Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Life Spans of Methuselah and Lamech

Diagram copyright 2000 Alice C. Linsley

“What is the significance of the long life spans listed in Genesis?”
"How could Methuselah have lived 969 years? Or his son, Lamech, 777 years?"
"Why do the chiefs after the flood have shorter life spans?"

It is not easy to answer these questions because there are discrepancies in the number of years assigned to these Afro-Asiatic chiefs, and there is still much that we don’t understand about the number symbolism of the people from whom we receive the chronologies of chapters 4, 5 and 11.

The discrepancies between the Septuagint, the Masoretic, and the Samaritan texts have been discussed at length in various commentaries (see especially Cassuto). I find it interesting that the Septuagint and the Masoretic (Hebrew) records agree except in the case of Lamech the Younger (Noah's father). The Septuagint assigns Lamech a total of 753 years, whereas the Samaritan Pentateuch assigns him only 653 years. The Jerusalem Bible, following the Masoretic Text, assigns Lamech 777 years.

Other discrepancies exist also. For example: the Septuagint places the name ‘Cainan’ between Arphaxad and Shelah in Genesis 11, but this name doesn't appear in the Masoretic Text or Samaritan Pentateuch.

In his extraordinary Commentary on Genesis, Umberto Cassuto wrote, "What is the cause of the divergences between the three texts, and which recension has preserved the original figures? Much has been written on this subject, and the answer remains in dispute" (Vol. 1, p. 265). Cassuto himself believed that the original figures are preserved in the Masoretic chronology. Those are the numbers I will use.

Consider the life span assigned to each of these pre-flood patriarchs in Genesis 5:

Seth – 912 years
Jared – 962 years
Kenan – 910 years
Methuselah – 969 years
Lamech the Younger – 777 years

Now compare the life spans of those who lived after the flood in Genesis 11:

Shem – 600 years
Eber – 464 years
Serug – 230 years
Nahor the Elder (Terah's father) – 148 years
Terah – 205 years

Various explanations have been offered to make sense of the patriarchs’ longevity. They include:
· People lived longer in ancient times.

· God shortened the lifespan due to sin.

· Those who recorded the lists honored their forefathers by ascribing to them length of days.

· The numbers are symbolic and intended to convey information about each patriarch.

· The number symbolism is based on a numerological system that requires fuller investigation.

Let us briefly examine each of these possible explanations.

Evidence for Exceptional Longevity among Ancient Peoples
Studies in Paleoanthropology indicate that the life spans of ancient peoples living in an area extending from North Africa to Turkey and Mesopotamia was about 32 years. This data applies to peoples in the Late Paleolithic - 30,000 to 9,000 B.C., the Mesolithic - 9,000 to 7,000 B.C. and the Early Neolithic - 7,000 to 5,000 B.C.

One might argue that the men listed in Genesis 11 enjoyed extraordinary longevity by divine providence. Were this the case we would want to know why God’s providence is limited to a specific place, time, and people. The singularity of the extraordinary longevity of these Afro-Asiatic chiefs must then be regarded as a miracle and is therefore beyond scientific explanation. While I believe in miracles, I find this explanation unlikely, unnecessary, and without biblical support.

God Shortened the Life Spans
Genesis 6 hints that God shortened the average life span of humanity. The Lord said, “My breath shall not abide in man forever, since he too is flesh; let the days allowed him be one hundred and twenty years.” (Gen. 6:3) Were we to take this literally we would expect the life span of the patriarchs in Genesis 11 to be no more than 120 years, yet all exceed that number. This suggests that the number 120 is symbolic.

The directional poles are critical to the interpretation of the number symbolism of the ancient Afro-Asiatics. The number 1 is associated with North and always represents the Creator God. The number 2 represents the Generative Word (Logos). The Word goes forth from God, and by the Logos all things are created. Zero is a placeholder and a symbol of eternity. The zero makes this a 3-digit number and 3 represents oneness or unity. With this in mind, the symbolism of the number 120 seems to be that the life span of each human is up to God, who by the Logos, makes oneness or unity. This sounds like a Messianic promise.

