How did people like Methuselah and Adam live so long?

The Bible lists many people that lived very long lives before the flood; some even passed 900 years of age. My question is two-fold: do you know of any ancient documents besides the Bible that note extremely long lives, and how do you think, scientifically, that this amazing lifespan was able to be accomplished?

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I think it would be a guess, Connor. But it seems to have something to do with the flood, since that was the time and the event that was the beginning of reduced lifespans. Although Noah lived another 450 years after the flood, his children’s lifespans were halved, and progressively lifespans became shorter… Abraham at about 175 years, Moses at 120 years… most of the Israelites in the dessert journey lived considerably shorter than that.

So Noah lived almost as long as Methuselah, even though he went thru the flood. It seems possible there was an accelerated mutation period during the flood, or shortly thereafter, that affected the genetics of descendants. What caused this change in mutation rates is hard to say, but most likely increased radiation of some sort. It could not likely be merely an environmental effect, because otherwise we would expect to find greater variability in lifespans presently… there did appear to be some variability early after the flood. However, we don’t even know for sure what the variability was before the flood, since we do not have ages of any people other than the specific line from Adam to Noah. It may be that there was great variability before, but that the concentration of 8 people during the flood concentrated some specific mutations that reduced lifespans, and reduced lifespan variability. It could be a resistance to disease, to cancer, or an increase in the number of lifetime cell replacement, or a combination. Probably not just resistance to disease, or we would find longer lifespans now. It does not seem likely that the earth is spinning ten times or five times slower since the flood, since biological maturity allowed some to conceive children at the age of 65 or 70, which would be too young if divided by ten, or even if divided by 5. It’s a guess and a mystery, but probably genetic mostly.

@Connor_Mooneyhan ,

This is a complicated question, and there is no consensus on the author among scholars of any persuasion. Last year, @jstump wrote this blog about the question of long life spans in Genesis. I recommend reading it. In short, there are good reasons to think that the long ages of Genesis figures are at least partially symbolic, and are meant to communicate truths about the lives and importance of these figures through their ages (remember that for ancient people, numbers always carried great religious significance).

I’m sorry Brad, but what you’ve written, while it does describe some various attitudes towards these long ages, does not rationally describe why these years should be so long while others are so much shorter. Why is Abraham or Jacob not 500 years old? Why was Enoch only about 350 years old? Why were Noah’s sons not as old as Noah? Why partially symbolic and not completely symbolic or why not, not-symbolic? They are only meant to convey “symbolic” truths, if you don’t believe the ages are real. It is unscientific to conclude they are not real, unless you have evidence they are not real. Besides, the decrease in the lifespans after the flood was not completely abrupt, but gradual, although it was a steep curve downwards. This does not make sense if the ages were just symbolic. Nor does pure symbolism make sense with the account of the ages of birth of the sons. There is something else going on. This is not some fanciful mythological event story; it is an accounting of the history of the ancestors of the people of Israel, and to some extent of the entire world. In fact, there is barely a story attached to the early pre-flood ancestors… it is a boring account of fathers and sons, one after the other, with no real significance attached to most of them, other than the fact that they were ancestors.

Using number significance for ancient people as an argument for not taking real numbers seriously, is a serious fallacy.

@johnZ I partially agree with you here. I’m actually reading a book of scholarly perspectives on Gen. 1-11 right now. Even though a wide variety of views are represented in the book, all scholars agree that the writers of Genesis had historical events in mind when they wrote the text. However, all of the scholars also agreed that the texts are far more complex than simple recitations of historical facts, and it is extremely difficult to parse out the exact level at which they are linked to these facts. A great example is the account of the Nephilim, for instance, but this ambiguity applies generally to the whole primeval narrative (Gen. 1-11).

Given this, I think it’s prudent to evaluate a question like the long life spans in Genesis with this ambiguity in mind. I personally agree with you that symbolism, by itself, is not totally satisfactory to explain the life spans, but I don’t think literalism is a good option either. A 900-year human life span is something for which we have zero historical, scientific, or archeological evidence (to my knowledge). I also think it’s fairly clear (for the reasons in Jim’s blog) that the ages are at least partially embellished, even if they are not completely symbolic. I understand that, for you, the scripture trumps these considerations, but I don’t think it’s prudent to ignore them. Therefore, the options (as I see them are):

  1. The life spans are totally symbolic (used by writers to make larger points)
  2. The life spans are an admixture of historical reference and mythologized history (in other words, the stories are referring to real people but are more interested in using these people as part of ancient historiographic narratives).

