The Old Testament is a compilation of selected oral traditions passed on from one culture. These were the stories told around the campfire to give the early Hebrews a cultural identity. All tribes had their own oral traditions, but what is written in the Old Testament survived because the tribe eventually wrote them down.
There are a few things to consider about this. These stories were important enough for the tribe to pass down for generations before eventually writing them down. The second thing to consider is that these stories were passed on orally for thousands of years. Surely the significance of the stories would have changed their context over this vast period of time. The third thing is that these stories could only be based on all they knew, not all that was.
So what could the story of Adam and Eve have represented for the early Hebrews? The creation of the world? Certainly not, but what could have happened that was so significant that they would hold it in so high a regard as to call it creation? Can history give us any clues as to what could have been so significant to these people 10,000 years ago?
The fact is, history can tell us about a very significant event that happened in the same time and place, the Agricultural Revolution.
Now, it should be said that humans had been around for hundreds of thousands of years prior to the Agricultural Revolution. During this period, human population growth was slight. These early tribes were mostly hunter-gatherers with some low-level farming. A comparative look at some of the isolated tribes of today shows that they have a high respect for nature, and concepts like ownership of land and ownership of food are mostly non-existent. They lived as animals, in that they killed and ate what they needed, and for protection, but very rarely more than that. This is the law of limited competition as we see among other animals in the wild today. Humans did not claim dominion over the planet or its food. One day the human hunters caught the deer, another day the deer got away, and yet another day a tiger caught the deer. The humans did not resent the tiger for this because they were living as the tiger did. Whether the deer lived or who caught it, was up to the gods. By “the gods” I of course mean the Animist “gods” found in many tribal cultures.
Fast forward to the Agricultural Revolution when humans began to think differently about their food. Rather than rely on “the gods” for their food, humans began a concentrated wholesale campaign to grow and have complete control over their food. Animals were domesticated and raised on farms for the sole purpose of food. This time the deer or other livestock belonged to the humans first and foremost. The deer’s fate was sealed from birth, it belonged to the humans. The livestock was also protected from other prey, and when necessary, the humans went to war with other would-be competitors for the livestock. To put it another way, humans suddenly took control and decided who lived and who died. Until the Agricultural Revolution, this was the “Knowledge of the Gods.”
Do you see where this is going?
The story of the fall of Adam and Eve is the story of the Agricultural Revolution. The story is told from the point of view of a neighbouring tribe. They thought it was a bad idea as the gods had provided for all up to then and by claiming the knowledge of the gods (eating the apple) they had begun living outside of the laws of nature which had worked so well until then. These observers assumed chaos would ensue and “the gods” would no longer provide for them or protect them, thus they were “cast out of the garden.” Fortunately for the early Hebrews, this new form of making a living seemed to work quite well. It is likely that the observing tribe was assimilated as agriculture very quickly spread all over the world.
So the story of Adam and Eve wasn’t about the creation of humans, but the creation of civilization as we know it! Surely a story worthy of being passed down for generations.
Another thing that is interesting about this, is the spiritual basis of these people was taken away from them. What right did they have to claim dominion over the world and all the animals and plants in it? Who could possibly have given humans the authority to have the knowledge of the gods, of good and evil? Well, who else could give that kind of authority, but the gods themselves.
So this wasn’t just the birth of civilization as we know it, but also representing the invention of gods. What better coronation story for us, than to be created by god in his own image to rule over the earth.
It’s actually surprising how literal some of these stories can be taken once put in the proper context.
The story of Cain and Abel (along with many other Old Testament stories) is representative of the spread of agriculture. Cain, a farmer, represented an agriculturalist tribe who went to war with Abel, a shepherd, who represented a tribe of, well, shepherds.