Why did the patriarchs live so long? On the role of the bible in the discourse on longevity around 1300

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The Bible in general, and the story of prediluvian longevity in particular, constituted a powerful source of inspiration and legitimation for those who wished to reflect on the human life span, its brevity and its potential longevity, and occasionally even about the possible ways to affect its prolongation. This article surveys Hebrew and Latin exegesis on Genesis 5:4 from around 1300, and shows that the story of the Patriarchs’ longevity and its dramatic decline after the flood became in both traditions a platform for reflection about natural longevity and its acquisition. Nahmanides, Nicholas of Lyra, Konrad von Halberstadt and Ptolemy of Lucca show a strong environemntal consciousness when explaining the natural causes of the different life spans before and after the flood. By analizing some key debates by natural philosophers (Roger Bacon, Peter of Spain, Albertus Magnus) and physicians (Pietro d’Abano) - all engaged with increasing sophistication in questions of life, death, and aging, the article underscores how the historical memory of the Patriarchs’ extreme longevity, and the relevant biblical verses infiltrated the philosophical and medical discourses on aging and the means to slow it down.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-112
Number of pages34
StatePublished - 2018

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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