ExoTheology & Space-Age Interpretations of the Bible

(religious implications of an inhabited universe)

Category Archives: Hebrew Bible

Human life span and Genesis 6:3 (“his days shall be 120 years”)

Genesis 6:3

Genesis 6:3

Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years” (Genesis 6:3 ESV).

What about this? Has anyone lived past that age? Is that our maximum age?

Of course, it’s possible this verse ought not even to be interpreted as pointing to human life span. I was reading Genesis 6:3 in the NET Bible the other day. (I love it when I read a new translation and it leads me to a new interpretation.) Anyway, instead of interpreting the verse as meaning that human beings as individuals will not live past 120 years, the NET translators have it as, in essence, “human beings will get 120 more years before they’re destroyed as a whole (in the flood)”: “So the Lord said, ‘My spirit will not remain in humankind indefinitely, since they are mortal. They will remain for 120 more years'” (Ge 6:3 NET).

But the more I read various commentators, the more I came to think that it’s much more likely the traditional interpretation is accurate — i.e., that eventually (after the great life-spans of the pre-flood patriarchs) human life span will max out at 120 years.

Then I saw this video (below). Check it out. At minute 1:16, one Dr. Kasten says,

Nobody lives past 120… yet.

Turns out that’s basically true. The one person who lived past 120 (Jeanne Calment) is the exception that proves the rule.  Of the “100 Verified Oldest People,” only nine lived beyond 115, and only one (Jeanne Calment) lived beyond 120. Most lived to 113-115.

I also guess someone could say that the verse would be more fulfilled if we human beings averaged 120 years. But of course life expectancy has varied so much from century to century and from place to place. And I think it’s unlikely that the biblical writer thought of “120 years” in the sense of an average — 1) since the whole concept of average would not be one he would likely have used much, and 2) the whole sense of “My spirit shall not abide in man forever” (ESV) implies duration of life once it’s started.

But what has been our average life span? Currently the world average is 67.2 years, according to this Wikipedia article. It’s actually sad how short out life spans have been over the centuries.

So I guess someone else could say that this verse is not fulfilled because for most of recorded history, our life span has been significantly less than 120 years. But it makes more sense that the Biblical writer is saying that 120 years will be the maximum human life span, since so much of what has kept our life-spans shorter has been non-genetic factors. As the writer of this same wikipedia article points out,

In general, the available data indicate that longer lifespans became more common recently in human evolution. This increased longevity is attributed by some writers to cultural adaptations rather than genetic evolution, although some research indicates that during the Neolithic Revolution natural selection favored increased longevity. Nevertheless, all researchers acknowledge the effect of cultural adaptations upon life expectancy. [Bold mine]

Anyway, this verse sure implies that the biblical writer(s) had access to some advanced scientific data — either that or he/they guessed well and his the number “120” right on.

Judges 5:23 Meroz = “clear proof … for extraterrestrial life”?

In a previous post, I noted that, according to Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, both the Talmud and the Zohar interpret Meroz (a place mentioned in Judges 5:23) as a star — and, more than that, a star with inhabitants (presumably on a orbiting planet). As Kaplan puts it, “the fact that Scripture states, “Cursed is Meroz… cursed are its inhabitants” is clear proof from the words of our Sages for extraterrestrial life.”

That possible connection fascinated me, so I did a little research. So far I can’t find any support from mainstream scholarly sources for any connection between Meroz and the heavens. They all put it as a town in northern Palestine, though they are uncertain exactly where it was or much else about it.

Here’s the passage, Judges 5:19-23 (NRSV).

19 “The kings came, they fought;
then fought the kings of Canaan,
at Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo;
they got no spoils of silver.
20 The stars fought from heaven,
from their courses they fought against Sisera.
21 The torrent Kishon swept them away,
the onrushing torrent, the torrent Kishon.
March on, my soul, with might!
22 “Then loud beat the horses’ hoofs
with the galloping, galloping of his steeds.
23 “Curse Meroz, says the angel of the Lord,
curse bitterly its inhabitants,
because they did not come to the help of the Lord,
to the help of the Lord against the mighty.

For example, Avraham Negev says of Meroz: “Eusebius (Onom. 128:4–6, 12–13) states that in his time there was a village by the name of Marous, Merrous, 12 miles from Beth-Shean, near Dothan, and mistakenly identifies it with Meiron.” [Avraham Negev, The Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land, 3rd ed. (New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1990).]

There’s not much help either in Hebrew lexicons. Here’s the entry in Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon: “מֵרוֹז (prob. for מֶאֱרוֹז, مَأْرَزُ refuge, from the root אָרַז, ارز to draw in, to betake oneself), [Meroz]” [Gesenius, Wilhelm and Samuel Prideaux Tregelles. Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2003.]

