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Life expectancy in ancient times--are there other faiths that record people living for over half a millenium?

In the Old Testament, there are stories of people, like Noah, who lived past 700 years. He had children when he was over 500 years old, and built the Ark when he was 600 years old. There are other stories in the Bible of people who lived for several hundred years. Adam was said to have lived 930 years, and Methusela was said to have lived to the very ripe old age of 969.

I am more familiar with the mythology of the Bible, but not so much of that of other religions.  Are there others where life expectancy was so long?  And, what caused the life expectancy in the Bible to drop so significantly?  What do you think was the purpose of reporting such a incredibly long life span in the Bible?

Life expectancy throughout time, according to historical research and scientific reports not affiliated with any religion, varies from around 20 years to our modern average life-expectancy of around 78-82 years.

One explanation I found is that they counted lunar cycles as years, thus bringing Methulesa's age at death to about 78--however, ancient people lived in agrarian cultures and would have been well aware of the difference between months and years, and it would also have, by that account, some of these men fathering children at five years of age. 

Answer Question

Asked by jsbenkert at 12:31 PM on Mar. 23, 2011 in Religious Debate

Level 37 (89,331 Credits)
Answers (20)
  • I often wonder about this too. The answer I've heard (and this is taking the Bible literally, not as mythology) is that when the earth was first created it had a kind of a cloud covering that protected it from the suns rays. When God flooded the earth that covering broke causing it to rain for 40 days and nights. After that people's life expectancy started dropping. I'm not sure how many generations it was from Noah to Abraham, but by Abraham 100 years was considered very old to have children, but not impossibly old like today, as he still lived to be in his 170s.

    Answer by mybella81 at 12:36 PM on Mar. 23, 2011

  • I do believe they counted "years" differently back then, though I'm not sure how. Or that perhaps use the bigger numbers for age merely to imply that people lived long/full lives, if you get what I mean?

    Answer by bandgeek521 at 12:59 PM on Mar. 23, 2011

  • Years were counted differently. There were many different calendars. The calendar we have now didn't become standard until some time during the Roman Empire (if I remember correctly).

    Answer by purpleducky at 1:31 PM on Mar. 23, 2011

  • How do you think time was measured, then, in the Old Testament--especially in the early books? Later in the Old Testament, time seems to travel along the lines that we follow now, with life expectancies being less fantastic, and more in lines of what we understand them to have been in during, for example, when Joseph was supposed to have lived.  In the Bronze Age, when Noah was supposed to have lived to over 700 years old, life expectancy (according to our understanding of time) was around twenty years.


    Comment by jsbenkert (original poster) at 2:08 PM on Mar. 23, 2011

  • I am not a scholar of ancient Hindu text by any means.. However, I can share my interpretations/thoughts.

    In Hindu text, the life span seems to be around 120 or so years. Lord Krishna lived for 126 years. I believe that if there was an example/instance of anyone living 500+ years as you are asking about, then Krishna would have been one. I say that because Lord Krishna was an avatar of God an incarnation of God on this earth, and is believed to be (by many) to be THE most complete personification of "God" that has ever lived on earth/lived as a man. If the one who is believed to be an incarnation of God did not live past 126, I find it hard to believe others did.. Even in the Ramayana, the average life span was around 100 years. So the average lifespan in Hindu text isn't that far off from present day lifespans.

    Again. I am no scholar. I could very well be very wrong.. lol.. I'm just sharing what I do know. :-)

    Answer by pixie_trix at 2:38 PM on Mar. 23, 2011

  • In the Qur'an Noah is over 1000 years old-

    Answer by soyousay at 3:25 PM on Mar. 23, 2011

  • teacheri find it hard to believe these people lived to be hundreds of years, yet another exaggerated snippet from the good ole book.


    Answer by gwen20 at 5:04 PM on Mar. 23, 2011

  • yet another exaggerated snippet from the good ole book.'

    Which book- The OT or the Qur'an?

    Answer by soyousay at 5:13 PM on Mar. 23, 2011

  • The answers vary greatly when I try to find when the Old Testament was written, but the general consensus seems to be that the first passages were written by Moses around 1500BC. The Quran was written around 650 AD.

    Either way, by around 5,000 years ago, it appears that Sumerians had a calendar that divided the year into 30-day months and the year was recognized by the position of the stars in a particular point of the year. The sundial was created around 1500 BC, so an accurate marking of time was established by the time Moses was to have started writing the Old Testament. Why, then, did he record such remarkably long lives of his predecessors?  Why would the Quran record that Noah lived to be 1000?


    Comment by jsbenkert (original poster) at 6:03 PM on Mar. 23, 2011

  • Why, then, did he record such remarkably long lives of his predecessors? Why would the Quran record that Noah lived to be 1000?

    That is why you can not get mucked up in the details and trying to prove or disprove- you either believe in the overall message or you do not- there are only theories to how a year was measured thousands of years ago based on what we believe to be true now-but remember science is ever changing as well- Pluto is a planet, oh no its not- AIDS is airborne, oh no its not- IVF is impossible, oh wait no its not- Autism is caused by vaccines, oh wait maybe not- and these are just examples in our lifetime-
    If you are looking for iron clad answers or proof in science- you will never find them- if you are looking for a bigger picture and for a positive message for your life-its possible to find that-

    Answer by soyousay at 7:29 PM on Mar. 23, 2011

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