A new question has been submitted by Karen ( on [08/11/08]: In Genesis 6:3 God shorted mans lifespan to no more than 120 years, but Jacob live 147 years, and according to Exodus 6:16,18, and 20..three of Joseph’s brothers live 130+ years. Can you point me to what I am missing?  Am I misreading what God says in Genesis 6:3?


And Abraham lived past 120 years as well.  Apparently the 120 is an approximate limit to the human life span.  Even today, one person in every couple of billion live past 120, but to say that 120 years is the limit of human life span is an excellent approximation.  We should be careful to think in a "Western" mindset when we read Near Eastern literature.  The Near Eastern writer will give an approximation without warning us, who expect a more exact, literal statement.  By the way, in your paraphrase of Genesis 6:3, you put words in there which are not in the Hebrew.   You said "no more than 120 years."  This is not what the Hebrew says.  Significantly, the Hebrew is translated as "his days are 120 years."  Again, I detect a tendency here to force a Western, literal interpretation, even in your paraphrase.  I do not mean to criticize.  I tend to do the same thing!  It is just that it is useful for us to remind ourselves how a member of the letter’s audience– a Near Eastern person in the second millenium BC would naturally interpret the passage.

John Oakes, PhD

Comments are closed.