After The Flood
10 ‑ End of the Golden Age
The latter part of the lifetime of Eber the man who is most likely to have first committed to writing the early chapters of Genesis as they now appear, witnessed a rapid and substantial increase in population. Some six hundred years had elapsed since the Flood, and the posterity of the sons of Noah was beginning to penetrate territories far distant from the first settlements in the "Plain of Shinar", the Euphrates-Tigris valley. Archaeologists have remarked on the evidences of this population increase at this time in this land itself, and with it the indications of peoples in far-away areas with which trade, the exchange of goods and materials, was beginning to develop. The human race was beginning to spread over the wider world.
Egypt, of course, had been settled for nearly three centuries and was already on the way to becoming a powerful force in world affairs. There was close contact between them and their fellows in Sumer (Shinar); they were at this time beginning to adapt the recently introduced Sumerian writing to form their own characteristic script, the well-known Egyptian hieroglyphics which adorn so many of the Egyptian tombs. It is established by scholars that the writing of Egypt was derived from that of Sumer, as was, in fact, every other kind of writing the world has known. At this time, also, the Great Pyramid was built, enshrining the geophysical and astronomical knowledge which the Egyptians had acquired. But now other influential nations that figure in later Bible history were in process of formation. The most significant of these from the point of view of Bible history and the affairs of the future nation of Israel would be the people known as the Canaanites. At the time of the dispersion from Babel it would seem that the sons of Canaan, son of Ham, made their way by easy stages to the land which was afterwards called by that name. Following the Euphrates northward and then striking west across the plains they came to the Mediterranean Sea coast and there they settled to become farmers and traders. They built towns on the coast ‑ Sidon of the present day is one of them ‑ and Joppa. Striking inland they founded Gaza and Damascus, Jerusalem, Jericho, Sodom and Gomorrah. Other centres known only to archaeologists and long since passed out of existence appeared in later years but were probably started by the Canaanites. One of these was Ugarit, better known today as Ras Shamra, on the Syrian coast, discovered in 1929; others were Alalakh in Syria, and Ebla, located and excavated in the 20th Century. They seem to have established and maintained a network of trading connections with their Sumerian and Egyptian counterparts and rapidly grew in power and influence. The Canaanites were still there when Abraham entered Canaan but by then there had been a great deal of immigration by Semitic peoples more or less kindred to Abraham. These mixed and intermarried and so gave rise a thousand years later to the celebrated nation of sea-going traders known as the Phoenicians. By that time their ships were making regular trading journeys to Britain, the Mediterranean countries, the West African coastlands, the West Indies and Central America. In the days of Eber, however, the farthest they appear to have penetrated was the area of the eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus, Crete, Greece and Egypt.
The Canaanites seem to have abandoned the recognition and worship of God more quickly than did the Sumerians or Egyptians. Their religious practices became debased at a very early stage, so much so as to become proverbial in the ancient world. The Phoenician historian Sanchuniathan was regarded by experts as mythical until the Ras Shamra tablets were found in 1929. He wrote about a thousand years before Christ, in the time of King David, who had a great deal to do with the Phoenicians of his day; Hiram, king of Tyre was their ruler. He said that in the earliest histories of his country, the Deity was known as the Most High God, the same term as used by the Sumerians of the same period. Perhaps even the depraved Canaanites were sincere worshippers of the true God when first they settled in the land, before its luxuries and pleasures turned their hearts to gross idolatry. The same thing happened to Israel in the same land a thousand years later. There are evidences that the worship of the true God endured at least among some of the Canaanites. When Abraham entered Canaan six hundred years after the time of Eber he found the Jebusites of Jerusalem a Canaanite tribe, ruled by the Priest-king Melchisedek, "the Priest of the Most High God". Another of the same period was Abimelech king of Gerar, near Gaza, also with his people acknowledging the God of Abraham. But in the main the Canaanites seem to have been apostates: almost from the start.
North of the Canaanites, the Arameans were settled, men of Aram and to some extent Arphaxad, sons of Shem. They had made their way up the Euphrates river and found the wide plains of what is now northern Syria and southern Turkey admirably adapted for their nomadic habits. Here they could tend their flocks and herds, moving their encampments from place to place as necessity dictated, with none to say them nay. Much later, as they increased in number and the land became more densely populated, they had to establish farmsteads and grow crops to feed themselves and their animals, but that was in the future. They eventually built towns and Haran was one of their chief centres. Abraham went to this town when he left Ur of the Chaldees, and he sent his steward there to find a bride for Isaac. When Jacob set out to get away from his brother Esau, this is the land to which he came. This land of Aram-Naharaim, "the land of the two rivers", was to be closely associated with Old Testament history.
