The Garden of Eden and the Beginning of Civilisation
There are many different
ways in which this Bible story could possibly be interpreted. Here
Adam and Eve are a metaphor for the first people, pre-industrial,
pre-agricultural people. In the setting of this story, that is, in
their part of the world—in that tribe—they are the last
people to live in the old ways. They lived
in what my Sunday School called a "paradise",
close to God and the the Earth, naked without shame. The actual lifestyle
that they lived, picking food from the trees, and so on, is in modern
terms called "hunter-gatherer". A good example of this
lifestyle is given here.
Then, they ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. What
does that mean exactly? You could debate that for millennia (as people
have done). You could also look at the effects of it in the story.
Well, in the Bible story, because of that "forbidden" knowledge,
Answer: "Cursed is the ground because of you, through
painful toil you will eat of it.....by the sweat of your brow you
will eat your
food." And, a few paragraphs later, "So the Lord God banished
him from the Garden of Eden, to work the ground..."
What happened to the snake? Well, in the Bible I have in front of
me today (New International Version), it says "Cursed are you....
you will crawl on your belly, and you will eat dust, all the days
of your life". In Sunday School this was explained as somehow
before that, the snake had legs, or something. But I am not seeing
like that in the Bible. I am thinking, where else might a snake have
lived, if not on the ground? Perhaps, in a tree? And perhaps
it might have not had to eat dust if before the curse there was some
kind of vegetative ground cover. Just an idea.
Their sons, Cain and Abel, were not hunter-gatherers, but farmers. "Now
Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil". That is, herding
To me it looks like, for some reason, the people were no longer
able to live their traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle, but were
forced to live in a new, much more difficult way (i.e. painful toil
and sweat)—that of the farmer.
Then Cain, the crop-grower, killed Abel, the herder. People started
growing crops in preference to herding animals. So the land has been
cleared for crops (removing of the trees, and native/wandering animals),
and now we concentrate only on crops, not on herding animals. Without
animals to fertilise the soil, what happens? Well, in the Bible,
after Cain kills Abel we have "You are under a curse and driven
from the ground...... when you work the ground, it will no longer
crops for you".
If any of the above sounds at all farfetched or contrived, consider
The Oldest Written Story in the World
The following extract is from The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight,
by Thom Hartmann (p85 of the original edition).
According to The Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest written
story in the world, one of the first kings of the earliest Sumerian
civilisation (the Uruks) was a man named Gilgamesh. He was the first
mortal to defy the forest god, Humbaba, who had been entrusted by
the chief Sumerian deity Enlil, to protect the cedar forests of Lebanon
King Gilgamesh wanted to build a great city, Uruk,
to immortalise his contribution to Sumerian civilisation. So he and
his loggers rebelled against Humbaba and began to cut the forests,
which then stretched from Jordan to the sea in Lebanon. The story
ends with Gilgamesh decapitating the forest god, Humbaba, infuriating
the god of gods, Enlil. Enlil then avenges the death of Humbaba by
making the water in his kingdom undrinkable and the fields utterly
barren—killing off Gilgamesh and his people.
Along with its other distinctive qualities, The
Epic of Gilgamesh is the earliest recorded story of downstream
siltation and desertification caused by the extensive destruction
of forestlands. Lebanon went from over 90% forest (the famous "Cedars
of Lebanon") to less than 7% over a 1,500 year period, causing
downward rainfall to decrease by 80%. Trees and their roots are an
part of the water cycle. As a result, millions of acres of land in
the Fertile Crescent area turned to desert or scrubland, and remain
relatively barren to this day—fertile no more.
The staple food of the Mesopotamians was barley, but
over a period of several hundred years of continuous growth of barley
on irrigated land, the land became exhausted and had such high levels
of salt (carried in by the irrigation water) that it would no longer
grow crops. At the same time, because of the rapid destruction of
the forests, wood had become such a precious commodity that it was
equal in value to some gem and mineral ores: neighbouring countries
were conquered for their wood supplies, as well as to get fertile
land to grow barley. Vast areas of land along the Euphrates and Tigris
rivers were cut bare, increasing the siltation of their irrigation
canals and cropland and further decreasing downwind rainfall.
The result of this local climactic change more than
5000 years ago was widespread famine. The collapse of the last Mesopotamian
empire happened around four thousand years ago, and the records
they left behind show that only at the very end of their empire did
realise how they had destroyed their precious source of food and
fuel by razing their forests and despoiling the rest of
their environment. For thousands of years they "knew" their way of life was fine. But
although things looked good at the time, they didn't realise it wasn't
It has, indeed, happened before.
Although we regard the Sumerian culture as ancient, their culture
was actually very similar to our own—in
many important and fundamental aspects. In fact, they are regarded
as the earliest fathers of our modern way of living,
We think of Adam and Eve, in the pre-snake part of the Biblical
story, as being perfectly happy. How many people in modern life do
you know that are truly happy? You can read
more here about happiness
in our modern culture.
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