The Genesis Chronicles: A Proposed History Of The Morning Of The World
Chapter 12: THE FALL AND RISE OF CIVILIZATION
This chapter covers the following topics:
The Tower of Confusion
In the previous chapter we looked at the genealogy of Genesis 10; now we will look at the empire described where Nimrod, the ambitious great-grandson of Noah, is mentioned. It was centered on a city in Iraq named Babel, usually identified with Babylon but more likely Kish, the city next to Babylon; we have seen that Kish was the oldest post-Flood settlement in central Mesopotamia. In his work "Legend," David Rohl looks further, suggesting that the Tower of Babel was the ziggurat of Eridu, Iraq's southernmost city and the traditional site where Oannes came ashore (see Chapter 9).
Nimrod played a critical role in the transition between the world of Noah's Flood and today's world, so it is astonishing that his name appears only four times in the Bible (Genesis 10:8-9, 1 Chronicles 1:10, and Micah 5:6), and only the two verses in Genesis tell us anything besides his name. The description given of him mainly says that Nimrod was "a mighty hunter before the Lord." We noted previously that a lot of prehistoric animals were larger than the beasts roaming around today. The ice age is especially known for oversized critters: mammoths, giant ground sloths, cave bears, huge Siberian hyenas, dire wolves, Irish elk, and so on. It is a safe guess that Nimrod was called a mighty hunter because he went after the really big game; you don't get that title from chasing rabbits and squirrels, unless you have the same kind of public relations men that work for today's politicians. But don't get the idea that God is praising Nimrod by calling him a great hunter, because the Hebrew context says otherwise. A more correct translation would read "a mighty hunter against God" or "a mighty hunter in the face of God"; perhaps "In your face, God" would be the most appropriate description of Nimrod's attitude. Nimrod's name meant "let us rebel," and sure enough, Nimrod led the rebellion against God, by setting up a one-world government that opposed God's plan for mankind.(1)
God had told Noah's descendants to settle the entire world, but Nimrod had a different idea--pick one spot, concentrate as many people as possible there, and build an unbeatable nation. Instead of letting God be a name over them, the people of Babel said they wanted to make a name for themselves. According to Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian from the first century A.D., the Tower of Babel was Nimrod's idea, a refuge so high that no floodwaters could ever reach the top! But it was not merely a physical skyscraper; if it was, the builders would have put it on a mountain, so there would be less work involved in pushing it up to the sky. Instead it was built in the soft loam of the Euphrates valley. This means its chief function was to be a religious structure; the ziggurats built in Iraq later were used for that purpose. It was a pagan temple, which would be both the focal point of the one-world state and a spiritual "reaching" into Heaven.
In ancient Iraq the temple, and not a palace or fortress, was always the largest, best-constructed building in each city, telling us that it was an important part of daily life; it also tells us that the builders of those temples saw the gods as their real rulers, rather than an earthly king. The temples themselves started out as simple reed huts, but as time went on, first one-room brick chapels replaced the huts, and then they grew larger and more elaborate. Their presence turned the land they were built on into holy places, because every time a temple was destroyed or remodeled, it would be rebuilt on the same spot; archaeologists dug up the remains of eighteen temples in Eridu, stacked one on top of another, twelve from the Ubaidian levels of the city, and six more from the Uruk period. Eventually the platform underneath became the most important part of the temple, enlarged to form a man-made mountain, the famous ziggurat. The jump from a chapel to an elevated temple happened during the Uruk period, which I identified as the culture of Babel in Chapter 11, so the Tower of Babel must have been the first ziggurat built. The ziggurats built later on, like the Esagila in Nebuchadnezzar's Babylon, might have been attempts to imitate the Tower of Babel, but with rebuilt temples, it also would have been easier to build on top of the pile of rubble and sand left behind by older temples, instead of clearing it away before starting construction.
As Genesis 11 tells us, God stopped all this by dividing mankind into about 70 languages(2), forcing them to scatter out into the vast world they were reluctant to settle originally. The unity of mankind was permanently lost, and with it, the first post-diluvian civilization came to an end. The story of civilization since then is the story of mankind's attempt to regain the unity and purpose lost at Babel.
The Mesopotamians also believed in a time when mankind "spoke in unison." One or two clay tablets have been found that seem to tell the Babel story; we will look at one later in this chapter. A little more helpful is Berosus, who seems to have gotten the story from an original text: "The gods introduced a diversity of tongues among men, who until that time had all spoken the same language . . . When all men formerly spoke the same language, some among them undertook to erect a large and lofty tower, that they might climb up to Heaven. But the Lord, sending forth a whirlwind, confounded their design, and gave to each tribe a particular language of its own."
When did the Tower of Babel incident take place? No date is given in Genesis, but it is often suggested that it happened during the lifetime of someone named Peleg, because in all-too-brief words Gen. 10:25 says that Peleg got his name "for in his days the earth was divided." Various interpretations of that phrase have been given, such as continental drift, the flooding of many parts of the world when the ice age ended, a legal division from surveying the world, etc. The most popular interpretation, however, is that the "division" was a social/ethnic one, when the nations formed by the confusion of languages left Babel in search of new homes. A literal interpretation of the years given in the Genesis 11 genealogy infers that there might only be a century or two between Noah and Babel, not counting any unlisted patriarchs.
A more concrete date may come to us from Egyptian records. In his book The Two Babylons, Alexander Hislop suggests that the Egyptians preserved a record of the death of Nimrod at the hands of Shem in the myth of Osiris, the Egyptian god of life: here Nimrod is equated with Osiris and Shem with Set.(3) After the slaying of Osiris, a 363-year period of chaos is said to have followed, when Set had his way over most of Egypt, except for a small part in the far south ruled by a dynasty of ten human kings. Finally Horus, a son of Osiris who had been kept hidden from Set since birth, revealed himself and went to war against Set. Horus won and got perpetual custody over Egypt, while Set was exiled to Asia. Memphis was built as the new capital of all Egypt and the family of Horus became the first dynasty of pharaohs.
The Egyptian chronology used on this site places the founding of the first dynasty in 2781 B.C. If Horus is another name for the first pharaoh (Menes in Greek accounts, Narmer or Hor-Aha in archaic Egyptian inscriptions), then there is a kernel of truth in the legends. Thus, we can reckon the date for Babel at 363 years before the first pharaoh, or 3144 B.C..
What was life in the Babel community like? We can determine a few things about it from the brief account in Genesis 10 & 11:
1. It had several cities, making it more like a modern nation than the city-states of Bronze Age Mesopotamia. Besides Babel, the Biblical account lists Erech (Uruk), Accad (Akkad or Agade) and Calneh as the cities that were Nimrod's initial base. From there he went north and conquered or founded Asshur, Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah, and Resen.(4)
In December 2005, the American and Syrian archaeologists working at Hamoukar reported that they had discovered evidence of the oldest known battle. At a level they dated to 3500 B.C., they found more than 1,200 small clay balls and 120 larger clay balls; these had been used as ammunition for slings. They also found that Hamoukar's wall had been knocked down, and that most of the pottery at that level was in the Uruk style. Their conclusion: more than five millennia ago, there was a war between northern and southern Iraq, and the south won.(6) This could be the first evidence outside the Bible of Nimrod's northern campaign (see #1 above). Although he managed to bring the whole human race under his rule for a while, it looks like not everyone submitted to Nimrod willingly.
God viewed the Babel society as a threat to His plans for mankind. He said that nothing would be impossible for these people while they stayed united in purpose (even today, many believe there is no limit to what we can accomplish if mankind can be unified). It became necessary to break up mankind's unity so that God's command to populate the world could be carried out.
