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Chronological difficulties are frequently explained in the Sources by the concept of אין מוקדם ומוחר בתורה -- Ein Mukdam U'm'uchar Ba'Torah -- There is no before and after in Torah.

(1) Where is the original expression of this concept? You'll find it in various places (Mechilta de Rabbi Yishmael 15:9, Sifrei_Bamidbar 64:1, Ruth_Rabbah 4:5), but where is the first? Is it used or at least mentioned in the Talmud ?

(2) What does it really mean? That the creation of the world might have happened after the Exodus from Egypt? That Jacob was born before Abraham? That Moses died before he was born? Surely not. So what are the limits of this concept?

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    Why do you say there are limits? Perhaps the principle doesn't preclude the possibility of the creation of the world occurring after the exodus and the only reason we know it didn't happen that way is through (obvious) logical reasoning. – Daniel Dec 2 at 17:29
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    How could someone find a source earlier than Mekhilta or Sifrei? What do you mean "where is the first"? Please edit your question to clarify. – Double AA Dec 2 at 17:31
  • There's no doubt the principle exists at least sometimes. Numbers 1:1 happens in year 2 month 2, while Numbers 9:1 happens in year 2 month 1. – Double AA Dec 2 at 17:32
  • 1. If it is a tradition, there's no meaning to "the first". 2. THere's no "really" in Judaism as everything is just interpretations. 3. If we interpret the Torah metaphorically (Kabbalically) this is possible that the story of Exodus preceded the Creation in G-d's thought (for example). 4. If the Torah is a book of instructions, why do you think its historicity must be consistent? – Al Berko Dec 2 at 17:35
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    some sources that may help you (or another poster) find answers: Wikipedia (English, also available in Hebrew), Wikisheva and Daat. – MTL Dec 2 at 18:16
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In Pesachim 6b, the Talmud discusses this principle and lays limits on it:

Rav Menashiya bar Taḥlifa said in the name of Rav… There is no earlier and later in the Torah. Rav Pappa said: This principle applies only when the Torah deals with two separate matters, but within one matter, that which is written earlier occurred earlier, and that which is written later occurred later…

More elaboration follows. Also, it appears that Mechilta de Rabbi Yishmael 15:9 is the earliest reference to this principle.

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