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)

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