What was the actual age of Noah

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Based on the findings from modern methods that can evaluate the age of human remains with a fair degree of precision (e.g. through radiocarbon dating of bones, mummies, fossils etc), and also considering the greater fragility of earlier man, now it is an established fact that the average life-expectancy of our human ancestors was definitely LESS, and never more, than average ours.

Thus, whether any member of human species during the last 10,000 years could have survived several hundred years, is out of the question!

Could Noah, or any of those great patriarchs, have lived several hundred years?

THE QURAN DOESN’T CONFIRM NOAH’S ACTUAL AGE

The Quran re-narrates Noah’s story as one of “the PARABLES, the meaning of which can be grasped by none except the knowledgeable. 29:43” (cf. 29:41, 11:24-25)”. See Understanding the Flood Parable of Noah

“Parable is a short story that uses familiar events to illustrate a moral or religious lesson.”

In this parabolic story, Noah’s actual age is irrelevant.

There is a general misconception among traditional Muslims that, by re-narrating various biblical stories, the Quran confirms them literally and so no deeper understanding of these accounts is allowed or necessary.

To our observation, however, this is not the case. As the Quran attaches its own moral imports and intents to these ‘stories of the ancients’, they function in the Quran purely as parables rather than factsheets of literal or historical accounts (24:34-35, 25:33, 39:27, 12:111; cf. 12:7, 12:111, 15:75, 23:30, 54:15). Thus they actually belong to the veiled corpus of the Quran, which comprises literary devices like symbols, idioms, metaphors, allegories, stories, parables, analogies etc whereby the scripture presents deeper, complex and abstract ideas.

In other words, as these Quranic re-narrations are idiosyncratic in both contents and intents, they do not confirm any literal understanding of their Biblical parallels.

We will take the AGE OF NOAH as an example.

First, why should we discuss this at all? Is the actual age of Noah really important, or even relevant to us? If not, then what purpose would it serve in a handbook of divine enlightenment?

In our opinion, it is inconceivable that the Quran, with its sole purpose to guide, would be concerned about any actual age or any historical biography of a character of the remote past.

And this should explain why the Quranic wisdom gently BYPASSES (cf. 5:15) this specific focus of this Genesis myth on Noah’s age as immaterial, while attaching to it a very different dimension:

And certainly We sent Noah to his people, and he remained among them a thousand YEARS except fifty years. 29:14

Please observe how this Quranic description significantly differs from its Biblical counterpart, “Noah LIVED a total of 950 years, and then he died. Genesis ix, 29”.

Here one may ask: If the Quran really wanted to confirm a literal understanding of the Biblical narration of Noah’s age, why doesn’t it directly repeat the exact number “nine hundred and fifty” as mentioned there, but rather uses this brainstorming expression “a thousand less fifty” instead?

Again, if the Quran doesn’t somehow intend to differ from this Biblical account of Noah’s longevity (“Noah lived a total …”), why doesn’t it simply repeat it ad verbum, but rather rephrases it in such an oblique way (“he remained with them …”) instead? Why ‘remained’, instead of ‘lived’?

Also, why does the phrase “a thousand YEARS less fifty years” use two contrasting terms, ‘YEARS’ (sana) and ‘years’ (‘aam), if not with a purpose to highlight some key differences between their connotations?

Why does the Quran need to use an expression so distinct from the Biblical, after all?

THE QURAN DOESN’T EVEN MENTION NOAH’S ACTUAL AGE

Let us read the statement once again:

And certainly We sent Noah to his people, and he remained among them a thousand YEARS except fifty years. 29:14

On a closer study of the above, and the highlighted words in particular, we get the following findings:

Here we have two different time units: ‘YEARS’ (sana) and ‘years’ (‘aam)

Though not noticeable in English translations, there are infact two different time units being used here: ‘YEARS’ (sana) and ‘years’ (‘aam).

Often translated as ‘years’, the word sana in Arabic vaguely refers to season, crop or year as a non-specific period of time. Hence it doesn’t necessarily mean a year (365 days), just as yawm does not necessarily mean a day. In contrast, translated as ‘years’, the word ‘aam often more specifically refers to a calendar year.

Moreover, while sana generally indicates a period of hard work and hardship (12:47-48; 7:130), ‘aam usually indicates a year of ease and blessing (2:259, 12:49).

While there is thus some contrariety between sana and ‘aam, the Quran uses these two analogous words in 29:14, in one sentence, obviously to highlight some key difference between their connotations.

‘Thousand YEARS’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘thousand calendar years’

Usually translated as ‘thousand’, the word ‘alf’ in Arabic doesn’t invariably or necessarily mean ‘thousand’ in the literal sense. As ‘alf’ often stands for a certain well-rounded number or a large number, it may also simply mean ‘many’ or ‘too many’ (2:96; 8:9, 22:47, 32:5, 97:3).

