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Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Science, History, and the man who read the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica

Arnold Steven Jacobs Sr. set out to read through the Encyclopedia Brittanica, but washed out somewhere in the B's. His namesake son AJ, however, finally finished what his father had started, reading through all fifty inches of thirty-three thousand pages in thirty-two volumes in a year.

In his introduction to "The Know-it-All," Jacobs notes that he learned, among numerous other lesser-known facts of science and history, that Adam lived 930 years. Now, where would any of the 9,500 contributors to the Encyclopedia have found such information?

Actually, there is only one primary source for the progenitor Adam's age at death: The Book of Genesis. The Bible, however, is not the only primary source to mention Adam by name, and to give a little bit of his biography. What follows is a translation of the Comprehensive History that has been passed down in metrical couplet to the present day by the Miao people of Southeastern Asia (remember that 'Adam' is a Hebrew word meaning 'clay'):

On the earth He created a man from the dirt.
Of the man thus created, a woman He formed.
Then the Patriarch Dirt made a balance of stones.
Estimated the weight of the earth to the bottom.
Calculated the bulk of the heavenly bodies.
And pondered the ways of the Deity, God.
The Patriarch Dirt begat Patriarch Se-teh.
The Patriarch Se-Teh begat a son Lusu.
And Lusu had Gehlo and he begat Lama.
The Patriarch Lama begat the man Nuah.
His wife was the Matriarch Gaw Bo-lu-en.
Their sons were Lo Han, Lo Shen and Jah-hu.
So the earth began filling with tribes and with families.
Creation was shared by the clans and the peoples.

These did not God's will nor returned His affection.
But fought with each other defying the Godhead.
Their leaders shook fists in the face of the Mighty
Then the earth was convulsed to the depth of three strata.
Rending the air to the uttermost heaven.
God's anger arose till His Being was changed;
His wrath flaring up filled His eyes and His face.
Until He must come and demolish humanity.
Come and destroy a whole world full of people.

So it poured forty days in sheets and in torrents.
Then fifty-five days of misting and drizzle.
The waters surmounted the mountains and ranges.
The deluge ascending leapt valley and hollow.
An earth with no earth upon which to take refuge!
A world with no foothold where one might subsist!
The people were baffled, impotent and ruined,
Despairing, horror stricken, diminished and finished.
But the Patriarch Nuah was righteous.
The Matriarch Gaw Bo-lu-en upright.
Built a boat very wide; made a ship very vast.
Their household entire got aboard and were floated,
The family complete rode the deluge in safety.
The animals with him were female and male.
The birds went along and were mated in pairs.

When the time was fulfilled, God commanded the waters.
The day had arrived, the flood waters receded.
Then Nuah liberated a dove from their refuge,
Sent a bird to go forth and bring again tidings.
The flood had gone down into lake and to ocean;
The mud was confined to the pools and the hollows.
There was land once again where a man might reside;
There was a place in the earth now to rear habitations.
Buffalo then were brought, an oblation to God,
Fatter cattle became sacrifice to the Mighty.
The Divine One then gave them His blessing;
Their God then bestowed His good graces.

Lo-han then begat Cusah and Mesay.
Lo-shan begat Elan and Nga-shur.
Their offspring begotten became tribes and peoples;
Their descendants established encampments and cities.
Their singing was all with the same tunes and music;
Their speaking was all with the same words and language.
Then they said "Let us build us a very big city;
Let us raise unto heaven a very high tower."
This was all wrong, but they reached this decision;
This was not right, but they rashly persisted.

God struck at them then, changed their language and accent.
Descending in wrath, He confused tones and voices.
One's speech to the others who hear him has no meaning;
He's speaking in words, but they can't understand him.
So the city they builded was never completed;
The tower they wrought has to stand thus unfinished.
In despair then they separate under all heaven,
They part from each other the globe to encircle.
They arrive at six corners and speak the six languages.

Now, why would a publication of such high scientific pedigree even mention an age for someone they consider a totally mythical figure? It's kind of like mentioning the age at which Thor got his first pimple. Except that Thor's medical records didn't make it into history, and Adam's did (his was the first surgery under general anaesthesia).

Here's a couple excerpts from an earlier edition of Brittanica, published in 1771:

. . . the most memorable was that called the universal deluge, or Noah's flood, which overflowed and destroyed the whole earth, and out of which only Noah, and those with him in the ark, escaped. . . "

Yes, folks, Adam and Noah were remembered as historical figures for thousands of years. That they are no longer considered that today is a sad indication that pseudoscience has supplanted the study of history--except for those few who wade far enough into the Encyclopedia Brittanica.


  1. Where did you get that Miao poem?

  2. It's online several places now (click on the title for a link), but I believe it was originally published in the ICR Acts & Facts back in the 1980's.

    Not all Miao villages retain this oral history, but it's typical of oral histories throughout SE Asia (though others are not quite this detailed) and even into Oceania.


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