Question...

...are there any extra-biblical refs to longevity BEFORE the flood?


(updated 8/2/96)
I recently got this question....

Dear Glenn,

I'm in need of the answer to a simple but urgent question. In your spiel about the authorship of the OT, you referred to something (presumably a book), with the abbreviation "PCE". i.e., see PCE, page 37. The reason I need this info is that apparently PCE had lists of ages of kings which were multihundreds of years old. Also, do you know of any other info with extra-Biblical evidence to support the long lifespans of pre-flood peoples? Your help will be extremely appreciated.

Many thanks,
R

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First, let me give some summaries and references to EXTRA-biblical antediluvian (i.e. "before the flood") king lists:

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Secondly, let's see how MANY extra-biblical documents refer to long-lived kings before the flood (At least, that I know of).

  1. There is the Sumerian King List (the oldest list) [Sumer:21ff]. There are about a dozen copies of this in existence, with the oldest being dated around 2100 BC [CAM:82]

  2. The Lagash Kinglist, from the city of Lagash in Sumer, not only gives long lifespans, but also adds that life was much 'slower'--people were children for much longer periods of time--100 years (cf. how the biblical pre-flood patriarchs had their firstborn children very late) [Jacobson, in ISI:134]. It is interesting how this 100-year childhood is the same period used by Hesiod in describing his "golden race."[ISI:135]

  3. A similar list is found in the beginning of a world-chronicle in the library of Assurbanipal (seventh century BC). [Jacobsen, ISI:134-135; and Borger, ISI:225.]

  4. Another pre-flood kinglist shows up in from Uruk (also in Sumer, about 50 miles west of Lagish). In addition to the seven kings, there are seven 'sages' associated with them. [Borger, ISI:225ff; and Tsumura, ISI:53; Kramer in SAI:31]

  5. Finally, there is the Hellenistic priest Berossus, who migrated from Babylon to Greece, and wrote a three volume work on the historical background of Babylon. In this work, he gave the kinglist and also gave the names of the sages associated with them. [HAMM:34; Borger in ISI:226].

So, there are numerous extra-biblical references to allegedly long lifetimes before the Flood.

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Now, let's look at one of the lists of kings and sages (the first 7). (taken from Sumer:21 and Borger in ISI:225).

  1. King=Aluli of Eridu, Sage=U-An, reign=28,800 yrs
  2. King=Alalgar of Eridu, Sage=U-An-dugga, reign=36,000 yrs
  3. King=Enmenluanna of Badtibira, Sage=Enmedugga, reign=43,200 yrs
  4. King=Enmengalanna of Badtibira, Sage=Enmegalamma, reign=28,800 yrs
  5. King=Dumuzi of Badtibira, Sage=Enmebulugga, reign=36,000 yrs
  6. King=Ensipazianna of Sippar, Sage=An-Enlilda, reign=28,800 yrs
  7. King=Enmeduranki of Sippar, Sage=Utuabzu, reign=21,000 yrs

[In some discussions/texts, the kings seem to be equated to the sages. [Lambert in ISI:53; Sweet in SAI:53]

It is also important to note in the continuation of the Kinglist, that AFTER the Flood, the lifespans drop by an order of magnitude, with NO 'tapering off' at all! And then they drop off again, by another order of magnitude, to arrive at kingly lifetimes of more 'normal' measures.

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Now, let's look for a moment at three facts about Enmeduranki of Sippar

One, "Among the Babylonians and Assyrians, he was regarded as the Father of Soothsaying (extispicy)..." (Borger in ISI:226). He had some prophetic capability.

Two, his sage Utuabzu (or he himself, if they are identical) was said to have "ascended to heaven" in several Sumerian incantation texts (Borger in ISI:230-231).

Three, this king is "seventh" from the top (in most of the mss.).

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Now for some rampant speculation (but it was suggested by Borger)

The ante-diluvian Enoch of the Bible was said to :

  1. ...have been a prophet (Jude 14: "Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men: ")

  2. ...have "ascended into heaven" (Heb 11.5: "By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. " and Gen 5.24: "Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away. ").

  3. ...have been "seventh from Adam" (Jude 14:"Enoch, the seventh from Adam...").

Each of these three points are also amply demonstrated by the extra-biblical writings of pre-Christian Israel (esp. in the OT pseudepigrapha),

Could the 7th king in the Sumerian list BE Enoch of the Bible?!

This connection is made by Borger in ISI:232, although he calls all of it legend, and makes the biblical story dependent on the Sumerian hero (see my comments on this below).

Finally, what implications might we draw from this?

The general consensus of scholarship is that the two accounts derive from a common 'ancestor.' But which version (biblical or other) would 'look like' the more likely to be closer to the source?

First, let's note that the Sumerian version is more elaborate, more 'spectacular', more miraculous, and more complex than the biblical version. The surprisingly long life spans in the bible (i.e. hundreds of years) are DWARFED by the tens of thousands of years in the Sumerian list! The Sumerian heroes of each period are twofold--a king AND a sage--instead of a single leadership figure as in the OT.

Then, let's note that the structure of the pattern matches. Before the Flood, there are very long lifetimes; immediately after the Flood, lifetimes are shorter but 'tapering off'; and soon, lifespans are at 'normal'. The exaggerated numbers of the Sumerian accounts follow this pattern, but make much more abrupt jumps than the smooth decline we see in the bible.

Now, let's note that these multiple traditions are best explained by some REAL event/situation behind them. In other words, someone might not accept the literal details of ANY of these accounts, but they would be hard pressed to explain so much consistency of structure, theme, and pattern WITHOUT a 'real historical occurrence' behind them!

Finally, let's note a basic methodological principle of comparative studies in the ANE, stated by noted Assyriologist Kitchen in AOOT:89:

In the Ancient Near East, the rule is that simple accounts or traditions give rise (by accretion and embellishment) to elaborate legends, but not vice versa. In the Ancient Orient, legends were not simplified or turned into pseudo-history (historicized)...
He then gives references, documenting this movement from the simple to the complex in several cases:


(For a discussion of these 'borrowing issues' relative to Genesis, see the fine article by Tsumura in ISI.)

Summary: The extra-biblical stories of the ante-diluvian kings/sages are well-attested by archeology and conform to the basic structure, pattern, and themes of the biblical version. The similarities between the 7th king and Enoch, "seventh from Adam" are striking and suggestive. A comparison of the relative complexity of biblical and extra-biblical accounts would initially lead one to believe that the biblical version was the MORE authentic of the two, given the standard methodological principles of comparative ANE literature.

Glenn M. Miller, 8/2/96


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