Old Guys in the Bible: Part 2

This traces the search for the ‘nifty little formula’ used to ‘translate’ the high ages ascribed to Old Testament patriarchs into something more closely related to our current experience, as listed in Part 1. It is certainly not intended to challenge anyone’s personal faith. If you are likely to find such exploration offensive, please, do not read this post.

Ancient peoples were rather good at setting up calendars. The Ancient Egyptians were no exception: they observed the lunar cycle, but they also kept precise track of the solar cycle which affected the seasonal flooding of the Nile. Theirs was a lunisolar calendar. And Egypt is where the Israelites came from…

Surely enough, the early Hebrew calendar. And the lunations themselves were VERY important in Early Hebrew culture, to the point that people ‘bore witness’ of having seen the new crescent moon during religious ceremonies in the Temple.

Thus, the natural inclination would be to see if it would be reasonable that the time period cited as ‘years’ really signified ‘lunation’… now to follow that lead!

The Hebrew lunisolar calendar is specific. The solar year is divided into 12 lunar months. There are a few days left at the end of the year – but no partial months are allowed. Instead, every 2 or 3 years, an extra month was inserted into the year to ‘catch up’. It was sounding complicated, but there is a regular cycle: every 19 years, exactly 7 extra lunar months were added. Averaging this out, every year would have 12 months and 7/19ths ‘extras’. So, as a simplification, one solar year could be treated as having 12.37 lunar months.

I love it when complicated-looking things turn out to have easy-to-follow rules!

Armed with this new evidence, I took a peek at the ages the Old Testament patriarchs became fathers.

Even a cursory look made it clear that there could not be a simple misunderstanding between lunar and solar cycles in the chronology: it simply does not seem credible that someone could become a father at the age of 30 months. So, there had to be another factor at play.

Sometimes, it is curious how one holds many clues, but does not see they are even related….until some key connects them all. Then, things fall into place faster than one can ‘think them through’!

It was G’Kar, a character from Babylon 5, who handed me that key. He described how as a child, he had a different name: he only chose his ‘adult’ name at his coming-of-age ceremony!

Could it be THAT simple?

The Jewish coming-of-age ceremony for boys it the bar-mitzvah, when they reach the age of 13. But, this particular ceremony has only existed in its current form for a few hundred years. So, is it based on an older tradition, one that could bring us back into Biblical times?

Jesus Christ is said to have been baptized at the age of 30. Even though Jesus’ baptism may have been indicative of induction into priesthood, it is the basis of the modern practice of baptism which marks a person as a member of the Christian community Intriguing, but …

Back to history: there has been a long tradition of welcoming boys into the ranks of men at about the age of thirteen. The ancient middle-eastern traditions are no exception to this. The early Hebrew tradition seems to have been that young boys would undergo secular education, until about their thirteenth year. After this point, they would be allowed to join the ranks of men in the Temple and study religion.

There are references to it certainly being so in the times of Abraham (Abram): Abraham himself is said to have rejected idolatry and accepted God at the age of 13, and both his sons attended a school until they turned 13, after which one went to study Hebrew scriptures, the other ‘heathen ones’. There is also evidence that 13 may not have been too rigidly adhered to, that circumstances may have led to allowing younger boys to be accepted as men.

Furhtermore, there are references that Abraham (among others) refers to his coming-of-age ceremony as the time he started being called ‘something’ – and there are many conjectures as to the meaning of this ‘something’. I certainly am not a Talmudic or Biblical scholar, so I simply lack the knowledge to comprehend, much less assess these claims…(and I fully expect to be educated on this by incoming comments). 

But, what if the ‘something’ was a reference to his own name? As in, what if these comments about him starting to be called ‘xxx’ mean that he started to be called by his name: Abraham (Abram)?  Could it be evidence of a ‘naming’ ceremony which marked the beginning of his life as a man

What if the ages, as cited in Genesis, do not refer to the number of LUNAR cycles a person lived, but the number that he had lived as a man?

Presuming 13 to be the age that the patriarch became ‘men’ (even if some, like Nahor, may have been younger), and using 12.37 as the approximate number of lunations in a year, I arrived at my ‘nifty little function’:

Age(new) = [Age(old) / 12.37] + 13

This offset by 13 years just might make ‘sense’ of the listed ages.

I would like to stress that this is not meant to criticize or deny anyone’s personal faith, should they believe these ages to be true as given in the Bible. Personal faith is above such things as my little musings!

Also, I fully expect to hear back from those of you more knowledgeable on Biblical issues than I, with valid criticisms that will demonstrate the errors of my analysis. And that would be great! I’d rather be corrected than persist in error, any day.

Yet, looking at the ‘newly proposed ages’ for these ancient men, I cannot but wonder if, possibly, there might be some plausibility……?

6 Responses to “Old Guys in the Bible: Part 2”

  1. Tequila Socrates Says:

    groaning…. ah, now I see why the numbers weren’t turning out right.

  2. xanthippa Says:

    Yes, but…

    what do you think of the idea?

  3. Dave22 Says:

    If you throw yourself out to the wolves you’ll most likely get eaten. People are strange animals and the response you may be hoping for may not be forthcoming irregardless of whether its right or not. What matters most is what you think and what you believe and the true intention of your thoughts. If they are pure of heart then what others think is irrelevant.

  4. paul Says:

    Clever, thanks for sharing this, its fascinating.

  5. peterodonnell Says:

    Xan, I just noticed these two posts in your “top posts” section. The odd length of those patriarchal lives had intrigued me too. I came to the conclusion that if not literally correct, they were symbolic of some code or principle. The one thing I did figure out (IIRC) is that in a literal (as given) framework, Methuselah died in the year of the flood. This is not explicitly stated in Genesis.

    Did you also notice that if you include the information given about Abraham and Isaac, the purported life spans began to reduce down rather quickly into what we consider to be normal nowadays (and of course it is well known that unlike these patriarchs, many people in antiquity were lucky to make it past forty). Why, they never even had time to register on the internet and get into a lawsuit. Must have been a grim existence, what with all the dinosaurs etc (this is supposed to be funny in case not obvious).


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