Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Fall of Man and the Neolithic Revolution

I posted this to the Faith and Theology blog's discussion of sin. It sums up ideas I've been working on for several years but never shared with anyone until about a month ago. It doesn't seem to be drawing any responses in its original context, so I'm re-posting it here in a slightly edited form.

I do not think the fall was a matter of mere disobedience. This would suggest that had Adam transgressed any arbitrary command of God it would have had the same effect. Rather, I think the nature of the fall must be found in the particular transgression – eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Until the fall, Adam and Eve were naive creatures living in paradise in accordance with their God-given nature (very good, created in the image and likeness of God). Upon eating the fruit, their eyes were opened. At this point, they began to substitute their own judgment, in accordance with their perceived, calculated interests, for the unconscious operation from their God-given nature.

I think the story of Genesis 2-4 can be tied loosely to a real, though not exactly historic (it was more prehistoric) setting. Scholars locate Eden in what is now northern Iraq, southeastern Turkey, or northwestern Iran. This was, not coincidentally, an early locus of the Neolithic Revolution – the shift from the hunter-gatherer mode of subsistence to the more "advanced" lifestyles of agriculture and herding (represented by Cain and Abel).

Evolution suited mankind to be hunter-gatherers – that is our nature. When humans began to manipulate their environments for survival advantages (more for groups than for individuals, as it turned out), they were on their way to adopting new lifestyles at odds with their hunter-gatherer nature.

So Adam and Eve, through their own choices, were forced out of the easy, natural, naive life of Eden, and they had to start working for their living. This complicated their relationships with God, one another, and all of Creation. To the extent that there was a fall within human history, I think this was it, and Genesis records it.

Now I don't really think Genesis 2-4 is about the Neolithic Revolution any more than I think Genesis 12-35 is about the nomadic herding culture of the early second millennium BC. The authors of Genesis were not recording history as an end in itself. But the ancient oral tales on which they based Genesis embodied memories of real settings as the background of their stories.

It would be simplistic to attribute the entire state of human fallenness to the abandonment of hunter-gatherer ways. But this was the "event" that, more than any other, set mankind on a new trajectory that has led to alienation from God, our fellow creatures, and our own nature. It is, then, not surprising that the author of Genesis 2-4 would set the story of the fall of man in that time and place.


Roland said...

The art is a detail from "The Fall of Man" by 16th-century German artist Lucas Cranach.

Anonymous said...

"I do not think the fall was a matter of mere disobedience. This would suggest that had Adam transgressed any arbitrary command of God it would have had the same effect. Rather, I think the nature of the fall must be found in the particular transgression – eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil."

Odd, I'd always understood (assumed?) that the tree was to some extent an "arbitrary" command. That is, a rule for which Adam and Even for have no explanation. (Before eating, this good & evil stuff would not be fully meaningful to them.) When the serpent tempted them, then, the appropriate response would have to been to ask God about it. They didn't, being tempted by the presumed benefits. That accords with your idea, but only in the sense that the neolithic revoution would follow just as a *consequence* of the sheer choice to disobey something "arbitrary."

Now, maybe God would have just repeated the command with no explanation, but they didn't take it that far.

The Garden is perhaps the best example of the rule, "If in doubt, don't." :)

take care,


Roland said...

It is not obvious from the usual English translations of Genesis, but the phrase "good and evil" does not refer to moral good and evil. "Evil" here refers to what I think the Catholic Church would call "natural evil" - things like illness and natural disasters. These are, of course, "evil" only from the point of view of the victims. From a larger perspective, hurricanes, for example, might serve a beneficial role as an outlet for huge concentrations of energy, restoring the weather system to equilibrium.

God's judgment about such events must take into account the interests of all his creatures. I believe that "knowing good and evil" means, essentially, that our first parents substituted their own private judgment, based on their own narrow, personal interests, for that of God. They no longer trusted God's judgments nor cooperated with his program for creation, where everything was "very good," but declared things good or evil depending on how these things affected them personally.

The choice of Adam and Eve, thus, led to the world of Beavis and Butthead - a world where everything can be classified in the two mutually exclusive categories, "cool" and "sucks."

Thus, original sin is tied up with judgmentalism - the pretense of making ourselves lords of this world, pronouncing judgment on everything that comes to our attention.

