Monday, March 30, 2009

Review: Legal Revision and Religious Renewal in Ancient Israel

Levinson, Bernard M. Legal Revision and Religious Renewal in Ancient Israel. Cambridge University Press, 2008. For sale by Amazon.

This just might be the best book I've read in a long time. It's challenged my assumptions about the development of the Hebrew Bible and the role of innovation alongside preservation. I don't think I really understood inner-biblical exegesis before reading this book. The larger issue addressed by the book is the interplay between continuity and change within the biblical text itself. This was a familiar issue to me from the vantage point of classical rabbinic Judaism's innovative re-creation of Judaism post-70 CE, but I had never considered it's role in the development of the text I study primarily - the Hebrew Bible. Basically, later texts subtly undermine the plain sense of earlier texts and adapt the community's thinking in such a way that the new innovative meaning is presented as the meaning that was there all along. Their exegesis changes the text, but they claim to have made no change. On this issue, Levinson says:
Although it is a profound instrument of cultural renewal, exegesis is often also profoundly a study in the false consciousness of the interpreter, who disclaims the very historical agency that . . . makes exegesis worthy of study! (p. 17)
Previous models (including my own thinking) have focused on the idea that a closed canon was the catalyst for innovative and covert reworkings of an authoritative text. Levinson engages with the concept of canon throughout the book. Of the six chapters, three focus on issues surrounding the canon - Ch. 2 "Rethinking the Relation between 'Canon' and 'Exegesis"; Ch. 3 "The Problem of Innovation within the Formative Canon"; Ch. 5 "The Canon as Sponsor of Innovation."

Chapter 2 provided me with the most food for thought, introducing the four major theses that are developed throughout the book (pp. 20-21).
(1) exegesis provides a strategy for religious renewal;
(2) renewal and innovation are almost always covert rather than explicit in ancient Israel;
(3) in many cases exegesis involves not the passive explication but the radical subversion of prior authoritative texts; and
(4) these phenomena are found in the literature of ancient Israel before the closure of the canon.
Here are some brief quotes from Ch. 2 that I found particularly thought-provoking:
With such fixity and textual sufficiency as its [the canon's] hallmarks, how can a canon be made to address the varying needs of later generations of religious communities? These later generations face the conflicting imperatives of subsuming their lives to the authority of the canon while adapting that unchangeable canon to realities of social, economic, political, and intellectual life never contemplated at the time of its composition. . . . If the closed literary canon as the repository of revelation or insight is the source of stability for a religious tradition, exegesis provides vitality. . . . By means of exegesis, the textually finite canon becomes infinite in its application. One of the chief means, therefore, by which a religious tradition demonstrates its creativity is the variety of ways it finds to accommodate itself to and overcome an authoritative yet textually delimited canon. (pp. 14-15)

It is essential to understand that the ingenuity of the interpreter operates even in the formative period of the canon, while those texts that will subsequently win authoritative status are still being composed and collected. . . . [The] ancient writers sought to explain, respond to, and challenge older texts that had already won cultural prestige. (pp. 18-19)
The centerpiece of Levinson's analysis is his demonstration in Ch. 4 of the reworkings of the principle of transgenerational punishment from in Exod 20:5-6. Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Deuteronomy all present subtle moves toward the idea of individual retribution. He also examines the way the Targum deals with the issue to show how the trajectory begun in the biblical reworking is continued in later exegesis.

Finally, chapter 6 (nearly half the book alone) provides a thorough bibliographic survey of the history of inner-biblical exegesis. The bibliography there is essential for anyone interested in the methodology of inner-biblical exegesis and early biblical interpretation.

All in all, I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the issues of early biblical interpretation and the formation of the biblical canon. Specialists across the board in religious studies and biblical studies would profit from a closer look at Levinson's book. I'm recommending it to everyone I know - NT students, rabbinics experts, early Christian studies people, Hebrew Bible colleagues - you know who you are - read this book!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Giant Walls = Giants?

Ron Hendel has proposed a theory to reconcile the biblical Conquest account with the archaeological record in the august publication Biblical Archaeology Review. The bottom line is that biblical reflections of the "giants in Canaan" idea come from the awed reaction that the huge walls of the Canaanite city-states would have evoked.
Against the backdrop of these scattered memories of the original giant inhabitants of Canaan, we can fill in the background to the story of Jericho. The walls that survived into the Israelite period were huge, and so their inhabitants would seem to have been giants. We now know that these cyclopean walls were built during the Middle Bronze Age (2000–1550 B.C.E.), which is precisely when Jericho was last occupied before the Israelite period.3 The Israelites saw these ruined walls (which had been destroyed hundreds of years earlier) and knew that giants must have lived there.
The Israelites remembered—as Amos recalls—that Yahweh destroyed these giants before them. According to the story of Jericho, the walls fell in a great miracle. Perhaps it didn’t happen exactly how or when the Biblical writer said, but the Israelites believed that Yahweh, the Israelite God, destroyed the city without Joshua and the army having to shoot a single arrow. According to the story that was passed down, after the walls fell, the Israelites “utterly destroyed all that was inthe city by sword—man and woman, young and old, ox and sheep and ass” (Joshua 6:21).
The story fails to mention that the men and women, young and old, were thought to be giants. But if we are warranted in supplying this missing piece of Israelite memory based on the other Biblical stories of giants in Canaan, then we have a clear link between the Bible and the archaeological evidence of the massive walls of Jericho. They were the same ruined walls that we can still see today, and they are still
breathtakingly huge. It is easy to see why the Israelites would have thought—as Wright observed—that they were built by giants. And when the walls came tumbling down—well, that must have been a great story. (from p. 2)
Interesting idea. It has a certain ring of plausibility to it coupled with the sheer ridiculousness of suggesting that a people who escaped from a land full of monumental architecture (and perhaps built some of it) would have been over-awed by some extra-thick city walls. Of course, anyone who's seen Josh and the Big Wall would know just how high and tall those walls were.

Read the whole story for yourself. And don't forget to soak in the wisdom from BAR's readers in the "Talkback" section.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

New Bible Blog

I've updated my blogrolls, deleting the retired blogs (like NT Wrong) and adding one new blog - Hesed we'emet.

The blogger is John Anderson, a PhD student in Hebrew Bible at Baylor. So far his posts look interesting. Chris Heard vouches for him, and John Hobbins has acknowledged his existence, so I guess he must be all right.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Shockwaves Blast Qumran Consensus

Anything related to the Dead Sea Scrolls seems to be an instant winner with the media. There is a high level of public interest in the topic coupled with an even higher level of public ignorance, perpetuated primarily by over-the-top media attention.
A brief sampling of quotes and headlines from the recent media explosion about Rachel Elior's theory on the Essenes illustrates the point.
London Times:
"Now a new theory challenging the broadly accepted history is sending shockwaves through the archaeological community"
Arutz Sheva:
"Scholar Blows Up Theory on Dead Sea Scrolls Authors."
Time Magazine:
Elior's claim "has shaken the bedrock of biblical scholarship"
Those very shockwaves, of course, have left all scholars interested in Qumran scrambling to reassess the evidence. Well, not really. Elior might be the first to claim the Essenes never really existed, but her argument about Sadducean origins for the scrolls has been around for a long long time. Solomon Schechter's publication of the Damascus Document from the Cairo Genizah was titled "Fragment of a Zadokite Work" in 1910, long before the rest of the sectarian scrolls were discovered.
John Hobbins has a short response to my earlier post, invoking the authority of Jodi Magness who consistently defends the consensus against all skeptics. The shockwaves will certainly leave her archaeological conclusions untouched. I have the utmost respect for her work. I have a copy of her book, The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls. (I also had the pleasure of hearing her presentation at SBL in Boston in the panel reviewing Hanan Eshel's The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Hasmonean State.)
However, I'm uncertain of archaeology's ability to disprove certain arguments since the conclusions of archaeology seem similarly open to question. Nothing is certain. The fact that pottery from the site of Qumran and pottery in the caves are "the same types of pottery" is not prima facie evidence for a connection between the site, the place of composition of the scrolls, and the physical residence of the sect. Also, the claim that "the alternative theories create more problems than they solve" seems to involve special pleading - that is, an appeal to abandon the discussion because it makes things more complicated.
John has also pointed out that the "scriptorium" idea has only been "called into question . . . but not disproven." Of course, that depends on whether one accepts a couple of inkwells and no parchment as evidence that writing might have been carried on there. For my part, I can't get around the paleographic evidence that the scrolls represent hundreds of different hands with only a couple of duplicates. (That is, each hand wrote one scroll. I believe there are 1-2 examples of the same hand writing two scrolls.)
Another one of the problems with DSS scholarship is that it requires scholars to dabble in secondary fields - archaeologists shouldn't be handling text any more than text scholars should be handling archaeology. The Dead Sea Scrolls also attract scholars from a wide range of peripheral fields. Rachel Elior, for example, is an expert on Jewish mysticism (requiring expertise primarily in medieval and early modern texts). Norman Golb is primarily an expert in the medieval Jewish manuscripts of the Cairo Genizah (albeit one with a deep and abiding interest in the DSS).
So, we have a problem. The experts on Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls are too close to the consensus to question it. They assume it and can't imagine the world without it. Some of the skeptics who challenge the consensus are often hampered by credibility issues, so others who would challenge the prevailing wisdom must be careful to distance themselves from their sensationalized critiques.
Once again, I feel compelled to point out that I use DSS scholarship from both sides of the "aisle" (so to speak). I have books by Collins, Vanderkam, Magness, Wise, Golb, and others. I just enjoy poking at consensus positions to see if I can find a few holes.
HT: AHP, Paleojudaica

