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ChildrenLamech, and other sons and daughters
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Methuselah Stained glass.jpg
ChildrenLamech, and other sons and daughters

According to the Hebrew Bible, Methuselah (Hebrew: מְתֿוּשֶלַח / מְתֿוּשָלַח, Modern Mətušélaḥ / Mətušálaḥ Tiberian Məṯûšélaḥ / Məṯûšālaḥ ; "Man of the dart/spear", or alternatively "his death shall bring judgment"[1]) is purported to be the oldest person to ever live.[2] Extra-biblical tradition maintains that he died on the 11th of Cheshvan of the year 1656 (Anno Mundi, after Creation), at the age of 969, seven days before the beginning of the Great Flood.[3] Methuselah was the son of Enoch and the grandfather of Noah.

The name Methuselah, or the phrase "old as Methuselah", is commonly used to refer to any living thing reaching great age.

Methuselah in the Bible[edit]

Methuselah is mentioned in one passage in the Hebrew Bible, Genesis 5:21–27, as part of the genealogy linking Adam to Noah. The genealogy is repeated, without the chronology, at 1 Chronicles 1:3, and also appears at Luke 3:37. The following is taken from the King James Version of the Bible.

(21) And Enoch lived sixty and five years, and begat Methuselah: (22) And Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah three hundred years, and Enoch begat sons and daughters: (23) And all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years: (24) And Enoch walked with God: and he [was] not; for God took him. (25) And Methuselah lived an hundred eighty and seven years, and begat Lamech: (26) And Methuselah lived after he begat Lamech seven hundred eighty and two years, and begat sons and daughters: (27) And all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred sixty and nine years: and he died. (KJV)

The verses are available in three manuscript traditions, the Masoretic, the Septuagint and the Samaritan Torah. The three traditions do not agree with each other. The differences can be summarized as follows:[4]

TextAge at son's birthRemainder of life of MethuselahAge at deathComment
Masoretic187782969Methuselah died in 1656 AM, the year of the Flood at the age of 969.
Septuagint (Alexandrinus)187782969Methuselah dies in 2256 AM, six years before the Flood (2262 AM)
Septuagint (Vaticanus)167802969Methuselah dies in 2256 AM, fourteen years after the Flood (2242 AM)
Samaritan67653720Methuselah dies in the year of the Flood (1307 AM)

There have been numerous attempts to account for these differences – the most obvious being accidental corruption by copyists and translators. Some errors may be the result of mistaken attempts to correct previous errors. Gerhard Larsson has suggested that the rabbis who translated the Septuagint from Hebrew to Greek in Alexandria around the 3rd century BC, aware that the Egyptian historian Manetho makes no mention of a Deluge, lengthened the patriarchs' ages to push back the time of the flood to before the first Egyptian dynasty.[5]

Extra-Biblical mentions[edit]

Methuselah appears in two important Jewish works from the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC. In the Book of Enoch,[6] Enoch (as the narrator) tells Methuselah of the coming worldwide flood and of the future Messianic kingdom. The Book of Jubilees names Methuselah's mother and his wife – both are named Edna – and his daughter-in-law, Betenos, Lamech's wife.

The 17th century midrashic Sefer haYashar ("Book of Jasher")[7] describes Methuselah with his grandson Noah attempting to persuade the people of the earth to return to godliness.[8] All other very long-lived people died, and Methuselah was the only one of this class left.[9] God planned to bring the flood after all the men who walked in the ways of the Lord had died (besides Noah and his family).[10] Methuselah lived until the ark was built, but died before the flood, since God had promised he would not be killed with the unrighteous.[9] The Sefer haYashar gives Methuselah's age at death as 960[11] and does not synchronize his death with the flood.

The Sumerian king list mentions a character named Ubaratutu who seems almost identical to Methuselah. He was the son of Enmunderana the Sumerian Enoch, and king of Sumeria until the flood swept over the land. Although their ages are different their father and year of death remain the same.[citation needed]


Bartolomé Bermejo, Christ Leading the Patriarchs to Paradise, c. 1480. In this depiction of the Harrowing of Hell, Methuselah is portrayed as leading the procession of the righteous behind Christ, along with Solomon, the Queen of Sheba, Adam and Eve.

The meaning of Methuselah's age has engendered considerable speculation, but no widely accepted conclusions. These speculations can be discussed under four categories and their combinations: literal, mistranslation, symbolic, and fictional interpretations.


