Friday, July 9, 2010

Genesis: Chapters 5-6

Chapter 5 is simply a list of the first ten generations of Adam, their various ages upon conceiving the next generation, and their various ages upon death. A quick numerical survey:

Mean age of death: 907.5 (Not counting Enoch, who is taken to walk with God at 365, or Noah, who is not dead at the end)
Median age of death: 911

Mean age at conception of relevant son: 155.6
Median age at conception of relevant son: 170

My father, who in all other matters believes the Bible to be of literal truth, claims that when the Bible says a patriarch was quite old, they are simply trying to express how AWESOME he was. I feel that this could have been better served by listing how many lions they slew, and how old they were when they slew their first lion, in which case Genesis: 5 would read more like:

And Seth lived seven and ten years, and slew his first lion, and begat Enos:
And Seth lived after he begat Enos and slew sixty lions, and begat sons and dauthers;
And all the lions of Seth's slaying were sixty and one: and he died.
And Enos lived twenty two years, and slew his first lion, and begat Cainan:
And Enos lived after he begat Cainan and slew fifty three lions,
And all the lions of Enos' slaying were fifty four: and he died.

Marginally more interesting! But exactly as formulaic.

Anyway, I find it difficult to believe this was meant to be interpreted as exaggeration when the ages are very exact, and sometimes very close together. What should we make of the fact that Methuselah was 969 upon dying, but Jared was a close 962? That Methuselah is 0.73% more awesome than Jared?

In Chapter 6, God puts a cap on age at 120. As far as I (read: Wikipedia) can tell, the only person who has CERTAINLY violated this sanctum is Jeanne Calment, and women probably don't count.

I think it's kind of strange that perfection and omnipotence is attributed to God, yet by Chapter 6 he's already regretting the stuff he did in Chapter 1; think ahead, God! It's only been 1,556 years, you probably should have seen this coming.


  1. I am going to start determining people's awesomeness by how many lines they have killed. None of you are looking very awesome right now.

  2. The thing about women is that they can only begat for so long! Men can begat to the bitter end, but what does it matter how long women live, if they aren't going to have any more sons after a mere half century?
    Also, I should like a more leocentric copy of the Good Book.

  3. "And Paul did kill one scrawny lion by accident, and he did weep for like an hour, and then he lived for another 7 years moaning about the lion."

  4. As a historian, I must say the Bible is a piece of crap...
    But no one interprets this list of generations as they should, anyway. This part of the Bible was written after oral tradition to legitimate certain chiefs, certain tribes, certain descendants over others : Many serious archaeologists and historians say that when you read "and So-and-so lived for 969 years and died at such time and beget such-and-such", it doesn't refer to individuals, but whole tribes and lineages. The tribes are also, probably for the most part, imaginaries... Hypothetical, or lost to time and memory. The number of years are actually symbolical, and refer to magical beliefs and superstitions that some numbers are linked to powers beyond human comprehension... For example, in early sumerian myths, 140 years is supposed to be the "best" amount of years to live for having a fulfilling life. Whatever that means.
    Same explanation for the weird lists of generations and wives in further parts of the Bible.
    So, in conclusion...
    Of course, as a chronicle, it's a piece of crap. Even better : it's a piece of crap for which we don't even have the manual anymore. And it didn't make sense in the first place.
    And everyone (especially believers) interpret it literally anyway.
    For interesting views about the history behing (and before) the Bible, and explanations of those myths, read books by Jean Bottero.

  5. Fascinating! Thanks for the historian perspective, I'd never heard that interpretation before.

  6. Please, it's my pleasure. Your blog is fascinating, and i'll follow it for sure ! I do hope you get to "do" the whole book. Don't get discouraged !