Sunday, December 8, 2013

Education is Not for You

From time to time I have the privilege of meeting with families who may be interested in sending their students to my kids' school.  Last week I met with a potential family who are currently using a different method of education, and one of the parents teaches at a very different type of school than ours.  This led to a lot of thoughtful questions and discussion, especially about educational methods, and it made me realize something about the way we want to educate our kids.

There are tons of educational methods out there.  For quite a few years now, families have noticed that public schools just aren't hacking it and now alternatives abound.  Homeschooling, Unschooling, Montessori, Waldorf Schools, the Steiner method, and classical education are just a few of the philosophies that are out there.  For the most part, educational philosophers will try to argue that their method is the best for educating your child.

But I realized that what we're really trying to do is not to educate children for the sake of having educated children.  Instead, we're trying to educate kids who are prepared to communicate their education, and the gospel, to a world that desperately needs both.  You can have the smartest kid on the block, but if they don't know how to communicate their intellect, and consequently the gospel, with the rest of the world, what good does that education do?

Ultimately, then, we're not necessarily looking for the best education for our child, but we're looking for the best education that will prepare them to educate the world.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


It's been ages since I've posted on here, so there's probably no one out there anymore, but today I had a thought.  This is a thought that's taken some developing, so here it is, ready to come, ready or not.

The idea of "smashing gender stereotypes" is so old that it appears to be new again.  I was reminded of this as my 2-year-old daughter listened to my Strawberry Shortcake record from 1983 or so, which made fun of the boys wanting to help the girls carry their heavy baskets.  Strawberry Shortcake was the strong, independent girl who didn't need any help from boys.  And then I just saw this video, advertising the new "engineering" girls' toy, Goldieblox.  Aside from the fact that none of those 8-year-old girls know what a record player is, let alone who the Beastie Boys are, I think I get the message.  Baby dolls and pink things are for dumb girls who are stuck in the past, while smart girls want to be engineers.

Growing up I was one of those girls in that advertisement.  I liked science, and did not do dolls.  Every one of my heroes, from Strawberry Shortcake to Orphan Annie to Rainbow Brite told me that this was the way to go.  Even Barbie taught me that, way before Goldieblox.  In college I went into a scientific field where the men outnumbered women at least 10:1, sometimes more.  However, somewhere in there, I realized that I missed out on something.

God made me a girl, and there wasn't much I could do to change that.  This left me, at base, with an insecurity that needed to be dealt with, and I wasn't at peace until it was.  It wasn't until I realized that I could be a geologist, rock hammer in hand, smashing things in the field and be a lady at the same time that I was really secure in who I was made to be.  I wish someone told me you can be both: you can train to be a godly wife and mother, loving your femininity, and at the same love science, building, being dirty and outside, etc.

That's the problem with marketing to little girls the way Goldieblox does.  We've all been here before, and what we're doing is teaching girls that in order to be smart and brave they must despise being feminine and maternal.  This is not an either/or decision.  My little girl loves pink and babies and Disney princesses.  However, she is also intelligent (at 2 years old she can assemble simple Lego sets) and loves books, and I don't see any reason for teaching her that those desires are in competition.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Classical Education

Being in the classical education world is very exciting.  To see your own kids learning at a young age things you never knew until high school or college (or maybe even never), is encouraging and fun.  I talk to many friends who like to say, "Isn't it amazing what our kids will do?  With an education like this they will take over the world!"

I'd like to think so, but then God doesn't always take over the world in the way we think He should.  Maybe I'm a cynic, but it seems like as public education deteriorates, and in California we're at the head of the pack on that one, the antagonism has only grown towards those who actually care about education.  Regulations on private schools have grown tighter and restrictions increase every year, usually while our legislature is in session.  For example, because of budget cuts, our local public schools have a month less of school then is required by law (they use minimum days to count as full days).  However, we have to make sure our school keeps accurate records of attendance and school days, in case a truancy officer decides to show up on our door.

All this has made me re-think what God is doing with a revival in classical Christian education.  He is definitely preparing our children to take over the world, but it may just be by their martyrdom.  He is preparing a generation who knows what they believe and has the backbone to fight to the end for it.  He used it in Rome to bring an entire empire to its knees, and why couldn't He do that again?

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The End

And there it ends.  My rough outline of the history of farming in western civilization has made it's way to the 20th century.  At some point I hope to transform this into a book, but I'm not sure that publishers will be interested in a history of agriculture and politics coming from a geology major with teaching experience.

Still, I have a working title: Life, Liberty, and Property: The history of farming, private property, and democracy.  Look for it in about 20 years at a bookstore near you!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Government's New Business

The crash of wheat prices in 1929 was followed in 1931 by one of the worst droughts that the Great Plains had seen in over a hundred years.  With no visible sources of water, farmers were forced to let their fields lie fallow.  The suitcase farmers abandoned their lands, leaving millions of acres of plowed-up dirt open to the elements.  When the high winds whipped across the prairie they began to pick up immense clouds of dust, which turned into dust storms that tore through towns and destroyed homes and crops.  As the dust storms continued farmers' lives were in danger, as the dust filled their homes and their lungs.  Over the next 8 years the drought continued, threatening to turn most of western Oklahoma into the Sahara Desert.  After starving and nearly losing their land many farmers began to do the unthinkable--ask the federal government for assistance.  Amazingly, the same man whose policies had created the Dust Bowl by arbitrarily fixing a high price for wheat, Herbert Hoover, was now President of the United States; but he would have nothing to do with helping the farmers.

