Sumer, Eve, and lords versus gods
The bad ruler in Genesis 1-10 (and later) was obvious to the most learned believers in ancient times. The learned Christians ("learned" in Greek is "gnostic") called the bad lord of the garden the "demiurge". (Demiurge means "craftsman": he created mankind for the real God, the logos).
The bad ruler is obvious to anybody who reads Genesis as a
non-believer: the "lord" in the early parts of the Bible sometimes does bad things.
However, a book about bad rulers is a problem. Israel was later ruled by kings. Kings do not want people questioning their rulers! So from the time of the kings there was pressure to teach that the lord in Eden (effectively the king) must have been good.
It seems to me that this, pretending bad is good, has corrupted our view of the Bible.
Another problem with understanding Genesis 1-10 is the documentary hypothesis: a scholarly dead end that obscures the text.
In the 1600s, when the printed Bible became widely available, it was
obvious that some parts were written after the events described (see
below for some examples). In an attempt to defend the Bible, in 1753
Jean Astruc suggested that, yes, it was composed later, but from earlier
sources. Having no original sources available as proof, he tried to reconstruct them from the text.
Astruc noticed the words for God (elohim) and lord (yahweh) were different. He also noticed what looked like two different accounts of the creation of Adam. There are many other oddities in the text, but these are the big ones that everybody quotes. So Astruc concluded that Genesis was a result of combining two competing documents that describe the same events from different points of view.
By 1853 this "documentary hypothesis" was so well established that even to this day most scholars accept it.
In 1849 the first fragments of the original documents were
discovered! And in 1876 they began to be published. So we can now compare the
documentary hypothesis to the actual documents, and... see that the
documentary hypothesis has no foundation.
The creation story in Genesis is clearly based on the Babylonian story, the Enuma Elish (which is itself based on an earlier Sumerian account). The Enuma Elish distinguishes between higher gods (abstract entities like Elohim in Genesis 1) and lower gods (more human rulers like the Yahweh in Genesis 1). It also refers to the creation of man twice (as in Genesis 1 and 2) and the context shows why. So there is no need for any lost document to explain these differences.
The Enuma Elish describes three levels of gods or humans: forces of nature, god-kings, and ordinary people.
1. Forces of nature:
The forces of nature are primeval. They are "Tiamat" (the chaos of the oceans), "Anu" (the sky), "Apsu" (fresh water), "Marduk" (storms), etc. These are at endless war. Tiamat (the oceans) fights against Marduk (the storms).
The chaotic battle leads to the creation of numerous lesser gods on each side. These are clearly human: they have human weaknesses and need help, they are born and die, etc. The leader on Tiamat's side is "Kingu". He is married to the oceans (Tiamat), and given the sky god Anu's authority via "the tablets of destiny" that he wears. This is from Budge's translation of the end of tablet one:
So the forces of nature empower the lord of the lesser gods. Later,
Marduk (the storms) defeats Tiamat (the oceans), and uses her to create
the earth and sky.
While we can interpret this magically if we wish, there is a
much simpler explanation: we defeat oceans through building better
boats. We use the winds as our power. By defeating the oceans they are
no longer chaotic: the oceans are peaceful horizon, the boundary between
the world and the skies, the highway between different lands.
Conquering the seas is the first step to civilisation. This will be
discussed in more detail when we examine Genesis 1, verse by verse.
In short, the Enuma Elish is a memorable way of explaining how mankind defeated nature.
3. Ordinary people
Finally the god-kings need humans to help them. This is from the sixth tablet:
So the god-kings, tired of doing their own work, created man to be their servants.
The creation of man in the Enuma Elish was described twice:
It looks like the the details about dominion and the garden come from
some other document: the ancient "temptation seal" from the Babylonian
library indicates that such a document did once exist. But the two
references to creations do not come from separate documents: they both
come from the Enuma Elish.
Marduk, in creating man, called himself a craftsman. Centuries later the learned (i.e "gnostic") Christians referred to two gods in the Old Testament: logic (the ultimate cause of all things, the "logos"), and the craftsman ("demiurge") who created humans. For example, this is from the gnostic text The Tripartite Tractate:
So logic is the ultimate truth and reality, and our human urge to create
and organise makes us craftsmen: it is the demiurge working within us.
When a prophet has an idea he thinks that God is talking to him, but it is this lesser god, the demiurge. The demiurge is man's idea of God, and it is ignorant. It makes mistakes, as we shall see.
The Enuma Elish is recorded on seven tablets, and was taught to the
Babylonian people every year at the twelve day spring festival of Akitu:
The creation account in Genesis is much shorter, containing just seven highlights. Compare these to the Enuma Elish:
Genesis 1-10 makes no extreme claims. Bible stories only seem unlikely because believers exaggerate. For example:
The Enuma Elish is not the only original document that was
rediscovered. Another example was the epic of Gilgamesh. It is almost
certainly a major source for the story of Noah. As with the Enuma Elish,
it appears to be supernatural at first, but a closer reading shows that
it can be read as normal history.
