Monday, October 31, 2011

Viewing the Bible Through Life Expectancy and Neurodevelopment

I was recently reading a book for a class I'm teaching. Part of it explored the changing life expectancy globally. Most people know that we have a much longer life expectancy now than ever before. What I think we often forget is how short it really used to be (and still is in certain parts of the world).

Here's a couple of stats from 1998 of life expectancy: Andorra: 83.47, Canada 79.56, Nigeria 41.00, Sierra Leone 37.00. That's a big of a discrepancy if I've ever seen one.

But this post isn't about public policy and public health. What I find interesting is looking at the life expectancy in years past. For the US, 77.2 was expected in 2001, 59.7 in 1930, and only 35.0 in 1789. That's a huge jump.

But then think about how life was in Jesus' time. I highly doubt medical care and lifestyle were better than 1789. I saw somewhere that 35ish was about the life expectancy is Jesus' time period.

The first thing this should impact is artistic depictions of Jesus and his disciples. They often appear to be in their 40s and 50s. I doubt it, just from the fact of life expectancy. Plus, biblical scholarship puts them far younger anyway.

And then Jesus dying at 33 doesn't make him seem so young, honestly. Not that that didn't minimize the sacrifice. These types of executions contributed to the lower expectancy.

However, beyond all of this, there are always questions about violence in the Bible. If we take life expectancy seriously, then we should pay attention to average ages. In 1800, the average American was 16 years old. He or she was 36.5 in 2000.

Let's see. Would the world be different being run by 16 year olds versus 36 year olds?

Plus, it is commonly known that the frontal lobes are not fully developed until around age 25. If you don't know the frontal lobes are responsible for executive functioning, like planning, judgment, self-control, etc.

So let's look back at the Bible in context. God is not talking to the modern American with the same education and amount of time to develop (and I'm not trying to imply we're better than those people in biblical times, by the way). God is talking to a people who are predominantly young with non-fully-developed brains. Suddenly, it makes a lot more sense to provide stricter, black-and-white rules that leave no room for ambiguity.

Laws needed to be quite directive because they were acting as the people's frontal lobes. We give our kids very absolute rules in order to protect them. As they get older, we nuance them more because they can handle it. Why do we view the Bible and God's rules any differently?

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