Human Longevity Across Time

Why are some people endowed with the gift of longer lives and others not? Do our genes have a role to play?
Why are some people endowed with the gift of longer lives and others not? Do our genes have a role to play?

Humans have an average lifespan of around seventy years which differs from country to country. Moreover, even within a country, there is a difference in life expectancy between one city and another. This indicates that there are factors that determine an individual’s lifespan. It is a well-established fact that poverty-stricken places have a higher mortality rate than places with a higher GDP. This is because countries which enjoy a high standard of living are more able to provide better healthcare to their citizens and to ensure that all their population is well nourished and has access to food. These are the two main factors that contribute to how long someone will live: medical care and access to food.

However, we are well aware that even the residents of the richest countries in the world who have no shortage of food and have access to unparalleled medical care will also live up to the age of perhaps seventy or eighty. Someone who makes it past ninety is worthy of being mentioned and someone who makes it past one hundred is worthy of being celebrated. We have never heard of someone living up to the age of 150 and we refuse to believe that such and such person lived to celebrate his 300th birthday. However, in this article, I aim to change your mind. I shall try to convince you that it is not contrary to the laws of nature that a man lives to be hundreds of years old. I shall also examine the meaning of the verse from the Holy Qur’an:

وَلَقَدْ أَرْسَلْنَا نُوحًا إِلَى قَوْمِهِ فَلَبِثَ فِيهِمْ أَلْفَ سَنَةٍ إِلَّا خَمْسِينَ عَامًا

“Surely we sent Noah to his nation and he lived amongst them for 950 years.”

The Holy Qur’an (29:15)

Can there be a possibility that Noah lived to be 950?

This subject may appear as strange or random for it to be worthy of an undertaking to the reader. However, the reason why I chose such a discourse was due to something that struck my attention whilst reading an extract of the Promised Messiah asabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" in The Essence of Islam as part of the English Sania course. The Promised Messiah asabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" when elaborating with great command on God’s transcendental attributes states that man has not fully comprehended the laws of nature for him to ascertain that something can only manifest one characteristic. He further makes the statement that is the basis of my essay:

“It is an established truth that everything contains within itself a quality which continues to be affected by the limitless powers of God Almighty. This shows that the qualities of things are limitless whether we come to know of them or not…It has been established that in modern times there have been cases in which a person has attained the age of more than three hundred years, which is most extraordinary”The Promised Messiah, Essence of Islam Volume I, page 104-105

The Promised Messiah asabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" constructs a tremendously well ex-plained argument demonstrating his God-given insight and states how everything has within itself such a quality that continues to be affected by the attributes of God. Moreover, since one cannot reach the shore of this shoreless ocean of God’s attributes it must be clear that all things have limitless characteristics some of which we have seen. Furthermore, the Promised Messiah asabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" states that following this principle people can attain and have attained in the past, the age of hundreds of years. This statement may be dismissed as ridiculous and untrue by the average reader or one may think that perhaps only a handful of people have attained the aforementioned age. But to the surprise of perhaps quite a few, many an individual has had the opportunity to walk this earth for centuries, as I shall now elaborate. Since the aim of the essay is to prove the statement of the Promised Messiah asabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" using evidence I shall set aside the question – for the larger part- that is naturally raised: how can people attain such a long age, only to make a brief mention of it below?

How can people attain such long ages?

Why are some people endowed with the gift of longer lives and others not? Do our genes have a role to play? As stated, the prevalent belief is that it is the food we eat and the amount of medical care that we get that increases our lifespan. In fact, this is the conclusion that I came up with in the introductory note of this essay. But even this is not a true statement as a man may eat the healthiest food and have the best medical care in the world but will still die when he reaches 60. So then what is it that enables some to live to extreme ages?

James Easton wrote a book in 1799 titled Human Longevity in which he compiled 1712 cases of such individuals between the years 66 to 1799 AD who had reached the age of 100 and above. What is even more interesting is that in the introduction Easton writes:

“The varieties of climate, and modes of living, make but little difference, as to the period of our existence, it being nearly the same with the European, as with the Negro: it will, however, be seen, by the perusal of the following sheets, that the more a man follows nature, and is obedient to her laws, the longer he will live; and that the further he deviates from these, the shorter will be his existence. It is not the rich and the great, not those who depend on medicines, who become old; but such as use many exercises, are exposed to the fresh air, and whose food is plain and moderate, as farmers, gardeners, fishermen, labourers, soldiers and such men, as perhaps never employed their thoughts on the means which have been used to promote longevity. It is amongst these people, chiefly, that the most astonishing instances of it are to be observed.” Easton James, Human Longevity, Published in 1799. page 11-12

