Study Guide for the World Until Yesterday by Jared Diamond and The Bible Unearthed by Silberman and Finkelstein

Study Guide for The World Until Yesterday and The Bible Unearthed

The principle book we are reading is The World Until Yesterday by Jared Diamond.  This is a sort of anthropological inquiry into “where do we come from?” using many of Diamond’s observations among hunter gatherer peoples in New Guinea and materials he has surveyed on other hunter gatherer peoples around the world.  We will be inserting some material from The Bible Unearthed by Silberman and Finkelstein, because much of the material in the Old Testament is a memory of how the Hebrew people transitioned from a hunter gatherer nomadic culture into what Diamond calls a “state” culture in the ancient Near East.  I believe looking at these materials in parallel will help to reveal important insights into the historical development of our faith.

We cannot be sure how far we can extrapolate from Diamond’s observations about hunter gatherer societies in modern times to the distant past of our own ancestors, but I am hoping this will spark some important discussions about the nature of good and evil, human nature, the question of what is sin, the story of the transition of the Hebrew people into the Israelites, and what role has religion played in human evolution, and what role might spirituality play in future human adaptation.  Diamond has a somewhat jaundiced view of religion and does not seem to spark our discussion.

For our first set of discussions let’s read Chapter One in The World Until Yesterday, Chapters 12 – 15 of the Book of Genesis, and the Introduction and Chapter 1 of The Bible Unearthed.

The World Until Yesterday

: Chapter One – “Friends, Enemies, Strangers, and Traders”

Pages 38-42:  . . . at the base of the ridge’s far side (its south side) were villages of bad people referred to as river people, enemies of my mountain friends.  River people killed mountain people mainly by poison and sorcery, not by fighting openly with weapons. . .

Would we have the “right,” I wondered, to camp on the ridge?  The mountain people replied that the ridge-line itself formed the boundary between the own territory on the ridge’s north slope and the territory of the bad river people on the south slope.  But the river people claimed some of the mountain people’s land beyond the ridge-line on the north side.  Did I remember that abandoned hut and the overgrown garden just below the ridge-line? my friends asked.  That hut and garden had been made by the evil river people, as a way of asserting their claim to the land on the north side as well as on the south side of the ridge-line. . .

On my second morning in camp there was some heart-pounding excitement that taught me how territorial relations between mountain people and river people were more complicated that just black-and-white claims of mutual exclusion from each other’s land. . .

There was nothing to worry about, explained by mountain companion; everything was really OK.  We mountain people (he said) acknowledge the right of the river people to descend our trail peacefully to our village, and then to walk from there to the coast in order to trade.  River people aren’t permitted to get off the trail in order to gather food or cut wood, but just walking on the trail is OK.  What’s more, two river men had actually married mountain women and resettled in the mountain village.  That is, there wasn’t pure enmity between the two groups, but instead a tense truce.  Some things were permitted and other this were forbidden by common consent, while still other things (such as land ownership at the abandoned hut and garden) were still in contention.

. . .Suddenly, just as we turned a corner in the trail and were about to enter our camp, my guide stopped joking, raised his hand to this mouth, and warned me in a hushed voice, “Sh-h-h! River people!”

There, in our camp, was a group of our familiar mountain companions, talking with six people whom I had never seen before:  three men, two women, and one child.  There, at last, I saw the dreaded river people!  They were not the dangerous monsters that I had been unconsciously imagining, but instead normal looking New Guineans, no different from the mountain people who were my hosts. . . It turned out that this group of river people was traveling down to the coast and had made a point of visiting our camp, perhaps just to make sure that their peaceful intent didn’t get misinterpreted and that we didn’t attack them.

To the mountain people and the river people, this visit was evidently a normal part of their complex relationship incorporating a broad range of behaviors. . .  All this between two groups of people who looked the same to me, spoke distinct but related languages, understood each other’s language, described each other in terms otherwise reserved for evil sub-humans, and viewed each other as their worst enemies..

In theory, the spatial relations between neighboring traditional societies could encompass a whole spectrum of outcomes, ranging at the one extreme from non-overlapping exclusive territories with definite patrolled boundaries and no shared use to all land and no recognized territories at the other extreme. . .

Does this description of the animosity between the Mountain People and the River People give you any clues about why human beings fear and express hostility toward people who are not like themselves?  Why do you think people from different groups “demonize” one another?  (described each other in terms otherwise reserved for evil sub-humans)  Can you think of examples in our modern world where different groups “demonize” one another?  What are some of the complex negotiations that go on between different groups in our modern context?  Have you ever been party to negotiations leading up to two corporations merging?  Does the relationship between Mountain People and River People give us any clues about our own land use policies and patent laws?

In case we be tempted to believe that demonization is primarily a function of primitive societies look at these trailers on Youtube for World War II propaganda films:

And lest we believe that demonization is a thing of the past consider how the Arab media caricature the United States and Israel, and how Western media caricatures  Islam.


The story of Abraham can give us a look at tribal land sharing in the Ancient Near East.

Genesis 12:4 So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

5  And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions which they had gathered, and the persons that they had gotten in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan,

6  Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land.

7  Then the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him.

8  Thence he removed to the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD.

9  And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb.

10  Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land.

11  When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful to behold;

12  and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife’; then they will kill me, but they will let you live.

13  Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared on your account.”

Abraham entered the “Promised Land” as a stranger and an alien.  In chapter 12 of Genesis what can we learn about the complexities of relationships between tribal groups in the ancient Near East?  The theme of “going down to Egypt” appears several times in the Hebrew scriptures, and yet during different periods, the Egyptians occupied parts of the land of Canaan. Can you begin to see how the area of Canaan was a very fluid area of settlement often depending upon the ebb and flow of water supply?


Pages 45 – 47

The opposite extreme of less or no exclusivity is approached under conditions that are the mirror image of the conditions selected for exclusivity.  One such condition is sparse and small populations that make patrolling impossible. . .  A second condition involves unproductive, marginal, variable environments with sparse and unpredictable resources, such that any territory one might feasibly claim would often (at some seasons or in a bad year) not contain essential resources, and one would then periodically have to seek resources in another group’s territory and vice versa.

To see how these conditions might have applied in the ancient land of Canaan see Chapter 4 of The Bible Unearthed, “Who Were the Israelites pages 97 – 122 and pay particular attention to Table One on page 114.  When the Promised Land is described as a land flowing with “milk and honey,” we imagine a rich agricultural land.  But in fact a land of milk and honey meant marginal lands where wild flowers allowed the bees to gather pollen, and there were wild grasses for goats to graze to produce milk.

However, the usual form of land division under these conditions selecting for non-exclusivity isn’t the extreme of a free for all in which anybody can do anything anywhere.  Instead, it still is the case that each group is identified with a specific core area.  Non-exclusive societies differ from exclusive societies in that, instead of the Dani no-man’s land clearly delineated by watch-towers, recognized borders don’t exist, and land ownership just becomes increasingly vague as one moves increasing distances from one’s core area.  Another distinction on non-exclusive from exclusive societies is that neighboring groups receive permission to visit your territory more often and for more different purposes – especially to obtain food and water at certain seasons or in certain years.  Correspondingly, you can readily obtain permission to visit your neighbor’s territory when you are the one in need, so the arrangement becomes an exchange based on reciprocity and mutual benefit. . .

Rights to use land and resources, whether exclusively or non-exclusively, imply the concept of ownership.  Who owns the n!ore of a !Kung band?  The answer is: the band’s k’ ausi, meaning a core group of older people or else on older person descended from the people who have lived in that area for the longest time.  . .

To get a flavor of how non-exclusive sharing of land resources may have worked in the Near East check out Ruth 1:1  In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons.

