I’ve been writing letters to my 12 year old self, explaining things about religion and human history that I wish I’d been educated on back then.
For example, the biblical “timeline”. As a child I was taught that Adam & Eve were the only two humans on earth, approximately 6,000 years ago. Obviously every single encyclopedia, National Geographic, science journal, archaeological documentary and fossil-filled cave I’ve ever viewed has challenged this statement. Even at that young age, after reading the Bible cover to cover twice and crossreferencing and researching every verse hundreds of times I’d already begun to question why human occupation of biblical places like Canaan, Jericho and the location of Darius’ temple predated the 6,000 year timeline.
Recently when I had the privilege of seeing ancient treasures in French and Roman museums like the Louvre and the Vatican, it opened my eyes to the vast quantities of archaeological evidence discovered and openly displayed in the last 50 years. It impressed in my mind that the evidence isn’t just one or two scientific antiquity discoveries championed by a couple of atheistic scientists – every one of us mere mortals can go and clearly see every stage of human development and advancement laid out in a million successive pieces.
Seeing the “levels” of archaeological excavation in Rome had an amazing impact on me too, as did realising that Jewish, Islamic & Christian Bible lovers alike all agree that the first books of the Bible aren’t entirely chronological gospel so to speak – and that believing so isn’t the primary requirement of faith. For years I decried the Catholic Church for turning its back on the bible, but now I realise the way it has handled the evolution debate, for example, has actually been a diplomatic (and loving) solution, allowing those who want to believe keep their faith without scientific facts becoming a road blocker.
I’ve often wondered why conservative evangelical Protestant based religions similar to the one I grew up in don’t encourage a Holy Land pilgrimage, but now I think that seeing these religiously significant places in real life would challenge their core beliefs too much – not because there are any issues with Bible stories per se. It’s just that the Bible accounts took place on the mere surface of recent human history. Not “in the beginning”.
Anyway, I digress = near the end of this letter of explanation to 12 year old me I had an apostrophe (I think you mean an epiphany). Here is said letter to self:
Before farming was established humans were nomadic tribes, moving where the food was, travelling seasonally, not owning any property beyond tools because they couldn’t carry anything heavier than their children when travelling. Community ties were strong because each member of the tribe played a role & they all knew they had to work together to survive. There were no wars because there was nothing to fight over. If groups were in conflict, they’d move away from each other. Human instinct was only based on survival, especially over winter. This is why the “birthplace” of civilisation is in hot places with water/rivers – like Africa & Middle East.
The first step towards civilisation was domesticating animals to carry stuff, enabling humans ownership of more belongings. The second step was breeding & herding animals for milk, wool & meat, making it easier for humans to gain weight (& therefore breed more often).
Agriculture started because of this cold snap which enabled farming in the Middle East.
The “Bronze age” just means the time when humans started melting metal. Using metal tools made life easier, so they started using their newfound spare time to make a lot of unnecessary pretty things too – statues, temples, jewellery, ornate clothing. This is when writing started & biblical timeline began.
Prior to this time only the richest tribal leaders had “belongings”, but during this time even poorest humans started to collect & own nice things & wanted to hand them down to next generations. When they had too many riches to carry (& enough domesticated animals to supply them with food) they wanted to settle in one spot & stop carrying their belongings. When they began settling down, no longer meeting “new” people as often, humans became less promiscuous.
As humans enjoyed sex less (both in quantity & quality presumably) & started to focus on owning possessions instead of only worrying about the basic needs of life (food, shelter, sex) the connection between sex & fatherhood (children actually looking like the man their mother most often slept with) became obvious.
Once humans realised this, the men became especially fond of the children that looked like them & wanted to “hand down” to the doppelganger offspring any riches & possessions they’d collected during their life time. Humans started building longer lasting houses & wanted to “hand down” these too. They started including nearby wells & walls & rivers & arable land as their “own”. This was the beginning of land ownership. It also started official documentation of who owns what, which led to biblical writings as proof of land ownership. Written word came to be gospel (funny, since writing quickly came to be controlled by the wealthy, rulers & priest classes).
Land ownership caused other issues (theft, jealousy, murder, war) including an obsession with handing possessions to a biological son. Proof of paternity caused “control” of women, their virginity & sexuality in general. This is when organised religion began.
And right about here is where i realised a blindingly simple explanation for the 6,000 year son of son of son of son of son of son of bible timeline that i’d been in anguish over for years (before dropping my religious beliefs entirely to enjoy a decade of carefree atheism).
The first five books of the Bible, aka the Pentateuch or Torah, were written by Moses during the 40 years the Israelites wandered in the wilderness. They were based on oral traditions and folk stories.
This is when it occurred to me – what better way for a homeless people to find a home, than for it to be “written” that God gave them the land? Even better, that the land was their rightful (“legal”) inheritance?
Israelite traditions and law regarding land ownership and God-given inheritance were strong & explicit as evidenced by the tale of Ahab and Naboth in 1 Kings 21:3
But Naboth said to Ahab, “Yahweh forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.”
Naboth refused to hand over the vineyard because it was the inheritance of his fathers. Eg, based on ancient Hebrew religious grounds (חלילה כּי מיהוה) because the sale of a paternal inheritance was forbidden in the law (Leviticus 25:23-28; Numbers 36:7.)
Death was preferable over giving up an inheritance.
Incidentally, Leviticus and Numbers are both in the Pentateuch, written by Moses in the wilderness.
Ergo, i’m suggesting that one of the purposes of writing the generational history all the way back to Adam was to unequivocally prove the ownership of the so-called “promised land”. An inheritance handed down by God to Adam (who screwed up and lost Eden), then promised again to Abraham and therefore all of their direct descendants. The first Land Title document essentially. I’m not stating straight out that this was a dodgy claim – but it *was* based on oral tradition and so has as much value as modern land rights based on dreamtime stories involving Ponde the fish and the Rainbow Serpent. Pretty sure the Australian government still controls the Murray River waters and land, not the indigenous owners. But i digress.
It turns out i’m not the first to think of the 6000 year bible timeline this way. The debate over who really owns the Holy Land continues to our day. And you could argue came into the limelight when so-called terrorists allegedly flew planes into the World Tower trade centres in New York.
I’m glad i had this ephiphany, because i’ve realised that not only was i brought up as a Protestant (a shock at the time, but opening up a fascination for Lost Bible books) i was also a Zionist 🙂 Every little thing i learn about my religious upbringing helps me think of all else in a different light, and enables me to feel less guilty for opposing the big ugly concrete wall being built in Jerusalem and the way the Palestinian people are currently being treated (for example). A new perspective is always interesting.