He has furthermore stated:

“From country villages, and not from crowded cities, have the majority of the instances of Longevity herein recorded, been chiefly supplied.”Easton James, Human Longevity, Published in 1799. page 19

Easton has concluded that it is not the climate that affects age nor is it the lifestyle, though this may contribute somewhat, rather it is ‘following nature’ and being ‘obedient to her laws’. He furthermore states that exercise is the key factor leading to longer life as well as getting fresh air which is complemented by a pure diet cleansed of all processed foods which may affect the health. What is also interesting to note, and to the delight of many villagers, is the fact that Easton believes that people residing in the countryside live longer than those who do in cities.

One may not believe in all the conclusions drawn by Easton, however, after studying over a thousand cases he drew this conclusion.

Evidence in support of the Promised Messiah’s asabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" statement

As stated before, the objective of this essay is to prove the Promised Messiah’s asabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" claim that some people attain the ages of hundreds of years. I shall avoid giving a lengthy list of such people, but shall present a few examples with the background of these individuals and try to establish some grounds of truth lest the reader thinks that these are mere tales of hearsay. The cases presented below are selected at random and are just a few in number, if the reader wishes to conduct his own research into the topic then he shall find numerous other cases which reflect that the Promised Messiah’s asabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" statement was indeed true.

Henry Jenkins was a man who lived in Yorkshire, England and it is said that he was born around the year 1500 and even remembered the battle of Plowden-Field which was fought in 1513 during the time of King Henry VIII’s reign. It is said that he used to be a fisherman and even swam in the rivers when he passed the age of 100. His diet was extremely simple consisting of coarse and sour food. There is even a record of this man at the Royal Exchequer’s office dating 1665 in which Henry Jenkins is said to have been 157 years old. He died at the age of 169 years and was buried in Belton, Yorkshire.Easton James, Human Longevity, Published in 1799. page 10-11

It should be noted that all the cases presented by James Easton in his book are of people who used to live in Britain. This means that if thousands of people attained the age of over 100 prior to the 18th century which was a tremendous age considering the life expectancy was around 35 to 40 in this country alone then it can be said for sure that there must be countless more people who too enjoyed a long life elsewhere in the world. We also need to take into account that the diet and lifestyle of the British people have not been the best in past centuries. Those residing in places where the food and atmosphere are even purer compared to that of Britain must have seen many more people live to be hundreds of years old.

The second case I shall present is also of a gentleman from England who went by the name of Thomas Parr or Old Thomas Parr and died at the age of 152 years. The reason why I have chosen to present this case out of the 1700 others is so that a very interesting conclusion can be drawn from looking at the life of this gentleman. Thomas Parr married his second wife at the age of 122 years and even fathered a child when he has witnessed a century go by.Thomas Parr – the most long-lived Englishman”. Shropshire Magazine. He lived a simple life and it is said that his food was very plain and homely consisting of cheese and bread. When people found out about his age he became a national celebrity and in 1635 at the age of 152 years, Thomas Howard who was the Earl of Arundel brought him to London to meet King Charles I. He remained in London for the remainder of his days but died in the same year. It is famously believed that his diet changed dramatically from what he has lived on for over a century. He began to drink and eat all kinds of exotic foods. People believe that it was this reason that led to his death within a few months. James Easton has noted in his book:

“His death is a corroborating circumstance, that the life of a man, by attention to the laws of nature, might, probably, be extended to the term of two hundred years; for, on his body being opened by Dr Harvey, it was found to be in the most perfect state, the only cause of his death being a mere plethora, brought on by more luxurious living in London.

Thomas Parr could have probably lived past the age of 200 as stated by James Easton, but the dramatic change in diet led to his quick demise.

Portrait of Thomas Parr
A portrait of Thomas Parr

As stated above that these cases are not confined merely to the borders of Britain. But we do indeed find many people regarding whom it was believed that they attained the age of hundreds of years.

One such example is the Shahs of the Persian Empire. This fact is recorded in the largest epic poem ever written called the Shahnameh by the poet Ferdowsi and consists of some 60,000 couplets. Ferdowsi was the poet of the court of the kings of Persia who wrote this poem around 1000 CE. In this poem, it is recorded that several kings had ages ranging from 120 to 1000 years, though many people believe that the upper end of these ages was held by such people who were mythical. Freydun is among the list who is said to have attained the age of 500 years. Similarly, another king to enjoy centuries of life is Jamshid who is considered one of the great rulers, it is said that his age was 700 years and his narrative has been recorded in various other books apart from the Shahnameh.

