Feb 21, 2023 I Bibhu Dev Misra

Did the Biblical Patriarchs Actually Live for Hundreds of Years?

In the Bible, the term “patriarchs” is broadly used to refer to the twenty male ancestor-figures between Adam and Abraham. The first ten of them are the “antediluvian patriarchs”, who lived before the Flood. The Genesis [1] indicates that the average lifespan of the antediluvian patriarchs was around 900 years. The list includes Adam (930), Seth (912), Enos (905), Cainan (910), Mahalaleel (895), Jared (962), Enoch (365), Methuselah (969), Lamech (787) and Noah (950). Noah was the last eminent personality of the antediluvian period who lived for 600 years before the Flood and 350 years after the Flood - adding up to a lifespan of 950 years.

In the post-Flood period, the lifespans of the patriarchs kept on decreasing till the time of Abraham, and even after him. From Noah to Abraham there are ten postdiluvian patriarchs. They are: Shem (600), Arphaxad (438), Salah (433), Eber (464), Peleg (239), Reu (239), Serug (230), Nahor (148), Terah (205), Abraham (175). Abraham was followed by Ishmael (137), Isaac (180), Jacob (147) and Joseph (110), all of whom lived in the first half of the 2nd millennium BCE, sometime between 2000 BCE to 1500 BCE. Thus, the lifespans of the biblical patriarchs declined throughout the postdiluvian period till the beginning of the Late Bronze Age (c.1600 BCE).

Now, the postdiluvian period most likely began after the end of the last Ice Age in c. 9600 BCE.  It is becoming increasingly evident that the Deluge that is recounted in the flood legends of many ancient societies was precipitated either by the comet impacts at the beginning of the Younger Dryas period at around 10,800 BCE or by the sudden melting of the continental ice caps at around 9600 BCE. What the Biblical data indicates therefore, is that, average human lifespan declined from roughly 900 years prior to c.9600 BCE to around 110 years in c.1500 BCE. 

These numbers, quite obviously, are astronomically high in comparison to the modern day lifespan of roughly 80 years. Since we have an ingrained tendency to look at the past in the context of our present circumstances, the dominant tendency is to disregard such data as being mythical or imaginary. But that is not a rational way of looking at the past. Human lifespan is governed by a number of different factors such as genetics, environmental conditions, prevalence of diseases, access to healthcare, diet, lifestyle, stress, exercise, exposure to harmful radiation etc. None of these factors have remained constant over time. Human genes have been constantly mutating, the ecosphere has degraded significantly, diseases have multiplied, people have been increasingly leading sedentary, stressful lives and consuming unhealthy food. The amount of harmful radiation that we are exposed to on a daily basis, which is responsible for diseases and accelerates aging – such as cosmic rays, UV rays and the background radiation from the soil and rocks of the Earth – may not have remained constant over time, and may be fluctuating in a manner that we don’t understand. 

Without a clear understanding of all the variables that determine human lifespan, and how they have varied over time, how can we say whether the Genesis data is correct or not? The least we can do is to keep an open mind and explore if there could a grain of truth to such claims.

Interestingly, the Genesis data is corroborated by the ancient texts of many cultures, particularly by the Yuga Cycle doctrine of ancient India. As per the Yuga Cycle - or the Cycle of the Ages of Man as it was known by the Greeks - human longevity decreases as we move from the higher Yugas to the lower Yugas. The Laws of Manu, declares that, 

“(Men are) free from disease, accomplish all their aims, and live four hundred years in the Krita age (Satya Yuga), but in the Treta and (in each of) the succeeding (ages) their life is lessened by one quarter.”[2]

What this passage effectively tells us is that, human beings lived 400 years in the Satya Yuga (Golden Age), 300 years in the Treta Yuga (Silver Age), 200 years in the Dwapara Yuga (Bronze Age) and 100 years in the Kali Yuga (Iron Age). The Satya Yuga or Golden Age corresponds to the antediluvian period, for as per the Indian legends, the Great Flood in which Manu was the sole survivor, had occurred at the end of the Satya Yuga or Golden Age. 

The King Manu, along with the Seven Sages (Saptarishis) on a boat pulled by a great fish (Matsya), during the Deluge at the end of the Satya Yuga. Source: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Thus, as per the Yuga Cycle doctrine, human lifespan was around 400 years in the antediluvian period; while in the postdiluvian period it kept on decreasing gradually until it reached 100 years in the Kali Yuga - the age of greed and lies, strife and discord that we are living in today.

In my analysis of the Yuga Cycle timeline (click here to read), I had postulated that the Kali Yuga had started in 3676 BCE and will end in 2025 CE. The Kali Yuga has two parts: The first half is the "descending Kali Yuga" which extended for 2700 years from 3676 BCE – 976 BCE during which time human lifespan and consciousness gradually decreased. This was followed by the 2700-year "ascending Kali Yuga" from 676 BCE – 2025 CE, during which time human consciousness continued to decline as before, but our lifespan slowly increased, which, in many ways, was responsible for the increasing material prosperity of this age.

