24 May, 2018

Ask the Question

Why are the ages of some people in the Old Testament much older than “normal” life spans?

I don’t know about you, but I would NOT want to live to be 900 years old!  Come to think of it, if every human lived that long, we would have had a major overpopulation problem!

In the Old Testament, particularly in the Pentateuch and historical books, genealogies list men’s ages 600-900 years.  Of course, it’s best not to reveal a woman’s age – and so the only woman whose age is listed is Sarah who was a mere supercentenarian at 127 years.  There are many possible explanations of this extended age thing.

We need to remember that these are faith narratives; they are not historical or scientific accounts.  I find it difficult to take these narratives literally; I believe they were never intended to be read as such. They are narratives intended to express truths about God and God’s people.  From a literary perspective, these narratives do that.  They tell us that these men lived long and fruitful lives walking with God.

The ages may be a literary tool to exemplify God’s power in the Children of God. These long ages mirror the long reigns of Sumerian and Babylonian kings.  These kings were considered God-like.  Those who put these narratives down on paper and ink were living in exile in those regions. By using hyperbole about the ages of the Hebrew men, the narrators were emphasizing that the Hebrews were God’s children and not less-than the rulers of the land in which they lived.

Finally, this may be seen as a translation issue.  The Hebrew word that translates as “year” is ambiguous. It may also mean “month,” “season,” or “era”. Or there may be a different method of measuring time, say as lunar months instead of solar years.  However, this still relies upon the narratives as historical or scientific accounts and not faith narratives. 

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