On biblical myth, and the extraordinary long life of the antediluvian patriarchs


#1

I was speaking with my pastor the other day, and I asked about the extremely old ages recorded in the book of Genesis for some of the patriarchs: Methuselah living 960 years, Noah over 700.

The good pastor replied, “I don’t think they did. Those are just stories, you know?”

At the time I didn’t have an answer; but thinking about it, how can we dismiss those numbers as “just stories?” If we start saying that, we can say that about the entire Bible, “They’re just stories.” And that is what many people say now, including the stories of the Incarnation and Resurrection: just stories, not histories.

Granted, maybe the apple that Adam and Eve ate is a symbol of something, but when the authors clearly write that someone lived a certain number of years of age, it seems to be a plain literal intent there. Especially considering the ages are, actually, considering ancient myths, rather modest. I think the Sumerians wrote that some of their kings lived for thousands of years. Nobody in the Bible lived to a thousand.

I find it hard to believe, of course; but not impossible. I mean, I do believe a man raised himself from the dead (not merely a man). So, I’m leaning towards the literal truth, that Methuselah lived 969 years, and not some kind of alternatively calculated, shorter years, but 969 cycles of the seasons.

What do you think? Are the ages literal? Is biblical inerrancy jeopardized if we start saying, “They’re just stories” ?


#2

I find it hard to believe our faith period if I start dismissing portions of the Scriptures as being myths and forgeries like some do. I feel as if God manipulates nature at times, and sometimes He just does outright miracles that do not have to be justified by some lame explanation that tries turns God’s work into a myth, inaccuracies, misconceptions of the ancients (as if 20-21st century scholars are so smart), or everything just being symbolic. In my opinion that is just cop-outs in order to pacify snotty pseudo-scholars in order to appear “intellectual”. Abandoning traditional Catholic school of thought in Biblical exegesis is a fad that I hope disappears because I see it causing levels of confusion and doubts in the minds of many who are beginning to learn more about the Bible.

That being said, let me give some explanations from the Aquinas Study Bible from Genesis 5

Why did people of old live for such a long time? So that the race would grow in numbers thanks to the longer life-span. This is the reason they had many wives. Indeed, from the flood up to the time of the patriarchs, they had long lives, but when they had populated the world, the number of their years was shortened. (Theodoret of Cyrus)


#3

I have no problem with the long life at all.

A&E had physically and genetically perfect bodies. The genetic deterioration had not yet set in.

Notice, the story of long life does not just fall off. It tails off, subsequent to the flood. Clearly, human life changed as a result of the flood.

ICXC NIKA


#4

The introduction to Genesis from the Navarre Bible commentary:

'The opening words of the narrative ("In the beginning God created...") signal the purpose and even the content of the first book of the Bible - namely, to show how God acted in the early days of the world and of peoples and in particular the people of Israel. The author knows that the ultimate explanation for things and for history can be found only in God. He is not attempting to provide a scientific account of reality or of history. His focus is religious; this needs to be borne in mind if we are to understand the book properly. Its name - Genesis ("The origins") - was the Greek name given to it when it was translated into that language in the 2nd century BC.


#5

[quote="GEddie, post:3, topic:311884"]
I have no problem with the long life at all.

A&E had physically and genetically perfect bodies. The genetic deterioration had not yet set in.

Notice, the story of long life does not just fall off. It tails off, subsequent to the flood. Clearly, human life changed as a result of the flood.

ICXC NIKA

[/quote]

Bingo! I agree with this. Lifespans decreased over time, until recently, when technology artificially extends them.


#6

i think your Pastor expressed himself poorly, or you misunderstaood
these are definitely not just stories

i don't approach the Bible as a paper on history, (there are no references to past documents, interviews with individuals, lengthy appendices, etc), or a treatise on the natural sciences (no experiments, measurements, analyses, etc).
I also don't catagorize sections as metaphorical, allegorical; for me there is no point.
It's a matter of reading it with an open heart and mind to come closer ot God and my fellow man.

What I take from it, is that they lived more. They were closer to that direct contact with God that we had originally. They were very extraordinary ppl. Personally, i don't know about how long they actually lived. I don't think there is any way to prove it one way or another. They may have had better immune systems. There may have been fewer toxins in the environment. It would not be so much that the DNA was purer, but more that the process of aging that is in our genes (We are built to grow old.) was set differently. It's all conjecture, except that it says so in the Bible, and it must have some significance.


