After the Flood
9 ‑ Eber, Man of God
The passing of the period of Nimrod saw the emergence of another figure, one of greater significance to later generations, for to him, in all probability, must be given credit for the compilation of the first ten chapters of the Old Testament in the form we now have them. Eber, great-great-grandson of the patriarch Shem, was born some four hundred years after the Flood and grew to manhood during the days of Nimrod. He lived to within four hundred years of the birth of Abraham and so came just about halfway between Noah coming out of the Ark and Abraham leaving Ur for the land of Canaan. Nothing is said about him in Genesis, save his place in the descent from Noah to Abraham and the reason for the naming of his son Peleg, but it was this man who gave his name to a numerous race of descendants which included manyArab peoples and also the nation of Israel. The term 'Hebrew' is derived from Eber and it is from him that the chosen people traced their pedigree. Anything else that can be suggested as connected with the life of Eber has to be inferred from what is known of the history of the times in which he lived. They were times that saw the rise of the Sumerian civilisation and the commencement of a series of events that was to lead to Abraham, to Moses and eventually to Christ
The later part of Eber's life of four hundred years is likely to have spanned an hundred and fifty year period, the beginning and ending of which were marked by two disastrous floods. When he was about a hundred and eighty years old the south country, in which stood Ur, Erech (Uruk), Calneh (Nippur), and Eridu, suffered a widespread overflow of the Tigris and Euphrates which flooded the entire country and, according to Woolley, wiped out many of the country-folk, leaving mainly city-dwellers to survive. This was the flood of which evidence was found by Woolley during his excavations at Ur of the Chaldees in 1930, when he uncovered a bed of water-laid clay ten feet thick with human remains, above and below. (At that time this discovery was thought to be that of the Flood of Noah's day and even today it is sometimes thus quoted. It was established after examination, that it was in fact a much later and lesser flood.) A hundred and fifty years later there was a second similar flood. This time it was in the northern part of the land in the area of Babel, and this time it was the important city of Kish, near Babel, the capital of the entire country which suffered most. The city was completely destroyed. According to Langdon and Watelin, who excavated Kish in 1924-30, the calamity "definitely marked the end of an era".
Between these two major floods there were several lesser ones, affecting various parts of the land. It was probably this, occurring as it did during the latter part of the life of Nimrod, which led the Sumerians to commence work on the comprehensive system of canals that in after years regulated the floodwaters. This also gives credence to the legends asserting that Nimrod himself took the initiative in leading men to the harnessing and restraining the floods. There is one Biblical allusion that connects all this with Eber. The genealogy of Abraham's forefathers related in Gen.10 contains a rather obscure remark. Verse 25 says "And unto Eber were born two sons, the name of one was Peleg, for in his days was the earth 'divided'". This word 'divided' means to cut a channel, watercourse, canal, and 'earth' (erets) equally means the land. The Genesis chronology places the birth of Peleg at just about the beginning of this "flood" period and just when the evidence points to the digging of canals in Shinar. Here is an incidental testimony to the historica1 accuracy of Genesis.
Another evidence confirming the above comes from the climatologist, C.E.P.Brooks writing on world climate in ancient times. Referring now to this period 2800-2600 BC, Brooks shows that in 2800 there occurred another sudden and drastic degeneration in the climate conditions of the earth leading to two centuries of abnormally wet conditions. Such a change could well account for the widespread floods in Iraq in the days of Eber. The cold increased the annual snowfall in the Armenian mountains which fed the two great rivers and so flooded the Iraq plains from time to time, causing these precise conditions indicated as at the time of the birth of Peleg.
It is to this period in the middle of the life of Eber, that the rapid increase of the Sumerian cities must be credited. Over the short span of less than two centuries the land became dotted with settlements that quickly grew to sizeable communities of anything between five and twenty thousand inhabitants each. Of these, the two most important politically in those early days were Urek (Erech of Gen.10) and Kish. In these two cities the concept of kingship and kings commenced, although perhaps in a rudimentary fashion. Kish was situated about eight miles from Babylon. It was the first city to exercise political control and for the whole of this period, the latter part of Eber's life, about a hundred and fifty years, it had rulers who ruled over the whole land of the Semites and Sumerians. There is evidence that at this time Babylon (Babel) with its Tower, was a purely religious centre, devoted to the worship of the one true God, and Kish the political capital. The remains of Kish, excavated in 1924-30 reveal it to have been a city of crude and primitive construction but built by a knowledgeable and civilised people. The houses stood along well-planned straight streets and had a good sanitary system of drains and water supply. Their metal was copper, but of this they made carpenters' tools ‑ saws twenty inches long and chisels, table cutlery and polished mirrors twelve inches across with handles. Four-wheeled chariots with leather furnishings drawn by horses traversed the streets, and craftsmen made fine coloured pottery and life-like copper ornaments. The inhabitants were agriculturists and shepherds. There was no evidence of warfare or of warriors.
