of the writer changes altogether. 
He has more to relate. There is less genealogy, more detail, 
more story. The first chapter in this volume, the story of Abra- 
ham, 12 : 1-25 : 12, is without heading. At the beginning of the 
second chapter, 25 : 12-18, we find the same form of heading as 
in the preceding volume: "These are the generations of Ish- 
mael." But this chapter leads us into a cul de sac, a no 
thorough-fare, so far as the development of the story of Israel 
is concerned. It is brief and genealogical, intended to show the 
connection of Abraham with Ishmael, and that the line of Ish- 
mael goes no whither. Accordingly the third Book, chapter 
25 : 19-35 : 29, carries us back and starts afresh, as it were. The 
true line of Israel 's descent was through the younger son. This 
chapter is headed: "The Generations of Isaac." The fourth 
chapter, like the second, is a no thorough-fare, and almost exclu- 
sively genealogical, 36 : 1-37, 1, giving us ' ' The Generations of 
Esau," 1 the elder son. Again the elder son is rejected, and we 
must turn back. With the fifth chapter, 37 : 2-50, we come 
finally to the line of the God-chosen descent, the true descent of 

1 This chapter is confusingly composite, and incidentally nnbin rnx 
occurs twice, 36 : 1 and 36 : 9, but these ' ' generations ' ' are manifestly 
variant duplicates. 



PETERS: SOME USES OF NUMBERS 19 

Israel. This chapter is entitled, "The Generations of Jacob," 
although in point of fact it tells relatively little of Jacob, but 
principally the stories of his children, and, above all, of Joseph. 
Indeed one is inclined to ask, Why not a chapter of the genera- 
tions of the Sons of Jacob, or of the generations of Joseph ? 

We have in the second volume of the Book of the Beginnings 
five sections or divisions, arranged very systematically. The 
reason why we do not have a special division to cover Joseph or 
the sons of Jacob is because of the number five. Another divi- 
sion would exceed the mystical number and spoil the scheme. 
The last volume ends with the twelve tribes of Israel, and the 
purpose of the author was to end his scheme in twelve, to corre- 
spond wdth the tribal division. He had divided his first volume 
into seven parts, because the foundation of that volume was the 
creation of the world, which took place in seven days. It was 
necessary to confine the second volume to five sections, that the 
five added to the seven of the first volume might give us the 
number of the twelve tribes of Israel. 

I am not going to discuss here the question of the date of this 
arrangement. As to the plan of the book, qua book, it is so 
absolutely clear, and the scheme so complete, that for the fact 
of its existence there is no need of argument. This is the most 
elaborate use of a schematic system of mystical numbers which 
I have observed in the Bible, outside, perhaps, of the Book of 
Revelation, and is quite sui generis. 

This year by pure accident my attention has been called to two 
other curious numerical systems in the books of the Bible, where 
the books are divided into sections of fives and sevens, as in the 
Book of Genesis, by a catch word or rather phrase, marking the 
division between sections, while the sections themselves are care- 
fully organized according to a literary plan. One of these, as 
far as I can ascertain, has never been observed before. 

It was at a meeting of the New York Oriental Club one night 
last winter, when the Book of Ecclesiastes was under discussion, 
that my attention was attracted for the first time to seven repe- 
titions of the phrase : "All is vanity, and a striving after wind," 
These occur at 1 : 14, 2 : 11, 2 : 17, 2 : 26, 4:4, 4 : 16, and 6 : 9. 
This phrase does not appear elsewhere in the book. Examina- 
tion of the passages thus divided will show that, while they are 
somewhat unequal in length, each is complete in itself. Each 



