Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Religion of Adam

Something that has always fascinated me is the way everyone from historians to anthropologists scrutinize ancient peoples, especially as pertains to old tales and legends, and how they draw the conclusions they do. C. S. Lewis once made mention of how historians for many years believed the city-state of Troy to be nothing but a legend--that perhaps it was an invention to aid in the telling of Greek myths now lost to us. Almost nobody believed it to be an actual city. But there was one German archeologist who went against convention and determined to find what he believed to be a true city buried somewhere beneath the surface of earthen rubble. Of course we all know he succeeded, and you may visit the ruins of Troy today.

Something else that most people, even many Christian people, tend to think of as part of a creation myth is the Garden of Eden story. It may well be that the story is mythic in nature and was embellished upon to tell a moral fable of sorts, but that doesn't mean it can't be loosely based on a real place with real people somewhere.

For reasons that are unfathomable to me, historians like to point to ancient stories as having influenced one another simply because of their dating. We have numerous stories of flood accounts around the world that bear certain similarities, the oldest of which is probably the story of Gilgamesh in Sumer. Thus, we have copies of, and/or mentions of, the story in ancient commentaries as being very old--older than any other flood tale we can currently date. This means only three things to modern historians and the like:

1) The story of Gilgamesh is the oldest, so it must have been first.

2) This means that all other flood accounts are based on that of Gilgamesh, at least in some trickle down fashion, because of its antiquity.

3) Since all of the flood accounts have fantastical elements within them, all are relegated to mythic status.

Of course these are all erroneous conclusions and for obvious reasons. First, the story of Gilgamesh probably is the oldest written account of a flood narrative, but that does not mean it could not be based on much older oral legends, and in fact it probably is. Second, there have no doubt been a large number of massive floods throughout the world during the history of man. Some of these men must have seen these floods coming and road them out in a boat of some kind along with their families and at least some livestock. To think this has only happened once in the history of man is naïve. Third, many stories that have some fantastic elements in them have turned out still to be based on real people, places, or events in some way. Homer's fantastical accounts of things that took place in the very real city of Troy should be proof enough of this.

If we think hard about it, we can find certain correlations between several varieties of ancient legends which on the surface seem to have nothing in common at all. Plato's tale of Atlantis may have some correspondence with the Garden of Eden, and both may have a connection to the flood stories of Manu, Gilgamesh, and Noah. The connecting agent in all these stories is water.

I've always thought it probable that the account of Eden was based on a real place somewhere, but that the names of the rivers had been changed over the years and the story itself a fable to explain, if not the creation of the world, at least some great sweeping change that took place in history--a real paradigm shift, possibly just a metamorphosis of man's self awareness. Stephen Oppenheimer in his book, Eden in the East, leaves my own thinking in the dust. Oppenheimer is a geneticist originally from England who worked as a pediatrician for many years. He also happened to live in Southeast Asia for a long time. One thing he noticed while living there is that there are a great deal of stories in that area pertaining to a paradisiacal garden and a giant snake or dragon. (Most of you probably know about the correlation between the great snake tales and the stories of flying snake-shaped dragons in Asia). There are in fact more such tales to be found in Southeast Asia than anywhere else in the world. A good rule of thumb among historians is that, wherever you find the most of a certain kind of story, and in the most dialects, there's a good chance that this is where it originated.

I had intended to go through Oppenheimer's book in order to create a sort of synopsis, but to my surprise Wikipedia's (the encyclopedia we all like to make fun of) description is actually quite good, so I'm going to copy it here for you:

In his book Eden in the East: The Drowned Continent of Southeast Asia, published in 1998, Oppenheimer hypothesizes that Eurasians have southeast Asian origins, citing evidence from a variety of disciplines to make his case: geology, archaeology, genetics, linguistics, and folklore. Using geological evidence, he writes about the rise in ocean levels that accompanied the waning of the ice age—as much as 500 feet—during the period 14,000-7,000 years ago and says that this submerged the continental shelf off the coast of southeast Asia. He, and others, calls this submerged continent Sundaland and cites archaeological evidence for an original culture in this region. The rising ocean levels caused this culture to disperse, and Oppenheimer supports this idea with the above-mentioned evidence from genetics, linguistics, and folklore. He notes, for example, that those cultures in regions whose geology would have led to their being submerged have flood myths, whereas there are no flood myths in Africa, which because of its lack of a continental shelf, was relatively unaffected by the rising ocean level.

Let me sort of re-surmise things a bit if I can. Oppenheimer has given direct proof through genetic testing which shows Eurasians in general have ancient Asian origins. He also points to several linguists who believe that there was at one time a worldwide language from which all others descended because we can see shared traits for instance in the languages throughout Europe, India, and Asia. He shows how many of the traits we think of as pertaining to civilized man began to spring up in very odd and unconnected places during the same 3,000 year period all over the planet. And he details geological evidence showing where vast flooding appeared toward the end of the last Ice Age--flooding that forced people to flee their lands for new ones. One of the places that ancient texts point to as having been the place of a large, lost civilization is now buried off the southern coast of Southeast Asia and is known as Sundaland. We find pyramids and mounds on every continent except Australia and the Antarctic. Where did they originate, and why do we find this large dispersion of similar traits in the customs, architecture, and stories of people the world over during this period after the Ice Age? Oppenheimer believes that most of the marks of civilization began in Sundaland, and when the waters rose from the melting ice of the Ice Age, Sundaland became buried under the ocean off the coast of Cambodia/Vietnam. The people who lived there, according to Oppenheimer, were likely the cradle of civilized man, and when the people fled, they took their way of life with them the world over. Thus his views are decidedly diffusionistic.

