Extent of This Period.
The account of events included in this section is to be found in Gen 4-11. Geographically the setting is probably in the valley between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. When the period began is not known since we have no hint of the time of the expulsion from Eden. The period closes some time prior to 1800 B.C. which is the approximate date of Abraham, the great character with whom the next period begins.
NOTE: Featured Map above shows the relationship of present day Iraqi and Syria, etc. to the Mesopotamia Valley of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers of Abraham’s day. In these days of the Syrian and Iraqi wars and troubles with Iran, the world seems so much smaller. From the Bible and current news, it is obvious God has much more in mind with this territory like the end of Time at Megiddo, Israel.
Sons of Adam and Eve.
We are told that Cain and Abel, the first sons mentioned in the record, were born to Adam and Eve after their expulsion from Eden. We have but few facts about them. In some respects they were probably as much alike as two brothers usually are. In other respects they were radically different. Cain was jealous and wicked in spirit, while Abel seems to have been generous and reverent. Cain was an agriculturist, Abel a shepherd.
The story of Cain’s slaying his brother Abel, is a familiar one. Abel’s sacrifice to God, made in a spirit of true worship, was acceptable, while that of Cain was not acceptable because it was made in the wrong spirit. Insane with jealously, Cain slew his brother, thus becoming the first murderer known in history.
For this murder God punished Cain by banishing him from his homeland. Cain, overwhelmed by the enormity of his punishment, complained that it was greater than he could bear. Whereupon God extended mercy and protection to him. Cain went to the land of Nod, found a wife and established a race which came to be known for its great energy, enterprise and inventions, but also for polygamy, violence, and murder.
New Beginning With Seth.
After the death of Abel and the banishment of Cain, another son, Seth, was born to Adam and Eve. Through this son the chosen people of God were to come. From this line came the spiritual leaders of Israel. One descendant was Enoch who “walked with God, and he was not, because God took him.” Another was Noah, the preacher of righteousness who built the ark and perpetuated the race.
Longevity of the Patriarchs.
Every reader of these accounts is immediately impressed with the extended age of these early characters. Naturally the student will ask what is the explanation of this. How was it possible for one to live several hundred years? Did Methusaleh actually attain the age of 969 years? Various scholars have suggested some possible explanations of this interesting problem. (1) Some hold that the name used, Lamech for example, refers in these cases not to an individual but to a family or a tribe. (2) Others feel that the word “year” as used here did not mean a period of twelve months as with us, but referred to the lunar month. Thus Methusaleh’s age 969 years should be divided by thirteen, which would give his real age. (3) Still other scholars insist that in this early period man’s body was stronger and that it was expected that he should live longer; a shorter span of life was the result of dissipation and sin. These explanations may or may not be of value, but at any rate they are interesting.
Career of Noah.
The wickedness of this early civilization was great. “The earth was full of violence.” (Gen 6:11.) “And Jehovah saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented Jehovah that he had made man on the earth and it grieved him at his heart.” (Gen 6:5-6.)
Noah, a teacher of righteousness, was to be the agent of God in his dealings with this wicked civilization. Noah alone was a good and faithful man among all these wicked people. All his efforts in calling men to repent were in vain. Sterner measures were necessary so God announced to Noah his purpose to destroy the world by a great flood. He commanded him to build an ark by which he and his wife, his three sons and their wives and all the different species of animal life, would be spared. When they were safe inside, the door of the ark was closed by God himself and then came the floods of water from heaven above and from the fountains of the deep. For forty days and nights the flood continued until the earth was covered. The Bible account does not give any details of the terrible struggle of the people outside the ark in this dreadful disaster. One must use imagination to gain any conception of the horrible experiences caused by the flood, when the waters reached the top of the mountains and every living creature except those in the ark died.
For long months the ark floated on the waters covering the land. At last it was grounded on Mt. Ararat. After another period of waiting while the waters assuaged Noah sent forth a raven and a dove to determine the state of the flood waters. When the waters had receded his first act was to offer to the Lord worthy sacrifices of “every clean beast and of every clean fowl” saved by the ark. God then promised Noah that never again should the earth be destroyed by flood waters. The rainbow was given to him and his family as a pledge of this promise. A notable covenant was then made between God and his servant Noah. Thus the human race made a new start. This time it should have improved; they should have learned to “abhor that which is evil, and to cleave to that which is good.” But again the results were disappointing. Sin and wickedness were not yet conquered. Even Noah himself was guilty of drunkenness, and his younger son committed grievous sins.