2  The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there.

3  But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons.

4  These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years;

5  and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was bereft of her two sons and her husband.

6  Then she started with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the LORD had visited his people and given them food.

Also look at the provisions for the “stranger” in the Law of Moses:  Leviticus 19:33  “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.

34  The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

Leviticus 23:22  “And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field to its very border, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the LORD your God.”

Numbers 15:14  And if a stranger is sojourning with you, or any one is among you throughout your generations, and he wishes to offer an offering by fire, a pleasing odor to the LORD, he shall do as you do.

15  For the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and for the stranger who sojourns with you, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the sojourner be before the LORD.

16  One law and one ordinance shall be for you and for the stranger who sojourns with you.”

And also check out the division of territory among the twelve tribes of Israel found in the Book of Joshua Chapters 13 – 19.  Below is a part of Chapter 15, where the allotment of the Tribe of Judah is described.

Joshua 15:20  This is the inheritance of the tribe of the people of Judah according to their families.

21  The cities belonging to the tribe of the people of Judah in the extreme South, toward the boundary of Edom, were Kabzeel, Eder, Jagur,

22  Kinah, Dimonah, Adadah,

23  Kedesh, Hazor, Ithnan,

24  Ziph, Telem, Bealoth,

25  Hazorhadattah, Keriothhezron (that is, Hazor),

26  Amam, Shema, Moladah,

27  Hazargaddah, Heshmon, Bethpelet,

28  Hazarshual, Beer-sheba, Biziothiah,

29  Baalah, Iim, Ezem,

30  Eltolad, Chesil, Hormah,

31  Ziklag, Madmannah, Sansannah,

32  Lebaoth, Shilhim, Ain, and Rimmon: in all, twenty-nine cities, with their villages.

33  And in the lowland, Eshtaol, Zorah, Ashnah,

34  Zanoah, Engannim, Tappuah, Enam,

35  Jarmuth, Adullam, Socoh, Azekah,

36  Shaaraim, Adithaim, Gederah, Gederothaim: fourteen cities with their villages.

37  Zenan, Hadashah, Migdalgad,

38  Dilean, Mizpeh, Joktheel,

39  Lachish, Bozkath, Eglon,

40  Cabbon, Lahmam, Chitlish,

41  Gederoth, Bethdagon, Naamah, and Makkedah: sixteen cities with their villages.

42  Libnah, Ether, Ashan,

43  Iphtah, Ashnah, Nezib,

44  Keilah, Achzib, and Mareshah: nine cities with their villages.

45  Ekron, with its towns and its villages;

46  from Ekron to the sea, all that were by the side of Ashdod, with their villages.

47  Ashdod, its towns and its villages; Gaza, its towns and its villages; to the Brook of Egypt, and the Great Sea with its coast-line.

48  And in the hill country, Shamir, Jattir, Socoh,

49  Dannah, Kiriathsannah (that is, Debir),

50  Anab, Eshtemoh, Anim,

51  Goshen, Holon, and Giloh: eleven cities with their villages.

52  Arab, Dumah, Eshan,

53  Janim, Bethtappuah, Aphekah,

54  Humtah, Kiriatharba (that is, Hebron), and Zior: nine cities with their villages.

55  Maon, Carmel, Ziph, Juttah,

56  Jezreel, Jokdeam, Zanoah,

57  Kain, Gibeah, and Timnah: ten cities with their villages.

58  Halhul, Beth-zur, Gedor,

59  Maarath, Beth-anoth, and Eltekon: six cities with their villages.

60  Kiriathbaal (that is, Kiriathjearim), and Rabbah: two cities with their villages.

61  In the wilderness, Beth-arabah, Middin, Secacah,

62  Nibshan, the City of Salt, and Engedi: six cities with their villages.

63  But the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the people of Judah could not drive out; so the Jebusites dwell with the people of Judah at Jerusalem to this day.

The World Until Yesterday

: Chapter Two:  Compensation for the Death of a Child

Pages 79 – 83  In the United States a driver involved in a serious accident is expected to remain at the scene until police arrive. . . In Papua New Guinea, though, as in some other countries, the law permits and police and common sense urge, the driver not to stay at the scene but to drive straight to the nearest police station.  That’s because angry bystanders are likely to drag the offending driver from his car and beat him to death on the spot, even if the accident was the pedestrian’s fault. . . . But Malo had the presence of mind to drive to the local police station and surrender himself.  The police locked up the passengers temporarily at the station for their own safety, and escorted Malo for his own safety back to his village, where he remained for the next several months.

The ensuing events illustrate how New Guineans, like many other traditional peoples living largely outside the effective control of systems of justice established by state governments, nevertheless achieve justice and peacefully resolve disputes by traditional mechanisms of their own.  . .  Depending on the circumstances and the parties involved, disputes in traditional societies may be resolved either peacefully, or else by war if the peaceful process breaks down or isn’t attempted.

The peaceful process involves what is termed “compensation.”  (As we shall see, that usual English translation of a New Guinea term is misleading; it would be impossible to compensate for the death of a child, and that isn’t the goal.  The term in the New Guinea lingua franca of Tok Pisin is sori money, meaning “sorry money,” and that translation is more appropriate, because it correctly describes the money as being paid out of shared sorrow or apology for what has happened.)

What do you think of the concept of “sorry money?”  Do we have anything in our society that functions as “sorry money?”  As you read through the description of the compensation process compare it to “in a wreck need a check?”


The Hebrew scriptures provided for compensation in many cases of loss:

Leviticus 6:2  “If any one sins and commits a breach of faith against the LORD by deceiving his neighbor in a matter of deposit or security, or through robbery, or if he has oppressed his neighbor

3  or has found what was lost and lied about it, swearing falsely — in any of all the things which men do and sin therein,

4  when one has sinned and become guilty, he shall restore what he took by robbery, or what he got by oppression, or the deposit which was committed to him, or the lost thing which he found,

5  or anything about which he has sworn falsely; he shall restore it in full, and shall add a fifth to it, and give it to him to whom it belongs, on the day of his guilt offering.

6  And he shall bring to the priest his guilt offering to the LORD, a ram without blemish out of the flock, valued by you at the price for a guilt offering;

7  and the priest shall make atonement for him before the LORD, and he shall be forgiven for any of the things which one may do and thereby become guilty.”

Exodus 21:18  “When men quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist and the man does not die but keeps his bed,

19  then if the man rises again and walks abroad with his staff, he that struck him shall be clear; only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall have him thoroughly healed.

Exodus 21:22  “When men strive together, and hurt a woman with child, so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no harm follows, the one who hurt her shall be fined, according as the woman’s husband shall lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.

23  If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life,

24  eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,

25  burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

26  “When a man strikes the eye of his slave, male or female, and destroys it, he shall let the slave go free for the eye’s sake.

27  If he knocks out the tooth of his slave, male or female, he shall let the slave go free for the tooth’s sake.

28  “When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall be clear.

29  But if the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not kept it in, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death.

30  If a ransom is laid on him, then he shall give for the redemption of his life whatever is laid upon him.

31  If it gores a man’s son or daughter, he shall be dealt with according to this same rule.

32  If the ox gores a slave, male or female, the owner shall give to their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.

33  “When a man leaves a pit open, or when a man digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or an ass falls into it,

34  the owner of the pit shall make it good; he shall give money to its owner, and the dead beast shall be his.

35  “When one man’s ox hurts another’s, so that it dies, then they shall sell the live ox and divide the price of it; and the dead beast also they shall divide.

36  Or if it is known that the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has not kept it in, he shall pay ox for ox, and the dead beast shall be his.

Exodus 22:1  “If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and kills it or sells it, he shall pay five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep. He shall make restitution; if he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.

2  “If a thief is found breaking in, and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him;

3  but if the sun has risen upon him, there shall be bloodguilt for him.