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Challenging the Essene Hypothesis

[N.B. This post contains links to all the blog posts that I have come across regarding Rachel Elior and the Essenes.]
Rachel Elior’s theory that Josephus invented the Essenes has lately been qualified and clarified. This was largely necessary due to the unfortunate (for her) evidence of Philo and Pliny writing about Essenes before Josephus.
Yet, it has stimulated much discussion around the blogosphere. The fact that Time picked up her story probably got her much more attention than Ha’aretz alone would have. Jim West has probably the most complete coverage. He brought the responses from Christopher Rollston and Hanan Eshel to my attention. Eshel’s remarks came from here. Eshel was quoted in the original Ha’aretz article, too. I agree with Jim West that his appeal to the authority of the consensus is odd. Jim Davila made a similar observation, stating:
The fact that there is a consensus position is not in itself an argument in favor of the consensus. A consensus is just the current state of the question, the place where we have to start if we want to advance the discussion.
Finally, John Hobbins has rushed to the defense of the Essene Hypothesis, summarizing the well-worn arguments for the position as articulated by J. Collins and J. Vanderkam.
While I have no vested interest in defending Elior, I enjoy questioning consensus positions whenever given the opportunity. The evidence from Collins and Vanderkam is circumstantial, at best. The argument boils down to: they resemble Essenes; they lived near where Essenes might have lived; therefore, they were likely Essenes unless proven otherwise. Then, the evidence brought forward to prove otherwise is discounted or explained away.
The argument only works if one accepts their assumptions that the community that produced the scrolls lived at Qumran, that the sectarian scrolls present a unified voice (reflecting only 1 group within Second Temple Judaism), and that the Essenes existed long before any of the sources we have about them.
John quotes Collins who wrote:
The correspondence of geographic location and the extensive similarity of community structure make overwhelmingly probable the identification of Qumran, and of the Rule of the Community, as “Essene.”
This is like arguing – I found these two bones lying next to each other. They must come from the same animal. To me, it’s a non sequitur. There’s no necessary relationship between the site and the scrolls. I believe the “scriptorium” idea has been disproved and the fact that over 900 hands produced the scrolls makes local production impossible. Plus the site of Qumran couldn’t have supported a very large community.
John also quotes Vanderkam:
The texts from QUMRAN, especially ones dealing with the organization and practices of the group (e.g., the Rule of the Community, the Damascus Covenant) . . . more nearly resemble [what Philo, Josephus, and Pliny the Elder tell us about] the Essenes than any other group identified in the ancient sources.
Another non sequitur? Hmm…they’re more like Essenes than any other Jewish group we know of, so they must have been Essenes. Not necessarily. I prefer just referring to them as the Qumran sect or the Yachad (one of their names for themselves) rather than applying a foreign label to the group.
The problem, in my view, is that the sectarian documents do not present a unified perspective on many issues. The Damascus Document and Community Rule are fairly consistent, but the calendrical scrolls reflect both the 364 day solar calendar predominantly preferred by the sect and the usual lunar calendar condemned by the sect as completely incorrect.
Furthermore, 4QMMT reflects halakhic positions more like Sadducees, than Essenes. The classic example is about the purity of streams of liquid (4QMMT, B, lines 55-58) where the sect’s interpretation matches that of the Sadducees as reported in Mishnah Yadaim 4.7.
The likelihood that the sectarian scrolls don’t reflect a single group helps explain texts that are difficult to reconcile with Essene beliefs such as the War Scroll (attributed to a peaceful non-violent sect?!).
For the record, I don’t fully subscribe to N. Golb’s theory of DSS origins either, though he raises a few good points. The chaos surrounding the First Revolt provides a good historical backdrop for concealing the scrolls and the occupation conveniently ends with a destruction at Qumran at the time of the revolt. (Yes, I know there’s no necessary connection with the site, but its possible occupation as a fortification during the revolt would make it a logical location for hiding the scrolls nearby.)
I found John Hobbins’s post to be insightful as always, especially the last paragraph. He is right to point out that Elior has not offered a serious challenge or credible alternative to the consensus.
I guess I haven’t offered a credible alternative, either, but I don’t think it’s necessary to connect the Qumran sect with any known Jewish group anyway. If nothing else, the Dead Sea Scrolls have taught us that diversity was the rule in Second Temple Judaism.
Update: I overlooked Dr. Claude Mariottini's post here. Also, Rachel Elior has responded to Hanan Eshel, reported here. I will comment on John's response to this post in a separate post.
HT: Jim West, Jim Davila, John Hobbins, Chris Brady

