OUR LONG-LIVED ANCESTORS
This is the first of three articles, complete in themselves, which offer interesting and sometimes provocative comments on statements made in the book of Genesis. These are questions which have never ceased to interest mankind, and before his death in 1955 Wing Commander V. Matvieff, R.A.F. set out his views which are here published.
PART ONE: PRE-DELUGE PERIOD
ON first reading the Bible it is common to comment with incredulity on the recorded length of life of Adam and his more immediate successors. Various explanations have been propounded., for example, that the year was shorter before the Flood. Apart from the fact that many of Noah's successors also lived periods exceeding the modern span by many times, this is disproved astronomically. Another customary suggestion is that Adam, Seth, Enosh, etc., represent tribes of these names, who might well exist for several centuries, rather than individuals; or alternatively that they were tribes taking their name from their founder. Yet another theory. is that these names were the titles of their tribal kings or chiefs in succession. There is no historical support for any of these theses, and as regards the last mentioned, the Bible itself, as in the case of Agag, is careful to indicate where such a title existed.
Another question which occurs to not a few is that of population. If in 4000 B.C. the population was but two, how could it have expanded in sixteen and a half centuries to the many millions which we are led to believe perished in the Flood? Particularly if they were living a century, or even five, before producing their first-born?
These questions form two of the early hurdles which a reader must clear at once if he is not to approach the whole of the Bible, and Genesis in particular, with scepticism. The whole proposition as presented in the early chapters of Genesis must be examined before proceeding further.
It is not generally realized that the schedules of births and deaths and ages,which so many pass over as dull reading, are there for a purpose and are of vital importance. They provide a complete 'calendar' of the major events, link these events with each other in time over a period of two and a half millennia, link the whole of these events, which started nearly 6,000 years ago, with today, and thereby keep the whole in perspective. This is just as important as geographical location. In compiling such a calendar from the data provided, the commencing date is a matter of choice. One may start by calling the year in which Adam was created the year one and compute from there. Or we may accept Bishop Ussher's original dating, viz.that Adam was created in 4004 B.C. Any other dating for example as 'the year 1655 before Flood', would serve. As a matter of interest, one point is not clear from the Bible, namely whether Adam lived 930 years from the time he was created, whether this counts from the Fall and occlusion from the Garden of Eden. However, relating verses 1 and 5 of chapter 5, it is reasonable to assume that this is his total life as from his creation. I have selected for our purposes the most recently revised dating viz. 4000 B.C. as the year of Adam's creation, as providing the best perspective. On this basis, Genesis chapter 5, which leaves so little impression on the mind, has been tabulated diagrammatically, when the data immediately assumes a new meaning and discloses many surprises
THE SPAN OF LIFE
From the diagram we can see at once that, near enough they lived for a similar span, with the sole exception of Enoch, who was 'taken by God' under special circumstances. With the same exception they averaged 908 years with no marked difference until Noah's father, who fell short of the average by 131 years. Noah himself exceeded the average. We may conclude, therefore, that under the conditions extant at that time, 900 years was a normal span of life.
Fortunately we have archaelogical support of this view in a recent find in the Biblical area of otherwise normal skeletons, the skulls of which contain a full or nearly fullset of teeth, save that these teeth show such signs of wear in use that their former possessor cannot have been less than five centuries old, and probably considerably more, at the time of his death. The basic causes of this longevity, will be discussed in the third article of this series.
The biggest surprise in the diagram is to find that Adam died after Lamech (Noah's father) was born, and that Adam's grandson lived to see Noah. That does not convey much until it is realized that Lamech was Adam's great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson and that, since none of the intervening ancestors had died, nine generations were alive simultaneously. Today we are glad to see a grandchild; a great-grandchild is an exception which would be reported in the newspapers. Noah could have received information concerning the Garden of Eden at not more than second-hand.
It must not be supposed that these long-lived ancestors retired gracefully at 65 and spent the remaining eight and a half centuries in senile seclusion. The contrary is stated. Two of them were over 180 before they fathered their named offspring, and Noah was 500 when Shem, Ham and Japheth were born to him. It is not unreasonable to presume that their useful lives were in proportion to their life span, and that instead of being able to reproduce their kind up to the age of approximately 70 out of a span of 90, these ancestors of ours were fecund until at least 700.
PARENTHOOD AT GREATER AGES
The earliest recorded births in this era were at 65. It is important to realize that the Bible only specifies the son who inherited, to whom the birthright was given, and that this son, being selected by God to carry on the line which He was forming in accordance with His plan,was not necessarily the eldest. There may well have been many born before him, but they are neither named nor dated. Certain exceptional cases such as Cain, Abel, Ham and Japheth are named only because their lives or descendants had a special bearing upon subsequent history, and their births are usua1ly undated. How many children could a man produce, even in all moderation, in some 635 or more years. And how many more his children's children? Even the Bible halts at naming or numbering the tremendous families these patriarchs produced, being content merely to state 'and he begat sons and daughters'(Genesis 5: 4, 7, 10, 13, 16, 19, 22, 26, 30, etc.).
Adam, too, must be deemed a special case. As he was created, not born, he was from the start in his prime. There would be no period of childhood or adolescence and, on eviction from the Garden, could attain parenthood immediately.
No wonder the Bible summarizes the situation thus:
"When men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters.were born unto them" - (Genesis 6:1)
But for two factors, longevity and prolific fecundity, the earth couId not have been populated to the extent that it was by descendants of Adam. As it is, there is nothing incompatible between the history and the facts.
END OF THE CYCLE
Down to Methuselah within a reasonable margin the birthright sons appear with marked regularity, at an average interval of 98 years. With Lamech and Noah the interval suddenly recedes to 185 years, and finally 500 years elapse before the birth of Shem.
But it will also be noted from Diagram 1 that, after the birth of Lamech, Adam and his successors in the main line began to die off more rapidly than the birth of new generations. Noah and his sons alone survived the Flood, Lamech died four years before the Flood and, apart from Noah and his family, Methuselah alone was left. The latter is recorded as dying in his 969th year, which was the year of the Flood, but the history does not record whether his death preceded or was due to that calamity.
A new factor appeared in the lives of the Adamic stock. Apart from the murder of Abel, natural death appeared for the first time, after 930 years - nearly a millennium. By way, of comparison, if Adam were on his death-bed today, he would remember the landing of William the Conqueror.
To be continued
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