I prefer option 2. Is it far messier than I would prefer? Do I often wish interpretation of these matters was simpler? Absolutely. But I have to deal with the actual text, not my desires.

Yes, there are ancient documents that list people living extraordinarily long lives.

Specifically I’m thinking of the list of Sumerian Kings

Then the flood came.

Clearly the lengths of these reigns are symbolic. But what is more interesting is the fact that Ziusudra mentioned in WB-62 mirrors the hero Noah and the 9 kings that lead up to him mirror the 9 patriarchs we see extending from Adam to Lamech.

See the presentations available here

Clearly the Genesis account borrows from and extends on this older Sumerian mythology and these numbers aren’t literal, they are symbolic.

Very interesting, Ace. Thanks for sharing. I wasn’t aware of that.

The question remains as to whether the writers of Genesis had historical events (and people in mind). In other words, did the process of divine inspiration subvert their ancient historical beliefs, or simply subvert the ancient theological mindset and replace it with YHWH as sovereign creator. I lean towards the latter, but I’m very aware of how it affects discussions of biblical authority.


John, I agree that it is dangerous to discount miraculous ages and Biblical authority solely because I might be uncomfortable or skeptical about those ages. However, to read those ages as literal creates its own risk. How do you account for the authority of God given that these ages are listed well after God limits mankind to 120 years? It doesn’t seem very ambiguous to me. God says “…there days will be…” and then…they generations are born and SEEM to deny the will of God by living well past 120 years. Unless those numbers had a purpose other than purely genealogy, then there appears to be another problem entirely. How do you approach that?


Ace, Brad, and Jim: There is nothing “clearly” about Genesis borrowing from the Sumerian account. If anything, they both borrow from a common ancestor. Or the sumerian account is a distortion of the genesis account. The sumerian account cannot be claimed older than the other merely because there is a written document or tablet found. We know some aboriginal accounts and stories are very much older than Shakespeare, even though there is no written evidence of it. But these ages are vastly different… by a factor of more than 30. In addition, while the fact that half or three quarters of the Genesis numbers end in 10 or five seems odd, it is not nearly as odd as the infinitesimal odds of having such an improbable thing as evolution or a-biogenesis happen. It is well within the range of probability without invoking some unnatural or artificial or symbolic cause. Clearly, the symbolism breaks down. Also, the fact that Enoch lived only about one third as long as most, was not just an outlier, but rather well noted “that God took him”, signifying that he died from perhaps unnatural causes, or unusual circumstances.

In addition, in the sumerian accounts, while the “60” is invoked, it really tells us nothing of the significance of why the second multiplier is used… so any symbolism is completely lost. Nor did this even explain what the actual significance of the “60” was, other than being a “wedge”. Symbolism without meaning? In any case, the ages are not parallel in any way, even though the number of kings seems to be similar… the ages are not similar, nor proportionate, so it is senseless to equate the numerology of the lists. Since the Genesis account does not follow a consistent rule (of ending in a multiple of five), even that is not scientifically viable as an indicator of something other than mere recording of age. Your Dennis Lamoureux is clearly grasping at straws, and his analysis is vacant and baseless.

It is more likely that the sumerian account perverted the actual account or is dealing with “kings”, rather than ancestors of men of God, while the Genesis account brings the lifespan of the ancestors after the flood into line with present observations within about seven generations. This follows the promise of God that lifespans would be reduced to 120 years. God purposed this, and it is reasonable to see that this happened after the flood, not in an immediate miraculous manner, but rather in a semi-miraculous natural manner over time as the decline followed a rather steep curve downwards. This is also likely a consequence of changed genetics, combined with environmental conditions that led to increased mutations… The first three after the flood had half the lifespan, and the next three had half the lifespan again, and then it continued to decline (generally), until the time of Moses. The fulfillment of the prophecy of man’s decline certainly took less time than the coming of Christ, and less time than the second coming, which since we have been in the last days for some time, should not put to shame the fulfillment of lifespan decline. Of course, if you don’t believe the pre-flood ages, why should you believe that God even said that lifespans would decline?

It is also possible, perhaps likely, that the Sumerian account dealt with multiple overlapping kings rather than only one king at a time, just as the Egyptian accounts also did at times. The Genesis account was not concerned about multiple lineages, although a bit of Cain’s descendants were described. The Genesis account was concerned with the line of descent, and this was also the primary account elsewhere in the beginning with regard to ancestors of king David, and then ancestors of Christ.