In the story, the hero Gilgamesh visits Utnapishtim (Noah) to see how he has lived so long. As we saw in chapter two of this book, the secret to immortality is to pass on your identity to others. That is not supernatural. Utnapishtim then describes how he learned of the flood. Tablet 11 includes this:
See how "the gods" are simply the rulers: this is not supernatural in
any way. As we shall see later, the "minister of canals" could have caused a flood
simply be destroying some dams.
Believers always look for the biggest disaster possible (a global
flood, or perhaps the flood that filled the Black Sea around 5000 BC).
But the Bible often describes much smaller events that only affected
"all the world" as known to the person involved. E.g. if Utnapishtim was
swept out to the Persian Gulf it would certainly have looked to him like the
mountains were covered!
Imagine that you had access to the oldest books in the world. Books containing the world's oldest writings, tracing back to when writing and cities were first invented. You could examine them, try to separate the myth from reality, and construct a summary of how civilisation began, from the people who were actually there.
Sadly those books no longer exist. But imagine if we could go back to the great library of Alexandria, where Ptolemy attempted to collect all the world's knowledge. Or imagine we could go back even further, to the older library that inspired it: the library of Ashurbanipal in ancient Babylon. At is peak, around 600 BC the Babylonian library contained all the greatest records of the middle east, with copies of books stretching back thousands of years, to the dawn of civilisation. We don't know everything it contained, but we know it had copies of Gilgamesh from the third millennium BC, and a reference to Adam and Eve in the garden appears on a cylinder seal (the Temptation seal), also from the third millennium BC. The library of Ashurbanipal contained copies of some of the oldest records in the world.
Imagine you could go back to that library, read everything with a
critical eye, and try to see through all the magical parts. You could
recreate the ur-text, the original eye-witness history of mankind.And that is exactly what the ancient Israelites did.
Genesis is a summary of the ancient legends, with the supernatural taken out. It tries to get back to what really happened.
Take the creation story for example. It seems to be heavily influenced by the Babylonian creation story, the Enuma Elis. but the Enuma Elis is an adventure of supernatural beings versus monsters. The monster parts are historically implausible, but the idea that chaos gave way to light and dark, and water separated from the land, seems reasonable. So Genesis throws out the supernatural, and keeps the core part that actually make sense. The creation will discussed in more detail later.
As another example, consider the epic of Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh is the oldest epic in the world. It's an adventure story that contains many impossible elements, but was probably based on real people and events at some point. Genesis ignores most of it as e obviously fake and just takes the Noah material, because massive catastrophic floods really did take place in the region, and this story is probably based on one of them.
The highly respected scholar Victor Hurowitz gives more examples:
In every case, Genesis takes the most ancient myths and tries to extract the core of plausible truth. Out go the adventure stories. Out go the monsters (except for genuine sea creatures). genesis just keeps the parts that seemed most plausible. Genesis is a skeptical summary of all the lost texts that modern historians would love to have. Genesis is a historian's dream text.
This book presents the evidence that God is no supernatural. But throughout history the elites have tried to make history look supernatural. Why? Because that allows elites to say "only we truly understand, so obey us!"
For example, one of the gods in Genesis is clearly imperfect. Unbelievers can see this. The learned early Christians could see this (see the demiurge in part one of this book, and the learned Christians in part eight). It is plain as day. But elites cannot accept that the text says. Why?
Elites cannot allow the idea that people can question their rulers. So the elites (in Christianity these were the bishops) condemned the learned. The bishops said it was a sin to disagree with the bishops (see the discussion of "heresy" in part nine). But the only way to make people doubt the evidence of the text is to appeal to some mysterious supernatural power.
And so the bible was interpreted in a supernatural way, where the elites had divine authority that nobody could question. See part nine of this book for details.
I said earlier that the documentary hypothesis for Genesis 1-10 fails, because the original documents are found and tell a different story. But that only applies to Genesis 1-10. Genesis 11-50 has a completely different style and appears to be added much later. No doubt it made use of existing folk stories, but did no claim to be contemporary. For example:
That passage was obviously written after kings were a normal part of life: that is, after around 900 BC. (For more precise dates see below).
There are also mistakes that date the text to after that period. For example:
Camels are an important part of this story. The problem here is that the story is set around 1700BC, but camels were not domesticated in Israel until after 1000 BC.
The biggest clue to dating Genesis 11-50 is its content: unlike Genesis 1-10, which is an epic race through the biggest events of 2000 years, Genesis 11-50 is about one family: Abraham, his son Isaac, and his son Jacob (also called Israel). The purpose seems to be to demonstrate that Judah is supposed to rule Israel.
Genesis 11-50 ends with Jacob blessing his sons: most sons get a very brief comment, except Judah, who is made king.