4  If the stolen beast is found alive in his possession, whether it is an ox or an ass or a sheep, he shall pay double.

5  “When a man causes a field or vineyard to be grazed over, or lets his beast loose and it feeds in another man’s field, he shall make restitution from the best in his own field and in his own vineyard.

6  “When fire breaks out and catches in thorns so that the stacked grain or the standing grain or the field is consumed, he that kindled the fire shall make full restitution.

How do you think these scriptures inform our notion of torte law?  What is the alternative to having courts decide damages? 


In the Law of Moses there was also an understanding that accidental death without intent to commit murder still might lead to revenge killings, and so “cities of refuge” were established.

Numbers 35:10  “Say to the people of Israel, When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan,

11  then you shall select cities to be cities of refuge for you, that the manslayer who kills any person without intent may flee there.

12  The cities shall be for you a refuge from the avenger, that the manslayer may not die until he stands before the congregation for judgment.

13  And the cities which you give shall be your six cities of refuge.

14  You shall give three cities beyond the Jordan, and three cities in the land of Canaan, to be cities of refuge.

15  These six cities shall be for refuge for the people of Israel, and for the stranger and for the sojourner among them, that any one who kills any person without intent may flee there.

16  “But if he struck him down with an instrument of iron, so that he died, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death.

17  And if he struck him down with a stone in the hand, by which a man may die, and he died, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death.

18  Or if he struck him down with a weapon of wood in the hand, by which a man may die, and he died, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death.

19  The avenger of blood shall himself put the murderer to death; when he meets him, he shall put him to death.

20  And if he stabbed him from hatred, or hurled at him, lying in wait, so that he died,

21  or in enmity struck him down with his hand, so that he died, then he who struck the blow shall be put to death; he is a murderer; the avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death, when he meets him.

22  “But if he stabbed him suddenly without enmity, or hurled anything on him without lying in wait,

23  or used a stone, by which a man may die, and without seeing him cast it upon him, so that he died, though he was not his enemy, and did not seek his harm;

24  then the congregation shall judge between the manslayer and the avenger of blood, in accordance with these ordinances;

25  and the congregation shall rescue the manslayer from the hand of the avenger of blood, and the congregation shall restore him to his city of refuge, to which he had fled, and he shall live in it until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the holy oil.

26  But if the manslayer shall at any time go beyond the bounds of his city of refuge to which he fled,

27  and the avenger of blood finds him outside the bounds of his city of refuge, and the avenger of blood slays the manslayer, he shall not be guilty of blood.

28  For the man must remain in his city of refuge until the death of the high priest; but after the death of the high priest the manslayer may return to the land of his possession.

In our society do we have any equivalents to “cities of refuge?”  In general how does our society handle the problem of revenge?

A ceremony Pages 81 – 87   Because of the risk that Billy’s clansmen might seek to retaliate against Malo and Gideon and other employees of their company, Gideon told the staff not to come to work on the day after the accident. . .

. . . Gideon went to the back window of the office and opened it, recognizing that that could immediately prove fatal but that he had no choice because the alternative was worse.  One of the three men, who turned out to be Peti, the father of the dead boy, asked Gideon, “Can I come into your office and talk with you?”

Gideon nodded, went to the front of his office, opened the door, and invited Peti to come in alone and sit down.  For a man whose son had just been killed, and who was now confronting the killer’s employer, Peti’s behavior was impressive:  clearly still in a state of shock, he was nevertheless calm, respectful, and direct.  Peti sat quietly for some time, and finally said to Gideon, “We understand that this was an accident, and that you didn’t do it intentionally.  We don’t want to make any problems.  We just want your help with the funeral.  We ask of you a little money and food, in order to feed our relatives at the ceremony. . .

Already on that second day, the day after the accident, Gideon talked to the senior member of his staff, an older New Guinean named Yaghean, who was a native of a different district but was experienced in New Guinea compensation negotiations.  Yaghean offered to handle the negotiations.  . . . Gideon’s first inclination was to go straight to the lowlander settlement himself, to seek out Billy’s family, to “say sorry” (formally apologize), and to attempt to defuse the threat from the extended family.  But Yahean insisted that Gideon should not do this:  “If you yourself, Gideon, go there too soon, I’m concerned that the extended family and the whole lowlander community may still have hot tempers.  We should instead go through the proper compensation process. . .

Yaghean went to speak to the councilor, who arranged for the next day (day 4) a meeting involving Yaghean, the councilor, Billy’s family, and the extended clan.  Gideon has little knowledge of what went on at the meeting other than Yahean’s report that they talked at length about how to handle the issue, that the family itself had no intention to resort to violence, but tha some men in the settlement felt strongly for Billy and were still stirred up.  Yaghean told Gideon that he should buy more food for the compensation ceremony and funeral, and that agreement had been reached on a compensation payment of 1,000 kina (equivalent to about $300) from Gideon’s company to the family.

The compensation ceremony itself took place on the following day, day 5, with formal structured arrangements.  It began with Gideon, Yaghean, and the rest of the office staff except for Malo driving in a company car into the lowlander settlement.  They parked the car, walked through the settlement, and entered the yard behind Billy’s family’s house.  Traditional New Guinea ceremonies of mourning take place under some kind of shelter, to cover the mourner’s heads; in this case the shelter that the family set up was a tarpaulin, under which everyone – the family and the visitors – was to gather.  When the visitors came in, one of the dead boy’s uncles point out to them their place to sit and motioned family to other seats.

The ceremony began with an uncle speaking, to thank the visitors for coming, and to say how sad it was that Billy had died.  Then Gideon, Yaghean, and other office staff talked.  In describing the event to me Gideon explained, “It felt awful, just awful, to have to give that talk.  I was crying.  At that time, I, too, had young children.  I told the family that I was trying to imagine their level of grief.  I said that I was trying to grasp it by supposing the accident to have happened instead to my own son.  Their grief must be unimaginable.  I told them that the food and the money that I was giving them were nothing, mere rubbish, compared to the life of their child.”

Gideon went on to tell me, “Next came the talk of Billy’s father, Peti.  His words were very simple.  He was in tears,  He acknowledged that Billy’s death was an accident and not due to negligence on our part.  He thanked us for being there, and said that his people wouldn’t make any problems for us.  Then he talked about Billy, held up a photograph of his son, and said, ‘We miss him.’  Billy’s mother sat quietly behind the father as he spoke.  A few others of Billy’s uncles stood up and reiterated, ‘You people won’t have any problems with us, we are satisfied with your response and with the compensation.’  Everybody – my colleagues and I, and Billy’s whole family – was crying.”

The transfer of food consisted of Gideon and his colleagues handing the food over in order to “say sorry,” with the words “This food is to help you in this hard time.”  After the talks, the family and the visitors ate together a simple meal of sweet potato (the traditional New Guinea staple food) and other vegetables.  There was much shaking of hands at the end of the ceremony. . . .

New Guinea compensation pages 87 – 89  The traditional compensation process, illustrated by the story of Billy and Malo, has as its aims the dispute’s speedy peaceful resolution, emotional reconciliation between the two sides and restoration of their previous relationship.  . .

An essential fact shaping the traditional New Guinea compensation process, and distinguishing it from Western disputes, is that the participants in almost any traditional New Guinea dispute were previously known to each other, either from already having been involved in some sort of personal relationship, or at least from knowing of each other by name or father’s name or group affiliation. . .

