Longevity Of The Antediluvians Genesis 5

There has been much speculation respecting the longevity of the antediluvians. Out of nine men whose ages are recorded, one reached to nearly a thousand (969) years; and with the anomalous exception of Noah’s father, who was cut off prematurely at the age of 777, the lowest of the nine reached 895 years. The average of life, reckoned upon the whole nine, is 912 years, and upon the eight, when the anomalous example has been omitted, 926 years.

In the midst of all the reflections which this marvellous length of days awakens—the mind is led to dwell with reverent admiration upon the wisdom of God in making this remarkable and temporary provision for the increase of the human race. It had been as easy to his infinite power to have in the beginning created many pairs of human beings as one, and by that means to have ensured the more rapid peopling of the earth. But it was his gracious purpose to make of one blood all the nations of men that dwell upon the face of the earth—that the tie of brotherhood might the more intimately subsist among them by their derivation from the same ancestors; but that the peopling of the world might not be retarded by this limitation, he gives an immense duration to the lives of the primeval generations, whereby the population of the earth goes on as rapidly as if he had in the first place given existence to twelve or fifteen pairs of human beings. Thus, before the flood, one woman bears several hundreds of  children, and might in her lifetime see thousands of her descendants.

We have already intimated our belief that no materials exist for any exact calculation of the population of the antediluvian world, seeing that there may have been then, as there always have been since, some disturbing or counteracting forces by which the laws of geometrical increase are in part neutralized. Nevertheless, making the largest allowance for the possible operation of such disturbances, it is difficult to suppose that, where the deaths were so few in proportion to the births, and where the circumstances were probably at least as favorable to the natural development of the population as they are in America at this moment, it may seem a moderate calculation to assume that the world was at the time of the deluge scarcely less populous than at present. This is but allowing for the population before the deluge a rate of increase but twofold greater than it has been since—although the duration of life rendered the advantages for increase manifoldly greater.

The brevity of the historical narrative, and the fewness of the generations which cover the space of time, tend to prevent us from realizing with distinctness the great duration of the period between the creation and the flood. We forget that it exceeds by more than four hundred years the length of the period from the birth of Christ to this day—that is, according to the longer or Septuagint computation, which is generally regarded by chronologers as the most correct; but even the shorter computation makes the period little more than two centuries less than the time since the birth of our Lord—a vast period of time, during which the whole face of Europe and of a large part of Asia has been changed—and nations have grown to greatness which were at its commencement scarcely known by name. The nearly equal period before the deluge, we are apt to regard too much as a fixed point—and the recorded facts concerning it are so few, that “the antediluvians” form, as it were, but a single idea in the mind. But it was a period of great increase of  population—of large improvement in the arts—of terrible conflicts—of gigantic crimes—of extraordinary virtues—of miraculous interpositions—all of which are dimly hinted at in the Divine record. Through the whole runs the great fact of the longevity of the generations before the flood—which connected by so few living links the extremities of this long period of time, and which must have produced conditions of human experience so materially different from those, which our brief space of existence enables us to realize.
The importance of this consideration, in thinking of the arts and sciences of this period, has already been hinted at.—Touching on this theme, it is well remarked by Mr. Forsyth—“A man of talent in those days, commencing with all the knowledge communicated to Adam, and directing his attention to any art, such as the cultivation of corn, and the taming and breeding of animals, the working of metals, the art of music, the manufacture of cloths, etc., could afford to employ five or six hundred years in his favorite occupation, or in his favorite experiments. In that time he might make more progress than a succession of men can now do in a succession of ages, because each can only afford a dozen or two of years to his favorite pursuit, and then leaves the unfinished task, not perhaps to be immediately taken up by a successor. This accounts for the rapid progress of the arts in the antediluvian world.” Note: Observations on Genesis, p. 47.]

It seems to us that the purpose of God in replenishing the earth, sufficiently accounts for the longevity of the primeval man; and to find an adequate reason for it, is the only difficulty it offers. Whether in case the sins of mankind had not brought on the purgation of the deluge, man’s life would have continued of the same duration—whether the physical circumstances of the earth were more favorable to length of life before that event than they afterwards became—are points that cannot now be ascertained: but if the effect of longevity upon the increase of population be considered, we should think that the duration of life must in any case have  been shortened, or else the world, not yet fully peopled, would long ere this have been crowded with a more dense population than the earth could maintain. It is possible that the duration of man’s life, and the resulting increase of population, has, in the depths of the Divine wisdom, been adjusted with reference to the duration of the present state of the world, so that the world shall not over-swarm with people before “the time of the end.”

Some have imagined that the years in which the antediluvians’ lives are stated were shorter than ours—that in fact they were lunar years, or months. This involves the question in greater difficulties than are removed by it—and above all, it would make the duration of the world shorter than even historical evidence allows.

In fact the longevity of the primeval generations is corroborated by many ancient traditions. Josephus could appeal to them. After stating the particulars in conformity with the Mosaical account, he says, “I have, for witnesses to what I have said, all who have written antiquities both among the Greeks and barbarians; for even Manetho, who wrote the Egyptian history, and Berosus, who collected the Chaldean monuments, and Moochus and Hestiaeus, and, besides these, Hieronymus the Egyptian, and those who composed the Phoenician history, assent to what I here say: Hesiod also, and Hecataeus, Hellanicus and Acusilaus, and, besides these, Ephorus and Nicolaus, relate that the ancients lived a thousand years.” Note: See Antiquities, i. 3.]

This appeal shows, that such accounts were actually possessed, although most of them have been lost to us; and being possessed, they must either have come down as traditions from remote times, or have been derived from the books of Moses at a very ancient period—supplying in the latter alternative, a piece of evidence for the antiquity of those books. Tradition is, however, the most probable source; for we find the same accounts of primeval longevity in the records of China and Hindustan.

Extending not  beyond the flood, the Chinese annals give to the eight generations following Noah, nearly the same duration as the Hebrew historian; and Hoang-tee, who reigned in China seven hundred and thirty years after the flood, is described as remarking the gradual decline of the term of human life, and as inquiring how it came to pass, that the lives of the ancients were so long, and the life of man so short in the age in which he lived? The Institutes of Menu, also, state that in the first ages (after the flood), the life of man extended to four hundred years.