Shiloh was the religious centre of Israel before David took over. When David grabbed power he would of course say it was temporary: dictators always do. "Don't worry people, you will only be ruled from Jerusalem for a while: the old Shiloh system will come back soon"
(Another interpretation is that "Shiloh" was the Messiah, and this was a supernatural prophecy. But Judah lost the kingship. The prophecy failed.)
Shiloh was in the middle of the large central territory controlled by Ephraim and Manasseh, the two tribes of Joseph (as was the other major early city, Shechem - see the next chapter of this book). Most of Genesis 11-50 is about how Joseph was the first ruler, but Judah was the nice one (who persuades the brothers not to kill him) and was later to be the king. In Genesis 49 only Ephraim and Manasseh get more words than Judah: they had to be flattered into giving up power.
The last prophecy is given to Benjamin, the tribe of Saul: Saul rose up like a wolf and beat his enemies, but he must not keep the spoils (the kingdom).
And so the story of Jacob (Israel) ends and he dies. The next chapter, the last in Genesis, tells how Israel was buried in the cave of the patriarchs, in Hebron, the city that David just happened to rule, and where David was anointed king (2 Samuel 5:3)
In conclusion, Genesis 11-50 was probably written at the time of king David (around 900 BC) to justify him seizing power. It tried to link the ancient legends (that opposed kings), with Moses (who opposed kings), and make it look like kings were a good idea after all. Even though, in reality, kingship always leads to disaster because it rewards corruption (see part 5 of this book, the message of the Bible).
Enough preamble. Now let's look at the Bible text in more detail.
God is logic (see part one of this book). Logic created the heavens and the earth.
This applies both on the cosmic and local level. In part two of this book we saw how Hebrew prophecy deals with patterns, not just specific events. In particular, kings are expected to represent the gods, to follow the cosmic patterns.
In the case of creation, local rulers help create the heavens by extending the rule of heaven to earth. They create the land in the sense of creating new nations.
'Earth': soil, land. The Bible is about the people of Israel. Genesis is the origin of Israel. So this is the land of their ancestors: probably Sumeria (modern Iraq).
'Without form': Hebrew "tohuw", usually translated "vain", from a word meaning to lie waste.
'Void': Hebrew "bohuw", meaning empty.
So in the beginning the land where Adam would live was empty, and that was a waste.
Genesis was compiled around 600 BC. It reflects the language of older texts. For example this is the Chaldean version, from a copy dated to around 885 BC:
All the ancient legends recall that the sea had all power and surrounded everything, and land could only be claimed after a great struggle. This captures the essence (or spirit) of how Sumer was first settled. Before civilisation life as very hard. They knew that all lands were surrounded by vast deep oceans that were dangerous to their primitive boats. On land they relied on rivers, and settled and farmed the flood plains. But flood plains sometimes have massive floods that kill everyone. Gradually man's logic (god) defeated the waters.
Spirit is ideas, and God is logic, or leaders ruling through logic. Some time before 4000 BC, clever men travelled upon the waters:
The Sumerians were very proud of these first settlers. The Sumerian king lists say that their civilisation did not gradually evolve, it appeared fully formed in the city of Eridug, coming from somewhere already advanced they they call heaven. The king list simply begins: "After the kingship descended from heaven, the kingship was in [the city of] Eridug".
Nobody can be sure where the leaders came from, but it was probably Iran (via the waters of the Tigris or Persian Gulf), or from India (via the waters of the ocean coast, the "great deep").
In Genesis, day and night emerges from watery chaos. What does this mean? The Enuma Elis gives the details: the ocean gods cause the chaos. They represent all the wild endless oceans that surround the land. The older, wiser gods represent fundamental laws of the universe, and do not like chaos. Why? Because they cannot tell the difference between day and night:
The older gods (representing logic and order) choose Marduk, who represents irrigation and crop growth. Marduk raises an army and defeats the wild water gods. He then creates the lights in the sky that make the agricultural calendar, to allow successful planting and harvesting.
The creation of civilisation
This whole story represents the stages of creating civilisation:
"Light" = clarity, understanding.
It is helpful to remember what the ancients meant by "light". This was thousands of years before Isaac Newton. They did not mean light as we mean it, as objects that cast rays. To them, light meant perception: it was associated with the sun, but they also associated light with coming from the eyes:
This was a logical conclusion, given the limited data available. They knew that one person might see more than another person, and that light at dawn appeared before the sun could be seen. So they concluded that the sun was not the whole story: the viewer was just as important. So "light" referred to understanding, not photons.
So day and night does not just mean the sun versus the moon, it primarily means wisdom and order emerging out of chaos.
Genesis condenses the logic of civilisation into the simplest possible form. It takes the Enuma Elish, removes all the supernatural parts, and leaves seven steps.
1. Law (good order both day and night).
2. Irrigation (control over water, allowing land to flourish).
4. Agricultural skills.
7. Rest, and enjoy the results of your work!
This is the only way that any civilisation can begin. Therefore it is logical. If we colonise Mars we will follow the same principles in the same order.