For New Guineans the key element in restoring a damaged relationship is an acknowledgement of and respect for each other’s feelings, so that the two parties can clear the air of anger as well as possible under the circumstances and get on with their former involvement or non-involvement.  Although the payment cementing the restored relationship is now universally referred to in Papua New Guinea by the English word “compensation,” that term is misleading.  The payment is actually a symbolic  means to reestablish the previous relationship: side A “says sorry” to side B and acknowledges B’s feelings by incurring its own loss, consisting of the compensation paid.  As Gideon said explicitly to Billy’s father in turning over to him the compensation, the money was worthless rubbish compared to the value of Billy’s life; it was just a way of saying sorry and sharing in Billy’s family’s loss.

Reestablishing relationships counts for everything in traditional New Guinea, and establishing guilt or negligence or punishment according to Western concept is not the main issue. . .

Reestablishing relationships counts for everything.”  Do you think our legal system needs to pay more attention to the reestablishing of relationship?  Do you think we need to have systems to help reestablish relationship in our faith communities?  If you have seen the film “Dead Man Walking,” think how “reestablishing relationship” plays out in that film?



The ancient Hebrews were also a traditional people who had their own ceremonies for seeking reconciliation.  The sin offering was a method of bringing people together for a ceremony and then a communal dinner to make peace.

Leviticus 4:1  And the LORD said to Moses,

2  “Say to the people of Israel, If any one sins unwittingly in any of the things which the LORD has commanded not to be done, and does any one of them,

3  if it is the anointed priest who sins, thus bringing guilt on the people, then let him offer for the sin which he has committed a young bull without blemish to the LORD for a sin offering.

4  He shall bring the bull to the door of the tent of meeting before the LORD, and lay his hand on the head of the bull, and kill the bull before the LORD.

5  And the anointed priest shall take some of the blood of the bull and bring it to the tent of meeting;

6  and the priest shall dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle part of the blood seven times before the LORD in front of the veil of the sanctuary.

7  And the priest shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar of fragrant incense before the LORD which is in the tent of meeting, and the rest of the blood of the bull he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering which is at the door of the tent of meeting.

8  And all the fat of the bull of the sin offering he shall take from it, the fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that is on the entrails,

9  and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them at the loins, and the appendage of the liver which he shall take away with the kidneys

10  (just as these are taken from the ox of the sacrifice of the peace offerings), and the priest shall burn them upon the altar of burnt offering.

Leviticus 5:1  “If any one sins in that he hears a public adjuration to testify and though he is a witness, whether he has seen or come to know the matter, yet does not speak, he shall bear his iniquity.

2  Or if any one touches an unclean thing, whether the carcass of an unclean beast or a carcass of unclean cattle or a carcass of unclean swarming things, and it is hidden from him, and he has become unclean, he shall be guilty.

3  Or if he touches human uncleanness, of whatever sort the uncleanness may be with which one becomes unclean, and it is hidden from him, when he comes to know it he shall be guilty.

4  Or if any one utters with his lips a rash oath to do evil or to do good, any sort of rash oath that men swear, and it is hidden from him, when he comes to know it he shall in any of these be guilty.

5  When a man is guilty in any of these, he shall confess the sin he has committed,

6  and he shall bring his guilt offering to the LORD for the sin which he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat, for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin.

7  “But if he cannot afford a lamb, then he shall bring, as his guilt offering to the LORD for the sin which he has committed, two turtledoves or two young pigeons, one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering.

8  He shall bring them to the priest, who shall offer first the one for the sin offering; he shall wring its head from its neck, but shall not sever it,

9  and he shall sprinkle some of the blood of the sin offering on the side of the altar, while the rest of the blood shall be drained out at the base of the altar; it is a sin offering.

10  Then he shall offer the second for a burnt offering according to the ordinance; and the priest shall make atonement for him for the sin which he has committed, and he shall be forgiven.

11  “But if he cannot afford two turtledoves or two young pigeons, then he shall bring, as his offering for the sin which he has committed, a tenth of an ephah of fine flour for a sin offering; he shall put no oil upon it, and shall put no frankincense on it, for it is a sin offering.

12  And he shall bring it to the priest, and the priest shall take a handful of it as its memorial portion and burn this on the altar, upon the offerings by fire to the LORD; it is a sin offering.

13  Thus the priest shall make atonement for him for the sin which he has committed in any one of these things, and he shall be forgiven. And the remainder shall be for the priest, as in the cereal offering.”

14  The LORD said to Moses,

15  “If any one commits a breach of faith and sins unwittingly in any of the holy things of the LORD, he shall bring, as his guilt offering to the LORD, a ram without blemish out of the flock, valued by you in shekels of silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary; it is a guilt offering.

16  He shall also make restitution for what he has done amiss in the holy thing, and shall add a fifth to it and give it to the priest; and the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering, and he shall be forgiven.

17  “If any one sins, doing any of the things which the LORD has commanded not to be done, though he does not know it, yet he is guilty and shall bear his iniquity.

18  He shall bring to the priest a ram without blemish out of the flock, valued by you at the price for a guilt offering, and the priest shall make atonement for him for the error which he committed unwittingly, and he shall be forgiven.

19  It is a guilt offering; he is guilty before the LORD.”

Note that parts of the animal were burnt up, but other parts of the animal were then available for a feast of reconciliation.  Not unlike the New Guinea compensation ceremony, one of the purposes of the sin offering was to restore relationship.  It is in the sharing of food as well as the notion of pay back that the relationships are restored.


Have you ever experienced a reconciliation organized around a meal?  Do you think a spiritual ceremony might also assist the process of reconciliation?  What kinds of “falling out” do you think might be repaired by intentional ceremony?  If people are unwilling to “confess” any wrong doing, do you think the relationships can be restored?


Forms of Traditional Warfare

Pages 136 –  :  Warfare has assumed multiple forms, both in the past and today.  Traditional warfare utilized all basic tactics that are now used by modern states and that were technologically possible for tribal societies. . . . One familiar and still-practiced tactic is the pitched battle, in which large numbers of opposing combatants face off against each other and fight openly.

An example from the Hebrew Scripture of the “pitched battle” is the battle of Mt. Gilboa between the Israelites and the Philistines:

I Samuel 31:1  Now the Philistines fought against Israel; and the men of Israel fled before the Philistines, and fell slain on Mount Gilboa.

2  And the Philistines overtook Saul and his sons; and the Philistines slew Jonathan and Abinadab and Malchishua, the sons of Saul.

3  The battle pressed hard upon Saul, and the archers found him; and he was badly wounded by the archers.

4  Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and make sport of me.” But his armor-bearer would not; for he feared greatly. Therefore Saul took his own sword, and fell upon it.

5  And when his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell upon his sword, and died with him.

6  Thus Saul died, and his three sons, and his armor-bearer, and all his men, on the same day together.

7  And when the men of Israel who were on the other side of the valley and those beyond the Jordan saw that the men of Israel had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they forsook their cities and fled; and the Philistines came and dwelt in them.

The next familiar tactic is the raid, in which a group of warriors small enough to conceal itself, advancing under cover or at night, makes a surprise attack on enemy territory with the limited goal of killing some enemies or destroying enemy property and then retreating, but without the expectation of destroying the whole opposing army or permanently occupying enemy territory.  . . .

A good example in Scripture of a raid is the attack of Gideon and his 300 men upon the Midianites:

Judges 7:15  When Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, he worshiped; and he returned to the camp of Israel, and said, “Arise; for the LORD has given the host of Midian into your hand.”

16  And he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and put trumpets into the hands of all of them and empty jars, with torches inside the jars.

17  And he said to them, “Look at me, and do likewise; when I come to the outskirts of the camp, do as I do.

18  When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then blow the trumpets also on every side of all the camp, and shout, ‘For the LORD and for Gideon.'”

19  So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the outskirts of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, when they had just set the watch; and they blew the trumpets and smashed the jars that were in their hands.

20  And the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the jars, holding in their left hands the torches, and in their right hands the trumpets to blow; and they cried, “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!”

