The book of Genesis is fascinating in many ways. To a borderline geek like me, it is simply hard to not be fascinated by it. One of the things I fancy myself doing is imagining what the antediluvian world was like – both the natural world and the people who lived in that era.
This started about two years ago when I sat in Sean Pitman’s seminars at GYC 2008 San Jose. That was the first time I heard and thought about how catastrophic the Genesis flood was. Prior to that, my conception about the flood was not much different than the one I had from primary Sabbath School class – a calm, standard, global flood. The teaching props they used in primary Sabbath School class definitely did not do justice, and they implanted a wrong picture of the story! (i.e., they should change them!)
In fact, the Bible does describe the flood in a very spectacular way, water coming from above and beneath. “The fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.” Gen 7:11. Repeatedly it says that the “waters prevailed.” That must have been quite a sight. Seeing the rugged mountains, trenches, and rocky areas that exist now, no, the earth wasn’t taking a calm bath; that flood must have been cataclysmic.
Perhaps pictures from the recent tsunami in Japan can help us understand what happens when the “waters prevailed.” That tsunami totally wiped out entire modern civilizations in hours. What used to be towns is now absolute wasteland, nothing more than mud sludge. The force of water is powerful. The natural laws that govern the dynamics of this fluid are such that no one and nothing can escape when it prevails. Now multiply what happened in Japan by however many factors to cover the entire world, plus the fact that the water of the flood prevailed many days (Gen 7), what you have is the wiping out of any kind of civilization that people might have built back then.
Basically, the world was an entirely different place before the flood.
The World Before
Humanistic anthropology has this view that ancient human societies were primitive civilizations. They couldn’t walk or cook right, much less construct buildings. I would beg to differ, by a lot, especially in the case of the antediluvian world.
Take the present condition of the world as a base line. The scientific and technological achievements of the day are, by anyone’s standard I think, quite marvelous. In the past 20 years especially, the way modern societies live have changed dramatically. Mind you, these achievements were realized by people whose life expectancies are mostly between 70-80 years and whose brain capacity usage is estimated roughly to be 10% (sure, arguments exists that this number is arbitrary, but I’ll let the neurologists debate about that). Given these two factors, maybe I can entertain you in imagining how advanced the antediluvian world was.
Compared to how long the antediluvian people lived, the increased life expectancy in the longevity report done by National Geographic a few years ago is like noise in the data. These people lived to be 700, 800, even more than 900 years old. That’s close to a millennium! Based on the numbers alone, their advantage over the modern man is about 10 times greater. But this is actually a conservative estimate.
If you have a craft and you get 900 years to develop and improve it, imagine what you end up with at the end of your life. But this achievement will be more than the accumulative achievements of 10 modern men who live back to back (in fact, it would take many more than 10 modern men to achieve what one antediluvian man could do in his lifetime), because the effect of time on efficiency is more than one-to-one linear correspondence. What I mean by that is the following. What you can do or the increase of knowledge that you acquire in the 51st year of your craft will be more than the sum of what you achieve in the 50th year, because by this time you’ve already had 50 years of experience and wisdom under your belt. Similarly, the 50th year is more than the 49th year and so on. Basically, the 10 times longer lifetime corresponds to much more than 10 times advantage for them. I look at professors today and their achievements in the 20-30 years of their career are amazing! If they get to do research for 900 years…man…I can’t even imagine what they can do.
Another advantage of this long life is also present in the area of mentorship, apprenticeship, and the transfer of knowledge. They probably didn’t have to worry about this. They didn’t have to allocate time to do extensive training, since Adam was around when Lamech (Noah’s father) was born. That’s 9 generations coexisting at one point! Adam died when Lamech was 56 years old! (Note: the antediluvian genealogies are super fascinating – I’ll reserve it for another post). So the real transfer of knowledge between generations happens only once in about a millennium. There was very little overhead time to wait until the protégé reaches maturity and starts his development process himself.
But, for the sake of this guesstimate, I’d be conservative and take that factor of 10.
The whole antediluvian world was within 10 generations from the Garden of Eden, within 10 generations from creation, 10 generations from perfection, when God said that everything was very good. Nourishments from the fruit of the Tree of Life were probably still very present in their bloodstream, and their brain capacity usage was probably very close to 100%.
When you multiply the effects of these two factors alone, what you have is that the antediluvian world had much greater advantage than our society today. Certainly, the form of their technological development was probably radically different than ours, since frankly they probably wouldn’t need the stuffs we need now due to our physical limitations.
On top of these two simple factors, however, they had many more other advantages than we do today. Their health was pretty much perfect (i.e., no sick days), the weather was never severe (i.e., no snow days), and their stature and physical features were far superior, to say the least. This means that their physical constraints to human activities back then were much looser. They wouldn’t need many of our machineries today to execute their work. If they built a crane to lift things up, for example, that crane would have been much taller and bigger than what we have now. If they wanted to mine precious metals and stones from the earth, their drilling machines would have been much more powerful. If they built buildings, today’s skyscrapers were probably the standard height (they were tall people). Moreover, they were not as dispersed geographically and they spoke one language. Collaborative and synergistic efforts would have been easy and very fruitful.
Basically, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that their societies could be FAR more advanced than ours. Now, all of their advantages and capacities to do right, to understand God and His character, were the same capacities to do evil. It makes you think twice when God says that the “wickedness of man was great” at the time of the flood.
Then God sent great waters to destroy all of this. Whatever it was that their society had developed could not prevail against God’s judgment; the waters prevailed. And the world was never the same again. It must have been mind-boggling for Noah to see the before and after scenes – something to ask him someday.
Congratulations for making it until the end. For more reading, see Patriarchs and Prophets, chapter 7. I think this is my nerdiest post so far. I had a lot of fun with it – hope you did too!