Angered by Hoover's policies the nation elected Franklin Roosevelt, who was specifically elected on a platform the use the intervention of the federal government to aid the victims of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.  He dispatched federal agents to the Great Plains, having them buy up and destroy surplus livestock and crops (what little there was left) to create a scarcity and drive up prices.  He also issued the first-ever farm subsidies, which paid farmers federal money for not growing crops.  He ordered banks to issue loans to farmers for new equipment.  For many victims of the Dust Bowl this was the first income they had seen in nearly a decade.  However, his policies led to an increasing number of farmers continuing to take farm subsidies.  Also, most farmers could not function without living in debt to banks and loan agencies.  Consequently, U.S. farmland has been transformed into being nearly entirely dependent on the federal government for survival.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Plowing up the Plains

The idealism that was a hallmark of 19th century Victorianism came to an abrupt end with the beginning of World War I.  In 1917 a businessman named Herbert Hoover was appointed head of the U.S. Food Administration, which was charged with stabilitizing U.S. food prices during the war.  As head of the administration Hoover created the first ever federally-controlled price limits on produce, effectively turning food into a commodity.  Up until this time Russia was the largest supplier of European wheat, but because of the war front, their farmers could not sell their produce.  Hoover wanted the U.S. to take over this market, and by artificially fixing a high price for wheat, U.S. farmers began planting lots of it.  Millions of acres in the central United States, espeically the plains of newly-settled Oklahoma, were plowed under for wheat.  This entire region, which had once been a dry grassland, was plowed up to make room for more wheat.  Wheat became so profitable that it led to the rise of "suitcase farmers," wealthy businessmen from the East Coast who would buy up land in Oklahoma and pay someone else to farm the land for them.  They bought up huge tracts of land, radically transforming the landscape of the Great Plains.  Hoover, meanwhile, won an humanitarian award for sending money to the starving Russian farmers that his economic policies put out of business.

Eventually, even in the U.S., the prosperity grown on wheat came to an end.  In 1929 the stock market crashed and the price of all commodities plummeted.  Farmers in the Great Plains continued to produce wheat, even when the price dropped below the cost of planting.  Since the price of wheat dropped, they just plowed up more land to plant more wheat, increasing the economic damage that was to come.  There was so much wheat that much of the stores rotted before they could be transported, and much of it was burned.  While unemployed workers and broke businessmen in the cities were starving, farmers in the Great Plains were burning their excess wheat crops because there were no trains to take them to market.

Without a source of income most farmers turned to subsistence farming, keeping their families alive with what they could produce in their own gardens at home.  That, however, changed when the Dust Bowl began.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Feminism and Consumerism

Another result of this movement away from the land was the rise of feminism.  In her book The Feminization of American Culture, Ann Douglas describes the rise of modern feminism through analyzing 19th century women novelists.  In a rapidly industrializing economy upper-class women felt the need to justify their increasingly ample leisure time.  These ladies had the old-world benefits of servants, along with the new-world benefits of automation, which left them with a lot of time on their hands.  Douglas traces this movement from production to consumerism while analyzing Harriet Beecher Stowe's novels:

"In the newly commercialized and urbanized America of the middle decades of the nineteenth century, the woman consumer, Stowe demonstrates, is more important, more indispensable, than the woman producer; luxury items can and must function as necessities.  With her usual acumen, Stowe had grasped the actual meaning of the sentimental heroine and her crucial role in the rise of consumer culture."

This older feminism eventually gave rise to the newer feminism.  The sentimental idealization of women's roles included the idealization of any office they could hold.  Anything a mother did for her children was excused for sentimental reasons, and Douglas cites at least one early feminist who joined combat in the Civil War as a Mother to her country.

For the first time in history people were not measured and counted by what they could produce, but by what they could consume. Many children in a home was, until recently, considered a blessing.  Those little ones would grow the farm and provide for the community and their parents as they grew, more little producers eventually made more wealth for everyone.  Now many people forgo the privilege of having children because they don't want to raise little consumers who will take from their parents.  As Wendell Berry noted, "the present natural ambition of the U.S. is unemployment.  People live for weekends, or vacations, or retirement; moreover, this ambition seems to be classless, as true in the executive suites as on the assembly lines."

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Communism and Evolution

The unfamiliarity with the land, and consequent fear of destroying it, characterized much of the cultural reactions to the Industrial Revolution.  This is seen in Romanticism, but also in the political movement of Communism.  Much of Communism was in direct contradiction with not only the agrarianism that had undergirded society for thousands of years, but also with the political thought of the Englightenment, especially John Locke's writings on private property and the importance of labor.  As a result of Darwin's Theory of Evolution, the Communists desired a completely materialistic interpretation of history, one stripped of any gods, heroes, or villains.

Frederick Engels, a close friend of Karl Marx, wrote The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State in 1884 to create a historical justification for Communism.  He argued that man's original communities existed of small, matriarchal tribes that held all women, children, and property in common.  This became the ideal to which Communists desired to return.  He argued that Greek city-states contained the origins of private property and that ancient despots set themselves up as kings over and against these matriarchal tribes.  He believed that these petty kings retained land for themselves which was the origin of private property.  Consequently, he also believed that our idea of a nuclear family only came about to provide some means of inheritance to the king's property.

Engels had no substantial historical backing for most of his claims, however, that would not stop them from being used to provide the foundation for nearly every 20th century metanarrative: from Darwinian evolution to modern feminism and socialism.  Evolutionary biology can even be seen in the transformation of land ownership from "husbandry" to "agricultural science."  This reinterpretation of a relationship to one of science-ism also reinterprets the world materialistically and into one without reference to human interaction.

Saturday, May 4, 2013


Much like the Homestead Acts and the Morrill Act were political reactions to rising industry, the Romanticism of the early 19th century was a cultural reaction to industrialization. 

Many of the leaders of this movement were city-dwellers, not farmers, who would renounce the moral corruption of the cities and retreat to some wilderness cabin.  Not being farmers, these men and women were unacquainted with the land, and saw civilization as the enemy of the land; effectively making Romanticism the enemy of Agrarianism.  As Henry David Thoreau said, "if it were proposed to me to dwell in the neighborhood of the most beautiful garden that ever human art contrived, or else of a dismal swamp, I should certainly decide the swamp."  One might conclude that Thoreau was not all that familiar with swamps.

Wendell Berry noted that until the Romantic poets of the 19th century, "Western scholars and poets alike had taken for granted that man was part of nature, a part and not separate from it."  Romanticism was at war with the farmer because it viewed humans as separate from the land, instead of an intricate part of it.  Humans, through their machines, were destroying the land, and the only solution was some form of escapism.  Romanticism inevitably led towards present-day environmentalism, and further away from the ancient art of husbandry.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Creation of Agricultural Science

Along with the Homestead Acts, the Morrill Act of 1862 also created a lasting impact on U.S. agrarianism.  Most of the farmland opened up to the homesteaders would be worthless to these unemployed city dwellers, who had not been raised around farming.  Consequently, the Morrill Act was proposed as a method to educate these aspiring agrarians.  The act gave a portion of public land in each state for the creation of a state college which would house a school of agriculture to educate the newly-formed ranks of independent farmers.  These are the modern land-grant universities, who continue to hold their position of federally-backed agricultural programs tightly.