Human life depends on keeping the raging oceans out. It also depends
on keeping river waters in their place. Genesis 1:7-9 covers both
The firmament and logic
The ancients observed that water surrounds all the nations, and if you dig down you find ground water, and water falls from the sky. So in the absence of other evidence it was logical to conclude that water surrounded everything in all directions. It followed that water must also be behind the lights that we call stars, and something must stop it from falling down. So they concluded that the sky must be a solid cover, or firmament. The majority of thinkers came to the same conclusion until in the AD 1500s, when the invention of the telescope allowed better data, and then logic demanded a change of view. But given the evidence available, the firmament was logical.
This is an essential point: logic depends on the facts available. When the facts change, the logical conclusion must change. A firmament was a logical conclusion based on observations available. If the Bible writer had accidentally stumbled upon the modern view (that there is no firmament) this would not have been logical, given the evidence available at the time. (But it would not have changed the central point of Genesis 1:7-8, which is about the need to control water.)
God 'made' the firmament: 'Made' is the
Hebrew "asah", a primitive word that can also mean "to attend to, put in
order, to observe, celebrate" etc. On the large scale, logic "makes"
the firmament because it was a logical deduction from the evidence at
the time. On the local scale the ruler "makes" the firmament in the
sense of declaring and celebrating it.
Gathering water and land into their places
Controlling water is the second step for life, after light. Sumer for example had marshes and was was subject to deadly floods, and sometimes the land was too dry. For civilisation to begin they had to overcome these problems: to somehow gather the rivers and land into some order.
Irrigation was fundamental. Sumerians legends records how the reason for creating man was that the gods (the ruling elite) had to gather dig irrigation canals (that is, gather the waters together), and it was hard work:
So the gods complained, and Enki, god of wisdom, has the idea of creating people out of mud to do the work for them. Genesis reports the same thing, but without the supernatural elements. Historians confirm the importance of irrigation:
So civilisation begins with dividing the water from the land. This is another example of where a general principle applies both on a large scale (separating the water above and below) and on a local level (gathering waters nd land through digging canals).
This is about lights for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years." The modern reader might think of distant planets and star systems. But ancient man knew nothing of distant stars and planets. The lights in the sky have only one purpose: they are for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years. They tell the farmer when to plant, when to harvest. They tell the shepherd when to move his flocks. Everyone lived off the land, and this celestial calendar was the difference between growing food and starving to death.
'God made two great lights': he 'made' in the sense that we might say 'let's make the pole star our guide." This does not men you create the flaming ball of gas many light years away, you simply make it your guide.
That this all refers to farming and not to outer space becomes obvious if we compare the surviving Sumerian accounts. As one professor put it,
The rest of Genesis chapter one follows these principles: logic demands that plants and animals must be in order before people arrive.
Genesis records the local planting of a garden, which reflects the cosmic order of nature: first laws, then irrigation, then plants, then the spring-autumn cycle, then animals. All is in harmony, all is good.
Scholars often treat Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 as separate creation
accounts. But when we compare the original sources in the Sumerian and Akkadian texts (such as we have them) it is clear
that we have a single account. The man (the "adam") in Genesis 1 is the
lord of the garden, and the man (the "adam") in Genesis 2 is his
This human (this "adam") is in the image of God. He is to have dominion over the world. In other words, it is lord of the world. Contrast this with the Adam in Genesis 2 who is not a lord but a servant.
This is the first reference to the lord-God. As this follows from
chapter 1 it is clearly the lord of the garden, who is in the image of
The title "Lord God" makes sense when we look at the Sumerian records: the landlord acted as God:
So the "ensis" were the landlords of the gods, or the god's landlords, lords treated as God. In the Hebrew of Genesis this would be Yahweh Elohim, the lord [of] gods, translated on the singular as "Lord God".
The creation story is the creation of civilisation, not of the universe as modern man knows it. So day six, when the lord-God is made, refers to the arrival of kingship. The Sumerian king list sums this up in its first sentence:
If we look at this mythologically, as in the Sumerian account, we can see that these junior gods were previously in heaven, doing the work commanded by the higher gods.
Or if we look at this historically, by piecing together archaeology, we can see that the first ruling families would previously be the people who helped to settle the land.
Either way, the lord-Gods who appeared on day six were previously busy helping God to prepare the land.
Beyond this, being in touch with God, they could be said to be
co-creators of nature. From very ancient times the king was assumed to
influence nature: a good king led to good weather and good harvests. The
earthly lord-God was the mouthpiece of the heavenly God.
The ancient city states were divided into two classes: the elite elders, with the lord (the ensi, or great man, the landlord of the whole city) at the head, and beneath them the men, the ordinary people. (Kramer, p.74)
The elders and the men would meet at great debates to decide major issues, though the elders would have the final say. The idea of a great council has echoes throughout the Bible when we read of the divine council, the "heavenly host". That was later seen as purely supernatural (that is is a whole topic on its own.)
