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How long was a year in Noah’s time?

The length of a year during Noah’s time as described in the Bible has been a topic of curiosity and debate among scholars for centuries. Some wonder whether the ages described in Genesis were literal solar years as we know them today or if some other definition of a “year” was implied in the Biblical texts. Quick answer: We do not know for certain the exact length of a year during Noah’s lifetime, but many scholars believe it was similar to our modern solar year of approximately 365 days. The ages described in Genesis appear to be referring to literal years, though there is some disagreement among academics as to whether these should be interpreted as precisely 365 days or more generally as full years.

Looking at the Biblical Accounts

The main Biblical mention of ages during Noah’s time comes from Genesis 5, which provides a genealogy from Adam to Noah. It states that Noah was 500 years old when he fathered his three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth (Genesis 5:32). It further says that Noah was 600 years old when the flood waters came upon the earth (Genesis 7:6). If we take these ages literally, using modern definitions of a year, then Noah lived for 500 full years before having his sons, and another 100 years before the flood. This implies that a “year” meant the same familiar 365-day period we think of today.

However, we do have to consider that the ancient Hebrews may have defined periods of time differently than we do now. The word used in Genesis for “year” is shâneh in Hebrew, which had multiple meanings including a division of time, a repetition of time, or a revolution of time. Its precise length is not specified. So some scholars have proposed that these “years” may represent biblical years, seasons, lunar months, or some other measurement of time unknown to us now. The time periods were described for biblical genealogical purposes, not necessarily as precise solar years.

Evidence from Ancient Calendars

To better understand how the ancient Israelites may have defined a year, scholars look to calendars and timekeeping records of other ancient Near Eastern cultures. The calendars of ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt and Persia, for example, were based on lunar months totaling between 354-360 days rather than solar years of 365 days. Some scholars therefore propose that the ages in Genesis represent shorter “years” of 360 or 354 days. Others counter that these cultures still understood the difference between a lunar year and a solar year, such as through the addition of intercalary months, and that Genesis ages likely refer to solar years if meant literally. Overall, the biblical text itself does not provide definitive proof either way.

Ages as Symbolism Rather than Literal Time

Some academics approach the ages in Genesis symbolically rather than literally. The ages follow certain patterns and themes that seem more theological than historical – the message was more important than factual record-keeping to the biblical writers. Genesis describes 10 patriarchs living from Adam to Noah’s sons, with lifespans varying between 777 to 969 years. To some this numerology signals symbolism, with the ages representing completeness or divine favor. They were not meant to represent actual life spans, nor do they help determine an ancient definition of a year. Similar issues arise in the Sumerian King Lists and records from other ancient cultures. Ultimately, we cannot know if the ages were actually observed and recorded during those times.

Scientific Perspectives on Ancient Earth

Modern scientific dating methods can also provide clues about time measurement at the time of Noah and before. These methods indicate the earth is billions of years old, far older than the 6,000 years one would calculate if adding up the Genesis ages. Scientists therefore agree the ages do not provide realistic timeframes. Additionally, through geological, fossil and genetic analysis, scientists find no evidence for a global flood 4,300 years ago (using Ussher’s chronology) nor a single human family giving rise to all peoples and races around 3,000 BCE. Though fascinating insights have been made about human origins and prehistory, from a scientific view there was no literal Noah’s Ark scenario as described in Genesis.


In the end, there is no scholarly consensus on the exact length of a year during Noah’s time according to the accounts in Genesis. Some propose 360 or 354-day years, while others maintain Genesis refers to 365-day solar years. Additional perspectives consider the ages to be symbolic rather than factual statements. The lack of specificity in the text itself prevents definitive conclusions. From a scientific lens the ages and timeline do not align with evolutionary history and the ancient fossil record. While the Noah narrative remains culturally and religiously meaningful, the evidence suggests it was not a historical event as described. The precise nature of a “year” at that time remains an intriguing mystery lost to the ages.

Data tables

Possible lengths of a “year” during Noah’s time

Theory Length of “year”
Solar year (modern) 365 days
Lunar year 354 days
Lunar plus intercalary 360 days
Symbolic ages Unknown

Ages of Noah according to Genesis

Event Noah’s age
Noah fathers his 3 sons 500 years
The flood begins 600 years

Proposed biblical timelines based on ages in Genesis

Timeline Length of Genesis ages Date of biblical flood
Ussher chronology 365-day years 2349 BCE
360-day years 360-day years 2800 BCE
Symbolic ages Unknown/symbolic Unknown