Something else Oppenheimer points to is the story of creation at the beginning of Genesis where it talks a great deal about "water" and the separating of waters and dry land. The Babylonians tell us that the Sumerians before them came to the Mesopotamia by way of ships from a distant land. They were far advanced from anyone else before them. They irrigated, farmed, raised livestock, built the earliest pyramids/ziggurats, had great art compared to others around them, and even had the earliest known form of writing. Could they have come from Southeast Asia? Oppenheimer believes so. He suggests that we learn to view the creation story in the first chapter of Genesis as more of a re-creation story that is actually dealing with a group of people who are forced from their lands by massive floods and settle in the Mesopotamian Valley, and as the flood waters begin to recede we find the separating of waters and dry land. Thus, for our foreign travelers the world is made anew. When you think about it, after the settling of waters directly after the Ice Age when virtually every coastline on the planet changed, it must have been very much like a new world to the people who lived then. It really was a re-creation of sorts.

Unfortunately, we'll probably never know for sure what existed under the ocean waters of Southeast Asia. There are several rock formations that appear to have been pyramids at one time, but the erosion is so complete that we'll never know for sure if they were or not. There are excavations in remote areas of Cambodia that are already bringing to light civilizations that go back as far as 5,000 B.C., and they're only just beginning to do archeological work there. If this is where the Genesis creation story comes from, and if Sundaland was the land where pyramid building began, we have to wonder if pyramids were originally altars erected by early man. I use "early man" and "Adam" interchangeably. Could pyramids have played a part of the religious ceremonies carried out by Adam? One thing I always thought was strange is that the Jewish historian, Josephus, mentions that during his time there stood somewhere an obelisk that was made by Adam's son Seth. It was supposed to have had a lot of writing on it which he never described. Maybe he didn't tell us what it said because it was in such an old language that no one knew how to translate it. But it's hard to think of obelisks without thinking of pyramids as well. Based on what we know of ancient Egypt, the two just seem to go together. Well... who knows. It's interesting, that's for sure.

Here's a picture showing where the Mekong River splits into four separate waters before dumping into the South China Sea. This is the general area where I believe the Garden of Eden story originated from. Sundaland would be located underwater just off this entire southern coast. Also keep in mind that if people migrated from there to the Mesopotamia and became the nation of Sumer, these may well have been the ancestors of the Jews.

I hope this has been instructive, and if nothing else, maybe it will be food for thought.


Van said...

Certainly interesting.

Here's another take that's fascinated me, perhaps a better founded theory (perhaps not), Noah's Flood: The New Scientific Discoveries About the Event that Changed History. Starting from unexpected core samples being taken from the floor of the Mediterranean Sea, the authors present strong evidence that the area of the Black Sea was once more a fertile river valley, until a flood surge burst through the Bosporus... "and the waters rose" here's Wiki's take,

"In 1997, William Ryan and Walter Pitman published evidence that a massive flooding of the Black Sea occurred about 5600 BC through the Bosporus, following this scenario.[3] Before that date, glacial meltwater had turned the Black and Caspian Seas into vast freshwater lakes which were draining into the Aegean Sea. As glaciers retreated, some of the rivers emptying into the Black Sea declined in volume and changed course to drain into the North Sea.[4] The levels of the lakes dropped through evaporation, while changes in worldwide hydrology caused sea level to rise. The rising Mediterranean finally spilled over a rocky sill at the Bosporus. The event flooded 155,000 km2 (60,000 sq mi) of land and significantly expanded the Black Sea shoreline to the north and west. According to the researchers, "Ten cubic miles [42 km3] of water poured through each day, two hundred times what flows over Niagara Falls. . . . The Bosporus flume roared and surged at full spate for at least three hundred days."

Samplings of sediments in the Black Sea by a series of expeditions carried out between 1998 to 2005 confirmed the conclusion of Pitman and Ryan.[5]; the Noah project led by the Bulgarian Institute of Oceanography (IO-BAS).[6][page needed] Furthermore, calculations made by Mark Siddall predicted an underwater canyon that was actually found.

There are of course counter theories, and less drastic theories, but much of the piecing together of tales and peoples they do in their book is fascinating nonetheless.

But whether something actually did happen in the Black Sea, or Southeast Asia, whether the flood was Noah's or Deucalion's or someone or somewhere else, it is irrelevant in any way other than as historical curiosity - certainly irrelevant to the value to be found within the tales.

Once the tales enter their poetic form, their originating source, like a cocoon, is discarded and irrelevant... the meaning has taken flight, so to speak, and if it is well suited as a prism for looking into the human soul, the butterfly will grow further still and become a limitless source of truth for those who tell, and for those who listen, to their tales, in ways mere historical accountings never could.

FWIW, here's my two cents on the Myth of myths, and the folly of putting more value on their sources than on the stories themselves.

C W Seper said...

I remember when Pitman wrote that because they mentioned his theory in Scientific American (I think it was).

And I certainly agree that how a myth or fable affects you is much more important than anything it may or may not say to the history it presents along the way.