The Ages of the Patriarchs

How many are the days of the years of thy life?  He answered: The days of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty years, few, and evil, and they are not come up to the days of the pilgrimage of my fathers. And blessing the king, he went out. (Genesis 47: 9-10).

These are the words of Jacob to Pharaoh who was amazed at the long age of Jacob. 147 years in all. Monsignor Pope could have cited this passage in his support for the longevity of the patriarchs. He calls the long years a “preternatural” gift. Well, as distinguished from supernatural, that is true. However, before the flood it was not preternatural to live many centuries but simply natural. (Unless one were to hold that the sons of Cain did not live as long as the sons of Seth.) Just as after the flood it was natural for the long ages to diminish. Some think that this was due to less oxygen in the atmosphere after the flood or less nutrients in the soil. Too, men did begin to eat meat only after the flood: “And every thing that moveth and liveth shall be meat for you: even as the green herbs have I delivered them all to you” (Genesis 9:3). So, before the flood the herbs were enough for man but afterwards, apparently, man needed more protein for strength. In any event as Monsignor Pope says, let’s just take scripture as it is given to us. Moses knew that the dating times of old were the same as in his day when he wrote the Pentateuch. A year was about 12 months, a month was four weeks, and a week was seven days. The patriarch Enoch lived 905 years and then he was “translated” and is alive still with Elias, no doubt in the garden of Eden.

Speaking of Enoch, he did not die in the flood. Therefore, there were actually nine souls that did not perish in the flood, that’s one more than the eight that were saved in the ark as we read in Genesis and Saint Peter’s first epistle (1 Peter 3:20).

Community in Mission, Monsignor Charles Pope: I occasionally get questions about the remarkably long lives of the patriarchs who lived before the great flood. Consider the ages at which these figures purportedly died:

  • Adam – 930
  • Seth – 912
  • Enoch – 905
  • Jared – 962
  • Methuselah – 969
  • Noah – 950
  • Shem – 600
  • Eber – 464
  • Abraham – 175
  • Moses – 120
  • David – 70

How should we understand these references? Read on: