Friday, July 3, 2015

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Genesis 2:4-3:24

For this week, your assignment was to read Genesis 2:4 to 3:24.
There is no archaeological find matching this episode, which I will refer to as the “Gan Eden” episode or narrative.
There are plenty of finds about creating humankind.  One is in Enuma Elish; humans are created by Marduk out of the blood of Kingu, whom Marduk vanquished.
In Atra-Hasis humans were made by sacrificing the god Geshtu-E and mixing his blood with clay, then bringing “the goddesses” into play.  The purpose of humans was to take on the terribly hard work of irrigation imposed on the minor gods.
The scientific material that relates to the Gan Eden episode includes satellite imagery showing that in the region of the Tigris and Euphrates confluence, are a dry riverbed and an intermittent river.  I don’t know what the names of the latter two are, or were.  The episode gives Gichon and Pishon as the names of the two rivers that met up with the Tigris and Euphrates in Eden.
Another scientific tidbit is that edin is a Mesopotamian word for areas east of the current Euphrates bed.  Once they were irrigated and productive.  The Euphrates course changed westward, however, and the work of keeping up the eastern irrigation canals became more expensive than the government could pay for from the produce.  The eastern lands were abandoned and the name for them was edin.  This was in about the 3000s BCE, the Jemdet Nasr period, when desiccation resulted in consolidation of political power in city states which then governed the work of irrigation.
Nothing in the Gan Eden episode discusses irrigation.  It assumes that rain waters things.
The Gan Eden episode is not “about” agriculture at all.  In its 42 verses, agriculture never comes up.  It talks about eating bread “in the sweat of your brow.”   But “bread”, Hebrew lechem, means food in some contexts, “bread” being the base food in Jewish culture.  In similar contexts, some Western narratives use a word that translates as “meat”.  This underlies the translation of the last word of Luke 17:7 from Greek as “sit down to meat,” when what it really means is to go to a triclinium somewhere for a meal at which the servant will recline on a couch.  The “meat” translation suits Victorian westerners, while the Greek refers to giving a servant the same leisure for a meal as his master.
Humans ate seeds of all kinds long before agriculture started, including picking and then reaping and finally planting seeds of wheat, spelt, barley, rye, and oats.  By 18,000 BCE humans in southwest Asia were using sickles to collect the seed-bearing grain heads.  There’s no sense inventing a special tool to cut off the heads of grain unless they had long been part of the human diet, contrary to what the “Paleo” diet people will tell you.  By 7800 BCE, the stalks of grain show strong heads that could not simply fall apart in the wind or as animals brushed through.  By 3000 BCE, humans in Mesopotamia were organizing to ensure a supply of water to irrigate their main food source, which also produced the famous Mesopotamian beer.  (Hmmmm.)
But it was hard sweaty work for tens of thousands of years before anybody used a stone mattock to turn over virgin sod and put seeds into the ground on purpose, planning to reap the full-grown crop.
The Gan Eden episode is not mainly, let alone exclusively, about agriculture.  It mainly revolves around use of the term mot yamut, which you first saw in the posts about the death penalty, and that usage set up an expectation that controlled the narrative.  That is next week’s lesson.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved

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