Sunday, March 13, 2011

Bread and Revolution 2

So.  All this has me thinking about how - at least for the people of grain in the Abrahamic traditions - agriculture is in fact a curse.  Before the Fall, in the Garden, there was no work associated with subsistence; abundance was the norm.  Of course, there was but one prohibition - do not eat from a particular tree - and like all prohibitions this one simply increased its respective desire.  

Following this inevitable transgression, God declares humans "cursed among all animals and among all wild creatures."  After putting enmity between men and women, increasing the sufferings of childbirth, and subjugating a full half of the species to the mortal dominion of the other, the benevolent God of Abraham turns to the land itself: "Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles its shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field."  From original equality, innocence, and abundance, God concludes his curse of humanity with the curse of farming:  "By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return."  

In an important sense, then, the curse of humanity is at once the curse of agriculture.  In fact, throughout the book of Genesis there is an important and fascinating interplay between the Hebrew words adam - translated variously as man or human, and only after verse 17 or so as a proper name - and adamah, or the ground or soil out of which humanity was formed and enlivened by the breath of God.

But eating something changed all that.  Life became work.  Work became toil.  Toil became necessity.  Necessity became death.  And only through constant toil to recreate ourselves on earth could humans escape such a fate after death.  With sweat we would grow grain, and with grain we would eat bread for all our mortal, dusty days.  By having to farm to eat, the God of Genesis curses human beings with agriculture.  From the ground we came.  With the ground we work.  Unto the ground we return. 

And while, of course, certain traditions of Abraham are in the midst of that soteriological ritual that begs a New Testament revision of this narrative of bread and revolution, for now I simply note how the rest of the Old Testament recounts the horrendous trails and tribulations of people forced to farm to live.

No comments:

Post a Comment