Methuselah, the son of Enoch, born in the eighth generation, is credited with being the longest living man ever — 969 years. His name is composed of two parts, mat or meth meaning “man,” and shelah, which refers to a non-specific missile weapon, such as a dart, javelin, or spear. Thus, his name has often been translated as “the man of the spear.” And yet, it is difficult to imagine that “man of the spear” is the correct meaning of Methuselah’s name, given that Seth’s genealogy chronicles men of faith, not violence. Moreover, what makes Methuselah unique is his longevity, and as such one ought to expect that his name in some way reflects that extraordinary fact. Therefore, a better explanation for the meaning of his name is needed.
The Hebrew word, mat, which refers to man, is derived from the root word, mathay, which may mean “When?” or “How long?” or “After how long?” Regardless of which interrogative phrase is used, the question it asks is surely related to Methuselah’s longevity, since his great age would have been the subject of much curiosity in the antediluvian age. It may have given rise to speculation on when he would die, if ever. With this in mind, his name could be translated as: “How long will the man (mat) live?” or “When will the man (mat) die?” As noted, the latter portion of Methuselah’s name, shelah, refers to a non-specific missile weapon. Missile weapons are projectiles and as such they must be sent forth from the user’s hands. Thus shelah could be translated as the action or verb associated with the weapon or object, not the object itself. As such, shelah would translate as: “sent forth, let go, released.” When the two parts of Methuselah’s name are combined, the full meaning of his name is revealed: mat/meth, “How long until he dies?” and shelah, “Until it is sent forth” or “Until it is released.” It is a name that is unique in that it is poses a question and answers it.
The last remaining riddle concerning Methuselah’s name is identifying what the “it” in his name refers to: “Until it is sent forth” or “Until it is released.” Depending upon which version of the Bible is used, Masoretic, Septuagint (Alexandrinus), or Samaritan, Methuselah died before the Flood. The Masoretic and Samaritan calculate that he died in the exact year of the Flood, while the Septuagint (Alexandrinus) indicates that he died six years before the Flood. Thus, the “it” in “until it is sent forth” or “until it is released” signifies the Flood.
Therefore, Methuselah’s name should be translated as follows: “How long until Methuselah dies? Until the Flood is sent forth,” or “God will not send forth the waters of the Flood until Methuselah is dead.”
But why would God spare Methuselah from the Flood? One possibility is that God did not wish to condemn a righteous man with the wicked:
“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. So the Lord said, ‘I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth’ ” (Gen 6:5-7).
That Methuselah was a righteous man is evident from the fact that he was included in Seth’s genealogy, and that his name refers to God sparing him from a death with the wicked. Recall also that Enoch, a prophet of God, was Methuselah’s father. Doubtless Methuselah grew up listening to his father preach against wickedness and prophesying about the coming Messiah (Jude 14-15), which surely inspired his own faith. These factors combine to give a picture of a faithful man who, despite the omission, also “walked with God” (Gen 5:22).
Why then wasn’t he included on the ark? The simple answer is that he was far too old. Due to his age, he would not have lived for long after the Flood, nor would he have survived the traumatic experience of being on the ark for such a long time, the effects of the great storm, or the difficult process of starting over in the post-Flood age.
In considering Methuselah, we might imagine that his great age was a blessing. In his lifetime, however, he witnessed several tragic events: Lamech’s attempt to murder his father; his father’s subsequent disappearance; the decline of the ecclesia and the rise of corruption and violence, which spread across the ancient earth (Gen 6:1-11). And yet Methuselah also lived to see the joyful birth of Noah and the construction of the ark, 2 a vessel that represented a new beginning and a new hope.
The mothers of human “progress”
“Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah” (Gen 4:19).
In relation to Lamech’s polygamy, Genesis could have simply said that he had more than one wife. Given that so few women are referred to at all in the early chapters of Genesis — including wives — we might wonder why the author bothered to mention the names of Lamech’s wives at all.
As discussed, the Bible is a very economical text. It does not include superfluous information. Far from being superfluous, the inclusion of the wives’ names, Adah and Zillah, illustrates how polygamy works and why God considers it a sin.
Adah’s name means “ornament” or “jewel.” As her name attests, she was precious in Lamech’s eyes. In contrast, Zillah’s name, “shadow,” emphasizes the subordinate role she played in relation to Adah; Zillah was like a shadow in relation to the bedazzling light cast by Adah, the jewel.3
Thus Adah and Zillah’s names illustrate the nature of polyamory: however well-intentioned, participants in a polygamous relationship do not share equality; someone will always be favored. Since inequality does not create oneness, it violates the unity God intended for marriage: “A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Gen 2:24).
Moreover, polygamy creates division, strife, and jealousy, which is demonstrated in the marital lives of Abraham and Jacob. Abraham’s wife Sarah was jealous of Hagar and treated her unkindly until Hagar fled (Gen 16). Likewise Leah was not Jacob’s first choice — Rachel was — and as such, she was consistently feeling unloved by her husband (Gen 9:30-35). Therefore, the inclusion of Adah and Zillah’s names in Genesis is meant to show how polygamy creates inequality, which leads to strife, division, and jealousy — qualities which are the antithesis of what God desires in us. It is also to reinforce why God decided that only one man and one woman represented a good and equal partnership.