There must have existed an ability to communicate in the pre-Babel language that no longer exists today. One Bible translation says that it was a language of few words. Any language has a spirit to go along with its words; one has to learn new patterns of thought to use a newly learned language properly. It probably did not have a system of writing, for reasons discussed at the end of Chapter 9; no written inscriptions have been found in Iraq that predate the last years of the Uruk culture. By confusing the original language, mankind's spiritual unity was also disrupted. After Babel the number of languages used throughout the world increased steadily until about 1800, when the explorations and conquests of the European nations started causing many tribal tongues to go out of everyday use. Today the number of languages being used is decreasing, and a few widely understood ones (English, Spanish, French, Arabic, etc.) are promoted so that different peoples can understand each other. We have invented some new languages that are easy to learn, like Esperanto, for the same purpose.
The Babel story makes more sense than any theories invented by today's anthropologists concerning the origin of language. Those who want to think our speech evolved came up with the "bow-wow theory" (man started by imitating animal noises), the "ding-dong theory" (language is onomatopoeic, man mimicked sounds he heard in nature), and the "pooh-pooh theory" (the first words were simply grunts). None of these got very far; even the scientists didn't take them very seriously, judging from the silly names. The laws of entropy which apply to so many other things affect languages as well; grammar gets simpler over time, and though vocabulary increases, people abbreviate words to speed up conversation. The most primitive races have the hardest languages to learn; one of the youngest languages in Europe, Finnish, is also the most complicated. In recent years many scientists have come to accept the idea that humanity once spoke a single language, and a few have gone so far as to use comparisons of languages by computer analysis to reconstruct the "Proto-World" language vocabulary (See "The Mother Tongue," in the November 5, 1990 issue of U.S. News & World Report, for details).
The customs Smith identified as Heliolithic are as follows:
Smith found these associated practices in the Mediterranean basin, the Middle East, India, Southeast Asia, and the coast of southern China. They also spread across the islands of the Pacific to Australia and Latin America. Where one occurs, most of the others can also be found. But they do not appear in the northern parts of Europe and Asia, nor in Africa south of the equator. It was a coastal culture, suggesting that it was transmitted by seagoing traffic.
Smith's map of the Heliolithic migrations. The darker the shading in any given spot, the more Heliolithic customs he identified there. Smith believed ancient Egypt was the world's oldest civilization, so he had all the migrations come from there. I feel that most of the movements shown by the arrows are correct, only they should start from Iraq instead of Egypt. Click on the map to see it full size (378 KB, opens in a separate tab). From Wikimedia Commons.
There are two other customs, not mentioned by Smith but so widely practiced that they may have come from the same source: human sacrifice and polytheism. We will look at the origins of polytheism in the next section. As for human sacrifice, let us turn to the work of another British scientist, Sir James G. Frazer. Frazer researched the origins of agriculture and wrote in his book, The Golden Bough, that in primitive agricultural societies the idea of sowing was inexplicably entangled in the Neolithic mind with the idea of a human sacrifice. In places as different as Peru and Denmark it was regularly practiced, and no reasoning process has yet succeeded in explaining it; it certainly was not God's idea! Perhaps it began in whatever priesthood and rituals existed at Babel, and later spread far beyond the areas we just defined as containing Heliolithic cultures. Whatever the thinking behind it, in lands with farms but no cities, whenever planting time came around there was a human sacrifice, as if blood was needed as much as seed. And it was not a despised or outcast person who became the victim at these rituals; usually it was a chosen youth or maiden, often from an upper-class family, whom they treated with profound respect and deference until they killed him; all the details of the ritual were directed by old, knowing men and made respectable by practicing them for as long as anyone could remember.
The ancient civilizations of the Old World (Egypt, Mesopotamia and China in particular) outgrew this practice at a very early date, but in its place they substituted another nightmare: when a king died many of his concubines and servants were killed and buried with him, so they could serve him in the afterlife. Eventually this form of human sacrifice also went out of fashion, perhaps because of the first stirrings of those ideas we call "human rights." They never got tired of ritual murders in the New World, though, to the great dismay of the Spanish conquistadors who arrived in the sixteenth century.
It seems incredible that the customs listed above could have been invented many times by many different peoples over such a widely scattered area. One theory often proposed is diffusion, meaning that a single people crossed the oceans and introduced their way of life to the people they met on the other side. Many use this theory to explain the similarities that the American Indians have with the Egyptians, the Chinese, the Celts, the Phoenicians, or (put the name of your favorite sailors here). However, every time such a contact is proposed, problems crop up. A big one is dates; the pyramids of ancient Mexico, for example, look a lot like what the Egyptians built in the middle of the third millennium B.C. (dynasty III, to be exact), but construction on them began after the birth of Christ. It also stretches the imagination to suggest that before Columbus one group of people could have managed to travel to places as widely separated as Brittany, Borneo and Peru.
Here I will propose an alternative hypothesis: the Heliolithic culture is a remnant of the Babel culture. After Babel it was transmitted, not by a few people traveling widely, but by everybody moving out of Nimrod's defunct empire. As for why Heliolithic customs do not appear in the more remote parts of Eurasia and Africa, that can be explained by the harshness of the climate the original settlers had to pass through to get there. The Hamites and Japhethites who first braved the Kalahari desert, or the cold wilderness of the far north, abandoned nearly all of the ancient ways of life while struggling to survive. Later, the reestablishment of civilization and commerce would take place in more moderate environments, where the Heliolithic customs survived.
Inanna's temple in Uruk was the E-ana, meaning "House of Heaven." It had been around since the founding of Uruk, but the Sumerians credit a king named Enmerkar with most of the construction work done on it. In the next section we'll see how Enmerkar could have been another name for Nimrod. It now appears that the E-ana was originally Anu's temple, until Enmerkar/Nimrod declared Anu an absentee god and appropriated the building for Inanna. Anu, however, was seen as the creator of the universe, so he was too important to kick out of the city completely; instead, Uruk became the home city of two major gods.
Apparently the Sumerian theology was at least partially developed before the invention of writing, because we have evidence that the Uruk (and possibly the Ubaidian) culture followed the same gods that we see later on. Statues of nude kings or priests have been found at Uruk, for instance, and we know that at least one of Inanna's rituals was performed without clothing, while at Eridu's temple the remains of ancient offerings included fish bones, hinting of Enki's worship. It was a similar story in other ancient civilizations; each tribe or city had its own god, and later on, when those communities united to form nations, mythologies were invented to explain how the gods interacted with one another (e.g., Anu was seen as the father of Enlil).
The conventional view of religion has it evolving from animism (the idea that spirits exist everywhere in nature) to polytheism (many gods) to monotheism (one god). This idea looks simple enough, but did it really happen that way? In the next section, we will take a detailed look at a clay tablet entitled "Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta." For now, let us consider a poem on the tablet, that describes the pre-Babel world:
"Once upon a time there was no snake, there was no scorpion,
In those days, the lands of Subur [and] Hamazi (northeastern Iraq and the Zagros Mts. of Iran),
(Then) Enki, the lord of abundance [whose] commands are trustworthy,
Note the line that says about everyone, "To Enlil in one tongue [spoke]." This suggests that at one time, mankind not only spoke in one language, but followed one god as well. In other words, people did not go from many gods to one, but from one god to many.
Did Babel split mankind in religion as well as in language? This could explain how the Sumerians ended up with three gods (Anu, Enlil and Enki) that had characteristics of the One True God. For example, we see from the above passage that the Sumerians believed everybody once worshipped Enlil, until Enki confused the languages. Likewise, in the Mesopotamian version of the Noah story (see Chapter 10), we saw Enlil responsible for flooding the earth, but it was Enki who told Utnapishtim/Noah how to escape the catastrophe. Did Nimrod teach something similar, asserting that the God who destroyed the antediluvian world was not the same God who delivered Noah? If so, he committed the same kind of error as the Manicheans and the Gnostics, who taught that the god who created the earth was evil, while the good god who brought salvation was a purely spiritual being.
