In all our great fiction we find elements of truth, stories may be incredible and beyond believable but what makes them great is that they hold a mirror up and make us look. “Godzilla” a city destroying monster awoken by the testing of an atomic bomb, very clearly and purposefully represented fears of a nuclear holocaust. “Teen Wolf” on the other hand can be (quite convincingly) argued to be unintentional parable for 1980s white Americas fears of black people.
Our ancient ancestors were no different, they told stories and intentionally and unintentionally their hopes, fears, reality and the zeitgeist of the time would have found its way into them. So I ask this question
Is The Biblical Genesis an allegory for the Agricultural Revolution?
Genesis is the first book of the Bible and contains the Judeo-Christian origins myths (think ‘Batman Begins’ for religious people). The book contains the stories of ‘Adam and Eve’ the first people and ‘Cane and Able’ their sons, it was likely first recorded in the first century BCE but was probably based on much older sources. This means that it is plausible that these story began around the time of the first farming societies, so would have been influenced by the Agricultural Revolution, the argument goes as follows…
Adam’s Punishment (Mankind’s punishment)
You know the story. God places Adam and Eve into a garden with comfortable lives, abundant food, they just spend there days walking around naked and chillin and it was all theirs under the condition that they didn’t fuck with that one tree.
God, who apparently knew nothing about human nature, sauntered on and left the inevitable to happen. Eve meets snake, Eve eats an apple, Adam eats an apple and God being the infinitely compassionate creator that he is, decided that his best course of action would be to punish everyone, FOREVER!
Lets take a look at Adam’s punishment first
“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.‘ Genesis 3:17
Adam’s punishment is what Jared Diamond refers to as ‘The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race‘, the Agricultural Revolution. The period in which humans moved from living in small groups of Hunter-gathers to settled agricultural societies.
Hunter-gatherers lived (and in some parts of the world still do live) rather simple and relaxed lives. Anthropological classic ‘Nisa’, tells how the Kung tribe of Botswana could have worked less than 14 hours a week (depending on what you defined as work). Whereas farmers of the Neolithic period worked longer hours with the heavier physical labour taking a toll on their bodies and ultimately died younger because of it.
It’s also notable that the Bible never actually refers to the tree as an apple tree. So you have to wonder if it happens to be a coincidence that the fruit that we have collectively chosen, happens to be one of the earliest trees likely to be cultivated.
Eve’s Punishment (Womankind’s punishment)
“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labour you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you.”
Now this punishment is pretty self-explanatory, the first part may have been early man’s attempt to explain why other animals give birth with relative eases compared to the sometimes 50 hour long swearing, screaming and pooping session that human women have to deal with. The second part…oh.
Life for hunter-gatherer women was pretty good, according to anthropologist Richard Lee, hunter-gatherers were “fiercely egalitarian”. Lee argues that these societies practiced a system of “Reverse Dominance” preventing anyone person from taking to much control, the system was apparently well suited to their lifestyle as it is still used to this day in small groups that do not keep crops or animals. Also,as these societies were always on the move constantly woman could only have as many children as they could comfortable carry.
But as we began to settle a power shift took place and a new “Dominance Hierarchy” took root, with woman for a large part finding themselves at the bottom. Moving to a mostly farming society had other negative side effects along side the loss of autonomy, farms required farmers, which effectively turned women into baby making factories. This extra pressure on their bodies may have caused more disease, one study on Chilean mummies found that more women than men had bone lesions from infectious disease.
Cane kills Able
As the story goes, God (like some cosmic parent that insists on visiting and being waited on) asks both Cane and Abel to provide him with burnt offerings, because apparently the all powerful creator of electrons and Super Novas, really likes the smell of burning shit.
As Cain worked the land he offered “some of the fruit of the soil”, (which I can only assume was some sort of Yankee Candle), and as Abel kept sheep, brought “fat portions from some of the first born of his flock”, which is probably Bible speak for barbecue. God, in yet another shocking display of shittyness, pours praise on to Abel while passive aggressively, (yet understandably), ignores Cane’s attempt.
Cane freaks the fuck out and introduces Abel’s head to a rock.
It’s not exactly known how or why humanity moved to farming, whether a steep increase in population forced nomadic societies to settle or if it was settling that caused the steep increase.
What is known is that the move was not easy and not pretty. Settled societies brought with them tyranny which manifested itself in the forms of slavery, the creation land ownership and the gender divide that is still with us today. The story could represent humanities loss of innocence. Or maybe more likely the story could simply be a parable on the inevitable pressure that would have arose between people growing crops and the people who animals would graze on them.
God now had to decided what to do with Cain and with all the imagination of a night club bouncer he decided to kick him out. But before Cain left he had one last thing to say
“Behold, You have driven me this day from the face of the ground; and from Your face I will be hidden, and I will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” Genesis 4:14
Whoever finds me will kill me, it’s an odd comment considering he had just killed ¼ of the world population. The bible had made no reference any other people at that point. The bible does how ever mention one other race knocking about the earth at the time, The Nephilim.
“We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” Numbers 13:33
“The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown” Genesis 4:14
We can take at least two things away from these paragraphs, they were giant and they were down to fuck. Theories on the identity of the Nephilim range from fallen angles to aliens (of the ancient variety of course). However, there is another more terrestrial explanation.
The stories of the Nephilim may have evolved from the stories of farming societies and their interactions with hunter-gatherers. As was mentioned, the move to settled life took a serious toll on humanity. Gone are the days that we believed that hunter-gatherer lives were ‘nasty, brutish and short’. On the contrary, it’s quite the opposite. It’s now thought that the average settled person lived shorter lives, had a poorer diet, died of more diseases and most importantly for our story, were considerably shorter than their nomadic counterparts.
Based on remains found in Turkey, after the Ice age, men were on average 5’9, compare that to settled societies whose average height had dropped to 5’5. So an averaged settled person was a full 4 inches shorter than their wild cousins.
Now I know that 4 inched taller is not exactly giant but if we allow for a few hundred years of embellishment you could see how it would get there. It also should be taken into consideration that in one of the earliest versions of the ‘David v Goliath’ story, Goliath was said to be 6’6’. Also if we are to believe the account from “Nisa!” hunter-gathers were all about 3 things: hunting, gathering and enormous amounts of casual sex.
The Mark of Cain
Just to show that he was not a totally dick, before sending Cain on his way God done done him a solid.
“But the LORD said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the LORD put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him” Genesis 4:15
The ‘Mark of Cain’ could and has been interpreted in a lot of ways, maybe some sort of magic tattoo or a lightning shaped scar, but lets just say for the sake of argument that the Mark of Cain was the scars left behind from smallpox. Now we know that small pox is old. Scars very similar to those left behind from small pox have been found on Egyptian mummies dating from as far back as 1100 BC. It was also a settled people’s disease. Hunter-gatherer, unlike settled people, tended not to live in their own shit. Which sounds like a good thing, but it did give the sedimentary societies one huge advantage, big old germs, and super charged immune systems for dealing with those germs.
It’s possible that as many as 96 percent of the American Indian population in Massachusetts were wiped out by diseases including smallpox, even today previously un-contacted tribes in Brazil are dying out due to something as simple as flu. So maybe, just maybe the hunter-gatherers learned to avoid sick looking people, and maybe just maybe the settled people noticed this and subconsciously worked this idea into their stories.
But probably not, it was probably a bitchin lightning bolt scar.