Jabal: Father of nomadic peoples and the great migration
“Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock” (Gen 4:20).
The phrase “live in tents” refers to a nomadic people. As the “father of those who live in tents,” Jabal is associated with its popularization. Moreover his name means “to move,” which emphasizes his migratory activity. Thus the meaning of his name and the reference in Genesis 4:20 to “living in tents,” suggests that Jabal was responsible for initiating the first widespread “move” or migration upon the earth.
Jabal’s migration was a significant event in antediluvian history. Prior to the eighth generation, humans more or less dwelt in a small geographical space relative to the rest of the earth: the well-watered lands of Eden and within proximity of the eastern cities of Nod — Enoch and Irad. However in the eighth generation, humans began to migrate. The cause of this mass migration was likely due to a population explosion, which is confirmed by several passages in Genesis 6:4 “men began to increase on the face of the earth,” and, “for the earth is filled.” 5 Accompanying a growth in population, there was also an increase in the number of livestock. This was also a motivating factor in causing the mass migration. As the antediluvian population increased, so too did their animals. Just as Abraham and Lot were forced to separate due to the increase in their respective flocks (Gen 13:2-11), so too did Jabal and his fellow herdsmen. Thus, in addition to a population explosion, there was also increased competition for pasture.
Not only was Jabal the “father of those who live in tents,” but he was also the father of those who “raise livestock.” The Hebrew word for livestock, mikneh, refers to an unspecified herd, such as cattle, sheep, or goats. Our first inclination might be to argue against this notion. Wasn’t Abel was the first shepherd (Gen 4:2)? Although Abel was the first shepherd, his untimely death prevented him from instructing others. Thus he cannot be thought of as a “father.” Jabal surely was not the first to raise livestock, but Genesis states that he was the first to widely promote or teach others the practice of raising livestock, thereby making him the “father” of husbandry.
Jabal’s life as a herdsman was intimately related to his “living in tents.” Tents are used by people who lack permanency, because they move about the land. Jabal dwelt in tents because his home was where his herds grazed and slept. Thus Jabal’s activities as a tent dweller and herdsman are intimately connected, since they explain how the earth came to be “filled” (Gen 6:16).
Jubal: Father of music, mnemonics, and myth-making
“Jubal was the father of all who play the harp and flute” (Gen 4:21).
Jubal was the father of those who play the harp and flute (or ancient versions thereof), although it is unclear whether he invented these musical instruments or whether he merely popularized their use. These two musical instruments are not arbitrary: the flute is a wind instrument, while the harp is a string instrument. The two major classes of instruments are thus represented in Jubal.
The flute is a wind instrument and as such requires breath to make music. It is not surprising then that Jubal’s name means “breath.” The word Jubal is also the root word for “jubilee,” which is associated with celebration and exaltation, both of which require breath to vocalize joy or excitement. His name and the association with the word jubilee suggests that the eighth generation was a celebrated era. But of what? Surely not the state of the ecclesia, since it was well in decline by this point. Rather it is likely that his name, in association with “jubilation,” refers to a celebration of the great civilizing advances made by him, his brothers, and his sister (and possibly others) in the eighth generation.
Speculating on what this age may have looked like: the population explosion suggests that humans were adapting well to their environment. The cities of Enoch and Irad were surely crucibles for knowledge and invention, where arts, culture, and entertainment could be found — a climate in which both Jabal’s musical inventions/discoveries contributed to hero-worship, myth-making, and oral history, and where (as we shall see) Naamah’s skills in cosmetology and/or seduction/pleasure contributed to the beautification/sexualization of women towards — perhaps — ancient rites of marriage and procreation, and the creation of prostitution. The first mass migration upon the earth brought about new discoveries, and with it increased trade and commerce. Those inroads into the rest of the world could not have been as successful without Tubal-Cain’s tools, which were used to subdue, explore, and extract minerals and other resources from the earth.
Given these presumed developments, Jubal’s name, “jubilee,” is an apt description of a celebrated time in human history, at least from a worldly perspective.
But Jubal wasn’t just a musician; he was also the first bard. Since writing was only established in around 3,000 BC, oral history was the only way for antediluvians to record and share experiences. Oral history requires mnemonic devices to aid in the storytelling process. With its rhyming, meter, and structure, music is one such mnemonic device.6 Through music, Jubal gave Jabal’s nomadic people a mnemonic tool, useful for sharing and preserving history as they travelled through the earth. As they migrated further away from the cradle of civilization — Enoch and Irad — their stories, preserved through song, would have been a vital link to their past.
