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[Updated: 2021.02.23]

Ancient Lifespans

Before the Christian Era, there was no "0" year until a Christian pope—in 525 CEretroactively guestimated "AD"; and we've now proven that he was off by 7 years!!!

Thus, before 525 CE, there was no "zero year" calendar to keep up with anyone's birth year, or birthday. One couldn't think back to being born in the year #### and keep up with their age from that point because no one had a calendar and there was no fixed numbering of years. One could only remember their earliest memory of who was king in which country; year ## of the reign of [whomever]—with no fixed calendar date for that. For the average person, there was no historical record. For most people, the past wasn't considered important. Israelis probably remembered when they became an adult (men at 13, women when they were 12). Girls eventually reached womanhood (puberty) and boys eventually grew a beard—entering Za•qein-hood. People's hair eventually turned gray—at which point they entered the "Sage" generation. One's lifespan was marked by physical and numerological, not chronological, markers. One's 120 "year" allotment, or as much of it as was earned, was crunched into however many chronological years one lived.

What was "Old"?

"The expectation of life at birth is the most efficient index of the general level of mortality of a population. In ancient Greece and Rome the average life expectancy was about 28 years." (britannica.com)

The expectation of life at birth during the time of Av•râ•hâm (Late Copper and Bronze Age) was slightly less than 29 years. (London School of Economics and Political Science.

Thus, זָקֵן would refer, not to someone over 65 years old or a centenarian, as we think of today, but someone in their last few years – roughly 25-29 years old! Then two things mesh with science and logic: that זָקֵן is such a close cognate of זָקָן, which apparently indicated a זָקֵן, and that Av•râ•hâm and Sârâh could have procreated Yi•tzᵊkhâq "in their 'old' age" (late twenties to mid-thirties!!!) This suggests that most families had children in their early to mid-teens.

Yet, this seems an inescapably glaring contradiction of the Biblical account, which gives the age of Av•râ•hâm and Sârâh at the birth of Yi•tzᵊkhâq as 100 and 90, respectively; and they died at the respective ages of 175 and 127.

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 צְדָקָה.

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 – וְהֶאֱמִן בַּי--ה; וַיַּחְשְׁבֶהָ לּוֹ צְדָקָה:

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

Either way, this passage echoes a remnant of the Ancient Near East environment in which a צְדָקָה is considered redemptive, remitting transgressions – paralleling שְׁמִטָּהremission… = 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 שְׁמִטָּה‎=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 שְׁמִטָּה 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 שְׁמִטָּה 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 שְׁמִטָּה years at age 31 (43-12 and 49-18, respectively). (The same process works, yielding slightly different numbers, if one considers the שְׁמִטָּה 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) Note 15.2.3.

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