Translations often translate this verse as 'When Avram was ninety-nine years old'; while more literally it reads: 'And Avram was son of nine year and ninety years.'

Why is he called a son (Ben) of this age? Is there another meaning behind the numbers 9 and 90 ?

  • 1
    Because that's how Hebrew grammar works.
    – Scimonster
    Nov 1, 2014 at 19:19
  • If so is this (the calling of Ben) also used in other verses in reference to age?
    – J.Levi
    Nov 1, 2014 at 19:36
  • 1
    Yes. See for example 11:10, 7:6, 25:20, 32:2. Would you like even more examples?
    – Scimonster
    Nov 1, 2014 at 19:43
  • I think the first version is more literal. Literal doesn't have to mean piecewise.
    – Double AA
    Nov 1, 2014 at 23:15

1 Answer 1


In Hebrew numbers are written out in their component parts; there's no Hebrew word for "990", for example, but the torah writes instead "90 and 900" (or sometimes "900" and "90") as separate words. Everywhere in the torah that you see numbers in the hundreds or thousands, you'll see this formation.

As for "ben", this is a Hebrew convention when talking about people's ages. In English we say that somebody is "X years old"; in Hebrew the "old" isn't there but "ben" (literally "son of") is used instead. It would be incorrect to say just that somebody "is 990 years"; English and Hebrew use different conventions for addressing that. This Hebrew formation is not unique to this passage, as Scimonster pointed out in a comment -- see also 11:10, 25:20, 32:2.

Sometimes ages are given without the "ben", but in those cases there is another verb. For example, the genealogies in chapter 5 all say "and so-and-so lived X years".


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