Could Years be Months in Genesis Genealogies?


(The Honest Skeptic) #21

Oh, I guess that they were busy at the beach instead? I’ll work on that theory and get back to you.

I guess my theory fits better here. :slight_smile:


Or maybe they just didn’t want kids so they tried to prolong it as much as possible?

(Jeremy Christian) #23

The most likely explanation I’ve heard is that the original numbers were base-60 as the Sumerians numbering system was, but were translated assuming base-10. This would bring the ages much more in line, and is most likely given the time frame and location.

But that beach theory might have some legs.

(The Honest Skeptic) #24

Agreed… How, though, do you handle God limiting the years, then, to 120 or so? Like @AllenWitmerMiller where it is a symbol of respect?

Beaches always have legs!

(Jeremy Christian) #25

That would mean God limited their years to about 20.

That would also mean that Abraham, who it says lived to 175, only actually lived until about 25. Which would make those stories about having a child at such an advanced age a little odd.

That’s a good question. Personally I think the long lifespans are accurate, so I haven’t really carried the base-10/60 thought through to that point.

(The Honest Skeptic) #26

I’m sorry. I think that you misunderstood my question. I’m in agreement with your analysis above, What I’m asking is this: How can one explain that after these long lives involving big numbers, that God seems to have then limited the lifespans to around 120 years. Are we suggesting that scribes misunderstood the numbers and added the limitation to explain why “people no longer live 950 years” because they misunderstood the numbering system used? Or, as Allen noted, 120 could have been a symbol of respect? You are right, if the limiting to 120 years is also converted, we only live to be 20. At 55, that makes me an outlier for sure.

(Jeremy Christian) #27

I don’t think this is God limiting the lifespans from what’s listed in Gen5 down to 120.

Here it’s talking about two lines; the “sons of God” and the “daughters of humans”. The sons of God are Adam and his family living exceptionally long lives having been created outside of naturally evolved humans, and humans living the same length of lives we do now.

This is explaining that when they begin to intermingle, this would begin to dwindle, as it depicts further along …


(Retired Minister) #28

Even today there are cultures where the expressed ages are symbolic and even idiomatic.

For example, missionaries tell stories about learning this fact accidentally. One talked about living in a village where a man said he was 30 years old—but when the missionary returned to the village two years later, that same man said he was 40 years old. How could that be? Answer: He was now a grandfather.

Similarly, a village elder may go from fifty to sixty years old when he becomes the chosen chieftain. Age and wisdom are considered closely linked so that “sixty” becomes a synonym for “respected leader” and “a very wise elder”. (By the way, in the New Testament and thereafter, PRESBYTEROS went from a simple noun for an “old man” to a church office. That definition remains in English.)

No doubt there were similar factors at work when Babylonians histories recorded kings who were said to be 30,000 years old. Cultures express superlatives and emphasis in a great many ways—some of which can sound very strange to outsiders.

Our culture likes details, especially with chronologies. Nevertheless, we have labels for stages of life which aren’t exacting. For example, a “thirtysomething” has come to mean young parents dealing with young children and first home purchases. (The term was helped by a popular TV show of the 1980’s, I think was the decade.) Yet some “thirtysomethings” can be lumped into the label even though they are age 28 or 41. And at least in the past it was not typical for the word “thirtysomething” to be applied to a never-married single adult in the 30 to 39 range. (Perhaps that has changed.)

I know of no compelling reason to assume that the ages in the Genesis genealogies were “literal” ages—and there are plenty of reasons not to assume them such. As to “lifespans dropped after the Flood”, I think that is explained by the end of the era in which the ANE cultures treated numbers so mystically and started applying them more “literally”.

(Jeremy Christian) #29

The ages recorded in the Sumerian King’s List, those I believe to be mix-ups between base-10/60. Especially considering all the ages given are divisible by 60.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #30

Rounding off numbers doesn’t tell us the first thing about whether or not they are referring to “real” people.

