The numbers in Genesis 5 were mistranslated

It is not possible to show in this small web page a complete analysis of the Genesis 5 numbers. For the technical details and arguments see chapter 7 in the Noah's Ark book or download the article Analysis of the Numbers in Genesis 5 (PDF).

The oldest of the antediluvians listed in Genesis 5 was Methuselah who has become the epitome of longevity because he was reported to have lived 969 years. Noah was given an equally incredible age of 950 in Genesis 9:29. There are three serious problems with the Genesis numbers: men do not live to be nine hundred years, men do not father children when they are over a century old, and why did they wait so long to have children? All three of these problems disappear if we make two simple assumptions: the Septuagint (the ancient Greek version of Genesis) has the original numbers and each of the numbers has one decimal place in modern notation. The original Genesis numbers were not written in decimal notation. Instead the numbers were recorded in an archaic, pre-cuneiform, sign-value, Sumerian number system, similar in some ways to Roman numerals.

The fantastic stories about these men living over nine hundred years and not getting around to fathering their children until they had lived a century or two, are the result of an ancient mistranslation of the original numbers. Except for Noah, each young man fathered his first son during his late teens or early twenties, just as young men do today, and they lived into their seventies or  early eighties. Noah lived to be 83 years old and Methuselah lived to be 85. The river flood of 2900 BC occurred when Noah was 48 years old and he had been king for ten years.

Nearly all modern translations of Genesis are derived from the Masoretic (Hebrew) Text, because it is generally the most reliable. But there are also two other versions of Genesis: the Samaritan (in an early Hebrew script) and the Septuagint (a Greek translation of an early Hebrew text). The Septuagint numbers were closer to the original numbers, because when scholars translated the Hebrew Pentateuch (which includes Genesis) into Greek at Alexandria, Egypt about 280 BC, they used a Hebrew text that was edited in the 5th and 4th centuries BC. This text was centuries older than the proto-Masoretic Text selected as the official text by the Masoretes after 70 CE, a text that was already corrupted by scribes trying to correct what they thought were errors.

Noah was a Sumerian king of Shuruppak during the Jemdet Nasr period which ended with the river flood of 2900 BC. The Genesis 5 numbers, representing ages of Noah and his ancestors, were based on records written in clay before the river flood in an archaic (pre-cuneiform) Sumerian number system. Contemporaneous records of the deaths of each king and other wealthy land owners in Shuruppak were probably created by taxation scribes, so that tax collectors would know who was responsible for paying the real-estate taxes. These separate records were dated by year name and stored with similar death records in the temple archives in Shuruppak from before and after the flood of 2900 BC. These records included Noah's death.

The flood story was first written in clay during the Early Dynastic IIIa period (ca. 2600-2500 BC). The scribe who compiled the flood story from various oral traditions about previous floods may have been the same scribe who searched the archives for records of Noah and his ancestors and calculated the Genesis 5 numbers from raw birth and death records which the scribe found in the archives. The scribe calculated the Genesis 5 numbers using an archaic Sumerian number systems that was used only in Shuruppak and only during the Early Dynastic IIIa period.

When the compiler of the Genesis 5 numbers calculated the years/seasons data in years and tenths of years, he used one of several number systems then in common use. He used one or more archaic number sign for tens, a different sign for units and a different sign for tenths. This is called sign-value notation. A scribe familiar with these archaic signs might still have difficulty interpreting them correctly if he did not know in which number system they were written and the context in which they were written. Hundreds of years later during the Old Babylonian period (1800-1600 BC), when a different scribe translated these numbers into cuneiform in the classical Sumerian sexagesimal number system, he erroneously assumed that the archaic numbers were written in the Sumerian proto-sexagesimal number system designed for counting discrete objects such as animals, when actually the numbers were originally written in a number system designed for counting volumes of grain. This error converted tens of years to hundreds, years to tens of years, tenths of years to years, and also inflated the ages at death. Genesis 5 was based on these mistranslated numbers.

Attempts to justify the large numbers of Genesis 5, even by those who dismiss them as mythical, are often based on the still larger numbers found in the Sumerian King Lists which have tens of thousands of years for each king before the flood. These cuneiform tablets give the numbers in shar, the cuneiform sign for 3600. For example Ziusudra, the Sumerian Noah, ruled for 10 shar years, usually translated as 36,000 years.

But the sign for year was misunderstood by a scribe who translated the original pre-flood king list into sexagesimal cuneiform numerals. The scribe was apparently not aware that on his received tablet the old U4 diamond-shaped sign that resembled shar was not shar and did not mean 3600. The U4 signs were the old way of writing years.The Sumerian Noah reigned for 10 years, not 10 shar years. The Sumerian king list numbers were mistranslated by an ancient scribe, just as the Genesis 5 numbers were mistranslated by another ancient scribe.

The Sumerian King List mentions the flood after the reigns of SU.KUR.LAM and his son Ziusudra. The Genesis 5 list ends with the flood after the genealogy of Lamech and and his son Noah. Lamech was SU.KUR.LAM and Noah was Ziusudra. They were father and son and both were kings of Shuruppak. The names on the Sumerian King List prior to SUR.KUR.LAM were also kings but were not Noah's ancestors. Noah's Genesis 5 ancestors were contemporaries of the kings on the Sumerian King List. Chapter 7 of the Noah's Ark book determines which of Noah's ancestors in Genesis 5 were contemporaries with which Sumerian king.

The earliest of Noah's ancestors in Genesis 5 was "Adam" (which means "man" in Hebrew) a nameless ancestor who was the first person to own Noah's ancestral land in Shuruppak. The "Adam" of Genesis 5 was not the first man; he was the first of Noah's ancestors to own recorded Shuruppak real estate. His actual name has been lost. The Genesis 5 genealogy begins about 3113 BC and spans almost the entire Jemdet Nasr period which ended with the river flood of 2900 BC. Shuruppak was first built during the Jemdet Nasr period. No Shuruppak real estate tax records existed prior to 3113 BC because Shuruppak had not yet been built.  Click here for a table of the reconstructed numbers from Genesis 5.

The Genesis 5 numbers were mistranslated by an ancient scribe who confused archaic proto-sexagesimal number signs with cuneiform sexagesimal number signs. The numbers in the Sumerian king lists were also mistranslated by an ancient scribe who confused the archaic sign for year with the cuneiform sign for 3600. For a detailed analysis of these numbers, see chapter 7 of the Noah's Ark book.

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