Barry Newman's Blog

September 12, 2012

Science and Genesis 5: 1 – 6: 8 (part III)

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 11:58 pm

The Long Ages

Enoch and Lamech aside, the ages recorded for the seven, Adam to Methuselah, when they died varies between 895 (for Mahalalel) and 969 (for Methuselah).  Lamech died when 777 years old and Noah lived for 950 years (Genesis 9: 29).  The age at which the record indicates that a son was born to a father, for Seth to Lamech varies from 65 years (when Jared was born to Mahalalel and when Methuselah was born to Enoch) to 187 years (when Lamech was born to Methuselah).  Adam had his third son, Seth, at Aged 130 and it is written of Noah that he had his three sons when 500 years old.  On performing a few elementary calculations, one can determine that Lamech, who lived for 595 years after the birth of Noah, died 5 years before the flood (which occurred when Noah was 600 – Genesis 7: 6) and Methuselah died in the year of the flood.

A few remarks should probably be made about the age when Lamech died and the age when Noah had his three sons. In the text no comment is made about Lamech’s death occurring earlier than expected, yet by comparison his death is early.  Is it possible that he is given, somewhat artificiality, the age at death as 777 because it would be inappropriate for him to die during the flood?  As the last named before Noah and with the flood occurring when Noah is 600 he has to die when relatively young if not to die during the flood.   Or did it just happen that way?


With respect to Noah and when his three sons were born, it appears rather odd that whereas others have their son born (their first born son?) when they are aged between 65 and 187 years, Noah’s three sons are born when he is about 500 years old.  A consideration of 7: 6, which indicates that Noah was 600 at the time of the flood, 9: 24 which states that Ham was the younger (or youngest?), 10: 21, which sees Japheth as older than Shem, and 11: 10 which gives Shem the age of 100 2 years after the flood, suggests that Shem was born when Noah was 502, with Ham born earlier and Japheth born even earlier (or the other way around).  It could be that we are meant to see Japheth born when Noah is 500, Ham born, say when he is 501 and Shem born when he is 502. However it might be that the text is simply indicating that by the time Noah was around 500 he had had the three sons.  

What are we to make of these very large numbers? Walton writes, “In the Sumerian king list the shortest reign is 18,600 years while the longest stretches to 43,200.  Eight kings compile 241,200 years between them.  The text uses the standard sexagesimal values.  If the notation is read with decimal values rather than sexagesimals values, the numbers are in the same range as the biblical numbers, and the totals of the lists are nearly identical.”  Is the Biblical material, brought about by one means or another, a reflection of this Sumerian data?  If so it is probably significant that while the Sumerians named are “kings” those named in Genesis are not so designated.  Perhaps one theological point being made is that God does not operate through or need kings with perhaps the additional idea being conveyed that indeed there is only one king and that is God himself.  All others are simply men whom God may directly interact with if he chooses.

However the problem of the large numbers still remains.  One possible explanation is that the Genesis material is simply dependent on data such as that provided in the Sumerian king lists, but that as the Genesis material develops the ages to which people live are shortened to bring them more into conformity with normal expectations, a theological point being made in the process about the wickedness of man and God’s decision to shorten life spans (See Genesis 6: 3).

An alternative suggestion providing an explanation for long life will now be offered but very, very tentatively.  Modern considerations of the interaction between genetic factors and the environment responsible for aging suggest that it may be possible with some control over these factors in the not too distant future to increase current life spans to as much as 200 years.  It could have been that given different genetic and environmental factors operating sometime in the distant history of homo sapiens, people indeed had life spans of say 200 years.  Could it not even have been possible for this figure to have been much greater prior to this?  Additionally and of some relevance, genetic and environmental factors favouring a slowing down of aging might also have meant a slowing down of sexual maturation.

But what does one make of the anthropological evidence of remains considered to have belonged to human beings who died at ages within what we consider to be limits with which we are familiar? I have little knowledge of this field and perhaps that is very evident.  However consider the following hypothetical. Some pelvic remains are judged to be that of a young adolescent female (as judged by modern bone structures) and given say an age of 10 to 12 years at death. But if genetic and environmental factors were such in the ancient world, to both increase longevity by slowing aging (as compared with what we know today) and to delay sexual maturation (as compared with what we know today) by the same or a related process, the same evidence might suggest, using a factor of five, that the pelvis came from a young adolescent female who was 50 to 60 years at death! Using this type of scenario, the recorded age range of 895 to 961 would translate to 179 to 192 (using a factor of five) by way of comparison for our times, recognising the possibility of living to 200 years as not being too unreasonable in the not too distant future and therefore maybe possible in the past. Using the same factor, the range of when sons were born (65 to 187) would translate to 13 to 37.  On this basis Noah would have fathered children at around 100 years old or earlier.  What is proposed here is of course merely a suggestion.  It may be regarded as too unsubstantiated for serious consideration. 

However if there is any truth to this proposal then what we have preserved for us both in the Sumerian king lists and in the Genesis account is a record of some people of considerable antiquity living far longer than we would normally judge possible given only our current perspectives on the aging and sexual maturation processes.



  1. Noah’s sons may have been his youngest sons – there’s no indication that they were his only sons, and I think it’s quite likely that if he had earlier sons or daughters they would not have believed Noah. As far as I can tell we’re only told the age of Shem, so there’s no reason to think they were born within a year of each other. I think it’s likely though that they were born after the 120 years warning of Genesis 6:3.

    Comment by Dannii — September 24, 2012 @ 6:04 am | Reply

    • Hi Danii,

      Thanks for your comment. I think you’re correct. I was too hasty in my reading. The reference to the 500 probably only applies to the birth of Shem. It is the case that Genesis 5: 32 does not exactly adopt the same structure as that for, e.g. Lamech: “And Lamech lived one hundred and eighty two years and he fathered a son.”. In Noah’s case, it reads, “And Noah a man of five hundred years. And Noah fathered Shem, Ham and Japheth.” The five hundred is mentioned for some reason – one would expect that Shem being the first of the three sons mentioned was born when Noah was five hundred years old. That three sons are mentioned, is probably the reason why the structure is different.

      However, I wouldn’t speculate on other children being born earlier, and if there were I wouldn’t speculate on whether or not they would have believed Noah. I would also not speculate about whether that the other sons were born after the 120 years.

      Thanks for your interest



      Comment by barrynewman — September 24, 2012 @ 10:16 am | Reply

    • Hi Dannii again,

      On further thought I do not really know what Gen 5: 32 is saying. Gen 7: 6 says that Noah was 600 at the beginning of the flood; Gen 9: 24 indicates that Ham is the younger son (or youngest son); Gen 10: 21 seems to indicate that Shem’s older brother is Japheth; Gen 11: 10 says that Shem was 100 2 years after the flood. The last and first indicate that Noah was 502 (or 503) when Shem was born. The order of the children is either Japheth, Ham, Shem or Japheth, Shem, Ham. The order in which they are cited viz Shem, Ham and Japheth suggests that the order is possibly Japheth, Ham, Shem. Now it could be that it is Japheth that is born when Noah was 500, Ham when he was say, 501 and Shem when he was 502. This may sound odd but it is probably why some translators seem to indicate that when he was around 500 he had the three sons. It may be that the text should be understood as saying that by the time that Noah was around 500 he had had the three sons.



      Comment by barrynewman — September 24, 2012 @ 9:17 pm | Reply

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