Part 4: Eden: Women as Harbingers of the Age of Agriculture

As gatherers, women might well have been the first to notice and consider the possibility of planting figs to generate new trees. Where wild food was plentiful, there was not such a need to move on, so cultivation of plants became possible, and likely. A fig tree might spring up where figs had rotted. Figs are highly nutritious, and the trees are easy to grow. Being high in sugar content, they are easy to preserve by drying. That must have seemed wonderful. Who would object to such a boon? How could it come to be seen as evil, from the perspective of many generations later, as the cultural myth of Genesis developed?

      What could be wrong with agriculture, when it offered such promise for a future free from starvation? Maybe this is what Eve thought, as she was “tempted” by the serpent (often associated with wisdom in ancient cultures, but in Genesis the serpent’s “wisdom” is seen as wily and seductive.

       Cain offered a sacrifice of fruit and grain, but “God was not pleased with his offering”. His brother Able offered a sacrifice of a lamb, and “God was pleased”. There are many ways to interpret this story. Perhaps it is a metaphor in which Abel had the cleaner heart; perhaps he offered his best. An alternate interpretation is that the God of the Hebrew Bible preferred the earlier social structure of herdsmen to that of agriculture.

      Herding could be seen as a transitional stage between hunting-gathering and agriculture. Of course the transition has never been completed, because the majority of humans are still meat eaters, and likely to remain so. But the raising of animals for food in factory farms increasingly resembles the cultivation of agriculture rather than the migratory pattern of following herds from one grazing land to another.

      The “good” from agriculture is immediately apparent: freedom from starvation. But are there evils that come with agriculture? I invite you to continue this exploration of images from Genesis in my next post.

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