After the Babylonians replaced the Sumerians, Enki continued to be worshipped, but his name was changed to Ea. The gods of the Iraqi city-states were also introduced elsewhere, either by the initial wave of refugees fleeing Babel, or by merchants coming from Iraq after the trading networks of the bronze age were established (see below). For example, Ebla was a very important city in northern Syria in the third millennium B.C., and it had many gods, most of which, like Dagan and Ishtar, can be traced to city-states in Iraq. However, the most important god was at first called El, and was later replaced by another god named Ya. David Rohl has suggested that these are abbreviated versions of the names given to Enlil and Ea, while Giovanni Pettinato, one of the discoverers of Ebla, has proposed that the names El and Ya later evolved to become two names of the Israelite God, Elohim and Yahweh. As for the other gods, many of them would have started out as important ancestors, made larger-than-life through storytelling, until they were deified. Inanna/Ishtar, for example, may have originally been Nimrod's mother, if the hypotheses Alexander Hislop had concerning Nimrod's family are correct.
Finally, some gods were probably created by imaginative folks, through a process we call anthropomorphism. This is a long name for a simple concept: basically, it says that when man is separated from the One True God, he will believe in gods which fit his own view of the universe. To give some examples: the Greeks were intellectuals, and so were their gods; the Norse gods were as warlike as the Vikings who worshiped them; the Chinese had a bureaucratic government for over 2,000 years, so they imagined that Heaven was full of bureaucrats, rather than angels! The idea isn't even new; Xenophanes (570-480 B.C.), one of the earliest Greek philosophers, said that the gods only resemble people because people made up the stories about them. If horses had gods and could make statues of them, Xenophanes said, their gods would look like horses!
Anthropomorphism may have also led to the idea of local gods that we see in many pagan cultures, where it is believed that each god can control what happens in a certain community or region, but is powerless beyond that area. This idea was mentioned in a battle of the Old Testament (1 Kings 20:26-29), where the Syrian king, Ben-Hadad, attacks Israel in a valley, thinking that the God of the Israelites cannot intervene there, because He is a "God of the hills." Ben-Hadad's defeat showed in a hurry what faulty thinking that was! Another example comes from the first chapter of the Book of Jonah, where we see a ship caught in a great storm at sea, and each crewman of that ship prays to his god, in the hope that one of the gods represented there will have enough power over wind and water to save them. When that doesn't work, they wake up Jonah, and ask him what he might have done to cause the storm, and he answers that he is a Hebrew, running away from the God of Heaven, who created both the sea and the dry land. The crewmen are shocked to hear that Jonah is trying to escape a God who outranks every other god; they know that Jonah can run, but he can't hide! (Jonah 1:5-10)
All the processes described above may have happened in the Far East as well. Early in the twentieth century, John Ross put forth the hypothesis that at the beginning of their long history, the Chinese worshipped just one god, whom they called Shang Di (Heavenly Emperor).(7) The other gods of Chinese mythology are deified ancestors; they came later on, and so did the creeds of Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism (what the Chinese call the "Three Ways"), which all came together to form the complicated polytheism that makes up the Chinese religion today.
The most interesting story we have from Enmerkar describes a standoff between him and the unnamed king of a land called Aratta. The exact location of Aratta has not been pinpointed to everyone's satisfaction, but it was probably Armenia, due to name similarities; Aratta sounds a lot like Ararat, the name given to Armenia in Genesis, and later on the Assyrians called it Urartu (see Chapter 10). The Armenians themselves have a legend about an ancestor of theirs named Haik, a great-grandson of Japheth who resisted Nimrod (see Chapter 1 of my Middle Eastern history); could this be the same lord of Aratta? As we look at the narrative, you will see references to the world before Babel, so this may be the first confrontation between two tribes or nations after the original unity of the human race ended. Samuel Noah Kramer, the great Sumerian scholar, called this "the first war of nerves."
Anyway, when people left Babel to settle the world, they must have remembered that other groups of people existed, and after they found new homes they must have tried looking to see where everybody else went. This would have taken some time, because the world was big and nearly empty, and transportation was slow. The uneven distribution of resources meant that most places would not have everything a community needed or wanted, so if two communities found each other, they might try to set up a system of trade. One of the earliest trade networks would have been between Mesopotamia and the mountains to the north (which includes Armenia). The Mesopotamian plains, when properly irrigated and farmed, produce an abundant food supply, but are lacking in stones, metal and good quality wood, while the highlands have the opposite problem, plenty of mineral wealth but not enough food. Trade routes running north-to-south would have been the logical solution to this problem, and the clay tablet called "Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta" tells of a dispute involving that trade.
The tablet begins with Enmerkar introducing himself as more than just the king of Uruk; he is also the agent on earth for the goddess Inanna/Ishtar. Accordingly, he feels it is his duty to glorify the E-ana, Inanna's temple in Uruk. And because he rules Eridu, he also wants to build the Apsū,(9) a ziggurat for Eridu's god, Enki. After getting Inanna's approval for such a venture, he sends an envoy to Aratta with a message demanding the king's submission and tribute. Then he recites the poem that we looked at in the previous section.
According to the tablet, the messenger followed a path that took him through "seven gates." Presumably these were natural gates, meaning mountain passes, rather than manmade ones. The path that Ham and Cush followed in the previous chapter, from Ararat to Shinar, goes through seven mountain passes in western Iran, so it is most likely that the messenger took the same road, this time going in the opposite direction. Presumably he went this way, instead of going directly from Iraq to Armenia, because the seven-gate road was more familiar, and possibly an easier way to travel. In 715 B.C., more than two thousand years later, the Assyrian king Sargon II would march up the same path, to fight the king of Urartu on his home ground. Finally the messenger reached the Miyandoab plain; today Miyandoab is within the boundaries of Iran, but in ancient times it was part of Urartu, and presumably Aratta as well.
In Miyandoab the messenger delivers Enmerkar's demands to the king of Aratta, and asks what reply should he take back. The king tells him that submission to Uruk is unthinkable, because he was put on the throne of Aratta by none other than Inanna herself. The messenger replies that because the E-ana is in Uruk, Inanna has become the queen of that city, and she has promised Enmerkar that Aratta will bow to Uruk.
Devastated by this news, the lord of Aratta takes time out to compose a response, and finally says this: if it came to war, Uruk would be no match for Aratta. However, the highland kingdom is currently suffering from a drought, so he will submit if Enmerkar sends him a great shipment of barley. This will convince him that Inanna has truly forsaken Aratta in favor of Uruk.
The messenger returns to Enmerkar bearing this reply, and the next day Enmerkar actually complied, sending the barley to Aratta. However, the grain wasn't going to be free; he also sent the messenger again, this time demanding more precious stones than before. The new message offends the lord of Aratta, and he refuses to submit, instead asking Enmerkar to deliver the precious stones to him. Upon hearing this, Enmerkar decides he will have to prepare for war. Over the next ten years he makes an elaborate scepter to hold the precious stones, and sends that to Aratta with his messenger. The scepter is a second sign to the lord of Aratta that Inanna is no longer on his side, but he is still looking for another way out; now he proposes a one-on-one fight between a champion of Uruk and a champion of Aratta, rather than an all-out battle, to decide who's the boss.
