Wilderness Survival, Tracking, and Awareness

The Garden of Eden and the Beginning of Civilisation

There are many different ways in which this Bible story could possibly be interpreted. Here is one:

Adam and Eve are a metaphor for the first people, pre-industrial, pre-agricultural people. In the setting of this story, that is, in their part of the world—in that tribe—they are the last people to live in the old ways. They lived in what my Sunday School called a "paradise", close to God and the the Earth, naked without shame. The actual lifestyle that they lived, picking food from the trees, and so on, is in modern terms called "hunter-gatherer". A good example of this lifestyle is given here.

Then, they ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. What does that mean exactly? You could debate that for millennia (as people have done). You could also look at the effects of it in the story. Well, in the Bible story, because of that "forbidden" knowledge, what happened? Answer: "Cursed is the ground because of you, through painful toil you will eat of it.....by the sweat of your brow you will eat your food." And, a few paragraphs later, "So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden, to work the ground..."

What happened to the snake? Well, in the Bible I have in front of me today (New International Version), it says "Cursed are you.... you will crawl on your belly, and you will eat dust, all the days of your life". In Sunday School this was explained as somehow before that, the snake had legs, or something. But I am not seeing anything like that in the Bible. I am thinking, where else might a snake have lived, if not on the ground? Perhaps, in a tree? And perhaps it might have not had to eat dust if before the curse there was some kind of vegetative ground cover. Just an idea.

Their sons, Cain and Abel, were not hunter-gatherers, but farmers. "Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil". That is, herding and agriculture.

To me it looks like, for some reason, the people were no longer able to live their traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle, but were forced to live in a new, much more difficult way (i.e. painful toil and sweat)—that of the farmer.

Then Cain, the crop-grower, killed Abel, the herder. People started growing crops in preference to herding animals. So the land has been cleared for crops (removing of the trees, and native/wandering animals), and now we concentrate only on crops, not on herding animals. Without animals to fertilise the soil, what happens? Well, in the Bible, after Cain kills Abel we have "You are under a curse and driven from the ground...... when you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you".

If any of the above sounds at all farfetched or contrived, consider this.......

The Oldest Written Story in the World

The following extract is from The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, by Thom Hartmann (p85 of the original edition).

According to The Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest written story in the world, one of the first kings of the earliest Sumerian civilisation (the Uruks) was a man named Gilgamesh. He was the first mortal to defy the forest god, Humbaba, who had been entrusted by the chief Sumerian deity Enlil, to protect the cedar forests of Lebanon from mankind.

King Gilgamesh wanted to build a great city, Uruk, to immortalise his contribution to Sumerian civilisation. So he and his loggers rebelled against Humbaba and began to cut the forests, which then stretched from Jordan to the sea in Lebanon. The story ends with Gilgamesh decapitating the forest god, Humbaba, infuriating the god of gods, Enlil. Enlil then avenges the death of Humbaba by making the water in his kingdom undrinkable and the fields utterly barren—killing off Gilgamesh and his people.

Along with its other distinctive qualities, The Epic of Gilgamesh is the earliest recorded story of downstream siltation and desertification caused by the extensive destruction of forestlands. Lebanon went from over 90% forest (the famous "Cedars of Lebanon") to less than 7% over a 1,500 year period, causing downward rainfall to decrease by 80%. Trees and their roots are an important part of the water cycle. As a result, millions of acres of land in the Fertile Crescent area turned to desert or scrubland, and remain relatively barren to this day—fertile no more.

The staple food of the Mesopotamians was barley, but over a period of several hundred years of continuous growth of barley on irrigated land, the land became exhausted and had such high levels of salt (carried in by the irrigation water) that it would no longer grow crops. At the same time, because of the rapid destruction of the forests, wood had become such a precious commodity that it was equal in value to some gem and mineral ores: neighbouring countries were conquered for their wood supplies, as well as to get fertile land to grow barley. Vast areas of land along the Euphrates and Tigris rivers were cut bare, increasing the siltation of their irrigation canals and cropland and further decreasing downwind rainfall.

The result of this local climactic change more than 5000 years ago was widespread famine. The collapse of the last Mesopotamian empire happened around four thousand years ago, and the records they left behind show that only at the very end of their empire did they realise how they had destroyed their precious source of food and fuel by razing their forests and despoiling the rest of their environment. For thousands of years they "knew" their way of life was fine. But although things looked good at the time, they didn't realise it wasn't sustainable.

It has, indeed, happened before.

Although we regard the Sumerian culture as ancient, their culture was actually very similar to our own—in many important and fundamental aspects. In fact, they are regarded as the earliest fathers of our modern way of living, what we call "civilisation".

We think of Adam and Eve, in the pre-snake part of the Biblical story, as being perfectly happy. How many people in modern life do you know that are truly happy? You can read more here about happiness in our modern culture.

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