Monday, May 01, 2006

Those Pigs

I have heard it suggested that the conflict between Cain and Abel illustrates the conflict between life on the move and the settled life. Most early societies were either herding groups living by animal husbandry, and settled agricultural groups. The story of Cain and Abel would suggest that G-d preferred his people to keep on being shepherds and goatherds – Yahweh preferred the animal sacrifice, and disciplined Cain by sending him off to wander.

This preference of G-d for people who weren’t settled shows up again in the dietary laws. When archaeologists discover pig bones at a site, it is a sign that those particular people had settled down and become immobile. It’s hard enough to herd goats and sheep. Herding pigs? That’s right out. Once pigs are on the scene, you’re staying put. Shellfish are also tough to manage for mobile groups; bad clams can kill you.

Even for those of you who don’t believe a deity has anything to do with the directions given to the Jews, it’s still an interesting story, recording the cultural competition between the two ways of life. For believers, it raises another interesting question: why did G-d prefer to keep His people on the move so much of the time?


Jerub-Baal said...

Well, I'm not sure that goats and sheep mean a completely unsettled life, as you can have a sheep ranch (just like with a cattle ranch) and have a nice house to call home. You'll just spend an lot of time in the fields, or you'll send your youngest son David to go camping with the sheep. That has the added bonus of getting that annoying harp music out of the house.

Seriously though, I read an interesting piece in Smithsonian a few years ago, where a scholar made a compelling argument that Eden was underneath the water of the Persian Gulf. He went through old Akkadian and Babalonian stories, the book of Genesis, geologic evidence on Ice-Age sea levels and the type of plants that would have lived there, and LANSAT photos of southern Iraq. The satellite photos even provided him with the Pison and the Gihon as two 'fossil' rivers that dried up 10,000 years ago and meet the Tigris and Euphrates at right angles at the head of the Gulf. He interpreted the expulsion from Eden as an epic myth to recount how gatherer societies forced northward by the encroaching waters ran headlong into the first farming communities.

It was an interesting read.

Anonymous said...


You piqued my curiosity, so I did a google search for "Eden Persian Gulf". I found an article that was originally published in the Smithonian back in May 1987 (more than a few years ago). It's here:

You're right. It was interesting.


ChrisinMB said...

That's interesting.

I love hearing these sort of theories. Don't beleive them all but still interesting think about.