Honoring the Forefathers by Ascribing Length of Days
The Assyrian Kings List provides evidence that ascribing long lives to noble persons was not a common practice. The ancient oriental kings expected to be shown honor yet their regnal years are, by all appearances, historical. This is borne out by the similarity found between the different inscriptions that speak of these kings’ reigns.

The Babylonian kings, on the other hand, attributed life spans even to tens of thousands of years to each ruler. These mythic lengths of life reflect the Babylonian view that their kings were demi-gods born of the Diety by noble females. But the Hebrews rejected this view, regarding even the most exalted among them as mere mortals. The Scriptures speak of the sinfulness and failings of Israel's leaders. We remember that Moses and David were both guilty of murder.

Were it the case that the large numbers reflect a way of honoring the forefathers, we would expect Abraham to have lived a very long life since he is the principal Patriarch and the progenitor of Jews, Arabs and other Semites. Yet we are told that Abraham lived only 175 years (Gen. 25:7).

The Numbers are Symbolic and Convey Information
That the numbers are not to be taken literally is supported by the assignment of 930 years to the mythological first Father, Adam (often paired with the historical first father, Nok or 'Enoch', as in Psalm 8:4).

Were I to interpret the significance of 930 based on the mystical numerology of Ten Sefirot, it would be this: The creature will enjoy the consummation of his faith at the end of time.

This makes Adam a type of Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten, who will enter the bridal chamber at the end of days. Paul may have had this in mind when he wrote: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the first fruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at his coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father…” (1 Corinthians 15:22-24a) And this: “And so it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being.’ The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” (1 Corinthians 15:45)

I draw on the Cabalistic Ten Sefirot, not because I believe it accurately represents the number system of Abraham's people, but because it has affinity to the older Afro-Asiatic numero-cosmology.

This exploration of the Genesis chronologies indicates that the numbers are symbolic and must be interpreted in the context of the Afro-Asiatic numero-cosmology. What is being communicated is not entirely clear because we still have much to learn about the numerology of Abraham's people.

The view that the numbers are symbolic is supported by the numerical discrepancy surrounding Lamech the Younger. Some might not view him as especially righteous because he was named after his maternal grandfather who bragged to his wives about killing a man. Yet Lamech was Noah's father and Noah found favor with God. The different numbers pertaining to Lamech the Younger are (Septuagint) 753, (Samaritan) 653, and (Hebrew) 777. No other man in the chronology has such a discrepancy in total number of years. Again, Lamech is the lightening rod who draws our attention and provokes questions.

The Elder Lamech is the seventh generation from Adam and Enoch. Lamech the Younger is the seventh generation from Noah and is assigned 777 years. According to Cassuto, the name Lamech is related to the Mesopotamian word ‘lumakku’, meaning “priest” (Commentary on Genesis, Vol. 1, p. 233).

Cassuto also points out that all the numbers pertaining from Adam to Noah "are either exact multiples of five, or else multiples of five with the addition of seven" and the years assigned to Methuselah's life are "twice augmented by seven, one septennium having been added to his age when his eldest son was born, and another to the remaining years of his life" (op. cit., p. 260). This observation provides a clue to our understanding of the numero-cosmology of Abraham's people. Key numbers were 2, 3, 5, 7 and 9. The number five has the factors of 2 and 3 and is therefore a symbol of the kinship pattern of Abraham's people as revealed in the Bible. Each chief had 2 wives. These wives were essential to the establishment of the chief's territory. The chief's 2 first born sons were rivaled by a third "hidden" son, who is the sign of the Son whose dominion will last through all the ages.

The numbers 2 and 3 are significant also because numbers were linked to language and the western Afro-Asiatic languages are generally bi-consonantal whereas the eastern Afro-Asiatic languages are generally tri-consonantal.

With this in mind, we will consider the number symbolism of Methuselah, who is assigned 969 years. Here we have all factors of 3. The nine is 3 sets of 3 and the 6 is 2 sets of 3. The 9 represents consummation or the fullness of time and the 6 represents the dominion of human rulers. Methuselah's assigned days seem an omen of impending judgment, signifying the Deluge that destroyed the rule of the central African chiefs in and around Noah's homeland.

