Ages of Patriarchs

So I’m curious others’ opinions on this topic… regarding the ages of the patriarchs and the consecutive reduction in life span after the flood.

Ages averaged around 900 years before the flood, after the flood there is a rather consistent reduction in life span down to 175 with Abraham (and 120 with Moses).

I’ve heard the literal explanations from the creationist perspective, that postdiluvian environmental changes impacted life span. But what are other interpretations?

I’ve heard the idea that larger ages were an honorific exaggeration in ancient times, but this doesn’t seem to make sense of the phenomenon in this text… is the author trying to make Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob look that much less significant than Kenan and Mahalelel? Not to mention the one antediluvian patriarch called out for special praise only lived a third as long as his counterparts. And why the nearly linear reduction in life span between Noah and Abraham?

Thoughts?

This article may be helpful to you and the discussion!

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Dear Daniel,
The other explanation is quite a literal one: “And all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years: and he died.” What we know from reincarnation research is that humans live up to 30 lifetimes or about 900 years in total. The early Christian theory of the Apocatastasis was in harmony with this interpretation of the long years needed for the restoration of the soul.
Best Wishes, Shawn

Appreciated, thank you. However, the linked article only touches on the antediluvian patriarchs. Insightful though this is, my main question is to the oddity of the progressively smaller ages of the postdiluvian patriarchs.

In other words, if all the significantly grand ages listed in Genesis were in the 800s to 900s, I could easily see the linked explanation covering most if not all of the data. Alternately, if all the ages were somewhere around Abrahams age, this could likewise be explained relatively simply in the same fashion.

But the progressive decrease in ages after the flood is most striking to me. If numerological in some fashion, it seems to be very specifically contrived to convey some sort of smooth transition from the relatively steady average antediluvian lifespan to the progressively decreasing lifespan of Moses et al.

Yes, I noticed it didn’t touch on that part of your question! Just wanted it to be a part of the conversation.

I’m somewhat sceptical as to whether or not the lifespans are entirely symbolic, as there are discrepancies with the genesis genealogies between the manuscripts.

Two things are for certain however:

  1. Humans do not and cannot live for thousands of years.
  2. There are strong parallels between Genesis 5 and the Sumerian king list. Note that the seventh from creation in both texts has solar connections. Enmeduranki was king of Sippar, whose divine patron was the son god, Enoch lived for as many years as there are days in the solar calendar.

What research is this?

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Have a look at

Points out several problems with the antediluvian lifespans.

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Dear Reggie,
All of the research is not in one place, but the first piece is here on BioLogos. There is no genetic evidence that humans ever lived longer than 120 years. The next piece of research comes from ghost and past life research, together they demonstrate multiple lives and help establish an estimate for the average time between incarnations of around 300 years. The only third party verified research on reincarnation is from Ian Stevenson and his predecessor Jim Tucker. These are all special cases of a violent death followed by a relatively quick reincarnation where the memories are fresh. They are important to verify the process, but do not represent the norm - long time between lives with no memory of the past life.

Message me if you want the full bibliography.
Best Wishes, Shawn

I do personally feel that the Patriarchs lived long lives but he use of the long numbers I leave as a mystery of faith and don’t let it effect me at all. While there could be some symbolism to it I feel there has to be more of some realism to the age numbers.

There does seem to be something strange going on with the age determination. We see the first child recorded being fathered at ages 65 and up to 187in early Genesis, implying that sexual maturity was not reached until those ages, yet Abram laughed when God told him he would father a child at age 100, more in line with expectations. Perhaps it is either an indication that those were mythical times, or major problems with translating ages occurred along the way.

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Apeciated. It really is the progressive shortening of life spans that intrigues me. If all the ages were in the 800 to 900 year range, I might easily say that, perhaps, they were reckoning by months and not years, or something like that. Similarly, if there was some sort of numerological code, that would also make similar sense.

But I simply don’t see any explanation for the progressive shortening of life spans in such a consistent pattern, one that would almost fit a statistical curve. It just doesn’t seem consistent with any numerological or even different dating system that I can think of.

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Fatherhood ages are also intriguing… even so, I’d be cautious, as a cursory reading of this part makes me doubt there be any reason we should conclude that the offspring named in the genealogy are the first born (and any such direct implication of sexual maturity)? It seems rather the offspring are named as they are in the line of descendants that happened to get to Noah. Noah was the target and presumed purpose of this genealogy (at least in Gen 5), so I’m dubious they were naming the firstborn sons. Noah could have descended from Methuselah’s 29th son for all we know, right?

And for that matter, we would assume the same about the genealogy arriving at Abraham, that those named in the genealogy are those that trace the line from Shem to Abraham, not necessarily firstborn… but your observation still stands and adds to the intrigue… antediluvian fatherhood dates range from ~ 65-160, postdiluvion (after Seth) are almost all in the 20s and 30s, with the notable exception of Abraham’s Father at 70. As such there seems again a deliberate shift, though with the fatherhood dates I don’t see the gradual/progressive decrease you see with the lifespans.

