The ages of the Patriarchs in Genesis 5

The ages given for how long the people in Genesis 5 lived seem improbable. Can you explain them?

That’s a good question. I am still unsure of what to believe – I know God could have chosen to supernaturally preserve certain people for a time, but it seems more likely to me that we in the West are so used to seeing numbers as pure data and miss the deeper significance that numbers would have had to the ancient Hebrews. BioLogos has a series that addresses some questions about the genealogies:

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I’ve come across a helpful video my Michael Jones. Genesis 1-11 | InspiringPhilosophy
And an article on line: The Ages of the Antediluvian Patriarchs In Genesis 5 | Bible.org

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Thanks for the Middleton article! Also very helpful.

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I find the old ages improbable also. The most compelling thing to me is actually their teeth. We only get one set of teeth, and in societies where they ground grains coarsely on stone (often sandstone) and had tough meat they chewed off bones, teeth are worn out quickly. They would have spent the last 500 years of life gumming their food.

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If the ages of the patriarchs were literal and real, then they must have been (a) miraculous, and (b) the exception, not the rule.

Some people believe that they indicate that everyone lived longer in those days. There is no justification for such a view whatsoever, either scientifically, historically, or Biblically.

If you look at everyone else who is mentioned in Genesis, the only people who are described as having long lives are the patriarchs – those in the direct line from Adam to Joseph. You don’t see similarly long lives for anyone in Cain’s line, for example, nor for any of the other characters who get mentioned throughout Genesis. You don’t even read about them for Esau or Joseph’s brothers. In fact, the most prominent thing that you read about in Cain’s line is that they murdered each other.

I think that it must all serve to illustrate the contrast between the two ways that people can take – the way of sin and death on the one hand, or the way of life on the other.

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All of the ages being multiples of 5, or multiples of 5 plus 7, 14, or 28, in the standard modern versions, and different in the Septuagent, and Masoretic, seems a bit strange. If they are intended to be taken as having been originally literal, then I worked through the math, and got that that separating off any multiples of seven, dividing by five (or, for the Genesis 11 ages, 2 or 3), and converting it from a 1-6-60 system to a 1-10-100 system produces plausible ages (up to 117 for the Genesis 5 ages, and 125 for the highest later one, Terah), and plausible ages for birth of children (always at least 13) for everybody, whilst keeping Abraham’s and Sarah’s ages at childbirth unreasonably high for the time. They could also be symbolic in some way that we no longer know about.

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I’m not sure I follow. Could you give us one or two examples?

For example, Methuselah’s age of fathering Lamech, and his age of death could be interpreted as follows: His age at fathering Lamech is given as 187, if that is written in a 1-6-60 counting system, it would be 115, which is 5x23, giving an age at Lamech’s birth of 23. His age after fathering Lamech is given as 782, if that is written in a 1-6-60 counting system, it would be 470. 470=5x94, hence 94+23, or 117 years at death, in this system.

Enoch’s age at Methuselah’s birth would end up as 13 (65/5), and his age at “death” would be 49.

Further along, Noah’s age at the birth of his sons would be 60, and his age at death, 114.

Shem would end up at 20 and 80, Peleg, 15 and 83, and Terah, 42 and 125. Abraham and Sarah would have Isaac at 60 and 54, and die at 107 and 79, respectively.

For certain values, you have to alter it a bit to work, like 60s and 30s being original would be required.

I do not consider this system define, or anything, but it is an interesting possibility.

I think it’s a reference to the sexagesimal system. I know it was used in Mesopotamia. But I know next to nothing about it. I also have no idea how it’s being converted. One day I’ll have to try though. I don’t think it would be to hard to learn it. But who knows.

So I’m thinking 100 would be 60. But I have no idea if 101 would be 60 or 61 or if I’m completely misunderstanding it. Which is very likely.

You mean base 16?

I don’t know anything about it. All I know of I seen someone in a Jewish group once asked about a 60 numerical system and it was called Sexagesimal and I saved it as a note. Only one person responded and they said look at it as 60 equals 100. I then spent 2 minutes looking at it and never thought of it again until now.

I looked it up. Sexagesimal is base 60, used by Babylonians, etc. I don’t see how you get 60 = 100

10 (base 60) would equal 60 (base 10)

All o can say is what I said.

I don’t know anything about it. This is what some supposed rabbi said in a Jewish group like 2 years ago. My notes were:

Did Jews use sexagesimal.
Rabbi dude with Yarf name said 1/60 look at 60 as their 100.
Mesopotamian.

That’s the only three sentences I had written down.

I don’t even know if that is the system being used by the marine biologist/ paleontologist is referring too. Just sparked that memory.

I first learned about different base systems in elementary school. The teacher said that base two (binary) was used in computers. I could hardly believe the teacher. After all, computers are very complicated, so how could they do anything using just ones and zeroes for digits? Much later I went into computer programming, and learned that by golly, teacher was right! Base two made perfect sense for computers. Other bases you see in programming are octal (base 8) and hexadecimal (base 16).

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They are pure Jewish and pre- myth. What that has got to do with God in Christ?

Replying generally on sexagesimal:

The standard number system in ancient Mesopotamia, but not really other places (to my knowledge) was a modified form of sexagesimal in which the digits (written in cuneiform) 125 would be 1 60 plus 2 10s plus 5 1s, or 85. The digits would go in the order 3600s, 600s, 60s, 10s, 1s. The Mesopotamian sexagesimal system is where we get 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, 360 degrees in a circle, arcminutes, and arcseconds.

In the case of something like 782, under the standard Mesopotamian system it would be 7x60+8x10+2x1, however, the system I (out of curiosity) worked through the math for would take 782 as 7x60+8x6+2x1.

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So, wouldn’t 125 be 205 (2-60s, 0-10s, 5-1s) ? Not that it matters, I’ll leave that to the experts.

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125 in a standard base ten system would be written as 205 in either a 60-10-1 or a 60-6-1 system.

So it’s not really base 60 then. More like a hybrid system.

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