The Oldest 'Human' Teeth?

Professor Natan Aviezer is unfazed by the discovery in a cave in Israel of teeth said to be 400,000 years old and supposedly of a homo sapiens man.

David Lev , | updated: 21:52

In the Beginning Cover
In the Beginning Cover
Prof. Natan Eliezer

“There is nothing new under the sun” is an adage that could be applied to the latest finding by archaeologists in Israel – who discovered teeth said to belong to homo sapiens, the scientific term for modern man, dating from about 400,000 years ago – says Professor Natan Aviezer of Bar Ilan University, one of the world's most prominent authors on Torah and science. The finding made a stir in the media and scientific circles.

The finding by an Israeli team working at a cave in the center of the country has created a real headache for evolutionists – because it contradicts the accepted timeline of human evolution, according to which  the human race had only progressed as far as homo erectus, a predecessor of modern man, 400,000 years ago. In addition, evolution theory has homo sapiens living in Africa until about 60,000 years ago, at which point they moved into the Middle East and beyond.

The finding may be a headache for evolutionists, but as far as religious Jews are concerned, “this finding changes nothing regarding the Torah point of view.  The development of man has scientifically been proven to be in line with the narrative of the Torah,” says Professor Aviezer, who has written two books discussing the Jewish and scientific views on the creation of the world and the development of man.

The teeth were found in the Qesem cave near Rosh Ha'Ayin, a prehistoric cave that was discovered in 2000; archaeologists began exploring it in 2004. The teeth were found by Prof. Avi Gopher and Dr. Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv University's Department of Archeology, who ran numerous carbon-dating and other tests before going public with their discovery, considering the blow to evolution theory inherent in the findings.

Gopher and Barkai recently published their findings in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, and in a recent interview, Gopher said that he was positive that further exploration of the cave would yield the skull that the teeth belong to, as well as other artifacts from the same era, confirming that modern humans were already in existence at the time, or even earlier.

Aviezer, for his part, does not dispute the findings – and in fact calls them “irrelevant” to the Torah's view of human development. “The only creatures you can fairly call 'human beings' are creatures who lived in human civilizations as we understand them, and 400,000 years ago there was no such thing,” Aviezer told Israel National News. “On this there is no dispute, and there is also no dispute that civilization as we know it emerged about 6,000 years ago, just like the Torah says,” he says.

In his books - In the Beginning: Biblical Creation and Science, and Fossils and Faith: Understanding Torah and Science – Aviezer discusses the evolutionary record and compares it the Torah's creation narrative, matching events described in the Torah with events postulated by evolutionary theorists. Citing different rabbinical opinions in the Talmud, Midrash, Kabbala, and elsewhere, Aviezer shows that evolution, far from contradicting the Torah, actually may be considered to align with the Torah's statements.

It's that approach that leaves Aviezer unfazed by the latest developments. “The Torah says that G-d created man in His image, meaning he created man as a spiritual being,” he says. “Whatever humanoids were  before the dawn of civilization – when human beings became human beings – they were not spiritual beings. In fact, they were no different than animals – like crocodiles. Only when 'man was created in the Image of G-d' is he called man.” Archaeologists have found that human civilization as we know it suddenly sprang up at one time, and it is this event that Aviezer calls the “creation of man. Whatever happened before that is dealt with by the Torah in the first six and a half days of creation (the Talmud says that man was created on the morning of the sixth day, that is halfway from the beginning of the day". 

The start of a day here is reckoned from the night before and the length of days, especially before the fourth day when the sun was put in orbit, is not clear). This is irrelevant to what we know of as man's creation.

The teeth may have been the same that modern man has, but they were not 'human' teeth in the sense of their belonging to members of the human race that G-d created, Aviezer says. “That animals – and even humanoids – evolved is clear from archaeological findings, and the Torah indicates clearly that this is the way the world was created,” he adds. “The new findings do not create any new questions for believing Jews.”