Longevity myths are traditions about long-lived people (generally supercentenarians), either as individuals or groups of people, and practices that have been believed to confer longevity, but for which scientific evidence does not support the ages claimed or the reasons for the claims. While literal interpretations of such myths may appear to indicate extraordinarily long life spans many scholars believe such figures may be the result of incorrect translation of numbering systems through various languages coupled by the cultural and or symbolic significance of certain numbers.
The phrase "longevity tradition" may include "purifications, rituals, longevity practices, meditations, and alchemy" that have been believed to confer greater human longevity, especially in Chinese culture.
- 1 Mythology and religion
- 1.1 Sumer
- 1.2 Hebrew Bible
- 1.3 Persian empire
- 1.4 China
- 1.5 Japan
- 1.6 Korea
- 1.7 Roman empire
- 1.8 Poland
- 1.9 Czech Republic
- 1.10 Christianity
- 1.11 Islam
- 1.12 Hinduism
- 1.13 Buddhist saints
- 1.14 Theosophy/New Age
- 2 Political claims
- 3 Practices
- 4 See also
- 5 Gallery
- 6 References
- 7 Bibliography
Mythology and religion
In the only ten-king tablet recension of this list three kings (Alalngar, [...]kidunnu, and En-men-dur-ana) are recorded as having reigned 72,000 years each. The major recension assigns 43,200 years to the reign of En-men-lu-ana, and 36,000 years each to those of Alalngar and Dumuzid.
In the Hebrew Bible, the Torah, Joshua, Job, and 2 Chronicles claim several individuals with long lifespans. Students of the Bible hold various positions regarding the ages given in the Bible some assert a literal translation while others search for a less dogmatic interpretation. ". . . patient research has gone a long way towards resolving this knotty problem.” 
Some literary critics explain these extreme ages as ancient mistranslations that converted the word "month" to "year", mistaking lunar cycles for solar ones: this would turn an age of 969 "years" into a more reasonable 969 lunar months, or 78½ years of the Metonic cycle. However, the text says that Arpachshad (son of Shem) fathered Shelah at 35 years of age. If that is taken to mean 35 months, then Arpachshad was a father before turning three years of age. In addition, the first chapters of Genesis distinguish solar cycles of years from lunar cycles of months. (Genesis 1:14–16; 7:11)
Donald Etz theorized that the Genesis 5 numbers were multiplied by ten by a later editor. A similar scenario is believed to have led to some confusion as the mystery of Plato's Atlantis. Critics, however, believe this would be inconsistent as the ages of the first nine patriarchs at fatherhood, ranging from 62 to 230 years in the manuscripts, would then be transformed into an implausible range such as 5 to 18½ years.
Numbers from the ancient near east are recognized as inflated through some source of number manipulation complex patterns are suggested. The Sumerian tradition suggests certain kings reigned for 36,000 years. This makes the current numbers in Genesis for the antediluvians seem extremely conservative. The number of years each Sumerian king reigned, as Dwight Young has pointed out, is often a square number or the sum of squares. For example, reigns of 900 years (302); 324 (182); 136 (102 + 62); and 116 (102 + 42) are recorded. This ancient tradition of manipulating numbers can also be found in the ages the Old Testament assigns to the patriarchs. Abraham is reported to have lived, according to the Hebrew Bible (Leningrad Codex), to the age of 175. His son, Isaac, lived to be 180. Abraham's grandson, Jacob, lived only to the age of 147. And Joseph, Jacob's son, lived the shortest life of all—110. However, like the reigns of some of the kings in the Sumerian King List, the ages of the patriarchs are products of a multiplier and a square and in one case the sum of squares. There is a mathematical progression in the ages of the patriarchs.
This leaves students of the Bible to speculate the reasons why translators of the text would format numbers in such a manner. Several suggestions are below.
- The first thing that stands out is that the sequence links Abraham to Joseph. The biblical view is that the rightful biological succession of the chosen people passes from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob and finally to Joseph, even though Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph were not the eldest sons. Whoever manipulated the numbers in order to reinforce the biological chain may have been trying to covertly reinforce the overt succession line.
- If the Hebrew Bible denies that Abraham's firstborn son, Ishmael, became his legitimate heir, then it is also possible that the age the Bible assigns to Ishmael might reflect this view. In fact, Ishmael lived to be 137 (Genesis 25:17). But 137 is a prime number and not the product of a multiplier and a square. It is however the sum of 92 + (8×7).