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Curiouser and Curiouser . . . No Essenes?

Two news stories came to my attention today dealing with the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Now I've always thought the connections between the Dead Sea Scrolls, the site of Qumran, and the Essene sect were tenuous (i.e., one big non sequitur), but it never occurred to me to claim that Josephus had just made it all up about the Essenes. He's usually considered fairly reliable when he's discussing the first century C.E.

At the same time, I've also considered the fringe handful of scholars who think the Dead Sea Scrolls have a connection to Christianity to be a bit off. Ha'aretz has an article about Norman Golb and the arrest of his son. To show that not all scholars hold to the consensus position that Golb battles against, the article appeals to Dr. Yaakov Tepler:

Dr. Yaakov Tepler, head of the history department of Beit Berl Academic College and a student of Christianity scholar Prof. Joshua Efron, hews neither to Golb's opinion nor to the mainstream. Rather, he believes some of the Dead Sea Scrolls were written by Christians and says they allude to Jesus.

"I wrote an huge M.A. thesis that was to have become a doctorate about the Teacher of Righteousness - a central figure in the scrolls. I built 300 pages of reasons why I think the allusion was to Jesus. But today no place in Israel will allow me to publish it. It's just impossible to get an article published, not to mention a book, that expresses an idea that deviates from orthodoxy."

Tepler says he thinks the scholarly establishment is silencing a connection between the scrolls and Christianity.

The problem, of course, with connecting the sectarian scrolls and the Teacher of Righteousness to Christianity is that those scrolls are usually dated to the second century or first century BCE.

On the other hand, certain pieces of the puzzle do seem to come together nicely if you connect Essenes and Christians. Even prominent scholars see a connection, not just crackpots.

Prof. James Charlesworth, a senior Bible scholar who also specializes in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus and the Gospel of John, believes John the Baptist lived among the Essenes for at least a year and drew some of his central ideas from them.
Josephus, writing sometime after 70 CE, would probably have known about early Christianity. Did he call them Essenes? I'm sure someone somewhere has worked out all the fine differences between Essenes and Christians. Didn't Josephus claim to be an Essene himself?

I'd always taken it for granted that the Essenes existed because that's what we learn in Second Temple Period history because Josephus is our source. Was there really no other record of them in Jewish literature as Rachel Elior claims?

"There is no historical testimony in Hebrew or Aramaic of the Essenes. It is unthinkable that thousands of people lived abstemiously, contrary to Torah laws, and nobody wrote anything about it," she said.
It would seem odd if rabbinic literature didn't mention them, but I don't know it well enough to know. I know there are affinities between legal interpretations ascribed to Sadducees in the Mishnah and interpretations found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. That and the fact that the War Scroll talks of the "sons of Zadok" is enough to convince me that the Sadducean theory of DSS origins is worth investigating. Elior offers that as the alternative to the Essene hypothesis.

Elior says the Sadducees, a sect descending from the high priest Zadok, who anointed Solomon as king, are the true authors. The scrolls belonged to the Temple and were brought to the Dead Sea to protect them, she says.