If there were slaves then they would not even have counted as people, e.g. for the great counsels. Though they could "become" people if given that status.
Throughout the Bible it is emphasised that the true Yahweh is one, not many, implying that it was common to think in terms of many lords:
Note the distinction between lords (mortal rulers) and gods (abstract spirits):
Lord-Gods evolved into kings
Over time, especially from Abraham and Moses, the title lord was reserved just for God himself. So the title king (Hebrew "melek") was used instead.
The shift from "Lord-God" to "king" is a small one. The invention of writing led to better communication, and at the same time it allowed rulers to rule larger empires and thus make more mistakes. So rulers could no longer claim "every word I say is the word of God" but could only say "I am appointed by God".
The meaning of the name Yahweh is not recorded, but most scholars think it comes from the title of God, "el du yahwi sabaot", "El who creates the hosts".
In other words, Yahweh is the one who creates the hosts (the people) on behalf of God. It is a claim to authority. It make sense as the name of mortal rulers claiming the right to rule.
Thus, the name "lord" is a good translation. A lord is a human being who has authority, usually over land.
Humans as gods
As part one of this book notes, "god" was sometimes a title for mortals. No doubt Yahweh was as well, hence walking in the garden, later eating with Abraham, etc. All ancient rulers claimed to represent god, and some even had a god's name in their title: pharaoh Thutmose III has the name Horus twice (but never actually uses the word pharaoh, a later addition):
The most famous example of a man given the name of Yahweh by his followers is of course Jesus.
The justification for kingship: good harvests
Yahweh may be based on "HWH" meaning "things which fall". This is usually taken as meaning the rain, meaning Yahweh was a storm god. But rain and kingship were closely linked. In ancient times a good king was expected to ensure good harvests, and in a desert region that meant rain. This was especially clear in Canaan, where the king was expected to be a special friend of Baal, the storm god.
So Yahweh means literally the right to rule based on enough rain for harvests.
This is a large part of why Yahweh is seen as being in the sky: not just because of the idea of abstraction and being symbolically above, but the importance of rain, Several places in Psalms and elsewhere talk of Yahweh in terms of storms, clouds and lightning.
"Enough rain" is a rational measure of good leadership
In ancient times people did not measure rain by the number of millimetres, but by whether their plants had enough. The same number of millimetres of rain could be either a good year or a bad year, depending on irrigation, the type of crops, where you farm, how scarce water was preserved and shared, and so on.
So as with any natural resource, "enough" is a measure of good management more than it is a measure of total quantity. That is true even today.
Yahweh and Baal contrasted
It is useful to contrast Yahweh and Baal. Both are gods of rulership and enough rain, but Yahweh became more abstract, whereas Baal was more supernatural, with stories of his adventures. While Yahweh asked the people to behave well in order to get a good harvest, whereas Baal demanded human sacrifice. (For the economic nature of the message, see part five of this book. For the promised effect on the harvest, see Deuteronomy 28.)
Baal, being more human, was also seen as a special friend of the mortal king: he provided a good excuse for the king to grab land. Ahab is an example of this: see parts four and five of this book).
Yahweh and Baal were examples of Cicero's two types of religion: one was based on rational causes (good behaviour creates better harvests) and the other thought that the outward signs were all you need: if you don't have enough rain then sacrifice more babies!
It is no coincidence that the gradual move from Baal to Yahweh coincided with the drought that helped cause the Late Bronze Age Collapse across the region. Baal's sacrificing of the first born no longer worked, but good behaviour got better results.
Rain as a justification for kingship in Genesis
In this context note that role of irrigation in Genesis. It is second only to law in the seven stages of creating civilisation. And it is the basis for creating the garden of Eden:
The reason why the ruler, Yahweh could claim to be one of the logical rulers (Elohim, gods) was that he could take a desert, then irrigate it, and make a garden.
Yahweh defined: the god of land rent
In conclusion, while "God" ("el") is logic, and "gods" ("elohim") are the different claims to logic (including Baal and Yahweh), Yahweh was the specific claim to provide enough rain for a harvest.
Part five of this book argues that land rent is the best possible system of allocating resources, and was the basis for the law of Moses and the law of Jesus. So Moses' God and Jesus' God was not just losic in the abstract, but the logic of land rent in particular.
All gods claimed to offer good harvests, but Yahweh's land rent is what set him apart. So it is possible to say "Yahweh is the god of land rent"
Genesis (and Exodus) shows the three stages in how man saw the gods: first as mortals, then as false teachers, then as logic.
How the name of Yahweh spread
The earliest archaeological reference to the name Yahweh is a town in Edom, the desert south of the Dead Sea: “the land of the Shasu of Yahweh”. The inscription is traced to a temple (called Soleb) dated to 1400BC.
