One conclusion we can make by listing some of the names and their meanings is that this may be a list of professions and occupations; a minimal catalogue of some of the elements that are a part of a settled, civilized society. Thus, Kayin is the metalworker, Mahalal-El, the one who praises god is meant to symbolize the religious leader or priest; Methushelah is the man of the sword or the armed warrior whose strength and arms defend the community, and Enoch, if we understand his name correctly, is the learned one; the intellectual leader, the scientist, philosopher, and astronomer whose learning and wisdom are essential to a settled agriculture-based society. The fact that we do not have an accurate interpretation of the meaning of the names of Jared and Lamech does not diminish the significance of the list as one of the arts, crafts and professions of a civilized society. This is one of the basic meanings of the fifth chapter of Genesis.
Another element in this document, and one that has always posed a problem, is that of the ages of the individuals listed. After all, this list gave inspiration to George and Ira Gershwin to pen the wonderful lyrics to that aria “It ain’t necessarily so.” Do these ages have anything to do with meaning; are they intended to convey a message?
To understand the meaning of this list of the Ante-Diluvian patriarchs, one has to search the literature, the mythology and religious concepts of earlier civilizations, those that preceded the composition of the biblical writings, to see if they can yield information which would lead us to a better understanding of Genesis chapter 5. One feature of this chapter is the fact that it leads us from the first human being, from the father of all humanity, to the universal flood. Thus, Genesis 5 begins with Adam and ends with Noah and his sons who survived the Deluge. The three sons of Noah are logically represented as the ancestors of the world’s population. Thus, there is a direct connection between the reality of the world as we know it, populated by many families of humanity and the rather remarkable figures who preceded them, the patriarchs of chapter 5.