21  They stood every man in his place round about the camp, and all the army ran; they cried out and fled.

22  When they blew the three hundred trumpets, the LORD set every man’s sword against his fellow and against all the army; and the army fled as far as Bethshittah toward Zererah, as far as the border of Abelmeholah, by Tabbath.

Related to raids, and also widespread in traditional warfare, are ambushes, another form of surprise attack in which the aggressors, instead of moving by stealth, hide themselves and remain in wait at a site to which unsuspecting enemies are likely to come. . . .

A good example in the Hebrew Scriptures of the ambush is in Joshua 8:3  So Joshua arose, and all the fighting men, to go up to Ai; and Joshua chose thirty thousand mighty men of valor, and sent them forth by night.

4  And he commanded them, “Behold, you shall lie in ambush against the city, behind it; do not go very far from the city, but hold yourselves all in readiness;

5  and I, and all the people who are with me, will approach the city. And when they come out against us, as before, we shall flee before them;

6  and they will come out after us, till we have drawn them away from the city; for they will say, ‘They are fleeing from us, as before.’ So we will flee from them;

7  then you shall rise up from the ambush, and seize the city; for the LORD your God will give it into your hand.

An example of warfare by treachery in the Hebrew scriptures can be seen in the assassination of King Eglon of the Moabites by Ehud:

Judges 3:14  And the people of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years.

15  But when the people of Israel cried to the LORD, the LORD raised up for them a deliverer, Ehud, the son of Gera, the Benjaminite, a left-handed man. The people of Israel sent tribute by him to Eglon the king of Moab.

16  And Ehud made for himself a sword with two edges, a cubit in length; and he girded it on his right thigh under his clothes.

17  And he presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab. Now Eglon was a very fat man.

18  And when Ehud had finished presenting the tribute, he sent away the people that carried the tribute.

19  But he himself turned back at the sculptured stones near Gilgal, and said, “I have a secret message for you, O king.” And he commanded, “Silence.” And all his attendants went out from his presence.

20  And Ehud came to him, as he was sitting alone in his cool roof chamber. And Ehud said, “I have a message from God for you.” And he arose from his seat.

21  And Ehud reached with his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly;

22  and the hilt also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not draw the sword out of his belly; and the dirt came out.

23  Then Ehud went out into the vestibule, and closed the doors of the roof chamber upon him, and locked them.

24  When he had gone, the servants came; and when they saw that the doors of the roof chamber were locked, they thought, “He is only relieving himself in the closet of the cool chamber.”

25  And they waited till they were utterly at a loss; but when he still did not open the doors of the roof chamber, they took the key and opened them; and there lay their lord dead on the floor.

26  Ehud escaped while they delayed, and passed beyond the sculptured stones, and escaped to Seirah.

Another example of traditional warfare not enumerated by Diamond is the single combat:

I Samuel 17:2  And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered, and encamped in the valley of Elah, and drew up in line of battle against the Philistines.

3  And the Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with a valley between them.

4  And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span.

5  He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze.

6  And he had greaves of bronze upon his legs, and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders.

7  And the shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron; and his shield-bearer went before him.

8  He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me.

9  If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.”

10  And the Philistine said, “I defy the ranks of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together.”

40  Then he (David) took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the brook, and put them in his shepherd’s bag or wallet; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.

41  And the Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him.

42  And when the Philistine looked, and saw David, he disdained him; for he was but a youth, ruddy and comely in appearance.

43  And the Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods.

44  The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.”

45  Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin; but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.

46  This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down, and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel,

47  and that all this assembly may know that the LORD saves not with sword and spear; for the battle is the LORD’S and he will give you into our hand.”

48  When the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine.

49  And David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone, and slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground.

50  So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and struck the Philistine, and killed him; there was no sword in the hand of David.

Another type of traditional warfare not enumerated by Diamond but found in the Hebrew Scriptures is the siege raid:

II Samuel 5:6  And the king and his men went to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who said to David, “You will not come in here, but the blind and the lame will ward you off” — thinking, “David cannot come in here.”

7  Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David.

8  And David said on that day, “Whoever would smite the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack the lame and the blind, who are hated by David’s soul.” Therefore it is said, “The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.”

Pages 142-143:  A psychological consequence of this increasing range of modern long-range weapons is that most military killing today is by “push-button” technology (bombs, artillery and missiles), permitting soldiers to kill unseen opponents  and not to have to overcome their inhibitions about killing face to face.  In all traditional fighting one selects one’s target individually and sees his face, whether one is stabbing him at close quarters or shooting an arrow at him from a distance of tens of yards.  Men in traditional societies grow up from childhood encouraged to kill, or at least knowing how to kill, but most modern state citizens grow up taught constantly that killing is bad, until after age 18 they suddenly enlist or are inducted into the army, given a gun, and ordered to aim at an enemy and shoot him.  Not surprisingly, a significant fraction of soldiers in World Wars I and II – some estimates run as high as one-half – could not bring themselves to shoot an enemy whom they saw as another human being.  Thus, while traditional societies lack both the moral inhibitions against killing an enemy face to face, and the technology necessary to bypass those inhibitions by killing unseen victims at a distance, modern state societies have tended to develop both the inhibitions and the technology necessary to bypass the inhibitions.

Do you think our modern societies have cultivated an inhibition against killing opponents?  If so, do you think urban gang wars represent a throwback to more traditional attitudes about turf, warfare and killing?  To what extent do you think modern religion is responsible for our inhibitions about killing?  How do you think drones change the nature of warfare, and our inhibitions about killing?

Page 143:  Another psychological difference involves self-sacrifice, praised in modern warfare and unknown in traditional warfare.  Modern state soldiers have often been ordered, on behalf of their country, to do things highly likely to get them killed, such as charging across open ground towards barbed-wire defenses.  Other soldiers decide themselves to sacrifice their lives in order to save the lives of their comrades.  During World War II thousands of Japanese soldiers, at first voluntarily and later under pressure, made attacks intended to be suicidal, by piloting kamikaze airplanes, rocket powered baka gliding bombs, and kaiten human torpedoes into American warships.  Such behavior requires that prospective soldiers be programmed from childhood onwards to admire dutiful obedience and sacrifice for one’s country or religion.  I have never heard of such behavior in New Guinea traditional warfare:  every warrior’s goal is to kill the enemy and to stay alive himself.

In this paragraph traditional warriors seem more reasonable than modern soldiers.  Although as General George Patton said, “The goal of war is not to die for your country.  The goal of war is to make the other poor dumb bastard die for his.”  Do you think it is true that traditional warriors were not motivated by self-sacrifice?  What percentage of modern soldiers do you think are motivated by self-sacrifice? Does this paragraph give us any insight into suicide bombers? 


Pages 145-146:  One of the two biggest differences between traditional and state warfare involves the distinction between total war and limited war. . .

While Sherman’s behavior was indeed exceptional by standards of state warfare, he did not invent total warfare.  Instead, he practiced a mild form of what has been practiced by bands and tribes for tens of thousands of years, as documented by the skeletal remains of the massacre at Talheim described on page 134.  State armies spare and take prisoners because they are able to feed them, guard them, put them to work, and prevent them from running away.  Traditional “armies” do not take enemy warriors as prisoners, because they cannot do any of those things to make use of prisoners.  Surrounded or defeated traditional warriors do not surrender, because they know that they will be killed anyway.  The earliest historical or archaeological evidence of states taking prisoners is not until the time of Mesopotamian states of about 5,000 years ago, which solved the practical problems of getting use out of prisoners by gouging out their eyes to blind them so that they could not run away, then putting them to work at tasks that could be carried out by the sense of touch alone, such as spinning and some gardening chores. . .