This is all consistent with the Bible text: Moses was taught by the priests of Midian, in that region. The Bible dates him to circa 1400BC. (Of course, this does not means that that inscription was the first ever reference to Yahweh, it is simply the oldest surviving inscription that we know about. Or perhaps Yahweh was a later version of an earlier name.
The idea that the name Yahweh was preserved via Moses' father in law, a Kenite (a metal worker, see Judges 1:16) is called "the Kenite hypothesis". For more about Moses see part four of this book.
Yahweh and the learned Christians
There is further confusion because many of the early learned Christians (see part eight of this book) treated the demiurge (see part one) as active throughout the Old Testament. They were probably influenced by Paul: Paul questioned the entire law of Moses, so it was easy to see the error prone ruler in Genesis as leading to an inferior teaching in Exodus.
The real problem is a lack of awareness of economics. When we see the Bible as economic history the power of the law of Moses becomes apparent (see part five of this book). But without that the kingdom of God becomes irrational, so any rational explanation becomes impossible.
In Genesis 1, logic dictates that the universe is created and that civilisation requires seven steps. It's just logical. Genesis 1 uses just the word Elohim or logic.
In Genesis 2 we meet a person who walks in the garden of Eden: so they must be human. They are called Yahweh Elohim or Lord God. This is a lord (a mortal ruler) acting as God.
In Genesis 3 we see a brief return to logic (Elohim) on its own:
This is just logic: if you know good from evil you are logical. It's just a self evident fact and does not require a mortal ruler's opinion to make it true.
Then in Genesis 4 something very interesting happens. Yahweh (as represented by a mortal ruler) began to make mistakes: he began to treat people unfairly.
In later chapters of Genesis we see the struggles and mistakes of the people of Israel, so we only deal with the tribal name, Yahweh.
The rest of the Old Testament continues the pattern. Yahweh when dealing with issues specific to Israel, and Elohim when dealing with absolute truth. Sometimes the names are used interchangeable, but when Yahweh needs a boost he is called Yahweh Elohim.
The local lord's mistakes
Now let us return to the mortal lord's most famous mistakes. We will set the scene by returning to Genesis 2 and the appearance of Adam.
"Before" is the Hebrew "terem" meaning "before, not yet" from a root
meaning "to interrupt or suspend." The plants were ready (from day
three), but were not yet planted because there was not enough rain.
"Not cause it to rain" - Occam's razor suggests an obvious explanation: he did not because he could not. Even though acting as God, no man can make rain. The Hebrew simply says "lord -God -not- rain".
For that the lord needs servants to dig ditches. This is clearer in the Sumerian source material: the higher caste people (the lords) needed lower caste people to dig their ditches so that crops could grow. So this so-called "second creation story" is simply the story of irrigation.
"Mist" is the Hebrew word "'ed": This word appears only twice in the Bible. The other time (Job 36:27) is often translated rain cloud. (details)
But clouds do not rise from the Earth? They do appear to, because
they come from the horizon. E.g. Psalm 135:7, "He makes clouds rise from
the ends of the earth"
So we have thin rain clouds, but not enough for the crops to grow, unless somebody digs irrigation ditches.
Chapter 2 is concerned with water. There was not enough rain, so the
garden was built in an area called Eden, where there were several rivers:
'Eastward': presumably east of the promised land: anywhere from Turkey (Anatolia) down to Iraq (Babylon, before that called Sumer).
'Ethiopia': Hebrew "Kush" - this could refer to "Cassite" lands to the east of the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates. (Note that the top of the Persian Gulf was further north and the climate was wetter in 4000BC, so the major rivers may have had smaller tributaries that no longer exist.) Most people place Eden near the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates, but David Rohl in his book "Legend" gives numerous reasons why the description fits the other end of the rivers, where they begin in Anatolia. This is a mountainous area of Ararat, and in 4000BC had a better climate and luxuriant forests. In this case "Kush" would be "Mt Kush".
So Eden was either:
In this period (4000BC) there was regular movement along the great rivers between the two places.
The lord-god needed servants to dig his irrigation ditches.
The Ur creation text gives the context:
The Sumerian lord-gods enslaved others:
Before that, as the Sumerian empire extended, the natural place to expand was up the rivers, toward Anatolia.
Genesis records that Adam was a slave (servant) placed in the gods' private garden and told to look after it:
The Sumerian version of the story gives more detail. The gods are called "annunaki", from the word "annuna" meaning people with royal blood. That is, they are the ruling tribe. The Sumerians also have a higher god or gods above them, called "El" - hence "Elohim" in the Bible. The higher royal tribe make the lower royal tribe dig their ditches and do their manual work. So the lower gods find another even lower caste group, outsiders, to work for them.
Adam may have come from Anatolia:
Adam the red man
The name "Adam" means both "mankind" and "red" as in "adamah" the Hebrew for red soil. In the earliest known Semitic language, Akkadian, red soil is "Adamatu". The Akkadian empire stretched the length of the Euphrates, from mountainous Anatolia to the plains of Sumer. Anatolia is famous for its red soil, hence the name of its greatest river, the "Red River" (The "Kizilirmak": the longest river in Turkey, not counting the Tigris, etc., which only have a short narrow part in Turkey itself).