With this, if we consider that ‘sana’ vaguely refers to season, crop or year, often accompanied by hardship, we can understand ‘alfa sanat’ (‘thousand YEARS’) as a very long, non-specific period of time, of long waits and difficulties, which doesn’t precisely or necessarily mean ‘thousand calendar years’.

“A thousand sana except fifty ‘aam” doesn’t mean 950 years

As noted above, the Quran uses these two contrasting time units to highlight some key difference between their connotations. In order to better understand the verse, we need to appreciate the fact that the Quran does this deliberately, with some real purpose.

Thus the phrase “A thousand sana (years/ months/ periods/ time-cycles) less fifty aam (years)” contains two dialectical categories – two different types/natures/lengths of time – where one is more specific than the other.

Now, we cannot do simple arithmetic between two different dialectical categories. We cannot from thousand sana just numerically deduct fifty aam and calculate the instant result 950. If we could, then in what unit would we express our resultant number – in sana or aam?

Thus it is impossible to derive from the Quran any mention of Noah’s actual age.

THE QURAN HERE CONVEYS A MESSAGE

Then, let us read the statement in its context:

And certainly We sent Noah to his people, and he remained among them a thousand YEARS except fifty years; so/then the deluge overtook them while they were transgressing.

But We saved him and the people of the Ark, and we set it up as a sign for the worlds. …

And these are the PARABLES We propound unto man, but none grasps their meaning except the knowledgeable. 29:14-15, 43

Since this story is a parable, we need to read it figuratively through the symbols to get its deeper meaning and moral.

Here Noah is an archetype who personifies the human longing for divine illumination that guides the soul throughout this challenging journey of life (23:29). He constructs a moral system, ‘a simple craft made of planks and nails’ (54:13), which is ‘built gradually, under divine inspiration’ (11:37-38, 23:27). …

Now, as Muhammad parallels Noah (11:28-31; cf. 6:50, 46:7-9), his Quran parallels the Ark (29:15). Also, like Noah, the age of his prophetic dispensation among the people spans many centuries (‘thousand years’). Out of it, the first few decades (‘fifty years’) represent the years of spiritual progress, which are followed by many centuries (‘thousand years’) of spiritual degeneration (29:14).

Throughout the ages, however, the messenger’s true followers remain spiritually alive, preserved in the Ark of his teachings as incorporated in the Quran (11:23-25, 29:15). …

While others become spiritually dead (11:21-25), drowned by the overwhelming deluge of mental shallowness and worldly desires (11:15-25, 29:14, 71:11-12, 71:21-25).

FINAL THOUGHTS

The re-narrated ‘stories of the ancients’ function in the Quran purely as parables, rather than factsheets of literal or historical accounts. As they thus belong to the veiled corpus of the Quran, they do not confirm any literal understanding of their Biblical parallels.

The same applies to the Parable of Noah, where Noah’s actual age is irrelevant. Here we have carefully observed how the Quranic wisdom gently bypasses this specific focus of this Genesis myth on Noah’s age, and how it attaches to the narration a very different dimension (5:15, 29:14-15, 29:43).

The Quran not only doesn’t confirm Noah’s actual age, it doesn’t even mention it.

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Understanding the Flood Parable of Noah

Understanding the Flood Parable of Noah

 
Similarity exists between the flood myths of many ancient cultures, suggesting the possibility that some of them have evolved from others or influenced each other. This explains, for example, Why the flood story of Noah is similar to the Hindu flood legend of Manu.

The Quran re-narrates the Biblical flood myth in its own way (11:25-48, 23:22-30, 29:14-15, 54:9-15, 71:1-28), as a parable or moral anecdote of earlier generations (‘mathal’; 24:34, 25:33, 29:43; cf. 3:3-7; 5:27) – and not as a literal, historical factsheet.

Interestingly, while Noah’s story in 11:25-48 is introduced by a reminder of its allegorical nature (parable, 11:24), the story in 29:14-15 is followed by similar reminders (parable, 29:41; parables, 29:43).

The Quran specifically describes Noah’s story as one of “the PARABLES, the meaning of which can be grasped by none except the knowledgeable. 29:43 (cf. 29:41, 11:24-25)”.

“Parable is a short story that uses familiar events to illustrate a moral or religious lesson.”

Since this story in the Quran is a parable, intended mainly to serve as a moral lesson with some deeper message (24:34-35, 25:33, 39:27, 12:111; cf. 12:7, 12:111, 15:75, 23:30, 54:15), it is not meant to be understood as a literal, historical account. That is, we need to read it figuratively through the symbols to get its deeper meaning and moral.

