[b-hebrew] Assumptions about ANE ages that just don't work.

biblical hebrew jcr.bhebrew at gmail.com
Fri Oct 19 06:13:29 EDT 2007

Hi all,

recently on this list assumptions have been made about Sarah's beauty based
on her age [90] and based on modern observations of what 90 year olds look
like. By Moses day people could expect to live to 70 years or if they were
particularly strong up to 80 years. But such was not the case in Abram's
day. Let's consider Genesis 11:32 where Abram is about to become the new
family head:

31 After that Te´rah took A´bram his son and Lot, the son of Ha´ran, his
grandson, and Sar´ai his daughter-in-law, the wife of A´bram his son, and
they went with him out of Ur of the Chal·de´ans to go to the land of
Ca´naan. In time they came to Ha´ran and took up dwelling there. 32 And the
days of Te´rah came to be two hundred and five years. Then Te´rah died in

Abram's father dies at the age of 205. That's three times greater than
modern life expectancy. It is therefore safe to assume that Te'rah aged
three times slower than modern humans. And so if a modern human would be in
his prime until 30 Terah would have been in his prime until he was about 90.

But the evidence doesn't stop there. How old was Abraham when he went out
from Haran? Let's consider Genesis 12:4:

1 And Jehovah proceeded to say to A´bram: "Go your way out of your country
and from your relatives and from the house of your father to the country
that I shall show you; 2 and I shall make a great nation out of you and I
shall bless you and I will make your name great; and prove yourself a
blessing. 3 And I will bless those who bless you, and him that calls down
evil upon you I shall curse, and all the families of the ground will
certainly bless themselves by means of you."
4 At that A´bram went just as Jehovah had spoken to him, and Lot went with
him. And A´bram was seventy-five years old when he went out from Ha´ran.

Abram, Terah's first born, was 75 when his father died at age 205. That puts
Terah as not only a fertile man at age 130 but leaves him fertile enough to
go on to have two more sons, Nahor and Haran. See Genesis 11:27

27 And this is the history of Te´rah.
Te´rah became father to A´bram, Na´hor and Ha´ran; and Ha´ran became father
to Lot.

Anybody around here seen any modern day 130 year old men knocking up the
local lasses? No? Are we starting to notice that modern observations of age
have little parallels with the patriarchal narratives? Still not convinced?
Let's keep going with the evidence then...

Abram is 75 when he starts trecking around the fertile crescent. No mention
of Zimmer frames or wheel chairs or chauffer driven limosines in the
patriarchal narratives so we can safely assume he was fit enough to make the
journeys as a mixture of on foot and camel back. Not seen many 75 year old
pensioners walking hundreds of kilometres or staying out a months ride on
camel back recently. Have you?

No specific mention is given as to Sarah's age at the time of entering Egypt
but we can bet, in accord with ANE practice, that she a fair bit younger
than Abram. On entering Egypt Abram specifically remarks on her beauty and
requests her to keep their marriage secret in fear of his life, Genesis

10 Now a famine arose in the land and A´bram made his way down toward Egypt
to reside there as an alien, because the famine was severe in the land. 11 And
it came about that as soon as he got near to entering Egypt, then he said to
Sar´ai his wife: "Please, now! I well know you are a woman beautiful in
appearance. 12 So it is bound to happen that the Egyptians will see you and
will say, 'This is his wife.' And they will certainly kill me, but you they
will preserve alive. 13 Please say you are my sister, in order that it may
go well with me on your account, and my soul will be certain to live due to

The narrator goes on to explicitly state the Egyptians found her attractive:

14 So it happened that, as soon as A´bram entered Egypt, the Egyptians got
to see the woman, that she was very beautiful. 15 And the princes of
Phar´aoh also got to see her and they began praising her to Phar´aoh, so
that the woman was taken to the house of Phar´aoh. 16 And he treated A´bram
well on her account, and he came to have sheep and cattle and asses and
menservants and maidservants and she-asses and camels. 1

This is how Aram started to get rich. Let's, for arguments sake, say that
Sarah was between 50 and 70 at the time. Dividing by three that puts here in
the 16-24 age bracket by modern standards. Nothing surprising about her
being good looking there.

Also, what needs to be considered when considering Sarah's beauty at age 90
is the this. Women of exceptional beauty, even by modern standards,
typically remain beautiful way past the average of their contemporaries.
Sarah died at an unexpectedly early age of 127 but at the age of 90 she was
probably about half way through her life expectancy, see Genesis 25:7,8

7 And these are the days of the years of Abraham's life which he lived, a
hundred and seventy-five years. 8 Then Abraham expired and died in a good
old age, old and satisfied, and was gathered to his people.

Abraham died at 175 and Sarah, a woman (women typically live longer than
men), died prematurely at age 127. Seen any blokes knocking around at age
175 still taking on new wives successfully knocking them up in the modern
era? No? Neither have I! Sarah was therefore the equivalent of in her
forties when she was taken by Abimelech at the age of 90. Yes, she didn't
expect to be able to bear a child but her exceptional beauty could easily
have realistically lasted until her 40's. Believe me, I'm in the Ukraine at
the moment, and seeing a beautiful women in her 40's is by no means a rare

So, in short, there are very justifiable reasons for seeing just why
assumptions about ANE ages when compared with modern standards just don't
work in the patriarchal narratives.

P.S. Jim, if you wish to respond to this. Please keep it in the topic title
and don't change back to the Genesis 20:1 topic title. This has nothing to
do with that discussion and I think most people have already had enough of

James Christian Read - BSc Computer Science
http://www.lamie.org/hebrew       Thesis 1 - Aleppo codex machine translation
http://www.lamie.org/lad-sim.doc  Thesis 2 - language acquisition simulation

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