As a result, at the fag end of the Kali Yuga - which is the time we are living in now - there is a big chasm between matter and spirit. High levels of material prosperity exists hand-in-hand with abysmally low levels of spiritual maturity, resulting in the egoic disorders, chaos and strife that we see around us today. 

The Yuga Cycle timeline along with the average lifespan in each Yuga. The average lifespan will continue to increase after the Kali Yuga ends in 2025. Credit: Bibhu Dev Misra

Clearly, the biblical data and the Yuga Cycle doctrine are in sync. Both tell us of a gradual decline in human longevity since the beginning of the post-glacial period starting around 9600 BCE. The Genesis lifespans are longer than the values specified in the Laws of Manu, which could be because the Yuga Cycle specifies the average lifespan of the common people while the Genesis records the lifespans of eminent spiritual leaders, who are likely to have lived much longer, due to their asceticism and simple ways of living.

The question is, can these traditional beliefs be substantiated by scientific data? This is where we run into somewhat of a problem since skeletal remains – which have been found in large numbers - cannot be analyzed to find out how long a person had lived. The only way to validate these traditional beliefs is by looking at historical records and inscriptions, in order to find out the lifespans of erstwhile kings and nobles. Fortunately, some relevant pieces of evidence have survived the ravages of time, which shed some much-needed light on this intriguing mystery of the past. 

The Chinese Shujing (meaning “Classic of History”) is a compilation of records related to events in China’s history, covering a total of 88 generations. As per these records, the first 7 emperors, who ruled from 2953 BCE – 2255 BCE had an average reign length of 95 years. [3] If we assume that the average age of the emperors at the time of ascension to the throne was 25 years, the average lifespan during this period was around 120 years. By around 100 BCE, however, the average reign lengths of the rulers of the Xiong Nu Dynasty (obtained from other historical sources) had come down to only 12 years, which works out to an average lifespan of around 37 years, assuming ascension to the throne at the age of 25. Thus, the average lifespan had declined from roughly 120 years at around 2900 BCE to only 37 years at around 100 BCE. 

This makes us wonder as to why there had been such a drastic reduction in the lifespan of Chinese rulers throughout the Bronze Age? As per the linear theory of human progress, we should have been leading longer and healthier lives over time. Instead, we see just the opposite. The decline makes perfect sense, though, in the context of the cyclical model of civilizational evolution, which most cultures of antiquity subscribed to. 

One would think that the ancient Egyptians must have left behind tons of inscriptional evidence about the lifespans of their pharaohs, which would help us to figure out if their lifespan was on a decline in the Bronze Age. As it turns out, most of the Egyptian funerary art and stela contain no information at all about the dates of birth or death, or even the ages at which the pharaohs died.

However, a few documents indicate that 110 years was the ideal Egyptian lifespan. [4] Certain pharaohs of the Old Kingdom approached this ideal lifespan. For instance, King Pepi II Neferkare of the 6th Dynasty (Old Kingdom, c. 2250 BCE) lived for a 100 years, and ruled for 96 of them. One of his provincial governors, Pepiankh, lived till the age of 100, for, on his tomb, the following text was inscribed: “I spent a lifetime until a hundred years among the living, in possession of my faculties.”5 It appears that, during the Old Kingdom (c. 2686 BCE – 2181 BCE) at least, some people reached close to the ideal Egyptian lifespan of 110 years.

Pepi II seated on the lap of his mother Queen Ankhnes-meryre II, c 2288 ro 2224 BCE, Brroklyn Museum, Public Domain

We must make a distinction here between lifespan and life expectancy. Lifespan tells us how long a person may expect to live once he gets past the fragile childhood years. Life expectancy, on the other hand, is computed after accounting for child mortality rates. Most Bronze Age societies had poor survival rates among children, which lowered their life expectancy. Historians generally say that people in ancient Egypt had a life expectancy of around 35 years. This does not mean that Egyptians started falling down and dying in their thirties. It means that infant mortality rates were very high. The Egyptian ideal lifespan of 110 years tells us how long an Egyptian could have expected to live, once they got past the childhood years. 

Our ancestors were aware that child mortality rates increase during the descending Yuga Cycle. In the Indian epic, the Mahabharata, Hanuman told Bhima that, in the Dwapara Yuga (Bronze Age) people become afflicted by diseases and natural calamities. The ancient sages knew that in the Kali Yuga, the situation will worsen further. Hence, the Brahmanda Purana states, “Kaliyuga will be characterized by violence, jealousy, falsehood, deception, cheating, ridicule and murder of devotees, sages and ascetics, fatal diseases. Some people may die very young – as infants, young children or even in wombs.” [6] So, we see that the increase in child mortality rates during the Kali Yuga was known to the ancients, but was not factored into the ideal lifespan. 

By the Ptolemaic period (c.305 – 30 BCE), when Egypt was under Roman rule, lifespan had fallen far below the ideal age of 110 years. During the Ptolemaic period, dates of birth and death were recorded, which show that the average age at death was 54 years for men and 58 for women. [7] This is comparable to the lifespan of Romans during this period. 