I have a theory that uses physics.

This has not been confirmed but does make sense. We do not know what the time period of a Day would be if the earth, was surrounded by a “water shield” or firmament. Imagine for a moment, that the tilt angle which is 23.25 degrees, was literally at 24 degrees. That the rush of the water caused the “wobble” and changed our tilt angle to what it presently is 23.25 degrees.

So now I pose these questions: 1. with a water shield, would man live longer, and would man grow bigger? 2. with the flood occurring causing the tilt angle to change, and the shield of water no longer there could the ultraviolet rays from the sun be causing this limited life span of 70/80 years today, where in the past the life span was 120?

@Anthony_Tony_Ambruti I know of very few young-earth creationists who still believe that the Earth was ever covered by a “water-shield” of any sort. I just talked with a staff member at the Institute of Creation Research recently who confirmed this for me. They have disavowed that belief because there is no way it could scientifically work without the planet frying from an extreme greenhouse effect.

Well, if we use what we know of science, the water shield makes sense. Looking at genesis, there were only four things that existed in the beginning. One was water, one was God, one was darkness, and lastly was the void of the earth. Time did not come into play until the third day.

Therefore, logically speaking and going according to Genesis, light was the first thing created. This set into motion a day, however, the light did not come from the sun, like we are all accustomed to believe through science. Because the Sun, moon, and stars were all created on the fourth day. Making water, the earth, darkness, and God all older than time.

Using the time line of Moses, These three days are unaccounted for.

If we were to assume, the scale as defined through Isaiah as one day for God is a thousand years to man, then we have some sort of conversion factor here. For the seven days of creation is seven thousand years. But there is another problem.

Since time as we know it is defined as movement through space. And a day is defined as one rotation of the axis of the earth, this is also known as a solar day.

Looking at the factors that make up this solar day, it is the spin of the earth, the angle of that spin, and the speed of that spin. Since the earth doesn’t rotate perfectly around its axis, for currently there is a “wobble” or precess, it would further make sense, that the earth in its current state could not support a water shield.

However, If time started on the third day, there is three thousand years unaccounted for before the begining of time(or a solar day/year conversion).

Add to this “time” the solar time. Now, we can say there is seven thousand years it took for creation to be completed. But that still does not account for all the time from the end of creation till now.

Again there is another anomaly. We do not know for sure how long Adam and Eve were in the garden of Eden. We assume because the way Moses wrote Genesis, that the fall of man occurred immediately after the creation of man. This can be debunked by a statement Moses made during the description of the fall of man. Because Eve must have been pregnant at some point in the Garden to understand the punishment that God gave her by increasing her pains in childbirth.

There is a precession of the earth, (which describes the wobble), that is approximately 5%. This is described by using the North Star as a reference point in the sky and measuring the sun through out the year at the horizon. For the sun rises/sets at one point of the year in the North and on the other part of the year in the south. We can now say the sun rises in the Northeast, in the summer(for the northern hemisphere) and the sun rises in the southeast, in the winter(for the southern hemisphere), so taking the measurement at the equator we can thus see the 5 degree, precession.

This wobble or precession was not present according to the pre-flood ancient stories. So adding up all the generations from the time Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden comes to roughly 1200+years again the precession is important in computing this time. So I compiled all of this in a formula:

(3000years[first three days before the creation of the sun]+4000years[four days after the creation of time])+(x[a variable to denote the creation of humanity(Adam and Eve) until they sinned])=a

a is the time period where the earth was at a 0 degree wobble with a firmament

The next time period can be denoted as the the time between the fall of man until the flood. It is here that man’s time span was 1000 years. This 1000 years is considered one day. Genesis describes that “upon the day you eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, you shall surely die”, Adam lived 940-ish years. Therefore, it is assumed that he spent 60 years in the garden of Eden. Upon other scientific evidence that constantly is coming to life, it may not be so. So we can say for a fact we do not know how long Adam was in the Garden of Eden.

During this time between Eden and the Flood, the earth had a firmament. This firmament caused the completion of the precession that is experienced today. When the waters of the atmosphere hit the earth all at once emptying the firmament then the precession was completed, and thus the lifespan on planet earth was reduced. Imagine the force of water emptying the sky in forty days.

So it is here we have our second variable. b=1245 ish years that needs to be converted so we can add a+b but here is the problem. We do not know what the conversion factor is. This is the second anomaly. The bible describes the variable a’s conversion, but not variable b’s conversion. And it has been roughly 4000 years since Noah’s Flood. So if we add a+b+c then that is the age of creation.

