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Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV



Part I: The Intrusion of Death

Chapter 4

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.
(Genesis 5:3-5)

     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

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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:
























     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 willing

98. Kahn, Fritz, Man in Structure and Function, New York, Knopf, 1960, vol.1, p.57.

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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 months.
     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 take

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, p.105.
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 reprint, p.271].

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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 concept).
(102) 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.

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Assyrians attributed 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)
14:3       -   "Vale of Siddim (which is the Salt Sea)
    14:7       -   "En-mishpat (which is Kadesh)
    14:15      -   "Hobah (which is on the left hand of Damascus)
    14:17      -   "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, 1966, p.140].
106. Urquhart, John, The Bible and Modern Discovery , London, Marshall Brothers, 1898, p.158.

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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 Fathers.
     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 18 years:

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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.









































     The circumstances 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 incompatible.

107. Moore, Patrick, Atlas of the Universe, New York, Rand McNally, 1970, p.146.

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     There 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 Science. (110) 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, SPCK, 1895.
110. Sarton, George, The History of Science, Harvard University Press, 1952, p.120.

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be accounted for.
     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.

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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