Sargon and Eve
Do you ever start off intending to write about one thing and no matter how much you try to stay on target, you keep shooting off an entirely different direction like a blog grocery cart full of one item and with a bad wheel (*squeak lurch squeak squeak lurch*) and although you’re desperately trying to steer back to what you set out to write about, you just… can’t – at least not until you’re so close to your max word count that there’s no point?
Just me, then?
I recently decided to do a series of brief bios on BlueCerealEducation.net (my effort to go semi-legit and post solely about history and pedagogy and such, minus all the swear words and political rants). There would be four, all drawn from the same They Might Be Giants song. In fact, that’s how I decided to open the first draft:
Then they wouldn't understand a word we say, so we'll scratch it all down into the clay, half-believing there will sometime come a day someone gives a damn – maybe when the concrete has crumbled to sand. We're the Mesopotamians – Sargon, Hammurabi, Ashurbanipal, and Gilgamesh!
The Mesopotamish sun is beating down and making cracks in the ground, but there's nowhere else to stand in Mesopotamia – the kingdom where we secretly reign, the land where we invisibly rule as the Mesopotamians – Sargon, Hammurabi, Ashurbanipal, and Gilgamesh!
“The Mesopotamians” (They Might Be Giants, 2007)
Mesopotamia is generally considered to be the birthplace of civilization. It’s where our ancestors first transitioned from a hunting and gathering lifestyle to a more settled, agriculturally-based sort of living. The area roughly corresponds with modern Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Israel, forming a sort of “Fertile Crescent.” If there was a literal Garden of Eden, it was most likely located in Mesopotamia.
A case could, in fact, be made that the story of Adam and Eve, in addition to whatever spiritual lessons it conveys, is an allegory for the Neolithic Revolution – a fancy name historians use for the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture and the subsequent development of early civilizations, partly because it’s shorter than saying all of that other stuff but mostly because it sounds WAY smarter and elitist and ancient history gets little enough respect as it is.
Adam, literally translated, means “man,” a word with its roots in either “red,” “to be made,” or both. In Hebrew, it’s an intentional bit of divine wordplay on the words for “earth” or “red dirt,” which doesn’t really prove anything regarding whether or not Adam was an actual dude, but makes for interesting speculation. “Eve” means “life” or “life-giver,” presumably referring to woman’s ability to crank out those adorable spawn.
According to the account in the second chapter of Genesis, the “Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” A few verses later, we’re told that “the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.”
Because this was apparently not quite as fulfilling for Adam as God had hoped, he then went ahead and created Eve. Who would have guessed a working man would prefer a naked woman to figuring out what to call the platypus?
Setting aside the whole snake and fruit thing for a moment, it’s not much of a stretch to suspect this account in some way echoes a more general settling down of sorts. The whole concept of man and woman together hints of family and a less freewheeling lifestyle – that’s fairly universal throughout time. There’s no suggestion Adam hunted any of the critters he so lovingly named, although some are referred to as “livestock” – a concept tied to settled civilization. (The same folks who came up with “Neolithic Revolution” refer to the domestication of animals and the ongoing use of them for food, clothing, labor, etc., as “Pastoralism,” which not only sounds super-educated but a tad poetic.)
Once they’d disposed of the common enemy of nomadic hunter-gatherers (or made friends with them through trading), the gardening folks and the animal husbandry folks didn’t always get along. You may recall that the reported issue between Cain and Abel involved the former offering up agricultural offerings while the latter offered meat, and blood, from his livestock. God was not impressed by Cain’s efforts, leading to all sorts of subsequent efforts to explain exactly what exactly Cain did wrong, since food offerings had worked for plenty of other gods throughout human existence.
The issue continued in various forms all the way up to modern times, unresolved until the Oklahoma! concord of the early 20th century, when Aunt Eller famously reconciled both sides by firing her shotgun in the air. By the end of the square dance, the farmer and the cowman were, in fact, friends.
But whether or not Adam with his mad naming skills, Eve with her forbidden fruit, Cain with his inadequate grains, or Abel with his sanctified veal, were literal individuals or not, they have some competition in the “earliest folks in history” department. That’s where the Mesopotamians come in – at least one of them, anyway.
Sargon of Akkad. Or, as he seemed to prefer, “Sargon the Great.”
Notice anything problematic with that draft? Yeah, it was over a thousand words before I got to my supposed topic. I’m not the most regimented guy in the blogosphere, but that’s far from ideal in the ‘structuring and focus' department.
But at least we’re there, now – right? But that wheel (*squeak lurch squeak squeak lurch*) kept yanking me to Aisle 2…
Traditional historians – the same ones who coin terms like “Neolithic revolution” and prefer to use B.C.E. (Before Common Era) in place of B.C. (Before Christ) and C.E. (Common Era) in place of A.D. (Anno Domino, or “in the year of the Lord), even though both systems still base all of historical time-keeping on the birth of the same Baby Jesus SO WHY GET ALL WEIRD ABOUT WHAT YOU CALL IT?! – consider Sargon the first individual clearly identified in all of written history. By their reckoning, the oldest surviving written records of the Genesis account are less than 3,000 years old, while the first references to Sargon are pushing 4,000 years old. That spares them the dilemma of arguing over just how literally to take the whole Adam and Eve thing – at least in reference to this particular topic.
On the other hand, while there does seem to have been a literal Sargon kinging over a literal kingdom, much of what was recorded about him back in the day was very likely exaggerated. Perhaps downright mythical.
What the modern reader must keep in mind, though, is that the line between “literal” and “mythical” wasn’t nearly as defined a few thousand years ago. This wasn’t because everyone alive back then were stupid primitive ooga-booga types, hunched and hairy and dragging women around by their hair. It’s that stories – even histories – had very different roles than they do today. Their priorities were different.
Legends and mythology persist in stories and art because they hold value, and proclaim truths other than the merely factual. That’s why many devout Christians aren’t particularly tied to a literal interpretation of many Old Testament tales – they consider the Bible to be a guide to man’s relationship to God more than a badly organized science or history textbook of some sort. Historians, on the other hand, would very much like to be better able to unravel the legendary from the literal with figures like Sargon – and go to great lengths trying to do so.
Here’s what seems fairly certain:
Sargon was the first ruler of the Akkadian empire, which conquered the early Sumerian city-states around 2340 B.C. His kingdom included most of Mesopotamia and parts of surrounding areas as well…
As I tried unsuccessfully to force myself to cut out the all-consuming intro and just talk about Sargon, I realized something else was bugging me, besides the post not being about what the post was about. Worse… it was potentially theological.
I think I wanted to write about us missing the point of the Adam & Eve account, at least in regards to that fruit we’ve always been told was an apple (the first of many things we’ve read into scripture over time which simply aren’t there).
I wanted to talk about blame and accusation and alienation from one another, starting with our withdrawal from the Almighty. I wanted to talk about “knowledge of good and evil” being less about promoting naivete and more about condemning judgement of others. I wanted to connect Adam’s defensiveness and willingness to sacrifice Eve and her efforts to deflect that betrayal on to the Serpent to Cain’s decision to slay Abel rather than ask his God what he could be doing better in the “pleasing offerings” department.
I wanted to connect it all to modern realities and the corruption of our faith.
So I cut most of the other stuff out, and I fixed that wheel. At least until now...
*squeak lurch squeak squeak lurch*