CHAPTER 3: Civilization Emerges

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In order to continue deeper into our Organic Economics™ study, we must now note briefly some of the developments that occurred after the events that we just covered within The Biblical Genesis of Trade. We can then more easily dive into the monetary and trade advancements that emerged soon after those earlier discoveries.

We find in Genesis chapters six through nine the account of the great worldwide Flood of Noah’s day. Obviously, such an abnormal eventand the violent sin of humanity that caused itcompletely undermined the development of that ancient society.

Furthermore, this deluge deposited large amounts of sediments that covered these ancient civilizationsas well as the gold, silver, and precious stones, that seemed to be previously accessible upon the ground within Eden, and perhaps elsewhere (that is likely why humans now have to typically dig in order to uncover these valuable deposits). These sediments then formed many of the sedimentary rock layers that we see today. So since this global flood wiped out and buried those societies in whole, we cannot reference them in much detail from this point forward within our study.

So within this article, we will discuss only briefly the Flood event itself, plus a few notes of interest about Noah and his family. Then I will give both a biblical and archeological overview of how quickly civilization advanced post-flood. This will lay a foundation upon which we will build the subsequent articles, wherein we will then examine the economic developments in detail in order to identify more of the organic traits of all successful economies.

A Technical Note About Dates: Identifying the chronologies of ancient events is NOT an exact science within archeology. In fact, the farther into antiquity the event in question, the more doubtful the date becomes. As a general custom, many of the dates provided within archeological resources typically state their date references in such a way that seems to infer that these are established facts. In most cases, the dates given are actually educated opinions based upon many known—but sometimes conflicting—facts. Consequently, one can consult various sources only to find differing dates by each for the same event in history.

Personally, I am very impressed with the scholarly work of Daniel Gregg, as reflected within his treatise, The Scroll of Biblical Chronology and Prophecy: Mapping The Times and Seasons of The Holy Scriptures. This twenty-seven-year “labor of love” reflects the best coordination of biblical and historical dating methodologies of which I am aware. Using his chronology as a reference, we could deduct five to six hundred years from some of the ancient dates given within the archeological citations below (i.e. making them more recent). However, to keep it simple, I have simply left the archeologists’ dates intact and ask my readers to consider them merely approximations. Anytime I give a date reference within my own text, however, I am basing that date upon Gregg’s work, rounded to the nearest decade; and I will accompany that date with a “circa” statement to indicate that it is an approximation only (e.g. circa 2050 B.C.).

Lastly, I always use the historical designations “Before Christ” (abbreviated, B.C.) and “Annō Dominī” (Latin for, “In the year of our Lord”, abbreviated, A.D.) to indicate these epochs. This is because I politely refuse to use the politically motivated “BCE/CE” methodology.

A Major Event

To further establish how wonderfully accurate the Bible is regarding humanity’s earliest history, let me mention briefly the evidence supporting its account of Noah’s Flood. This will also serve as a lead-in to our subsequent conversation of the development of civilization.

The Flood of Noah’s day, and the events that followed, are accounted for from many sources in addition to the Bible itself. For example, archeology, geology, and numerous other scientific disciplines, all confirm that the Flood account given within God’s Word is detailing a real historical event and not a mere legend. Furthermore, the Flood story itself is not by any means limited to the writings of the ancient races of Mesopotamia. So many ancient Flood stories exist among different ancient people groups, that we can easily conclude that this is due to a common historical experience for humanity:

There are hundreds of stories and legends about a worldwide flood. Why do diverse cultures share a strikingly similar story?

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Did you know that stories about a worldwide flood are found in historic records all over the world? …there are more than 270 such stories, most of which share a common theme and similar characters. So many flood stories with such similarities surely come from the Flood of Noah’s day.

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The worldwide catastrophic Flood, recorded in the book of Genesis, was a real event that affected real people. In fact, those people carried the knowledge of this event with them when they spread to the ends of the earth….

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If only eight peopleNoah’s familysurvived the Flood, we would expect there to be historical evidence of a worldwide flood.