Enmerkar accepts the new challenge, and makes yet more demands for the people of Aratta to supply materials for the E-ana and the Apsū. At this point, though, the poor messenger can no longer memorize all the words he is supposed to deliver, so according to the story, Enmerkar invented writing on clay tablets to make the messenger's job easier. My guess is that like the earliest clay tablets found in Iraq, the ones carried by the messenger had simple pictures resembling Egyptian hieroglyphics, to jog the reader's memory; the nail-like symbols we call cuneiform came along later, in the early third millennium B.C. To make a long story short, the messenger goes through the "seven gates" one more time to deliver this message. This time the lord of Aratta took the tablets and tried to read them. While he was doing that, and wondering whether he should continue to resist or submit, Ishkur, the storm-god (also called Adad), causes a great thunderstorm, which produces wild wheat and chickpeas. When these crops are brought to the king, he declares that Inanna has not forsaken Aratta after all, and summons his champion.
The remainder of the text is missing, except for a bit that shows Enmerkar triumphant, with the people of Aratta delivering the tribute for the E-ana and the Apsū. Presumably Enmerkar won in the end; we just don't know if it took a fight, or if Aratta submitted peacefully. We can also feel confident that Enmerkar won the dispute because he recorded it at all; the kings of ancient times didn't like talking about their defeats, so they usually avoided mentioning contests they lost, if possible. In this case, it looks like Nimrod re-established his rule over at least some of the children of Japheth. However, he could not reunite the human race; most of the Semites and non-Cushite Hamites were too far away to dominate. Even some of Nimrod's relatives, the other descendants of Cush, would soon slip out of contact with the cities of Shinar, now that they had reached the Indian Ocean and were beginning to explore it (see "The Black Fleet" below). Thus, humanity has been divided by language, religion, nationality and ideology until this day.
In my opinion, any date that makes mankind more than 10,000 years old is an attempt to compromise with evolution, while putting the Creation no more than 6,000 years ago and the flood in the third millennium B.C. is not long enough to account for the rise of civilization in the ancient Middle East. To have the flood hit the world after 2500 B.C. would gravely interrupt the Egyptian and Sumerian civilizations, for which we have an unbroken record of development going back further than that; it supposes that right after the pyramids of Giza were built, the flood could come along and destroy all life, and then the Egyptians would return and pick up where they left off with no evidence of any interruption. Apparently some sizeable gaps were introduced into the genealogy which runs from Noah to Abraham, for the following reasons:
1. The author of Genesis 11, presumably Moses, did not put in the total number of years from Noah to Abraham. He was careful in adding up the years to give the total lifespan of each patriarch, but unlike other parts of the Bible, he did not summarize the whole thing at the end. Moreover, while he gave the total lifespan of each patriarch in Genesis 5, in chapter 11 he only did this with Terah. By contrast, to make sure we do not make mistakes on later chronologies, we see a reference to the length of the sojourn in Egypt (Exodus 12:40), the number of years from the Exodus to the building of the Temple (1 Kings 6:1), and the number of generations from Abraham to Jesus (Matthew 1:17). It looks like the real reason for the genealogy is to show that Abraham, and hence the nation of Israel, is descended from Noah's chosen heir, Shem. If the main purpose of Genesis was a strict historical chronology, it would have been simple to finish by adding all the years involved ("And all the years from the birth of Shem to the birth of Abram were . . . ").
2. At least one patriarch is missing from the Hebrew text. In Luke's genealogy of Mary, we find a patriarch named Cainan between Arphaxad and Shalah (Luke 3:36). Cainan also appears in the Greek (Septuagint) Old Testament, but not in the original Hebrew (Massoretic) text. The Septuagint claims Cainan lived for 130 years before the birth of his son and 330 years afterward. Thus the presence of this omission, even if there are no others, is enough to make both the Hebrew and Greek translations unreliable when it comes to calculating the date of the Flood.
3. Genesis 5 and 11 are organized to be perfectly symmetrical. In each chapter, there are ten patriarchs listed, and the tenth patriarch has three sons:
4. The postdiluvian patriarchs could not have been contemporaries of Abram. Those who take the Genesis 11 chronology at its face value come up with an interesting paradox--if all the dates we need are listed here, then all of the postdiluvian patriarchs, including Noah, would have been alive when Abram was fifty years old. What's more, Shem, Shalah and Eber would have outlived Abram, and Eber would have lived for two years after Jacob went to work for Laban! A number of Jewish and Moslem traditions have sprung up to take full advantage of this generational compression; in one Abram challenges Nimrod and escapes unharmed from a fiery furnace (a la Daniel 3), and in another the mysterious Melchizedek turns out to be Shem in disguise.
Such a situation must seem astonishing even to those who believe it. Joshua tells us twice, however, that Abram's "fathers," including Terah, were all idolaters when they lived on the other side of the Euphrates (Joshua 24:2, 14-15). Surely Noah and Shem, who had seen the wrath of God in the Flood, would have known better. If they had been alive when Abram traveled from Iraq to Israel, then according to Joshua even they must have slipped into idol worship. Because this conclusion is wrong, we must set aside the "strict chronology" view to allow the deaths of Noah and Shem before Abram was born.
5. A reading of the story of Abraham (without any Jewish or Moslem traditions added) gives the impression that a long time passed between him and Babel. If you accept my date of 1952 B.C. for Abraham's birth, then according to a strict chronology the Flood would have occurred in 2244, and the Babel incident happened between 2143 and 1914 B.C. (The lifetime of Peleg). However, when Abraham leaves Ur, he is not a pioneer going to a totally deserted land; in fact, just about every place he visits--Haran, Egypt or Canaan--is already inhabited by somebody who has been there for some time. In Canaan he meets "the Kenite, and the Kenizzite, the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Girgashite, and the Jebusite" (Gen. 15:19-21). In Egypt he meets a pharaoh whose country already acts like it is older than the world (12:15). Then four kings came out of the east and attacked five cities, capturing Lot in the process (14:1-16). Finally we hear of Abraham's encounters with a priest-king of Salem (14:18), a Philistine king (20:2), and Hittite landowners (23:2-20). In the last case, Abraham refuses to take a burial plot offered by them, but insists on negotiating the price, something he might not have done if the Hittites were new arrivals in the land like himself. Byron C. Nelson, in his book Before Abraham(10), observed that Genesis mentions 26 different cities in Canaan while recounting the story of Abraham, seven of which are said to have kings. Those are an awful lot of communities to establish in a country if no more than 200 years had passed since Babel. Finally, it should be noted that the five cities of the plain must have been there for several generations if their cup of iniquity had really filled to overflowing. All this implies, if it does not say outright, that the Fertile Crescent was already old and long settled by the time Abraham traveled from one end of it to the other.
6. A lot of important characters in the Bible were not firstborn sons. In Gen. 11:26 it says "And Terah was seventy years old, and begat Abram, Nahor and Haran." If we accept this statement at face value, one might conclude that Abram was the eldest in a batch of triplets! But we find a different situation a few verses later when it says that "the days of Terah were two hundred and five years: and Terah died in Haran" (Gen. 11:32): while in 12:4 we find that "Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran." If Terah lived to be 205, and Abram was 75 in the year of Terah's death, then Terah was not 70, but 130 years old, when Abram was born. The possibility that Abram left Haran while his father was still alive is quashed by Stephen's statement that "from thence, when his father was dead, God removed him into the land, where ye now dwell" (Acts 7:4). Since triplets are quite uncommon, it makes more sense to assume that either Nahor or Haran was the eldest of three brothers, and Abram came along some time later. Thus, a more correct interpretation of Gen. 11:26 might read: "When Terah was seventy years old he begat the first of three sons; the most important, but not the oldest, was Abram." Personally, I suspect that Haran was the firstborn of the three, because his son Lot treats Abram like an equal, rather than like an uncle; it would have easier for him to get away with this if they were nearly the same age.
