The Bible and Archeology

The Bible and Archeology—No. 2

Man's Original Fall Into Sin

By L. H. WOOD, Professor of Archeology,  S.D.A. Theological Seminary

If we can think of those primitive philosophies of life in the Near East that have been preserved for us in the various clay tablet records found in recently excavated mounds, not as mythological in their nature—that is, akin to our modern fairy stories—but as expressions of the actual beliefs of be­nighted souls, we may gain some idea of the degradation of man under the influence of a culture seemingly determined to deface the character and glory of God. Without doubt, these philosophies which are substantiated by a multiplicity of objective detail, will con­vince the thoughtful mind today of the depths to which one may go, once he gives up the kingdom of God and its principles for those of the adversary of men.

It was from a perusal of just such evidence that many scholars have recently come to the conclusion, as shown in the first article of this series, that the Bible is correct in advancing the thought that a monotheistic religion was the original form of worship, and that suc­cessive degrees of divergence from this orig­inal plan resulted in the degrading influences of polytheism and demon worship. Where education has come, man has many times re­fused to continue under such a benighted in­fluence and has turned to the light; but where a teacher has not come, polytheistic and demon­istic superstitions still hold the heart in a terrible viselike grip.

Such a teacher, in the person of Daniel, came to lead the monarch of one of earth's mightiest polytheistic nations to the point of surrender to the God of heaven; but he never could have succeeded had he not learned, under the guidance of the Lord, how to take the material at hand and present it in such a way as to convince Nebuchadnezzar of the justice of the principles of God's kingdom. Concerning Daniel's need for close application and study, and the result of such study, we have this word from the Spirit of prophecy:

"The close application of those Hebrew students under the training of God was richly rewarded. While they made diligent effort to secure knowledge, the Lord gave them heavenly wisdom. The knowl­edge they gained was of great service to them when brought into strait places. The Lord God of heaven will not supply the deficiencies that result from mental and spiritual indolence. When the human

Even in the depths of heathen belief there are found certain philosophies of life that give evidence of an original knowledge of God's plan for the redemption of the world. One of these is an apparently universal belief in the fall of man from a life of innocence and happiness to one of sin and sorrow. Frag­ments of four Babylonian tablets which deal with the fall of man from an exalted plane, have been found and deciphered. Three come from the library of Ashur-bani-apal, king of Assyria about the middle of the seventh cen­tury B.C., and the fourth from Egypt about the middle of the fourteenth century B.C. From a careful study of these fragments, one finds that the same story persisted in Babylon for many centuries, reaching back to a very early date.

Interesting indeed is this story of Adapa, a semidivine priest, son of the god Ea and sage of one of the Babylonian temples, who, because of increased knowledge which enabled him to have power over some of the elements, raised the fear of Ea for his own future wel­fare. Before being called to the assembly of the gods to account for his behavior, he had been warned not to partake of celestial food and drink by Ea, who declared that it would bring death. Adapa acted upon this counsel, rejected the proffered food, and thereby un­wittingly condemned himself to mortality. (See "Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology," Vol. XVI, pp. 274f.)

One can see here, in a very garbled form, elements of the story given in Genesis 3. Increased knowledge opened the way for temptation to immortalize error. Refraining from eating of the tree of life—in one case enforced by flaming cherubim, in the other by man's own choice—resulted in the loss of eternal life. But the very fact that these ancient philosophies recognized sin as the cause of all resulting miseries and woes, makes very reasonable the thought that the Baby­lonian story is only a degraded conception of the original, true story as given in Genesis. When one sees the manner in which modern freethinkers twist the statements of Scrip­ture to their own advantage, one is not at all surprised to see the same methods at work among the primitive cultures of Bible lands.

Motifs of the tree of life have been found in Egyptian inscriptions as early as the third millennium B.C. In one of the pyramid texts is found the wish that "the king may be fed from the tree of life, so as to live from that from which the gods live." In the Egyptian "Book of the Dead" reference is also made to the tree of knowledge.

A fragment of an ancient Sumerian tablet discovered by Edward Chiera, which deals with the expulsion of man from some un­named place because of disobedience; is of great interest in this connection. The tablet is so broken that it is impossible to determine just what the disobedience is, but it seems to have something to do with a "clothing-establishing tree." Three times over, how­ever, it repeats the phrase, "As an outcast, thou shalt not return!" A few lines farther on the cry is, "Go, perform the work, raise the food to eat ! I! I will never receive thee!" ("Archaeology and the Bible," p. 315, Bar-ton's translation, 1937 edition.)


Ethnology, that science which treats of the division of mankind into races, their ori­gin, relationships, and peculiarities, agrees very definitely with archeology in its findings concerning the theory of man's fall. Among many of the Indian tribes of North America one finds the belief that sin enters through man's eating of some forbidden article of diet—fruit, a totem animal, or a plant. Folk-'lore of other nations describes than as trying to satisfy his cUriosity concerning something, the investigation of which has been forbidden him. (Was it Eve's curiosity concerning the tree of good and evil that brought trouble to her?)