(Source: AnswersInGenesis.org)

These global flood stories are found within ancient historical records in diverse places like China, Russia, Italy, Hawaii, Peru, and many others. Even Australian Aborigines had their own legends thereof, which bear striking resemblance to the Bible’s account of both Creation and the Flood.

I will refrain from taking the time to go into the many geological evidences of a global Flood within this article. And I certainly cannot take the time to discuss paleontological and other scientific evidences of the Bible’s account herein either. I will simply state here that the Flood account given within the Bible is verifiable. Thus, we can also trust God’s Word to be a true account of the development of civilizations that emerged after that event.

That said, I will nonetheless also provide you with samplings of the archeological evidence as we proceed.  So we will now pick up our discourse with the populations that descended from Noah and his sons, after the Flood.

Moving to the Lowlands

The Bible informs us that Noah and his family moved fairly quickly off of Mount Ararat where the Ark came to rest, and into the lower elevations where they could farm and begin to establish some sense of “normalcy” to their lives once again:

Now the sons of Noah who went out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. And Ham was the father of Canaan. These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the whole earth was populated. And Noah began to be a farmer, and he planted a vineyard.

(Genesis 9:18-20, NKJV)

Note the fact that you cannot farm or plant a vineyard very easily on the side of a mountain. Obviously, they had to have moved down into the lower elevations to begin such agricultural efforts. The Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, discusses this same fact within his writings:

Now the sons of Noah were threeShem, Japhet, and Ham, born one hundred years before the Deluge. These first of all descended from the mountains into the plains, and fixed their habitation there; and persuaded others who were greatly afraid of the lower grounds on account of the flood, and so were very loath to come down from the higher places, to venture to follow their examples.

(Antiquities 1.4.1)

The “others” were at least Noah and his wife, and possibly even the wives of Shem, Japhet, and Ham, also. The events of the Flood had obviously terrified them and had left them with deep emotional scars.  Josephus’ writings even indicate that the effects of this trauma likely lasted for several generations (note Antiquities 1.4.1 through 1.4.3). This is likely why we are told by the Bible that Noah planted a vineyard, and a few years later he got thoroughly drunk from the fermented wine (Genesis 9:21). There is no mention of Noah ever getting intoxicated prior to the Flood, and 2 Peter 2:5 even explains that he had been a “preacher of righteousness” who apparently tried to get the wicked to turn from their sins while he was still building the Ark. So the psychological wounds caused by the cataclysmic events themselvesand the death of their other relatives and everyone else that they knew—left the eight survivors, and several generations of their descendents, rather paranoid about the potential of another deluge.

An Important Theological Note: Let me here request that any ministers reading thiswho may have frivolously claimed in times past that Noah was merely a “drunk” who God decided to use anywayplease take the time to study and ponder these things more seriously before ever maligning that godly man’s character again. After all, Noah is not only the common ancestor of all humanity, but he “found grace in the eyes of the LORD” and “was a just man, perfect in his generations” who we are told “walked with God” (Genesis 6:8-9, NKJV); and he was chosen by God for these very reasons.

Few people today have ever experienced such extreme emotional trauma as he did. Furthermore, it is quite obvious from both the Bible and Josephus’ histories that Noah’s efforts before the Flood to persuade people to repent and to join them on the Ark, were substantial. Thus, he was surely quite upset also about the deaths of the many people he had known and loved, but was unable to convince. (Sometimes it can be very painful to be proven right; and those who say, “Noah got the last laugh,” obviously have no clue as to how that righteous man thought.) So let us please give the man some mercy in our estimation about him regarding why he wanted to numb his mind by wine several years after such terribly frightening events.

Picking back up now with our discussion

The population of the earth quickly expanded beyond the eight survivors of the Flood. Genesis chapter ten then gives us a break down of the descendents of Noah’s sons, and how the clans began to form into nations. It ends with the simple phrase, “These were the families of the sons of Noah, according to their generations, in their nations; and from these the nations were divided on the earth after the flood.”