Over the past 150 years these land-grant universities have transformed the age-old idea of farming as "husbandry" into one of "agricultural science."  The topic of "animal husbandry" has become "animal science."  "Soil husbandry" has become "soil science."  Husbandry had always been understood as the caretaking of a particular piece of property or livestock, a relationship between a man and his land and animals.  Historically it also connoted the importance of conserving farmland for future generations, so you could hand your farm down to children and grandchildren.  However, the universities took a more Darwinian outlook that tried to separate man from his environment.  The agricultural schools became, knowingly or not, a way to put farmers out of business.  It is in the nature of most academics to push their most promising students into a university, a government bureau, or agri-business, not to become independent landowners.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Homestead Acts

The tension between who had the more virtuous lifestyle, Northern or Southern States, continued right up to the brink of the Civil War.  Most Southerners compared the lot of the Northern industrial workers to their own slaves.  In true Jeffersonian tradition, they insisted that the abolitionists were no better than slaves in their bondage to a paycheck and an employer.  Their arguments seemed justified when in 1857 the economy collapsed and unemployment in the factory cities ran high.  While campaigning for the Presidency, Abraham Lincoln described his vision of a system whereby unemployed factory workers could gain their own land and become self-employed, yeomen farmers--an idea that grew into the Homestead Acts of the 1860s.  The Republican Party platform in the election of 1860 endorsed the homestead measures, which were personally written by the newspaperman Horace Greeley, and Lincoln became his poster child for the Republican cause.  He was referred to as the "child of labor" who proved that "honest industry and toil" were rewarded in the northern economy.  The Republicans together agreed that the best opportunity for the poor was to get them out of the cities and into the farmland. 

Unfortunately, the self-sufficient dream of many homesteaders disappeared.  Very few of the poor from the cities could take advantage of the Homestead Acts--most of those involved in the Western expansion were wealthy, entrepreneurial farmers who wanted more land.  They received the land for free, built it up, and re-sold the land for a huge profit.  Also, because of the rise of industrial agriculture, production was rising as well.  This increased the costs of farming, which effectively shut out a profitable business to those unemployed city workers trying to convert to the farming lifestyle.  Those who did receive land had to rely on banks for credit in outfitting their farms, and the ensuing debts drove many out of business within a generation.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Middle Class, Farming, and the Republican Party

Besides the formation of the USDA in 1862, other federal laws were enacted in the 19th century to preserve the agrarian way of life.  Horace Greeley, the famous newspaper editor and Presidential candidate, once stated that a country without agriculture "can rarely boast a substantial intelligent and virtuous yeomanry...It may have wealthy Capitalists and Merchants, but never a numerous Middle Class."  Greeley was one of the founders of the Republican Party, which was formed to preserve agrarianism in the Northern states.  However, the Republicans did not believe, like Jefferson, that industry was antithetical to the virtuous farming life, but argued that moral development would follow material development.

The Republican Party was formed from a group of former Democrats and Whigs who were united under the Free Soil Party.  The Free Soil Party existed to promote the idea of free labor in the North (as opposed to slavery in the South).  The Free Soilers promoted the rapid expansion of Western territories in order to provide more land for free farmers.  They believed these farmers would provide a protection against the expansion of slavery by creating a "middle class," which was a new term at the time.  U.S. Representative Thaddeus Stevens stated while addressing Congress, "The middling classes who own the soil, and work it with their own hands are the main support of every free government."  Charles Francis Adams, a congressman and the grandson of John Adams, stated "the middling class...equally far removed from the temptations of great wealth and of extreme destitution, provided the surest defense of democratic principles."

Instead of a moral agrarianism, the preservation of the middle class became the foundation for morality and democracy.  Many from the Whig Party and the Democrat Party were divided on issues such as economics and abolitionism, but this position united those them, and eventually formed the basis of the Republican Party platform.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Industrial Revolution

The United States was, then, founded as an "agrarian republic" at the end of the 18th century.  Although many did not realize it at the time, this was the twilight of agrarianism as a way of life for the western world.  George Washington so believed in the goodness of agrarianism that he proposed an office for an agricultural advisor to the President in an address to Congress in 1796.  This suggestion would not be realized until Millard Fillmore proposed the formation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1851 in a speech to Congress.  The USDA would still not come into existence until Fillmore's bill arrived on Abraham Lincoln's desk in 1862.  This establishment of agriculture in the federal government was likely a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, which had begun to change the entire make-up of society.  Thomas Jefferson noted this, as he saw the rise of industrialism in the northern colonies, which was why he desired to place the new capitol of the United States in the agrarian, Southern states.

However, even Jefferson did not foresee the dramatic changes that took place in society during the 19th century.  Ernest Nathan Manning, the agrarian author, states in his thesis on the sources of ancient Greek and Hebrew agrarianism, "It seems that because all civilized societies were agricultural until the Industrial Revolution, that figures of all stripes--academic, literary, and otherwise--often took it for granted."  There were some ways in which industry aided agrarianism, the yields that a tractor could give over a horse-drawn plow could make even a small farmer productive and wealthy.  As well, a steam engine could open up markets to those who lived far from the farm.  However, the fundamental change the revolution was bringing frightened many people.  It was their reactionary moves against industry that eventually had the opposite effect, and drove the 19th century out of farms and into the cities.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

And Lastly, John Adams

John Adams was a much smaller-scale farmer than his contemporaries Washington and Jefferson.  His modest 500-acre farm was tiny compared to their large plantations.  However, he enjoyed the farming life every bit as much, and saw the value in working his own land over arguing politics in Philadelphia.  Abigail Adams said that he would not have been able to handle his political life if it were not for the distraction of farm work.  Adams wrote in a letter to Jefferson in the summer of 1796, "I have spent my summer so deliciously in farming that I return to the old story of politicks with great reluctance."  His farm was a retreat from the Constitutional Convention.  When frustrated with hours of political debate his stated, "My time might have been improved to some purpose in moving grass, raking hay, or hoeing corn, weeding carrots, picking or shelling peas."  Even after Adams was elected president he stated, "I should prefer the delights of a garden to the Dominion of a World."