We can find examples of the blinding of captives in the Hebrew scriptures:  Judges 16:20  And she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And he awoke from his sleep, and said, “I will go out as at other times, and shake myself free.” And he did not know that the LORD had left him.

21  And the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza, and bound him with bronze fetters; and he ground at the mill in the prison.

I Samuel 11:11:1  Then Nahash the Ammonite went up and besieged Jabeshgilead; and all the men of Jabesh said to Nahash, “Make a treaty with us, and we will serve you.”

2  But Nahash the Ammonite said to them, “On this condition I will make a treaty with you, that I gouge out all your right eyes, and thus put disgrace upon all Israel.”

II Kings 25:6  Then they captured the king, and brought him up to the king of Babylon at Riblah, who passed sentence upon him.

7  They slew the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and put out the eyes of Zedekiah, and bound him in fetters, and took him to Babylon.

It would appear that at some point one of the goals of warfare became the taking of hostages and slaves as well as the appropriation of other people’s resources.  Do you think this is part of human nature?  Do you think policies like “the final solution,” “ethnic cleansing,” “total war,” are unusual in human history?  From what part of the human character do you think this behavior comes?  What in human nature does the enslavement of others satisfy?


Ending Warfare  pages 147-148  But it’s much harder for a tribe than a state (and a large centralized chiefdom) to reach a decision to seek an end to fighting, and to negotiate a truce with the enemy – because a state has centralized decision-making and negotiators, while a tribe lacks centralized leadership and everyone has his say.  It’s even harder for a tribe than for a state to maintain peace once a truce has been negotiated.  In any society, whether a tribe or a state, there will be some individuals who are dissatisfied with any peace agreement, and who want to attack some enemy for their own private reasons and to provoke a new outbreak of fighting.

Does this observation help us to understand why negotiating a peace settlement of any kind of the Middle East is so difficult? Many nations such as Iraq or Afghanistan are not actually state governments but merely a conglomeration of tribes.  Israel keeps complaining that there is no Palestinian partner with whom they can actually negotiate, because there are so many independent factions among the Palestinian people.  Do you think it is possible to negotiate peace in a tribal situation?

Warlike animals, peaceful peoples (genetic basis for warfare?)  Pages 155-156  As for a genetic basis to human warfare, it of course has a genetic basis, in the same broad and distant sense in which cooperation and other multi-faceted human behaviors have a genetic basis.  That is, the human brain and hormones and instincts are laid down ultimately by genes, such as the genes that control the synthesis of the hormone testosterone associated with aggressive behavior. . .  Like warfare, warfare’s converse of cooperation is widespread but variably expressed among human societies.  We already saw in Chapter 1 that cooperation between neighboring human societies is favored by certain environmental conditions, such as resource fluctuation within or between years, and whether or not a territory contains all recourses necessary for self-sufficient survival.  It is not inevitable or genetically programmed that neighboring small-scale societies cooperate; there are reasons why some cooperate more and some cooperate less. . .

Thus, it could be claimed that some societies are inherently or genetically peaceful, while others are inherently warlike.  Instead, it appears that societies do or don’t resort to war, depending upon whether it might be profitable for them to initiate war and/or necessary for them to defend against wars initiated by others. . .

Do you think Diamond’s assessment that societies resort to war, because it might be profitable for them is correct?  How do you think this squares with the impression that some societies like Imperial Japan, early 20th Century Germany, and Fascist Italy were more prone to warlike behavior for internal political reasons?  How do you think Diamond’s observation applies to the American invasion of Iraq?  In a world of nuclear weapons where war has no winners only losers how do you think Diamond’s observations apply?


Motives for Traditional War Pages 157 – 170  Why do traditional societies go to war? . . .

Victorious traditional societies are observed to obtain may benefits. . .

The commonest answer is “revenge” for killings of fellow tribes people or band members.  . . .

If revenge is the main motive cited for continuing a war, what motives initiate war?  In the New Guinea Highlands, common answers are “women” and “pigs.”

In addition to all these conflicts over people and animals serving as motives for war, land conflicts are regularly mentions as motives. . .

The ultimate factor most often proposed for traditional warfare is to acquire land or other scarce resources such as fisheries, salt sources, stone quarries, or human labor.  Except in harsh fluctuating environments whose conditions keep human populations periodically or permanently low, human groups grow in size to utilize their land and its resources, and can then increase further only at the expense of other groups.  Hence societies go to war to seize land or resources belonging to other groups, or to defend their own land and resources that other groups seek to seize.  This motive is often proclaimed explicitly by state governments going to war to acquire land.  For instance, Hitler wrote and spoke of Germany’s need for Lebensraum (living space to the east). . .

Finally, let’s return to the theme of revenge, with which small-scale societies may seem to us inordinately pre-occupied, giving it as their commonest explanation for going to war.  We citizens of modern states commonly ignore how strong can be the thirst of revenge.  Among human emotions it ranks along with love, anger, grief, and fear, about which we talk incessantly.  Modern state societies permit and encourage us to express our love, anger, grief and fear, but not our thirst for vengeance.  We grow up being taught that vengeful feelings are primitive, to be ashamed of, and something that we should transcend.  Our society inculcates those beliefs in order to discourage us from seeking personal vengeance. . .

(Matthew 5:38  “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’

39  But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also;

40  and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well;

41  and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.)

Actually, ethnographic studies of traditional human societies lying largely outside the control of state government have shown that war, murder, and demonization of neighbors have been the norm, not the exception, and that members of those societies espousing those norms are normal, happy, well-adjusted people, not ogres. . .

How important do you think anger and revenge are for people in modern societies?  (Don’t get mad, get even.) Do you think anger and the desire for revenge are the norm for human beings?  Do you think the ideal of not seeking revenge is realistic?

. . .What differs in many state level societies is that we are taught to start embracing those traditional norms suddenly and only at a certain moment (upon a declaration of war), then to jettison them suddenly at a latter moment (the conclusion of a peace treaty).  The result is confusing:  hatreds once acquired are not easily jettisoned. . .

. . .Then, after at least 18 years of such moral training, we take young adults, train them to be soldiers, give them guns, and command that they should now forget all of that former upbringing forbidding them to kill.

It’s no wonder that many modern soldiers can’t bring themselves in battle to point their gun at an enemy and fire.  Those who do kill often suffer long lasting post-traumatic stress disorder (e.g., about one-third of American soldiers who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan).  When they come home, far from boasting about killing, they have nightmares and don’t talk about it at all, unless to other veterans.  . .

Do you think Diamond’s observations may have anything to do with the high suicide rate of current American servicemen?  Zara Renander introduced us to the concept of moral injury.  Do you think that is what Diamond is describing in these paragraphs? Is it possible to turn the desire for revenge on and off?  Do you think warfare is an inevitable part of human nature?  How does this help us reflect on the nature of good and evil?

Chapter 5 Bringing up Children

Pages 187 – 189    What about the child-rearing contribution of care-givers other than the mother and father?  In modern Western society, a child’s parents are typically by far its dominant care-givers.  The role of “allo-parents” – ie., individuals who are not the biological parents but who do some care-giving – has been decreasing in recent decades, as families move more often and over longer distances, and children no longer have the former constant availability of grandparents and aunts and uncles living nearby.  This is of course not to deny that babysitters, schoolteachers, grandparents, and older siblings may also be significant care-givers and influences.  But allo-parenting is much more important, and parents play a less dominant role, in traditional societies.

In hunter-gatherer bands the allo-parenting begins within the first hour after birth.  Newborn Aka and Efe infants are passed from hand to hand around the campfire, from one adult or older child to another, to be kissed, bounced, and sung to and spoken to. . .

