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Long Lifespans of the Patriarchs in the Book of Genesis

Julian Spriggs M.A.

Related articles

How to interpret OT Narratives Introduction to Genesis
Are chapters 1 to 11 of Genesis historical? Long lives of the patriarchs
Chronology of the flood (Gen 7-8)
Table of the Nations (Gen 10) The Tower of Babel (Gen 11)
Names of God in the Old Testament Covenants in the Old Testament

Genealogies in the Book of Genesis

The genealogies in the Book of Genesis are highly criticised, with the result that most Bible scholars ignore them, rejecting them as mere fables. In today’s world the idea of people living nearly a thousand years is unthinkable.

The problem with the long lifespans of the patriarchs, is that if they are taken without any gaps between the generations, they imply that the earth is young, only a few thousand years old, in complete contradiction to the age of the earth claimed by the theory of evolution.

However, if the genealogy is taken at face value, there are some interesting observations, which can be seen in the diagram below. The scale of the diagram is only approximate, but shows the overall timespan of the patriarchs from Adam to Noah, and down the line of Shem to Jacob. The age of the patriarch at their death is shown to the right of the lifespan box. References are given where there is space to show them.

In the Book of Genesis, the genealogy is given in two parts. The first traces the descendants of Adam down to Noah and his sons before the flood (Gen 5:1-32). The second traces the descendants from Noah to Abraham (Gen 11:10-27).

Creation Flood Babel
Adam (5:3) 930
Seth (5:6) 912
Enosh (5:9) 905
Kenan (5:12) 910
Mahalalel (5:15) 895
Jared (5:18) 962
Enoch (5:21) 365
Methuselah (5:25) 969
Lamech (5:28) 777
Noah (5:32) 950
Shem (11:10) 600
Arpachshad (11:12) 438
Shelah (11:14) 433
Eber (11:16) 464
Peleg (11:18) 239
Reu (11:20) 239
Serug
230
Nahor 148
Terah
205
Abram 175
0 100 200 300 400 500 600 700 800 900 1000 1100 1200 1300 1400 1500 1600 1700 1800 1900 2000

Overall timespan of the Patriarchs

The flood was about 1650 years after the original creation. Abraham was born about 300 years after the flood, and a little under 2000 years after creation.

Internal consistency

The genealogies are consistent in themselves, without contradictions. The genealogies are also consistent with the other genealogies in the Bible, including those in the Book of Chronicles (1 Chr 1:1-24), and the Gospel of Luke (Lk 3:34-38). In the Book of Jude, Enoch is “in the seventh generation from Adam” (Jude 14), which matches Genesis (5:1-20).

Decrease of lifespans after the flood

There was a dramatic decrease of lifespan following the flood. Before the flood, most of the patriarchs lived around 900 years, but after the flood this reduced rapidly to 200 years or under. This matches the statement made by God in connection with the rather strange account of the sons of God and the daughters of men. “Then the LORD said, 'My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred and twenty years'.” (Gen 6:3). It was this great wickedness that led God to send the flood (6:7).

Later, when the Pharaoh of Egypt asked Jacob how old he was, Jacob compared his short life of 130 years with the long lives of the patriarchs. “Jacob said the Pharaoh, 'The years of my earthly sojourn are 130; few and hard have been the years of my life. They do not compare with the years of the life of my ancestors during their long sojourn'” (Gen 47:9). It would imply the life after the flood was far harsher than before.

Lamech

Lamech’s life overlapped all the patriarchs from Adam to Noah. Adam was the six times great grandfather of Lamech. He was living at the same time as all patriarchs before flood. He would know their lifespans and many details of their lives.

Enoch

Enoch's life was only about a third as long as the other patriarchs. This explanation is given, "Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him" (5:24). He is listed among the heroes of faith in the Book of Hebrews, "By faith Enoch was taken so he did not experience death; and 'he was not found, because God had taken him'. For it was attested before he was taken away that 'he had pleased God'" (Heb 11:5).

Methuselah

Methuselah’s name means something like, 'when he dies, judgement'. He was the longest living of all the patriarchs - 969 years, and eventually died in the year of the flood. His life and name is a powerful statement of God’s grace and reluctance to judge. God was willing to wait almost a thousand years before sending judgement, in the hope that people will repent.

Noah

Noah, together with his three sons (and the four wives), are the only ones of the patriarchs to survive the flood. All the pre-flood patriarchs had already come to the end of their lives. "... Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water". (1 Pet 3:20). All the generations following Shem were born after the flood.

