President Bush has explained that tax cuts for the rich allow them to create jobs. This raises the general, ultimately theological, question: “Where do jobs come from?” Fortunately the recent discovery of a Hebrew manuscript, thought to date to the twelfth century BC, has helped to clarify the issue. The document, which is in poor condition, apparently surfaced around the Dead Sea in Israel and was acquired by unknown means by the British Museum. It seems to be an early version of the Book of Genesis. Surprisingly, it has attracted the attention not only of Biblical scholars and archaeologists, but also of academic economists. “It is very significant,” declares Thaddeus Feinbrain, Professor Emeritus at University of Chicago. “It indicates a sophisticated understanding of market economics one wouldn’t expect in that region at such an early date.”
The opening passage of the text, in relatively good condition, seems to prefigure the familiar narrative in Genesis 1:1-3:19.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. He created plants and animals, and human beings, whom he placed in the Garden of Eden, in Iraq, between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. And God saw what he had made, especially the happy people who were busy naming the plants and animals, and said, ‘It’s pretty good.’
“But there were still no jobs! And thus Creation was incomplete. So the Serpent beckoned Eve, the first woman, to his office in the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. And he offered her a job. Eve (who remained stark naked throughout the interview), agreed under pressure to work for the Serpent. And she went unto her husband, Adam, who was also buck-naked, there being no clothes at the time, and said unto him, in a voice unfamiliar and vaguely unpleasant: ‘Why do you not get a job, Adam?’ And so Adam felt humiliated, so much that he was even unable to know his wife, something which hadn’t happened before. Ashamed, he went to the Serpent, applied for a job, and signed a contract.
“God, walking through the Garden in the cool of the day the next morning, could not help noticing that Adam and Eve were not naked anymore but wearing overalls and tending to the private olive grove of the Serpent. The Lord did not interfere, but thought to Himself, ‘I knew there was something missing. Yes, it is good that the people should toil in the sweat of their faces and make bread from the cursed ground.’ And God created exploitation, and profit, and capital accumulation. And it was good.”
After this, in the manuscript, there is a lot of genealogical information, and laws forbidding people to boil calves in their mothers’ milk or spill bodily fluids on the bed sheets. Then the historical narrative resumes, but there are many lacunae in the text, and linguists differ on the meaning. It is clear, however, that the Serpent alluded to above was only one of many capitalists who organized God’s people in the generations after Adam.
The reconstruction of the key passage in the text, currently preferred by most scholars studying this manuscript, reads as follows:
“And seeing that the bosses were harming the people and the environment, God regretted what he had done, and He sent a plague to destroy the employers, and their wives, and their children, and their manservants and maidservants and their [fatted] asses. The people of the Lord rejoiced. But when the bosses died, the jobs died with them, and the people [had] nothing [to do]. They [stumbled around] aimlessly, asking one another, ‘Can I have a job’? or ‘Do [you] have a job for [me]?’ But there were no jobs, and so the people lost hope and were disorderly. The crops were not cultivated, the weaver’s loom was silenced, and the potter’s wheel was still.
“The Lord God again regretted what He had done, and resurrected from the dead [the bosses he had sent to] Sheol. Soon all the people were again employed. And the Lord placed His sign in the heavens, as a promise that he would never again take away the people’s jobs and the bosses who created them.”
But the translation is highly speculative, due to the deteriorated quality of the manuscript. Elihu Peabody-Erikson, an assistant professor of Hebrew at Haifa University, proposes an alternative reconstruction of the text:
“And seeing that the bosses were harming the people and the environment, God regretted what he had done, and He sent a plague to destroy the employers, and their fatted wives, and their [fatted] children, and their manservants and maidservants and their fat asses. The people of the Lord rejoiced. But when the bosses died, the [jobs] died with them, and the people [were temporarily confused]. They [assembled] together, informally, asking one another, ‘How [do we] [organize] production’? and ‘How do [we] provide [full] employment?’ For a while there was some disorder and demoralization; there was a slump in production. The crops were not cultivated, the weaver’s loom was silenced, and the potter’s wheel was still.
“But the Lord God regretted that He [had caused this] problem, and retrieved [blueprints and account-books and capital] from the dead bosses [down in] Sheol. [He gave them] to the people, who soon [realized they could perfectly well organize] production themselves. And the Lord placed His sign in the heavens, as a promise that he would never again make people’s jobs [dependent on] bosses [who are only concerned about their profits].”
These translations plainly clash with one another, leaving God’s intentions in doubt, and leaving unclear the ultimate fate of the employing class. But this newly discovered text may lend credence to the argument, often articulated in recent centuries, that capitalist wage-labor is, at least in part, of evil-doing origin. The President, who is deeply sensitive to issues of good and evil, should be informed of this as soon as possible.
(Note: The manuscript tends to support the viewpoint of St. Karl of Trier, who in the nineteenth century declared that the real original sin was the “primitive accumulation of capital.”)
GARY LEUPP is in real life a reputable historian at Tufts University. But sometimes he just makes stuff up. He can be reached at: email@example.com