Old Guys in the Bible – Part 1

If you are likely to be offended by non-traditional looks at the Old Testament’s patriarchs, please, do not read this post. It is not meant to be offensive or insulting, not even a little bit. Yet, it does contain a non-Christian’s look at the unusual longevity of the early biblical patriarchs and a somewhat clumsy – though sincere – attempt to make ‘sense’ of it in today’s terms.

It is really Sister Carlotta‘s fault. She’s the one who got me hooked on this.

In Orson Scott Card‘s ‘Ender’s Game’ series (don’t read them out of order or you’ll spoil it for yourself!!!), she raises the topic of Old Testament patriarchs during a conversation with another character. Together, they discuss why these men might have lived for such a long time. Until she planted the idea in my head, it never occurred to me that there might be a ‘reasonable’ (as in, non-miraculous) explanation of their longevity, and that it could be a puzzle to be solved!

I love puzzles, especially logic puzzles, and this one was most tantalizing. Many Christian websites insist these high ages given for the early patriarchs are symbolic only (as there were kings from that era who claim to have reigned for a comparable time period), and have no historical value. But, what if…?

That was years ago… but being obsessive-compulsive (and a slow thinker), I never quite let go of it. What if the ages recorded in the Bible say exactly what they are meant to say, and we just don’t understand what they mean? Given the zeitgeist of the era, I even had some suspicions… but could never quite make it all fit. Then, as luck would have it, the very spiritual G’Kar handed me the key!

Yes, I know, I have a problem ‘letting go’… but I could not help myself! This is sort of ‘the look’ of the list in the Old Testament (paraphrased):

Adam was 130 years when be ‘begot’ (I take this to mean his son was born, not conceived, or 9 more months would need to be added) Seth. Then he lived for another 800 years and died at the age of 930 years.

Once the ages and years were ‘run’ through my ‘nifty little function’, this would become:

Adam was 23 years old when Seth was born, then lived for another 65 years and died at the age of 88.

The list is sequential – i.e. the son is listed immediately under his father. For brevity, I will use this format:

  • Adam was 130 23 at his son’s birth, lived for 800 65 more years and died at the age of 930 88.

Here, the age given in Genesis is ‘crossed out’ and replaced by my guess. The ages are ’rounded off’, so addition may at times appear off by a bit… Without further ado, here is the list:

From Genesis 5:3 – 32

Name        Age at son’s birth     Lived on for         Died aged

  • Adam            130    23.5             800    64.7           930    88.2
  • Seth               105    21 .5            807    65.2           912    86.7
  • Enos                90    20.3             815    65.9           905    86.2
  • Cainan             70    18.7              840    67.9           910    86.6
  • Mahalaleel     65    18.3              830    67.1            895    85.4
  • Jared             162    26.1             800    64.7           962    90.8
  • Enoch              65    18.3             300    24.2           365    42.5
  • Methuselah   187   28.1              782    63.2           969    91.3
  • Lamech         182    27.7              595    48.1           777    75.8
  • Noah              500   53.4             139     11.2           639    64.6

From Genesis 11:10 – 32

  • Shem             100    21.1           500    40.4            600    61.5
  • Arpaxad        530    55.8          403    32.5             933    88.3
  • Salah                30    15.5           403   32.5             433    48.0
  • Eber               43o    47.8           430    34.8            860    82.6
  • Peleg                30    15.5           209    16.9             239    32.4
  • Reu                230    31.6           207    16.7              437    48.3
  • Serig                30    15.5           200    16.1              230    31.6
  • Nahor            920    87.4           119       9.6            1039    97.0
  • Terah               70    18.7           139      11.2             209    29.9
  • Abram (Abraham)…

Perhaps this has already been done and rejected by people who are scholars in this field. Or, there are better ‘versions’ of this solution, and I’m just not educated enough to know about them.

Yet, I feel strangely happy that I solved ‘the puzzle’ to my satisfaction: even the proverbial Methuselah is brought into the realm of what ‘my brain’ considers ‘reasonable’: he would have fathered La-mech when he was 27 and lived until he was 87 years old. Certainly, this is a remarkably high age for his time period, but not outside ‘potential human experience’.

These answers are not likely to be ‘accurate’, but…

What do you think?

12 Responses to “Old Guys in the Bible – Part 1”

  1. Tequila Socrates Says:

    great… now you have left me without a formula and a puzzle that I thought had been solved for me. A professor of mine once claimed that if you convert the ages into months everything works out just fine. That is what I though you had done until I did it and got ridiculous answers for the age of begetting sons.

    so if your first column is “a” and your second column is “b” and your third column is “c” lets see what function your performed on these…

    a-c=b is true


    f(a) – f(c) – f(b) is true.

    b/12.3ish = f(b) is trueish.


    a/12.3ish = f(a) is definitely false.


    c/12.3ish=f(c) is definitely false.

    c/10.5ish=f(c) seems to be almost true for both Seth and Enos who have the same value b

    so c could be devided by some function of b

    there is also a correlation between descending x values for f(x) and descending f(b) values but it isn’t direct.

    what about descending b values and descending x values…

    … that was a stupid move, duh…

    oh! f(a) looks like it is unrelated to both b and c values.

    oh no… have you done something by combining f(a) and f(b) to give you f(c)

    … how do I test this….