What might the bard’s tales entail? Doubtless their repertoire included songs of Creation, of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden, and of Cain and Abel, since these were foundational stories. But due to the decline in faith, we must assume that, gradually, the bard’s version of these events underwent significant transformation — the result of time, memory, and bias — so much so that they no longer represented true accounts. In particular, it isn’t difficult to imagine that bards who were descendants of Cain reinterpreted the events surrounding their ancestor in a more favorable light; perhaps even exonerating him, while casting God as an unfair deity 7 and Abel as a usurper of his brother’s hierarchical status within the family. They did this without fear, since they were “unafraid to slander celestial beings” (Jude 8). As a result, their versions of the truth “corrupted the earth” (Gen 6:11). Moreover, in the process of reinterpreting events, “men of renown” were worshipped as heroes and, in the course of time, deified:
“The Nephilim were on the earth in those days — and also afterward — when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown” (Gen 6:4).
Men cannot be “renowned” unless they and their deeds are spoken of/sung by others. Likewise, “mighty men” or “heroes” are only “mighty” and “heroic” if they are remembered as such. Thus the reference in Genesis 6:4 to “heroes of old, men of renown” illustrates the mind-set of the antediluvian people: they did not worship God and pursue righteousness, but rather they discarded God in favor of worshipping man and his achievements. As time passed, these heroes8 were mythologized and deified. Genesis refers to them as “giants,” which is not a description of their physicality, but rather a comment concerning the esteem others had for them. To the great majority of people at that time, these men or heroes loomed so large that they were giants on the earth — Titans.9
As has been shown, Jubal’s discoveries in music cultivated culture, produced entertainment and merriment, and provided the means by which to record oral history. However it also led to the distortion of truth, to hero-worshipping, myth-making, and the worship of men.
Matthew Harrison (Ottawa, ON)
Notes: 1. All references are from the NIV. 2. The construction of the ark was completed within 35 years. This is deduced in the following way: Noah was told to build the ark after his three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, were born (Gen 6:10). Noah was 500 years old when he became a father (Gen 5:32). The Flood did not occur until he was 600 years old (Gen 7:6). Thus, the maximum number of years for Noah to build the ark was 100 years. However the command to build the ark was not given until after his sons had already taken wives: “But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark — you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you” (Gen 6:18). According to the list of ages given in Genesis 5, men became fathers no earlier than 65 years old, based on Genesis 4 and 5. Thus if 65 is used for the earliest age that antediluvian men married and had children, this leaves approximately 35 years or less for the construction of the ark. 3. The order that Lamech’s wives are listed in Genesis 4:23 need not dictate the order in which he married his wives: Adah may have been Lamech’s first wife, which explains why she is mentioned before Zillah, but it is also possible that Zillah was Lamech’s first wife and she is listed after Adah because she was not his favorite. In the Bible, the favored wife, not the first wife, is routinely listed or mentioned first. For example, Jacob married Leah first, then her sister, Rachel. However, Rachel was his favorite. Thus, in Genesis 31, whenever Jacob calls to his wives, he refers to Rachel first, then Leah: “So Jacob sent word to Rachel and Leah to come out to the fields where his flocks were” (Gen 31:4). Genesis mirrors Jacob’s favoritism by also giving precedence to Rachel over Leah: “Then Rachel and Leah replied, ‘Do we still have any share in the inheritance of our father’s estate?’ ” (Gen 31:14). Moreover, when Jacob feared Esau’s revenge for having stolen his birthright, he sent out, wave after wave, gifts and servants to meet Esau. Those he valued the most were kept until last. Thus, he sent out Leah and her children before he sent Rachel and her children (Gen 33:2). Even the book of Ruth, which was written centuries later, gives Rachel precedence: “May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah” (Ruth 4:11). 4. Genesis 6:1, 11, 16. 5. This “filling” of the earth may simply refer to the known portions of the earth at the time when Genesis was written or received, i.e. the known portions of the earth in the days of Moses — if Moses was its author. This “filling” of the earth was initiated by Jabal’s mass migration, which began in the eighth generation. 6. From studying the bardic tradition in the Balkans in the early part of the 19th century, Harvard Professor, Milman Parry, discovered that songs (and poems) sung/recited by guslars (Yugoslavian bards) contained a mnemonic formula: “A group of words regularly employed under the same metrical conditions to express a given essential idea” (Ryan and Pitman 1998:220-221). This formula aided the guslar (bard) in remembering/retelling the story, either through song or poem. This ancient linguistic formula likely had its origins in Jubal’s musical discoveries. 7. Cain’s words, “My punishment is more than I can bear,” likely contributed to the view that God had unfairly treated him. 8. Adam and Eve, Cain, Lamech, Jabal, Jubal, and Tubal-Cain, perhaps even Naamah, were considered “heroes of old, men [and women] of renown.” For example, the significant event in Lamech’s life survived in the form of a poem or a song (Gen 4:18-24), which as has been shown was the way in which ancient bards passed on oral history. 9. I’ve deliberately referred to these “men of renown, heroes of old” as “Titans” to suggest a connection between the Bible and Greek mythology. Is it possible that these unknown men, heroes, may have been remembered, centuries later, in Greek mythology as the