It was the custom for the cousin bride to name her first-born son after her father. Abraham's cousin bride Keturah named her first-born son 'Joktan' after her father, and Terah's cousin bride named her first born son 'Haran' after her father. (Haran is also a place name, just as Nahor is a place name. The Hebrew should not show the place name with a fricative het.)

Similarly, Methuselah was the father of Lamech by Lamech's daughter Naamah (see diagram above). Lamech the Younger was the father of Noah. The number assigned to Lamech the Younger is 777 and it carries a message of hope.

John Chrysostom commented on the unfathomable grace expressed through the story of the Elder Lamech. Here is what he said: “By confessing his sins to his wives, Lamech brings to light what Cain tried to hide from God and by comparing what he has done to the crimes committed by Cain he limited the punishment coming to Him.” (St. John Chrysostom’s Homilies on Genesis, Vol. 74, p.39. The Catholic University Press of America, 1999.)

Chrysostom’s interpretation is consistent with what is communicated throughout the Bible about God’s love and mercy, yet his view is not referenced in any Bibles. Instead, most Bible footnotes stress that God wiped out Cain’s line in the flood, a view which is not supported by the genealogical information in Genesis 4 and 5. The chronologies support Chrysostom's interpretation, as we will see by tracing the number 7 from Cain to Lamech the Younger.

In addition to its association with the archaic Hebrew priesthood, the number 7 represents mercy and new life. Cain murdered and deserved death, yet God showed him mercy by sparing his life. Cain was exiled from his people and God showed him grace by placing a mark on him as a protecting sign. Reflecting on this great mercy shown to his ancestor, Lamech challenges God to show him greater mercy. If grace was shown to Cain (7), then Lamech, the Elder, by confessing his sin, claims a double measure of grace (77). Lamech, the Younger is assigned a triple measure of grace because he is said to have lived 777 years. Lamech the Younger is the son of Methuselah and Naamah, and the father of Noah.

St. John Chrysostom recognized that the story of the two Lamechs is about God’s mercy shown to sinners. He placed the emphasis exactly where it should be.

Related reading: The Father of Adam and Eve; Methuselah's Wife; The Cousin Bride's Naming Prerogative


FrGregACCA said...

Very interesting indeed, Alice. From this POV, would we be correct in analyzing the infamous "666" of the Apocalypse in terms of the absolutization of human rule, i.e., the State? Would there somehow be an economic factor in this? I ask the latter because economics (as well as environmental degradation) seems to be a rather prominent sub-text in Revelation, as in Rev. 3:14-22, 6:5-6, 13:16-17, and Chapter 18.

What of the alternative reading, "616"? Perhaps the assignment of Divine status to the State, an idolization, which would be synonymous with above?

Alice C. Linsley said...

Your questions are intriguing, Father Greg. I don't feel well qualified to answer them however. Revelation is a late text and though it draws on the number symbolism of the Hebrew Scriptures (especially the Prophet Daniel), I'm not sure how closely it follows the numero-cosmology of Abraham's people. Apocalyptic literature is a rather new element in biblical history, but it does have similarities to descriptions of the Flood, and of the Plagues in Egypt, and the serpents in the wilderness.

The number 666 symbolizes the unity of humanity and human worldly desires. God is not even alluded to in this number. I'm not sure whether this speaks of the absolutization of the State or is a reference to one-world government (such as symbolized by the Tower of Babel). One-world government would indeed be motivated by economic factors (and God protect the little people and dwindling tribes who get in the way!)

As to Revelation 3:14-22, the message is clear that the gold we are to buy is Christ our God (just as Christ told Photini to ask of Him the Living Water). The promise is that those who suffer for the cause of Christ will be purified themselves and will enter the Most Holy Place (the seventh Heaven) where Christ is enthroned with God for ever.

The number 616 suggests something very different than 666. This is a symbol of Immanuel, or Christ in our midst. It speaks instead of the final consummation of the Kingdom of God, which kingdom includes 2 brides: the Church (purified) and the faithful before the appearing of Christ who were made righteous through HIM. (Remember according to the numero-cosmology of Abraham's people a ruler established his kingdom's boundaries by establishing wives in separate households on a north-south axis.)

