First Century C.E. Human Life Spans

Posted: September 10, 2006

Last Updated: September 25, 2006

Skeptics on the Internet frequently argue that the canonical gospels of Matthew and John could not have possibly been written by eyewitnesses, because Matthew and John would have been dead by the time the gospels bearing their names were compiled. These skeptics claim that 30-40 years was the average life span for humans in the first century C.E., to support this argument.

However, many people lived more than 30-40 years during the first century C.E. For example, the respected first century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus provides evidence that indicates many members of at least one first century C.E. Jewish group lived for more than 100 years. This group was known as the Essenes, and many scholars argue that the Essenes produced much of the Dead Sea Scrolls material ( TNTEC:77).

Josephus writes the following in his book The Jewish War, Book 2. Chapter 8, “Archelaus’s Ethnarchy is Reduced into a [Roman] Province. The Sedition of Judas of Galilee. The Three Sects.” Section 10 :

“10. Now after the time of their preparatory trial is over, they are parted into four classes; and so far are the juniors inferior to the seniors, that if the seniors should be touched by the juniors, they must wash themselves, as if they had intermixed themselves with the company of a foreigner. They are long-lived also, insomuch that many of them live above a hundred years, by means of the simplicity of their diet; no, as I think, by means of the regular course of life they observe also.”

Although 30-40 years may have (I have not seen any first century C.E. primary sources cited for this claim.) been the average life span, at least one respected first century C.E. historian records humans living to be more than 100 years old.

Another example of a human living more than 30-40 years of age: Tryphon was an Egyptian contemporary and more or less social equal of Jesus; The following text comes from around 55 C.E.:

“Tryphon, son of Dionysius, about…years old, of middle height, fair with a long face and a slight squint, and having a scar on his right wrist, has bought from his mother Thamounis’ cousin, Pnepheros, son of Papontos, also an inhabitant of Oxyrhynchus, about 65 years old, of middle height, fair, having a long face and a scar above his…eyebrow and another on his right knee…” (Grenfell, Bernard Pyne, and Arthur Surridge Hunt. 1898-99. The Oxyrhynchus Papyri. Parts 1-2, Nos. 1-207, 208-400. London: Oxford University Press. Cited in (THJLOAMJ:27) ).



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