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Most of the essays in Early Man deal with the paleontological record and are more technical than the those in Noah's Three Sons, which made it slower going for me. (Bones get boring after a while. So do peccary teeth.) His last section, however, is titled "Light from Other Forms of Cultural Behavior on Some Incidents in Scripture," and this was the one I found to be of particular interest. He takes some of the more puzzling narratives and instructions in Genesis and expands upon them, showing how they are linked with cultural patterns the world over. For instance, he starts with the statement in Genesis 2 that "for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife," and goes on to show not only the prevalence of having the man go to his wife's family, but also the practical merit of doing it in this manner and not the other way around.
I confess, some of the points he addresses were not ones I had ever thought very hard about; but they provided food for thought all the same. Custance addresses most of the cultural details, including polygamy, without passing overt judgment, just as the Scripture tends to mention them in passing and without critique. Rather, he delves into the why's and the wherefore's of these cultural norms, presenting them in a clearer light to the befuddled Western mind.
Naturally, this is interesting for its bearing on Genesis. That was, after all, Custance's intent. However, being a writer, I tend to look at everything from a writer's point of view. In this case, the problem of cultures started me thinking about world-building - the crafting of peoples in fantasy worlds that are somehow different from cultures past and present. We want ours to be unique, and though we may be inspired by ancient Egypt or Norse mythology, we prefer that the inspiration be subtle rather than obvious. No one wants their story to be the one where the reader can go two pages and say, "Oh, I know where THAT'S from."
All that is perfectly reasonable, and provides incentive for branching out and exercising creativity. But in reading Genesis and Early Man, it occurred to me that there is as much - or more - to be learned from the similarities between cultures as from the differences. We tend to assume that the culture of the Eskimos will be vastly removed from that of the Australian aborigines, and to some extent, due to the demands of environment, it is; and yet at the same time, there are some amazing parallels to be noted between them. Recall the Mankind has a "common ancestor," Noah, and a common starting place, Mesopotamia. Cultural arteries all flow from that heartland; links between traditions stretch from one end of the earth to the other.
This is a fact worth considering, especially as we build our fantasies and populate them with people out of our imaginations. Of course we want each culture we create to be different, but what elements do they have in common? In marriage and in family, in religion and in government, are there threads that unite them? If the world is tied to Earth, and perhaps even populated by humans, what links still exist between our world and theirs? I have always thought it a good idea to come up with a history for the peoples; so much of what makes up a culture and its foreign policy depends on its history, so it seems impossible to create a believable world without one. And now, added to that, I am of the opinion that anthropology - the study of Man - is just as pertinent a study for any writer.
In fact, I'm having a hard time thinking of fields of knowledge that aren't pertinent to a writer.