Thursday, November 21, 2013

How the Bible May Hold Clues to Recent Discoveries of Human Lineage

"There were giants in those days . . ."

This cryptic phrase comes from Genesis 6, the chapter detailing why God decided to flood the earth.  According to the passage, not only did God intend to remove the wickedness of mankind, but also of others.

Two groups of sentient beings other than man receive mention in the chapter.  "Giants," translated from nephilim.  It also notes the existence of "the sons of God."

The Bible mentions nephilim in two places, Genesis and Numbers.  Numbers 13:30 also relates that Moses's spies in Canaan ran across "men of great stature."  The sons of God appear nowhere else.

Genesis describes how the sons of God took wives from the daughters of men, "the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown."

Biblical scholars speculate at great length on this puzzling passage.  Different experts concluded that they were descendants of Seth, another child of Adam and Eve.  Others guess that they were fallen angels or space aliens.

The answer, however, might come from science.

Researchers concluded several years ago that all humans can trace their mitochondrial DNA back to a single woman in East Africa.  Science calls her "mitochondrial Eve."  Her likely emergence in the Great Rift Valley parallels Biblical descriptions of Eden.  Now a desert, the valley once held many rivers and a rain forest environment.

As mankind spread through and eventually escaped Africa, scientists have determined that our species inevitably encountered closely related hominids.  Human DNA reveals intertwining with three other species.  One was identified long ago, traditionally called "Neanderthal Man," scientifically homo neandeerthalensis.

In the past couple of years, scientists found DNA and fossil traces of a Siberian based species called for now simply "Denisovans."  More study is needed to properly classify this group, but many see them as an offshoot of the Neanderthals.  Even more enticing is the discovery this year of "mystery species" traces in human DNA.  No fossil record at all exists of this group.

Science and the Bible may link here.  The mixture of DNA reveals that modern man (homo sapiens  and homo sapiens sapiens) must have interbred with these other species.  No other explanation exists for how the DNA could have intertwined.

Oral histories of some peoples are believed to extend back tens of thousands of years. Recorded history only extends back 5,000 years.  Cave paintings by either humans or Neanderthals date back over 40,000.  The recent Royal Society of London's presentations posit that the interspecies interactions could have taken place as early as 30,000 years ago.

Looking at the Bible as a possible record of these events not only fits this timeline, it also allows for a Great Flood related to massive meltoffs of glaciers at the end of one of the several ice ages.

The Bible is not the only source for these anecdotes.  Greeks also passed stories of powerful giants in prehistory, as well as a civilization drowned under the water.  Many other cultures from that period have similar tales to tell.

Strangely enough, most academics prefer to describe these tales as "myths."  Mythology implies almost an almost total fictional basis.  Legends may be a more apt description.  There is some truth at the foundation, although time and practice may have embellished it (definitely did in the case of the Greeks.)  That is not to suggest that titans roamed the earth with divine powers.  But so many cultures have descriptions of powerful hominids who didn't survive and floods that wiped out civilizations.

The Occam's razor principle demands that science at least consider that oral traditions that led to great civilizations like ancient Israel and Greece may have something to contribute to the conversation.  The Old Testament/Torah is more reliable than the Greek stories because it was not corrupted through enhancement of its entertainment value during written history.  The Bible comes from a much more sacred and important tradition.  If the ancient Israelites followed the mores of most oral societies, correct passage from one generation to the next was a high priority.

In any event, the very fact that the Bible's oldest accounts correlate with new discoveries should be news.

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