Shem

Shem actually outlived all but one of the following nine generations, including Abraham, his seven times great grandson. Jewish tradition identifies Shem as Melchizedek, “And Malka Zadika, who was Shem bar Noah, the king of Yerushalem, came forth to meet Abram, and brought forth to him bread and wine; and in that time he ministered before Eloha Ilaha. (And Malki Zedek, king of Yerushalem, who was Shem, who was the great priest of the Most High.) And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the Lord God Most High, who for the righteous possesseth the heavens and the earth. And blessed be Eloha Ilaha, who hath made thine enemies as a shield which receiveth a blow. And he gave to him one of ten, of all which he brought back.” (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on Genesis 14:8)

When returning from the war of the kings, Abraham was met by Melchizedek who blessed him. “And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was a priest of God Most High. He blessed him and said, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!’” (Gen 14:18-20)

Melchizedek’s name means 'king of righteousness', and he was king of Salem, that is king of peace (Heb 7:2). This suggests that Melchizedek is a title, rather than a name, making it quite possible that he can be identified as Shem.

Eber

Eber outlived the next six generations, including Abraham. The Hebrew people were named after him, being known as the 'children of Eber', or Hebrews (10:21, 14:13).

Peleg

Peleg’s name means ‘division’, “for in his days the earth was divided” (10:25). This probably refers to the scattering of the nations following The Tower of Babel (Gen 11). This would suggest that the Tower of Babel was about 100 years after the flood.

Differences in the Septuagint (LXX)

There are some significant differences between the Hebrew text for the genealogies in Genesis chapter 11 and the Greek Septuagint. The Septuagint regularly adds 100 years to the ages of Shem's line (Gen 11) when they had a son, while the age at the death of each patriarch remains the same.

At the time of Jesus the Greek Septuagint was the commonly used version of the Scriptures (our OT). The NT quotations of the OT are normally from the Septuagint, which accounts for minor differences when compared with the passages being quoted in the OT.

The main manuscripts used to translate the Book of Genesis today are the Samaritan Pentateuch, from about the first century AD, the Masoretic text from around the 9th century AD, and the Septuagint, translated into Greek around 250 BC. Fragments of the Book of Genesis were discovered in the Dead Sea Scrolls, but those do not include chapter 11. It appears that there are more similarities between the Septuagint and the Samaritan Pentateuch. Both have the extra 100 years before the birth of the son of seven of the patriarchs between Arpachshad and Nahor, which are not there in the Masoretic text (Gen 11:12-25).

The Septuagint would have been translated from an earlier Hebrew manuscript (from before 250 BC). In the process of textual criticism, earlier manuscripts are normally considered to be more accurate than more recent ones. However, when the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah (dated between the second century BC and the first century AD) was compared with the Masoretic text from nearly 1000 years later, there were very few minor differences in the text, so the Masoretic text is normally considered to be quite accurate.

Patriarch Masoretic Text Samaritan Pentateuch
and Septuagint
Arpachshad (11:12-13) 35 135
Shelah (11:14-15) 30 130
Eber (11:16-17) 34 134
Peleg (11:18-19) 30 130
Reu (11:20-21) 32 132
Serug (11:22-23) 30 130
Nahor (11:24-25) 29 179
Total 220 970

Where there are differences, this would suggest that the Septuagint and Samaritan Pentateuch versions are more likely to be correct, or at least be closer to the original text, than the Masoretic text, so the extra hundred years should probably be included. If this is true, then the time period between Seth and Abraham should be increased by 750 years. This would allow more time for events like the Tower of Babel and scattering of the nations to take place.

Josephus also would have used the Septuagint as his source, so he included the extra hundred years of the age of the father before the birth of each patriarch (Ant 1.6.5).

The problem of the extra Cainan

The Septuagint also adds an additional generation of Cainan, between Arpachshad and Shelah (v12-13), who is also included in Luke's genealogy of Jesus (Lk 3:6). Luke would have used the Septuagint as his source. Cainan does not appear in the genealogy in 1 Chronicles (1:17ff), or the Samaritan Pentateuch, so there is no easy way to decide whether he should be included or not. Cainan is not included by Josephus or by the Septuagint translation of 1 Chronicles (1 Chr 1:27). Perhaps he was included accidentally in the Septuagint translation of Gen 11.

Related articles

How to interpret OT Narratives Introduction to Genesis
Are chapters 1 to 11 of Genesis historical? Long lives of the patriarchs
Chronology of the flood (Gen 7-8)
Table of the Nations (Gen 10) The Tower of Babel (Gen 11)
Names of God in the Old Testament Covenants in the Old Testament

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Why These 66 Books?
Books in the Hebrew Scriptures
Quotations in NT From OT
OT Passages Quoted in NT
History of the English Bible
Twelve Books of the Apocrypha
The Pseudepigrapha - False Writings
Lost Books Referenced in OT

Old Testament Overview

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OT 1: Creation and Patriarchs
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OT 4: Divided kingdom and Exile
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OT 6: 400 Silent Years

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NT 5: John and Later NT

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Information about the different nations surrounding Israel, and other articles concerning Old Testament history and the inter-testamental period.

