Continuing our journey into Genesis Narrative, we are – with a hop, skip and a jump – going to miss a few parts to get to the real question most people want answered – namely, ‘How did people live to such a ripe old age in that period?’
Now there are several theories that do the rounds as to why people lived so long in the post ‘Fall’ years – that is, since the time when Adam and Eve got themselves banished from the Garden of Eden.
One theory is that before the couple’s ill-fated bite of the apple, eternal life was conferred on all people with the result that the effect of ‘sin’ coming into the world, made humans susceptible to disease and decay. This resulted in an ever diminishing life span though the figures for Biblical ages do not always confirm such a theory as one would imagine an exponential decline in years.
The other theory elicits the idea that in the beginning, a protective ‘firmament’ surrounded the earth which with the Fall of humans and their separation from God and Garden, became damaged and affected our longevity.
(note: there have been a lot of ‘longevity’ myths throughout human history and you can find the supposed ages of biblical characters and notable others by clicking here )
More interesting – and perhaps offering greater plausibility – is the idea that the size of the number has significance. Setting aside the more comical notion that Methuselah missed out on reaching his thousand year birthday because the four-figure number hadn’t been invented at that time, it is worth noting how the age of person would reflect on the blessing received from their Deity.
For example ,a long life coincide with obedient behaviour – if you are good and please God, you live for many years. If you’re bad, your end will come quickly.
While this will encourage those who consider themselves to be doing okay in their advancing years, perhaps the most likely explanation as to why people lived to a three digit age is to do with a rather unusual way of recording age and status together.
Okay, this is where memory may fail me but I seem to remember in Faraday Institute member Ernest Lucas’ book ‘Do we have to believe Genesis today? that in Sumerian traditions, the middle digit of a three digit number (ie 149) was not related to age but to an aspect of their status within the community. For example, the person was 19 years old and the digit 4 signified he was a farmer (or whatever?).
A different line of thought I occasionally hear posited suggests that the number relates to lunar cycles around the earth – for example, a husband that is 36 having lived as long as the moon making 36 cycles around the earth. Aside from the fact that 36 rotations of the earth means the man is only 36 months old and better described as an infant or child, it also negates the fact that people in this period did understand time as it related to seasons and years – something that the Pagan community had a good grasp on from the earliest times.
In short, the idea of people living hundreds of years seems far-fetched to say the least. Even the eldest ones of us today with our ailing joints, creaking bones and loss of memory will affirm that the further into old age a person advances, the more likely they will be to slow down and tire in their latter years.
Did people live to 999 years-old, 777 years-old we can’t be sure. Though its seems more likely they didn’t age this far for no other fact than such facts as these cannot be verified and do not concur with our understanding of age and human experience.
Til next week – boldly go where no one hundred year-old has gone before….