This red clay soil later became famous in clay pottery used in Greece and Rome, and of course in the distinctive red roof tiles on houses in the region.
The storm god of the far mountains
At this point it is worth noting the name of one of the principle gods of Anatolia: Teshub, the storm god, who took the form of a bull. In Hebrew he was called "Adad", and in Sumerian "ish.kur" meaning "god of the far mountains" "God of one of the mountains" in Hebrew is "el shaddai" (usually translated "God almighty"), the earliest title for Yahweh.
So it may not be coincidence that when Abraham later chose to reject the many lords in favour of "el shaddai" he travelled up the Fertile Crescent toward Anatolia. He then continued his journey, ending at another famous mountain, mount Zion in Canaan, where he made his alliance with Melchizedek king of Salem the city of Zion.
As for the form of a bull, cattle were the symbol of wealth and the sign of good grazing land. Asherah, the wife of Yahweh, was in the form of a cow, and when the Israelites later escaped captivity they naturally built a golden calf in anticipation of the land of milk and honey. Everything fits together.
This mixing between Anatolia and Asia, circa 4000 BC, may explain the origin of Indo-European languages:
If the debate is "intractable" that suggests both sides may be right: there was occasional contact between the earliest civilisations in Iran and Anatolia, building to a climax in 4000BC in Sumer with the gradual development of writing and modern cities.
'Sleep': The reference to sleep and closing up the flesh may have something to do with the garden being a secret from the rest of the tribe?
'Rib': a pun on the word the mother of all living - in Sumerian, rib and make living are the same word.
'Flesh': Hebrew "basar" meaning flesh in any sense of the word: kindred, body, mankind, etc., or even a euphemism for the male sexual organ. It comes from another form of "basar" meaning to bring news. So this strange passage could simply mean the gods took one of those who make living (a woman) and closed up his family (i.e. shut them out).
'God had taken from man': Man is "Adam" - it means both the person and his tribe. This woman was taken from his old tribe. Now the man and woman are separated from their old tribe, and living in the garden.
The gods needed a low status person to look after their garden. Adam needed Eve so they could have children and the family would tend the garden forever. The gods were planning ahead.
"Adam" means "mankind" so "flesh of his flesh" and "taken out of man (kind)" just means "another person from his old tribe."
The word "therefore" is not some translator's addition, it's right there in the Hebrew:
Adam brought Eve into the garden to be the mother of his children, therefore a man should leave his father and mother.
The word "therefore" only makes sense if Adam was leaving his father and mother outside the garden, in order to start a new family with Eve.
Genesis describes a lot of people in and around Eden. God (Elohim) is plural, and they say "we will go down" and "he is become like one of us". So there was at least two, and possibly a whole group of leaders in the garden.
The God (plural) of the Bible appears to be the same as the council of gods in the Ugaritic texts (ancient tablets discovered just north of Israel in the 1930s). For example, Psalm 82:1 says:
In Psalm 82 God then accuses the other gods with corruption and says they will die like mortals. For more about the divine council, including the name of God's wife (the chief ruler was called el, and his wife was called Athirat/Asherah), see www.thedivinecouncil.com
Back in Eden, these gods place cherubim to guard the entrance. Cherubim is plural, meaning angels, and angel means servant of the gods.
In addition we have the "serpent" (a priest or shaman, see later).
Later Cain is driven out of the garden, and is afraid that people will kill him. What people? Then he finds a wife. From where? We also have a reference to Adam's father and mother (see below).
Much later we read of the sons of God marrying the daughters of men, again suggesting two separate groups: the gods (the elite) and men (servants of the gods).
In summary, according to the Bible, Eden was a crowded place and there were older civilisations outside its walls
In ancient times, in hot countries, nakedness was common. Most poor people only had one item of clothing. Clothing was often a sign of status: rulers would almost never be seen naked. In India as recently as the nineteenth century low caste women were forced to go topless as a sign of their low status. At this point Adam and Eve accepted this. But once they began to question their role they wanted clothes like their rulers.
Until Adam, the rulers were gods: they acted in harmony with nature. The principles that created Eden were the same principles of logic that create the universe at every level. But with in inequality that order begins to break. Slavery is the natural order of nature as long as the master is far more intelligent than the slave. But with humans controlling humans this is not true. Human slavery, like many bad practices, is economically sub-optimal. It rewards idleness, and wastes the most valuable resource: the human ability to think.
If the later analysis is correct, and the leaders end up abusing Eve, then this is the start of a well trodden path where power corrupts, leading to conflict, weakness on both sides, and eventual destruction. This is the beginning of the fall of the old gods. Power has corrupted them: they are no longer acting logically. Which leads us to the tree of knowledge.