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Antiochus IV - Epiphanes

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More theological topics include warfare in the ancient world, the Holy Spirit in the OT, and types of Jesus in the OT.

OT People Confirmed by Archaeology
The Jewish Calendar
The Importance of Paradox
Talent Converter (weights)
Cubit Converter (lengths)
OT People Search
Ephah Converter (volumes)
Holy War in the Ancient World
The Holy Spirit in the OT
Types of Jesus in the OT

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A series of articles covering studies in the five books of Moses. Studies in the Book of Genesis look at the historical nature of the early chapters of Genesis, the Tower of Babel and the Table of the Nations.

There are also pages about covenants, the sacrifices and offerings, the Jewish festivals and the tabernacle, as well as the issue of tithing.

Are chapters 1-11 of Genesis historical?
Chronology of the Flood
Genealogies of the Patriarchs
Table of the Nations (Gen 10)
Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9)

Authorship of the Pentateuch
Chronology of the Wilderness Years
Names of God in the OT
Covenants in the OT
The Ten Commandments
The Tabernacle and its Theology
Sacrifices and Offerings
The Jewish Festivals
Balaam and Balak
Tithing
Highlights from Deuteronomy
Overview of Deuteronomy

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Articles containing studies and helpful information for the history books. These include a list of the dates of the kings of Israel and Judah, a summary of the kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and studies of Solomon, Jeroboam and Josiah.

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Dates of the Kings of Judah and Israel
King Solomon
The Kings of Israel
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The Syro-Ephraimite War (735 BC)
Sennacherib's Invasion of Judah (701 BC)
King Josiah of Judah
Differences Between Kings and Chronicles
Chronology of the post-exilic period

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Isaiah (13 pages) and Daniel (10 pages).

Prophets and the Future
The Call of Jeremiah (Jer 1)
The Fall of Satan? (Is 14, Ezek 28)
Daniel Commentary (10 pages)
Isaiah Commentary (13 pages)
Formation of the Book of Jeremiah


Daniel's Seventy Weeks (Dan 9:24-27)

New Testament Studies

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More theological topics include the Kingdom of God and the Coming of Christ.

NT People Confirmed by Archaeology
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The Importance of Paradox

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The SynopticProblem
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Birth Narratives of Jesus
Understanding the Parables
Peter's Confession and the Transfiguration
Was John the Baptist Elijah?
The Triumphal Entry
The Olivet Discourse (Mark 13)
Important themes in John's Gospel
John's Gospel Prologue (John 1)
Jesus Fulfilling Jewish Festivals
Reclining at Table at the Last Supper
The Holy Spirit as the Paraclete

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Romans (7 pages), 1 Corinthians (7 pages), Galatians (3 pages), Philemon (1 page) and Hebrews (7 pages)

Apostolic Messages in the Book of Acts
Paul and His Apostleship
Collection for the Saints
The Church Described as a Temple
Church as the Body of Christ
Jesus as the Last Adam
Food Offered to Idols
Paul's Teaching on Headcoverings
Who are the Fallen Angels
The Meaning of Redemption
What is the Church?

Romans Commentary (7 pages)

1 Corinthians Commentary (7 pages)

Galatians Commentary (3 pages)

Philemon Commentary (1 page)

Hebrews Commentary (7 pages)

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Articles containing studies and helpful information for the study of the Book of Revelation and topics concerning Eschatology (the study of end-times).

These include a description of the structure of the book, a comparison and contrast between the good and evil characters in the book and a list of the many allusions to the OT. For the seven churches, there is a page which gives links to their location on Google maps.

There is a page studying the important theme of Jesus as the Lamb, which forms the central theological truth of the book. There are pages looking at the major views of the Millennium, as well as the rapture and tribulation, as well as a list of dates of the second coming that have been mistakenly predicted through history.

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Introduction to the Book of Revelation
Characters Introduced in the Book
Structure of Revelation
List of Allusions to OT
The Description of Jesus as the Lamb
Virtual Seven Churches of Revelation
The Nero Redivius Myth
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Different Approaches to Revelation
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How to Study the Bible Inductively
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VI. Identifying Figures of Speech
VII. Personal Application
VIII. Text Layout

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It is most important that when reading the Bible we are taking note of the type of literature we are reading. Each type needs to be considered and interpreted differently as they have different purposes.

How to Understand OT Narratives
How to Understand OT Law
Hebrew Poetry
OT Wisdom Literature
Understanding the OT Prophets
The Four Gospels
The Parables of Jesus
The Book of Acts
How to Understand the NT Letters
Studying End Times (Eschatology)
The Book of Revelation

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There are also pages with photographs from Ephesus and Corinth.

Search for Geographical Locations
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There is also page of photographs from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem of important artifacts.

Search Museums for Biblical Archaeology
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