I HAVE read with great interest an article having the above title, by M. De Solaville, in the November issue of "the Popular Science Monthly." As the article is so conclusive as to the average age of man, with one singular exception in relation to the patriarchs, living before the flood, it has taxed the ingenuity of many able as well as serious minds to account for the wonderful discrepancy in this case. Buffon has given, as the writer quotes him, the reason of this difference to be, that "before the flood, the earth was less solid, less compact than it is now. The law of gravitation had acted for only a little time, the productions of the globe had less consistency, and the body of man, being more supple, was more susceptible of extension. Being able to grow for a longer time, it should, in consequence, live for a longer time than now." Hensler, he tells us, has given a different reason, referring the apparent conflict to the different modes of dividing time. Voltaire rejected, on the authority of the writer, "the longevity assigned to the patriarchs of the Bible," but accepts without question the longevity ascribed to certain men in India, who reached the age of one hundred and twenty years.
On a full examination of the question of patriarchal longevity, the disparity of their ages to those of later times disappears. A very slight error in the translation of the Hebrew numbers has led to all the apparent disparity. The age of the antediluvians was not to exceed one hundred and twenty years. Genesis vi, 3: "And the Lord said, my spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh, yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years." This was the regular good old age of men with special variations, both before and for some time after the days of Abraham.
In reading concrete numbers the Hebrews gave the larger number first, thus: Ninety and seven for ninety-seven, forty and seven for forty-seven. The reversal of this rule in the translation of Genesis v, 3-5, as an illustration, will show the error in all similar ease?. "Adam lived a hundred and thirty years and begat a son," etc. This is correct, according to the rule; Seth was born when Adam was one hundred and thirty years old, and was his last child. But if the rule were here reversed, as it is in the authorized version in the fifth verse, it would read thus: Adam lived thirty hundred years, and begat a son! This shocked the consciousness of the Christian translator, and he was driven to the true rule of the Hebrew uses in case of concrete numerals.
In the fifth verse we have the force of the violated rule, thus: "And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years, and he died!" A. V. The true reading by the rule would be, "And all the days of Adam, which he lived, were a hundred years, and thirty and nine years, and he died," making the entire age of Adam one hundred and thirty-nine years, instead of nine hundred and thirty years.
It will be seen, on examination, that concrete numeral adjectives, in Hebrew as in other languages, agree in number with their nouns. In the case cited in the A. V. the nine is made to agree with hundred in the singular and not with years in the plural. The error is seen at a glance, for the difference between "nine years" and "nine hundred years" is too great to be over-looked in any careful translation of a sacred book. The translator assumed that nine here agreed with hundred, when it had no such agreement; hundred in the text is itself a concrete numeral, and separately agrees with years, meaning a hundred of years. At the date of this writing the Hebrews had no means of writing "nine hundred," or any number of hundreds above one, without repetition or circumlocution. There were then none of the masoretic points in use. In the case of the age of Terah, the father of Abraham, the translators have made the attempt to make two hundred out of one hundred in the word mathim [מאתים], used in the plural as it might be to agree with years, thus making Terah two hundred and five instead of one hundred and five years old, at his death; holding the theory that the word mae (or one hundred) would, in the plural, mathim, make two hundred. This is contrary to all rule. The Hebrews could, by pluralizing a numeral, less than ten, add tenfold to the unit, thus: hemosh, five; hemoshim, fifty. This rule, applied in the case of Terah, would make him ten times one hundred and five years old, or one thousand and fifty years old. In the case of Terah the historic record conclusively contradicts the translation, and hence demonstrates the rule that pluralizing one hundred does not, in the Hebrew tongue, make two hundred,