Part I: The Intrusion of Death
Longevity In Antiquity
And Adam lived an hundred
and thirty years,
and begat a son...
The days ofAdam after he had begotten (a son)
were eight hundred years...
and all the days that Adam lived
were nine hundred and thirty years:
and he died.
The fifth chapter
of Genesis contains a list of names of ten individuals whose
lives spanned the period from Adam to Noah. We are also told
their ages at the birth of their first son and at the time of
their death. This arrangement in Genesis is unique and is not
found in any of the other parallel lists thus far discovered
from antiquity. It is unique in that it allows us to extract
information of great value which cannot be extracted from any
of the Sumerian, Babylonian, Assyrian or Egyptian King Lists
that are roughly comparable in objective.
The biblical arrangement makes
it possible to calculate precisely the interval between the creation
of Adam and the Deluge which occurred when Noah was 600 years
old (Genesis 7:11). It also allows us to obtain some idea of
the rate of maturing at a time when men lived far longer than
they do today, since we can compare the time to the birth of
the first son in proportion to the total life span of each individual.
We can also calculate the average life span for this period of
history as a measure of the vitality of man when the human race
was still in its infancy.
The King Lists
of antiquity do not provide information of this
sort: they are concerned
rather with the lengths of reign, not lengths of life.
Nor do they provide us with the age of the father at the time
of the birth of his son. Superficially, the King Lists appear
to be quite comparable, except for their gross exaggeration of
the time periods involved. However, there are certain discrepancies
but, as we shall see, these discrepancies (particularly with
respect to the number of names listed and the actual names themselves)
find their most reasonable explanation in the light of the genealogy
provided in Genesis 5.
The data from Genesis 5 may be
tabulated as follows:
TIME TO MATURITY
From the above
we learn (a) that the average life span (exclusive of Enoch who
"was translated that he should not see death," Hebrews
11:5) was 912 years; and (b) that the average age to maturity
is 166 years if Noah is included. However, Genesis 5:32 (which
gives Noah's age at the time of the birth of all three sons)
seems to introduce a complication. Therefore, it is perhaps safer
to exclude Noah from this computation. If we omit the figures
for Noah, the average age to maturity is found to be 128 years.
Taking this average time to maturity
of 128 years, we note that it works out at approximately one
seventh of the total average life span of 912 years. The proportion
is most reasonable in the light of the fact that although other
mammalian species show a fairly wide variation, in most higher
animals growth to maturity relative to duration of life is in
the proportion of one-sixth, for such creatures as rabbits, dogs,
horses, camels and elephants. (98) It may also be remembered that Hesiod spoke of the
tradition that men were still children at 100 years in the so-called
Silver Age: and Isaiah (65:20) looked forward to a return of
this situation in the Golden Age yet to come when anyone dying
at 100 years of age would be considered still only a child. It
may further be recalled that Simms, Selye, and Huxley are now
98. Kahn, Fritz, Man in Structure and Function,
New York, Knopf, 1960, vol.1, p.57.
2 of 9
to admit that for man
to be capable of living a thousand years no longer seems so absurd
as it did even fifty years ago. (99)
But in their book on the history
of human mortality, Acsadi and Nemeskeri dismiss the Genesis
account as of little substantial worth because they cannot accept
the possibility that man once lived so very much longer than
he does now. So they attempt to explain the figures away by saying:
Observations over many centuries
show evidence of the fact that individual spans of life may vary
from the normal both by their brevity and their exceptional length.
Indeed many examples of longevity have been recorded in literature
but there is little value in the reports. In the Bible, for instance,
Methuselah was accredited with 960 years, but recent critical
investigations into the source have reduced this figure to 74,
as the original calculation was based on 28-day lunar years.
In other words,
we are to read the years of Genesis as months:
Methuselah really only lived 969 months, not 969 years! This
observation is a classic example of the nonesense that can emerge
when otherwise intelligent individuals allow what is a proper
caution in dealing with unverifiable data to degenerate into
unwarranted scepticism entirely prompted by personal bias with
respect to biblical statements.
They speak with complete confidence
of "investigations into the source" of the information
in Genesis, though there is absolutely no way of knowing
what that source was! Actually, it was probably 'common knowledge.'