They seem to have been a peaceful people, living chiefly on fish, fruit, grain and vegetables. The population was definitely a mixed one, Semitic and Sumerian, sons of Shem and of Ham (Oxford University Museum possesses the skeletal remains of seven of these people, contemporaries in their lifetime of Eber and Peleg). Two dynasties of 'kings', more properly city governors, reigned simultaneously, one over the Semitic element and one over the Sumerians and it was two of the earliest Semitic rulers whose names reveal their worship of the one true God. One remark of Watelin ('The Excavations at Kish." Vol. 4) in this respect is illuminating. In discussing their burial customs he says "the rituals which attended the burials reveal belief in a future life". It is so often claimed by supposed authorities that early man had no belief in resurrection or a future life. This testimony to their understanding of the doctrine at so early a date, nearly three thousand years before Christ, is valuable.
It is quite possible that Kish was the hometown of the patriarch Eber. Genesis gives no clue whatever in respect to any of the patriarchs until it comes to Abraham six centuries later living in Ur of the Chaldees, a hundred miles to the south. But in Eber's day the people of Shem were hardly likely to have got so far south as Ur. At the dispersal from Babel, Arphaxad son of Shem migrated with his people some hundred miles northward where they eventually founded and developed the city and nation of Mari, which was coming into existence in Eber's time. But some of them were continually trickling back into the Plain of Shinar and Kish was at least fifty per cent Semitic, of Arphaxad. There is one very good reason for associating either Eber or his son Peleg with the city of Kish. It is, in all probability, the city where the stories of Eden, the Flood, and the Tower of Babel were first written down in the form in which we have them today. No one is more likely to have been the writer than one or other of those two men.
Kish is the place where the oldest writing at present known has been found. Several other places, Uruk, Shuruppak, Elam, run it close but Kish does seem to be the oldest. It was a long time before the knowledge and practice of writing penetrated to the Semites of the north. The wise men of today declare that this is when writing was invented; at no previous time did man know how to write. From the Bible point of view this may be questionable. Gen.5 speaks of "the book of the generations of Adam" which seems to imply the practice of writing. It has often been remarked that the narrative of the Flood bears all the signs of having been written by an observer at the time of the event itself. It is hardly conceivable that the human race should have endured the two thousand years before the Flood without learning how to record its thoughts on paper or its then equivalent. On the other hand the early form of writing found at Kish and elsewhere is elementary and immature, without grammatical distinctions or many of the parts of speech which are necessary to a valid written language. It was another four centuries before the Sumerians arrived at that stage in their inscribed clay tablets and so far as the present store of knowledge is concerned no one could be blamed for asserting that this is where writing originated. Does the answer to the conundrum lie in the circumstances of the early post-Flood world? Noah and his sons, emerging from the Ark, may well have possessed the art of writing but in the new world numbers were few, all of one family. There was a need of labour to obtain necessities of life and there would be no urgency, time, nor inclination to practise the art of writing. After several generations it might easily have happened that none, or at least but a few, knew how to write or read. So the art was lost, to be recovered in the days of Eber when men were multiplying fast, trade developed with distant peoples and need for writing became evident.
A much more recent instance may serve to illustrate this point. In the fifth century AD, Romans withdrew from Britain, after a period of rule of some five hundred years. The declining power of the Roman empire led to the recalling of the legions leaving Britons and the Roman civilian farmers to their own devices. They left behind them an orderly and civilised country, the population of which was literate, everybody could read and write. The Saxons, Angles and Jutes, illiterate barbarians from the Continent, overran the country and destroyed the British-Roman civilisation they supplanted. For another five hundred years ordinary people became illiterate, unable to read and or write. The only places where literacy survived were the monasteries and abbeys where the monks, secluded from the world, preserved the ancient books and the ancient knowledge. Not till the Norman conquest did literacy return to Britain.
Did something like this happen in the days after the Flood, and was it the generation of Eber, five hundred years later, which saw the first attempts at reviving the lost art? In such case, just as the monks of the fifth century AD preserved the old writings until better days should come, so it may be surmised, did some line of reverential men preserve the ancient records handed down from the days of Noah and the antediluvians. No line would be more appropriate and none more probable, than the line of Shem which led eventually to Abraham and then to Israel, to whom says Paul, "were committed the oracles of God." (Rom.3.2). Hence at the period in question, Eber could be the one having custody of these priceless records, and on him would fall the task of editing and arranging ‑ perhaps translating ‑ them into the form which later on became the early part of Genesis, the first book of the Bible.