In the past people tried to add a+b+c and failed to use vector math, and concluded that the earth was some 10,000 years old, when we only have with some sort of accuracy, 4000 years of the variable c.

One thing we do know for sure is, there was some event that brought upon the flood which also caused the reduction of the life span. What that is, is still unknown.

So let me recap for a minute:

a=(3000+4000+x) where 3000 years occured before time existed, and 4000 years is the rest of creation, and x is the time Adam spent in the garden of Eden)
**b=(1245 years)**This is an approximation, if you add up the lifespans and deaths, from Adam to Noah the first part of b is solved.
**c=(2015+1500+480+500)**Where 2015 is how long it has been since Christ’s birth plus/minus 5 years. 1500 years since the destruction of King Solomon first temple, 480 years since the exile from Egypt. Then another 500 years from Noah to Joseph. Now you may want to check these numbers but I am confident they are fairly accurate. About 5000 (+/- 500 years), since the flood.

Now before we can add a+b+c we need to convert these numbers to a common denominator. Since the earth has changed it’s spin, and due to that reason, a day is redefined for each section of time. Creation, Pre-flood, and post flood, days cannot be added linearly.

And with the two variables, an accurate date cannot be established. Is the Earth millions of years old, like science says, that is highly possible. Does this mean as the earth changed time, did the lifespans change with it. I believe so.

What do you all think?

@Anthony_Tony_Ambruti This is impressive. I love mathematics, so when I saw your inclusion of that in your theory, it made me glad. However, the greenhouse effect, as Brad mentioned, does still come into play. Find a clear cup of water and look into the side of it. The things on the other side are magnified, right? That means that the light is changing its normal trajectory because of refraction, and that would definitely be a concern if the Earth was covered with a “water shield”. Light gives a little bit of heat, and a too much of that formed by the water shield refraction would cause us to burn up.

Instead, the firmament can be understood as something else: an author’s lens of the story. Moses, when he wrote Genesis, held the same views about cosmology as everyone around him. We know what they believed. They already believed this:
(That’s a picture from BioLogos by the way) This explains why Moses wrote Genesis the way he did. In this view, the firmament was actually solid sky, and it was holding up the waters. Here comes the refraction problem. We would burn up. It is more likely that when God revealed Genesis to Noah (however he did it), Noah interpreted what God told him through the lens of this view of the Earth. This doesn’t take away from the authority of Scripture, but it does make us realize that the Bible was written for us, but it wasn’t written to us. It was written in the culture of the day, and that is how we must interpret it. We cannot make it claim something (like the existence of the firmament) that it was never meant to claim. The ancient people were not so much interested in the things that were actually in the universe, as they were in the function that they served.

Here arises some problems with one of your starting assumptions. Namely, that the only things in existence before the first day were the water(s), God, darkness, and the “void of the earth”. The waters are not the problem here, and neither is God. The darkness is mysterious, and I don’t know enough about it to speak on it. However, the void of the earth is incorrect. When it says “without form, and void”, void is an adjective. Also, the Hebrew words for this, tohu wabohu, meant much more than the English interpretation said. In short, they didn’t mean that the Earth literally had “no shape”, but that it was useless: God was not yet using the Earth for any purpose. A better term for this is that it had no function.

Furthermore, when God “creates” things in Genesis, we have to look at the Hebrew word for it, bara, to see what Moses meant by “create”. After a lot of study, it makes the most sense to say that bara means not to create materially like we would think in our culture, but perhaps a better definition would be “to assign function to”. So when God then begins to assign function to everything, we have the Creation story. You can read all about functional Creation in The Lost World of Genesis One by John H. Walton.

That being said, your argument was very well thought out, but it seems to not match up with reality.

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I’m glad you said, “God was assigning a function to” instead of God was creating. That is a great view point and have began for sometime now looking at creation in that sense.

As far as the water shield, if we take a glass of water, we see that the water is not moving. In this sense the greenhouse effect, or perhaps the magnifying effect would take place, thus making it so, that everything would burn up.

But what if that water, in the water shield was moving. And what if that movement was depended on the movement of the earth?

Basically, imagine if the earth was spinning faster than what it is today, thus making the waters of the ocean rise in an escape velocity to form a water shield around the earth serving two purposes, 1. cooling the rays of the sun, thus creating an Ozone layer, for example. And 2. providing the perfect temperature for the inhabitants of the earth. Is this possible? What do you think?

