Prepare Ye the Way
Before 2000 BC
The creation and the establishment of civilization are described in the first few chapters of Genesis.
Archeology also gives us a history of that time in a clutter of broken pots, ancient graves and walls, and some precious written documents. Exact dates cannot be given for the events recorded in this part of Genesis. However, archeology has been able to illuminate those distant years and shed some further light on the events described in the Bible.
Eden itself is located as being "to the east" (from Jerusalem where the Bible was being put in written form 3,000 years ago) bordered by the Euphrates, the Tigris, and two rivers we cannot identify with certainty. This is the venerable land of Mesopotamia ("Between-the-Rivers") on whose margins agriculture was developed 10-12,000 years ago and which cradled the first civilization, Sumer (Shinar in the Bible).
The Bible is history which was handed down as oral tradition for many centuries before it was recorded in writing. It has been an extremely helpful guide for modern archeologists to the very ancient world. Sumer was unknown outside of Biblical references until about 100 years ago, when it began to be unearthed from the sands which had covered it for millennia.
There is much which indicates that the accounts of Genesis and the legends of Mesopotamia are rooted in a common heritage. Yet the Biblical writers understood and told of their past in a distinctive way which is utterly different from the polytheistic myths handed down in Babylon. The Patriarchs preserved this unique understanding of their history as they journeyed through Canaan into Egypt and, as the Israelites, back again.
For instance, the story of Noah is very like the tale of Ut-Napishtim. This Mesopotamian hero survives a great flood brought on by heavenly wrath which destroys everyone but him and his family. He is given warning in time to build a boat in which to ride out the storm. At its end he sends out birds to look for land, coming to rest at last in the mountains where he makes a thankful sacrifice.
Similarity to this story makes it clear that the Biblical account also grew out of ancient Mesopotamian events.
Still, there are vital differences between the two versions of pre-history. For instance, the pagan legend tells of gods so starved for lack of sacrifices that they cluster over the smoke "like flies". How different is the God of the Bible, independent of man!
Another Mesopotamian reference is to the Tower of Babel. Sumerian temples were built on a huge base, like a stepped pyramid, called a ziggarut. The greatest of these were centuries in the building.
Biblical records and archeology have combined to sort out the complicated movements of peoples through the Fertile Crescent over the centuries. Genesis describes the origins and relationships of many cultural and tribal groups. The historical and geographical distribution of people which archeologists have been able to trace parallels this record.
Noah’s sons Shem, Ham and Japheth are associated with the great language groups of the area: Semitic, Hamitic (Egypt, north and south Africa), and Indo-European, the tongue spoken in the second millennium by most of the inhabitants of Europe. Major groups within the Semitic area of influence take their names from the sons of Shem.
One of these Semitic descendants is Eber, who gives his name to the Hebrew-speaking people. To one of his descendants, Abraham, the Jews trace their ancestry and that of the peoples closely related to them.