According to the Torah, Noah died at the ripe old age of 950. Adam, the first man, wasn’t far behind at 930. Abraham died at a comparatively youthful 175. Are we really supposed to believe the exceptional longevity of biblical characters?
Whether creating the universe in six days, or living several centuries, the Bible’s use of time is more metaphorical than literal. Scientists have long understood the human experience of time isn’t linear.
We’ve all been in meetings that lasted an age, taken on projects that feel like a lifetime, and spent hours or weeks that appear to disappear before our eyes.
It is normal for our experience of how long something feels to be out of kilter with its numerical measure. What, then, is a more accurate descriptor – the experience or the number?
The lifespans mentioned in the Bible allude to the experiential dimension of time. Noah lived what felt like many lifetimes, Abraham too. And in a society where more and more people are living longer, we can perhaps once again glimpse what this means.
We now live in an era where more than half of today’s babies are expected to live past 100. That’s three lifetimes for someone born in 18th Century England.
Biblical characters were able to live richly into their old age and we hear their stories often right until they died.
With more of us living longer than ever, these texts act as a provocation to make sure people are not just alive for more years, but are given opportunities to be living, in the fullest sense of the world, throughout their lifetimes.
Noah packed more than nine lifetimes into his years. Can we live up to that challenge?
- Deborah Blausten is a rabbinic student at Leo Baeck College
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