It is no surprise that liberal/critical scholars reject the historicity of the patriarchal narratives, and particularly the begetting ages and lifespans of the men listed in Genesis 5 and 11. Esoteric interpretations such as secret numerical systems or dependence upon Sumerian sexagesimal numbering are found throughout the academic literature.
In recent times, many evangelical scholars have argued that the numbers do not refer to actual ages, but are intended to bring honor to these great men of old. This is particularly the case for Genesis 5, but in some instances, this kind of interpretation has now been extended to include Abraham’s lifespan of 175 years (Genesis 25:7–8). This particular perspective requires that the sacred text cannot be understood properly without modern, specialized knowledge of ancient Near Eastern archaeological discoveries and texts. Dependence on these outside "authorities" is a deeply flawed hermeneutic that not only places the external evidence in a position of authority over the sacred text, it violates vital doctrines of Scripture: authority, clarity, and sufficiency. This construct necessarily means that the Church and her Jewish predecessors were unable to properly understand vast portions of the Genesis narratives, since they had no access to the “keys” which unlock the real meaning of the sacred text. The true meaning of the numbers in Genesis 5 and 11 (and now, even Abraham’s numbers) has been beyond the reach of God’s people until modern scholars came along to reveal the truth to us. This hermeneutical “key” to the numbers in Genesis 5 and 11 is not derived from Scripture itself, but is entirely based on fallible and fallen human interpretations of pagan mythologies and other ancient texts and material culture from the ANE. Moreover, systematic and biblical theology must be pushed aside to make way for the hermeneutical priority of modern scholarly interpretations of ANE literature and material culture (and all the attendant and often erroneous assumptions that are bound up with that perspective). This is a modern form of Gnosticism dressed in PhD garb.