Note the phrasing. The Hebrew writing style often repeats the same idea twice, e.g. "God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him". So the tree of life and tree of knowledge this could refer to the same tree. Genesis 2:9 says the tree of life is in the middle of the garden, but Genesis 3:2 it is the tree of knowledge in the midst. So Occam's razor says it is the same tree.
Ancient Sumerian royalty reserved various foods for themselves: eating it indicated that you were an elite as well, and no lower caste person would dare. When Eve dared to eat their fruit she was placing her self on their level.
Had she been allowed to continue to eat, that would be admission that she was on the gods' level. hence the same tree is the tree of knowledge (putting yourself on the level of the lords who claimed to be God) and also the tree of life (the right to eat as much fruit as you want). Once she had eaten once she had to be cast out.
Why would Eve rebel? Before this time they lived on the dusty soil and starvation was always close by, . Harsh life means that strict rules have to be enforced, so rebelling was unthinkable. This means absolute obedience to rulers. But in the context of easy food the rules change.
Why is this rebellion remembered as "the tree of knowledge"? For that we need to look at the Greeks and the origin of science.
When we consider the rise of critical thinking everything points to the Greeks. Why were the Greeks able to invent science and democracy when their neighbors preached blind obedience to authority? Because the ancient Greek gods were fallible. Greek gods made mistakes. They could be questioned. This allowed the Greeks to think for themselves.
Genesis is the same, as we shall soon see:
Whereas the Greeks merely refined science, the Sumerians invented civilisation itself.
(Obviously science and civilisation existed in a primitive form before that - anybody who tries a new idea is a scientist, and anybody who puts huts together has built a city. But the Sumerians and later the Greeks took these ideas to much higher levels, allowing humans to become the dominant species on earth.)
Adam's son Abel was a nomad, herding sheep or cattle. They would need a way to keep their cattle separate from the cattle of the gods. One of the earliest reasons for record keeping was to count cattle, using notches on a stick or in clay. As more detail was added a primitive writing system evolved.
These counting notches began to extend beyond simple numbers sometime around 4100-3800 BC (see www.historian.net/hxwrite.htm). This is just when Genesis 1-4 takes place: the King James Version (based on the Masoretic text) places it at round 4000BC. Other translations place it a few hundred years either side.
The earliest writing probably developed in either Sumer (modern Iraq), near the top of the persian Gulf, in what is now Turkey. "Complex state systems with proto-cuneiform writing on clay and wood may have existed in Syria and Turkey as early as the mid-fourth millennium B. C. [i.e. 3500 BC]" (www.metmuseum.org/ toah/hd/wrtg/ hd_wrtg.htm)
As for the location of Eden, most of the evidence points to either Sumer, where the major rivers meet the sea, or Turkey, where the rivers begin. Both of these areas are known for the world's oldest towns.
By 3200 BC the marks on sticks had developed into a full writing system. The elites' monopoly on knowledge (and thus their power) was crumbling.
The fall of the old gods was due to the tree of knowledge.
Who or what was the serpent? Occam's razor says we do not need to assume anything magical. It was common in ancient times for some people to claim to have the spirit of an animal: it's called shamanism. A shaman connects with animal spirits and takes on their nature in order to gain their wisdom.
Did ancient Semitic peoples have snake shamans? Very little is known about Semitic religion circa 4000BC (apart from Genesis), but "the oldest Semitic passages ever deciphered" are about snakes: they are "the first glimpse of the ancestor language to Phoenician and Hebrew." (National Geographic News, Feb 5, 2007) The Egyptians were scared of snakes, but snakes won't listen to normal people, so they asked a friendly snake, a "mother snake" to protect them. The prayers invoke the power of female sexuality and reproduction. Snakes also appear in the oldest known Sumerian religion: the Sumerian snake god, Ningizzida, protected the ruler's palace.
In the Bible the serpent is the symbol of wisdom. Hence Jesus told his followers to be "as wise as serpents" and Moses used a brass serpent on a pole as his banner. Note that the serpent told the truth: he did not lie, whereas the ruler of the garden said Adam would die, and changed his mind. The serpent is the honest one, on the same side as Eve, as we see from the Babylonian version of Genesis. The serpent (Ningishzida) is a friend to Adapa (Adam) and helps him search for immortality.
The "learned" early Christians (the Greek for learned is "gnostic") taught that the serpent in Eden was good. He is of course also a "satan" to the ruler of the garden - the Hebrew word "satan" just meant "opponent" and comes from the book of Job, which describes a situation familiar in Persia: the king employs a "satan" to find out what is going on in distant parts of the empire. The satan works for God.
Now we come to his punishment for helping the people he was supposed to be watching:
Here we see Eve talking with the serpent, who is then thrown out on his belly. Why did the serpent shaman risk challenging the rulers? We will see a possible reason next when we consider the birth of Cain.
Continued: Cain, patriarchs and Noah