Genesis 5:27 tells us that Methuselah lived for 969 years. While he is the champion of longevity, Genesis records all of the men of that time living hundreds of “years.” We put “years” in quotes because there has been a lot of speculation as to how a human can live that long–or whether any human would want to. There are many life expectancy factors to consider.
We have suggested that at the very early period in human history the definition of a year may have been very different from what it is today. Interestingly, other cultures such as Chinese, Egyptian, and Aztec recorded humans living hundreds or even thousands of years. We know that in some cases they based their year on the Moon or climatic factors, not the Sun. Those of us who have been blessed with very long lives know that the quality of life decreases logarithmically with age. As an octogenarian, I can tell you that living 969 years is something I would not want to experience.
Another question connected to this issue is whether the damage we do to ourselves with diet and recreational drugs accounts for some of this age issue. In The Week for May 4, 2018 (page 21) there are two interesting news reports. One is a study on Vox.com which reports that being a night owl produces a 10% greater risk of death than early risers The study also shows that chronic health issues such as diabetes, neurological disorders, and respiratory disease are more likely in night owls because they live in a perpetual state of jet lag.
In the same issue of The Week carried a report from Cambridge University showing that even moderate drinking of alcohol cuts years off a person’s life. Two or three drinks a day can cut up to two years off a person’s life. A study of 600,000 people reported on CNN.com lists eight major health hazards that come from moderate drinking.
How much can all of this do to shorten life expectancy? Probably not 900 years, but research is showing the effect of human indulgences in unwise lifestyles are greater life expectancy factors than anyone knew. When you add genetic issues to the equation, the idea of nomadic people who avoided the germ spreading environment of primitive cities is not as far-fetched as it appeared 25 years ago.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
For another possible explanation of Methuselah’s long life check out our previous post.
One question that keeps coming up is how ancient people recorded in the Bible lived so many years. How old was Methuselah? Genesis 5:27 tells us that Methuselah lived 969 years. How can that be?
As I hit my eightieth birthday with all the aches and pains that go with old age, I have to ask why anyone would WANT to live that long. The ancient Hebrew texts tell us that people in those days had aches and pains too. You might say that their bodies were different from ours, but that isn’t what the evidence shows. You can date a human bone by a careful study of the bone material itself and studies have shown that people in ancient times had very short lifespans by our standards.
We have discussed this issue in the past, and one possible explanation we have mentioned is that they weren’t using our method of measuring time. Julius Caesar gave us the calendar in 45 B.C., and Pope Gregory adjusted it long after the time of Christ, but ancient people used celestial objects to measure time. Some scholars have given another possible answer to the time issue. Perspectives on Science and the Christian Faith (Volume 55 #4, pages 239-251) and Brevard S. Child’s book Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture pages 152-3 suggest a cultural answer to this question.
In Mesopotamia, great people were honored by assigning them an age that was symbolic of their character or accomplishments rather than reporting their chronological age. The ancient Sumerian king list records, “In Eridu, Alulim became king; he ruled for 28,800 years.” The picture shows one surviving copy of the Sumerian king list. The list also tells of other kings with even longer reigns. It should be pretty obvious that this is not referring to chronological age. Other cultures of that time did the same thing. The Chinese recorded their rulers as having very long lifespans comparable to Methuselah’s.
So how old was Methuselah? Remember what it means to take the Bible literally. It means you look at who wrote it, to whom it was written, why it was written, and how people of the time would have understood it. The age of Methuselah is not an error, but rather it may be an accurate recording of what the author had in mind when he gave credit to this great man of faith.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Reference: Child, Brevard S., Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, Fortress Press, © 1979, ISBN 0-8006-0532-2