Anonymous said...

Alice: I truely find your articles interesting. Having had only the Bible (I still prefer the King James Version) to study I have a different take on scripture then most people. I am also known as Ms. Sola Scripturia in other blogs.
Although I have heard many pastors preach that God shortened the life span in Genesis 6:3 to 120 years, I always read the verse as saying that God was telling mankind they had another 120 years to straighten up--so to speak. Further proof is that in Genesis 5:32 Noah was 500 years old when he had children, then 600 years old when the flood took place in Genesis 7:6.
At any rate, I do believe that people lived for longer time frame than 32 years, due to the fact that their DNA was created perfect, therefore allowing for the greater number of years. It was not until after the Exodus that the DNA became so corrupt, that God now had to instill laws concerning what we call 'incest' in today's society.
Of course, Ecc 1:5 reads to me--the sooner your head hits the pillow; the sooner it is time to wake up and go to work. (We all know people were burned at the stake for that one piece of scripture). Love to you, Lisa

p.s. that is still one tall lady in that photo judging by the femur length--even if you account for some distortation due to the photographing of the lady.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Lisa, I'm glad that you find the articles at Just Genesis interesting. I hope that you will continue to visit and comment.

That's an interesting idea you offer about DNA. I'm not sure I get the connection with incest and the Mosiac Law.

Anonymous said...

Many have theorized that Cain had no sisters to choose a wife from because the Bible states, Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel, and later Seth. Many people equate Seth as being the third son born, I say he is only the third son mentioned, and quite possibly many sons were born before Seth.
For the most part the Bible is silent on the birth of daughters. In Genesis 3:20 it states that Eve is the mother of all living-which would imply that Cain only had a sister to choose from.
Calvin himself refers to the 'deplorable act of Lots daughters' as incest and that the laws were placed into the Mosaic Laws (Leviticus 20) because of the abundance of incest among the ancient Jews.
My theories are that Adam and Eve were created perfect-perfect DNA or genetic makeup which was passed to subsequent generations. Hence, in Genesis 6:9 you read Noah was perfect in his generations, or the blood-line was still 'untainted' to this point. Note that the Bible does not say the Bloodlines of this children are perfect or that the same mother birthed all three sons.
Adam and Eve's fall from grace corrupted all of nature, for now thorns and thistles had sprung up and the sentence of death was placed upon not only their head, but all of nature.
Cain's murder of Abel added to the sentence of death with decay and destruction. His subsequent bloodlines were so filled with impurities that it led to anomalies such as giants, tumors, heart problems and so on--thereby causing a need for the Mosaic Laws of incest to be written.
This is the reason behind my theories that Lots daughter's did not 'commit incest'. They were actually trying to preserve the 'purity' of their bloodline, which was the custom of their day-add to the fact that the Mosaic Laws were added some 500 or so years later.
My philosphy, of course, more or less blows the doctrine of original sin out of the water. You be happy to know my pastor has given me four books on christian theology to study--so far I'm holding secure to my point of views. Lisa

Alice C. Linsley said...

Lisa, I recommend that you read the essays posted in the INDEX under Kinship. Cain did not marry his sister. Cain and his brother Seth married the daughters of an African chief named Nok (Enoch). These women were probably related to Cain and Seth, but the relationship is not clear from the text. The influence of Nok culture is well documented. Nok is located in the Jos Plateau of what is today Nigeria, but the territory of Nok extended considerably beyond the actual site of Nok.

Note that both Cain and Seth have first-born sons named Enoch (which is 'Nok' in the bi-consonantal Chadic languages). Their brides named the first-born sons after their fathers. This is practice is evident in the diagram provided. This pattern continues throughout Genesis and has been traced even to the first-born son of Reuben, whose named was HaNock.