    I hate math….

    ok I am going to guess that all functions are somehow modified from biblical year/12.3ish

    f(a) = a/ (12.3ish(g(x)))

    f(b) = (c-a)/12.3ish

    f(c) = c/(12.3ish(h(f(a), f(b))

    but wait does that mean that f(a) is in fact an entirely unrelated function… ie not an f() at all but something else.

    oh I just really suck at math…

    damn it. I give up for now.

  2. Tequila Socrates Says:

    oops c-a=b and f(c) – f(a) = f(b)

  3. Nancy Coppock Says:

    This is an answer from a Christian evangelical, so you can know where I am coming from. In a study of Genesis, I learned that we must consider these ages from the fact that man and woman were created perfect to live forever. The genetic code was perfect, without corruption. Despite the Darwinistic notion that everything is becoming genetically pure, the reality is that everything is in a slump downward.

    Because man began genetically pure, brothers and sisters were able to marry and have children without major breaks in the DNA code. This allowed man to populate the earth. If you look at the ages of the patriarchs, you will notice the ages begin to decline as devolution occurs.

    I hope this thought gives you a different perspective to ponder in your considerations.

  4. xanthippa Says:


    Thank you.

    I am familiar with this interpretation, and would certainly not wish to denigrade anyone’s articles of faith. That is why I put the cautionary note at the top of the post – I truly do not wish to intrude into someone’s personal faith. However, I am faithless – perhaps the result of how my brain is ‘wired up’ not quite right – and so I amunable to accept that explanation: it is much too removed from my experience for my brain to ‘wrap itself’ around it.

    That does not mean that my future experiences may not change that – I don’t know what the future holds. Just, right now, I could not stop looking for another explanation…

  5. xanthippa Says:


    Sorry for all the math!

    In my mind, the function for transforming the ages is the answer, the newly-arrived-at-ages are the ‘reasonableness check’ -like the orders of magnitude, or units ‘reasonableness checks’ when one is solving ‘real life problems’.

    Your examination of my numbers is good, but missing one key difference. (I love puns!)

    I thought I was ‘giving away’ this key when I mentioned G’Kar….but I suppose there are still people out there who have not memorized every word spoken on Babylon 5….hard to believe – but possible.

    I do go iexplain in detail how I got my ‘nifty little function’ – and what it is – in Part 2. Now I just wonder if I should post it today, next week, or wait for next Easter… Hmmm, decisions, decisions…. :0)

  6. Tequila Socrates Says:

    I admit, its been too long since I read Ender’s Game, and when I realized that I gave my copy of it to a friend who hadn’t read it last Christmas, I was frustrated.

    How did Babylon 5 slip by me. It must have come on during one of the periods in my life that I didn’t have access to a TV. I guess I had better catch up.

  7. kellemora Says:

    Hi X

    Don’t know HOW you came up with the numbers, but I like it!

    I toyed with something similar many times, but never came up with anything remotely considered logical, hi hi……


  8. xanthippa Says:


    the explanation is in Part 2, which I have now posted.


  9. john Says:

    Thanks for sharing the details. I found the information really helpful.

  10. A Biblical ‘Mathematical’ Puzzle « Xanthippa's Chamberpot Says:

    […] The ‘puzzle’ is presented here.  Please, read it first and consider it. […]

  11. peterodonnell Says:

    I just commented on part 2 of this study. However, as I look at your table of ages, I noticed you had one living longer than Methuselah (after the flood) which I did not think was the text of Genesis. So looking through that, I found the following discrepancies between your numbers and the information in the KJV copy of the Bible. Everything pre-flood (Noah) seems to be correct. Arpaxad however was 35 (five and thirty) years old when he had his son so that makes his total age 438. The same difference applies to Eber (34 or “four and thirty”) making him 464 years old at his passing. Then for Reu once again it is 32 (“two and thirty”) and a total age of 239. Finally the same problem applies to Nahor who was 29, not 920 when he had Terah and that makes him 148 at his passing.

    Whether these differences are due to the arcane language or some different wording in a different translation, I don’t know. But using my numbers there is definitely a progressive reduction in ages after the flood down into the range of very old Caucasus Mountains type people. Using the numbers for Nahor this eliminates the problem that he would have been alive throughout most of the Old Testament up to about the period between David and Uzziah (not that there’s anything wrong with that but nobody mentions him after Abraham).

    Maybe he was just stuffed into an old folks’ home. 🙂

    • xanthippa Says:

      Are you a fan of ‘Ender’s game’ series of books?

      The explanation given there is that the less intelligent a person was, the longer they lived….

      Intriguing proposition.

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