Literal interpretations take Methuselah's 969 years to be exactly 969 solar years. This conflicts with the current human lifespan. Some literalists suggest possible naturalistic explanations: the patriarchs had a better diet, or a water vapor canopy protected the earth from radiation prior to the Flood.[12] Others introduce theological causes: man was originally to have everlasting life, but sin was introduced into the world by Adam and Eve, its influence became greater with each generation, and God progressively shortened man's life, particularly in the postdiluvian era.[13]


Some believe that Methuselah's extreme age is the result of an ancient mistranslation that converted "months" to "years", producing a more credible 969 lunar months, or 78½ years,[14] but the same calculation applied to Enoch would have him fathering Methuselah at the age of 5[15] using numbers from the Masoretic Text. Another commentator[16] suggested that the Genesis 5 numbers "might for convenience have all been multiples of 5 or 10". If the Septuagint numbers are divided by 10, Enoch's 165 when he fathered his son would be 16½ years, and Methuselah's 969 when he died would be 96.9 years.

Another commentator[17] argued that the Septuagint Genesis 5 numbers are in tenths of years, which "will explain how it was that they read 930 years for the age of Adam instead of 93 years, and 969 years for Methuselah instead of 96 years, and 950 years for that of Noah instead of 95 years"... "Surely it is much more rational to conclude that Noah lived 50 years instead of 500 years before he took a wife and begat Shem, Ham, and Japheth." The same commentator's Table III[18] lists the Septuagint total ages with decimal points: 93.0 for Adam, 91.0 for Cainan, 96.9 for Methuselah, 95.0 for Noah, etc. Another commentator[19] provided a similar table of the same Septuagint Genesis 5 numbers with decimal points inserted in the same tenth position.


Symbolic interpretations begin with the observation that the Biblical chronology routinely uses numbers for their symbolic value: for example, 10 symbolizes completion, 8 symbolizes the mundane world, and 7 the divine. So Methuselah's father Enoch, who does not die but is taken by God, is the seventh patriarch, and Methuselah, the eighth, dies in the year of the Flood, which ends the ten-generational sequence from Adam to Noah, in whose time the world is destroyed.[20]


Among those who believe that all the numbers of Genesis 5, including Methuselah's age, have no meaning at all, Kenneth Kitchen calls them "pure myth",[21] Yigal Levin believes they are intended simply to speed the reader from Adam to Noah,[22] and Claus Westermann believes they are intended to create the impression of a distant past.[23]

Derivative words[edit]

The word "Methuselarity" was coined by Aubrey de Grey to mean a future point in time when all of the medical conditions that cause human death would be eliminated and death would occur only by accident or homicide.[24]

Use of the word in modern life[edit]

A wine bottle containing six litres is known as "a Methuselah".

The word "methuselah" is used extensively in the anime series Trinity Blood. The term is the preferred nomenclature of vampires in the series. There is also a futuristic series reference to the descendants of Adam and Eve, in particular Cain, Abel, and Seth.[clarification needed]

In White Wolf Publishing's Vampire: The Masquerade, long-unlived vampires are referred to as Methuselahs.

One of the leading non-profit organizations supporting scientific research focused on human life extension is the Methuselah Foundation. Several breakthroughs have been made within the programs of this organization, including the rejuvenation mice and the extension of a mouse's lifespan to approximately 2.5 times the average lifespan for a mouse. These developments give hope to efforts to use scientific means to stop or delay aging and extend human life in near future.[25]

George Bernard Shaw's series of plays written during 1918–20 were entitled Back to Methuselah (A Metabiological Pentateuch).

In a stab at Alex Riley, WWE wrestler Chris Jericho stated that Methuselah was believed to be alive around the same time Riley won his last match.

In the film Blade Runner, the character J.F. Sebastian is suffering from the fictional disease "Methuselah Syndrome", which involves premature aging.

In Dan Simmons' novel Hyperion, the "Methuselah Syndrome" mentioned in Sol Weintraub's story as possible explanation (refuted shortly after) for his daughter's unusual condition.

The Howard Families, a fictional group of unusually long lived humans created by the author Robert A. Heinlein, are sometimes described as "Methuselahs" by outsiders in his books Methuselah's Children and Time Enough for Love.

Methuselah is the proper name given to the second oldest known Great Basin Bristlecone Pine in California's Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. It germinated in 2832 BC and was for many years considered the world's oldest living tree, until the 2013 announcement of the discovery of an older bristlecone pine.[26]

In the song "Razzle Dazzle" from the musical Chicago, lawyer Billy Flynn declares that everyone has always loved a good show with the words, "back since the days of old Methusalah, everyone loves the big bamboozler."

In The Simpsons, a joke about Methuselah's extremely old age is made when Nelson finds a Methuselah rookie card at Ned Flanders' table at a swap meet.

In the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Goo Goo Gas", an effect from Plankton's invention turns Mr. Krabs elderly. Plankton then calls Krabs Methuselah.

In the film Bicentennial Man, the President of the World Congress declares the protagonist, the android Andrew, to have the longest recorded human lifespan, "with the exception of Methuselah and other biblical characters".