Throughout his political life Adams used the skills he had learned on the farm to inform his public decisions.  In his book A Defence of the Constitution of the Government of the United States of America, he discusses how the insights he had gained as a farmer influenced his political theory.  For example, when driving a wagon down a steep hill he would put one team of oxen in front and another in back to counterbalance the load.  This division of powers inspired his thinking on the separation of powers in the branches of the U.S. government.  Also, in his home state of Massachusetts Adams tried to include rewards for agriculture in the state constitution.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Washington the Farmer

George Washington was also a firm believer in the virtuousness of farming.  He maintained, with Jefferson, that American agriculture was the key to avoiding the decadence and moral corruption of Europe.  The man who had been compared to the Roman Cincinnatus, in his peaceful abdication of power and return to his farm, hoped that the U.S. would become an agrarian republic and "a storehouse and granary for the world." 

Washington loved his own farm and created many innovations to further keep the U.S. from becoming dependent on other countries.  For example, he planted his home, Mt. Vernon, in all native species, which was highly unusual at that time among the colonists.  He had also noticed that colonial soil was losing its fertillity because the fields lacked manure.  American farmers let their livestock wander in the forests instead of on fallow fields.  Washington invented a manure container to store and rotate manure for spreading on the fields in the spring.

Even when president, Washington would state: "I can truly say I had rather be at Mt. Vernon than to be attended at the seat of government by the officers of state and representatives of every power in Europe."  After his retirement from the presidency, Washington separated his farm into large plots and leased each plot out in order to reduce the number of slaves on his plantation, and he grouped his slaves together with their families so nobody was split up.  He was also the only founding father who freed all his slaves upon his death.  Washington saw the future of the United States in free, landowning farmers.  As Andrea Wulf states in her book Founding Gardeners:

"The Commander-in-Chief [Washington] saw the future of America as a country peopled not by soldiers but by farmers--an agrarian society that could be industrious and happy, where 'our swords and spears have given place to the plough share and the pruning hook.'  The general who had defeated the British army idealized not the military tactician or the political revolutionary, but the farmer. 'The life of a husbandman above all others is the most delectable.'"

Thursday, March 28, 2013

More Founding Farmers

Thomas Jefferson was also fully aware of the revolutionary connotations of the ancient Roman concept of agrarianism, and embraced them.  He was an admirer of the French Revolution, and even tried to include in the Virginia Constitution a statement that every free person in the state was entitled to an equal share of 50 acres of land.  His reasoning was that "the small landholders are the most precious part of a state."

Conversely, Alexander Hamilton's desire to industrialize the United States eventually caused him to part ways with his fellow Federalist, James Madison, who was also a farmer.  Madison then joined ideological forces with Thomas Jefferson.  Jefferson believed that merchants and manufacturing laborers were not as tied to their country as farmers, and was so shocked at the industrialization of the Northern states that, as early as 1816, he thought the South should secede.  He made sure that Washington, D.C. would be placed in the South in an attempt to keep it far from New York and the other industrialized, corrupt Northern cities.

As president, Jefferson proceeded with the Louisiana Purchase because it ensured that enough farming land would be available to keep America virtuous, and not become centered on manufacturing and industrialism.  Lewis and Clark's exploration of the new territory would also make them emissaries from Jefferson, as part of their mission was to encourage the Native American tribes to settle down and become farmers.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Over the next 100 years the importance of productive, privately-held land ownership became a backbone of  the United States.  Nearly all of the founding fathers, those who had a hand in the Constitution and the federal government, were farmers who believed in the ethical value of using private land productively and were suspicious of the moral laxity of cities and the wastefulness of industry.  Classically educated, they drew their inspiration from ancient Greek and Roman traditions of the moral small farmer, as well as the Protestant work ethic, and the political ideas of John Locke.

Thomas Jefferson quoted Hesiod by saying in one of his letters that "cultivators of the earth are the most vigorous, and the most independent, the most virtuous [of men]."  Although we now view Jefferson as somewhat of a Renaissance Man, with interests across the board, he saw himself as a farmer.  In his own words, "I have made researches into nothing but what is connected to agriculture.  I am entirely a farmer, soul and body."  He believed that "agriculture is the surest road to affluence and best preservative of morals."  In fact, Jefferson's belief in the virtue of farming was so strong that he believed only farmers should be elected to Congress because they were "the true representatives of the great American interest."  Everything that was morally superior in the world, Jefferson believed, was derived from the productive use of private property.  John Locke's Two Treatises of Government was Jefferson's inspiration for the Declaration of Independence.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Yeoman Colonists

The English Separatists finally left Holland for North America, and their boat, The Mayflower, landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620.  Their governor, William Bradford, discusses in his diary, Of Plymouth Plantation, the living conditions in this early colony.  In fact, the colonists first attempted a communistic society, where all property was held in common.  However, this encouraged laziness among the colonists and, as a result, many pilgrims starved.  The plantation was then divided up into private property, with each colonist owning and working his own farm, which greatly increased their productivity.

Similarly, only 8 years later, another fleet of ships began to arrive in Massachusetts.  This was the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which had most of New England under their authority.  Over 20,000 settlers arrived, mostly Puritans, to found their "city on a hill" in the New World.  At least 60% of these settlers made their living directly from the land as farmers, husbandmen, herders, or hunters.  An extremely small percentage of these settlers were any type of nobility.

The overwhelming majority of the early American settlers were small landowners and farmers who had no ties to the noble class.  They were mostly Protestant, due to the influence of Wycliffe and Tyndale and their Bibles, and were known in their homeland by the English class of yeomen.  Such was the effect of the yeoman class emigrating to North America that the American Heritage Dictionary published in 1828 defines the word yeomanry as "the collective body of yeomen or freeholders.  Thus the common people in America are called the yeomanry."

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Pilgrims

In 1620 a group of English Separatists came to settle on the Eastern Coast of North America.  These families were those who were opposed to the current Church of England, not believing that the Protestant Reformation had gone far enough in the church.  They desired to separate from the state church, with its head being the king, to form other churches--an act which was illegal.  The persecution they suffered for their theology led them to look for another homeland, which was originally Holland.  The pilgrims settled there, but could not make themselves at home.  One of their governors, William Bradford, describes their troubles this way:

"For these reformers to be thus constrained to leave their native soil, their lands and livings, and all their friends, was a great sacrifice, and was wondered at by many.  But to go to a country unknown to them, where they must learn a new language, and get their livings they knew not how, seemed an almost desparate adventure, and a misery worse than death.  Further, they were unacquainted with trade, which was the chief industry of their adopted country, having been used only to a plain country life and the innocent pursuit of farming."

