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

Yigal Levin leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il
Sat Oct 20 16:57:59 EDT 2007

There are really two phases in biblical ages - before and the flood and 
after. Before the flood, people are listed as living hundreds of years, 
while after the flood, they are described as living long lives, but not THAT 
long. For the antedeluvians, some commentators have suggested that nature 
could have been different before the flood. In any case, I would consider 
everything before Gen. 12 to be more alegorical than historical.
However, people like the Patriarchs or Moses' living decades (but not 
centuries!) more than "normal" people can simply be seen as an expression of 
God's favor towards them. They were special people, who were more righteous 
than others, and were rewarded by God with especially long lives.

Yigal Levin

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "biblical hebrew" <jcr.bhebrew at gmail.com>
To: "b-hebrew" <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Friday, October 19, 2007 12:13 PM
Subject: [b-hebrew] Assumptions about ANE ages that just don't work.

> 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
> Ha´ran.
> 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
> 12:11-13
> 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
> you."
> 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
> occurrence.
> 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
> it.
> 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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