Others point out that Biblical genealogies contain generational gaps. For example Paul Y. Hoskisson pointed out that between Ozias and Joatham in verses 8 and 9, Matthew left out Joash, Amaziah, and Azariah (Joash was the son of Ozias [Ahaziah in 2 Kings 11:2] and the father of Amaziah, grandfather of Azariah and great grandfather of Joatham [Jotham in 2 Kings 15:7]). The Gospel of Luke more realistically has 56 ancestors from Abraham to Christ. Hoskisson further suggested that the gematria of King David's name may have something to do with Matthew's choice of the number "fourteen." The Hebrew letters in David's name, דוד, given their numerical value, add up to the number fourteen. Since the writer of the Gospel of Matthew divided the genealogy into three sections, each containing 14 generations in accordance with the numerical value of David's name; Abraham to David, David to the Exile, and the Exile to Christ certain names would have been omitted which the author of Luke had access to. Nineteenth-century critic Vincent Goehlert suggests the lifetimes "represented epochs merely, to which were given the names of the personages especially prominent in such epochs, who, in consequence of their comparatively long lives were able to acquire an exalted influence."
Biblical scholars that believe in literal translation give explanations for the advanced ages of the early patriarchs. In one view man was originally to have everlasting life, but as sin was introduced into the world by Adam and Eve, its influence became greater with each generation and God progressively shortened man's life. The Biblical upper limit of longevity was categorized by the Bible scholar Witness Lee as having four successive plateaus of 1,000, 500, 250, and finally 120 years, and "four falls of mankind" correspond to these four plateaus. In a second view, before Noah's flood, a "firmament" over the earth (Genesis 1:6–8) contributed to people's advanced ages.
- Zahhak, 1000 years.
- Jamshid, 700 years.
- Fereydun, 500 years.
- Askani, 200 years.
- Kay Kāvus, 150 years.
- Manuchehr, 120 years.
- Lohrasp, 120 years.
- Goshtasp, 120 years.
- Zuo Ci who lived during the Three Kingdoms Period was said to have lived for 300 years.
- In Chinese legend, Peng Zu was believed to have lived for over 800 years during the Yin Dynasty (殷朝, 16th to 11th centuries BC).
- In traditional Daoism, the eight immortals are said to exist.
- Emperor Jimmu (traditionally, 13 February 711 BC – 11 March 585 BC) lived 126 years according to the Kojiki. These dates correspond to 126 years, 27 days, on the proleptic Julian and Gregorian calendars. However, the form of his posthumous name suggests that it was invented in the reign of Kammu (782–806), or possibly during the time in which legends about the origins of the Yamato dynasty were compiled into the Kojiki.
- Taejo of Goguryeo (46/47 – 165) is generally accepted as having reigned in Korea for 93 years beginning at age 7. After his retirement, the Samguk Sagi and Samguk Yusa give his age at death as 118.
In Roman times, Pliny wrote about longevity records from the census carried out in 74 AD under Vespasian. In one region of Italy many people allegedly lived past 100; four were said to be 130, others even older. The ancient Greek author Lucian is the presumed author of Macrobii (long-livers), a work devoted to longevity. Most of the examples Lucian gives are what would be regarded as normal long lifespans (80–100 years).
- Tiresias, the blind seer of Thebes, was alive for over 600 years (Lucian).
- Nestor lived over 300 years (Lucian).
- According to one tradition, Epimenides of Crete (7th, 6th centuries BC) lived nearly three hundred years.
In legend, Praotec Čech ("forefather Czech", 342–680) lived 338 years. And Přemysl, the Ploughman (founder of the Přemyslid dynasty) could have lived for more than 180 years (561–745).
- Saint Servatius, bishop of Tongeren in continental Europe, died 13 May 384 according to consistent tradition. He was consecrated at the alleged age of 297, and is said to have lived for 375 years (birth 8/9 AD).
- Saint Shenouda the Archimandrite, a Coptic saint, lived c. 348–466 (117/118 years). He died on and is remembered on 7 Epip on the Coptic calendar (Sunday, 14 July, Julian).
- Welsh bard Llywarch Hen (Heroic Elegies) died c. 500 in the parish of Llanvor, traditionally about age 150.
- Around 1912, the Maharishi of Kailas was said by missionary Sadhu Sundar Singh to be an over-300-year-old Christian hermit in a Himalayan mountain cave with whom he spent some time in deep fellowship. Singh said the Maharishi was born in Alexandria, Egypt, and baptized by the nephew of St. Francis Xavier.
