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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?

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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?

Answer:

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 Chabad.org.
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Discussion (101)
December 1, 2014
original comments
My original comment was not posted, and unfortunatly is no longer in my records. My original hypothisis was that in the time before G-D gave Moshe our first calendar, time was measured by season, not by yearly progression. And there is a slight mathmatical error in the calculation from the posting of June, 28 2013. It fails to account for latitude and longitude of the asssociated harvest, E.g. in Juneau Alaska the average harvest time is 2 to 3,5 month's (if that), where's in the Hawian Island's, it's 12 month's a year.
Anonymous
Denver
December 1, 2014
Question: “[W]hy would a divine author choose to write his book using ‘archaic years’ up until a certain point and then randomly switch to ‘modern years’ without any warning?”

The Patriarchal narratives are older than any other portion of the Bible, and their author did not compose any of the rest of the Bible. He knew both the archaic and modern meaning of shaneh, and used both meanings in a consistent fashion. Abraham dies at age 175 in 6-month years, being realistic age 87½ in 12-month years. But note how the use of archaic shaneh allows the author to focus on the number 17½. Abraham dies at age 17½ tenfold in 6-month years, and in 12-month years he lives to age 70 plus 17½ [where the number 70 is redolent of Egypt, since a pharaoh’s death rituals lasted 70 days, per Genesis 50: 3]. By use of archaic shaneh, the early Hebrew author is thereby giving us the exact time period of the Patriarchal Age: when a troubled pharaoh lived more than ½-way through his Regnal Year 17.
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois, USA
November 30, 2014
Reduced Lifespan
What could be the mission of the ancient people with “large souls?” I believe our mission in this latter age is not very different from theirs. Is it to live righteously, rectify our souls, and collect the “sparks” caused by the broken vessels of the world of Tohu(Chaos)? If that is so, then most of them (ancients) obviously failed. G-d had to wipe them out, except Noah’s family, to start all over again because that world had gone so wicked. Is Mr. Moss saying that humanity had become less evil after the Flood, so that a shorter lifespan is sufficient enough for the post-Flood generations because they were fulfilling the “original mission” much better?
Billy Balano
Toronto
November 29, 2014
Mr Stineman,

While you have well researched this topic in terms of contemporary and academic scholars. But what about rashi and all the midrashim?
Further more the turn of the year refers to a phrase with the word tekufot. This word is not used in conjunction with the present context.
Furthermore why would a divine author choose to write his book using "archaic years" up until a certain point and the randomly switch to "modern years" without any warning?
Anonymous
November 29, 2014
Stop moving the goalposts
You cannot have it both ways. You are either contradicting what you just said in your last but one comment (November 19) . . . or, dare it be said, maybe the rabbis of old got it wrong!
Anonymous
November 28, 2014
1. For the archaic meaning of shanah being “the turn of the year”, which effectively is a 6-month year, see Mark E. Cohen, “The Cultic Calendars of the Ancient Near East” (1993). At p. 6 he cites (i) Exodus 34: 22); (ii) II Samuel 11: 1; (iii) Ezekiel 45: 18-20.

2. Such archaic meaning of shanah as a 6-month year is used to report people’s ages o-n-l-y in the Patriarchal narratives (which begin at Genesis 11: 26), nowhere else in the Bible.

3. We are never given any specific ages for Rebekah. She likely was age 15 in regular 12-month-years when she married Isaac.
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois, USA
November 26, 2014
My point is that the statement about living long because we had allot to do is total false which discredits the entire writing and the proof is found within Enoch.
Anonymous
November 26, 2014
Response to "Get real"
"Then going by this corollary, one would have to assume Rivkah was only 18 months when she was betrothed to Yitzchak - seems a teensy bit unlikely, wouldn't you say?"

Agreed! 18 months makes no sense for a little girl to be wandering about with sheep. 3 years old also seems very young, until a person meets an extremely intelligent and well-spoken 3 year old. Then one realizes its may seem a little crazy, but trust me, I've met my fair share of 3 year olds who certainly were capable of behaving in the manner that Rivkah did when meeting Eliezer.
Anonymous
November 26, 2014
Get real
#Jim Steinhart

Then going by this corollary, one would have to assume Rivkah was only 18 months when she was betrothed to Yitzchak - seems a teensy bit unlikely, wouldn't you say?
Anonymous
uk
November 25, 2014
I just don't see how the 6 months=1 year theory can be valid. It fails to explain the drastic reduction we see in life spans after the flood, even if it were true Methuselah and others would still be over 500 years old and you still have the same problem, it would call into question every time period Moses wrote about including the 40 years of wandering, the length of time Moses spent in exile, and even the calendar G_d instituted at Sinai which is referenced in Genesis chapt 7, the counting off of sabbatical years, the jubilee year, etc etc. Too many problems without satisfactory Answers. I think there are satisfactory theories(such as the genetic/devolution model) that do not alter the text but also satisfy our modern scientific understanding. The very reason we age is because we accumulate mutations over our lives. The miracle is how do old organisms give rise to young organisms. Only a sophisticated digital code could program such a feat. That cannot happen by natural means.
Rudy
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