Longevity Myths: Bible & Ramayana

The Hebrew Bible claims that the ancient patriarchs lived for hundreds of years.  The graph above shows the rapid decline in human lifespan since the flood (HT).  Literalist Christians give different reasons for the difference in longevity pre- and post-Flood include:

  • Sin took time to take its toll (here)
  • The Environment changed: radiation, free radicals … (here)
  • Genetic Bottleneck (here)
  • Vela Supernova (here)

The Hindu Ramayana brags of longevity for its heros too. Rama, the hero of the story, is reported to have ruled the Earth for 11,000 years while his father, Dasaratha lived for 16,000 years.  And the writer of the Ramayana laments that in the present times, “men no longer live as long”. Just as there are literalist Christians, there are lots of literalists Hindus who believe the longevity stories in their myths.

Longevity myths are common fodder in ancient literature.  Here are some other super longevity  reports taken from a wiki article:

  • Sumerian Kings reigned tens of thousands of years.
  • Persian Shahs lived 1000 and 700 years
  • Ancients Chinese lived 800 years (Taoist goals are immortality)

So what do you think? Take this poll to show us if you think these are merely myths or if you think there is something true behind them. Maybe all those ancient stories are right, or maybe exaggeration was an accepted literary form for all the ancients.

Note:  This post is from my Ramayana series.



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

11 responses to “Longevity Myths: Bible & Ramayana

  1. Hadn’t thought about this subject in a while, but I used to go with environmental changes as my explanation of choice.

    I would suspect these myths came about because of the short lifespans of the people who came up with them.

  2. I have always wondered whether these incredible lifespans were supposed to be somehow symbolic or a sort of numerology or somesuch. I suppose I would have heard about that if it were the case, though. But then again, I only just learned that there was sex before the ’60s.

    By the by, does anyone know whether aging was supposed to be slower too? I mean, it’d be a bummer to have to live 15,920 years as an eighty year old!

  3. The obvious reason for the purported decline in longevity is the inbreeding of Noah’s children and grandchildren. I guess Adam and Eve got a pass on the longevity thing while their sons bred their mother.
    I find it very interesting that christians rarely mention the incest thing… even though it is essential to the existence of the human race.

  4. David Dunn

    I always wonder whether the people who believe this foolishness consider the ramifications–was a generation still about every 30years? If so, then a person of age 900 would be alive at the same time as about 30 generations of his/her descendants. Why are there no words in any language for these familial relationships ( great great great great ……… Gramps)????
    Imagine to remember the names and birthdays of 2**30 cousins or more!

  5. sgl

    humorous quote i’ve heard: “everybody want’s long life, but nobody wants old age.”

    somewhere i read a theory that the long lives of the ancients in the bible were due to a switch from lunar to solar counting. ie, that previously they counted how many “moons” (close to a month) they lived thru, then later switched to how many solar revolutions (years), and some of the old ages of people weren’t converted. so 900 “years” (really moons, approx months) really equals about 900/12=75 actual years of living, which is reasonable.

    even today, some religious holidays are based on the solar calendar, and hence arrive on the same day each year, while other holidays are based on the lunar calendar, and hence “float” and arrive on different dates each year, based on when exactly the full moon (or new moon, etc) occurs.


  6. sgl offers an intriguing theory. I hadn’t heard that one before. And I like Dunn‘s point on such extended family relationships.

    Regarding James‘ question, I did a small study of these extended ages in the Bible using Abraham (lived to175 years old) and Sarah (lived to 127 years old). Based on the text, it appeared that people did age in some of the same ways that we do, as Abraham and Sarah scoffed at the possibility of having a child when she was 90. Yet she miraculously held her beauty so well that at the age of 89, she caught the ruler Abimelech’s eye.

    I doubt that humans lived that long, because we have no fossil or written record of animals living that long at that same time.

  7. @ Mike :
    So you mean it is all “longevity envy”?

    @ James :
    The numerology thing is interesting. Most ancient cultures were very much into their favorite numbers. And 80 years-old for centuries would indeed be a drag. What age would you want to stop aging at?

    @ fester :
    Inbreeding due to longevity. Fantastic. I never thought of that glitch. Nuclear families would take up who continents.

    @ David Dunn :
    Great linguistic objection!! Brilliant. Why the heck haven’t I thought of all these ideas? David, do you have linguistic training or hobby?

    @ sgl :
    Yeah, I only listed rationales for Bible literalists. You are listing reasons for why they may still be accurate but not literal — good for the more liberal Evangelicals.

  8. CRL

    I must say, I am rather partial to the “radioactive decay of humanity” hypothesis your first source sites. Hey, the numbers support it! 😀

    In all seriousness, though, I could see the lunar vs solar explanation being accepted by even biblical literalists, as it’s only a tiny workaround, but patches a rather gaping hole.

  9. I think 35 forever? I don’t know, somehing where one is young enough to enjoy things, but not totally emotionally immature. Or would wisdom still come to a 20 year old who had been so for 600 years? Conundrum.

  10. If you’re going to figure out the secret to immortality, it’s best to do so in your twenties!

  11. exrelayman

    Pertaining to long life, or eternal life, some interesting reflections best perused in sequence:



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