In fact, a critical look at the genealogies in the old Testament reveals that God used very few firstborn sons to do His work. We noticed previously that Shem was not Noah's firstborn, by comparing Gen. 11:10 with 5:32 and 8:13. Nor was Shem's son Arphaxad, the ancestor of Abram, a firstborn son, since two elder brothers (Elam and Asshur) are listed in Gen. 10:22. When looking at the ancestry of Jesus, none of the patriarchs whose story has come down to us was a firstborn son; such a list would include Seth, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Perez, David and Solomon. However, in the ancient Middle East the year in which one's first child was born became an important milestone in life (Gen. 49:3, Deut. 21:17, Psalm 78:51, and Psalm 105:36), so apparently that year, and not the year in which the most important son appeared, became the mark for a new generation's beginning.
More than a century ago another Bible scholar, John Urquhart, noted that Abram was born about halfway between the date of his eldest brother's birth and the date of his father's death, so maybe that happened with some of the other patriarchs as well.(11) He went on to calculate what would happen if every patriarch was born halfway between the date listed in Genesis 11 and that date of his father's death, and arrived at 1668 years as the likely amount of time between the Flood and the birth of Abram. Counting back from 1952 B.C., this gives us 3620 B.C. as the date for the Flood.
7. There is a sudden drop in lifespan between Eber and Peleg. Noah was the last patriarch to live more than 900 years, presumably because he had spent nearly two-thirds of his life in the nearly perfect antediluvian environment. Shem also enjoyed that blessing, but not for as long (98 years), so he made it to 600. Then a series of patriarchs lived into their fifth centuries: Arphaxad (438 years), Cainan (460 years), Shalah (433 years), and Eber (464 years). Then came a drastic change; the next individual listed, Peleg, lived to be a mere 239. A more gradual decrease in life expectancy followed Peleg: Reu (239), Serug (230), Nahor (148), Terah (205), Abraham (175), Isaac (180), Jacob (147), Joseph (110), Moses (120), and Joshua (110). Finally in the time of David and Solomon we get to the traditional three score and ten, or seventy years.
The sudden drops between Noah and Shem, and between Shem and Arphaxad, each remove about a third of humanity's life expectancy, and can be explained by the sudden deterioration of the environment during and immediately after the Flood, whether the actual factor was the change in atmosphere, diet, available minerals, or a combination of factors. By contrast, the drop from Eber to Peleg is almost 50%, and cannot be readily explained; all we can do is speculate that it had something to do with the destruction of the Babel civilization, the ice age, or some other factor altogether. Knowing what we do about the decay of other things in the environment, like the transmutation of uranium into lead, makes it more logical for most of the decline to take place at the beginning, followed by a shallower decline afterward. Instead we have a situation that reminds me of a roller coaster ride: steep-gradual-steep-gradual again. It makes more sense to put a gap of undetermined length between Eber and Peleg, during which one or more patriarchs lived for 300+ years.
In Chapter 10 we saw the Mesopotamian myth where Gilgamesh went to Dilmun to learn how Noah/Utnapishtim and his wife became immortal. This story reinforced the idea that Dilmun was the abode of the blessed. Stories about this have lasted for an astonishingly long time. They even appear in the Koran (Suras 18 and 55), where it is claimed that Moses visited the island. Consequently Dilmun/Bahrein had regular visitors even before Babel. Those who stayed found out that they weren't going to live forever in their new home, but burial on the island of the gods seemed like the next best thing. This is the most sensible explanation for one more mysterious feature about Bahrein; although not many people lived there, the island has an astonishing number of tombs. Most of these ancient cemeteries have been bulldozed to make room for modern buildings, but in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, archaeologists tried guessing how many graves and burial mounds existed. The smallest estimate was 50,000; all now agree that it had more than 150,000, and one scholar, Serge Cleuziou, put the number at 250,000 to 300,000. No other ancient civilization, not even Egypt, had a cemetery as crowded as this, and even Bahrein's present-day population cannot fill such a "city of the dead."
What we see here only makes sense if most of the tombs on Bahrein were meant for people who came from elsewhere to be buried here, sort of like how military veterans from all over the United States want to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Adding weight to this idea is the fact that about seventeen percent of the tombs were not used--one tomb in six did not contain bones or anything else. Most likely these were false tombs, or cenotaphs; for whatever reason, the owners were not buried here, but they felt it was important to have a burial plot of some kind on Bahrein. Still more Sumerian-era graves have turned up on the nearest coast of Saudi Arabia, suggesting that when Bahrein itself ran out of cemetery space, new tombs were raised as close as possible on the mainland.
The first sailors who came to Bahrein used boats made out of reeds; most of the trees in Iraq, as on Bahrein, are palms. Palm wood is not like the wood of pine or cedar trees, being made of tough fibers pressed together into bunches. This makes palm wood unsuitable for use as a material for ships (it would leak or come apart too easily). Bundles of reeds, however, can be made seaworthy, and are easier to replace than wood planks. The marshes and rivers of Iraq have berdi reeds, which are very much like the famous papyrus reeds of Egypt, the Marsh Arabs have built their houses out of these reeds for as long as anyone can remember. To make them waterproof, early shipbuilders coated the reeds with petroleum tar, also called pitch or bitumen; this ought to remind you of Noah painting the Ark with pitch. That is why I call this section "The Black Fleet"--it refers to the color of pitch-painted boats, as well as the skin color of the crews.
When other lands were discovered and settled, Bahrein became a trading center between them and Iraq. According to Sumerian records, the two most commonly visited places beyond the Gulf were called Magan and Meluhha. Magan supplied copper, while Meluhha was a source of wood and semiprecious stones like carnelian. Often the same ship visited both places, suggesting that they were in the same direction. Today most scholars believe that Magan was Oman, and Meluhha was India, specifically the Indus valley (Harappan) civilization in modern-day Pakistan. Thor Heyerdahl showed us with his 1977 Tigris expedition that a sailing trip from Iraq to India isn't too difficult, even in a reed boat; his biggest problems were modern politics, and dodging tankers in the Straits of Hormuz!
Did the children of Cush sail anywhere else, once they were in the Indian Ocean? It now appears that they did. You may remember in Chapter 11 that I proposed all the dark-skinned peoples of the modern world are descended from Cush: the black Africans, the Dravidians of South India, the Negritos of Southeast Asia, the Australian Aborigines and the Melanesian Islanders. Normally, we assume that when the various families scattered after Babel, they simply walked to their destinations. Most of Eurasia and Africa could have been settled this way, but many of the places we have assigned to descendants of Cush are islands. Australia in particular deserves attention, because everybody--both creationists and evolutionists--believes that the Aborigines came from somewhere else originally, so while they may not have any tradition of shipbuilding or sailing, they must have had ancestors who knew how to cross the seas.
It takes more skill and knowledge to travel by boat than it does to walk, and only now are we coming to appreciate that our prehistoric ancestors knew how to do this. In the section on customs practiced at Babel, we noted that the most advanced post-Babel or "Heliolithic" civilizations had their communities on seacoasts, giving us a strong hint that they used boats. To give another example, in Chapter 1 of my North American history series, I mentioned the popular theory that the first Americans got to the New World by hiking across a land bridge from Siberia, but then argued that it's more likely they arrived by sailing along the Pacific coast, getting a boost from favorable winds and currents. It may be that we did not realize the role of ancient sea travel because ships are made of perishable materials, which are not likely to last very long unless special efforts are made to preserve them, like the boat pits set up near the Great Pyramid in Egypt to bury two of Pharaoh's boats. Also, because sea levels were much lower during the ice age, we have to keep in mind that the hunting grounds and harbors preferred by coast-dwelling peoples are underwater today, where only divers can reach them. Therefore, I will propose that from Bahrein, several boatloads of Cushites sailed east to India, and some of them continued to the Andaman Islands, Southeast Asia, Australia, and Melanesia, island-hopping from New Guinea to Fiji. Expansion to the east stopped around 1000 B.C., and it probably happened because by then, the other islands worth settling were occupied by non-Cushite groups, especially the Malayo-Polynesians.