But what incredible nonsense it is to speak about "the source"
of something which must have been known to everyone in the community
at the time. And how utterly ridiculous to pronounce that lunar
years were the unit of measurement, for if this principle is
applied generally to the record in Genesis, we are left with
the interesting conclusion that Adam begat a son when he was
10, Seth when he was 8 1/2, Enos when he was just over 7, Cainan
when he was 6, and Mahalaleel when he was only 5 1/2 years of
age! The figures are patently absurd if we read the years as
Moreover, there is no evidence
whatever that any other nation, or even the Hebrew people, at
that time or subsequently used the word years when they
intended months to be understood. (101) Futhermore, it is obvious that by the time we get
to the record of the Flood, the word months is being used
as it has always been used. At no point in the narrative of Genesis
is there the slightest evidence of a change-over which would
mark the transition in terminology where the record is no longer
counting months as years but has adopted the normal reckoning
found everywhere else in antiquity. The observation is, in fact,
puerile: and it serves only to show how, when people refuse to
99. Simms, H.S., quoted in the British
Medical Journal, 5 July, 1947, p.14; Selyc, Hans, "Is
Death Inevitable?", MacLeans' Magazine, 15 Aug.,
1959, p.13; and Huxley, Sir Julian, "The Meaning of Death"
in Essays in Popular Science, London, Penguin Books, 1938,
100. Acsadi, Gy. and J. Nemeskeri, History of Human Life Span
and Mortality, Akademiai Kiado, Budapest, 1970, p.16.
101. Note: Tayler Lewis, in Lange's Commentary on Genesis,
has a most interesting editorial comment of some length showing
that such a confusion of terms is exceedingly unlikely [Zondervan
seriously the plain sense
of the Word of God, their reasoning somehow becomes inept.
The quotation is even, in some
sense, dishonest since we are told that "the investigations"
are recent. Just how recent this concept of treating years
as months really is may be judged by noting that when John Peter
Lange in 1864 wrote his Commentary on Genesis, the idea
had already been around long enough for him to be able to comment
on the observations of a number of scholars who had toyed with
it. This is over a hundred years ago!
Needless to say, those scholars
who did favour the months-equals-years concept did not have a
very high opinion of the veracity of Scripture. The principle
upon which they operated in making their revised calculations
involved them in some rather complicated adjustments. In view
of the fact that from Adam to Noah (ten individuals) the average
age was 912 years, if we then read these years as months, the
average age is reduced to 76 years ‹ which was felt to be
more "reasonable." So it was proposed that the years
were actually so intended to be read. But then from Shem to Abraham
(the next ten individuals) the average age is only 317 years.
It would not do to take these years as months, for the
average life span would then be far too low (26 years). But if
we assume that the word year for this period now means
three months instead of only one, and if we convert the
average age accordingly, we again arrive at the very "reasonable"
life span of 79 years. Thereafter we have to assume that the
years are normal years of twelve months each, or the figures
once more cease to make sense. Thus having committed themselves
to this principle of adjustment, it becomes necessary to keep
adjusting the adjustment: a "year" is first of all
one month, then three months, and finally twelve months! Yet
this extraordinary manipulation of the figures was seriously
proposed by reputable scholars, such as Raske (the one year =
one month concept), and Hensler (the one year = three months
On the whole it does not seem that Acsadi and Nemeskeri have
given very much thought to what they were proposing.
Now, for many years it has been argued that
the early chapters of Genesis were concocted by the historians
of the Jewish people on the basis of information they borrowed
from pagan traditions around them. They are admitted to have
exercised more restraint with respect to what their heroes were
purported to have done, and with respect to the length of time
they lived. But essentially the account is mythical. The figures
which they incorporated into their history were considerably
more realistic, being in the hundreds of years rather than the
tens of thousands of years which the Babylonians and the
102. Raske and Hensler: referred to in Commentary
on the Holy Scriptures: Genesis, John Peter Lange, Grand
Rapids, Zondervan reprint, p.271.
to their earliest ancestors; but the ages allotted were still
felt to be ridiculously exaggerated and not to be taken seriously.
Fortunately, there are scholars
today who view these early records with much greater respect
than the Higher Critics were accustomed to do before Archaeology
had begun to validate the Old Testament account in such an extraordinary
way. At the present time, it hardly seems likely that we can
hope for much in the way of validation of the pre-Flood portion
of Genesis ‹ in the sense that the later portions of Genesis
have been confirmed ‹ because the Flood probably obliterated
most of the evidence. But it is possible by careful analysis
of these early chapters to observe a sobriety and a reasonableness
which is entirely lacking in the Cuneiform accounts covering
the same events. And so pronounced is the difference between
the two streams of tradition that it becomes most unlikely that
the biblical account drew any of its inspiration whatever from
the Cuneiform ones: on the contrary, the reverse is more likely
to be the case.