Away on the eastern side of the Plain, beyond the Tigris river, lay the mountains from which the early descendants of Noah first came into the Plain of Shinar. Now they began to go back, contingents of men and women seeking living space, hardy men and women not afraid of the rigours of a mountain habitat. They called themselves Elamites and they were, in the main, descendants of Elam the son of Shem. Once established in the mountains they speedily found that they had entered a land which yielded metals and precious stones ‑ gold, silver, copper, rubies, emeralds, and the greatly prized blue-green mineral called lapis-lazuli. Building stone could be quarried in abundance, granite, limestone, sandstone and a wondrous polished black stone which used to be called diorite but has now been found to be limestone impregnated with carbon under heat and greatly to be desired for the making of statues and images. Forests of cedar, rivalling the famed cedars of Lebanon, of oak and of fir trees were there, providing unlimited supplies of timber for building. None of these things existed in the Plain itself. So it was not long before the Elamites up in the mountains and the Sumerians down in the Plain were engaged in an intensive and expanding trade with each other and so the famous era of Sumerian artistic manufactures in metal and stone began.
Although bearing the name of Elam the Semite, the probability is that this people was a fusion of both races, Semitic and Sumerian, of Shem and Ham. Their national characteristics tend to show this. Their commercial and artistic qualities betraying Sumerian ancestry and their ferocity in war their Semitic. But this latter emerged later; at this time they lived at peace with their fellows although in later centuries they became a scourge to the more peaceable inhabitants of the plain.
The land of Havilah (Khavilah) of Gen. 2, south-west of the Caspian Sea, was probably an Elamite colony. So also was the city-state of Aratta, the existence of which was unknown until the 20th Century. This was a time of population expansion when groups of pioneers set out in all directions to find hitherto uninhabited lands in which to settle. Their children upon attaining maturity would set out still farther and so the world became populated. Within the next three or four centuries the Cushite had colonised the whole of Arabia and penetrated Iran and into Pakistan where by the time of Abraham a second extensive Sumerian civilisation existed on the plains of the river Indus. The descendants of Phut, son of Ham, had colonised North Africa over the area of the present Sahara desert, which in their day was fertile and forested, and those of Japheth had reached half-way across Siberia on the one hand and half-way across Europe on the other.
And while all this was going on the people in the Plain were quietly building their cities and organising their lives together, without acrimony and without war, still serving and worshipping the God of their forefather Noah. Here was the seed-bed in which was nurtured and carried through from generation to generation the Seed of Promise, that line of descent protected and guided by Divine Providence which was to lead first to Abraham and finally to Christ. Eber, at this time the custodian of the Divine oracles, must soon relinquish his charge to his son Peleg, and he in the fulness of time to Reu, and so on for three more generations and then to Abraham. That is the point at which the story of the out-working of God's Plan of redemption really begins. Perhaps that is why what may be termed comprehensive Bible history, there has its commencement. From that time God began actively to work in the world of men to bring them back to Himself. The latter part of the life of Eber saw the birth of the conception of kingship. The first kings ‑ little more than tribal chiefs ‑ were at Kish, eight miles from the Tower. For nearly two centuries they held sway over all the settlements in the land, according to the old legends. Their rule was kindly and beneficent. The name of the third king of the dynasty, Palakinatim, living during the lifetime of Eber, means "reign of righteousness" and of the fourth king, Nangish-lishma, "may God listen with gladness". The second monarch was a woman whose name incorporated a suffix indicating loyalty to "the most high God". Such engravings as have been found have no indications of war; they depict only scenes of the hunting of food animals and the arts of the agriculturalist and the shepherd. Farming, fishing and trade with the mountain-dwellers to the east and with Egypt and Canaan in the west filled their life. The Most High God was worshipped by the Semites at Babel and at Nippur by the Sumerians and all creation seemed to be at peace. A Sumerian poet of six centuries later said of this period "There was a time when the cities of Shubur and Hamazi, the many cities of Sumer, the land of kings, Divine laws, and of all that is good; the land of Martu, living in security; the whole universe, the people in unison, to E'nlil 'lord of the heavens' in one tongue gave praise". Another of the same period described the time in the distant past when the wild animals were tame and submissive to man. Then there was no strife or rivalry between men, the land brought forth its crops and the rain came in its season and the sun shone warmly always and there was peace amongst men.