Instead of disembarking at Punt, at least two boats went up the Red Sea, and entered Egypt by going through two dry valleys in Egypt's eastern desert, the Wadi Abbad and the Wadi Hammamat. As they went along, they carved petroglyphs on the the rocks, pictures of stick-figure people with a "square boat" that had a high bow & stern, and a flat bottom. The scenes in the petroglyphs suggest that dragged their boats with them, hence the flat bottom; the leader of the expedition wore a headdress with two long feathers sticking out, and he was accompanied by a dancing female figure, possibly a goddess rather than a living person. In those days the overland trek wouldn't have been as difficult as it is today. Because the Sahara hadn't completely dried out yet, some pastureland or savanna would have been available on the way, and if the journey was made during the Nile's flood season, even part of the valley would have been flooded, allowing the boats to return to water sooner. Once at the Nile, they either founded two settlements where those wadis met the Nile, Nekhen and Nubt, or--more likely--took over the settlements which were already there, because their cousins, the descendants of Mizraim, would have gotten to Egypt first, by marching through Syria and Israel.
Why did a group of Cushites travel so far to invade the land claimed by Mizraim? Most likely they were after a resource that still motivates men to do extraordinary things--gold. The Wadi Hammamat contained Egypt's oldest gold mines, and gold-bearing rocks were also accessible from the Wadi Abbad. We don't know whether the Egyptians or the Cushites first discovered the gold, but the result was the same. When they arrived, the Cushites had a military advantage over the Egyptians. First, their boats were sturdier, being seagoing vessels, while the Egyptian reed boats were only reliable in rivers and lakes. Second, they were armed with pear-shaped stone maces, which were deadlier weapons than anything the original Egyptians had. Using these, they eventually conquered all of Egypt and installed their leader as the first pharaoh. However, by then writing had been invented in Egypt, so that is a story for Egyptian history, not for this work. If you want to read more about that adventure, go to Chapter 1 of my African history series.
I will end this section with another disclaimer. The ideas concerning Bahrain and the Dynastic Race are not my own; they come from more than one source, the main ones being W. B. Emery's Archaic Egypt and David Rohl's Legend: The Genesis of Civilisation. Indeed, Rohl devotes the whole second half of his book to them, as well as a chapter from his next book, From Eden to Exile. However, the idea that the Cushites were looking for gold is my own, and I believe the pear-shaped mace was an attempt to imitate the scepter of Nimrod (see the previous section on Enmerkar). The main area where I added to the Dynastic Race theory was the idea that it involved migrations to Asia and the Pacific, as well as to Africa. Emery and Rohl are not creationists, so they did not consider that others might have traveled the same way; to them the events in the Book of Genesis only concerned the Middle East, while people in the rest of the world were unaffected (Rohl, for instance, believes that Noah's Flood was confined to Iraq).
One aspect of the Dynastic Race theory which I did not mention was a proposal from Rohl that the Phoenicians followed the same path as the Cushites, going from Iraq to Bahrein to Oman to Punt to Egypt, before sailing across the Mediterranean to Lebanon. He also thinks that "Punt" and "Phoenician" start with a "P" because both names came from the same root word originally ("Poen"?). My response to that is, "It's possible, but not likely." Sailing all the way around the Arabian peninsula to go from Iraq to Lebanon seems like an awfully long trip, when all you have to do is walk across Syria.
On the other hand, those moving away would have seen their quality of life drop dramatically, in the struggle to stay alive. Consider this analogy: a plane makes an emergency landing on an uninhabited island. The crew and passengers aboard are quite unprepared to camp out for a long time. They may make do for a while with the food the plane carried, but it will run out, and when it does, the people cannot visit the nearest supermarket for their groceries. Instead they will have to go hunting, fishing, or try their luck at farming (hope somebody brought some seeds . . . ). Likewise, when their clothes wear out, they are not likely to have looms or any other weaving equipment with them; animal skins or leaves will probably have to do. If there is no electricity, a lot of appliances will become useless immediately. They may cannibalize the metal of the plane to make tools and weapons, but one that is gone, where will new sources of metal come from? Doctors will find treating the sick a major challenge, and a disease requiring a medical specialist is likely to go untreated, unless the passengers were doctors on their way to a convention. Skills that are useless in the new environment, like electronics, mechanics, and any of the arts, are not likely to be passed to the next generation if they do not contribute toward survival. If it takes more than a few years to rescue the castaways, they will become indistinguishable from cavemen.
Such technological de-evolution would have happened twice in this work, first with Noah's family after the Flood, and second by everyone who left the defunct empire of Babel. The rule of thumb we can follow here is that the farther a family traveled from Iraq, the more primitive was their technology and lifestyle by the time they settled down. For example, the dominant metallurgy progressed from copper to bronze to iron in the Old World, but those who settled the New World never even got to the bronze age level. Consequently, those who stayed in Iraq would have had a technological head start over everyone else. Their nearest neighbors wouldn't have been far behind, though. In the Middle East, there is a sickle-shaped area running from Iraq through Syria, Lebanon, and Israel; this zone is called the Fertile Crescent, because it is a well-watered zone of potential farmland, surrounded by mountains and deserts. Here and in the nearest mountains, the Lebanon and the Zagros ranges, a simple form of agriculture continued to be practiced; nomads supplemented their meager fare with wheat and barley while they herded flocks of sheep and goats before them. In several places around the world, mankind would begin to climb back toward civilization, but the shepherds and village-dwellers of the Fertile Crescent had a head start over the rest.
And then there are places with the opposite problem, where it is very easy to live; they are not likely to develop a civilization, either. Under tropical paradise conditions, like on the islands of the Pacific and the Caribbean, food can be gathered from trees and the ocean with little effort, and the constantly-warm temperature means that clothing and shelter are only necessary to keep off the rain. People who live under these conditions are not motivated to achieve much, because they already have the "good life."
The ideal place for a civilization to develop is a place where life is not an everyday struggle, but it requires work to make it comfortable. Such a place is often a river valley in a subtropical latitude (e.g., about 30o N.) with desert or semi-desert conditions around it. The latitude keeps temperatures moderate, the river insures a steady supply of water all year round, and the dry environment will make the people gather around the river. Six such places developed civilizations in the fourth and third millennia B.C.:
1. The Tigris and Euphrates valleys in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq).
Besides these, there were some also-rans, places where progress toward civilization was made at a very early date, but halted before it was complete. One such place is the lower Jordan valley; millennia before Joshua there was a thriving community at Jericho, and at a site called Tell Ghassul just across the river. Other places worthy of note are some villages in Thailand and north Vietnam, that were turning out pottery and bronze work in the fourth millennium B.C.; Catal Huyuk in southern Turkey; Varna and Lepenski Vir in the Balkans, and the recently discovered BMAC culture in Turkmenistan. These sites astonish the excavators with technology that turns up centuries earlier than expected; in the Jordan towns, for instance, even the oldest level reveals bricks and irrigation ditches. Why they ultimately failed is a case where the jury is still out, since they left no writings to tell us their story. Perhaps it comes from the fact that these communities only had a few people in them; Jericho, for instance, only once had as many as 2,000 residents; the largest of these stone age settlements, Catal Huyuk, could support 7,000. With a neighborhood that small, it only takes one good famine or epidemic to reduce a social unit to a point from which it cannot recover. Warfare was also a possible culprit, now that the villagers had something worth taking; the massive walls of Jericho testify that this was a real danger.
