Sunday, September 26, 2010

Methuselah and the Flood

The extraordinarily long lives of the ante-diluvian patriarchs have always elicited debate among scholars of Sacred Scripture, especially that of Methuselah, who was just shy of a millennium when he died. We read in the fifth chapter of Genesis of Methuselah, the oldest human being who ever lived; according to the Scriptures, he lived to be 969 years old (Gen. 5:27). Methuselah was the son of Enoch, the first human to be assumed into Paradise, and was also the grandfather of Noah. Here is the genealogy of Methuselah as presented in Genesis 5:25-32:
When Methuselah was one hundred and eighty-seven years old, he became the father of Lamech.Methuselah lived seven hundred and eighty-two years after the birth of Lamech, and he had other sons and daughters.The whole lifetime of Methuselah was nine hundred and sixty-nine years; then he died.When Lamech was one hundred and eighty-two years old, he begot a son and named him Noah, saying, "Out of the very ground that the LORD has put under a curse, this one shall bring us relief from our work and the toil of our hands." The whole lifetime of Lamech was seven hundred and seventy-seven years; then he died. When Noah was five hundred years old, he became the father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Lamech lived five hundred and ninety-five years after the birth of Noah, and he had other sons and daughters.
Aside from the question of whether these long lifespans are literal or not (and I see no reason why they can't be), there is a very interesting correlation here between the life of Methuselah and the coming of the great Flood. We know that Methuselah lives to be 969 years old. We also know that the Flood comes in Noah's 600th year, according to Genesis 7:11. If we work backwards from the Flood to the birth of Noah, we have 600 years. Now, from the birth of Noah back to the birth of Noah's father Lamech, Genesis tells us was 182 years. From the birth of Lamech back to the birth of his father, Methuselah, we are told that 187 years elapsed.

So, from the birth of Methuselah to the great Flood we have three periods, 187 years, 182 years and 600 years. If we add these three periods together, we come up with 969 years, the exact same span of time that Methuselah was on the earth.
What does this mean? It indicates that the Flood happened in the same year Methuselah died, which can be interpreted in two ways: (1) God (depending on how one interprets Gen. 6:3), seems to warn that man has only one hundred and twenty years left until they are judged. Since the Flood happened in the same year Methuselah died, we could not unreasonably conjecture that God was postponing the Flood until the death of Methuselah, not wanting to destroy the righteous along with the wicked. (2) Or, perhaps, as one of the students in my Sacred Scripture class flippantly suggested, Methuselah was one of the wicked who was washed away in the Flood. Since Methuselah was the son of righteous Enoch, who was assumed into Paradise, I am disinclined to think this is likely.

God was, therefore, probably waiting for Methuselah to die before He sent the Flood.  This is corroborated by ancient Jewish tradition; according to the Targums, Aramaic commentaries on the Old Testament, the Flood began after the seven days of mourning for the death of Methuselah were ended (source). By the way, if you do the math, Lamech, father of Noah, predeceased Methuselah by five years. 

I don't know why or if this is very important, but it is interesting to point out and reminds us that these lifespans given to the antediluvian patriarchs are not arbitrary.

Anselm also did an interesting post on the issue of chronology sometime ago, if you are interested (here).


Anonymous said...

I read this blog off and on and don't usually agree with much you write. With this entry it is much the same. I think the importance in this is not your math, or anything else, it's your believing somebody lived a thousand years. A thousand years in such a uncivilised and unenlightended time no doubt. I don't feel I need to go into all the ways this is wrong, you should know.

Now this won't be posted as I see it's censored but I guess you know I think it's silly.

Boniface said...

Why do people always think that just because I censor my comments means I won't publish comments I disagree with!

You are right in that this argument about the math is pointless if there is a disagreement about whether or not these people lived a thousand years. In that matter, I think it's an issue of faith, as it's not something that can be established by empirical evidence.

I don't think it's a matter of dogma, though; there are other Catholics who disagree on the issue of the lifespans of the patriarchs.

Maria said...

I don't think that believing they could live that long is silly... And I agree: This is a matter of Faith.