The Quranic Noah is an archetype who personifies the human longing for divine illumination that guides the soul throughout this challenging journey of life (23:29). He constructs a moral system, ‘a simple craft made of planks and nails’ (54:13), which is built gradually (11:38), under divine inspiration (11:37-38, 23:27), despite rejection by cynics (11:25-27) and ridicules from critics (11:38, 23:24-25). Then, as the furnace overflows, he conceptually carries in his Ark all the pairs of universal dialectics (“two from every pair”, 11:40, 23:27; cf. 15:87, 36:36, 39:21-23) along with his spiritual kinsfolk (11:40). The evildoers fail to embark, and so fail his son and his wife, regardless of the close kinship (11:42-46, 66:10). …

Note: Here the Ark symbolizes the Scripture/ Quran, while ‘all the pairs’ carried by it represent all the dialectical concepts within it. It is important to observe that most scriptural concepts are presented in paradoxical or dialectical pairs. The Quran states that it carries in itself “numerous pairs/couplets” (15:87, 39:23), since the divine rain/ revelation descends on minds to produce an endless spectrum of pairs/ dialectical concepts (20:53, 22:5, 27:59-60, 39:21, 43:11-12; cf. 15:87; cf. the analogy between rain and revelation in 2:22-23, 39:21-23, 50:7-9).

Now, as Muhammad parallels Noah (11:28-31; cf. 6:50, 46:7-9), his Quran parallels the Ark (29:15). Also, similar to the ‘age’ of Noah, the age of his prophetic dispensation among the people spans many centuries (‘thousand years’). Out of it, the first few decades (‘fifty years’) represent the years of spiritual progress, which are followed by many centuries (‘thousand years’) of spiritual degeneration (29:14).

Throughout the ages, however, the messenger’s true followers remain spiritually alive, preserved in the Ark of his teachings as incorporated in the Quran (11:23-25, 29:15), which takes them to the ‘blessed destination’ (23:29) that is situated in ‘an elevated setting’ (11:44). …

While others become spiritually dead (11:21-25), drowned by the overwhelming deluge of mental shallowness and worldly desires (11:15-25, 29:14, 71:11-12, 71:21-25).

A final note:

Noah’s Ark is made of ‘lawh’ (plank, tablet, 54:13), which parallels the ‘lawh’ (plank, tablet) where the Mosaic message is scribed (7:145, 7:150, 7:154) and where the Quranic message is preserved (85:21-22).

As a Lifeboat for the sinking humanity, the Ark is a metaphor for the divine message (29:15).

Why the flood story of Noah is similar to the Hindu flood legend of Manu

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The same flood stories

In the flood story of Noah, as recorded in the Old Testament (Genesis 6-9), God is saddened by seeing all the evil that has entered man’s heart, and decides to destroy all life on Earth. Noah is chosen and instructed to build an ark. When completed, Noah, his family, and pairs of all animals are called upon to enter the ark. God makes it rain for 40 days and 40 nights, when all life outside of the ark perishes. After 150 days, the ark comes to rest on the mountain of Ararat. As the waters recede, all those aboard the ark disembark and have God’s promise that he will never judge the Earth with a flood again. He gives the rainbow as the sign of this promise.

This famous flood myth parallels many ancient Mesopotamian flood myths inscribed on tablets that are hundreds of years older than the Bible. For example, a Sumerian myth of 2800 BC presented the flood hero as the priest king Ziusudra, who built a boat to survive a great deluge. In a Babylonian myth – in the Epic of Gilgamesh (2100 BC) – the hero, Gilgamesh, meets the immortal man Utnapishtim, and the latter describes how the god Ea instructed him to build a huge vessel in anticipation of a deity-created flood that would destroy the world. The vessel would save Utnapishtim, his family, his friends, and the animals. Literary comparison makes the influence of this account on the Noachian flood story obvious.

There are more than two thousand myths about a great deluge in the Middle Eastern area, where the Tigris and Euphrates periodically flooded. However, similar stories of a great flood that devastated earlier civilizations are found not only in the Middle Eastern societies, but also in many other ancient cultures throughout the world, especially those that originated in river valleys. A good deal of similarity exists between these flood myths, suggesting the possibility that some of them have evolved from others or influenced each other. Remarkably, cultures not on major water bodies typically have no flood stories.

Thus, apart from ancient Mesopotamian tablets, accounts of a great flood are also found in the Hindu Puranas from India, the Gun-Yu myth of China, the Book of the Dead from Egypt, the Ife flood myth of Nigeria, the Deucalion myth of Greece, the Norse myth of Bergelmir from Scandinavia, the creation myths of the Toltec, Aztec and Ojibwe natives of North America, the K’iche’ and Mayan legends of Mesoamerica, and the Incan and Muisca legends of South America, to name but a few.

