Could Years be Months in Genesis Genealogies?



Hey @deuteroKJ, this should be in it’s own thread but since you’re already here…

Anyway, I’ve recently heard that ‘years’ in the Old Testament (as in, those ridiculously long lifespans some people lived) are a bad translation and it should have been ‘months’ instead. Is this possible?

Side Comments on Nelson's Signal + Noise
(Kenneth Turner) #2

I don’t know how to start a new topic :slight_smile:

The years/months thing doesn’t make sense to me, but what seems more logical is to consider that some other numerical system (such as the Babylonian base 60) might better account for the numbers. Or some other symbolic thing going on that we may not grasp yet. See here and here and here and here.


Thanks, I’ll read it tomorrow. I’ve heard how difficult it is to translate ancient Hebrew, not only because of difference in language, but also because of difference in culture so I rarely take Old Testament at face value but rather ask someone experienced to explain things to me.

(George) #4

The first half of Genesis 1 is a great story… and has nothing to do with how tge universe … or the Earth… actually emerged from the fabric of Gods thoughts.


OK, not my question but yeah, I agree.

(George) #6

My point is that it was an “imagining”. :slight_smile:

(Retired Minister) #7

I’ve not yet read DeuteroKJ (Kenneth Turners) posted links but no doubt they include what I am about to summarize: Even though my specialization was more in Greek than in Hebrew, I can certainly say that the claim that months is a better translation in years has always sounded ridiculous to me. If one simply makes that word substitution (months for years) in an English translation, it makes little sense as one notices the ages when various sons were born to their fathers.

I too believe that a sexagesimal (base 60) number system basis is key to the Genesis genealogies. Also, the final-digit frequency distributions are well documented and make “real/literal ages” interpretations appear to be anachronistic impositions on an era of ancient human history when numbers served other, more symbolic/philosophical/religious purposes. Indeed, I think such numbers in that era of ancient near eastern cultures were almost “cutting edge” and of near magical significance. That is why all of the pre-flood genealogies’ age-numbers end with final digits in the set {0,2,5,7,9} and NEVER in the set {1,3,4,6,8}. That surely must be significant—unless God for some reason decided that all patriarchs must die at ages ending in a 0,2,5,7,9 digit! (The odds of that “naturally” happening in the course of any given set of human lifespans is quite low.)

Of course, Babylonian records of the ages of various kings and heroes are even more startling, with many of them stated in tens of thousands of years!

Again, I assume that this is one of the topics Dr. Turner’s links address but I thought the above worthy of emphasis.

That said—and without getting side-tracked on inerrancy tangents deserving of their own threads—it’s worth mentioning that numerical symbolism in the Genesis genealogies doesn’t have to be interpreted as “falsehoods” or any sort of threat to anybody’s inerrancy views. We can’t expect an ancient culture to restrict itself to our emphasis on the literal and historical. Genealogies can have other purposes, such as theological agendas. In a culture where numbers are filled with symbolic meanings, each and every age listed in the Genesis genealogies may have had obvious significance to the reader. Does that make it “wrong” or inferior in some way to what we might expect of a genealogy?

By the way, I have a similar approach to the dimensions of Noah’s ark. I’ve not researched this—and I assume that others have noticed this same pattern—but it strikes me as very significant that the ark numbers are all based on the first three prime numbers: 2, 3, and 5.

300 = 2 x 2 x 3 x 5 x 5

50 = 2 x 5 x 5

30 = 2 x 3 x 5

Moreover, notice how 2x2=4, {2,3,5} is only a skip and a jump away from the first set of Pythagorean triples: {3,4,5} , also expressible as {3,2x2,5}

I mean, come on! Is it merely a strange coincidence that the dimensions of Noah’s ark just happen to boil down to these very “primal” integer-factors and no others?

(To say the least, I seriously doubt that I’m the first in the history of Bible readers to notice any of this. I’m probably several thousand years late in mentioning the obvious.}

(Vincent Torley) #8

Hi everyone,

I thought some readers might be interested in what St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) had to say on the subject in his City of God, Book XV, chapter 12:

For they are by no means to be listened to who suppose that in those times years were differently reckoned, and were so short that one of our years may be supposed to be equal to ten of theirs. So that they say, when we read or hear that some man lived 900 years, we should understand ninety, ten of those years making but one of ours, and ten of ours equalling 100 of theirs. Consequently, as they suppose, Adam was twenty-three years of age when he begot Seth, and Seth himself was twenty years and six months old when his son Enos was born, though the Scripture calls these months 205 years. For, on the hypothesis of those whose opinion we are explaining, it was customary to divide one such year as we have into ten parts, and to call each part a year. And each of these parts was composed of six days squared; because God finished His works in six days, that He might rest the seventh…

By these plausible arguments certain persons, with no desire to weaken the credit of this sacred history, but rather to facilitate belief in it by removing the difficulty of such incredible longevity, have been themselves persuaded, and think they act wisely in persuading others, that in these days the year was so brief that ten of their years equal but one of ours, while ten of ours equal 100 of theirs. But there is the plainest evidence to show that this is quite false. Before producing this evidence, however, it seems right to mention a conjecture which is yet more plausible. From the Hebrew manuscripts we could at once refute this confident statement; for in them Adam is found to have lived not 230 but 130 years before he begot his third son. If, then, this mean thirteen years by our ordinary computation, then he must have begotten his first son when he was only twelve or thereabouts. Who can at this age beget children according to the ordinary and familiar course of nature? But not to mention him, since it is possible he may have been able to beget his like as soon as he was created, — for it is not credible that he was created so little as our infants are — not to mention him, his son was not 205 years old when he begot Enos, as our versions have it, but 105, and consequently, according to this idea, was not eleven years old. But what shall I say of his son Cainan, who, though by our [Septuagint - VJT] version 170 years old, was by the Hebrew text seventy when he beget Mahalaleel? If seventy years in those times meant only seven of our years, what man of seven years old begets children?

