The question “how old was Noah when he died?” ranks alongside “how old was Methuselah?” as one of the most popular Bible trivia questions. Although it would be simple to provide the basic answer, there is a great deal of background information that is valuable to know. Knowing not just how old Noah was when he died, but also if his generation was unusually long-lived, gives us a glimpse of life before and after the flood.
How Old Was Noah When He Died?
Genesis 5–10 provides a timeline of Noah’s family, allowing us to determine Noah’s age at death as well as his age at critical times in his life.
Noah was born to Lamech, son of Methuselah and grandson of Enoch, per Genesis 5:28-30. Lamech was 128 years old when he fathered Noah, and his name is believed to be derived from the Hebrew word for “comfort” (Genesis 5:29). Lamech died at the age of 777, therefore Noah would have been 595 years old.
At the age of 500, Noah had his first of three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth (5:32). Ham was apparently the youngest (Genesis 9:24), and Genesis 10:21 seems to indicate that Japheth was Shem’s older sibling, however translations differ. Shem was 98 years old when the deluge occurred and 100 when he had his first son (Genesis 11:11), so Noah must have been 502 years old when Shem was born. Japheth was therefore the eldest son, with Shem being born two years later.
Noah survived the flood for 350 years and died at the age of 950. (Genesis 9:28-29). This indicates that he lived long enough to see not only the land restored after the flood, but also all three of his sons start families and procreate. His son Shem began the family line that went to Abraham, from whom the term “Semite” is derived (descendants of Shem).
How Old Was Noah When He Built the Ark?
People occasionally assert that it took Noah 120 years to construct the ark. In fact, this appears to be an error based on a number given in Genesis 6:3. (more on that later). Genesis 7:6 indicates that Noah was 600 years old when the flood occurred.
However, the Bible does not specify how old Noah was when God commanded the construction of the ark. After describing the birth of Noah’s sons (Genesis 6:5-8), it is stated that God became sick of the wickedness of humans. Assuming that these events occurred in chronological order, God decided to wipe off humanity sometime after Noah reached the age of 500.
In the tale of God commissioning Noah, there is one telling element. God tells Noah that he will destroy the majority of humanity and gives him instructions for building the ark. When the ark is complete, God instructs Noah to board the vessel with his family (Genesis 6:18). Therefore, not only must Noah have had sons at this time, but those sons must also have been married.
We do not know whether Japheth and Ham began producing children before or after the flood, which would indicate how long they had been married at the time of the deluge. Noah’s sons could have ranged in age from adolescence to their nineties during the start of the ark-building process, given that Ancient Near Eastern civilizations tended to marry young and males were able to produce offspring well into their 100s.
Numerous academics estimate that Noah’s sons were in their twenties when they wed, which would have made him at least 520 years old when he began construction on the ark.
Why Did Everyone Have a Shorter Lifespan After the Time of Noah?
Genesis 5 Provides Adam’s Ancestry via His Son Seth and On to Noah. the Next Chapter Begins, “then the People Multiplied,” and God’s Reaction Is, “my Spirit Will Not Tolerate Mortal Body for So Long. in The Future, Their Average Lifespan Won’t Exceed 120 Years (genesis 6:2). Therefore, Sometime During Noah’s or His Sons’ Generations, God Determined that 120 Years Was the Maximum Lifespan for Humans.
Several Israelite patriarchs lived longer than this, of course. Abraham (Genesis 25:7) and his son Isaac (Genesis 25:18) both lived to be 175 years old (Genesis 35:28). Moses reached the age of 120, “but his eyesight was clear and he was as robust as ever” (Deuteronomy 34:7).
The fact that the Bible felt the need to emphasise how healthy Moses was when he died may indicate that such longevity and good health were uncommon during Moses’ day. No such remarks are made about Abraham or Isaac; in fact, we know that Isaac’s son Jacob famously took advantage of Isaac’s failing eyesight in old age to deceive him (Genesis 27).
Therefore, at least in the instance of Moses, this could refer to God granting long life and wonderful health to someone so that he can perform the responsibilities that God had intended for him.
However, these occurrences of old age could also indicate that the 120-year age limit did not immediately take effect. There may have been a steady genetic deterioration, with each generation living a lower lifetime than the previous. Some biblical scholars have suggested that the first few generations of humans must have had perfect genetics, as Genesis indicates a certain level of inbreeding that did not appear to generate any genetic defects.
The three sons of Adam likely married their sisters. Abraham married his half-sister Sarah (Genesis 20:11–13), but their son Jacob is not depicted as having the genetic issues that today’s inbred offspring experience. If God created humans with perfect genetics and then, like the rest of creation after the fall (Genesis 3:17-19), something in humanity was broken and corrupted, it may have taken several generations for the changes to become apparent.