"The scrolls speak in clear Hebrew of the priests, sons of Zadok. So why call them Essenes?" asked Elior. "That's a distortion of history. It's like saying that the State of Israel wasn't established by Mapai, but by the Greens."

The apocalyptic prophecy cited in the scrolls of a war between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness is a war between Zadok's sons, who served as high priests until 175 BCE, when they were ousted by the Hasmoneans, the descendants of Matityahu, she said.
So, curiouser and curiouser . . . did the Essenes exist at all? If they really didn't exist before the first century CE, that seems to be a serious problem for the Essene hypothesis.

HT: Jim West, Jack Sasson

Monday, March 9, 2009

Total Depravity: Church Shooting

What possesses a person to carry out an act such as this? (Rhetorical question)

MARYSVILLE, Ill. (AP) — A prosecutor says the 27-year-old man charged with gunning down a suburban St. Louis pastor in the middle of his sermon marked the day as "death day" in a planner.

Madison County State's Attorney William Mudge says investigators found the planner in the home of alleged gunman Terry J. Sedlacek (SEHD'-lack).

Mudge also says Sedlacek brought enough rounds of ammunition to First Baptist Church in Maryville on Sunday to kill 30 people. Investigators say four rounds were fired before the his gun jammed (sic).

The Troy man is charged with first-degree murder and aggravated battery in the attack that killed the Rev. Fred Winters and left two congregants with stab wounds.

If they witnessed the shooting, wrestled him to the ground, and got stabbed in the process, why is he still only the "alleged" gunman? I can't believe that he actually noted it on his planner, then carried it out.

Still think people are basically good?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Bizarre Bible Stories: Judges 17-18

Reading the Bible can be hard work.  Well, reading is easy, but making sense of the biblical narrative is often difficult.  Then we have the bizarre cases—the stories that make you sit back, scratch your head, and say “huh…why is that in the Bible?”

The Book of Judges is perhaps the best source for these bizarre Bible stories.  Most of the book describes the exploits of numerous judges who governed the tribes of Israel between the time of Joshua and Samuel. The last judge described in the book is Samson who dies at the end of Jdgs 16. Samson alone provides a bizarre exemplar of a Nazirite (Num 6) devoted to God who is nevertheless a partying, carousing, rabble-rouser.

The remainder of the book tells a series of unusual narratives depicting the anarchy and chaos in Israel when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Jdgs 17:6).  These stories depict the tribes of Israel as so uncivilized, primitive, and backward (judged by the standard of the Torah) that it is difficult to understand why they are even a part of Scripture.  Consider the story of Micah and the tribe of Dan in Jdgs 17-18.

As the story opens, Micah is confessing to his mum that he was the one who stole her silver, acknowledging that he heard her curse on whoever was responsible. Rather than scold or punish him for stealing it, she exclaims, “Blessed be my son by YHWH! (Jdgs 17:2). One wonders what the penalty of the curse was or perhaps the curse was on anyone who knew and didn’t confess, so he was trying to avoid the curse. His mother then dedicates the silver to YHWH for her son to make a carved image. (Didn’t they know about Exod 20:4?)  Then Micah makes an ephod, recruits a Levite to be his priest (Exod 29:9?), and sets up a shrine to YHWH in his house.

In Jdgs 18, scouts from the tribe of Dan looking for a land for their tribe to possess pass by Micah’s house and inquire of YHWH through the priest there.  The Levite blesses their mission and they set their sights on the tranquil city of Laish - “quiet and unsuspecting” (Jdgs 18:7) – in the far north of Canaan but too far from the Sidonians for their protection.  In a fit of bucolic idealism, I picture a quiet village nestled peacefully in a fertile valley – secure and unsuspecting.

The scouts bring a positive report back to the tribe and soon 600 armed men from Dan along with their families depart to conquer and settle Laish. On the way, they once again pass Micah’s house in the hill country of Ephraim. This time, they stop to steal Micah’s carved image, the ephod, his household gods, and his priest, convincing the priest that it was better for him to be a priest for a whole tribe (Jdgs 18:19-20. But shouldn’t he be killed for presuming to be a priest anyway? Num 3:10). Micah pursues to recover his property but gives up when the Danites threaten to kill him and his family.

