The enormous lifespans attributed to biblical men like Methuselah seem to belong to the realm of myth rather than fact. And this biblical claim would have seemed even more fantastic to George Gershwin who was born in 1896, when life expectancy was 47 years.
Since then, the average lifespan has grown to 75.8 years and the percentage of people living past the age of 80 has increased to the point that our culture has not been able to keep up with the needs of this fast-growing segment of our population. And although antibiotics and some diagnostic procedures have played a role in this increased longevity, experts agree that, for the most part, the enormous gains made in this century have come about through vastly improved sanitary measures and a better understanding of nutrition.
And the science of nutrition, which has already helped to dramatically increase the human lifespan, is still in its infancy. Recommended daily dietary requirements were first formulated in 1941 at the National Nutrition Conference in Washington D.C.
Since then, these dietary requirements have been dramatically revised and there is a much greater emphasis on fruits, vegetables and grains. And along with this emphasis there is the growing knowledge that meat-eating is harmful to the human organism; that it is a major factor in the development of many diseases.
This identification of meat-eating with fatal diseases and lessened life spans correlates with the biblical record of longevity. The Bible shows the human lifespan diminishing radically after the Great Flood. And it was only after the Flood that eating the flesh of other creatures became the ubiquitous and acceptable way of life that it still is.
In the time of Methuselah and his long-lived ancestors, eating flesh was still understood to be a perversion of God's plan, and men obeyed the command given them by their Creator to eat only the produce of the earth. But by the time of the Flood, human standards had so deteriorated that the Bible reports: "The Lord saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and every inclination of his heart was only evil.” (Gen. 6:5)
And just as life after the Fall of Adam and Eve was life lived at a much regressed level so, also, was life after the Flood. The violence and depravity that was rampant before the Flood left its mark on the survivors. And the most chilling evidence of the low estate to which man had fallen is related in the ninth chapter of Genesis.
"The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground and upon all the fish of the sea. Everything that lives and moves will be food for you." (Gen. 9:2,3)
Because biblical scholars, like most people, have become desensitized to killing and eating animals, they have interpreted the above passage of scripture as God's blessing on man-turned-carnivore. But of course it is not divine approval: it is only an acknowledgment of the low estate to which the human race had fallen.
Man's development had reached such a nadir that he would no longer observe the natural law of his being. He would no longer restrict his diet to the things that had been provided as his only legitimate source of food: "[To] everything that has the breath of life in it, I give every green plant for food." (Gen 1:30.) After the Flood, men no longer even tried to obey this command.
That refusal had an immediate effect on human life. From the time of creation to the time of Noah, the Bible reports lifespans of more than 900 years for men like Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan and Jared. But after the Flood, when carnivorism became an acceptable way of life, longevity decreased with every generation.
The Bible says that Noah's son, Shem, lived 600 years. Although he was born before the Flood, his was the first generation to come to full maturity after the waters subsided. And the effect of a carnivorous diet on the body of human beings who were created to be herbivorous, was immediately apparent. Shem's life span was only two-thirds of that of his forefathers.
And his son, Arphaxad, died at 438 years of age. Raised from birth in a carnivorous world, and subject all his life to a diet that was a perversion of God's intent, his life span was less than one-half that of his ancestors.
By the time that Peleg, great-grandson of Arphaxad was born, the Bible reports lifespans of only 200 plus, years. By then, the biological heritage that men and women were passing on to their children reflected the damage that had been done by centuries of eating the meat which has a toxic effect on the human body.
As time went on, the damage done by eating the flesh of other creatures continued to take its toll. Men like Joseph and Moses, who are reported to have lived about 120 years, began to seem like models of longevity. And by the time King David died (circa 1000 B.C.) at 70 years of age, the Bible eulogizes him as having "died at a good old age, full of days."
To the end of biblical times, those who lived to be seventy continued to be thought of as having "died at a good old age." But in the three hundred years between the death of Moses and the death of David, the lifespan had decreased by another fifty years. This happened during a period of time when the amount of meat consumed by the Israelites was radically increased. After Moses led his people to Canaan, they began a settled life in the land. And when sacrificial "worship" became centered in Jerusalem, the raising of animals for slaughter at the Temple became an extremely important industry.
Prophets like Isaiah, Amos, Hosea, and Micah told the people to stop killing animals in the name of God. They denounced the sacrificial religion which made a mockery of divine worship. Not only had human beings become inured to killing other creatures in order to consume their flesh, they had made this perversion a religious duty: a holy undertaking. But the people did not listen to the prophets, and the sacrifices continued. By the time of Christ, the Jerusalem Temple had become a giant slaughterhouse.
The priests claimed that it was God who demanded the slaughter of animals; that it was He who delighted in the tantalizing smell of roasting flesh. The following scripture is typical of over thirty-five biblical passages that tell of God's pleasure in what was essentially, a giant barbecue "Celebrate a festival to the Lord ...Present an offering made by fire as an aroma pleasing to the Lord, a burnt offering of thirteen young bulls, two rams and fourteen male lambs" (Numbers 29:12,13) Needless to say, there is no report of God eating the animals—the people took care of that part of the sacrificial ritual.
Most human beings no longer attribute their eating of flesh to the demands of God. In our own day, when the claims of science outweigh the claims of religion, it is the health professionals, not the priests, who promote the eating of meat. They have said that men must consume flesh because it is a biological necessity; that animal protein is absolutely necessary for optimum health.
Like the representatives of the medical establishment who year after year insisted that smoking was not harmful, so also have health professionals refused to acknowledge that the ingestion of flesh is toxic to the human body. Mainstream doctors and nutritionists have begun to concede that plant foods contain substances which have remarkable curative and preventative value. But they leave out the most important part of the health equation. It is not only the addition of plant foods that works seeming miracles—this must be balanced by the removal of flesh foods from the diet.
From teeth to arteries to intestines, human physiology confirms that man was not created to be carnivorous; that his insistence on eating flesh puts an enormous strain on the entire body. As this fact becomes more widely acknowledged, human beings will enjoy healthier lives as well as an increased lifespan. And as vegetarianism becomes the norm, each generation will reap the benefits not only of their own diet, but also of the biological heritage bequeathed to them by vegetarian ancestors.
In the meantime, whether men kill and consume animals in the name of God, of nutrition, or of gourmet cooking, the result is the same. They will suffer the debilitation, disease and early death that results from this perversion of the natural laws that govern the human body.
But the biblical injunction "Be not deceived, God is not mocked; Whatsoever a man soweth,that also shall he reap," has a positive, as well as a negative aspect. When human beings have chosen to nourish their bodies in the way they were created to be nourished, they will reap the benefits of a longer lifespan as well as a greatly enhanced quality of life. And they may find that Methuselah really did live nine hundred years.
*Lyrics from It Ain’t Necessarily So, George Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess, c 1934