#7

Adam and Eve never touched an apple. Read this, by Dr. Richard Sungenis,
a traditional Catholic, concerning the Fall, it’s very perceptive.
catholicintl.com/index.php/protestant/justification/1130-a-fresh-look-at-adam-eve-and-the-serpent

Fwiw, I have always believed the long lives of antedeluvians as a condition
of their proximity to the perfection of mankind in its pre-Fall state. Think
of it as devolution. As generations became further away from the pre-Sin
state, their perfection decreased.


#8

When the Genesis author wrote “years,” did he.actually use the same notion of year we have today? As in 365 days?


#9

Is it allowable if I link to a long thread discussing this exact question I wrote likely twenty or more standard, printed pages in (I defend the necessity of the historicity of Genesis for Christianity to make any rational sense), along with replies and rebuttals from others who do not, as a sort of "Counterpoints"?

I really don't think I can go over it here any better than I did there, and my fingers hurt even thinking about typing that much again. If it is allowable to link, forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=739735 thus is the link; if it is not allowed, please delete this post.

If the OP would like, I will copy and paste some of the more essay-like material that I wrote, that depends not on other replies in the thread to make sense, over to this one.


#10

[quote="raikou, post:8, topic:311884"]
When the Genesis author wrote "years," did he.actually use the same notion of year we have today? As in 365 days?

[/quote]

The years were between 350 and 370 solar, sidereal (fixed stars) days long, depending on how they were reckoned (months being lunar or solar), but it's generally accepted they were either 360 or 365 days. (Not taking in to account that days have possibly increased or decreased in length, slightly [less than 1.5%], since then: for a good review of the issue of exactly how many days to a year, see Creation Research Society Quarterly, Vol 49:2, Fall 2012, pp. 100ff.) In any case, they were, indeed, "years", as we now think of them.


#11

[quote="Khalid, post:9, topic:311884"]
Is it allowable if I link to a long thread discussing this exact question I wrote likely twenty or more standard, printed pages in (I defend the necessity of the historicity of Genesis for Christianity to make any rational sense), along with replies and rebuttals from others who do not, as a sort of "Counterpoints"?

I really don't think I can go over it here any better than I did there, and my fingers hurt even thinking about typing that much again. If it is allowable to link, forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=739735 thus is the link; if it is not allowed, please delete this post.

If the OP would like, I will copy and paste some of the more essay-like material that I wrote, that depends not on other replies in the thread to make sense, over to this one.

[/quote]

Thanks Khalid, I clicked and read it there. Excellent response, and I agree — though I'm not sure we need to accept geographic universality for the Deluge, but that's another topic. > newadvent.org/cathen/04702a.htm <


#12

I'm YEC, which puts me in a distinct minority, but, the points in my initial two posts in the other threads hold, no matter what position one takes on creation - they have to deal solely with the nature, purpose, goal, and result of Biblical exegesis (and how it all falls apart rapidly once, in this case, the ages of the Patriarchs, are denied).

I draw a parallel to typological interpretations that don't exist, stating, that if one accepts the typology, but believes the antitype to be a myth or a lie, one is being contradictory.


#13

I find it interesting that all people seem to have an age in their legend when everyone lived a very long time. They have different names and lifespans but in general the myth of all people tend to agree on that.

So from anthropology and my belief that even fiction is rooted ultimately in reality I would suggest we must accept that life spans of the ancients for some reason were longer even if we can't explain why.

My way of understanding is something truly drastic happened during the deluge that resulted in shorter life spans. I note that the comment in psalms that our lifespan is now 70 or 80 years interesting. In general post flood our natural lifespan has remained constant while the average did go much lower due to many dying from disease instead of old age.

the days of our years in them are threescore and ten years. But if in the strong they be fourscore years: -- Psalm 90:10


#14

[quote="raikou, post:8, topic:311884"]
When the Genesis author wrote "years," did he.actually use the same notion of year we have today? As in 365 days?

[/quote]

Even if a lunar calendar were used, the difference would be less than 10 %. Not the factor of more than 10 we see versus modern times.

One argument I hear a LOT is "years really meant months". A&E had perfect heads, as well as bodies, they were not stupid!! Nobody living "off the earth" would EVER confuse years for months!!!!!!!!

