The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that our thinking about Genesis 11 (verses 10-26) will benefit from some serious statistical analysis.
Genesis 11 describes the decline of the lifespans of the patriarchs from Noah onward, with the longest lifespan post-flood being Noah’s 950 years, declining over 14 recorded generations to Joseph’s 110 years (these 14 generations include Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, which are in Genesis, but not in Genesis 11). In particular, analysis of the lifespans of the patriarchs Noah-Joseph can focus on answering these questions:
Is there a distribution function which fits the lifespan data well? If there is such a function, this will help to explain what the data is conveying. Finding a distribution function with a good fit will also provide basis for an argument that the ages are meant to be taken ‘literally’. If the data fits an exponential decay model well, this is evidence that Genesis depicts an exponential decay of lifespan from c. 950 years to modern lifespans.
This is an argument that has been made before, e.g. here.
But I haven’t seen a probability distribution function fitted taking into account the fact that the function should approach an asymptote of around 70-80 years (modern life-spans). I also haven’t seen a statistically valid measure of ‘goodness of fit’ applied to an exponential curve so fitted. Such a measure will give an accurate analysis of the likelihood that the data is derived from a process governed by exponential decay.
We can look to find answers to the questions:
What is the probability that the data comes from a process governed by exponential decay?
What is the probability that generations are omitted (skipped) in the data?
This last question is important, because many evangelicals believe that generations have been skipped in the Genesis 5 and Genesis 11 data. Such people often further assert that if there are generations skipped, then the Genesis 5 and 11 data have no implications for the chronology of Genesis. I am unconvinced by these claims, and statistical analysis could provide one argument against such a position.
Overall, what is at stake is the historicity and chronology of Genesis, as well as the meaning of the text.
I’m aiming to dig out my old statistical training, and give it a go soon.