20 JOURNAL OF BIBLICAL LITERATURE 

deals with one part of a proposed scheme. The first section, 
1 : 3-14, is introductory and general. It tells the reader what 
the object of the book is, the search after the permanent good: 
"What profit hath man of all his labor wherein he laboreth 
under the sun ? " It closes with the statement : "I have seen all 
the works that have been done under the sun, and behold all is 
vanity and a striving after wind." Section two, 1:15-2:11, 
after stating the intention of investigating wisdom and madness 
and folly takes up first the latter of these two alternatives, mirth 
or pleasure, which some count as the permanent good, conclud- 
ing, with regard to that alternative, that: "All is vanity and a 
striving after wind, and there is no profit under the sun." The 
third section, 2 : 12-17, deals with the other alternative, wisdom, 
and, after a similar treatment and search, reaches the same con- 
clusion with regard to it as the permanent good, that: "All is 
vanity and a striving after wind." The fourth section, 2 : 18-26, 
discusses labor for the acquisition of wealth in the same way, 
concluding that here also: "All is vanity and a striving after 
wind." The fifth section, 3-4:3, considers the possibility of 
virtue or righteousness as the permanent good, ending with the 
conclusion that: "This also is vanity and a striving after wind." 
The sixth section, 4: 5-16, treats of friendship or love, but beau- 
tiful as human affection is in the end it fails, and even "this 
is vanity and a striving after wind." The concluding section, 
5 : 1-6 : 9, seems to advocate, as the best philosophy of life, to 
take things as they come, to be moderate, not to worry, and to 
avoid responsibilty ; but while this seems clearly the philosophy 
of the author, which he is recommending to his readers, and to 
which he devotes the greatest space, nevertheless, so far as a solu- 
tion of the quest for the permanent or ideal good is concerned, 
even this "also is vanity and a striving after wind." 

So far we have a well-organized book, divided into seven sec- 
tions, carefully marked off, each section dealing with one topic. 
The rest of the book, however, constituting almost one half of 
the whole, is an unorganized series of expatiations on the insolu- 
ble puzzle of a life which ends nowhere but in sheol, and neither 
produces nor results in anything lasting, so that even its tempo- 
rary rewards are capricious and uncertain. It presents no new 
theme, but comes back often to one or other of the themes dis- 
cussed in the first half. In general it supports with new 



PETERS: SOME USES OP NUMBERS 21 

examples and more material the philosophy of life set forth in 
section seven. Both of these divisions, however, as we have 
them, are parts of one book, the organized and the unorganized 
having been framed together in one frame. That frame consists 
of the theorem : " ' Vanity of vanities, ' saith the preacher ; ' vanity 
of vanities, all is vanity,' " with which the book opens and 
closes, a cycle or circle, in which the beginning and ending are 
the same, 1 : 2 and 12 : 8, the one succeeded and the other pre- 
ceded by a very beautiful and poetically elaborated passage. 
What precedes, 1:1, is a caption or title : ' ' The words of the 
Preacher, the son of David, King in Jerusalem, ' ' and not a part 
of the book itself. What succeeds, 12 : 9-12 : 14, is universally 
recognized as a later addition, attached probably to make the 
book more orthodox, and not part of the original work. 
' ' Vanity of vanities, " 1 : 2-12 : 8, constitutes a volume in itself. 

What is the cause of the curious division of that volume into 
two parts, one thoroughly and carefully organized in seven sec- 
tions, as shown above; the other an unorganized, invertebrate 
medley of reflections on the purposelessness of life? Had the 
original author collected a mass of material, and worked only a 
part of that into his scheme; then, failing for some reason or 
another to assimilate the remainder of the material, yet finding 
it too good to be lost, appended it in a lump after his seventh 
section, the doctrine of which it tends to support ; or what is the 
reason for this curious inconcinnity of composition ? 2 That I do 
not know ; but I think that in the study of the book for critical 
purposes it is necessary to take into consideration the division to 
which I have here called attention, which seems to have been 
overlooked by every writer on Ecclesiastes. 

The last example which I have to present of the division of a 
book into sections according to a numerical scheme is the Gospel 
of St. Matthew. I have forgotten just what was the accident 
that attracted my eye to the division of the main body of St. 
Matthew's Gospel into five sections by means of a catch phrase, 
which I noticed for the first time last winter. I was not hunting 
for trouble at the time. I was simply reading my Bible, when 
my attention was called to the fact that the same formula 

2 It resembles a note book partly worked over. Here a proverb or an old 
saw, with a comment on it; here an instance from experience and a sug- 
gestion of its bearing and meaning; here a little fuller writing up. 



