The Women on the Ark (Part 1 of 2): Linking Back to Eve

Once upon a time, I was listening to two of my heroes, Drs. Hugh Ross and Fuz Rana of Reasons to Believe, discuss how current genetic research points to the origins of humanity (i.e., modern Homo sapiens) from a small population in or near Northeastern Africa dating back a few tens of thousands of years ago, with evidence of a later genetic bottleneck and migration out from the Middle East (or nearby). This “Out-of-Africa” model so closely parallels the biblical account that many scientists call it the “Out-of-Eden” (or “Garden of Eden”) Hypothesis. In fact, studies using mitochondrial DNA (passed from mothers to daughters) and Y-chromosomal DNA (passed from fathers to sons) trace humanity’s origin back to a single man and woman, known affectionately(?) as “Adam” and “Eve”.

Theoretical migration map for anatomically modern humans (AMH)

Theoretical migration map for anatomically modern humans (AMH), based on mitochondrial DNA

Oddly, though, the dates for the two do not match up. At the time, I think the approximate date for “mitochondrial Eve” was around 150-200,000 years ago, whereas “Y-chromosomal Adam” was placed at about 40-60,000 years ago. Ross & Rana seemed pretty sure that the reason “Eve” dates so much earlier than “Adam” is because the female lineage goes back to the biblical Eve via the three younger women on the Ark, and that these three were not related to each other — nor, presumably, to Noah or his wife –, whereas the male lineage bottlenecks at Noah (and his three sons). In other words, when humanity started over following the Flood, there was only one line of ‘Y’ chromosomes but three distinct lines of mitochondrial DNA, giving 3x the variation.

But, I got to thinkin’… (A dangerous prospect even at the best of times, I know.) We have no proof that the women were unrelated (except through marriage) to Noah or, more importantly, to his wife or each other. While one might expect that the text would mention if they were related somehow, we probably should not argue too firmly from silence that they were not. Such a connection may have simply been deemed irrelevant. If any of the sons’ wives were a direct relation (i.e., daughter or sister) to Noah, it is much more likely that it would have been mentioned. Similarly, if Noah’s wife was also his (half-)sister (another distinct possibility), it is reasonable to think that this close blood relationship would be mentioned in the scripture text. But, we really can’t be certain one way or the other.

Some of the women may have been sisters, half-sisters, cousins, aunts/nieces, possibly even mother & daughter from a previous relationship (marital or otherwise). Furthermore, whereas Genesis 9:19 states that the whole earth/land was populated from the descendants of Shem, Ham, & Japheth, it is hypothetically possible that Noah and his wife produced daughters (or even sons that died before reproducing) after the Flood, which contributed to the gene pool. (On the other hand, when Noah’s final years are given at the end of Gen. 9, it does not say that he had other sons & daughters like the genealogies of Gen. 5 do for others. So, odds are that he did not.) Similarly, the text does not specify one way or the other if Noah had other children prior to the Flood, which may or may not have died or been killed beforehand. Of course, this would be irrelevant for our human origins model, since any descendants they had would have been wiped out in the Flood. (But, I will bring it up again for another reason in my next post.)

I make these points only because I think we should not ignore other possibilities, while remaining faithful to the text. If further, more accurate genetic studies indicate strong evidence for a more recent “mitochondrial Eve”, it may be because there are fewer separate genetic lines. Leaving the door open for this possibility, when the biblical text does not require that it be shut, would seem prudent and make this a slightly more flexible, healthier model.

That, and it’s fun to think about.

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