agricultural revolution

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agricultural revolution

  1. the transition from HUNTER-GATHERER to settled agricultural societies which occurred in the Middle East around 10,000 years ago, bringing about the domestication of animals and the cultivation of crops. Whether, as some theorists suggest, this agricultural revolution was the result of necessity born out of a depletion of naturally occurring supplies of food, the likelihood is that the transition occurred more than once, since patterns of transition that are apparent in the New World show marked differences from those in the Old World.
  2. innovations in agricultural production and organization leading to increased food and other crop production associated with the transition from AGRARIAN SOCIETY to INDUSTRIAL SOCIETY. The example of Europe, and England in particular, is often used as the model. Transformations in agricultural production in the 17th and 18th centuries were associated with increased population, improvements in diet and growing urbanization. This is seen as one of the factors making possible the INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION in Europe. Important changes continued throughout the 19th and 20th centuries with increases in agricultural productivity and a longterm decline in the proportion of the working population engaged in agriculture.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000

Agricultural Revolution

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Ten to twelve thousand years ago, what has been called the agricultural revolution began to alter completely almost every aspect of human life and religious history. By six thousand years ago its results were seen in some of the oldest cities in the world. In Jericho, perhaps the oldest continually inhabited city in existence, and Ur, purported to be the home of Abraham and the Hapiru (see Abraham), complex lifestyles developed when people discovered both the blessings and curses resulting from a fixed, stable home.

The agricultural revolution marks the beginning of what we now call civilization or recorded history. When people discovered the benefits of cultivation and a predictable food source, the results were dramatic. In Mesopotamia and Egypt, populations exploded as large crops farmed by few people could support larger families and communities. Cities evolved as more people settled in one place. This shift led to specialization of occupations and the beginning of formal political and economic systems. As one city traded with another, the invention of writing made it possible both to communicate and keep track of wealth.

But there was a dark side to this revolution. Stored wealth invited the temptation to manipulate the food supply. The "haves" grew to dominate the "have-nots." Social class stratas inevitably followed. Competition over the best fields and the pressure of overcrowding led to warfare between cities. The drudgery of the field replaced the sport of the hunt. The drawbacks were accepted, however, because of the utility and obvious advantage of a reliable food supply.

The agricultural revolution led to significant changes in world religions. Wars and armies tended to encourage the concept of male, warlike, tribal gods, capable of defending cities and cultures, rather than the female mother-earth goddesses of pastoral peoples. Gods such as Baal of the Canaanites and Jehovah of the Israelites tended to require more and bloodier sacrifices to prove their superiority over the gods of other indigenous people. Specialization of occupations led to professional clergy, along with the temples and traditional styles of worship inherent in formal religions. The invention of writing led to organized, systematic scriptures. Once beliefs were written down, they tended to become codified, in contrast to the fluid, evolving patterns of oral mythology. Written scriptures also tended to follow analytical patterns of thought, departing from the imaginative, intuitive patterns of oral culture. Over time, religions tended to become increasingly hierarchical and dominated by men.

These changes did not happen right away. But by 4000 BCE, in the Tigris/ Euphrates and Nile River valleys, the agricultural revolution was undeniably underway.

Biblical historian Daniel Quinn has made the case that a description of the process can be found in the third and fourth chapters of Genesis and is a part of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Here, Adam and Eve, having left the delights of the traditional gathering lifestyle they knew in the Garden of Eden, are now forced to earn their food by the drudgery of work in the field. Their son Cain, the new agriculturist, presents an offering from his garden to the traditional God of his parents. It is rejected in favor of the traditional sacrifice of his brother Abel, the pastoral herdsman. A revolution breaks out between the old tradition of pastoral migration and the new style of agricultural independence. Agriculture wins. Cain kills his brother. But he is driven from the presence of the old God, the old way of doing things. The implication is that he must find a new God, one who accepts the modern lifestyle.

The first thing Cain does is build a city, and his descendants proceed to develop not only agriculture, but also the industry of Tubal-Cain, the bronze-age forger, and the music of Jubal, "the father of all who play the harp and flute." Also at this time Lamech marries two women and vows vengeance on anyone who injures him. As humankind experiences a population explosion, corruption and violence grow so severe that God finally decides to destroy everything with a great flood. Thus, way back in the early chapters of Genesis, we read about urban development, agriculture, the growth of industry, the music business, bigamy and adultery, revenge, population explosion, corruption, violence, and natural disaster. Seen in this way, it reads like a modern-day morning newspaper.

In the biblical account, this is all placed about six thousand years ago in Mesopotamia, precisely when and where the agricultural revolution was changing the world. So when conservative scholars of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic belief say that the world began six to ten thousand years ago, perhaps they might more accurately say that the world of modern civilization, or written history, began at that time.

Whether Genesis contains the remembered oral record of human history is, of course, a matter of interpretation and religious belief. But the agricultural revolution has undoubtedly led to the way of life we now take for granted. Male-dominated hierarchical religious systems did tend to overcome goddess-based religious traditions as civilization spread. Leaders of wars even today use the tribal terminology of "our God against your God," a practice as old as that used by conflicting cities six thousand years ago as they fought for natural resources. Overcrowded cities and population centers are still recognized as hotbeds of crime and violence.

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
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