22 JOURNAL OP BIBLICAL LITERATURE 

reappeared five times at certain fairly definite intervals, namely, 
7:28-29. "And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended those 
sayings, the people were astonished at His doctrine, for He taught 
them as one having authority, and not as the scribes;" 11:1 
"And it came to pass, when Jesus had finished commanding His 
twelve Disciples, He departed thence to teach and preach in their 
cities;" 14: 53 "And it came to pass, when Jesus had finished 
these parables, He departed thence;" 19:1 "And it came to 
pass, that when Jesus had finished these words, He departed 
from Galilee, and came into the borders of Judea beyond the Jor- 
dan ; and great multitudes followed Him ; and He healed them 
there;" 26:1 "And it came to pass, when Jesus had finished 
all these words, He said unto His Disciples. ' ' 

The recurrence of these refrains has been noted, as, for 
instance, by Allen in his commentary on Matthew in the Inter- 
national Critical Series ; but no emphasis has been laid upon it, 
nor, to the best of my knowledge, has the character of the pas- 
sages framed by these refrains been pointed out, or their relation 
in space and in content. They present, first of all, a progression 
in place. The first section is described as the teaching on the 
Mount (5:1). The second covers His mission in Capernaum 
(8:5) and about the Sea of Galilee (8:28, 9:35). The third 
extends a little further, into "their cities" (11: 1, 20, 21). The 
fourth leads us into "His own country" (13:54), then into 
desert places (14: 15), and country districts (14:34), even out- 
side of Jewish regions (15:21, 16:13), and so back at last to 
Capernaum (17:24). The fifth is located in Judea, "Within 
themselves these sections have a curious uniformity of arrange- 
ment. The first section, chapters 5-7 : 27, is entirely a section of 
teaching. The second section contains two chapters, 8 and 9, of 
miracles and teaching combined, ending with a chapter, 10, con- 
taining teaching only, the instruction of the Twelve. The third 
section, chapters 11-13 : 52, consists of two chapters of very short 
narratives, connecting miracles and teaching, followed by a sec- 
tion, 13 : 1-52, of teaching only, in the form of parables. Section 
four, chapters 13 : 54-18, comprises a longer mass, chapters 
13 : 54-17, of miracles and teaching, connected with one another 
by a very brief narrative, with one chapter, 18, consisting 
entirely of teaching. Section five, chapters 19-25, is more homo- 
geneous, consisting through 23 of teaching, connected by a very 



PETERS: SOME USES OF NUMBERS 23 

slight thread of narrative, with two chapters, 24 and 25, of teach- 
ing only. 

We have then a division into five sections by means of a catch 
phrase, these sections assigned to different localities, according 
to a progressive scheme ; the first and last of these sections con- 
sisting exclusively of teaching, the three intervening sections 
containing each a longer part of narrative, miracle and teaching 
combined, and a shorter part of teaching only. 

The systematic character of this scheme is unmistakable. It 
is evidently intentional, not a matter of chance. The Gospel, 
as a whole, however, consists not of five sections but of seven. 
To these five sections of teaching and miracles, connected by a 
brief narrative, were ultimately added, to make the Gospel, the 
story of Jesus' birth and His call, and the story of His passion, 
crucifixion and resurrection. I presume that this ultimate 
arrangement in seven parts is intentional ; but I should suppose 
that the arrangement in five sections is primary, and prior to 
the expansion into the seven. Indeed one is tempted to ask 
whether there was not an intentional following of the ancient 
fivefold division of the Law in this arrangement of Jesus' 
teaching. 

All these cases of numerical divisions are so clear that once 
stated there can be no doubt about their existence. No one can 
fail to see them. The singular thing is that so evident a phe- 
nomenon should ever have been overlooked.