Long-lived people in Genesis

  • Question from DA, United Kingdom

    In a Bible study quite a few years ago we discussed the reason behind the fact that some characters in the Bible lived beyond a hundred years. Can you explain to me why this was so because I have forgotten the answer we were given?

    There are a number of theories put forward, especially among people who take Genesis literally. One idea put forward by literalists is that Noah’s Flood was caused when the waters that had been ‘separated’ and placed in the sky (Genesis chapter 1, verses 6-8), were released back onto the world. It is hypothesised that this band of water kept out harmful, life-shortening solar radiation, hence the long lifespans recorded before the Flood.

    After the Flood, the average human lifespan decreased. Another viewpoint is that due to the cumulative effect of original sin, which built up in later generations, human lives gradually got shorter until the time of Noah when they stabilised at a ‘normal’ length.

    It should also be noted that other middle-eastern ‘foundation myths’, some of which follow the same pattern as the stories that make up the early chapters of Genesis, also contain long-lived ancestors of humanity (for example the Sumerian/Babylonian Atrakhasis Epic). Whether these myths are early folk-memories which corroborate the Genesis account, or merely show that all chroniclers of prehistory, including the Biblical author(s), attribute longevity to people is open to debate.

    Generally speaking, a less literal view would probably ascribe the extreme old age that most pre-Flood characters lived to as creative licence, indicating the ‘golden age’ that had been lost due to human sin.

    Thanks for your question DA.

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