These English pilgrims were mostly yeomen, who became part of the Protestant Reformation through the Wycliffe and Tyndale Bible translations.  Since they could not make a home in Holland, they began to look elsewhere, and much further abroad.  Since they were farmers, they were not used to a merchant-driven, city culture.  Even more worrying to them was the state of their young people.  Again Bradford states:

"But still more lamentable, and of all sorrows most heavy to be bourne, was that many of the children, influenced by these conditions, and the great licentiousness of the young people in the country, and the many temptations of the city, were led by evil example into dangerous courses, getting the reigns off their necks and leaving their parents."

These farmers' children were being led astray in the big city, so their parents decided to look to settle elsewhere, even turning to the wilderness of North America. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Thomas Paine and Agrarian Justice

One hundred years after John Locke died, his views on private property came under fire from Thomas Paine.  Paine had been born in England, but emigrated to America in 1774 in order to leave his wife.  His well-known tract, Common Sense, aided fuel to the American War for Independence; but his later interest in the French Revolution led to his writing the pamphlet Agrarian Justice

The French Revolutionaries desired to take the revolutionary notions of the ancient Roman agrarianism and apply them to their new society.  The months of the year were re-named using agrarian terms and saint's days were turned into agrarian holidays, like "Harvest."  Paine wrote Agrarian Justice in 1795, in the aftermath of the revolution in 1789, and his article was read widely by the French.  He titled his work "agrarian justice" instead of "agrarian law," which would be the forced, equal redistribution of property, as in the ancient Roman Lex Sempronia Agraria.  After the fall of Robespierre, the French National Convention had approved the death penalty for anyone proposing "agrarian law," so Paine needed a more fitting title.

Paine begins by arguing that there are two kinds of property: natural and artificial.  Natural is the right to land, air, and water; which he insists every human being is born into.  He says that artificial property is that which is bought and acquired by man.  He states, similarly to Locke, that the earth is the natural, common property of all mankind and that the cultivation of agriculture is what marks property as being owned by a particular individual.  However, contrary to Locke, he does not believe that this is inherited by the right of a king, since we are descendants of Adam.  Instead Paine argues for economics: that the wealthy who can cultivate more, own more.  Therefore, Paine proposes that those who are rich in property should pay an income tax to the poor.  This is what he calls agrarian justice, but is extremely similar to the ancient Roman agrarianism.

Friday, March 15, 2013

John Locke and Private Property

The fallout from Tyndale's Bible translation led to possibly the first time in history when commoners took center stage.  Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, John Milton, and John Bunyan were all inheritors of this educated middle class of yeomen farmers, which was something in which Puritan theology reveled.  One of the main points of the Reformation included the concept of vocation, which honored the calling of every man to his labor, not just those who served in the church.

Another Puritan writer of the 17th century was the young John Locke.  Educated at Oxford as well, Locke didn't enjoy much of his studies there, especially his education in the classics of Greece and Rome.  Locke found the new philosophers, such as Rene Descartes, far more interesting.  He also enjoyed politics and wrote a treatise against absolute monarchy, forming the idea that government must be by the consent of the governed.  In his Two Treatises of Government he argued that everyone had the right to defend his "life, liberty, health, and possession," which is likely the source for Thomas Jefferson's line in the Declaration of Independence to state the human rights as "life, liberty, and happiness."  In fact, Jefferson says in his letters that "Bacon, Locke, and Newton...I consider them as the three greatest men that have ever lived, without any exception."

Locke has also been credited with forming the first argument for private property.  Once again in his Two Treatises he reasons that only a king can possess land.  Therefore, since God created the earth and gave it to the king of the human race, Adam, the land is given to all his descendants by right.  In one way, this is merely applying the Puritan doctrine of vocation to the owning of property.  This property, Locke states, was given to man by God for him to enjoy.  Man does not have the right to spoil or destroy property that was given to him for enjoyment.

What, then, makes man entitled to a specific piece of property, as opposed to land held in the "common state of nature?"  Locke argues that labor is what makes private property.  If a man picks acorns off a tree in the forest, by what right does he eat them?  What makes them his acorns?  Locke states that his labor for the acorns constitutes ownership.  In the same way, Locke also insists that the Native Americans had private property.  When a man went hunting, what made the deer his own property to dispense with as he pleased?  Again, Locke answers, his labor.  Therefore, what nature has in common (land), can be owned by a particular individual through labor.  This argument was still used up through the U.S. Homestead Act, and even our current eminent domain laws in determining the ownership of property.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Tyndale and British Lit

The yeoman class continued to grow in wealth and landholdings up through the 17th century.  At this point many yeoman farmers had their own servants and enough landholdings to lease to gentleman and others of the noble class.  However, the cost to purchase patronage was so expensive that most yeoman farmers remained commoners, which lead to a sizeable middle class.  These were the first land-owning small farmers who could support themselves but were not part of the nobility.  Soon the work of John Wycliffe would be picked up again, which further educated these middle class farmers.

William Tyndale was born in Wales in the 1490s and attended Oxford while still a teenager.  While attending the university Tyndale became familiar with the arguments of both Martin Luther and Erasmus, and could argue their cases from Scripture.  Tyndale would argue tenants of the Reformation before the local priests, who were ashamed by this young man's knowledge and study.  Their resentment led to plot against him with a charge of heresy, so Tyndale fled the country, heading to London, then Germany (where he met Luther), and finally to The Netherlands.  Tyndale saw that many problems in the church were tied to the fact that the common people couldn't read God's Word for themselves.  As both a Greek and Hebrew scholar, Tyndale set to work on translating the Bible from the original languages, unlike Wycliffe's reliance upon the Latin Vulgate for translation.  Foxe says that Tyndale knew, "if the Scripture were turned into the vulgar speech, that the poor people might read and see the simple plain Word of God."  Since Tyndale was working after the invention of the printing press, his work was readily available to the common man.

After his martyrdom in 1536, Tyndale's Bible translation did arguably more to educate the yeoman class than anything else in British history.  The common people were equipped, literally and theologically, to be not only a part of the coming religious reformation, but of the entire literary work of 17th century England, from the King James Bible to Shakespeare, which was largely done by the common people.  Within only a couple of generations Tyndale's vision for the British people would be realized when he stated, "If God spares my life, ere many years I would cause a boy that driveth the plough to know more of Scripture than I do."