(Jeremy Christian) #31

To be clear, my view that the ages are accurate is based on the fact that measuring the events described along the time line given against actual human history in that region of the world lines up. This convinces me that those ages are not symbolic.

(Retired Minister) #32

Correct. What I’m describing is not rounding.

(I’d cite the peer-reviewed literature for what I’m describing if I had it at hand. However, it shouldn’t be difficult to find online.)

(Retired Minister) #33

The Sumerians had units based on 60’s, 600’s, and 3600’s, so what you are observing is truly embedded in the language. (I can’t remember the Sumerians words any more.) By the way, the largest numbers in the Sumerian King’s Lists were antediluvian. That is, the culture spoke of an ancient era when many of their cities suffered from a terrible flood.

(Retired Minister) #34

By the way, we have no way to know how many languages and cultures the genealogies in Genesis may have been transmitted through before being written down in Hebrew. So it is possible that a variety of transmission and translation issues have made the original meanings very difficult to trace. (Again, this does not have to be problem for inerrantists.)

[POSTSCRIPT: Theater people often use the expression “Break a leg” as a good luck wish to other actors—but this English rendering is probably a corruption of a Yiddish blessing passed through German, “Hatsloche un Broche”, and then “converted” into English. Linguistic evolution doesn’t really care about accuracy. Words and phrases mean what speakers intend for them to mean, even if their sense is lost outside that particular culture.]

(Jeremy Christian) #35

Yes, this also lines up. The Genesis account, the Sumerian account, and actual history.

Arthur Whooley, while excavating Ur in the 1920’s, found a silt deposit in the strata positioned between Ubaid artifacts below and Uruk artifacts above, suggesting this flood may have played a role in ending one culture there, where the next rose up from.

This places this flood about 4000 BC. Both the Sumerian Kings List and Genesis say Uruk was built just after the flood.

According to the ages given in Gen5, the flood happened 1656 years after Adam, which is roughly the same length as the Ubaid culture. If the city Cain built is the first city of the Ubaid, Eridu, then this falls right along that time line.

(Retired Minister) #36

When I was a “creation science” advocate long ago, I loved to cite the Arthur Whooley excavations at Ur for being “proof of the Genesis account”. I think I first read about him in the old Halley’s Bible Handbook in the early 1960’s. Now we know that even while Whooley did a lot of important excavation, he wasn’t at all bashful about putting lots of “Bible confirmation spin” on his discoveries because it was a great way to excite wealthy donors. He was quite a “showman” in terms of attracting interest in his work. I saw a very interesting dissertation on this topic just a few years ago. (University of Manchester??) The title was something like The Spinning of Ur.

That said, I have no problems connecting the Noah pericope to a very real flood event in the ancient world, whether that flood was in Mesopotamia, or north of Egypt in what is now the Mediterranean, or even the Black Sea area. (I don’t have a dog in the fight over exactly where the Noah story should be traced.)

Of course, when we use the term “antediluvian” in this context, we aren’t necessarily taking a position on whether the definition should be considered the same for both the Biblical literature and the Babylonian literature.

(Jeremy Christian) #37

Yeah, I’ve seen this in what I’ve read of him. But this particular observation wasn’t in that context. It’s just noting the location of the silt deposit in relation to the two cultures. This one observation places this particular flood in a very specific time and at least suggests a flood had something to do with the abrupt end of a 1500 year old culture.

Maybe someday Iraq won’t be such a volatile place and we’ll be able to get better data. I’ll continue to hold my breath.

(Jeremy Christian) #38

I believe the Sumerian “Noah”/“flood hero” lived in Shurruppak, in the center of the valley northwest of Ur. After the flood.

(Jeremy Christian) #39

Yeah, Manchester …

(Retired Minister) #40

Yes. I wasn’t implying any conflation between the two.


A minister friend who served as chaplain in first Gulf War feels fortunate that he got to visit Ur and look around before the brass put it off-limits to the troops. He was ecstatic to see it.