Scala/Art Resource, NY

“The Lord God sent Adam forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken” (Genesis 3:23). In this 17th-century painting from the Flemish school, Adam and Eve are shown directly after their expulsion from Eden (the two figures at the far left) and later, when they have built a farm, complete with fields and domesticated animals.

After a relatively easy life of food-gathering in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve’s circumstances after the expulsion become far more difficult. God says of the cursed earth, “By toil you shall eat of it…By the sweat of your brow shall you get bread to eat” (Genesis 3:17). It is curious that the biblical story of Adam and Eve is susceptible of an economic interpretation having to do with the law of diminishing returns. The first humans—according to both the Bible and current anthropological theory—began as gatherers in a world of abundance and turned to farming only when the relative lack of food made working the soil and tending flocks the more profitable option.