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Why Did People in the First Millennia Live for So Long?

Why Did People in the First Millennia Live for So Long?


Dear Rabbi,

Can you explain why the lifespans of the early generations were incredibly long? According to Genesis, Adam died at age 930, Noah was almost 500 when he started building the ark (not bad!), and Methuselah lived a world record 969 years. So what happened? Why don’t we live that long anymore?


The longevity of our patriarchs raises several questions. What does it feel like to hit 900? When did they have their midlife crisis? Were centenarians getting up to teenage mischief? Did parents tell their children, “Stop acting like a 40-year-old!”?

Whatever the case, the first few generations of humanity lived extremely long lives, and then after Noah’s flood we see a dramatic reduction in average lifespan—people begin to live as long as we do today.

We know that each soul that comes into the world arrives with a set of missions to fulfill. The person housing that soul is given a lifespan that is long enough to complete these missions.

The main difference between the earlier and later generations is that the first generations of humanity had large, “all-encompassing” souls. People in later generations possessed only fragments of those original souls. Those souls were broken up and shared between several individuals.

The earlier generations had big souls and long lifespans, because they had a lot of work to do. In later generations, these big souls were spread out among thousands and millions of individuals, in the form of smaller souls with less work to do, and thus shorter lifetimes to do it in.

But if, for whatever reason, a soul does not complete all the work it needs to in one lifetime, it is given more chances. A reincarnated soul is a spark of an earlier soul that comes back to earth in a new body to complete unfinished business from its previous life.

None of us know how much time we have, but we do know that we don’t have centuries. We don’t have the luxury to start building our ark when we are 500. Better start now.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to
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Discussion (89)
November 19, 2014
I do not agree with this answer as the life of Enoch proves it wrong.
November 16, 2014
Ancient Biology
I'll have to disagree on the years meant only months theory. If you read the text after Noah there is significant reduction in ages that matches very well with Biological decay models. In Abraham's time the ages were just beginning to level off to where they are today. Many cultures had a 360 day/year calendar and that may reflect a change in Earth's orbit subsequent to Noah's flood, but that is just a hypothesis. In Regards to the question of Sarah, the only thing I can speculate is that child bearing years, probably, at the time of Sarah, was more closely what we observe today. I'm sure Abraham knew of the Noah's sons who had lived long lives, but as you read in the text there was decline in life spans that I'm sure they observed as well. I believe the ancients were far wiser than we give them credit for today. Maybe Sarah had past menopause and it really was a miracle. Maybe she had the last vestiges of uncorrupted genes that would allow for childbearing at such a late age?
November 14, 2014
Anonymous of UK wrote: “So if people lived so long then, why was it deemed such a miracle when Sarah conceived at the age of 90!”

For human beings in the truly ancient Patriarchal narratives (though only in a handful of various cases elsewhere in the Bible), the Hebrew word "shanah" does not have the modern meaning of "12-month year", but rather has the archaic meaning of "turn of the year", which basically is a 6-month "year". Thus Sarah was age 45 in 12-month years when she bore Isaac. That is at, but not beyond, the biological maximum date for a female human to bear her first child successfully in the ancient world. Old Sarah giving birth to Isaac was a semi-miracle, and very rare in the ancient world, but was not a true miracle in the narrow sense of defying the laws of biology or physics.
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois, USA
November 14, 2014
So if people lived so long then, why was it deemed such a miracle when Sarah conceived at the age of 90! There is no way, but no way, a woman aged 90 could naturally conceive then or now, given the limited fertility time of women. Even much past 50 would be considered rather miraculous nowadays. I am of course not referring to babies conceived via IVF, surrogacy, embryonic transplant, ovarian implants or whatever. If it was common for people to live well past a century, or even two, 90 would not be considered too old surely?
February 8, 2014
Rudy you are so right ,but even so we need to overcome that handicap we need to find a way to read those years that way mankind can flourish explore the universe an advance in new technology and materials just think if we had 500 years of knowledge under our belt we can make anything build anything but first we have to over come these short life spans I think we look at it all wrong instead of making the perfect human just heighten our cellular healing factor to give nature a push who knows in a few generations what we might have
September 6, 2013
Genetic Entropy
We have to remember, every child has 3 to 15 nucleotide base pair errors that are new to them, plus they inherit the mutations that were generated when their parents were born. Mutations are a LOSS of information. They are not good. Most of the time they are recessive. Think of it this was: IF you were given a physics book to study and had to pass an exam, assuming you study, and the text book is reliable you could pass with 100%. BUT if photocopy the book for the next student and lose a page with the copying , the next student will still pass, but may only get a 95%. And if every student who gets a copy of text book receives not only all the missing pages from the previous students, but new missing page with each class, then the grades will, on average, continually decline. That is what is happening with life spans. Errors in the genetic code are accumulating. Probably that is why G_d added meat to our diet after the flood. Ironically, it is the opposite of evolution. We are devolving
September 6, 2013
It was the degredation of the genetic code!
Probably since Adam and Eve were a direct creation of G_d, they had no mutations in their genetic codes. That is also who brothers and sisters could marry at that time because they did not have mutations that would affect the offspring (unlike today where a brother and a sister have shared mutations inherited from their parents and any off spring produced would inherit both mutations and would be impaired). After Adam sinned, mankind has been slowly devolving, with mutations accumulating in the genetic code, but still man's biology was robust due to the diversity of children Adam and Eve had. When Noah's family came through the flood, it created a genetic bottleneck and the genetic diversity was lost. Plus, the environment was probably radically different after the flood. My guess is, a genetic error was shared among Noah's family and as additional mutations popped up in subsequent generations, man's biology was no longer able to sustain the effects of entropy as it once had.
June 28, 2013
Yes I did associate the calculation of time (years) based upon the growing seasons, ie, summer , fall, winter, spring. What I failed to add was that in a lunar year there are only three (plus the percent of the current solar cycle remaining). Using this calculation I would be 552 years old. 12/4=3x4x46=552.
May 30, 2013
So please explain to me why some animals eg the tortoise can live way over one hundred years. Going along with what you said, because tortoises live longer than us humans: they must have a big role to play or job to do, one that is far more important than what we do in our lifetime. But surely tortoises sit on their arses and eat vegetation for the majority of their life span. So unless there is something magical about tortoises which we simply don't know about, what you believe is utter horse radish my friend.
October 16, 2012
Who speaks for G_d?
I don't know about shocked, because I know many people who do totally believe in a journey of soul, and in fact, Jewish mysticism does speak to this. Have you read your Zohar recently? There is a beautiful picture at the MOMA that shows the souls of Jews circling back to earth from the ovens of the Holocaust, and I do believe this is true. I don't think it's wise to call people pagan in a pejorative way, that is condemning, nor do I think it wise to call others ignorant. I hear many voices all the time, speaking for G_d and they have some very diverse views, but one thing they do have in common, and that is they do not call others ignorant, without first checking "their" beliefs and sources. If they do, meaning speak words of hate in the name of... I consider this the yetzer in human form. Something like reincarnation is hard to prove, isn't it? But there are many, many Jews who totally believe they came back. I respect them and that view.
ruth housman
marshfield hills, ma
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