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Reformational Farmers

At this point another, parallel movement, became essential in the development of the yeomanry as an influential class in England.  John Wycliffe was born in 1324 and was sent to school at Queen's College, Oxford, to prepare to be a cleric.  At this point the local classes of mendicant friars had become a nuisance at the university because of their laziness.  Occasionally fights would break out between the clerics and the scholars, with the clerics appealing to papal authority, and the scholars appealing to the local civil authority.  Wycliffe used his position at Oxford to write against the friars, and was so successful that he was promoted to a master of Baliol College.  Later Wycliffe was elected to the chair of divinity at Oxford, and continued to use his position to preach against the errors of the Roman Catholic church, especially the moral laxity of the priests and superstitutions of the church.  Because of his teaching the Archbishop of Canterbury deposed him of his office.

However, Wycliffe had friends in high places and the Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt, restored him to his position, where he continued his preaching.  He also began translating the Bible into English.  Those who read his works and followed his teachings were called the Lollards, which was originally used as a derogatory term.  The word lollard possibly comes from a Middle Dutch word meaning "mutterer."  They were mostly uneducated men, peasants and farmers, who distributed Wycliffe's  English Bible among the commoners.  The popularity of this translation became so widespread that the ecclesiastical government of England offered a death sentence for anyone possessing it.  Wycliffe was going to be tried for heresy, so he escaped to the country to hide.  His writings had become so popular at this point that "it was said if you met two persons upon the road, you might be sure that one was a Lollard" (John Foxe's Book of Martyrs).  The more active the bishops were in suppressing the Wycliffe Bible, the more intent commoners were on obtaining it.  When the Lollards were martyred many were burned with the scraps of Sciprture around their neck that were found on their person when arrested.

Wycliffe's translation of the Bible into the vernacular caused the most common people in England to become familiar with the words of Scripture, and by and large these were yeoman farmers.  In many cases these free landholders knew their Bibles better than the clerics who were in their charge, which led to the situation that the Puritan historian John Foxe proudly noted: "Great Britain has the honor of taking the lead, the first maintaining that freedom in religious controversy which astonished Europe, and demonstrated that political and religious liberty are equally the growth of that favored island."

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Yeomanry

The history of the word "yeoman" is mysterious, but possibly comes from the Middle English or Germanic word for "young man."  The word originated in the 14th century, tied to the rise of the small, free-tenant farmers of the manor.  The Puritan historian Joseph Gardner Bartlett states that the term yeoman came to mean, "a man who farmed for his own benefit, by his own labor and that of hired laborers, lands which he held by copyhold leases of manorial lords."  These "copyhold leases" were basically rental agreements with the lord, designating the duties of the yeoman, as well as who would inherit his lease after he died.

Since yeomen weren't required to serve in the lord's army, their families did not have any coats-of-arms.  The yeoman class grew into a sizeable portion of the British peasantry, and by the end of the 14th century the Canon's Yeoman's Tale is included in Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

The yeomanry continues to grow during the late middle ages as the free, land-owning commoner goes through the Protestant Reformation, and will become instrumental in the foundation of the United States.  Webster's 1828 American Heritage Dictionary defines "yeomanry" as "the collective body of yeomen or freeholders.  The common people in America are called the yeomanry."

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Feudal England

Any discussion of the importance of the ancient world and its connection to modern European and American cultures has to include Alfred the Great.  He was crowned King of Wessex, England, in 871 AD and became famous for his defeats of the Danish Viking invaders.

Alfred was also famous for re-writing Anglo-Saxon law.  At this point, most of the law in Wessex was a jumble of different rules laid down by various kings and chieftains.  Since most noblemen and judges were illiterate, this code of laws was basically useless, and ended up favoring the powerful and influential.  Alfred set about making his own law book, which was largely based on quotations of Old Testament law.

Alfred's government saw the rise of Medieval feudal society in England.  Since his rule united a great majority of the British isles into what we now understand to be called, "English," his law also became the standard for the majority of those people.  Following the Norman conquest of 1066, the manors of England had three main classes of caretakers for about 250 years.  The first were a small percentage of free tenants.  These were mostly of Norman descent and paid rent to their lords.  They had to serve in the lord's army, but didn't have to work the lord's land.  They had their own rights and weren't bound to a particular manor.

The largest percentage of English medieval freeman were villeins, who were mostly of Anglo-Saxon or Danish descent.  The term "villein" comes from the Old French word vilein, meaning serf.  Villeins were born into their class and lived in cottages on the lord's land.  They could not leave the lord's manor without permission and had to work his land two-thirds of the days of the year.  They were subject to taxation and had to render services to the lord of the manor.  Their small congregations of dwellings became "villages."

The last, and smallest, class of medieval manor-dwellers were the bondsmen.  These were basically indentured servants who had to work for the lord without pay in exchange for room and board.  This was slavery, but for a definite period of time, usually to pay off debts.

However, the Black Death arrived in the 14th century, which changed the make-up of feudalism dramatically.  The plague killed half the population of England alone, which le to a massive labor shortage.  The land still needed to be farmed to feed the survivors, so after 1350, most of the medieval villeins became full tenants of the lord's property and paid him rent.  The villeins were freed up of their obligations to the lord himself, and opened the process for their children to become free tenants as well.  This quickly-growing class became the Yeomen.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The First Agrarians

Cincinnatus' fears of the plebs and their laws eventually came to fruition about 300 years after his death.  The plebian Caius Tiberius Gracchus was elected tribune in 133 BC.  Plutarch says that Caius was at first bad-tempered and lazy, but he trained himself to be an eloquent speaker and was elected as treasurer in Sardinia, which was where he learned to work hard and apply himself.  He later returned to Rome and was elected tribune.

Because of ongoing civil war in Rome, many men had been absent from their farms for years.  Small farms were going bankrupt and being bought up by the wealthy, which became conglomerated into huge, private estates.  Plutarch says that when Tiberius was traveling in the outlying districts he "found the country almost depopulated and its husbandmen and shepherds imported barbarian slaves."  It was after seeing this that he "first conceived the policy which was to be the source of countless ills to himself and to his brother."

