The Science of Jared’s Lifespan

I’d like to issue a little disclaimer before delving into this particular case:  When discussing The Bible (or any religious framework, mythology, or history) I am in no way claiming, by placing them in a column called “Science of Fiction”, that they are indeed fictitious stories and tales that could never existed.  The interests of this column are chiefly to understand, in a fanciful way, how abilities that would normally be considered “beyond human” might be explained scientifically.  Thus, it is not the goal of this column (and columnist) to decide through science whether or not these stories could be true.

Okay…

The Ish:

So far, the targets for my dissection table have been superheroes/villains from mainstream comics and cartoons (such as Superman, and Megatron); however, the prospect of super abilities and unexplained powers are not limited to the fiction section in your local Chapters (or Barnes and Noble, but let’s not fight about it today).  If you ever went to a Christian mass (or was ever bored in a hotel room, and opened the top drawer in your nightstand) you might have come across a few seemingly unscientific stories from The Bible.  Now, I had a friend who always liked to tell me that my name is biblical (I credit myself in these columns as J.D., but my full first name is actually Jared), and that I lived for 962 years, descending from a man named Mahalalel, who lived to be 830 years.  “How was that even possible?” is what I would ask him, and today, that is what we are going to determine.

Let’s take a quick look at the first book in The Bible’s Old Testament / The Hebrew Torah, in the book of Genesis.  In Genesis 5 there is a quick lineage list beginning from Adam and ending with Noah.  It goes as follows:

Adam had Seth and some other sons and daughters and then died at age 930.

            Seth had Enosh and some other sons and daughters and then died at age 912.

                        Enosh had Kenan and some other sons and daughters and then died at age 905.

                                    Kenan had Mahalalel and some other sons and daughters and then died at age 910.

                                                Mahalalel had Jared and some other sons and daughters and then died at age 895.

                                                            Jared had Enoch and some other sons and daughters and then died at age 962.

                                                                        Enoch had Methuselah and some other sons and daughters and lived a close life with God, and disappeared at age 365.

                                                                                    Methuselah had Lamech and some other sons and daughters and then died at age 969.

                                                                                                Lamech had Noah and some other sons and daughters and then died at age 777.

Quite the bunch of elderly men, wouldn’t you say?  I mean, Lamech, your father is so old that his birth certificate said, “expired” on it.  Your father is so old that Jurassic Park brought back memories.  Your father is so old that his social security number is 1.  Your father is so old that he used to babysit Yoda.

But how can this be?  Did people really live nearly a thousand years back in the early days?  How might that be explained?

Oh boy, Oh boy, Oh boy, Oh boy, Oh boy, Oh boy, Oh boy, Oh boy, Oh boy, Oh boy!

The Analysis:

There are a few ways to tackle this particular issue regarding long lifespan.  First, let us see what some of the pastors and reverends think:

What The Bible Says:

In Genesis 6:3 it is said that God thinks man is wicked and shall no longer let them live over 120 years.

Sin=Death:

In my surfing of the WWW (do people still call it “surfing”?  What a nineties term!) I came across someone in the clergy who says that it could be interpreted as a marker for the level of sin in one’s soul.  He states that the number of years lived was measured in sin, not in time.  Thus, they still lived to be the standard years of age for humans, but they would live longer if they were without sin.  The particular individual (I do not want to credit him) had a somewhat tunnel-vision perspective, however, since he says that Adam lived the longest, and his descendants got the brunt of his sin, and so they lived shorter and shorter lives.  He went from Adam to Enosh and then stopped.

Alright, despite his tunnel-vision, from a religious perspective sin=death, and so the more sin you have in your soul the less of a life you will live.  This approach to answering the question is largely metaphorical, and in a world that largely needs to see scientific proof in things, this won’t exactly fly.