- Scolastica Oliveri is said to have lived in Bivona, Italy, 1448–1578 (age 129/130), according to the archive of Monastero di San Paolo in Bivona located in Palermo.
- Abdul Azziz al-Hafeed al-Habashi (عبد العزيزالحبشي) lived 581–1276 of the Hijra (11 June 1185 – 19 September 1859, 674 years, 100 days), i.e., 673/674 Gregorian years or 694/695 Islamic years, according to 19th-century scholars.
- Devraha Baba (1477–1990) was rumored to be over 700 or even over 750 years old.
- Trailanga Swami reportedly lived in Kashi since 1737; the journal Prabuddha Bharata puts his birth around 1607 and his age 279 (almost 280), upon his death in 1887 on 26 December. His birth is also given as 1527 (age 359/360).[need quotation to verify]
- The sadhaka Lokenath Brahmachari reportedly lived 1730–1890 (age 159/160).
- Shivapuri Baba, also known as Swami Govindanath Bharati, was a Hindu saint who purportedly lived from 1826 to 1963, making him allegedly 137 years old at the time of his death. He had 18 audiences with Queen Victoria.
- LP Suwang (d.1995) was a holy Buddhist who entered Thailand in the 1920s. He was supposedly capable of miracles, and no one knew his exact age, not even his closest disciples. He died in 1995, at a claimed 200 years old, but rumored to be over 500 years old. The newest version claimed his birth as being in 1551, making him 444 years old. The subject of his age remains a mystery.
- Babaji is said to be an "Unascended Master" purportedly many centuries old who is claimed to live in the Himalayas. One of Babaji's disciples is said to be the Hindu guru Paramhansa Yogananda, who claimed to have met him. Many New Age people believe in the existence on the physical plane of this allegedly centuries old yoga master.
- A New York Times story announced the death on 5 May 1933 in Kaihsien, Szechwan, at the age of 197, of the Republic of China's Li Ching-Yuen (李青云, Li Qing Yun), who claimed to be born in 1736. A Time article noted that "respectful Chinese preferred to think" Li was 150 in 1827 (birth 1677), based on a government congratulatory message, and died at age 256. T'ai chi ch'uan master Da Liu stated that Li learned qigong from a hermit over age 500.
- United Kingdom
- The Shoreditch burial register for 28 January 1588 reads "Aged 207 years. Holywell Street. Thomas Cam" or "Carn", which supplied a traditional birth year of 1381. According to Old and New London, "the 2 should probably be 1". Chapter 2 of Falun Gong by Li Hongzhi (2001) states, "According to records, there was a person in Britain named Femcath who lived for 207 years."
- Peter Torton reportedly died in 1724 age 185.
- A brief biography of Henry Jenkins, of Ellerton-on-Swale, Yorkshire, was written by Anne Saville in 1663 based on Jenkins's description, stating birth in 1501; he also claimed to recall the 1513 Battle of Flodden Field. However, Jenkins also testified in 1667, in favor of Charles Anthony in a court case against Calvert Smythson, that he was then only 157 or thereabouts. He was born in Bolton-on-Swale, and the date given, 17 May 1500, results in only a 1 year discrepancy with the age of 169 on his monument (he died 8 December 1670).
- A tombstone in Cachen churchyard near Cardiff, Glamorganshire, read, "Heare lieth the body of WILLIAM EDWARDS, of the Cairey, who departed this life the 24th of February, Anno Domini 1668, anno aetatis suae one hundred and sixty-eight".
- Joseph Surrington was reported as 160 (1637–1797).
- The parish registers of Church Minshull, in the county of Chester, state, "1649 Thomas Damme of Leighton. Buried the 20th of February, being of the age of Seven-score and fourteen" (154 years), signed by vicar T. Holford and wardens T. Kennerly and John Warburton.
- A tombstone in Brislington, Bristol, reads, "1542 THOMAS NEWMAN AGED 153 This Stone was new faced in the Year 1771 to Perpetuate the Great Age of the Deceased."
- Mrs. Eckleston of Philipstown, King's-county, was stated to be 143 (1548–1691).
- Margaret Patten reportedly died in 1739 age 137.
