METHUSELAH (Heb. מְתוּשֶׁלַח), patriarch of mankind, son of *Enoch, father of *Lamech, and grandfather of *Noah (Gen. 5:21–25). The name has been variously explained as meaning "man of the weapon" or "man [worshiper] of [the deity] Salah." Methuselah in the genealogy of Seth (Gen. 5:2–21, P) is the counterpart of Methusael in that of Cain (4:18, J). The parallel is even more exact in the Septuagint which transcribes "Methuselah" in both instances. Methuselah according to the Bible lived 969 years, longer than any of the pre-Abrahamic fathers of the human race. Babylonian tradition attributes exaggerated longevity – tens of thousands of years – to its heroes. U. Cassuto believes that the Bible wishes to negate the fantastic figures which attribute to kings a longevity that is unnatural to human beings and that makes them godlike. Not even Methuselah attained the age of 1,000 years, a single day of the Almighty (Ps. 90:4). If the biblical story be compared with the prevailing Babylonian tradition, the many years of Methuselah seem a modest, even a short life-span. The Bible diminished the exaggerated ages attributed to people in the Ancient Near East, but still preserved the tradition of assigning extraordinary longevity to great men.
K. Budde, Die biblische Urgeschichte (1883), 93–103; A. Ehrenzweig, in: ZAW, 38 (1919/20), 84; E.G. Kraeling, ibid., 40 (1922), 154–5; M. Tsevat, in: VT, 4 (1954), 41–49, 322; U. Cassuto, A Commentary of the Book of Exodus 1 (1961), 287.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.