An early Eskimo story relates how two of the first human beings had a quarrel concerning immortality, and thus brought sin and death into the world. According to Mac­Culloch, the Andamanese in the Bay of Bengal have a story that the creator, Puluga, gave the first man, Tomo, various injunctions concern­ing certain trees which grew at only one place in the jungle. Tomo was forbidden to eat when Puluga visited the district. His descend­ants disobeyed and were punished. Wicked­ness increased, and the world was destroyed by a deluge from which two men and two women were saved. This story was traced back to a period antedating the advent of Christian missions, and it is felt that such a_ description could be little else than an adapta­tion of the original Genesis account, passed' on from generation to generation in a manner entirely independent of the Bible. (Encyclo­pedia of Religious Ethics, Vol. V, p, 707.)

Among many primitive tribes an antagonist to the Creator appears under various titles Inone he is the "Coyote," and in another he is typified by a goat or a lizard. S. H. Kellogg quotes J. L. Wilson, who made an interesting study of the natives of New Guinea some fifty years ago, and found that the prevailing notion at that time seemed to be that God, after having made the world and filled it with inhabitants, retired to some remote cor­ner of the universe, allowing this world to come under the control of evil spirits whose favor must be courted and whose displeasure must be warded off.


Evidence has now been given, both from archeology and from ethnology, to show an early universal consciousness of sin and some abnormal condition in man needing to be set right. To one acquainted with the Scriptural account in Genesis 3, it is not at all difficult to see in the various beliefs of these primitive peoples certain unmistakable earmarks of the fact that at some point in the history of this earth, mankind was' thoroughly acquainted with the story of the beginning of 'sin, as out­lined by the Lord to Moses. Without faith, however, it is seemingly impossible to get the true picture. With his heart filled with doubt. the higher critic, Julius Wellhausen, cries out:

"The gloomiest view of life as it now is, lies at the root of this story [Genesis 33. Man's days are mere hardship and labor and task work, a task work with no prospect of relief, for the only reward of it is that he returns to the earth from which he was taken. No thought appears of any life after death, and life without death might have been, but has been forfeited: now the cherub guards the approach to the tree of life of which man might have eaten when in Paradise, but did not."--"Prolegomena to the History of Israel," pp. 300, 301. Black, Edin­burgh, 1885.

How different is this "gloomy" analysis of Genesis 3 from that given by R. C. Trench, dean of Westminster, when he says that this "assuredly is the most important chapter in the whole Bible." He states further:

"It is the only chapter which, if we could con­ceive it as being withdrawn, would leave all the rest of Scripture unintelligible. Take this away, this record of the fall, and of the provision which God so graciously made to repair these consequences, to build up the breach which Adam had made, take this away and you take away the key of knowledge to all the rest of the Bible. Nor is it the Bible alone which would thus become unintelligible, but the whole condition of the world around us, of man and of nature, of our own selves above all, would present itself to us as an inexplicable riddle. What a riddle indeed, does it ever more continue to be to all those who refuse to accept the solution of it here offered! There are indeed in this chapter almost as many mysteries as there are words."—"Sermons Preached in Westminster Abbey," pp. 48, 49. Middleton, New York, 1860.

Trench seemed to catch the real import of the Genesis account of clothing Adam and Eve with skins after their fall into sin, for he thinks of it a little later on in his sermon as the first prophecy of the sacrifice of Calvary—an enacted prophecy, if, you please. To him, the story pictures man's powerlessness to pos­sess any righteousness of his own—when he 'could not himself provide a covering in which he might appear before God, the merciful heavenly Father undertook the task, and in so doing, proclaimed the fact that (1) no robe of man's own righteousness will satisfy, (2) the righteousness he has not of himself, he re­ceives at the hand of God, and (3) this right­eousness is purchased at the price of an un­guilty life.

Belief in evolution has robbed men like Wellhausen of the vision of faith and caused them to grope in midnight darkness. Because evoltition wad belief in man's fall cannot exist side by side, man seems prone to yield to the impulses of pride, and to hope for some other way out of this entanglement than that offered by the Lord.. But in His mercy, God is sur­rounding man with an atmosphere of disillu­sionment. Puny man begins to realize that he cannot solve the problems of our modern civiI lization, and even more than this, that there  is something radically wrong with himself.

Donald Adams, editor of the New York Times Book Review, affirms this in an article on "The Collapse of Conscience :"

"That a keen spiritual hunger stirs the world, no man who reads thoughtfully in the literature of our time can for a moment question." Atlantic Monthly, January, 1938.
Man seems desirous of yielding allegiance to any power, personal or national, other than his heavenly Father, and thus he rebels against the law of his own true being. But there is nothing that will afford a greater panacea for the condition into which the world has been plunged through sin and fear than the full (understanding of the doctrine of the fall of man, and of his rescue from the pit of sin through the death of that Sinless One before whom every knee soon shall bow. The stage is now being set for the enactment of the final scene in this great drama. What an opportunity is ours as Christians to become thoroughly acquainted with the various lines of evidence which point to the accuracy and historicity of the Biblical account of man's fall into sin, that If in these days of bewilderment and despair, hope may replace fear in the hearts of earth's multitudes. There is a way out. Let's find it, live it, talk it ! Someday it will be everlastingly too late.

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By L. H. WOOD, Professor of Archeology,  S.D.A. Theological Seminary

May 1940

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