ICXC NIKA


#15

[quote="GEddie, post:14, topic:311884"]
Even if a lunar calendar were used, the difference would be less than 10 %. Not the factor of more than 10 we see versus modern times.

One argument I hear a LOT is "years really meant months". A&E had perfect heads, as well as bodies, they were not stupid!! Nobody living "off the earth" would EVER confuse years for months!!!!!!!!

ICXC NIKA

[/quote]

Not to mention that if months were meant, a good number of the Patriarchs would have begat their firstborn before five years of age. QED.


#16

Tim Staples provides an answer for this sort of question: youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=2XfpZcv4rOE#!

Also Jimmy Akin gives a good answer on Catholic Answers Live show #5762 about 12 min 30 seconds into the show.


#17

[quote="Neithan, post:1, topic:311884"]
I was speaking with my pastor the other day, and I asked about the extremely old ages recorded in the book of Genesis for some of the patriarchs: Methuselah living 960 years, Noah over 700.

The good pastor replied, "I don't think they did. Those are just stories, you know?"

At the time I didn't have an answer; but thinking about it, how can we dismiss those numbers as "just stories?" If we start saying that, we can say that about the entire Bible, "They're just stories." And that is what many people say now, including the stories of the Incarnation and Resurrection: just stories, not histories.

Granted, maybe the apple that Adam and Eve ate is a symbol of something, but when the authors clearly write that someone lived a certain number of years of age, it seems to be a plain literal intent there. Especially considering the ages are, actually, considering ancient myths, rather modest. I think the Sumerians wrote that some of their kings lived for thousands of years. Nobody in the Bible lived to a thousand.

I find it hard to believe, of course; but not impossible. I mean, I do believe a man raised himself from the dead (not merely a man). So, I'm leaning towards the literal truth, that Methuselah lived 969 years, and not some kind of alternatively calculated, shorter years, but 969 cycles of the seasons.

What do you think? Are the ages literal? Is biblical inerrancy jeopardized if we start saying, "They're just stories" ?

[/quote]

"Genesis does not contain purified myths." Pontifical Biblical Commission, 1909

Yes, once we call this or that a story in the Bible, what's next? The Bible is true in all its parts. Did Jesus need or use science to raise the dead, give sight to the blind, cleanse the lepers or turn water to wine, instantly? He showed us what being God is. It's not like being a regular human being.

I believe in the long ages. That they are as recorded in the Bible.

Peace,
Ed


#18

The longevity details of these accounts fall in the take it or leave it category. Absolutely no doctrine or dogma stems from or relies on reading these particular details as literal historical fact. Now, of course, young earth advocates would like to install some new doctrines for sure. Also, these particular details are not some cap stone test on which the authority of scripture stands or falls, as some would fear. There is also hardly anything morally relevant in the details unless one wants to squeeze some right to natural death analogy from the details. I respect the challenge facing the ancient writer to make sense out of what he/she knew of the past and to square that with his/her theology. More interesting than the "it's so" conversations are the many questions these ancient writings can raise. Why this number of generations? Why these amounts of time? What do these names mean in their native tongue? What connections to these facts occur in other scriptures? And on and on. To dismiss with the necessity that these particular details are historical fact does no discredit to the scripture, the writer or the Holy Spirit. In fact, for me, it opens the door to more understanding, more wonder.

I agree then with your pastor, to the degree to which I believe I understand his position.

Respectfully,
Peterk


#19

In Genesis 6:3 we find: "Then the LORD said: My spirit shall not remain in man forever, since he is but flesh. His days shall comprise one hundred and twenty years."

Doesn't this mean that God set a time limit to peoples' lives? So before the existence of this limit, people's lives were much longer and thus the patriarchs' ages are correct?

(Though I'm confused by this passage because several people after it live much longer lives than 120. If anyone wants to have a go at clarifying that, please do!)


#20

"Man's time shall be 120 years" was spoken 120 years before the Flood (add the numbers together in the life of Noah, counting back from his death) - when man was eradicated from the Earth, along with all nephesh creatures. It was a warning of the Deluge to come, not an arbitrary limit upon lifespans, although it has been interpreted both ways (the grammar allows for both interpretations). Obviously, the "warning of the Flood" interpretation is not fraught with exegetical difficulty as the other is.


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