Anonymous said...

Either way, "good & evil" still appears not fully meaningful to Adam & Eve. The "artbitrary" factor is not set aside by noting the link between choice and consequence. In the old SF flicks, "Never touch that big red button!" :)

They substituted not their "interests," but their *will*.

By the way, we note as an aside that the Rabbinic/Orthodox dating lets you identify the decision in a timeframe that sidesteps one element of the evolution debate. :)

take care,


Roland said...

My friend Tom Harbold commented on this post in his blog, Albion's Meade.

Roland said...

Earlier today I came across two interesting pieces related to this subject. British blogger Bera Cealdecote contemplates "The City of Cain" - and cities in general - on The Cold Hut. Meanwhile, Andrew Collins looks at the world's oldest known temple, found at an archeological site in southeast Turkey, and the insights it provides into the origins of religion and agriculture, in "Göbekli Tepe - Eden, Home of the Watchers." He ties the site to both Eden and Ur of the Chaldees.

Michael said...

G'day Roland. I was born in Australia.
This continent differs in that the 'last bastions' of hunter gatherer people ran into the descendants of the neolithic revolutionists only two and a bit centuries ago.
I came to the exact same conclusion as yourself that the genesis myth of adam and eve corresponds to the neolithic revolution in the fertile crescent almost 3 years ago. For me this is a conclusive belief, possibly shaped by the geographic effect of being born in Australia and the learnings this provides.

I wonder if you have mused also on what heaven would look like. Is it egalitarian, communist, technologically advanced, amish, subsustence, futuristic etc.. etc..
I pondered this also and concluded for myself that the only established functional mode of existence that is sustainable is the original state of hunter gatherer. So I propose that all the murdered paleolithic peoples (please don't call them savages) are the original martyrs, and the only ones headed for heaven are those who genuinely would give up all their modern trappings to live with their ancestors (a narrow side road indeed!)

Roland said...

J. Raymond Zimmer lays out the parallels between Genesis 1-2 and the record of cosmology, evolution, and neolithic prehistory in "The Creation of Man and the Evolutionary Record."

Anonymous said...

Have you read Ishmael or The Story of B by Daniel Quinn? You may enjoy it.

Roland said...

I have not read Daniel Quinn's books, but they were recommended to me recently by a friend who read this post.

Kory said...

Love it! I first watched something on Genesis and the Neolithic Revolution on a show called "Ancient Almanac", or maybe a History Channel Presents documentary. Anyways and honestly, I thought it was ridiculous. But the more I researched communism, etc. the more it made sense. What humanity is now doing is returning to a more advanced form of primitive communism.

Alice Linsley said...

Are you speaking of Eden as the garden or the region? The region extended from the Nile Valley to Mesopotamia. The Garden of Eden is a reference to a prepared place within a watery region.

Probably Genesis 4 should not be included with the Genesis 2-3 creaton story as here we encounter history. In Genesis 4, we find the oldest known King List and this list must be read with Genesis 5 to understand the marriage and ascendency structure of Abraham's ancestors who lived in Africa, not Iraq.

I appreciate what you are doing at this blog!

Arimathean said...


I included Genesis 4 because the story of Cain and Abel was essential to my point. Cain represents settled agriculture (which was a prerequisite to the development of cities), and Abel represents nomadic herding. These were the "advanced" subsistence methods that succeeded hunting and gathering, and they were often in competition with each other. Even after the Hebrews were mostly settled farmers, they still romanticized the herding lifestyle.

I think the key to locating Eden geographically is the four rivers of 2:10-14. We know two of them - the Tigris and the Euphrates. The other two rivers would flow into the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. This would place Eden in modern Turkey near the Iraq border. When I wrote this post, I thought of the direction of the rivers' flow as we normally do - downhill from their sources. But I read an article about this problem while I was at St. Vlad's. There is precedent for ancient references to rivers flowing from their mouth - backwards, from our PoV. This would place Eden at the other end of Mesopotamia, where the two rivers empty into the Persian Gulf. From there, a nearby river flows west into Arabia. This is the region now populated by Iraq's marsh Arabs. I think it might match the sort of aquatic environment you were discussing with Susan Burns. I still consider upper Mesopotamia the more likely site, but I cannot entirely dismiss this new theory.