Finally, the Danites get to tranquil and unsuspecting Laish where they kill everyone and burn down the town. Here I picture a hoard of marauding bandits descending on that peaceful little hamlet.

Then they rebuild the city, set up the carved image, and install the Levite as their priest – only now we learn the Levite’s identity, Jonathan son of Gershom son of Moses! (Yes, the grandson of Moses . . . the apple fell far from the tree.)

So what is the purpose of this bizarre story? It seems clear that the purpose was two-fold: 1) to explain why Dan came to have territory in the north when their official allotment was elsewhere (specifically west of Ephraim along the coast) and 2) to discredit the origins of the ancient Yahwistic shrines at Bethel (in the hill country of Ephraim) and Dan by depicting them as illegitimate shrines from a time of chaos and anarchy in Israel (see 1 Kgs 12:25-29). Notice that the account never shows YHWH communicate with the Levite or Micah directly.  The Levite’s response to the scouts’ request for divine guidance (Jdgs 18:6) is a “pat” answer similar to the prophets in 1 Kgs 22:6 or Eli in 1 Sam 1:17.  The inquiry likely involved tools of divination like the ephod and household gods (teraphim) from Jdgs 17:5.

Are there any redeeming qualities to this story? People take what they want, kill or threaten those who stand in their way, and treat YHWH much like any other deity in the ancient world who needs a shrine with an image and can be sought through the magic of divination.

Every time I read these stories I’m at a loss to explain their value as Scripture except as an account of the sinfulness and disobedience of Israel in the age where everyone did what was right in his own eyes. But when I read the stories, it jumps out that the people involved think they’re following YHWH in some way even as they’re committing the most unspeakable acts against their fellow Israelites or just breaking the Ten Commandments.

For some reason, the paraphrased Bible story books for children skip the bizarre stories like this one and the even more bizarre events to follow in Judges 19-21.

To be continued . . .

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Garden of Eden?

Claiming that the Eden account in Genesis reflects a societal change from hunter-gatherers to farmers is nothing new. In his recent book How to Read the Bible James Kugel describes how the original purpose of the story of Adam and Eve may have been
"to reflect on a particular moment in the development of civilization-not so much the time of humanity's creation per se, but a somewhat later moment, when people first learned the secret of agriculture and so ceased to live in what anthropologists call 'hunter-gatherer' societies (2007, 55)."
An article appeared yesterday in the Daily Mail on the 12,000 year old archaeological site at Gobleki Tepe and connected it with this societal change model of the origins of Eden.

I found the article fascinating and recommend it to you for your reading pleasure. Here are a few choice quotes.

Carbon-dating shows that the complex is at least 12,000 years old, maybe even 13,000 years old. That means it was built around 10,000 BC. By comparison, Stonehenge was built in 3,000 BC and the pyramids of Giza in 2,500 BC. Gobekli is thus the oldest such site in the world, by a mind-numbing margin. It is so old that it predates settled human life. It is pre-pottery, pre-writing, pre-everything. Gobekli hails from a part of human history that is unimaginably distant, right back in our hunter-gatherer past.


Seen in this way, the Eden story, in Genesis, tells us of humanity's innocent and leisured hunter-gatherer past, when we could pluck fruit from the trees, scoop fish from the rivers and spend the rest of our days in pleasure. But then we 'fell' into the harsher life of farming, with its ceaseless toil and daily grind. And we know primitive farming was harsh, compared to the relative indolence of hunting, because of the archaeological evidence. When people make the transition from hunter-gathering to settled agriculture, their skeletons change - they temporarily grow smaller and less healthy as the human body adapts to a diet poorer in protein and a more wearisome lifestyle. Likewise, newly domesticated animals get scrawnier. This begs the question, why adopt farming at all? Many theories have been suggested - from tribal competition, to population pressures, to the extinction of wild animal species. But Schmidt believes that the temple of Gobekli reveals another possible cause. 'To build such a place as this, the hunters must have joined together in numbers. After they finished building, they probably congregated for worship. But then they found that they couldn't feed so many people with regular hunting and gathering.' So I think they began cultivating the wild grasses on the hills. Religion motivated people to take up farming. [Read more]

I wouldn't necessarily say they've found the Garden of Eden, but it seems like a fascinating site. Definitely changes our ideas about how far back sophisticated human civilization goes. On the other hand, maybe it was built by aliens . . .

(HT: Jack Sasson, Agade List)