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Update: 2017.12.11

Ancient Lifespans

How Can the Biblical Account Be Reconciled with Real World History?

The Encyclopedia Judaica notes: "Babylonian tradition attributes exaggerated longevity—tens of thousands of years—to its heroes… If the biblical story be compared with the prevailing Babylonian tradition, the many years of Methuselah seem a modest, even a short life-span. The Bible diminished the exaggerated ages attributed to people in the Ancient Near East, but still preserved the tradition of assigning extraordinary longevity to great men." (Methuselah, 11.1447-8).

The principle of Tᵊhil•im 90.4, One Divine Day is as 1,000 earthly years, likely was shared by other surrounding cultures of the Ancient Near East. It is abundantly clear from Egyptian history that the Par•ohs sought to become ël•oh•im, and that other cultures of the Ancient Near East revered their great nobles as ël•oh•im. It shouldn't be surprising, therefore, that the "days" of these wannabe ël•oh•im were touted to be equal to the "day" of Ël•oh•im. Their thinking was "a god must have a lifespan of god-days, not ordinary mortal days."

While the Abrahamic tradition differed significantly, still, the Orthodox rabbis who edited the Artscroll "Bereshis" observed: "N'tziv notes that sometimes the Torah lists the larger number of years first and then the smaller number [as in the case of Adam: nine hundred years and thirty years] while sometimes the procedure is reversed as in 5:8. He explains that when the closing years of a person's life are relatively as productive and righteous as the bulk of his lifetime, the larger figure is given first, the implication being that all of his years were as productive as the major period of his life." (Artscroll Bereishis I.169).

Thus, as we should expect, a clear evolution from the prevailing tradition of the Ancient Near East is evident with the similar correlation in Tor•âh tradition ascribing extra years to the lifetime of kings and nobles who were revered for their .

From this perspective, the description in bᵊ-Reish•it 15.6 seems to suggest that the Abrahamic tradition didn't merely "diminish the exaggerated ages attributed to people in the Ancient Near East," but, rather, refined this honorific ascription in an elegant way:

bᵊ-Reish•it 15.6 – --; :

(And he trusted in ‑‑; and he considered it [to be] a for him.)

Either way, this passage echoes a remnant of the Ancient Near East environment in which a is considered redemptive, remitting transgressions – paralleling remission… = 7 years.

This doesn't yet solve all of the problem. When we examine the ages of the "righteous nobles" in this chapter divided by ‎=7, the ages fall remarkably within the rough parameters determined by scientists! Peering behind the honorific years, Av•râ•hâm would be nearly 14½ years old, having been regarded a fully-adult man for a year and a half, and Sârâh, considered a fully-adult, marriageable woman at 12, would have given birth to Yi•tzᵊkhâq when she was just under 13.

But Sârâh certainly isn't describing a 13 year old woman (in ancient times; today, a teen) when she is described as "the way of women having ceased" for her and having withered skin. Even in ancient times when time wore more heavily on human beings, this passage describes a woman who must have been at least nearing 35; having experienced menopause and some wrinkling – very old by ancient standards. Clearly, not all of their years were years.

In the case of Sârâh, we can only estimate that, beginning at age 31 (already a very old age in the Ancient Near East), she began accumulating years until she died at an estimated age of 43. This would mean that she accumulated 43 (natural) years + the last 12 years of her life being honorific, adding (7*12)=84 for a total of 127. We might similarly estimate that Av•râ•hâm lived 49 natural years, of which the last 18 were honorific, adding (*7 = 126); 49 + 126 = 175. Corroborating this theory, these figures suggest that both began accumulating honorific years at age 31 (43-12 and 49-18, respectively). (The same process works, yielding slightly different numbers, if one considers the years only adding an additional 6 years for a total of 7.) The other cases are likely similar – lacking supernatural magic.

The Zᵊqein•im

The zᵊqein•im were the patriarchal governing body (tribal chiefs) complementing the Sho•phᵊt•im. Only peripherally involved in litigation in the Bât•ei-Din, the primary function of the zᵊqein•im was in the area of family and patriarchal interests at a particular level or capacity (municipal, district, Ko•han•im, and tribal). The zᵊqein•im were primarily involved with five laws: (1) blood redemption, (2) expiation of murder by an unknown perpetrator, (3) a rebellious son, (4) defamation of a virgin, and (5) a levirate. ("Elder," EJ, 6:578).

Zâ•qein corresponds, via LXX, to the Hellenist concept of πρεσβυτερος (presbuteros; elders). See also The Nᵊtzâr•im Reconstruction of Hebrew Ma•tit•yâhu (NHM) 15.2.3.

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