The author of the Wikipedia entry on Meroz points again to the Talmudic view: “According to the Talmud (Moed Katan 16a), Meroz is a certain planet in the stellar sphere, and because the mention of it in Judges 5:23 is preceded by the phrase, “the stars in their course fought against Sisera” (v.20), it thus follows that Meroz must be defined as a celestial body. This mysterious ‘Meroz’ may not only be the name of a star, but also may allude to an unidentified group of outworld inhabitants somewhere in the second heaven (outer space) to which failed in their willingness to assist the righteous in a war against the wicked, and hence cursed by the angel of God.”

Ah! At least here there’s some possible reason [in the Biblical text itself] for the idea that Meroz is a star – i.e., the reference in verse 20 to how “The stars fought from heaven, from their courses they fought against Sisera” (NRSV).

But most commentators seem to be taking verse 20 as poetic, as a poetic way of saying that the Israelites got help from the weather (which in turn they interpreted as God or heaven helping them). The Open Bible (1998) says, “A poetic description of a miracle of weather on Israel’s behalf. Out of the heavens came torrential rains causing flash floods.” And the KJV Bible Commentary (1997) says, “The intervention of heaven is poetically phrased as the stars in their courses which fought against Sisera. Jehovah is viewed here as controlling the process of nature itself, a common Israelite belief throughout the Old Testament era.”

Good ol’ J. Vernon McGee disagrees and takes it all a bit more literally: “I don’t believe this is merely a poetic expression. My feeling is that it could truly be said that heaven, that God was against this enemy. [Thru the Bible Commentary, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), Jdg 5:20.]

So, in the end, I still can’t find any connection between “Meroz” and “star.” Probably, if I knew more about the Talmud and the Zohar, I might understand why those sages might make that connection. I’ll keep looking.

Torah reaches extraterrestrials (from a Midrash for Col. Ilan Ramon and other shuttle astronauts lost in 2003)

This is the ending to a midrash written for Col. Ilan Ramon and the six others who died when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated on re-entry, back in 2003.

What a wonderful thought. I love this.

A MIDRASH IN MEMORY OF ILAN RAMON Z”L BY HAZZAN MELANIE FINE (COPYRIGHT 2003 BY HAZZAN MELANIE FINE), posted on schechter.edu.

[Ramon] took this Torah up into space, for to him, “This scroll symbolizes, more than anything, the ability of the Jewish people to survive everything, including horrible periods, and go from darkest days to days of hope and faith in the future.”

And though neither he, nor this Torah, nor his six crewmates, returned to earth, we can be assured that all seven souls returned to God, who created them, and that the letters of the Torah, written in deep black ink, soared among the stars and cast a heavenly light among all of God’s creations, chanting “The earth is Adonai’s and its fullness, the world and those who inhabit it.” [Psalm 24:1] And that somewhere, somehow, in a galaxy far, far away, some extra-terrestrial bar mitzvah tutor is teaching some extra-terrestrial being: “Mercha tipcha munach etnachta, mercha tipcha mercha sof pasuk. That’s how it goes. Trust me. I got it straight from this Torah scroll that came whizzing by me early one morning, much to my surprise.”

And that’s where Moshe interrupted God: “You really expect me to believe this story? That one day, human beings are going to ascend to your holy mountain, that they’ll actually fly into space, like the angels?” And God shushed him: “Moshe, my dear boy. After I freed you from Egypt, split the Red Sea, provided manna for you in the wilderness, when are you going to learn? With God, all things are possible!”

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan on extraterrestrial life

I found an article pointing to some Jewish perspectives on the possibility of intelligent extraterrestrial life: “Extraterrestrial Life” by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, posted on torah.org.

Kaplan discusses the range of sages’ views on extraterrestrial life.

One Rabbi figures there’s nothing in Jewish thought that precludes ETs and quotes, as Kaplan says, “the Talmudic teaching (Avoda Zara 3b) that “God flies through 18,000 worlds.” Since they require His providence, we may assume that they are inhabited.”

Another Rabbi figures that since the universe was created for human beings “no other creature can exist possessing free will,” and without free will, why exist? (I’m not sure I get the logic which goes from “the universe was created for human beings” to “no other beings with free will exist.” I guess this Rabbi is assuming that ETs with free will could not benefit man in any way (assuming this Rabbi’s understanding of the universe as created for the benefit of humanity). But why not? ETs could serve us well in multiple ways. Read more of this post

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