A thread from a few months back had some good stuff on this:

I mentioned an interesting pattern in the ages of the main patriarchs that I came across in a Genesis commentary by Victor Hamilton:

Abraham: 175 = (7)5^2
Isaac: 180 = (5)6^2
Jacob: 147 = (3)7^2

The factors of these ages include a square of 5, 6, 7. Then we get Joseph.

Joseph: 110 = 5^2 + 6^2 + 7^2

The factor apart from the square also has a pattern. For Joseph, it is simply 1 (the squares themselves), then 3 for Jacob, 5 for Isaac, 7 for Abraham. So it builds up to a 7 using odd numbers.

Seeing as these ages are all from the same book, this is hard to write off as coincidence. Since 110 was viewed as an ideal lifespan in Egypt, that was probably the starting point. Since that number contains the three squares, that may have led the author to the right meaningful numbers for the other patriarchs. But who knows.

There’s also a cool checksum of all the ages from Adam to Moses in the Masoretic text that may explain how the Masoretes ensured the numbers didn’t shift further. Since the checksum only works in their text and not the Septuagint or Samaritan versions, it would imply that either the Masoretes adjusted the numbers to make it work or it dropped out of other versions of Genesis/Exodus before it was noted as something important to preserve.

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I agree we cannot read too much into it, but the pattern of the text follows:
When Seth had lived 105 years, he became the father[b] of Enosh. 7 After he became the father of Enosh, Seth lived 807 years and had other sons and daughters. 8 Altogether, Seth lived a total of 912 years, and then he died.

So, we see noted that he had other children after Enoch, but no note of any before, an unusual omission since the later ones are specifically mentioned. The pattern is consistent in others noted, and is in line with the patriarical system they followed.
My thought is that these are details lost to time, and not essential to the meaning, which is probably to link Abraham and Israel to the beginning. I can understand how that causes distress in some who feel it must be historical truth if it is truth at all, and that mirrors my discomfort when observable physical reality is deemed untrue.

Even more curious is how this is also the case for Adam. The genealogy reads as if Seth is his firstborn (or at least firstborn in his image, if that is some kind of distinction).

Some explain this as the genealogy coming from a different source than the Cain & Abel story, while for others it shows the phrasing isn’t necessarily tied to firstborns. This last reading would obviously be the case if the “had other sons and daughters” clause had been placed after the total number instead of the rest-of-life number, such as this:

After he became the father of Enosh, Seth lived 807 years. Altogether, Seth lived a total of 912 years and had other sons and daughters, and then he died.

Linked as it is with the count of years after the named son, it does naturally read as that son being the firstborn.

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Could this be a case of your eye seeing a pattern that really isn’t supported given the extremely small sample size?

No, I don’t think so. Before the flood, you have 10 folks from Adam to Noah whose ages ranged from 777-969 (Enoch’s early departure the only exception). This “pattern” is quite well recognized and I think indisputable.

Once you hit Abraham, no one else from his date afterwards ever lives past 200, and even after him and Isaac the ages continue the shortening trend.

The only place you see ages of 200-600 are those very particular generations immediately following the flood.

I’m open to exploring the possibility of some kind of confirmation bias on my part here, but I really don’t think so. If I showed the following chart to any statistician, but removed the specifics of what the data was about, do you think any statistician would doubt that there was some statistically significant, progressive trend going on?

What a great topic @Daniel_Fisher, thanks for kicking off the discussion.

Here is an idea, and bear with me, I’m only developing the thought as I type. Perhaps, biblical theology might provide a piece of the puzzle.

The duel themes are Genesis are God’s desire for people to be fruitful and multiply and the impact of the curse. This is played out in the conflict between (has been called) the line of the woman and the line of the serpent. Eg. Abel and Cain, Shem and Ham, Jacob and Esua, Isaac and Ishmael, the list goes on.

So my thinking is this. Certainly, I think there are illusions to the Sumerian king list going on. But whilst the King List gave the rulers large ages to underscore their greatness and deeds, Genesis gives Adams line great ages to illustrate blessing.

These are men the Lord has blessed, made fruitful, and multiply and so are subduing their corners of the earth. But so that no one is under any illusions, their ages are recorded in decreasing order because they are also men living under God’s curse. Though blessed by God they still await the Son of the Eve who would war against the Serpent and his offspring, liberate God’s people from the curse and restore God’s blessing to the world.

Just some theological reflections for the pot. Let me know your thoughts.

Thanks for you contributions everyone. :+1:

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For those looking for a more fuller expression of the blessing/curse interplay of Genesis, look no further than Abraham and Sarah. As a family, Sarah’s tragic infertility means that they feel the full force of living under God’s curse (Gen 3:16), and yet God’s mercy over comes when he promises to bless Abraham with a multiplicity of descendants (fruitful and multiply) and make him into a great nation (subdue and rule).