Anthropologist John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin Madison, wrote in one of his web posts that, “A rough estimate (gleaned from tomb inscriptions that give ages) is that half of Romans who lived to age 15 – and therefore escaped child mortality – were dead before age 45.” [8] This implies that the median lifespan of the Romans was around 45 years. The average lifespan would have been close to this value. Clearly, average lifespan had been on a decline throughout the Bronze Age, which corresponds to the descending Kali Yuga in the context of the Yuga Cycle. It may have hit rock bottom during the Greek Dark Ages (c. 1200 – 800 BCE), which was the period of transition from the descending to the ascending Kali Yuga, and then began to increase. However, at the moment, enough data is not available to ascertain exactly when the reversal took place.

Over the past 2000-odd years of the historical era – which corresponds to the ascending Kali Yuga - average lifespan has been steadily rising. In the UK, from 1200 to 1745, 21-year-olds would reach an average age of anywhere between 62-70 years, which can be taken as a measure of the lifespan. Today, the infant mortality rates have reduced so drastically that the life expectancy for a newborn in the UK is 81 years, while the life expectancy for a 20-year-old (i.e. the lifespan) is 82 years. [9] Thus, the data from the UK indicates that average lifespan has increased steadily from 62 years to 82 years over a period of nearly 800 years from 1200 till now. 

Evidently, the historical and archaeological data available to us show that human lifespan was declining during the Bronze Age, staged a reversal sometime after the Greek Dark Ages (c.1200 BCE – 800 BCE) had ended, and started increasing during the Iron Age. Let me summarize some of the key pieces of information that we just discussed:

1) The Chinese Shujing (“Classic of History”) shows that average lifespan of Chinese rulers had declined from 120 years between 2953 BCE – 2255 BCE, to around 37 years at 100 BCE.
2) The Egyptian records show that during the Old Kingdom (c. 2686 BCE – 2181 BCE), some people reached close to the ideal Egyptian lifespan of 110 years. However, by the Ptolemaic period (c.305 – 30 BCE), the average lifespan of Egyptian men had come down to 54 years. The average lifespan of Romans during the same period was around 45 years.
3) The data from the UK shows that average lifespan has increased steadily from 62 years to 82 years, over a period of nearly 800 years, from 1200 CE till now.

The available data on average lifespans over the past few thousand years reveals a cyclical variation, which conforms to the tenets of the Yuga Cycle doctrine. Since lifespan had been continuously declining throughout the Bronze Age, we need to ask a few pertinent questions: For how long prior to the Bronze Age had the decline in lifespan going on? Did it begin at the start of the Holocene period at around 9600 BCE? And, prior to that, during the Ice Age, did our lifespan remain constant at a very high value for thousands of years?

While we do not have enough scientific evidence to answer these questions in an unambiguous manner, the trend of declining lifespan during the Bronze Age indicates that average lifespan could have been much higher in the higher Ages of Man. This means that some of the Biblical patriarchs could have very well lived till the ripe old age of 900 years. We simply cannot relegate these numbers to the realm of myths, given the long-term variation in human lifespan that the data reveals.

Since we are currently living in a time of increasing lifespan, at some point in the future, humans may once again live for hundreds of years. It is possible that our planet is subjected to external fluxes of cosmic radiation in a cyclical manner that causes the variation in average lifespan over a large cycle of time, extending for roughly 24000 years, that the ancient knew as the Yuga Cycle or the Cycle of the Ages of Man.   


[1] Genesis 5-11
[2] The Laws of Manu, tr. G. Buhler, Chapter I, verse 83, from sacred-texts
[3] Walter Cruttended, Lost Star of Myth and Time (St.Lynn’s Press, 2006) p 263.
[4] Marie Parsons, "Old Age in Ancient Egypt", http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/oldage.htm
[5] Marie Parsons, "Old Age in Ancient Egypt", http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/oldage.htm
[6] Brahmanda Purana
[7] Marie Parsons, "Old Age in Ancient Egypt", http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/oldage.htm
[8] John Hawks, "Human lifespans have not been constant for the last 2000 years", john hawks weblog, http://johnhawks.net/weblog/reviews/life_history/age-specific-mortality-lifespan-bad-science-2009.html
[9] Max Roser, Esteban Ortiz-Ospina and Hannah Ritchie (2020) - "Life Expectancy". Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: https://ourworldindata.org/life-expectancy

Bibhu Dev Misra

Bibhu Dev Misra is an independent researcher and writer on ancient civilizations and ancient mysteries. His passion is to explore the knowledge left behind by the ancients in the form of inscriptions, artifacts, monuments, symbols, glyphs, myths and legends. His articles have been published in different magazines and websites such as the New Dawn, Science to Sage, Nexus, Viewzone, Graham Hancock's website, Waking Times etc. and he has been featured on podcasts, interviews and online conferences organized by Earth Ancients, Portal to Ascension, OSOM, Watcher's Talk, Times FM and others. He is an engineer from IIT and a MBA from IIM, and has worked in the Information Technology industry for more than two decades. He can be reached at [email protected] and via his website Ancient Inquiries: www.bibhudevmisra.com

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