In at attempt to help the poor he proposed a new policy, including a law known as Lex Sempronia Agraria.  In dealing with public land, which was land that had been conquered in war, the current law stated that no individual could own more than 500 jugera (about 125 hectares), but that law had been ignored for generations.  Tiberius' law stated that landowners could keep 250 jugera above the legal limit and that the state would buy back any land they had to forfeit.  However, much of the land in question was held by landowners who owned far larger portions than that.  In addition, much of that land had been leased, rented, or re-sold in portions, sometimes for generations of families.  The Lex stated that all the surplus land had to be re-distributed, at 30 jugeras per household, for each of the poor and homeless families in Rome.  This amount of land would also be just enough to make those poor eligible for taxation by the Roman government.  Tiberius then bypassed the Roman Senate and brought his law to the Popular Assembly for approval.  Soon after when the King of Pergamum died and left his entire country to the state of Rome, he moved in to use this land to fund his law.  The Senate accused Tiberius of aspiring to become king himself and brought him to trial.  The trial quickly got out of hand and Tiberius was beaten to death along with several of his followers.  Their bodies were thrown into the Tiber River.

It was the Lex Sempronia Agraria that gave us our modern term "agrarian," and the resulting political fallout also lent to the term its revolutionary connotations.  The idea of using farmland as a social leveling tool by the government persisted up through the French Revolution of 1789.  Those revolutionary agrarians insisted on re-instituting the agrarian law to re-distribute farmland among the poor in the cities.  Thomas Jefferson admired this tactic and both he and James Madison believed that the moral superiority of farming was essential to sustaining American democracy.

Thursday, February 28, 2013


The classical Greek understanding of agrarian life was carried on by the Romans, much like most of Greek culture.  Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus (520-430 BC) is probably the best-known Roman farmer.  He began his life as a member of a noble patrician family, and grew up a wealthy politician who was a constant opponent of the plebians: the free, land-owning Roman citizens.  He prevented the plebs from passing laws that would protect their rights as citizens and their private property.  In fact his son, Caeso, was accused of capital crimes by the Senate when he drove the plebians out of the Forum, disrupting their meetings.  Caeso was condemned to death and Cincinnatus had to pay a large fine.  The payments forced him into the position of selling most of his landholdings and becoming a subsistence farmer on a small property.

Later, when Rome was at war with the Aequi and Sabine tribes, Cincinnatus was called on by the Roman Senate and elected consul.  His senators came to him while he was ploughing his field with a request for him to become dictator, or "Master of the People," for a period of six months.  Livy states that Cincinnatus immediately came to Rome and ordered every man of military age to be summoned to war by the end of the day.  The Aequi tribes were quickly routed by Cincinnatus and his men, who spared their lives.  Sixteen days after becoming dictator, Cincinnatus resigned his position and returned home to his farm.

Later, Cincinnatus was called upon once again to become dictator.  This time his job was to capture Spurius Mealius, who had conspired to crown himself king of Rome.  He once again brought about a swift justice and sent Mealius to trial where he was killed.  He then resigned his commission a second time and went home to farm.

Cincinnatus' pattern of taking on the mantle of authority two times, and willingly laying it down was deliberately reflected in the action of George Washington.  Two terms he was elected president before he willingly lay down his executive power and went home to his farm.  Consequently, every American president (except Franklin Roosevelt) followed this pattern, until it became law in the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Hesiod was another poet who lived concurrently with Homer, in around the 8th century BC.  I am indebted to the agrarian writer Ernest Nathan Manning for his observations on Hesiod in his epic Works and Days.  This poem is primarily a discussion of practical agricultural work, but begins with a call to the Muses to help the poet come and sing Zeus' praise.  Hesiod says that Zeus gave man "good strife" to appease the gods and make him work hard, otherwise men would become lazy.  Much like the ancient Egyptians, Hesiod sees his religion and his farming as intertwined, and the gods smile on those who farm the land.  He speaks of agriculture by saying, "The man who works is much dearer to the deathless ones" (Works and Days 309).  Those who do not farm are warriors, whom Hesiod calls the "Men of Ares" who "do not eat bread."  Men who eat bread--who farm--are called to peace.

In passages 458-461, Hesiod describes the ideal farmer as one who works alongside, and in the same way, as his slaves.  "As soon as the ploughing-time reveals itself to mortals, then go at it, yourself and your laborers."  He praises what he calls "wealth," but a closer examination of his description reveals that he means living just above subsistence, not rich like we moderns imagine.  He calls wealthy the man who is able to provide for his family at least one full meal a day.

The classical Greeks, much like the Egyptians, veered somewhat from what the Hebrews thought of farming.  The Torah clearly places a high premium on the rights of individuals to own property, their obligation to use that property productively, and their duty to pass on property as an inheritance to their descendants.  However, there is no clear indication that the Hebrews viewed farming as morally superior to other pursuits--Father Abraham was a nomadic shepherd.  Still, the resultant political philosophy of the Greeks closely mirrors that of the ancient Hebrews; this being a healthy skepticism towards centralized authority, and the need of each household to be an independent sovereignty.  Self-sufficient farmers tend to be less dependent upon a centralized authority.  Hesiod criticizes his political leaders, and holds many of them in contempt.  Manning states that "These traits--a distrust of the concentration of power and a critical mind are essential to a politically conscious and active citizenry, and therefore the functioning of a democratic government."

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Farming and The Cyclops

The Israelite nation was not the only one in the ancient world to hold a high view of farming.  As mentioned with Moses, the Egyptian culture was entirely dependent on farming for their civilization, and worshiped the Nile River, which made their way of life possible.  The Egyptians had a haughty view of the agrarian lifestyle and looked down on other ways of life, despising the Hebraic shepherds and nomads (Genesis 46:33-34).  Farming was the noble mark of high civilization, anything else was barbaric.

Other ancient cultures held a similar view of agrarianism.  In the 8th century BC, the time of both the poets Homer and Hesiod, most of Greece's population was rural.  This was the time between the Mycenaean Period and the Archaic Period.  The Archaic Period marks the rise of the great Greek city-states, such as Athens and Sparta, however even during this time the majority of Greece was rural.

In The Odyssey, Homer's poem telling of Odysseus' 10-year journey home to his farm after waging war against Troy, Homer not only describes the trials Odysseus endures, but also his encounters with civilizations who were more barbaric than the Greeks.  When Odysseus' men encounter the Cyclops he states:
"We came to the land of the Cyclops race, arrogant lawless beings who leave their livelihoods to the deathless gods and never use their own hands to sow or plough...They have no assemblies to debate in, they have no ancestral ordinances; they live in arching caves on the tops of hills, and the head of each family heeds no other, but makes his own ordinances for wife and children" (Odyssey IX.113-124).