Remember we must look at the stories as a “witness” statement to what had happened, not whether it is myth, legend, fact or fiction. It is how man witnessed what had happened. So, these descriptions may seem on the surface farfetched but looking at it in an abstract way, makes it possible.

God has a history of using nature towards His will. What I am wondering is if we could spin the liquid water, would the effect be like a magnifying glass, or could it do what they described? Then when the earth started to slow down, the firmament collapsed. Thus, the flood. Which would be blamed on the sinning of men and angels. Make sense?

@Anthony_Tony_Ambruti Interesting. I want to first clarify that we are both assuming that God is working through natural processes and nothing necessarily miraculous is happening. This is certainly okay to assume, since we usually see Him working through natural processes, and all natural processes are created by Him anyways. I think it is good to note, however, that God certainly could have done something miraculous and not caused light refraction on the water.

This does make sense. I am pretty sure, though, that the refraction in the water would be the same even if it was moving. Refraction happens because the density of the water is larger than that of the air, and the density would not change much, if at all, if the water was moving. The only change would be due to the possible increase in kinetic energy caused by the force making the water move, but if it was still a liquid (which it certainly would be), the density would be pretty much the same.

I like your comment about the writing being a “witness statement”. Let me clarify what I said before about cultural context with an example. Imagine you and I observe go through a machine that shrinks us down to the size of an electron. While we are this size, we observe many strange things. One such thing would be that some molecules would occasionally “go through” a thin solid object, which is called quantum tunneling. This happens on the quantum level because there is a cloud of electrons around everything, and if those electron clouds get very close together, there is a probability that the molecule will actually “teleport” a very small distance through that solid object. We would be very confused at this because this doesn’t happen in our everyday lives, nor should we expect it to. The probability of it happening on such a large level, though, is so small that it is safe to say that it is realistically impossible.

So, we go back into our machine and become normal-sized again. Out of instinct, we want to tell everyone about what we saw. But let’s say we didn’t have the knowledge of quantum tunneling that I just stated. We would most likely tell everyone that we saw something teleport through a wall. Well, that is what we saw in some sense, but we told it through the lens of what we already know about the world. Obviously, teleportation is (at least, currently), the stuff of science fiction, and people would think we were crazy

Though not a great example, that gives a kind of glimpse into Moses’s experience with God. If God inspired the Scripture through a vision (which is safe to assume, but it is an assumption), then Moses would have come back and told it to people using the language that made sense to him. So, whatever he witnessed, it must have been interpreted through what he already “knew” about the way the world was. Does that make sense?

Yes it does make sense. Let’s take this a step further. What if I said that Jesus Christ, as we know Him from the bible, existed in three separate stories of the bible all at the same time? Do you think that is possible?

As far as I know, and as translators have indicated, the word firmanent should be understood as “expanse”, and has been translated as “expanse”.

While refraction of light is interesting, it can only cause an increase in heat if all the light/heat is concentrated in the same spot. This has nothing to do with the greenhouse effect, which is caused differently. The greenhouse effect is the net total of incoming radiation vs outgoing radiation. CO2, CH4, N2O, humidity all retain the radiation bounced back from earth to the sky/expanse. Although clouds retain radiation from the earth at night, during the day, clouds bounce solar radiation back into space before it can hit the earth and warm the earth in the process. We experience this through the shade of the clouds, when we notice a cooling effect compared to being exposed to direct sunlight. If there was an actual water layer in the sky, it would likely cool the earth by preventing more solar radiation from coming through than at present, though one would have to do a full cycle energy accounting to be sure. It would depend on what form the water was in. If our present clouds disappeared, the earth would likely be about 5C warmer.(ISCCP)

I think He could do anything. Are you perhaps referring to the accounts of Melchizedek, or something different?

@johnZ I see what you’re saying about refraction, but I would argue that the light is concentrated. Since the water above would be (assuming it is evenly distributed above the firmament/expanse) convex from the point of view of the sun, wouldn’t the light rays concentrate towards a point?

The Hebrew word for firmament/expanse is raqiya. In Strong’s Concordance, it says that one of the translations is, as you said, “expanse”. In fact, it says “extended surface (solid), expanse, fimament”. Under that definition it says that an expanse is “flat as base, support”. In this case, I think expanse and firmament are equally valid and they mean the same thing.

Look at the Transfiguration, where Christ was conferring to Moses, Ellijah, and the Apostles all at the same time. But for us, it happened three different times in history.