. . . Thus a major difference between small-scale societies and large state societies is that responsibility for children becomes widely diffused beyond the child’s parents. . . But allo-parents are also psychologically important, as additional social influences and models beyond the parents themselves.  Anthropologists working with small-scale societies often comment on what strikes them as the precocious development of social skills among children in those societies, and they speculate that the richness of allo-parenting relationships may provide part of the explanation.

Similar benefits of allo-parenting operate in industrial societies as well.  Social workers in the United States note that children gain from living in extended, multi-generational families that provide allo-parenting.  . . .

This section of Diamond’s book reminds us of the quotation “it takes a village to raise a child.”  What opportunities for allo-parenting are available to children in modern societies?  Do you think faith communities in our modern context can provide more opportunities for allo-parenting for children?

Multi-age playgroups

Pages 200 – 201  On the American frontier, where population was sparse, the one-room schoolhouse was a common phenomenon. . . School classrooms are aged-graded, such that most classmates are within a year of each other in age. . . The norm of age cohorts applies not only to modern state societies with state governments and schools, but also to populous pre-state societies, because of the same basic demographic fact:  many children close in age, living in proximity. . .

In such multi-age playgroups, both the older and the younger children gain from being together.  The young children gain from being socialized not only by adults but also by older children, while the older children acquire experience in caring for younger children. . .

Do you think children gain anything form participation in multi-age playgroups?  In a world in which children’s activities are highly organized and scheduled and arranged in age groups how do you think children can gain some experience in multi-age activities?  Do you think faith communities can contribute to the opportunity for children to experience multi-age children’s groups?

Page 204:  A regular feature of the games of hunter-gatherer societies and the smallest farming societies is their lack of competition or contests.  Whereas many American games involve keeping score and are about winning and losing, it is rare for hunter-gatherer games to keep score or identify a winner.  Instead, games of small-scale societies often involve sharing, to prepare children for adult life that emphasizes sharing and discourages contests.  An example is the game of cutting up and sharing a banana that Jane Goodale described for New Britain’s Kaulong people and that I related on page 91.

Do you think competitive gaming helps to fuel competition in adult life in our society?  How do you think the ideal of competition plays into the problem of good and evil?  Do you think in our modern culture we need to emphasize more games of cooperation?  How might our faith communities play a role in helping our society become more cooperative and less competitive?

Page 208:  I find myself thinking a lot about the New Guinea people with whom I have been working for the last 49 years, and about the comments of Westerners who have lived for years in hunter-gatherer societies and watched children grow up there.  A recurring theme is that the other Westerners and I are struck by the emotional security, self-confidence, curiosity, and autonomy of members of small-scale societies, not only as adults but already as children.  We see that people in small-scale societies spend far more time talking to each other than we do, and they spend no time at all on passive entertainment supplied by outsiders, such as television, video games, and books.  We are struck by the precocious development of social skills in their children.  These are qualities that most of us admire, and would like to see in our own children, but we discourage development of those qualities by ranking and grading our children and constantly telling them what to do.  The adolescent identity crises that plague American teen-agers aren’t an issue for hunter-gatherer children.  The Westerners who have lived with hunter-gatherers and other small-scale societies speculate that these admirable qualities develop because of the way in which their children are brought up:  namely, with constant security and stimulation, as a result of the long nursing period, sleeping near parents for several years, far more social models available to children through allo-parenting, far more stimulation through constant physical contact and proximity of caretakers, instant caretaker responses to a child’s crying, and the minimal about of physical punishment.

Diamond is making a big claim, but how many of us watching children veg out with video games and other passive entertainment don’t have similar concerns?  We cannot turn the clock back in our society, but are there ways of raising and interacting with children that might be healthier?  Can our faith communities play a role in fostering healthier child rearing?

Chapter 6 The Treatment of Old People:  Cherish, Abandon or Kill?

Page 210:  While I was visiting a village on the Fijian island of Viti Levu, I fell into conversation with a local man who had visited the United States and told me his impressions.  There were some features of American life that he admired or envied, but others that disgusted him.  Worst of all was our treatment of the elderly. . . In the United States, though, my Fijian acquaintance was outraged that many old people are sent to retirement homes where they are visited only occasionally by their children.  He burst out accusingly to me, “You throw away your old people and your own parents?”

Would you agree with the Fijian’s assessment?  Is there a balance between providing for the care of our elderly and having their needs dominate the whole family?  Does the mobility of our society make caring for the elderly more difficult?  Can faith communities be at all helpful in the care of the elderly?

Page 219:  But perhaps the most important function of older people in traditional societies is one that many not have occurred to readers of this book.  In a literate society the main repositories of information are written or digital sources. . .  If we want to ascertain some fact, we look it up in a written source or online.  But that option doesn’t exist for a pre-literate society, which must rely instead on human memories.  Hence the minds of older people are the society’s encyclopedias and libraries.  .  .  Older people know the tribe’s myths and songs, who is related to whom, who did what to whom when. . .  

Clearly books and digital sources are our repositories of information, but is there any information for which we need our elderly?  The world moves so rapidly the expertise of the elderly is often obsolete before they can even pass it on to the next generation.  Do the older members of a community have any insight that does not become obsolete?  The internet may have lots of information, but does it have wisdom?

Page 225:  Care for the elderly goes against all those interwoven American values of independence, individualism, self-reliance, and privacy.  .  .  Dependency is at least as painful for the elderly person involved as for the middle-aged child who watches it happening to a formerly self-reliant parent.  How many readers of this chapter have known an elderly person who insisted out of self-respect on trying to continue to live independently, until an accident.  . .  made the continued independence impossible?  American ideals push old Americans to lose self-respect, and push their younger care-givers to lose respect for them.

Do you think Diamond is correct that our American values are responsible for our problems in caring for our elderly?  At what point do you anticipate that you might lose some of your independence?  What is your worst nightmare about getting older?

Page 225 – 226:  The remaining distinctively American value creating prejudice against the aged is our cult of youth.  Of course this isn’t a completely arbitrary value that we happen to have adopted as a cultural preference for no good reason.  It’s indeed true, in this modern world of rapid technological change, the recency of young adult’s education makes their knowledge more up to date and useful.  .  .  I at age 75, and my 64 year old wife, are reminded of this reality behind our cult of youth whenever we attempt to turn on our television set.  We grew up accustomed to television sets with just three knobs, all located on the set itself:  an on-off button, a volume control knob, and a channel selector knob.  My wife and I can’t figure out the 41-button remote now required just to turn on our modern television set.  .  .

Do you ever experience trouble with technology?  What other kinds of disadvantages do older people experience in our society versus younger people?  Are there ways that older people can adjust?  Are there ways in our faith communities that older people and younger people need to learn to live together?

Page 226:  These examples from the world of advertising may seem humorous, until you reflect that they are merely one expression of American ageism:  our cult of youth, and our negative view of aging.  It isn’t a serious matter that 70-year-old models aren’t employed to sell soft drinks, but it is indeed serious that older job applicants are routinely passed over for job interviews, and that older patients receive lower priority for limited resources of medical care. . .

Do you think we live in an ageist culture?  What are some of the problems our ageism create for us?  Do you think we can limit age discrimination in the work place?  What about apportioning medical care on the basis of age?

Chapter 7:  Constructive Paranoia

Page 244 – 245:  My choice of this oxymoronic , seemingly unpleasant term for a quality that I admire is intentional.  We normally use the word “paranoia” in a pejorative sense, to include greatly exaggerated and baseless fears.  That’s how New Guinean’s reactions to camping under dead trees initially struck me, and it’s true that usually a particular dead tree wouldn’t fall on the particular night that a person chose to camp under it.  But, in the long run, that seeming paranoia is constructive:  it’s essential to surviving under traditional conditions.