We don't have to give the Antarctic and Oceanic regions much attention, because the former is too cold to have any habitable land, and there are only islands (no continents) in the latter. Of the other six, the Palearctic zone is beyond a doubt the friendliest to civilization. This zone had not one, but three of the places where civilization got started after Babel (Egypt, Mesopotamia and China). It also had the most of all four items on the list above. We already noted that most of the world's domesticated animals come from western Asia, and a good portion of the plants as well. In fact, Deuteronomy 8:8 lists seven crops that are indigenous to the Holy Land: wheat, barley, grapes, olives, dates, figs and pomegranates.
There was also plenty of room to grow them in, because the Palearctic zone has three large areas suitable for farming: the Mediterranean basin, the Fertile Crescent, and the north China plain. Because the Mediterranean and Fertile Crescent zones are next to each other, contact between them was established at a very early date, allowing for the transfer of goods and knowledge, and both were in contact with China by the second century B.C., if not sooner. Finally, because Babel had been located in this zone, it had the largest population base; large communities are necessary for a specialization of jobs and to make research possible. Populations in the other zones are mere offshoots of the original one located here.
The Ethiopian zone, which contains all of Africa below the Sahara and part of Arabia, and the Oriental zone (India, Southeast Asia and China below the Yangtze River), did nearly as well. Though they didn't have as many useful plants and animals as the Palearctic zone, the people in the Ethiopian and Oriental zones had quite a few of their own, and land bridges to the Palearctic zone allowed them to obtain the rest. However, the climate wasn't as favorable; both zones are dominated by inhospitable jungles, forcing the inhabitants to spend considerable energy just staying alive, as opposed to improving their lifestyle. As a result, the civilizations in these zones eventually fell behind the Palearctic ones in technology, and after 1800 the Europeans conquered both of them.
The two zones in the New World, the Nearctic and the Neotropical, had some nice places to live, but otherwise put the inhabitants at a disadvantage. While there were plenty of useful plants, such as corn, peppers and potatoes, the only animal that could serve as a beast of burden was the llama, and it was limited to carrying 80 pounds. Nor did they have the wheel, except as a children's toy, so transportation was slow. In addition, there were fewer people to start with, all of them being descended from small groups that came over from the Old World at an uncertain early date. Finally, they were isolated by oceans from the Old World civilizations, and it doesn't even look like the two civilized zones of the New World--Mesoamerica and the Andes mts.--were aware that each other existed. All these factors made for a much slower progress than in the Old World, about nine times slower, according to my estimates. At the time Europeans discovered the Aztecs and the Incas, the Americas were at a stage similar to the Old World around 2500 B.C.--two large states separated by still-uncivilized areas, and the most advanced areas only worked with a few metals (gold, silver and copper). If North and South America had avoided contact with the Old World until today, I'll venture that none of the Indian tribes, not even those in an iron ore-rich area like like Minnesota, would have yet discovered how to forge iron.
That leaves the Australian zone. From civilization's perspective, it was the most shortchanged zone of all. Only the southeast has a pleasant, temperate climate. There are few edible plants, so you can forget about agriculture, and no animals that are useful for anything other than food. On top of that, the Aborigines who came here were even more isolated from humanity than the American Indians, with only occasional contacts before the late eighteenth century. Thus, it should be no surprise that they were still in the stone age when the outside world discovered them.
In the ages before the mechanized agriculture of today, irrigation in a hot climate was the most productive way to farm the land. It was only in the countries where this was practiced that population density could exceed one hundred persons per square mile. Temperate rain-watered agriculture supported densities in the tens, and herding supported densities in single-digit figures. Pure hunting/gathering is about 100 times less efficient than herding; it only feeds an average of one person per ten square miles. These statistics are important because they explain why mankind is unevenly distributed around the world; remember that civilization is most likely to appear where he is concentrated.(14)
The surplus of a few farmers is uncertain and feeds little beyond the family. However, when the harvests of many farmers are pooled together the danger of famine from a poor harvest is reduced, and it becomes possible for some people to spend their entire lives working at something besides hunting or farming. This led to the first professions: the potter, the priest or spiritual advisor, the trader, and others. Craftsmen became specialists, now that they could work fulltime, and their villages grew into the first cities as population and prosperity increased.
Even with hundreds of mouths to feed at home there was still a surplus of food being produced, and the new specialists were turning out far more pottery, clothing, and other goods than they could possibly need. Somebody must have asked what to do with the surplus, and the answer was trade. The first traders took the excess goods from one community to the next, or to barbarians living just outside the civilized area who were willing to trade raw materials for the food and manufactured goods of the cities. The latter form of trade was especially important to Mesopotamia, because the Sumerians lived in a land with no natural resources except water and clay. Likewise, the first major trade routes connected population centers with places that had a rare resource or commodity, something that wasn't available elsewhere. One such commodity was obsidian, a black volcanic glass that is useful for making knives, jewelry, and mirrors. The main source for this material was Catal Huyuk in Turkey, and it became a trading community because merchants from elsewhere would travel hundreds of miles for obsidian.
The main items barbarians were willing to trade for the food and manufactured goods of the civilized world were gold dust and unwanted neighbors. Here is a list of some of the other commodities barbarians had to offer the early traders:
Africa= gold, ivory, animal skins, ostrich feathers
All trade at this time was strictly barter; it would be thousands of years before money was invented. If the transaction included precious metals, they would be weighed to make sure the right amount changed hands. In Mesopotamia the traders were probably ordinary peddlers at first, but once well-organized communities got underway the government and priests took over, and commerce became a fixed-price affair, regulated by temple or palace. Some of the military campaigns of the Bronze Age, like Sargon I's invasion of Lebanon, may in fact have been inspired by the government's demand for raw materials unavailable at home. Beyond Egypt and Mesopotamia, trade was handled Soviet-style from the start; Pharaoh's representative, not a common merchant, would negotiate with Canaanite chiefs.(15)
While most early traders probably did not go more than a few miles from their home communities, their goods traveled astonishing distances. The merchandise changed hands between several merchants before it reached the consumer, especially if it could be bought at a discount near its source and sold for a premium at a distance. For example, as early as 3000 B.C. both the Egyptians and Sumerians were using lapis lazuli, a purple semi-precious stone, but as shown above, the only place where it could be found was Afghanistan! Nor was commerce limited to trips by land; by the early third millennium B.C., merchants were making regular trips by boat, following the paths originally blazed by the descendants of Cush and Javan.
Traders also exchanged something more important than goods: ideas. The exchange of ideas would speed up progress everywhere. For example: a farmer has a bountiful harvest and wants to sell his surplus grain in the nearest city. To get the grain there he puts a sack on his back and gets his sons to carry the rest. They arrive in town exhausted by the weight of their burdens, and notice somebody else bringing grain to sell, but he carries it on the backs of donkeys! What do you think the first farmer will do with his harvest next year?
As villages grew into cities a system of organization became necessary to build or maintain works of engineering (such as irrigation canals), and to resolve disputes between people. There was also a need to defend the city, for whenever the inhabitants became fat and happy, barbarians living nearby would be motivated to attack, either from greed or from a desire to escape starvation. To handle these matters governments were set up. In the post-Babel world the most important political unit was not a nation but a city-state, one city surrounded by farmland and maybe some satellite villages.
The increasing crowds of worshipers that paid homage to the city's god also required that the simple shrines of the past be enlarged into temples, and a system of organization was needed to maintain the temples and worship, so each city's religion became an organized one as well. In fact, the first city governments probably looked a lot like the temple organizations. Temples came to be the centers of everyday urban life, housing small armies of singers, musicians, cooks, maids, weavers, various artisans, and even wrestlers to entertain visitors. As much as a third of the available farmland in Mesopotamia belonged to these early temples, and their income was enormous; for example, in the early third millenium B.C., the temple of Ningirsu in the city of Lagash provided a daily bread and beer ration to 1,200 people.