Time is Relative:

Another individual said (and I’ve heard this before, in my studies of Christianity) that time is perceived differently in The Bible.  In 2-Peter 3:8 mentions that “a day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day.”  Perhaps Adam only lived for a short while (instead of 930 years he might’ve lived to be 93), and maybe the Earth wasn’t made in 7 days, but in 700,000 years.

Again, this isn’t very scientific, so let us move on (not to say that it isn’t the correct way of understanding it).

There are many scientific approaches we might pursue, and most of them pertain to the “Perfect World / Perfect Conditions” idea: genetics and atmosphere were at ideal states in the beginning, but deteriorated over time.  Let’s have a look at some of the features of this approach:

The Atmosphere’s Protection:

Amalgamating the stories from The Bible into what they know about the Earth’s atmosphere, some believe that there was a kind of “atmospheric protection” that existed to shield early humans from cosmic radiation (including our sun’s rays).  They say that too much sun’ll kill ya, and that is true.  After “The Great Flood” the average lifespan drops quite drastically to what we would eventually see as normal, and it should be noted that there isn’t any mention of rain prior to Noah’s flood.  Let’s put this all together.  If there was some kind of protective property in the air that contributed to the health of humans prior to the flood, and there was no record of rain anywhere before that time, one might come to the logical conclusion that the rain of The Great Flood could have disrupted the atmosphere, or damaged the protective layer that shielded humans from harmful radiation.

There is also the theory that there was a “canopy of water, or ice” surrounding the globe, thus protecting humans from UV rays and X-Rays, and later contributing to all that water in The Great Flood.  Here, the rain (previously ice in the sky) was the protective layer that had to be sacrificed to generate the flood, rather than the previous idea that the rain somehow disrupted the protective properties that were once in the atmosphere.

A Different Atmosphere:

One individual claims that palaeontology confirms that the pre-flood atmosphere contained 50% more oxygen, and twice the air pressure; however I have not been able to confirm this.

Genetically Speaking:

Go created the perfect man… so what happened to us?  Well, Adam and Eve had many sons and daughters, and being the only family on Earth, they had to breed with their own, man.  That’s right, we’re talking inbreeding here (which wasn’t considered to be taboo until much later in The Bible).  When two people who are genetically related produce offspring, there is increased homozygosity, which can increase the factor in which that offspring is affected by recessive or deleterious traits.  There are many studies that show adverse effects on lifespan from inbred offspring.  Check it:

Example 1:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7842008?dopt=Abstract

Example 2:

http://www.as.wvu.edu/~kgarbutt/QuantGen/Gen535_2_2004/Inbreeding_Humans.htm

Example 3:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inbreeding

Inbreeding can cause genetic mutation and disease, it can increase mortality (decrease lifespan), it can slow growth, and it can depress the immune system.  After a time, mating within one’s own ‘house’ so to speak can definitely contribute to the depreciating lifespan we see in The Bible, to a point (for, at a certain familial distance, the risk of increased homozygosity is reduced significantly).

In Sum:

Jared and his crew might have really live to be nearly 1,000 years old, if there were little to no genetic mutations, if atmospheric conditions were near perfect, and if there was a better protection from the sun’s deadly rays.  Is this reproducible in our time?  Who knows?  Perhaps we might one day return our planet’s conditions to optimal living levels, and perhaps we will unlock the key to perfect genes.  We are definitely living longer than we used to, thanks to the marvels of medical science, but we aren’t exactly helping to clean the air as much as we could be.

Oh, there is one more thing that I wish to do…

         It occurred to me that Jared, having lived 962 years, may have died in the great flood.

Let’s do some math…

According to The Bible, Jared had Enoch when he was 162.

Enoch had Methuselah when he was 65, and when Jared was 227.

Methuselah had Lamech when he was 187, and Jared was 414.

Lamech had Noah when he was 182, and Jared was 596.

Genesis 5:6 says that Noah was 600 when the flood came, and Jared would have had to be 1,196 years old to see it.  Jared missed the flood by 234 years!