Striking similarity between the flood story of Noah and the Hindu flood legend of Manu

Why the flood story of Noah is similar to the Hindu flood legend of Manu 2

One of the oldest and most fascinating accounts originates in ancient Indian mythology. The Hindu version of Noah is named Manu. According to the texts Matsya Purana and Shatapatha Brahmana, Manu was warned by Matsya or Fish avatar, the first incarnation of God Vishnu, of the impending Great Flood that would destroy all life. Manu therefore built a boat which Matsya towed to a mountaintop when the flood came, and thus he survived along with seven sages and some ‘seeds of life’ to re-establish life on Earth.

Despite discrepancies, this Hindu flood myth does bear striking similarity to the flood story of Noah as narrated in the Bible and the Quran.

Like Noah, Manu is also described as a virtuous individual and a chosen one. As the Satapatha Brahmana reports: “There lived in ancient time a holy man / Called Manu, who, by penances and prayers, / Had won the favour of the lord of heaven.”

Manu was said to have three sons before the Flood – Charma, Sharma, and Yapeti, with startling similarity with the names of Noah’s three sons – Ham, Shem, and Japheth.

Like Noah, Manu is also asked by God to ‘build a strong ark’ to protect life and good people from the Flood. However, in the story of Manu, the destruction of the world is treated as part of the natural order of things, rather than as a divine punishment.

Like Noah, Manu is also asked to fill the ark with ‘seeds of all things’ and ‘pair of each animal’ so to continue life on Earth.

After the flood, Noah’s Ark is said to have rested on mountains of Ararat. Similarly, Manu’s boat was described as being perched on the top of a range of mountains (the Malaya Mountains in this case) when the waters had subsided.

Both Noah and Manu were then said to repopulate the Earth, and all human beings could trace their ancestry to either one of these flood survivors.

Obviously both traditions derive from the same common source, most probably due to the proven links between the Sumerian and Hindu civilizations.

Are these flood stories true?

Today most archaeologists and geologists recognize that there were indeed major floods that devastated substantial civilized areas, but most deny that there was ever a single deluge in the last six thousand years that covered the whole earth or even a major portion of it.

Now, a flood myth is a narrative in which a great deluge destroys a corrupted civilization, often in an act of divine retribution. Most flood myths also contain a culture hero, who personifies the human craving for life and goodness. The flood waters of these myths parallel the primeval waters found in certain creation myths, as flood waters are often perceived as a measure for the cleansing of humanity, in preparation for rebirth. Thus a flood myth often parallels a creation myth: a cycle of creation, un-creation, and re-creation, where the ark plays a pivotal role.

Are these myth stories about flood true or false? To even ask the question is to miss the point of myths, as Joseph Campbell spent a lifetime making it clear. To him, “Myth is a collective dream and dream is an individual myth,”

“These flood myths have deeper meanings tied to re-creation and renewal. Myths are not about truth. Myths are about the human struggle to deal with the great passages of time and life – birth, death, marriage, the transitions from childhood to adulthood to old age. They meet a need in the psychological or spiritual nature of humans that have nothing to do with science. To turn a myth into science, or science into a myth, is an insult to myths, an insult to religion, and an insult to science. In attempting to do this, the creationists have missed the significance, meaning and the sublime nature of myths. They took a beautiful story of creation and re-creation and ruined it.”

How a boat by 450 x 75 x 45 feet could carry millions of species with their food and water for 150 days? how did animals from all around the world manage to make their way to the ark? How such a small crew could feed all these animals in a single day? How they kept the animals from preying on one another? Why fish and water-based reptiles would drown in a flood? How the passengers and the animals could survive the freezing cold when the sea level rose above the highest of the mountains? Then where did all the water go? What did Noah and his kin and the animals eat after the journey, when everything on Earth was destroyed?

The Quran re-narrates the flood story

The Quran re-narrates the Biblical flood myth in its own way (11:25-48, 23:22-30, 29:14-15, 54:9-15, 71:1-28), as a ‘parable’ of earlier generations (‘mathal’; 24:34, 25:33; cf. 3:3-7; 5:27).

Thus the Quran recalls it only as a moral story – and not as a literal, historical account.

See Understanding the Flood Parable of Noah

Summary

Similarity exists between the flood myths, found in many ancient cultures throughout the world, suggesting that some of them have probably evolved from others or influenced each other.

The flood story of Noah versus the Hindu flood legend of Manu is a good case for study in this regard.

The Quran re-narrates the Biblical flood myth only as a moral story – and not as a literal, historical account.