All of the elements of civilization mentioned so far--agriculture, irrigation, job specialization, trade, government, an army and organized religion--happened wherever a large community formed. To these the inhabitants of Mesopotamia added three more innovations: the wheel, metallurgy and writing. Other civilizations did not always invent these things, so they gave a critical advantage to the civilizations that did.
At first the wheel was only used as a potter's tool; not until after 3000 B.C. was it applied to transportation. As for metallurgy, before it was invented, pure copper had occasionally been found in nuggets and made into jewelry or arrowheads, but those who worked the shiny reddish-brown metal did not know that there was much more copper to be found in the green rocks nearby (malachite). It appears that somebody made a fire next to a malachite outcropping and saw molten copper come out of the ore. An abundant supply of the metal made it possible to make new kinds of tools, like the saw.(16) Unfortunately, copper is not a very strong metal, and it could not be used in everything, so copper tools were used alongside stone ones for a while. Archeologists call this stage of technological development the chalcolithic age, meaning copper and stone-using. Before long, however, it was discovered that adding another metal (usually tin) to copper produced a metal called bronze, which was both stronger than copper and more versatile than stone. The bronze age had begun.
The growth of trade, government, and religious ceremony required a better record-keeping system than personal memory. Some cultures simply made marks or notches in a handy object like a stick or a bone. This worked well enough for keeping track of things like the number of days since a crop was planted, but such tallies only meant something to the person who made them. Large communities eventually developed a pure pictographic system (each symbol represented a single word), and used it until a less cumbersome syllabic or phonetic script was introduced. In many cases a perishable writing medium (wood, papyrus, leaves, cloth or animal skins) was used, and because it eventually decayed, we do not always know how different systems of writing developed. Each civilization also had a different reason to invent writing; e.g., the Chinese used it to write down the results of their fortune telling ("oracle bones"), and the Maya first used it to keep track of calendar dates.
For the best examples of how writing developed, we will once again turn to Mesopotamia, because because the Sumerians put a relatively durable material--clay from the riverbanks--to this use. In the section on Enmerkar, we learned that the Sumerians claimed he invented writing for diplomatic correspondence, but it was business records, not messages from kings, that transformed writing from a mnemonic memory tool into a way to communicate across time and distance. Even before Babel, the inhabitants of the cities in Iraq used fire-hardened clay tokens to represent things that bought, traded, or gave away: livestock, oil, perfume, wood, etc. The tokens came in a different shapes, like disks, crescents, teardrops, stars or spheres, and each shape stood for a different commodity. For business transactions, marriage contracts, taxes, temple offerings, etc., they would place these tokens in hollow clay balls, seal them up, and mark the balls with pictures representing the names of the people involved. This system worked so well that it quickly spread to every part of the Fertile Crescent; after Babel, merchants must have liked it because it let them do business without requiring them to learn the language of their customers. The cities of Uruk and Susa set up special buildings just for storing the tokens and their clay envelopes, with temple bureaucrats to handle administration. At first sixteen different types of tokens were used, but as trade became more complex, more than two hundred sub-types appeared.
The problem with this form of record-keeping was that to check what was inside a ball, one had to "break" the contract. To avoid doing this, the Sumerian record-keepers started making pictures of the tokens on the outside of the ball to indicate what was inside. This immediately made the ball-and-token system obsolete, because it was much easier to simply mark a piece of clay with symbols representing the terms of the contract, just as Enmerkar had marked a piece of clay with symbols so his ambassador could remember the message he was supposed to deliver. As time went on other symbols were invented for nouns, actions, and numbers. When this happened, it became possible for us to read about ancient man--in his own words. The rest, as we say, is history.
"Because it is sometimes so unbelievable, the truth escapes becoming known."
Heracleitus, about 500 B.C.
1. Have we heard of anybody in our own day trying to set up a one-world government without God in it? The United Nations, perhaps?
2. The figure of seventy comes from Hebrew tradition, which says there were seventy languages originally. This is because there are seventy individuals listed in Genesis 10. Recently Grady McMurtry suggested that the Semites and Japhethites got just one language, the ancestral language of the Semitic and Indo-European language families (called Nostratic in some texts), while the Hamites got several languages; that is why the ancestry of the Hamitic languages is so much harder to trace.
3. Another name for Set is Seth, which may or may not have been a name taken from the son of Adam. At any rate, the Egyptians were always prejudiced against Asians afterwards; they called Asia "the domain of Set" and referred to the Asians with various derogatory names, one of which was Setyu, meaning "followers of Set." They also noted that the inhabitants of the Middle East often had red hair, white skin, and used donkeys, all of which were symbols of Set (the horse was seen as some kind of "wild jackass" until the Egyptians learned the difference in the mid-second millenium B.C.). Could this be because the Middle East was the homeland for Shem and his descendants?
4. Calneh has never been identified with any certainty, though some Bible scholars suggest this was another name for Nippur, the holy city of the Sumerians. Others have identified it with Tell Tayinat, a city in southeastern Turkey, because the Assyrians called it Kunulua when they destroyed it in 738 B.C.; this appears to have been the Calneh mentioned by the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 10:9). Resen hasn't been located either, but since it is described as being between Nineveh and Calah, two cities that were only thirty miles apart, we know it was in the same neighborhood as modern Mosul.
5. A village grew up on the site of Babylon in the third millenium B.C.. The Sumerians called it KA.DINGIR, which meant "gateway of the gods" in their language.
6. Wilford, John Noble, "Archaeologists Unearth a War Zone 5,500 Years Old," New York Times, December 16, 2005.
7. Ross, John, The Original Religion of China, London, Oliphant, Anderson and Ferrier, 1909), pp. 19-20, quoted by Kang, C.H., and Nelson, Ethel R., The Discovery of Genesis: How the Truths of Genesis Were Found Hidden In the Chinese Language, St. Louis, Concordia Publishing House, 1979, pg. 2.
8. Papke, W., Die geheime Botschaft des Gilgamesh: 4000 Jahre alte astronomische Aufzeichnungen entschlüsselt, Augsburg, 1993.
11. Urquhart, John, How Old Is Man?, London, James Nisbet & Co., 1904, pg. 101.
12. Sumer meant "Land of the Guardians" in Akkadian; the Sumerians themselves called the land KI.EN.GIR, which may have meant the same thing.
13. The exception to the river-in-a-desert rule is southern Mexico, clearly a tropical climate. The oldest civilizations in this zone (the Olmecs, Zapotecs and Maya), may have gotten started with some help from the Valley of Mexico. The valley was watered by a lake which no longer exists (Lake Texcoco), and because of its high altitude, it enjoys moderate temperatures. Consequently the cities of Teotihuacan, Tenochtitlan, and Mexico City were all built there.
14. After the Tower of Babel project failed, those folks who spoke the same language as Nimrod were probably the only ones to stay in Shinar. Still, because of the irrigation canals, this was the most productive agricultural area, so population must have recovered fairly quickly. Mesopotamia remained home to the world's largest human community until about 2000 B.C., when Egypt caught up. Then at some point in the first millennium B.C., Egypt was passed by India and China, and they have been the two most crowded countries ever since.
15. The Egyptian language did not even have a word for "merchant" before 2000 B.C.
16. Copper is not only the first metal mankind worked with; it is also the most useful. After iron and steel replaced copper for tools and weapons, it remained valuable because it could be used in money, jewelry, statues, plumbing--and electric wires. That is why the author occasionally hears news stories about thieves stealing spools of copper wire, from warehouses or even power substations, though such a crime is extremely dangerous. Nearly every scrap of copper that has been dug out of the ground over the ages is still in use today.
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