- United States of America
- In the Social Security Death Index, the extreme age claim is of Anne Feinseth from New Jersey. She claimed to have been born February 12, 1809 and died February 24, 2004 at the alleged age of 195 years (ssn:135-42-7235).
- Elizabeth M. Mahony of California claimed birth on October 28, 1808, and died March 13, 2000 at the claimed age of 191 years, according to her death certificate.
- According to the July 20, 1876 New York Times, a man arrested in Newark, NJ named Colestein Veglin claimed to be 615 years old and to have 6 wives, all living. Following this proclamation, he was taken to an insane asylum for two days.
- Netherlands envoy Hamelbraning reported in 1724 of the death in Rofrosh, Hungary, on January 5 of Peter Czartan, reportedly born 1539 and age 184. Charles Hulbert, who reported Czartan's case in an 1825 collection, added that John (172) and his wife Sara (164) both died in Hungary in 1741 after 148 years of marriage. The Book Validation of Exceptional Longevity has the old couples last name as Rowin, while The Virgin Birth And The Incarnation puts John and Sara's married name as Rovin.
- Bir Narayan Chaudhary (1856-1998) reportedly lived to age 142, though he had no birth certificate to authenticate this because such documents did not exist in rural Nepal at the time of his reported birth. However, in 1998 King Birendra of Nepal recognized and honored the elderly resident of the small Tharu village of Aamjhoki in Nepal's Tarai region as the oldest man in the kingdom. His age of 142 was meticulously verified by Nepal's Ministry of Archaeology based on astrological charts made at the time of his birth.
- Russia (Soviet Union)
Deaths officially reported in Russia in 1815 listed 1068 centenarians, including 246 supercentenarians (50 at age 120–155 and one even older). Time magazine considered that, by the Soviet Union, longevity had elevated to a state-supported "Methuselah cult". The USSR insisted on its citizens' unrivaled longevity by claiming 592 people (224 male, 368 female) over age 120 in a 15 January 1959 census and 100 citizens of Russia alone ages 120 to 156 in March 1960. Such later claims were fostered by Georgian-born Joseph Stalin's apparent hope that he would live long past 70. Zhores A. Medvedev, who demonstrated that all 500-plus claims failed birth-record validation and other tests, said Stalin "liked the idea that [other] Georgians lived to be 100".
- An early 1812 Russian Petersburgh Gazette reports a man between ages 200 and 225 in the diocese of Ekaterinoslaw (now Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine).
- Shirali Muslimov (26 March 1805? – 4 September 1973), of Barzavu, Azerbaijan, in the Caucasus mountains, was allegedly age 168 years, 162 days, based solely on a passport. National Geographic carried the claim. The oldest woman in the USSR according to the Novosti Press Agency was supposed to have been Ashura Omarova from Daghestan, aged 195.
- South Africa
- Emily Muntengwa of Njelele, Venda, South Africa is reported to be now 140 (26 September 1874)
Swedish death registers contain detailed information on thousands of centenarians going back to 1749; the maximum age at death reported between 1751 and 1800 was 127.
- In 1689, Anna Persdotter in Leksand was said to have died at the age of 1024 years.
- Andrew Dickie of Northern Ontario, Canada is reported to now be 131 (21 December 1883)
The idea that certain diets can lead to extraordinary longevity (ages beyond 130) is not new. In 1909, Élie Metchnikoff believed that drinking goat's milk could confer extraordinary longevity. The Hunza diet, supposedly practiced in an area of northern India, has been claimed to give people the ability to live to 140 or more. There has been no proof that any diet has led humans to live longer than the genetically-recognized maximum (currently the oldest verified person, Jeanne Calment, died at age 122.45 years), however Caloric restriction diets have increased lifespans of rodents significantly.
Traditions that have been believed to confer greater human longevity include alchemy. Nicolas Flamel (early 1330s – 1418?) was a 14th-century scrivener who developed a reputation as alchemist and creator of an "elixir of life" that conferred immortality upon himself and his wife Perenelle. His arcanely inscribed tombstone is preserved at the Musée de Cluny in Paris.
- Fridericus (Ludovicus) Gualdus, author of "Revelation of the True Chemical Wisdom", lived in Venice in the 1680s. His age was reported in a letter in a contemporary Dutch newspaper to be over 400. By some accounts, when asked about a portrait he carried, he said it was of himself, painted by Titian (who died in 1576), but gave no explanation and left Venice the following morning. By another account, Gualdus left Venice due to religious accusations and died in 1724. The "Compass der Weisen" alludes to him as still alive in 1782 and nearly 600 years old.