The first 18 kings of the Hung Dynasty of Vietnam are said to have attained the age of at least 200 years each and some of them have even lived to be 500 years old.

What is also interesting to note is that the frequency of cases in the east of human longevity is far greater than that of the west. This could perhaps be due to the lifestyles and nurturing atmospheres of those regions, especially the mountainous areas of the Himalayas. A National Geographic magazine from 1973 recorded people of the Hunza Valley of Pakistan to have long life spans. In fact, many books and studies have been written and conducted on the Hunza people to determine why they live so long.

As I have already stated that countless cases can be produced in which people have attained the age of more than 300 years, some living a thousand years ago whilst others having passed away just recently. After all, what evidence do we have that a man cannot live for 600 years? Of course, this is something not seen or heard of every day, hence it is up to the claimant to prove his claim. The evidence above presented is very little compared to the cases out there. It would be worth the reader getting hold of James Easton’s book from the Jamia Ahmadiyya UK Library where it shall be made available soon and see for himself that such cases have existed, some even close to their own homes. Countless articles have been written on human longevity in magazines. My task was to briefly present a few examples so the reader could come to terms with what the Promised Messiah asabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" has said. However, further research on an individual’s part shall certainly show that thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people have lived who have attained the age of more than 300 years.

I shall now come to the question over which many people are divided: the age of the past prophets such as Hazrat Nuh asabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" (Noah). The Holy Quran states that Noah lived to the age of 950 years. The Old Testament too states that he lived to be this old. Furthermore, it has also been stated regarding Adam that he too attained a great age. So what is the reality of this? Easton commented on this: “If it should be asked, why the first races of men, as recorded in the Holy Scriptures, lived upwards of nine hundred years? Perhaps a satisfactory answer may be given. The productions of the earth were then of a different nature. The surface of the globe was, in the first ages of the world, less solid and compact. The perils of man’s existence, therefore, may have gradually diminished, in proportion as the surface of the earth acquired more solidity by the constant action of gravity.”

Did Noah asabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" live to the age of 950?

Allah the Exalted states in the Holy Quran :

وَلَقَدْ أَرْسَلْنَا نُوحًا إِلَى قَوْمِهِ فَلَبِثَ فِيهِمْ أَلْفَ سَنَةٍ إِلَّا خَمْسِينَ عَامًا
“Surely we sent Noah to his nation and he lived amongst them for 950 years.”

The Holy Qur’an (29:15)

The majority of the Muslims believe that Noah asabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" lived to the age of 950, in fact, the Bible even states that he lived to be 952 years old.

Since it has been proved that a man can attain great ages some may begin to believe that Noah’s asabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" long life was just another name on the list. But Hazrat Musleh Ma’ud raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them" has stated in his exegesis regarding this verse:

“In the [preceding] verse, the mention of Noah asabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" living amongst his people for 950 years does not mean that Noah asabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" himself lived for 950 year, rather the word “remained” refers to remaining spiritually. In other words, Noah’s asabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" teachings remained amongst his people for 950 years, after which they disappeared.”Tafseer-e-Kabeer Volume 7 page 600-601

This is the same conclusion that Hazrat Khalifatul Masih I asabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" has drawn regarding whose commentary it has been stated that it was like a divine commentary. He states:

“… this is a lengthy argument whether man can attain the age of 950 or not. We can say on the account of those who believe so that Hazrat Nuh’s asabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" Law remained for 950 years. In my view there is no doubt in this when it has already been stated in the Holy Quran”Haqaiqul Furqan Volume 3 Page 333

After examining all the evidence it is clear that people in the past have indeed attained the age of more than 300 years. There have been people who saw many centuries go by before they faced death. This was something that people of the past knew about and though not commonly seen, but still believed in. However, modern times have not yet witnessed someone to be this old leading us to have the impression that such ideas are mere conjecture and belong in the realm of myths.

However, we can also ascertain that Noah the prophet did not live to the age of 950 but rather this was the age of his teachings. Nevertheless, man has still to understand and comprehend the laws of nature which as the, Promised Messiah asabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" has stated hold in themselves limitless characteristics


This article was originally published in the Annual Printed Edition of Majallatul Jamia

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