The Cyclops were the very definition of a barbaric race, which is evidenced by their attitude towards farming ("never use their own hands to sow or plough"), which results in a disorganized government.  They have no assembles or laws, but are each ruled by a patriarchal caveman.  Had he known him, Homer would not have thought highly of Abraham.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Farmer Kings of Israel

An interesting note about the Israelite kings is that they shared the same agrarian mindset as their earlier ancestors.  The Book of Proverbs was written by Israel's greatest king, Solomon, and the book is written by a man who is intimately familiar with farm life.  Solomon--the king, landowner, and farmer--is exhorting his son, who is clearly a farmer as well.  "Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine" (Proverbs 3:9-10). 

The book also highly recommends a life of self-government, which is somewhat surprising when you consider that it was written by a king: "Go to the ant, you sluggard, consider her ways and be wise!  It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest" (Proverbs 6:6-7).

Even Proverbs 31, which is a description of a virtuous woman, describes a landlady who manages multiple farms.  In fact, this particular woman was the mother of the king: "She considers a field and buys it; out of her earning she plants a vineyard" (Proverbs 31:16).

The later kings of Israel continue to show an interest in agrarian endeavors, which includes the importance of the private property rights of their subjects.  The story of Naboth's vineyard in I Kings 21 illustrates a problem that would be unique in the ancient world: a king who is frustrated by his inability to take eminent domain.  King Ahab desired the vineyard of a farmer named Naboth, but when he offers Naboth a large sum of money for his vineyard, he refuses to sell his family's inheritance (Leviticus 25).  Ahab whines and pouts so much about this refusal that his scheming wife Jezebel has Naboth killed so that Ahab can take over his property.  Most tyrants of Egypt or Babylon would just take the land anyway, without even bothering to ask for it; but in Israel, Naboth had the legal right to say no, even to the king.

The history of the Hebrews illustrates the respect they had towards farming, land, and an individual's right to hold private property.  Their law created a culture where productive land, privately-held by self-governing landowners, was the key to individual liberty and freedom from oppression.  This tradition continues to all those who read and followed the Old Testament; through Medieval Europe down to the Puritans who came to America.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Longing for Egypt

Some 400 years later Moses is born, and Jehovah has told him that he is to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and into the land of Canaan.  This is the land he promised to the nomadic Abraham; a land "flowing with milk and honey."  However, the Israelites follow him grudgingly, at best, and must be taught that a free existence in Canaan is better than slavery in Egypt.

After the Israelites conquer the Canaanites and take their land, each tribe and family is given property.  The Hebrew law book, the Torah, provides guidelines for private property and farming.  Leviticus 25 explains that land could never be permanently sold, but had to remain in the family.  By the time of the Book of Judges, the Israelites had transformed themselves into a decentralized, agrarian society.  The Egyptian slaves have now become free landowners and farmers.  There was little or no central government in early Israel; Jehovah was their king, and the society was centered around the worship of God at the tabernacle.

Eventually, out of envy, the Israelites insist on an earthly king.  The judge Samuel explains that the king will take their produce, their land, and their own children (I Samuel 8:11-17).  Then he states, hearkening back to their situation under Pharaoh, "and you yourselves will become his slaves."  Having Jehovah as their king prevented the growth of tyranny and protected their lands and families, but a desire for the glory and centralized government of Egypt will also bring back the slavery of Egypt.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

From Nomads to Slaves

While Adam was the first farmer, his son Cain became nomadic only after he was cursed.  However, the story in Genesis now focuses on Abraham, who was a nomadic shepherd.  His story becomes one of God taking the wanderer and giving him land to settle in.  Abraham never owned any land in Canaan, except for his own gravesite (Genesis 23:4), but God promises to make his descendents landowners again.  Even after this promise, however, Abraham's descendents wander even farther, and must take refuge in Egypt because of a famine.  Since the famine was so severe, even the Egyptians could not afford to buy grain from Pharoah and sold themselves into slavery in order to eat.  Adam's descendents have now gone from farmers to nomads to slaves.

The Egyptians, incidentally, had a "high" view of farming, which was snobbish and idolatrous.  As they worshiped the fertility of the Nile River, they looked down on barbaric societies that had to herd animals or rely on hunting and gathering for food (Genesis 46:34).  This tradition of the pure nobility of farming is a philosophy that was likely handed down to the Greek civilization and later became an integral part of classical philosophy--from Greece and Rome to Thomas Jefferson and Wendell Berry.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Fruit of the Vine

Again, in opposition to modern anthropology, Genesis insists that the nomadic, tribal lifestyle does not occur until after the first murder.  Cain the Farmer is cursed for killing is brother, much like the ground that he works in.  Since he spilled his brother's blood on the ground, he may no longer farm fruit from it.  As a result, Cain becomes a wandering nomad, although he later built a city for his son.

Adam and Eve's other descendents, however, remain agrarian.  When Lamech's wife gives birth to a son he names him "Noah," which means "rest."  He prophesies that Noah will "comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the Lord has cursed" (Genesis 1:29).  One of the ways he does this is by becoming a husbandman of a vineyard after the Flood.  The introduction of wine-making is one way that Noah redeems the fruit of the ground, as opposed to Cain's cursed wandering from it.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Cursed Fruit

The Hebrew tradition is unique among ancient civilizations, in that it calls farming the oldest profession.  Most modern scholarship insists that humans engaged in hunting and gathering for thousands of years before permanent cultivation of land took place, but the Jews have it backwards.  In the beginning God created a Man, put him in a garden, and told him to work.  He gave him a wife, told him to “be fruitful and multiply,” and to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28).  The job given to Adam and Eve was one to get fruit from the ground and fruit from each other, filling the whole earth with farmers.  This husbandry, wedded to the art of housewifery, was put to work in subduing the whole earth: land, plants, and animals.  

However, after the Fall, the ground is cursed.  Farming becomes difficult and the ground resists cultivation.  Weeds and thistles grow to choke out man’s food.  Man’s vain job becomes one of struggling with the earth from whence he is made his entire life, only to die and rejoin the soil.  In fact, Adam and Eve’s children reflect this curse when Cain the Farmer becomes the seed of the serpent when he kills his brother, Abel the Shepherd.  God chooses animals as a sacrifice, not the fruit of man’s own struggle with the ground.