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A General Picture of Early Human Society
Archaeologists classify early human cultures by the materials they used for making tools and weapons. The earliest human societies used stone implements-- hence the Stone Age. The Old Stone Age, or Paleolithic, culture lasted from about 50, 000 to 10, 000 B.C. During that period, food was gathered from wild plants and hunting. At around 9, 000 B.C. human culture entered a rather sudden transitional phase, the Mesolithic, or Middle Stone Age, when many human cultures ceased depending on hunting and gathering food and began the process of domesticating plants and animals.
The chief cause of this transition in basic economies was a dramatic change in global climatic conditions. As temperatures began to rise at the close of the last Ice Age, large areas of land were left exposed to the warm climate.
Vast forests rapidly covered the landscape. Paleolithic societies, which had once thrived on hunting large herds of reindeer, now found themselves having to stalk deer in densely forested terrain. Only by refining their tools and hunting implements (such as the bow and arrow, with finely tooled stone arrow tips) were people able to survive. The domestication of the dog also added to their hunting capacities.
The biblical city of Jericho provides a textbook picture of the progress of human culture throughout the early stages of prehistory. From the time of its early Mesolithic inhabitants, it was almost constantly occupied until the Israelites destroyed it in their conquest of Canaan. A Mesolithic culture flourished until its destruction in 7800 B.C. Its early inhabitants lived in modest mud huts at the top of an ancient hill at the center of the city.
The technological revolution of domesticated plants and animals led directly to the Neolithic, or New Stone Age culture. This period began with the destruction of the huts of the earlier Mesolithic culture. An estimated two thousand inhabitants now lived in mud huts surrounded by a formidable city wall. At the corner of the west end of the city wall they constructed a large tower to help them defend the city. The only identifiable domesticated animal at that time was the goat.
The early Neolithic people of Jericho occupied the city for nearly a thousand years. After a short period when the city was deserted, a new population moved onto the hill. These new inhabitants still hunted wild animals for food, but they had also domesticated several kinds of animals and raised their own crops. They were part of a larger group of people living in settlements throughout ancient Palestine.
After another brief period of abandonment, a new population moved into Palestine around 6, 000 B.C. and took up residence in Jericho. These people brought with them a highly developed use of pottery, domesticated livestock, and agricultural skills. In 4500 B.C. the first traces of metal tools were deposited in gravesites near Jericho. The city, however, remained unoccupied until another new population entered Palestine in 3100 B.C. and initiated an urbanized Early Bronze Age culture in Palestine.
Ancient Near Eastern Creation Accounts
Strictly speaking, there are no known creation accounts from the ancient Near East. There are, to be sure, several ancient myths from both Egypt and Mesopotamia that give accounts of creation in varying degrees and for different purposes. But there is no actual narrative account of creation, such as the one we find at the beginning of the Bible. Outside that biblical account, creation was not so much a fact from the past as it was an idea about the present.
Ancient creation myths were designed to explain why things happen in the world today as they do.
The most notable ancient creation myth is the epic poem known to the Babylonians and Assyrians as Enuma Elish. Its title is taken from the first words of the epic, which begins, "When on high (enuma elish) the heaven had not been named, firm ground below had not been called by name. . . ." Since the first discovery of ancient fragments of clay tablets recounting the epic
(1848-1876), Enuma Elish has been studied as an ancient account of creation that bears surprising similarity to the Genesis account. In actual fact, creation plays a relatively minor role in the epic. Central to the epic is the attempt to explain why the Babylonian god Marduk is to be revered as the chief among the gods. The epic probably dates only from the time of the earliest copies of the epic (ca. 1, 000 B.C.), though it may be older than that.
Enuma Elish begins by describing a primordial time when nothing yet existed except the three gods: Apsu (the primeval fresh water ocean), Tiamat (the salt water ocean), and their son, Mummu (the mist). In these three gods were represented all the elements of which the universe was thought to consist. As the epic story progresses, Apsu and Tiamat give birth to a multitude of gods. But a problem develops. The noise created by these younger gods begin to get on the nerves of the original pair. Apsu, taking matters into his own hands, decides to destroy the other gods and thus rest in silence. But his plan is thwarted by the god Ea, who casts a spell on Apsu, puts him into a deep sleep, and slays him in his sleep. Tiamat, understandably, is greatly disturbed by the death of her husband and sets out on a plan to avenge his death.
No one can contain Tiamat's rage against the other gods until the Babylonian chief deity, Marduk, is summoned to the fight. But he cleverly refuses to fight Tiamat until all the gods have pledged to make him the supreme god.
When the gods agree to this, Marduk wages war with Tiamat. In the account of his slaying of Tiamat the story of creation is told. Standing over the slain
Tiamat, Marduk "split her like a shellfish into two parts: Half of her he set up and ceiled it as sky"; with the other half he constructs an abode for the surviving gods. When the lesser gods complain of the work they are assigned, Marduk creates human beings to serve them.