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What about them really old guys in Genesis chapter 5?

Reading through Genesis 5 tonight and I have some thoughts. 

This can be a really dry chapter as about 3/4ths of it is the genealogical record of the ancient patriarchs. Thankfully, it is really brought to life by Moses chapter 6, but these comments really just focus on Genesis 5.

Firstly, Joseph Smith has different ages for most of these individuals listed on his OT1; and they differ from what we have printed in our modern-day Moses chapter 6. All of these individuals, except for Jared and Lamech who are left as the same age at the time of death as the biblical record states, are listed as being older in OT1.

In summary:

Adam lived to be 1000 years old.

Seth lived to 981.

Enos lived to 940.

Cainan lived to 957.

Mahalaleel lived to 945.

Jared lived to 962 (same as the biblical record).

Enoch lived to 430 before being translated.

Methuselah lived to be 1000.

Lamech lived to be 777 (same as the biblical record).

A few takeaways are that Adam apparently lived to be just as old, if not older than Methuselah was. Joseph actually commented in a sermon, according to Edward Stevenson's autobiography, that Adam was older than Methuselah.

Also, interestingly enough, the Septuagint (which originated from the second and third century B.C.) has different ages for the patriarchs as the Hebrew Bible does (the Hebrew Bible underlies the KJV OT). None of the different ages match what Joseph Smith has in OT1, but it does show us that there were different traditions or ideas for the patriarch's ages in ancient times. (Found all this information on the OT1 manuscript on the Joseph Smith Papers website: Moses 6 on OT1 and this BYU RSC article: The Ages of the Patriarchs in the Joseph Smith Translation )

Secondly, the longevity of the patriarchs' lives is interpreted by some to not be literal. I am not here to condemn anyone who holds that interpretation, but I just wanted to state I come down on the side of interpreting them as literal; mainly because modern revelation holds such a view (see D&C 107:44-55). I also found this interesting quotation from Josephus that isn't necessary slam dunk evidence, but is interesting nonetheless:

"Let no one, upon comparing the lives of the ancients with our lives, and with the few years which we now live, think that what we have said of them is false; or make the shortness of our lives at present an argument that neither did they attain to so long a duration of life.... [God] afforded [the ancients] a longer time of life on account of their virtue, and the good use they made of it in astronomical and geometrical discoveries, which would not have afforded the time of foretelling [or determining the periods of the stars] unless they had lived six hundred years." (Antiquities of the Jews, bk. 1, ch. 3, par. 9.)

Another explanation as to their longevity is found in 2 Nephi 2:21, but the lengthening out the longevity of life based on righteousness theme is also found in Helaman 7:24. The explanation I have long been familiar with, though, is what is found in Lectures on Faith which states:

“From the foregoing it is easily to be seen, not only how the knowledge of God came into the world, but upon what principle it was preserved; that from the time it was first communicated, it was retained in the minds of righteous men, who taught not only their own posterity but the world; so that there was no need of a new revelation to man, after Adam’s creation to Noah, to give them the first idea or notion of the existence of a God; and not only of a God, but the true and living God.” (Lectures on Faith, 2:44.)

 All the above information in this short blog post begs the question, "therefore, what?" as President Packer used to say. In other words, what does this knowledge do for us as we seek to apply gospel principles to our lives?

First, and not as important, it is just interesting to know the nuances and differences that are had not just in ancient texts but in Joseph Smith's own records. All this is another example of how revelation was an evolutionary process for him and not a simple fax machine from heaven formula that is often portrayed. We can perhaps let our understandings evolve and change at times based on the better information that is received.

Secondly, the various explanations as to why the patriarchs' lives were lengthened out can serve as an example to us of how our time in this life is best served; especially considering how much shorter our lifetime is now.

Like the ancients, we can repent and have the need to repent (see 2 Nephi 2:21).

Like the ancients, as we choose to let God prevail in our lives our days will become longer in the land; most likely not during our mortal probation, but during a time when the "meek will inherit the earth" (see Psalms 37:11 & Matthew 5:5). We can live in such a way so as to inherit our eventual "lands of promise".

Like the ancients, we can dedicate ourselves to learning. Their lives, along with many others, are a testament to how the process of scholastic learning combined with being a disciple of Jesus Christ is a worthy cause. Assuming Josephus is correct, the acquisition of knowledge was important enough to lengthen out the days of the ancients. That might suggest to us how the Lord views our education.

I, personally, am somewhat skeptical of the Lectures on Faith's explanation, but, nevertheless, like the ancients, we should exhaust our lives teaching our posterity and the world the gospel of Jesus Christ.

These are just some of the themes and principles we can extract from a rather dry chapter in Genesis chapter 5. I'll note too that I never touched the interesting wording and placement of Enoch in the genealogical record. 


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