In the Star Trek Original Series episode "Requiem for Methuselah", a man is revealed to be immortal and to have been using many identities over the centuries. Over the course of his long life span, he used the names of many famous figures in history, including Methuselah.

In the Lost In Space episode "The Promised Planet", the alien teenagers call Dr. Smith Methuselah.

Barbara Kingsolver's novel The Poisonwood Bible features a bird that is referred to as "Methuselah" and symbolically represents the life of the Congo politically.[27]

In Yann Martel's novel Life of Pi, a mouse, nicknamed "Methuselah", lived for weeks in the zoo's viper exhibit. Here, the name draws attention to the length of time the mouse spent living peacefully with animals that would normally consume the mammal in a heartbeat.[28]

In Richard K. Morgan's Altered Carbon, the first novel of the Takeshi Kovacs trilogy, "Methuselah" is the somewhat derogatory term applied to individuals who have greatly extended their lifespans by shunting their personalities into new bodies, typically clones of their original bodies. This is a major theme of the novel and its sequels.[29]

In Highlander: The Series, the Methuselah stone is an ancient stone believed to magnify the Quickening power of whoever assembles it. In Season 4 Episode 16, Methos reads a book that indicates that the stone might turn a normal human into an immortal.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cornwall and Stelman Smith, The Exhaustive Dictionary of Bible Names
  2. ^ Genesis 5:27
  3. ^ Methuselah dying before the flood is based on the Masoretic Text of Genesis 5 and his dying after the flood based on the Genesis 5 numbers in the Lucianic Septuagint (Codex Vaticanus).
  4. ^ Taken from the table in Gerald Hasel, "Genesis 5 and 11: Chronolgenealogies in the Biblical History of Beginnings
  5. ^ Quoted in the website of the Institute for Biblical and Scientific Studies
  6. ^ "The Book of Enoch". Retrieved 2006-08-29. 
  7. ^ Sefer Ha-Yashar: Or, the Book of Jasher (1887), Salt Lake City: J. Parry & Co.
  8. ^ (Jasher 5:7)
  9. ^ a b (Jasher 5:21)
  10. ^ (Jasher 4:20)
  11. ^ (Jasher 5:36)
  12. ^ John C. Whitcomb, Jr. and Henry M. Morris, "The Genesis Flood" (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1961), 399–404
  13. ^ Pilch, John J. (1999). The Cultural Dictionary of the Bible. Liturgical Press. pp. 144–146. ISBN 0-8146-2527-4. 
  14. ^ Hill, Carol A. (2003-12-04). "Making Sense of the Numbers of Genesis". Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 55: 239. 
  15. ^ Morris, Henry M. (1976). The Genesis Record: A Scientific and Devotional Commentary on the Book of Beginnings. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House. p. 159. ISBN 0-8010-6004-4. "Such an interpretation would have made Enoch only five years old when his son was born!" 
  16. ^ "The Numbers of Genesis V 3–31: a Suggested Conversion and Its Implications", Donald V. Etz, Vetus Testamentum, Vol 43, No 2, 1993, pages 171–187, abstract
  17. ^ Ellen H. Bennett, Science of Knowledge and Reason, 1897, London, England, pages 32–34
  18. ^ Ellen H. Bennett, page 34
  19. ^ Robert M. Best, Noah's Ark and the Ziusudra Epic, 1999, page 108
  20. ^ Abraham Malamat, “King Lists of the Old Babylonian Period and Biblical Genealogies,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 88 (1968): 165. See also the discussion of "ten" in the Gen. genealogies in M. Abot section 5, Jacob Neusner, The Mishnah: A New Translation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988), 685. Duane A. Garrett also thinks this is deliberate, thus indicating redaction, Rethinking Genesis: The Sources and Authorship of the First Book of the Bible, Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2000, p. 99.
  21. ^ K. A. Kitchen, Ancient Orient and Old Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1966), 40
  22. ^ Yigal Levin, “Understanding Biblical Genealogies,” Currents in Research: Biblical Studies 9 (2001): 33
  23. ^ Westermann, Genesis 1–11: A Commentary, 354
  24. ^ de Grey, Aubrey. The singularity and the Methuselarity: similarities and differences 2009, 149, pages 195–202.
  25. ^
  26. ^ "Rocky Mountain Tree-Ring Research". Retrieved March 9, 2013. 
  27. ^ The Poisonwood Bible (1998), written by Barbara Kingsolver. ISBN 0-06-017540-0
  28. ^ Life of Pi (2001), written by Yann Martel. ISBN 978-0-15-100811-7
  29. ^ Altered Carbon (2002) Written by Richard K. Morgan. ISBN 0-575-07321-7

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