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Saturday, July 20th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature

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The lengthened ages of some of the ante and post-diluvian fathers, as given by Moses in the Hebrew text, are as follows:—









































Infidelity has not failed, in various ages, to attack revelation on the score of the supposed absurdity of assigning to any class of men this lengthened term of existence. In reference to this Josephus remarks:—'Let no one upon comparing the lives of the ancients with our lives, and with the few years which we now live, think that what we say of them is false; or make the shortness of our lives at present an argument that neither did they attain to so long a duration of life.' When we consider the compensating process which is going on, the marvel is that the human frame should not last longer than it does. Some, however, have supposed that the years above named are lunar, consisting of about thirty days; but this supposition, with a view to reduce the lives of the antediluvians to our standard, is replete with difficulties. At this rate the whole time, from the creation of man to the Flood, would not be more than about 140 years; and Methuselah himself would not have attained to the age which many even now do, while many must have had children when mere infants! Besides, if we compute the age of the post-diluvians by this mode of calculation—and why should we not?—we shall find that Abraham, who is said to have died in a good old age () could not have been more than fifteen years old! Moses must therefore have meant solar, not lunar years—not, however, exactly so long as ours, for the ancients generally reckoned twelve months, of thirty days each, to the year.

But it is asked, if Moses meant solar years, how came it to pass that the patriarchs did not begin to beget children at an earlier period than they are reported to have done? Seth was 105 years old, on the lowest calculation, when he begat Enos; and Methuselah 187 when Lamech was born! St. Augustine (i. 15) explains this difficulty in a two-fold manner, by supposing

1. Either that the age of puberty was later in proportion as the lives of the antediluvians were longer than ours; or

2. That Moses does not record the first-born sons, but as the order of the genealogy required, his object being to trace the succession from Adam, through Seth, to Abraham.

As to the probable reasons why God so prolonged the life of man in the earlier ages of the world, and as to the subordinate means by which this might have been accomplished, Josephus says: 'For those ancients were beloved of God, and lately made by God himself; and because their food was then fitter for the prolongation of life, they might well live so great a number of years: and because God afforded them a longer time of life on account of their virtue and the good use they made of it in astronomical and geometrical discoveries, which would not have afforded the time for foretelling the periods of the stars unless they had lived 600 years; for the great year is completed in that interval.'

In the above passage Josephus enumerates four causes of the longevity of the earlier patriarchs. As to the first, viz., their being dearer to God than other men, it is plain that it cannot be maintained; for the profligate descendants of Cain were equally long-lived, as mentioned above, with others. Neither can we agree in the second reason he assigns; because we find that Noah and others, though born so long subsequently to the creation of Adam, yet lived to as great an age, some of them to a greater age than he did. If, again, it were right to attribute longevity to the superior quality of the food of the antediluvians, then the seasons, on which this depends, must, about Moses' time—for it was then that the term of human existence was reduced to its present standard—have assumed a fixed character. But no change at that time took place in the revolution of the heavenly bodies, by which the seasons of heat, cold, etc., are regulated: hence we must not assume that it was the nature of the fruits they ate which caused longevity. How far the antediluvians had advanced in scientific research generally, and in astronomical discovery particularly, we are not informed; nor can we place any dependence upon what Josephus says about the two inscribed pillars which remained from the old world. We are not, therefore, able to determine, with any confidence, that God permitted the earlier generations of man to live so long, in order that they might arrive at a high degree of mental excellence. From the brief notices which the Scriptures afford of the character and habits of the antediluvians, we should rather infer that they had not advanced very far in discoveries in natural and experimental philosophy [see ANTEDILUVIANS]. We must suppose that they did not reduce their language to alphabetical order; nor was it necessary to do so at a time when human life was so prolonged, that the tradition of the creation passed through only two hands to Noah. It would seem that the book ascribed to Enoch is a work of postdiluvian origin. Possibly a want of mental employment, together with the labor they endured before they were able to extract from the earth the necessaries of life, might have been some of the proximate causes of that degeneracy which led God in judgment to destroy the old world. If the antediluvians began to bear children at the age on an average of 100, and if they ceased to do so at 600 years, the world might then have been far more densely populated than it is now. Supposing, moreover, that the earth was no more productive antecedently than it was subsequently to the flood; and that the ante-diluvian fathers were ignorant of those mechanical arts which so much abridge human labor now, we can easily understand how difficult they must have found it to secure for themselves the common necessaries of life, and this the more so if animal food was not allowed them. The prolonged life, then, of the generations before the flood, would seem to have been rather an evil than a blessing, leading as it did to the too rapid peopling of the earth. We can readily conceive how this might conduce to that awful state of things expressed in the words, 'And the whole earth was filled with violence.' In the absence of any well regulated system of government, we can imagine what evils must have arisen; the unprincipled would oppress the weak, the crafty would outwit the unsuspecting, and, not having the fear of God before their eyes, destruction and misery would be in their ways. Still we must admire the providence of God in the longevity of man immediately after the creation and the flood. After the creation, when the world was to be peopled by one man and one woman, the age of the greatest part of those on record was 900 and upwards. But after the flood, when there were three couples to re-people the earth, none of the patriarchs, except Shem, reached the age of 500; and only the three first of his line, viz., Arphaxad, Selah, and Eber, came near that age, which was in the first century after the flood. In the second century we do not find that any attained the age of 240 and in the third century (about the latter end of which Abraham was born) none, except Terah, arrived at 200; by which time the world was so well peopled, that they had built cities, and were formed into distinct nations under their respective kings. See Genesis 11.

That the common age of man has been the same in all times since the world was peopled, is manifest from profane as well as sacred history. Plato lived to the age of 81, and was accounted an old man; and those whom Pliny reckons up (vii. 48) as rare examples of long life, may, for the most part, be equaled in modern times. We cannot, then, but see the hand of God in the proportion that there is between births and deaths; for by this means the population of the world is kept up. If the fixed standard of human life were that of Methuselah's age, or even that of Abraham's, the world would soon be overstocked; or if the age of man were limited to that of divers other animals, to 10, 20, or 30 years only, the decay of mankind would then be too fast. But on the present scale the balance is nearly even, and life and death keep an equal pace. In thus maintaining throughout all ages and places these proportions of mankind, and all other creatures, God declares himself to be indeed the ruler of the world.





Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Longevity'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​kbe/​l/longevity.html.
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