Now let us pick up with the passage from Genesis chapter eleven, and see where civilization began to first flourish:

Now the whole earth had one language and one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there.

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Then they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They had brick for stone, and they had asphalt for mortar. And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”

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But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. And the LORD said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city. Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

(Genesis 11:1-9, NKJV, emphasis added)

The Plain of Shinar

Archeologists have dug around Mesopotamia for several hundred years now. In the process, they have “unearthed” many fascinating discoveries that give us a glimpse of how brilliant and resourceful our ancient relatives really were.

The first thing to note is that archeologists have identified the “Plain of Shinar” to be none other than ancient Sumer, which lay between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in what is now the country of Iraq (Holman, page 1540). The famous “Tower of Babel” that these people tried to initially build was likely the first post-Flood Ziggurata stepped structure built frequently within that region for idolatrous worship. It was built by these people in conceit and open hostility against the Lord. Josephus even claimed that one of the reasons that they used “bitumen” (i.e. a naturally occurring asphalt, which was widely available in that region) as mortar for their bricks was to “waterproof” the structure against any future floods, and thus, to rebel openly against God’s authority (Antiquities 1.4.3).

Archeologists have also concluded that the Sumer (Shinar) region is where all human civilization began. Note first this citation from the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary:

Archeologists believe the inhabitants of ancient Sumer developed humanity’s first high civilization about 3000 B.C. Perhaps the most important Sumerian contribution to civilization was the invention of cuneiform writing, a wedge-shaped script formed by pressing a reed stylus into wet clay tablets… The Babylonians and other surrounding peoples adapted the cuneiform script to their own languages, so that for centuries cuneiform was the dominant mode of writing in ancient Mesopotamia. Most Sumerian tablets contain economic and administrative records… Of special interest to biblical scholars are: the law code of Ur-nammu, the Sumerian king list, the flood story of Zuisudra, the paradise myth of Enki and Ninhursag…

(Holman, page 1540, emphasis added)

Although Rich Murrell, who wrote the above text, was quick to focus upon the cuneiform writing in a general manner (which we will discuss in further detail below), his statements about the content of those writings are far more significant to our study. Most of the Sumerian tablets were about economic and governmental matters. We will discuss these developments in detail within several of our later articles, and you will learn how remarkably advanced their economic activity was.

Another key thing to note from the citation above is the presence of ancient law code. For business activities like trade and manufacturing to flourish, there would need to be some formalized “laws of the land” to provide the correct economic environment. Again, we will discuss this topic in detail within a later article of Organic Economics™, but I wanted to draw your attention to the point briefly for now so that you would have that in mind as we proceed.

Ancient Advancements

Ur, as an excavation site

"Ur of the Chaldees" excavation site, aerial photo. (Click to visit the website)

One of the key cities during much of the time the Sumerian civilization flourished was none other than Ur, the hometown of Abraham, patriarch of the nation of Israel (and several other people groups).

This particular city has much significance within the biblical narrative that we are using as we progress from here in our studies. It also happens to be of great import to the archeological origins of human civilization in general. Thus, we will discuss that major trade center in order to focus our attention on how remarkably advanced ancient business and trade practices had truly become.

In fact, Abraham’s “hometown” information will also prove to be very useful as we continue within our studies because we will be noting numerous facts about his business skills as we progress. So here are a couple of quick passages about where Abram (later to be renamed “Abraham”) came from:

And Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot, the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out with them from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan; and they came to Haran and dwelt there.

(Genesis 11:31, NKJV)

And he said, “Brethren and fathers, listen: The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, and said to him, ‘Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you.’ Then he came out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Haran. And from there, when his father was dead, He moved him to this land in which you now dwell.