Fountain of Youth
The Fountain of Youth reputedly restores the youth of anyone who drinks of its waters. The New Testament, following older Jewish tradition, attributes healing to the Pool of Bethesda when the waters are "stirred" by an angel. Herodotus attributes exceptional longevity to a fountain in the land of the Ethiopians. The lore of the Alexander Romance and of Al-Khidr describes such a fountain, and stories about the philosopher's stone, universal panaceas, and the elixir of life are widespread.
After the death of Juan Ponce de León, Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés wrote in Historia General y Natural de las Indias (1535) that Ponce de León was looking for the waters of Bimini to cure his aging.
- Ni, Maoshing (2006). Secrets of Longevity. Chronicle Books. ISBN 978-0-8118-4949-4.
Chuan xiong ... has long been a key herb in the longevity tradition of China, prized for its powers to boost the immune system, activate blood circulation, and relieve pain.
- Fulder, Stephen (1983). An End to Ageing: Remedies for Life. Destiny Books. ISBN 978-0-89281-044-4.
Taoist devotion to immortality is important to us for two reasons. The techniques may be of considerable value to our goal of a healthy old age, if we can understand and adapt them. Secondly, the Taoist longevity tradition has brought us many interesting remedies.
- Number Manipulation for Profit, or Just for Fun? by Paul Y. Hoskisson http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/insights/?vol=30&num=6&id=924
- Kohn, Livia (2001). Daoism and Chinese Culture. Three Pines Press. pp. 4, 84. ISBN 978-1-931483-00-1.
- Jacobson, Thorkild (1939). The Sumerian King List. University of Chicago Press. pp. 69–77.
- Hasel, Gerhard F. (1978). "The Genealogies of Gen. 5 and 11 and Their Alleged Babylonian Background". Andrews University Seminary Studies (Andrews University Press) 16: 366–7. Citing Finkelstein, J. J. (1963). "The Antediluvian Kings: A University of California Tablet". Journal of Cuneiform Studies 17 (2): 39–51. doi:10.2307/1359063. JSTOR 1359063.
- "Notes on Genesis 5:5". Zondervan NIV Study Bible. 2002. pp. 12–13.
Three kings in a Sumerian list (which also contains exactly ten names) are said to have reigned 72,000 years each.
- (Alexander and Alexander, Eerdmans’ Handbook to the Bible, p. 191.)
- Hill, Carol A. (2003-12-04). "Making Sense of the Numbers of Genesis". Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 55: 239.
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- “The figures of the Levites seem consistently to have collected an extra nought. The mystery of Plato’s Atlantis has been solved by recognition of this same numerical confusion. Plato obtained from Egyptian priests what now turns out to be a detailed account of the Minoan civilization and its sudden end. But as all the figures were multiplied by a factor of ten, the area was too great to be enclosed in the Mediterranean, so he placed it in the Atlantic; and the date was put back into remote antiquity, thousands of years too early. This same tenfold multiplication factor is found in the figures of the Levites in book of Numbers. When it is eliminated Levi fits into the pattern as a standard-size tribe of about 2,200 males. These figures agree remarkably well with the other indications of population in the period of the conquest and the judges.” (Alexander and Alexander, Eerdmans’ Handbook to the Bible, p. 192.)
- Morris, Henry M. (1976). The Genesis Record: A Scientific and Devotional Commentary on the Book of Beginnings. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House. p. 159.
Such an interpretation would have made Enoch only five years old when his son was born!
- See Thorkild Jacobsen, The Sumerian King List (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1939), 70–71, for the 36,000-year reign of âl-gar.
- Dwight Young, "A Mathematical Approach to Certain Dynastic Spans in the Sumerian King List," Journal of Near Eastern Studies 47/2 (1988): 123–24. See the entire article, 123–29, for a convenient summary of some of the mathematical manipulations of the numbers in the Sumerian King List.
- The age of 110 seems to be an ideal in ancient Egypt. See Rosalind M. and Jac. J. Janssen, Growing Up and Getting Old in Ancient Egypt (London: Golden House Publications, 2007), 197, 201–2.
- Number Manipulation for Profit, or Just for Fun? by Paul Y. Hoskisson ,Insights Volume - 30, Issue - 6 Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/insights/?vol=30&num=6&id=924
- (Matthew 1:17; also 1–17)
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- John 5:4.
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