There is, after all, no longer
any reason to doubt that the keeping of records in some form
was available even in pre-Flood times. Certainly the Genesis
account of the Flood has all the earmarks of being a ship's log,
a circumstance which surely suggests an adequate ability to keep
a record. Such records may very well have been preserved and,
as Wiseman has suggested, passed on through the line of individuals
from Seth to Noah in the form of "heirlooms." (103) These heirlooms then
were handed down from Shem to Abraham and finally to Moses who
edited them, (104)
perhaps reduced them to a uniform alphabetical script, and completed
them by adding the rest of the Pentateuch. The extraordinary
care with which the Hebrew scribes copied their ancient documents,
even to the counting of the number of each letter in a line,
must have preserved them almost perfectly. (105)
Perhaps the family of Shem allowed
further copies of these ancient records to be prepared for other
members of the family of man, for Hamites and Japhethites, though
possibly they were made less carefully. The recurrence of the
idea that there were ten generations from Adam to Noah in pre-Flood
times is so common among the nations of antiquity, though often
in a distorted form, that it can hardly be doubted they all represent
a single tradition springing from a single source and arising
from the same factual circumstance. As John Urquhart observed:
It is a significant fact that
this very number ten re-appears with a most remarkable
persistency in the ancient tradition of the various races. The
Egyptians believed that ten deities reigned before man. The Sybelline
Books speak of ten ages which elapsed between the Creation and
the Deluge. The
103. Wiseman, P. J., New Discoveries in
Babylonia About Genesis, London, Marshall, Morgan and Scott,
1936, p.47 ff. especially.
104. Such editing is apparent in the following:
Gen. 14:2, 8 - "Bela
(which is Zoar)
of Siddim (which is the Salt Sea)
"En-mishpat (which is Kadesh)
"Hobah (which is on the left hand of Damascus)
"Valley of Shaveh (which is the King's Dale)
The italics in parenthesis are clearly editorial
comment to identify a place name no longer likely to be familiar
to the reader.
105. Accuracy in copying: not only did the Jewish scribes adopt
exceedingly high standards in copying but pagan nations did also.
J. Cerny gives a good example from an Egyptian funerary papyrus
of about 1400 B.C. which bears the following colophon: "The
book is completed from its beginning to its end, having been
copied, revised, compared, and certified sign by sign" [Paper
and Books in Ancient Egypt, 1952, p.25, quoted by K. A. Kitchen,
Ancient Orient and New Testament, London, Tyndale Press,
106. Urquhart, John, The Bible and Modern Discovery ,
London, Marshall Brothers, 1898, p.158.
Iranians looked back to their ten Peischaddin
or monarchs, "the men of the ancient law" who drank
of the pure homa, the drink of the immortals, and who
watched over holiness. The Hindus speak of the nine Brahmidikas
who with Brahma, their maker, are called the ten Pitris, or
The Germans and the Scandinavians
tell of the ten ancestors of Odin; the Chinese of the ten Emperors,
who shared the divine nature and reigned before the dawn of historic
times; the Arabs of the ten kings of the Adites, primitive inhabitants
of the Arabian peninsula embraced between the Red Sea and the
Persian Gulf. The Phoenician historian, Sanchuniathon, also gives
ten generations of primitive Patriarchs.
It will be appropriate
to examine the Cuneiform records which undoubtedly refer back
to the same historical events, although ‹ as will be seen
‹ these pagan traditions appear to have been badly
corrupted by transmission.
The first knowledge we have apart
from Genesis, of a similar tradition came to us through Berossus,
a priest of Bel in Babylon, who somewhere around 260 B.C. translated
into Greek the standard Babylonian reference work on Astrology
and Astronomy, and compiled in three books the history of his
country based apparently on the archives in the Temple of Marduk,
which archives were copies of ancient inscriptions. Unfortunately,
most of his work has perished, but extracts have been preserved
in Josephus and Eusebius. The latter may have got his extracts
only indirectly through Alexander Polyhistor and Apollodorus.
From Berossus we have a list of ten Kings who ruled the world
in pre-Flood times. Against each name we are given the duration
of their reigns in units of measurement called Sari. The
value attached to a Saros by almost all scholars today
has been 3600 years. Actually the Saros is not a measurement
merely of years: it can mean 3600 of anything. The
incredible thing about Berossus' list of pre-Flood Kings is that
some of them lived as long as 18 Sari, which multiplied
out gives them a reign of up to 64,800 years! And the whole period
covered by these ten Kings comes to four hundred thousand years.
When this is compared with the biblical time span from Adam to
the Flood, a period of a mere 1656 years, it will be seen at
once that the two accounts differ enormously in this respect.
However, there is a possibility,
although it seems not to have been favoured at all by modern
scholars either Christian or otherwise, that the Babylonian and
Assyrian scribes had two systems of reckoning the length of a
Saros, an alternative value of which was very much smaller
indeed: the shorter or smaller value being only slightly over
to be precise, 18 years
and 11.2 days, though it does not appear that they had calculated
it quite this accurately. (107) Such an alternative unit of measurement, if applied
to these otherwise incredible figures, reduces them to within
reason in the light of what we suspect of the potential of
human life, and the resulting tabulation accords remarkably well
in its total with the biblical one.