But changes were on the way. Towards the close of Eber's life a new power began to rise in the south to challenge the rulership of Kish. The little settlement at Uruk (Erech of Gen. 10.11) was becoming an influential centre and beginning to manifest ambitions for dominion. According to the "King Lists" compiled some eight centuries later, the first man recorded as asserting himself as ruler was one Meskiag-gashir, and of this man two curious and unexplained things are recorded. The first is that he was "the son of the Sun God" and the second that he "crossed the sea and ascended the mountain". Now at the time the "King Lists" were compiled the Sun-God was Marduk, and the origin of Marduk was the Biblical personage Nimrod. Does this suggest that this first recorded ruler of Uruk was in fact the actual son of Nimrod and perhaps succeeded his father in the rulership of the Sumerian south country? The timing could be right. Nimrod is most likely to have lived during the early part of Eber's life and this postulated son in the latter part. If the case is indeed so, then it is possible to link Nimrod with the annals of history outside the Bible. The second expression is more obscure. Why attach special significance to his crossing the sea to ascend a mountain? One immediately thinks of the sacred mountain which they all revered as the "Mount of the East" where their fathers emerged from the Ark and toward which their temple-towers at Babel and Nippur pointed in recognition of its sanctity. In later times that same mountain was to become the mountain of the gods, the centre of the world and the entrance to Arallu, the nether-world of the dead, but at this time it was sacred to the Most High God, the God of Noah and his sons. Is this expression a reference to some kind of pilgrimage to the mountain. One of his descendants,, Gilgamish, King of Uruk a century or so later, is recorded as having done the same thing. A glance at a map, will show that to reach the mountain ‑ Kuh-i-Anaran in Lat. 32N, Long. 46E ‑ from Uruk the traveller would have either to cross the then existing northern extension of the Persian Gulf or make his way around its northern end. The latter course would involve travelling through the home domains of Kish and it might be that relations between Semites and Sumerians were already becoming strained and so the pilgrim elected to follow the sea route.
Somewhere about this time the city and land of Kish suffered a major disaster. A colossal flood completely destroyed the city and its, surroundings, and drowned most of its inhabitants. An abnormal quantity of water carried down by the great rivers built up in the level plain and brought the peaceful life of the people to an end. It was a long time before Kish recovered ‑ probably severa1 generations. Langdon says ("The Excavations at Kish," Vol. 4) "This flood definitely marked the end of an era. It covered uniformly and for a long time all that remained of the civilization of Kish. This flood layer marks a complete separation between the types which we have now left behind, the industries of the potter, founder, sculptor, and the types of industries which will be found above it". The physical remains show this; the evidence of a highly sophisticated civilization below the "flood layer" is replaced by a considerably less cultured one above, and in some respects Kish never recovered its former grandeur. It might well be this event which gave the rising power of Uruk the opportunity to take the initiative and make its bid for the leadership of the country. In another sphere of life, it might also have been the reason for the migration of the family of Shem marked out in the Bible ‑ Eber, his son Peleg, and his grandson Reu. All these might well have been alive at this time ‑ from the Kish-Babel area to the southern city of Ur of the Chaldees where Abraham, great-great-grandson of Reu, is found living four centuries later. A rather flimsy evidence to this effect is found in the Gen.10 statement that the sons of Joktan, son of Eber, made their dwelling in an area which although at present very uncertain, was most probably in the south country and in the vicinity of Ur.
But Langdon's statement above quoted to the effect that this Kish flood "definitely marked the end of an era" has proved true in more senses than he could have realised in 1924. The discoveries of the 20th Century have established that it was at about this time that three great evils affecting mankind had their rise. They are evils that have afflicted men ever since and will inevitably continue so to do until the establishment of the Millennial Kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. From the time of the Flood until this time, the evidence is that men lived peaceably with each other in the reverence and worship of the one true God, the God of Noah their common ancestor. In all the remains and relics that have been discovered there are no warlike weapons; in such admittedly scanty records as exist there are no references to man fighting man, and no evidence of worship offered to false gods. But now there came a great change.
Those three great evils that brought this "Golden Age" to an end were commercialism, war and paganism. It is a remarkable fact that all three made their debut into the world together, as though they were interdependent. Men were penetrating fast into the outer world and discovering all kinds of exciting materials and products. Trade between the peoples developed in consequence and that gave rise to greed and selfishness and so eventually to war. With the loss of high moral values men lost faith in the Most High God and began to imagine lesser gods, gods made in their own image and likeness, and so a pattern was set which all generations have followed to this present day. In the days of Eber the old order passed away and life was to be very different thereafter.
(To be continued)