Scholars today differ widely on the question of the origin of various races. While such studies have their value it may be that unanimity of opinion cannot he reached. History reveals the fact that the lot of certain races has been exceedingly unfortunate. Among Christians everywhere today, however, there is a growing concern that all races be given the rights and privileges to which they are entitled.
Tower of Babel.
The story of the Tower of Babel is an interesting one, but still has elements of mystery in it. For example, scholars do not agree as to the reason for the building of this tower. However, in Gen 11:4 the writer seems to indicate that its purpose was to make a great name for men and to keep them from being dispersed over the earth. To keep the command of God “to multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it” required arduous work, living in far distant areas, enduring the hardships of the pioneer. It was far easier and more desirable to live amid the benefits of civilization. This sin offended God and must be punished. Their proud structure was never completed, for God confused their hitherto common speech and scattered them abroad, to begin nations in different parts of the earth.
Commercial and Cultural Life.
We have no detailed record of the beginnings of civilization, but we know that there were two great empires of antiquity, Babylonia and Egypt . Which of these was the earlier we cannot tell. For many centuries before Abraham these two empires flourished, one on the banks of the Euphrates, and the other in the valley of the Nile. Archaeologists are certain that their discoveries in these areas go back as far as 4000 B.C. Babylonian civilization seems to have reached its climax in the reign of Hammurabi, some nineteen hundred years before Christ.
The earliest records introduce Egypt to us as a full-grown empire. When and how it originated and developed we do not know. The pyramids and other Egyptian monuments reveal the amazing faculty of early Egyptians for erecting stone structures and buildings. What tools and devices were used by the Egyptians as early as 3000 B.C. in cutting and placing huge stones with such precision in these pyramids? Certainly they knew much of mathematics and astronomy and other sciences. They had a well developed system of culture and learning. They had a well organized government which dated back centuries before the time of Abraham.
In these early empires sculptors, masons, miners, potters, jewelers and other workmen were well advanced in their art. They seemed to have been organized into unions or guilds! Great commercial enterprises flourished, with merchants and bankers doing business on an international basis. Goods were transported over sea and land. The Phoenicians on the northeast shore of the Mediterranean as early as 3000 B.C. were sending their ships westward out of the Mediterranean into the Atlantic along the shores of Africa, and probably as far distant as the British Isles. In recent years archaeologists have been so impressed by the great similarity of discoveries in Central America with ancient Egyptian life that some are of the opinion that Egyptian ships may have crossed the Atlantic and left on the western hemisphere some of the evidences of their great culture many centuries before the Christian era. Certainly the peoples of the Biblical world were advanced in cultural and commercial life before Abraham came on the scene.
While we do not know the origin of writing we do know there were great libraries with dictionaries and other writings extensively used. These were written in cuneiform , the Babylonian script, which was practically a universal language, thus making a unity of language and culture for this early period.
There are a number of pertinent archaeological items belonging to this period of beginnings in Bible history.
The Mesopotamian documents dealing with the creation and the flood were brought to light by Rawlinson and others 1852-1854. They were found at Ashurbanipal and were in cuneiform script. Altogether we now have some five or six accounts dealing with the creation and the flood: (1) The Semitic-Babylonian version of the Epic of Creation made up of seven tablets. (2) The Sippar Tablet in two languages. (3) The Gilgamesh Epic consisting of 12 tablets. (4) The Nippur Tablet discovered by the University of Pennsylvania. (5) A number of smaller tablets found at various places.
The discovery and translation of these tablets produced a sensation among Bible students. There are certainly very obvious similarities between the Biblical accounts of the creation and the flood and these tablets. Naturally we cannot enter here any discussion of this involved problem. Suffice it to say that these discoveries are extremely significant. “The relations existing between the tablets and the Bible narratives indicate ancestral connections, or points of contact which cannot be brushed aside or explained away as of no consequence.”*
So far archaeologists have found no document resembling the account of the Tower of Babel, though the Ziggurats of ancient Babylon are most suggestive. A pyramidical temple discovered in old Mexico is strikingly similar to the description of the ancient Tower of Babel.
There are quite a number of traditions of the Fall of man . Four fragments of the Adapa myth dealing with this have been found. In these there are certain similarities with the Bible account as for example,
Adam and Eve are tempted “to become like God knowing good and evil.” However, there are very radical dissimilarities. Whatever may be the early connection between these Adapa tablets and the Genesis account the record of these tablets is striking and provocative.