by Dr. Hugh Ross M.Sc, Ph.D
A question you may have encountered-I certainly hear it often-has to do with the Biblical record of life spans on the order of 900+ years for many pre-flood people, including Methuselah, who is said to have lived 969 years. Most people wonder if the ancient "year" was the same as the modern year.
Let me begin by noting that the Bible is not alone in claiming life spans much longer than we can imagine. Taking into account their propensity for exaggeration, we can still draw some corroborative evidence from Mesopotamian records. Stories from the ancient Akkadian and Sumerian cultures declare that their most ancient kings lived thousands of years each. The "Weld-Blundell Prism," for example, written about 2170 B. C., speaks of eight pre-flood rulers each reigning for several thousand years.
Nothing in the Biblical context indicates that pre-flood years were significantly shorter than ours. References to agriculture indicate that the ancients counted years similarly to the way we do. Some early Mesopotamian records (circa 1500 B. C.) indicate a calendar of twelve months, each month 30 days long. We have no record of any ancient society counting a shorter year. Further, it is clear that the Mesopotamians were aware that their twelve 30-day months fell short of a year by a little more than five days. Though there were some variations from one society to another, the ancients typically celebrated a set of festival days every few years or so to make up the difference.
That the ante-diluvians lived much longer than we do seems borne out by God's command to Adam to limit his diet to vegetables (Genesis 1:29) and by God's giving permission to Noah after the flood to eat meat (Genesis 9:2-3). A diet which includes meat brings a sufficient concentration of heavy elements into the body as to prove life-threatening after a few hundred years. But, if no one lives past 120 years, this health threat becomes negligible (except in cases of extreme industrial pollution).
Another indication of long life spans for the ante-diluvians is the rapid advance of civilization described by the Biblical text. Nine hundred years gives plenty of time for an individual to make, develop, and exploit (in the positive sense) significant discoveries and then to pass his knowledge and experience on to future generations for their use and augmentation. Among post-flood peoples, archaeology attests to the effect of short life spans. The use of various metals, for example, frequently appeared and disappeared in the historical record.
Until recently, we had no scientific explanation as to how the pre-flood peoples could have lived so much longer than modern people can. Several canopy theories have been proposed, but none of them works. The hypothesized canopies would filter out some ultraviolet radiation, but they offer no effective mechanism for blocking out hard cosmic rays. These hard cosmic rays do far more to limit human lifespans than do ultraviolet rays.
In 1981 a possible explanation for the long lifetimes and the subsequent shortening of them (along a geometric curve) was unknowingly proposed. A paper entitled "Terrestrial Paleoenvironmental Effects of a Late Quaternary-Age Supernova" was published by geophysicist G. Robert Brakenridge in the journal Icarus (v. 46, pp. 81-93). Dr. Brakenridge describes measurements that date the Vela supernova as having occurred sometime between 9300 and 6400 B. C. (A supernova is the cataclysmic explosion of a massive star; this one is called the Vela supernova because it occurred in the Vela constellation.) These dates fit well with the Biblical date for the Genesis Flood.
Dr. Brakenridge also points out that this supernova occurred about three times closer to Earth than any other supernova event in human history. Thus, it is probably responsible for most of the cosmic rays that now come our way, cosmic rays which break down protein. Further, the Vela supernova would have affected the upper atmosphere in such a way as to bring about a global cooling and would have damaged the ozone layer so as to increase ultraviolet by two to ten times. Dr. Brakenridge documents geological evidence for both effects in the era between 8,000 and 9,000 B. C., also the time of the disappearance of some diatom and plankton species. The Vela supernova may have been the means God used to shorten man's life span from 900 years down to less than 120 years. I wish it were possible to be more definite, but there are reasons why I cannot be. First, no experiment has been performed on sustaining advanced life in a low-radiation environment. Such an experiment would be difficult, to say the least. If we were to go deep enough underground to avoid the effects of cosmic rays, we would then begin to experience the far more damaging effects of increased radioactivity from exposure to radioactive elements in the earth's crust. Another important experiment would be to expose advanced life to the equivalent of a nearby supernova event and to observe the consequences over several generations. However, this experiment would be even more difficult to perform.
Whether the Vela supernova offers a full, partial, or only a minor contribution to the shortening of man's life span remains to be seen. Nonetheless, it helps us demonstrate that what has sometimes been considered a scientific and historical absurdity-the 900+ years of Methuselah and his peers-really does have scientific and historical plausibility.
Facts & Faith, First Quarter 1991 Issue
Hope of Israel Ministries
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