(Acts 7:2-4, NKJV)

Archeological Note: Now let me briefly note that the phrase “of the Chaldeans” in the Scriptures above is not a reference to who lived within that region during Abram’s time. Rather, it is a reference made within Scripture by the Holy Spirit to describe the geographic location of that city, which had been subsequently occupied by the Chaldeans (i.e. the Babylonians) several centuries after Abram had moved to Canaan. The ancient Akkadianand during Abraham’s time, the Sumerianinhabitants of that city had been mostly absorbed into the Chaldean population by the time Moses began to record the five books of The Law (circa 1630 B.C.), and Stephen made his narration before the Sanhedrin as is recorded in Acts chapter seven cited above. So the Holy Spirit had to provide a then-current reference so that His people would know geographically from where Abraham had originated.

Though it is merely an archeological excavation site today (with a U.S. military airbase nearby), in its heyday, the city-state of Ur was one of the premier population centers of the ancient world. In fact, very few of the ancient cities were as advanced technologically or culturally. And due to its location and various financial advancements that we will explore throughout Organic Economics™, Ur had one of the early advanced commercial economies of that region. To get a glimpse of that ancient city’s sophistication, we will quote first from The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary:

Several musical instruments and other beautifully crafted objects demonstrate that this city hand achieved a high level of civilization 500 years before Abraham….Archeology has revealed that in Abraham’s day Ur was a great and prosperous city, with perhaps 360,000 people living in the city and its suburbs.

(Ungers, pages 1320-1321, emphasis added)

Now we will excerpt a choice quote from the marvelous New Illustrated Bible Manners & Customs by Howard F. Vos (Th.D, Ph.D):

Not only was Ur an important and prosperous place in Abraham’s day, but it also stood in the general area where civilization began. The usual view is that civilization involves such developments as writing, the wheelfor pottery making and transportationmonumental architecture, the decorative arts, and metallurgy. All of these things appeared first in southern Mesopotamia, and the people who get credit for those many achievements were the Sumerians, who lived at the norther end of the Persian Gulf and who controlled Ur in Abraham’s day.

(Vos, page 6, emphasis added)

Additional archeological sources reveal that the school children of Ur were learning how to calculate square and cube roots during their math lessons! (We always used a calculator back when I was in school.) So in contrast to what many might think, this ancient society was already an intellectually and epistemologically advanced culture by 3000 B.C.

In many ways, we can even correctly state that they were MORE advanced in their mental capacities than we are today. We tend to rely on computers to do much of our thinking for us. Furthermore, we are very dependent upon cumulative knowledge built up over millennia, whereas they were able to reason and invent without such information to lean upon (as we will see more and more throughout our study). Even ancient languages were more advanced than most of our modern tongues (Chinese excepted, of course, since that language dates back almost as far as our current study).

These facts—and many more not named hereinseem to attest that we perhaps are not really as witty as our ancestors were, though we might like to think otherwise.

Hard Copies

An actual cuneiform tablet from antiquity.

An actual cuneiform tablet. (Click to enlarge.)

As was noted further above, cuneiform (pronounced, kyu-NAY-uh-form) tablets were the method for recording the business transactions that our citations above mentioned. A tablet was usually formed out of clay, and a stylus (generally a reed or stick) was used to form the characters by making an impression into the soft clay. (Some ancient cuneiform writings have also been found etched onto stone or carved upon wood, but clay was the most common method.)

Again, we will discuss the business/economic use of such writings later. However, let me briefly note here that cuneiform was often used to create business contracts. Exact copies of each set of contracts were made for all parties involved—in a manner very similar to the real estate purchase which Jeremiah made while imprisoned in Jerusalem:

And I bought the field that was in Anathoth from Hanamel my uncle’s son and weighed out for him the money—seventeen shekels of silver. And I signed the deed and sealed it, called witnesses, and weighed out for him the money on the scales.

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So I took the deed of the purchaseboth that which was sealed, containing the terms and conditions, and the copy which was unsealedand I gave the purchase deed to Baruch son of Neriah, the son of Mahseiah, in the sight of Hanamel my uncle’s son and the witnesses who signed the purchase deed, in the presence of all the Jews who were sitting in the court of the guard.

(Jeremiah 32:9-12, AMP, emphasis added)

Cuneiform writing, being made in a soft clay tablet.

This illustration shows how cuneiform writing was made in soft clay tablets among many ancient people groups.