The confusion comes when we insist that Adam and Eve are historical figures. The Genesis text does not insist on this. The geneaological information provided in Genesis makes it clear that the father-in-law of Cain and Seth is the head of the lines of descent given in chapters 4 and 5. This is why Nok is paired with Adam in Scripture (see especially Psalm 8 where Adam and Enoch are paralleled in the Hebrew). Nok is the historical head of the lines descending from Cain and Seth, and Adam is the mythical figurehead of all humanity. Both are needed to tell the Good News. The story of Nok tells us of a specific people with whom God was working and the story of Adam tells us of the universal condition of humans as created in God's image and fallen from original blessedness.

Unknown said...

I do appreciate the symbolic approach of the Early Fathers, John Chrysostom definitely among them. One further approach to explaining the lifespan question might be the different ecology of the world before the Flood. With an actual "firmament" of "waters above the earth," (yielding a higher oxygen level and atmospheric pressure- think hyperbaric chambers!) and the greater magnetic shielding over the planet in that time period (thus filtering out the UV and other solar & cosmic radiation linked to aging), wouldn't longer actual life spans be expected? Add that to a fresher human race having had less time for genetic entropy/anomalies, and the outcome would be a stronger, smarter, more capable human race.

We rush to accommodate a more "modern" cosmology when evolution in any form yet devised is scientifically indefensible!

Alice C. Linsley said...

The evolutionary view that human evolved from sub-human species or apes has no physical evidence to support it. There is no drawer of bones catalogued "the link".

Cain and Seth are the first historical persons listed. They can't be said to have lived more than 20,000 years ago. At that time the planet's atmosphere was different than is it today, but not radically. The greatest difference was climate. The parts of central Africa that are arid today were very wet then after 500 years of rain. The discovery of an 8,000 year old dugout canoe in the Sahara is proof of that.

Peter Gardner said...

While I read this blog occasionally, and find what I read here to be quite fascinating, I must observe that your explanation for 120 makes no sense.

While I admit that I am not expert at this sort of thing, from what I do know, 120 is not a three digit number in the ancient Hebrew system, but rather a two digit number: quf (100) kaf (20). There was no zero in use at the time the Biblical texts were first written down.

If you are going to interpret them in light of a place value system, as you are trying to do, you'd have to look to the Babylonian base-60 system, in which 120 comes out to (2)(.), with the (.) being a marker to indicate the absence of a value in the ones place.

On a similar note, a friend of mine once told me about a hypothesis he'd heard that the extended ages were due to an incorrect transliteration from Babylonian to Hebrew notation. Do you know anything about that?

Alice C. Linsley said...

A terrific comment, Peter. Thanks. The Babylonian marker is an interesting theory, but the earliest writing was pictographic and the circle represented eternity or the unbroken cycle of life. (Mircea Eliade and Joseph Campbell wrote a good deal about this symbol). Eternity is not an attribute we associate with this mortal life, but the Afro-Asiatics did associate it with the Creator.

The theory that the Babylonian numerology is corrupted by the Hebrew is difficult to demonstrate, in my opinion. Both Babylonian and Hebrew are Afro-Asiatic languages and these peoples shared many common cosmological ideas, but they were also distinct. For example, the Hebrews rejected the polytheism of the Babylonians (as is seen in the Prophet Daniel). The older layer is clearly the Afro, not the Babylonian. Genesis indicates that Abraham's ancestors came out of Africa, not Mesopotamia.

Kent said...

Have you seen the electronic edition of the Samaritan Pentateuch from Logos Bible Software? This sounds like something you might be interested in.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Thanks, Kent. I'll check it out!

BibleGeorge said...

Hi Alice. Peter's comment may be correct. Also, Eve's Accadian comment when having Cain in Genesis 4 could also show a Babylonian connection. Anyway I tried the Babylonian base 60 method and I received some interesting results! Here's on example out of the few discoveries: Dividing all the ages (with the exception of Enoch) in the Genesis 5 list by 60 and adding up the remainder numbers gives you Enoch's age! Also, Noah's age before and after the flood along with the 120 years mentioned exactly match with the first 7 Sumerian Kings' age divided by 60! I have it organized on a spreadsheet. I can send it to you if you're interested.

Alice C. Linsley said...

I'd love to see it! Thanks.