120 Years in Genesis 6

Myron Joshua joshm at kfar-etzion.co.il
Fri Jan 4 03:47:27 EST 2002

Concerning the two options of interpreting the meaning of 120 years in

I would prefer the interpretation that 120 years refers to the limiting of
man's age even though there has been an attempt of mixing a divine or super
race with a human one.

1.There is no direct evidence of the idea of repentance nor is any warning
given to Man by G-d in this unit or the following narrative.

2. The story of Chapt.6 (like the Tower of Babel Story) seems to have an
independant quality that while it relates to the adjacent narrative it
serves as a marker between eras.

Therefore there is no reason to relate 120 years to the flood chronology

The limiting of man's age because he remains flesh, even though there has
been a union of Divine (Elohim) and Human, fits in with a motif that runs
from Garden of Eden through the Tower of Babel stories concerning the
Humaness of man and the problem of defining his limits vis a vis the Divine.

3. It could be claimed that, even if the above speculation is true, in the
present context the original meaning of 120 years as a limit of man's age is
irrelevant-rather it should be connected to the Flood story that follows.

This is necessary to explain away the contradiction that, in the present
Biblical context, the 120 year age limit contradicts the evidence of the
following chapters where men continue to achieve longer life spans.

However in the broader context of the Torah we can note the following:

A. 120 years is considered an optimum age (see Moses' age at Death.) (The
110 years of Joseph is considered an Egyptian equivalent and Joshua, a
direct descendant of Joseph and "second" to Moses inherits the same age at
his death.)

B. There is a progressive decline in ages of death as we move from Creation
Epics to the Historical Epic of Israel. (Step one-between creation and
flood, step two-between Flood and Patriarchs, step three-Patriarch and
finally Joseph and Moses-founders of the nation)

C. The people being born of the special union of Chapter 6 are called Men of
Renown (literally Men of NAME). The point of the story in the broad Biblical
context is not only to show us why the flood takes place but also to
highlight that attempts of acheiving NAME and being closer to the divine are
dependant on G-d and not man's actions. The builders of the Tower of Babel
wanted to make a NAME for themselve and were thwarted. However G-d revealed
himself to Abraham and promised him tha his NAME would be blessed. The
direct reactions that G-d takes, dispersing the builders and limiting man's
age are proof of his total control.

There seems to be a variety of expressions of Biblical notions concerning
the evolvement of History and it relation to superhistorical periods and

It is amazing how the Bible affords us the opportunity to read these units
as part of an onrunning narrative on the one hand, but also keeps alive
other messages by linking them through various motifs and common language.

Also note that the Rabbis also desired to preserve the interpretion that 120
years means the maximum that even a Man of Elohim like Mose could live. They
comment that the word BeSHeGaM (which appears in the verse in question)
numerically equals the MoSHeH (Moses) in gematria.

Shabbat Shalom and have a Good Weekend,

Myron Joshua/Kibbutz Kfar Etzion

> Hi
> I am wondering if anyone has any great interpretations for the Genesis
> passage that talks about man only having 120 years left.  Some say that
> is the new "lifespan for mankind" others say this is how long it would be
> until the flood....which is correct? Either? Are there any Hebrew
> Thanks for your thoughts
> Jeff Fisher
> Minister,  Church of Christ
> San Diego

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