Of course, the transaction above was many centuries later than the time frame we are discussing, and the deed copies within that story were written on scrolls (probably leather, but possibly papyrus). The “open” deed was his to show anyone who might have a question about the sale, and the “sealed” deed was stored separately, in case anyone might ever accuse Jeremiah of forging the deed that he had in his possession. Both were written with identical terms, and then signed by all parties and witnesses.

Similarly, the clay cuneiform contracts and deeds were likely written and signed before witnessesespecially the major transactions, such as real estate transfers and large commercial exchanges. They were then baked in ovens or sun-dried, and became nearly indestructible (and certainly, unalterable) testaments to the terms of the business agreement at hand.

These cuneiform writings served as very practical form of ancient business communication. The fact that about half a million of these tablets have been unearthed in archeological digs all over the Middle East (Zondervan, page 190) certainly attests to their durability. Even if an ancient house of business burned down in fire (a fairly common occurrence in ancient cultures, especially during wars) most of these records would have survived the event, as heat would have no affect on themthough a collapsing structure certainly might.

The Language of Diplomacy and Commerce

Though many ancient languages were adapted to be used in cuneiform writing, the primary language used within the region of Mesopotamia for many centuries was Akkadian (also spelled, “Accadian”). This was the language of the people-group which immediately preceded the Sumerians in prominence within Mesopotamia. Professor Thomas Smothers (retired) shares with us some insightful facts about this language:

Akkadian is also the ancient name of the language used in the cuneiform inscriptions and documents that modern archaeologist have discovered…

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[It] was the international language of diplomacy and commerce in the Near East before 1000 B.C. Consequently, collections of documents written in Akkadian originated among several non-Akkadian-speaking national and ethnic groups. Examples included the Amarna Tablets of Palestinian rulers addressed to Egypt, Akkadian documents from Ugarit in Syria, and the Nuzi Tablets from a Hurrian people.

(Holman, page 43, emphasis added; but please see also Zondervan, page 190 and Harper Collins, pages 214-215, for more excellent information and script samples)

Furthermore, this ancient cuneiform writing was very efficient. It began initially with pictographic/ideographic symbols, and then developed into phonetic scripts later. Even then, writers still often used symbols for items much like “short hand” script today. For example, with a few impressions of the stylus the writer would create a quick pictograph for “sheep” and then a number would be beside it indicating the count. So a small hand-sized cuneiform tablet was sufficient to convey even complex shipping or contractual information, especially as the practice developed over centuries.

So even Abraham’s native language and writing skills proved to be very helpful to him as he progressed from his hometown of Ur to Haran, then into the Land of Canaan, and even in his trip to Egypt in Genesis chapter twelve.

Summary:

So contrary to what many people have been “programmed” to think about ancient cultures due to Evolution-based influences, which portrayed them living in caves with sticks and clubs, the ancient civilizations of the world were really quite advanced. Some of the key points from above to keep in mind as we proceed from here into more sophisticated trade and monetary topics are:

  • The Bible’s account of Noah’s Flood and the subsequent civilizations can be trusted; it is not only God’s inerrant Word, but it is also confirmed to be such by many archeological discoveries over the centuries.
  • Ancient cities quickly sprang up within what we now call the “Middle East” as the populations grew rapidly post-Flood.
  • The cultural and economic advancements of these people were remarkable and shockingly sophisticated.
  • The growth of commerce and international diplomacy was aided by the widespread adoption of cuneiform writing and commercial/diplomatic use of the Akkadian languagethough the different people groups primarily used their own languages locally.

This brief overview of the ancient people of Mesopotamia and their amazing accomplishments provides us a sufficient foundation upon which we can now build. We will begin with The Biblical Genesis of Money to find out how trade became far more efficient by this ancient advancement, and then progress into other Organic Economic™ topics from there.

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For more information about Rev. Rich Vermillion, please view the brief bio at the bottom of TheWisdomOfGold.com’s Website Introduction page, or visit his public LinkedIn profile page at: http://www.linkedin.com/in/richvermillion

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