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THE DURATION OF LIFE IN THE FIRST AGE. OLD
The statements in Genesis about the duration of human life in the earliest age gave rise to discussion even in the time of the Fathers. “The days of our age are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow," 1 says Moses in his psalm. But in the table of generations from Adam to Noah, which he gives in the fifth chapter of Genesis, we find very few who do not exceed 900 years. Methuselah died at the age of 969. Noah attained to an age of 950 years. The duration of life diminished in the post-diluvian epoch; in the table of generations in the eleventh chapter we find that Shem is said to be 600 years old, the three persons next to him less than 500, the others less than 200. The age of the three Israelite patriarchs was only 175, 180, and 147 years respectively. S. Augustine? mentions a theory according to which the years by which the age of the antediluvian men was calculated were only 36 days long, that is, only one-tenth of ours: this theory also suggests that the length of the year varied with the different nations, being six months with the Acarnanians, three with the Arcadians, four, or perhaps only one, with the Egyptians. But S. Augustine refutes 1 Ps. xc. 10.
? Civ. Dei, xv. 12; cf. Lact. Inst. ii. 12.
it by pointing out that according to the Hebrew text, whose figures, as we shall see, are here at any rate more trustworthy than those of the old Greek translation which differ from them, Seth had a son when he was 105, and Canaan when he was 71; and if we were to adopt the above computation, they would be only ten and seven respectively.
In recent times a Danish scholar has tried to show that the duration of life in the patriarchs was the same as the present, by assuming that the years were shorter, But for this hypothesis he is compelled to alter a series of figures which is rather hazardous, and, as after Noah the duration of life in Genesis gets less and less, also to assume that the years first mean a period of one month, then two, four, and six, and from the time of Moses onwards twelve months, all of which is still more questionable. There is no hint in Genesis that the author calls different periods of time a "year" in different portions of his work. On the contrary, the chronological statements in the narrative of the Deluge show, as S. Augustine has said, that in the earliest times years and months mean the same as they do in the later—whether the years were reckoned according to the sun or the moon makes no difference to our point. The Flood began in Noah's 600th year, on the 17th day of the 2nd month; on the 27th day of the 7th month the Ark rested on Ararat; on the 1st day of the 10th month the tops of the mountains appeared; after another period of forty and thrice seven days, on the 1st day of the 601st year the earth was dry.”
1 Rask, see A. Wagner, Geschichte der Urwelt, i. 310; also Dillmann, Genesis, p. 120.
2 Gen. vii, 1l, viii. 4-13.
The author of Genesis has then given us the duration of the patriarchs' lives in years like ours, and we are not justified in altering the figures and in changing the meaning of year. The narrative in Genesis as it lies before us can only be understood to mean that the patriarchs attained a much greater age than is the case now, and that in the antediluvian period that age was ten times as great as the present.
Flavius Josephus ? pointed out long ago that the historians of other ancient nations, Manetho, Berosus, and others, record the great age of the first men, according to the traditions of their own countries. This tradition exists among many peoples not mentioned by Josephus. But if, as has often been asserted, the statements of the Biblical narrative must be rejected as being physically impossible, these traditions afford its trustworthiness a very weak support. Let us see if this assertion is well founded.
We may say, with Kurtz and others, “The question whether an age of seven, eight, or nine hundred years was possible in the early period of the human race cannot be decided by contemporary physiology, and the physiologist is imprudent, or unscientifically arrogant, if he speaks of impossibility in this respect.”: The physiologist can only fix the normal length of human life by the help of experience ; his observations can only be made in the present time, that is, he can only say that under present conditions men cannot attain to such an age as it is said the patriarchs reached.
1 Ant. i. 3. 9; cf. Lüken, Die Traditionen, p. 165.
2 Kurtz, Geschichte des Alten Bundes, i. p. 74. Delitzsch, Genesis, pp. 183, 542.
Besides, the normal length of life fixed by physiology is sometimes, even now-a-days, far exceeded. There are several sufficiently well authenticated instances of an age of 150 to 200 years in the present time. According to the statements of modern travellers such age is actually not rare among the Arabs of the African desert. But if under exceptionally favourable conditions human life can reach an age twice and thrice as great as that fixed as the normal age by physiology, it cannot be said that man cannot have reached an age ten times as great under some special conditions. Observation of contemporary facts, which is the only ground physiology has to go on, will not justify us either in denying or asserting the former existence of different conditions.
We cannot certainly say what kind of conditions must have existed to enable men to reach so great an age. The external conditions under which man lived in the primitive age were probably different, and man's bodily constitution probably differed from what it is now in those points which could render possible such a prolongation of life. I have already said ? that. before the Deluge the climatic and atmospheric conditions probably differed from those at present existing; the long duration of life in the antediluvian men may be connected with this, even if it were not solely caused by it.
We must therefore be content with saying that man existed in the primeval age, according to God's plan, under such external and internal conditions that he was able to live very much longer than he
| Prichard, Researches, i. p. 125. Rauch, Die Einheit, p. 65. 2 Vol. i. p. 430. Cf. Pianciani, Cosmogonia, p. 516.
does now. Holy Scripture does not say why God gave men in the primeval age a so much longer life than now, and it is therefore hardly possible to give a certain and completely exhaustive answer to this question. But we may say, with Delitzsch, “If Lamech, Noah's father, the ninth in the series of the patriarchs, was for fifty-six years a contemporary of Adam, if Noah knew Adam's grandson Enoch, if Noah did not die till Abraham was sixty years old, there is every possible guarantee that tradition must have been preserved unaltered in the chosen race. And the life of the ungodly also lasted for centuries, in order that all the potentialities which sin hides within itself should come to light and be judged. Just as the first age of the Church was to show the power of the Spirit of God, the first age of man was to show the terrible consequences of the revolt from God in all their fulness and might. After the Deluge, the duration of life soon sank to the limit which is usual now, so that in future it should not be possible for sin to grow to such a gigantic height.”
But it is necessary to consider whether we have Divine authority for believing that the patriarchs attained to this great age because it is so stated in Genesis. I think not. Not only has Bunsen endeavoured to explain the figures in the fifth chapter by saying that they are cyclical figures, in which the epochs of the antediluvian world are given, and not the ages of the patriarchs ;? but the Abbé Chevallier has tried to explain the eleventh chapter in just the same i Genesis, 3rd ed. p. 222.
? Bibelverk, v. 49.