There is some internal evidence in these early chapters of Genesis to support this view. The tenth chapter, the famous 'Table of Nations' goes as far as the twelve sons of Joktan, son of Eber, and there stops. For details of subsequent patriarchs down to Abraham one has to go to Gen.11.10-32 which clearly was written six hundred years later, after the death of Terah. This looks as though the early record up to chap.11.9 was brought to an end by someone unable to go beyond Eber's grandsons, the presumption being that this author was Eber himself. A further evidence resides in the geographical names appearing in Genesis. Some are known from cuneiform inscription of 2000 BC; others are so archaic that they had passed out of use by 2000 BC or at least do not appear in any known tablets. Thus Hiddekel (river Tigris) and Euphrates have survived as names of the two chief rivers of the land. 'Eden' is the Sumerian 'edinu', meaning 'the plain' and was applied to the whole land of Shinar and Sumer. 'Ararat' meaning 'the highlands' was the name (despite popular impressions) of the mountainous land to the east of the plain (now in Zagros mountains of N.W.Iran) and only in later days extended northward into present day Kurdistan and Armenia. (The whole of this area was still called the land of Arat as late as the 13th century of the Christian era, as witness the narratives of travellers such as Rabbi Petachiah of Ratisbon). The land of Nod of Genesis 4 was the Sumerian Noada, halfway down the eastern coast of the Persian Gulf where the river Mande still preserves the name. The land of Havilah (properly Khavilah) of Genesis 2 has been identified as lying between Iraq and the Caspian Sea. Until the middle of the Christian era that sea was still called the Sea of Khavilah ‑ but that name for the territory does not appear in the tablets and is superceded by the only recently identified city-state of Aratta which was probably founded towards the end of Eber's life. The land of Cush with its river Gihon (modern Batin) in north-eastern Arabia became known as Dilmun by 2400 BC and here the later Sumerians fixed the site of the Garden of Eden. It follows from all this that the first few chapters of Genesis must be dated to at least as early as 2600 BC, within the lifetime of Eber.
The archaic semi-pictographic writing of symbols appears to have been derived from pictures of the objects represented. Only a very limited number of tablets have been recovered from Kish, Uruk and elsewhere and any reconstruction is largely conjectural. Nevertheless the basic principles can be discerned. Thus the symbol for "foot" is a crude representation of a human foot and the symbol serves to indicate the ideas of 'to walk', 'to go' and 'to stand'. It also stands for the preposition 'on'; the human foot of course is 'on' the ground. Likewise the symbol for the 'sea' or 'water' is two wavy lines and also does duty for the preposition 'in', on the principle of being 'in' the water. The writing was arranged in vertical columns and the reader started at the top right-hand corner, reading from top to bottom and from right to left. Four centuries later this type of writing was superseded by the more familiar 'cuneiform' (wedged-shaped) characters which were more easily impressed upon the clay tablets that had become the only writing material available. So the old 'semi-pictographic' writing disappeared.
Is this, the possible connection of Eber with the preparation of the beginning of the Bible, the reason for his apparent special status in the genealogical line of patriarchs between Noah and Abraham? This man may have been notable among his fellows in the things of God, a champion of righteousness standing rigidly for the God of Noah, and was known to immediate later generations as the one who preserved the ancient writings and rendered them into the current tongues. If so it may be easier to understand why Eber and not Abraham was regarded as the ancestor of the later people of God, so that even Abraham himself came to be referred to as 'Abram the Hebrew'.
It might be that in that dim far-off time when the post-Flood world was young, there were two figures noted among men: Nimrod the Cushite who admittedly achieved great things in the material building of the new world, and Eber the Semite who cared more for the things of God. It was he who began to blaze the trail of written history that led to the story of Sinai and of Israel and the coming of Christ, and eventually to the New Testament. And the work of Eber has survived where the achievements of Nimrod are dust.
(To be continued)
Editor's Note ‑ a recent BBC documentary featured archaeological work on the culture of the Indus basin that seemed to have a bearing on the content of the above article. This research built on the earlier discoveries of Sir Mortimer Wheeler, the well known archaeologist who broadcast in the 1970s. The documentary commentator seemed astonished that in Indus society there appeared to be no defence planning, no places of worship and a great emphasis on the needs of children, exactly what we might expect if connected with the society here described.