The epitome of an extended life span lies in the biblical tale of Methuselah or Metushelach , the longest living Hebrew patriarch. Humankind’s quest toward great lon­gevity has been a common mission throughout the generations. From scrutinizing ancient texts to the exploration of advancing modern sciences human­kind has endlessly sought a proverbial fountain of youth.

Methuselah is credited with having lived 969 years, making him the oldest person in recorded his­tory, yet little else is stated. He is mentioned in Luke 3:37 (King James Version) when tracing Jesus of Nazareth’s lineage and is noted as being the father of Lamech, Noah’s father, in Genesis 5:25-27:

And Methuselah lived an hundred eighty and seven years, and begat Lamech. And Methuselah lived after he begat Lamech seven hundred eighty and two years, and begat sons and daughters: And all the days of Methuselah were nine hun­dred sixty and nine years: and he died.

In the year of the Great Flood, or the Deluge, he eventually died.

As long as Methuselah lived, the Flood did not come upon the world. And when Methuselah died, it was withheld for another seven days after his death to fulfill the period of mourning. (Avot d’Rabbi Natan 32:1)

The direct etymology of the word Methuselah is “his death shall bring”; this translation comes from the roots mûth, meaning “death,” and shelach, meaning “to send forth.” Based on the etymological translation, the year of his death, and his remarkable age, Methuselah has often been cited as an allegory in which God withheld judg­ment upon humankind for a great period of time.

Some scholars, however, dispute Methuselah’s age and theorize that it is in fact merely an error resulting from mistranslations of text and loss of documentation through the ages. Within several early biblical texts, the numbers were written in an archaic, precuneiform Sumerian number sys­tem in which the decimal is placed differently than in latter Sumerian number systems. Their theory is that in the year 1700 BCE the scriptures were ini­tially mistranslated into a later Sumerian system and then mistranslated again in 550 BCE when compiling the Hebrew Genesis 5.

Another theory speculates that certain dates are based on a standard using lunar instead of solar cycles. This theory would convert Methuselah’s age upon death to 87, and to 15 when he fathered Lamech. However, this lunar theory also has met with skepticism, because it results in other patriarchs, such as Enoch and Mahalel, being merely 5 years old when they fathered their own children.

Other scholars have accepted Methuselah’s remarkable age as fact, yet have speculated how such a prolonged age was once feasible. Numerous theologians hypothesize that human life expec­tancy was shortened due to humankind’s falling from God’s grace. This credence is marked by the biblical examples of Adam, Methuselah, and Moses. Adam marks the end of possible immortal­ity, Methuselah marks humankind’s potential life span preflood, and Moses sets the modern stan­dard of 120 years. A recent theory as to why Methuselah lived to be nearly a millennium old is that the human gene pool experienced a massive bottleneck at the Great Flood. This theory specu­lates that a drastic loss in population, caused by events such as the Deluge, would result in small gene diversity and a loss of certain inherited gene qualities. This could have resulted in the trait for longevity to be lost or hidden deep within our genetic code. Currently, numerous scientific efforts, such as the Human Genome Project and the Methuselah Mouse Prize, are striving to dis­cover the secrets of increased longevity.

Derik Kane

See also Adam, Creation of; Bible and Time; Genesis, Book of; Longevity; Moses; Noah

Further Readings

Best, R. (1999). Noah’s ark and the Ziusudra epic. Fort Myers, FL: Enlil Press.

The Holy Bible (King James version). (1999). New York: American Bible Society.

Wieland, C. (1998). Living for 900 years. Creation Magazine, 20(4), 10-13.

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