(The Honest Skeptic) #9

@vjtorley @AllenWitmerMiller What an interesting thread. I was wondering also about the “begat” years, if they were base 60, for instance, would they have made sense in context. Also, where God then seems to limit the maximum number of years to around 120. One would have to assume, I guess that the “begat” years and maximum number of years would have been appended to the text later? Interesting…

(Retired Minister) #10

It is worth mentioning that some ancient cultures appear to apply special significance to heroes lifespans being 120 (e.g. Moses.) Of course, 120 is 20 in base 60. Also, at a time when 60 years old was basically a “ripe old age” for most people, a lifespan of 120 years (60+60) may be regarded as a virtuous person being rewarded with an “extra” lifespan.

Notice that 60 MONTHS is 5 years. I believe that is one of the reasons why so many of ages in the Genesis genealogies have a zero or five as the final digit. (Thus, we’ve now accounted for the ubiquitous 0 and 5 in the inclusion set.) Also, 7 (a “perfection number”) plus 5 equals 12, which can account for the popularity of 2 in the inclusion set. Likewise, some scholars point to 7+7+5=19 as the reason for 9 in the inclusion set.

Again, why do these five digits appear as the final digits of all of the numbers in the genealogies in Genesis----and NEVER do we see {1,3,4,6,8}? It sure doesn’t fit typical “real” and “literal” ages of people.

(The Honest Skeptic) #11

Well, clearly, it would be due to the fact that:

1 + 3 + 4 + 6 + 8 = 22, so they are all rolled into the 2!


I’m sure my logic is good… In fact, it was chronicled similarly in this documentary posted below:

EDIT: I should add, thank very much for the serious aspect of your post! Very interesting, indeed!!


I’m sorry Allen but I just don’t see where you’re going with these numbers.

Where are you going with these numbers?

(Retired Minister) #13

Yes, that reminds me of the many advantages of Base 12 and Base 60 numbers. It is easy to see why ancient cultures would have favored twelves and sixties for grouping things.

For example, suppose you are dividing a dozen eggs among various numbers of people. You have far more options than if you had base 10 (decimal system) numbers of eggs. That is, you can divide the 12 eggs equally among:

2 sets of six people
3 sets of four people
4 sets of three people
6 sets of two people

So 12 is divisible among 2, 3, 4, and 6 people while 60 can be divided among each of those groups as well as 12 people (i.e. five eggs each).

Thus, while base 12 numbers are handy, moving up to base 60 is also a convenient system for similar reasons.

Base 10 number systems are very useful for such distributions. Ten eggs (10) allows 2 eggs for each of 5 people and 5 eggs for each of 2 people. That’s it. (OK, fingers and toes are convenient----but just sayin’.)

Of course, a base 60 system requires a LOT of “digits” (so to speak!) and that’s an awfully large number of symbols for first graders to learn in arithmetic class.

Of course, our culture still contains many “relics” of those other numbers systems: 12 inches in a foot; 24 hours in a day divided into 12 hours a.m. and p.m.; 60 seconds in a minute and 60 seconds in an hour; eggs still come in dozens; degrees are measured in 360s [6 x 60] and longitude-latitude coordinates use the sixties of degrees, minutes, and seconds.

(Timothy Horton) #14

The Ancient Sumerians and Babylonians used the sexagesimal (base 60) numbering system. I’ll let Wiki describe it

It makes perfect sense a story written in that time would use the most common factors of their number system.

(Retired Minister) #15

While we are having fun with numbers in the Bible, how about the dimensions of the Ark of the Covenant in relation to Fibinacci numbers and the Golden Ratio?

(Don’t even get me started on the silly nonsense from many anti-theist/anti-Bible websites complaining that the Bible gets Pi wrong. Not even close. They always assume that all water basins [then and now] are shaped as perfect cylinders and have thin walls—and that measurements rounded to the nearest cubit are somehow “wrong”.)

(Jeremy Christian) #16

This would mean both Mahalalel and Enoch became the father of their first son at 5 years old.


Yes, yes. However, the age at which they had their children would imply that the way they measured their years is completely different from ours.

(Jeremy Christian) #18

They most likely used the Sumerian calendar …
" The Sumerians of Babylon were probably the first people to make a calendar . They used the phases of the moon, counting 12 lunar months as a year. To make up for the difference between this year and the year of the seasons, they inserted an extra month in the calendar about every four years."

(The Honest Skeptic) #19

Or, potentially, that primordial dome of water in the sky might have blocked out the x-rays from space, such that people were much more virile then! It’s possible, you know.


If they were so ‘viirile’ why didn’t they have children at the age of 20 instead of waiting until they were well into their 50’s and 60’s?