In the part of Genesis ascribed to the Priestly Code (P), the names and genealogies of the patriarchs are given (Genesis 5; 11). In the three versions which are our chief sources, Massoretic Text, Septuagint and Sam, the age-numbers given for these patriarchs are hopelessly at variance. It is in accord with what we find in the earliest legend of most races that in these chapters a great length of life is ascribed to these; thus Berosus attributes to the first 10 kings of Babylonia a span of 430,000 years, and Hesiod (Works and Days, 129) says that in the Silver Age childhood lasted 100 years, during which a boy was reared and grew up beside his mother. On the other hand the evidence of prehistoric archaeology shows that the rate of development of the individual in the early Stone Age differed very little from that of humanity at the present day. It is possible that, in the case of the Hebrew record, the names of certain pre-Abrahamic patriarchs were derived from an ancient tradition, and that in the desire to fill up the chronology of the period before the call of Abraham, these names were inserted and the time which was supposed to have elapsed was divided among them; on the basis of some such hypothesis as that which is said to have existed among the Jews, that the Messiah should come 4,000 years after Adam.
We know from the archaeological evidence that the antiquity of primitive man extends to a date very much farther back than 4,000 years. Indeed, we can prove that before 4000 BC there were settled nationalities both in the valley of the Nile and that of the Euphrates, and that among these the duration of individual life was much the same as at the present day. The first three dynasties in Egypt, starting at or about 4400 BC, consisted of 25 consecutive kings, the average length of whose several reigns was about 30 years. The biographic sketches of Biblical persons other than those in Genesis showed that their longevity did not exceed that of our contemporaries. Eli was blind and feeble at 98. At 70 David was bedridden and frail. Manasseh, the king of Judah whose reign was longest, died at 67; Uzziah died at 68. The statement in Psalms 90:10 attributed to Moses is a correct estimate of what has been the expectation of life at all time.
At the present day among Palestinian fellahin very old men are uncommon. I have never seen anyone among them who could prove that he was 80 years of age; the rate of infant mortality is appallingly high. Maturity is earlier, and signs of senility appear among them sooner than among the same class in Great Britain.
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