What has God got against cities?

An interesting thing I’ve noticed is that the early Bible stories seem to have a really anti-city, pro-nature morality to them. This seems odd given that the text would have been compiled by literate scribes and priests.

For example, Cain was the first farmer, but most famously he was the first murderer. God’s punishment was that nothing Cain planted would grow, so he would have to live as a nomad. Some early translations miss out the bit about Cain having to wander the Earth.  This is understandable, because as well as being a lifelong wanderer and nomad, Cain is credited with building the first city for his son to live in.

A few generations later, a descendent of Cain called Lamech was a murderer and the world’s first recorded polygamist. His children included Jubal, the first musician; Jabal, the nomad; Tubal-Cain the first blacksmith; and Naamah, who is variously described as a mother of monsters, and as wife of Noah. After God flooded the Earth, humans got together to form a new city called Babel under King Nimrod and God destroyed it again. So, the villains of Genesis are the city dwellers, blacksmiths, and Emperors.

Also, it’s worth noting these early sections contain an interesting feature: there’s two branches of Adam’s family tree, and the names of the two families are very similar. For instance, there’s two Lamechs, two Enochs, and the other names are quite similar. Little is written about either branch, so we’re left wandering why they’re there.

The documentary theory offers a possible answer: it states that the first books of the Bible were compiled from various sources, written at different times by different people. One of the sources, the Jahwist source, seems to be responsible for all these anti-city sentiments. The current theory is that this source wasn’t a single text, but represents the folk traditions of the northern areas.

This source contains the myths of Babel, Cain, and Lamech, but not the children of Seth. It skips the first prophet (Enoch), sainted figures like Methusaleh, and Noah’s father Lamech. This would seem to indicate that in this version of the story, Noah’s father was Lamech the blacksmith/tyrant/polygamist.

So, we’re left with a story where human sins constantly take them away from the land, and where redemption seems to involve people like Noah returning to the land. It also gives us the notion that human history a process of decline.

It seems to me that this tradition that saw history as a tragic decline into cities met another tradition that saw history as a set of mythic heroes. As so often happens, two cultures interpreted the same myths radically differently. The Genesis we have seems to be the result of a possibly politically motivated compromise.

This is enticing because it makes Bible history cyclical. The Bible was codified, and then various other texts were added to it, then it was codified again in the Roman Empire. Since then, schisms and different interpretations have continued endlessly.

If we accept this, then people who embellish or add to the Bible are carrying out an important function that may have helped strengthen and spread this religious tradition. They’re finding new meanings in old myths.

For instance, the Mormons have written comparatively large amounts about Cain’s City of Enoch, but as occasional city dwellers they gave it an counter-weight to it called Zion, which was founded by Enoch the prophet. Better yet, they had it raised into the heavens before the flood, and some argued the the tower of Babel was built by people trying to reach it.

This is a great way to embellish the story. I hope the next time some civilisation tries to codify the Bible, they include these kinds of Mormon sources.


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