In his Homilies on the Psalms, St. Jerome notes: "I am reviewing carefully the places in Scripture where I might find old age mentioned for the first time. Adam lived for 930 years, yet he is not called an old man. Methuselah's life was 969 years, and he is not called an old man. I am coming down all the way to the flood, and after the flood for almost three thousand years, and I find no one who has been called old. Abraham is the first, and certainly he was much younger than Methuselah." (HP 21)
Jerome's observation is significant. Abraham was old, probably about 75 years at his time of death. This was a long lifespan for people living about 5000 years ago. Paleopathology indicates that the lifespan of ancient peoples living in an area extending from North Africa to Mesopotamia and Turkey was about 34 years. This applies to peoples in the Late Paleolithic - 30,000 to 9,000 B.C., the Mesolithic - 9,000 to 7,000 B.C. and the Early Neolithic - 7,000 to 5,000 B.C. This would apply to all the rulers listed in Genesis, although rulers tended to live longer than the average people.
One might argue that the patriarchs enjoyed extraordinary longevity by divine providence. Were this the case we would want to know why God’s providence is limited to a specific time, people and place. In other words, the singularity of the extraordinary longevity of these patriarchs is a miracle and therefore beyond scientific explanation. While I believe in miracles, I find this explanation unlikely and without biblical support.
As St. Jerome noted, the only patriarch said to have died at an old age was Abraham (Gen. 24:1, 25:8). This means that the number of years attributed to the Genesis rulers are not to be taken as literal years. They appear to represent ideas about these people and are symbolic.
This is supported by the assignment of 930 years to Adam, an anti-type of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the first fruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at his coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father…” (1 Corinthians 15:22-24a)
The number 9 is the last number before beginning the 1-10 counting cycle again. The 3 represents unity of body, mind and soul, and the unity of the Godhead. The symbolism of the zero is likely linked to the solar cycle and has numerical symbolism older than Gematria which has no notation for zero.
Gematria is influenced by Greek sacred geometry and is found in Plato’s writings. Doubtless, Plato was influenced by the geometry of Pythagoras, since he had studied in Egypt, but Pythagoras’ work came much later than the period in which Abraham’s ancestors lived.
In Gematria, numeric values are found by adding the numeric values of the Greek or Hebrew letters. But the numbers in the Genesis King lists are not based on the letters of the Greek or Hebrew alphabets, since these alphabets didn’t exist in Abraham’s time. The number symbolism is likely based on an older system, but it does not help us to understand the symbolism of Kenan's 910 years, Seth's 600 years and Adam’s 930 years because it has no notation for zero and because it is based on alphabets which were unknown to the ancient Horite Hebrew.
In Gematria the sum of Methuselah's 969 days would be represented by the numerical values of the Greek letters omega and stigma, letters unknown to Abraham and his ancestors. Ultimately, Gematria is not helpful in interpreting the number symbolism of Abraham’s Horite Hebrew people.
It is fairly certain that the meaning of the extraordinary numbers in Genesis 4 and 5 is linked to astronomical observations of the ancient astronomer priests who were in the service of the Mighty Men of Old, but there is still much to be learned about this.
It may be that we have to look to the earlier Nilotic solar symbolism. In Egyptian hieroglyphic writing, the zero is a solar symbol and the emblem of the creator God, called Ra ("Ani" in Akkadian). The solar symbol O might signify the divine status of the ruler or it could indicate a solar year of 365 daily cycles.
The ancient Nilotes and the Egyptians had a large inventory of solar symbolism because of their religious understanding of the High God whose emblem was the Sun. Their main ideogram for "Sun" was a representation of the solar disk, such as this:
Is it possible that the zero is simply a solar symbol? The O is for modern thinker a place holder, but it may have represented the sum of the days in a solar cycle, that is 3+6+5 =14 years. Kenan's 910 might be 91+14 = 105 years. Seth's 600 might be 6+14+14 = 44. Adam's 930 years might be 9+3+14 = 26 years.
These are reasonable spans for ancient rulers. However, what are we do with ages that do not have any 0's? Consider Methuselah's son, Lamech the Younger. He is said to have lived 777 years. Did he live only 21 years?
The matter is further complicated by the discrepancy between the different versions. Lamech the Younger is assigned different numbers. In the Septuagint he is said to have lived 753 years. In the Samaritan Pentateuch, he is said to have lived 653 years, and in the Masoretic Text he is said to have lived 777. No other man in the Genesis king lists has such a discrepancy in the number of years assigned.
The term "Lamech" is a variant of the Akkadian word la-melech, meaning "priest of the King." Hundreds of seals have been found inscribed with la-melech. La-melech seals typically had the image of a scarab (dung beetle) or a sun disc. Both were emblems of the Creator and his Son. The sun disc and scarab were used as a royal seal by the Kings of Judah. Hezekiah's seal is an example.