KING LIST OF BEROSSUS
| 1. ALORUS
| 2. ALAPAROS
| 3. AMELON
| 4. AMMENON
| 5. AMEGALAROS
| 6. DAONOS
| 7. EDORANCHOS
| 8. AMEMPSINOS
| 9. OTIARTES
| 10. XISUTHROS
surrounding this alternative value of the Saros and the
details of the calculation based on the greatly reduced unit
of multiplication will be found in Appendix II. At this point
the reader only needs to know the end result of this alternative
reckoning. In summary, the figures are as follows.
Berossus gives us a total period
of 120 Sari for the ten antidiluvian reigns, which by the common
mode of reckoning involves a period of 432,000 years. If we allow
the alternative value of the Saros as 18 years instead of the
longer value of 3600 years, this figure of 432,000 becomes 2220
years. Bearing in mind that in the King List of Berossus we are
concerned with reigns, not with total life spans as in Genesis,
the figure still begins to approach a measure of concordance
with the Genesis account. Berossus allows 222 years for the average
reign, Genesis allows an average life span of 912 years. Since
many monarchs would presumably not succeed to the "king-ship"
till at least middle age, the two sets of figures are by no means
107. Moore, Patrick, Atlas of the Universe,
New York, Rand McNally, 1970, p.146.
is little doubt that Berossus' first entry represents the biblical
Adam, and he tells us himself that "in the time of Xisuthros
the great deluge occurred," so that his last entry represents
Noah. We thus observe from Berossus' figures that, on the basis
of a short value for the Saros, this time interval (2220
years) was of the same order of magnitude as that given in the
biblical account of 1656 years. One must allow for some divergence
in the case of Berossus' figures since it is doubtful if the
same care was taken in their transmission.
Since the shorter value of the
Saros certainly brings greater harmony, it is a surprising
fact that almost no biblical scholar of modern times has considered
it a viable alternative in interpreting these ancient records.
Neither S. R. Driver nor George Barton nor F. Hommel nor any
of the other Orientalists who have written at length on the subject
make any mention of the alternative. (108) Nor does A. H. Sayce who might have been expected
to have done so in view of his strong Christian convictions.
(109) One of the
few writers who has mentioned this alternative value was not
an Orientalist at all and probably had very little sympathy for
the Bible as a source of reference in such matters: I have in
mind Professor George Sarton of Harvard, in his History of
On his observations the reader is
referred to Appendix III.
Briefly, his argument is that the
smaller value of the Saros must be a very recent discovery
because the ancient Babylonian astronomers cannot possibly have
been intelligent enough or observant enough in those earlier
days to recognize the second and far shorter astronomical cycle.
Evolutionary habits of thought place extraordinary blinkers on
the minds of scholars who are otherwise highly competent historians.
We have spoken of uncertainties
about Berossus' figures. We do have a number of what may very
well have been copies of his original source ‹ and among
these there are certain variations. A particularly relevant example
is the case of the so-called "Weld-Blundell Prism,"
the details of which will be found in Appendix IV.
This Cuneiform 'document' is a
King List currently dated about 2170 B.C. It is known in several
variant forms, a fact which suggests copyists' errors. The basic
errors are in the different spellings of the ten names listed.
At least one authority of note believes that all known versions
go back, however, to a single original. He does not suggest that
the original was the biblical record. All known versions clearly
refer to pre-Flood times since each concludes with a reference
to the Flood as terminal to the list.
One of the versions may possibly
refer by implication to circumstances surrounding the premature
'departure' of Enoch (by translation) and Lamech (by violence).
The mention of Noah as "the eighth" (2 Peter 2:5) rather
than "the tenth" from Adam, may thus
108. Driver, S. R., Commentary on Genesis,
London, Methuen, 3rd edition, 1904; George Barton, Archaeology
and the Bible, Philadelphia, American Sunday School Union,
1916; Fritz Hommel, The Ancient Hebrew Traditions As Illustrated
by the Monuments, London, SPCK, 1879.
109. Sayce, A. H., Higher Criticism and the Monuments, London,
110. Sarton, George, The History of Science, Harvard University
Press, 1952, p.120.
be accounted for.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
Previous Chapter Next
On two points all versions are
agreed. Men lived to very great ages before the Flood;
and the number of generations from Adam to Noah was ten or less.
They occupied a period of years that accords well with the biblical
record but not at all well with the evolutionary account.
In summary, therefore, we may repeat
a statement already made. It is possible by careful analysis
of these early chapters in Genesis to observe a sobriety and
a reasonableness which is entirely lacking in the Cuneiform accounts.
And so pronounced is the difference that it becomes most unlikely
that the biblical account drew any inspiration whatever from
these Cuneiform ones. On the contrary, the reverse is more likely
to be the case. In short, in the biblical account we may very
well have the original record: and it is a record, I believe,
that is truly historical.