Nothing else that I have learned from New Guineans has affected me as deeply as that attitude.  It’s widespread in New Guinea, and reported in many other traditional societies around the world.  If there is some act that carries a low risk each time, but if you’re going to do it frequently, you had better learn to be consistently careful if you don’t want to die or become crippled at a young age.  That’s the attitude that I’ve learned to adopt towards the low-risk but frequent hazards of American life, such as driving my car, standing in the shower, climbing a ladder to change a light bulb, walking up and down stairs, and walking on slippery sidewalks.  .  .

In what ways do you employ “constructive paranoia?”  Are there other areas in your life, where you might be more advised to be more paranoid?  Do you think that “constructive paranoia” might be one area where older people enjoy some advantage over younger people?

Pages 300 – 303  The shortest time scale and smallest spatial scale of variation in tribal food supply involve day to day variation in individual hunting success. . .  The solution to that uncertainty adopted almost universally by hunter-gatherers is to live in bands including several hunters who pool their catch to average out the large day to day fluctuations in catch for each individual hunter. . .

The next longer and larger scale of variation in food supply involves unpredictable variation in food availability affecting a whole local group. . . .

Small scale societies attempt to cope with these unpredictable local food failures in several ways that include shifting camp, storing food in their own bodies, agreements between local groups, and scattering land for food production.  The simplest solution for nomadic hunter-gatherers not tied to fixed gardens, and faced with local food scarcity, is to move to another location where food availability is at the moment higher.  .  .

While gorging may help you carry yourself through a few weeks of local food scarcity, it won’t protect you against a year of starvation.  One long-term solution is to make reciprocal agreements with neighboring groups about sharing food when one group’s area has enough food and another group’s area is suffering from food shortage.  . .

Reciprocity (punctuated occasionally by hostility) is widespread among traditional societies. . .  (See the Joseph cycle of stories Genesis Chapters 39 – 46)

How important do you think food shortages have been in human history.  Go back and look again at the Table One on page 114 in the Bible Unearthed.  How important was variable food supply in the Hebrew settlement of Canaan?  How did this problem of food supply affect the development of the Hebrew scriptures?  Do you think food supply was important in hostilities between different bands of traditional people?  How has food affected our concepts of good and evil, sharing and selfishness.

Pages 303 – 305 The other common long-term solution to the unpredictable risk of a local food shortage is to scatter your land-holdings.  . . .

What a Cuyo Cuyo peasant family has to do at all costs is to avoid ending up at the end of any year with a low harvest that would leave the family starving.  In the Cuyo Cuyo area, farmers can’t produce enough storable surpluses in a good year to carry them through a subsequent bad year.  Hence it is not the peasant’s goal to produce the highest possible time-averaged crop yield, averaged over many years.  If your time averaged yield is marvelously high as a result of the combination of nine great years and one year of crop failure, you will still starve to death in that one year of crop failure before you can look back to congratulate yourself on your great time-averaged yield.  Instead, the peasants aim is to make sure to produce a yield above the starvation level in every single year, even though the time-averaged yield may not be the highest.  That’s why field scattering may make sense.  If you have just one big field, no matter how good it is on the average, you will starve when the inevitable occasional year arrives in which your one field has a low yield.  But if you have many different fields, varying independently of each other, then in any given year some of your fields will produce well even when your other fields are producing poorly.

This principle of field scattering is practiced even in America in areas of marginal rain fall.  Vernon Volz, a recently deceased member of United Church was a Northeast Colorado dry land wheat farmer, where rainfall is very spotty.  Some years are good.  Some years are bad.  Sometimes a line of thunder showers will blow through and give the ground a good watering, but half a mile away it will be dry.  He showed me a map of where he had purchased fields.  No two fields were ever together next to each other.  And he never bought two parcels that were in a straight line from each other moving West to East – the prevailing wind pattern.  The idea was to checker board the land parcels and spread them out to maximize the possibility of getting some yield every year like the Cuyo Cuyo peasants. 

Israel is also a very dry region with spotty rainfall.  Try to imagine how these conditions impacted the formation of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Deuteronomy 11:14  then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and olive oil.

From the Jewish Daily Forward May 13, 2011:

“Hebrew has special words for the rains that directly follow and precede the long, dry Mediterranean summer. The early rain of autumn is the yoreh, and the late rain of spring, the malkosh. I like the sound of both words — the soft syllables of yoreh, as though touching the earth shyly after a long absence; those of malkosh are fat and heavy, as the drops of our spring rains often are.”

“Though still used today, they’re old biblical terms. Malkosh is indeed one of the few Hebrew words for which we have a partial pre-biblical provenance. This occurs in a 10th-century BCE agricultural calendar inscribed on a clay tablet and found 100 years ago at the archaeological site of Tel Gezer, in central Israel. According to the Gezer calendar, the first half of the year consists of “two months of gathering the harvest [asif], two months of early sowing [zera], and two months of late sowing [lekesh].” The first round of sowing grain in the ancient Middle East took place in November and December, when the early rains had softened the ground enough to plow it easily; a second round, called lekesh, then followed in January and February. But for the lekesh to succeed, there had to be rain in the less dependable months of March and April, too. This was called the malkosh, and close to half an inch of it fell in my garden during Passover.”

“I will give you the rain of your land in its due season,” God says to the Israelites in Deuteronomy, “the first rain [yoreh] and the latter rain [malkosh], that thou mayest gather in thy grain, and thy wine, and thine oil.” “Wine” meant, of course, the grape harvest, called by the Gezer calendar zamir; “oil,” olive oil, which is pressed from the picked fruit in October and November, after the yoreh has swelled it to full size.”

What happens when the rains don’t come?  Again the Hebrew Scriptures are filled with stories of drought.  Now the question we need to consider is how important has drought and famine been in shaping human character?  As we look forward to the possibility of chronic food shortages and shortages of other commodities:  food, energy, land, metals, how will scarcity continue to shape our human future?

Page 310:  Traditional peoples dealt with predictable seasonal food shortages in three main ways:  storing food, broadening their diet, and dispersing and aggregating.  .  .  .

Because he is not attuned to the role of religion and spirituality Diamond overlooks the role of religious fasting in managing seasonal food supplies.  Do you suppose it is an accident that the fasting period of Lent coincides with the lowest food supply level of the year?  Religious fasting in the face of a drought to try to bring rain would have also conserved food supplies.  Also religious fasting helped make a virtue out of a necessity and also spread the burden of the food shortage by making fasting apply to the rich as well as the poor.  What other examples of shared fasting can you think of?

Page 315:  Along with food storage and diet broadening, the remaining traditional solution to the problem created by a predictable season of food scarcity is to follow an annual cycle of population movement, aggregation, and dispersal.  When food resources are few and concentrated in a few areas, people gather to live at those areas.  At favorable times of year when resources are widely and uniformly distributed, people spread out over the landscape.

Taking Diamond’s point about moving to deal with food scarcity we can refer to Table One on Page 114 of The Bible Unearthed.  Read page 149 – 196 in The Bible Unearthed and see how permanent occupation of the highlands of central Palestine did not occur until the cultivation of vineyards and olive trees became an industry.  How did vineyards and olive groves affect the development of our Hebrew Scriptures? 

Page 319:  Thus, all human societies face dangers, although different types of dangers lie in store for peoples at different localities or with different lifestyles.  I worry about cars and step-ladders, my New Guinea lowland friends about crocodiles and cyclones and enemies, and the !Kung about lions and droughts.  Each society has adopted a spectrum of measures for mitigating the particular hazards that it recognizes.  But we citizens of WEIRD societies don’t always think as clearly as we should about the dangers we face.

To what dangers in your life do you pay the most attention?   What do you think were the most relevant dangers living in the Central highlands of the land of Canaan during the time of David?  How do you think the dangers of life shape our spiritual lives?


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