Stop me if you heard this one: so, a naive chick is tricked by some snake into eating something she probably shouldn’t have. Suddenly much less naive, she tricks her partner into seeing things her way. We’ve all heard it a million times, right? Except that in this case, the chick is Eve, the snake is better known as the Serpent in the Garden, and her partner, of course, is Adam.
It turns out that eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil tells you that it is evil to be naked, which is why when God (who is elsewhere desrcibed as both omniscient and omni-present) comes back, Adam hides from Him, so that God – who has seen him naked as often – if not more often – than any parent has ever seen their child, will not see him naked again.
Anyway, it’s all holy and ineffable, so quit your snickering.
It’s not clear exactly when Cain murdered Abel in any biblical chronology I’ve been able to find. Some of them even date it to 4004 BCE, the same year usually given for the Creation of the earth. Which implies that not only were Cain and Abel both full grown men in the space of a single year, but that their mother’s two pregnancies (Cain and Abel were not twins – Cain is the older), also took place in that same year.
Nevertheless, as brothers, they didn’t always get along. This may or may not have had something to do with the notoriously fickle and hard to please deity that they worshiped, or that deity’s changing of the rules on them – Cain presumably would not have made an offering that God (who is, according to the Gospel of Luke, Cain’s grandfather) that God found unacceptable had he known ahead of time that it would be rejected.
Cain responds to his rejection by God by hunting and killing his brother, Abel. (Which makes him sound a little older than >1 – about 16 or so, I would guess.) And then God, not done with the mind games, pretends not to know about it and questions Cain, leading to his infamous declaration that he was “not his brother’s keeper” (which is a rare concession to historical accuracy by the Book of Genesis – cricket had indeed not yet been invented). God curses Cain and exiles him, making him the earliest biblical figure to be set up and knocked down by God.
Legend has it that Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, was born in a most unusual way: when Cronus led his fellow Titans in a rebellion against their father, Uranus, the final victory was achieved when the son castrated his father, and cast his genitals into the ocean (accounts vary as to whether this was offshore from Paphos in Cyprus or the island of Cythera). Aphrodite sprung fully formed and already an adult from the foaming waves of the wine dark sea.
Aphrodite was known to the Romans as Venus, and it was under this name that she became popular with later Europeans, notably as the subject of the painting “The Birth of Venus” by Botticelli, and numerous surviving sculptures, such as the Venus de Milo.
It wasn’t always a desert. The Saharan plain was once open grassland with occasional forests. As late as the time of Julius Caesar, and even afterwards, Romans reported elephants, leopards and lions on the North African shores – along with abundant timber. But like that timber, which was cut down by the Carthaginians and Romans to build their navies, little remains of the Saharan plant life today.
The changes began around three and a half thousand years earlier, with a combination of changes in prevailing winds, a shift in the planet’s orbit and increased cultivation of the land – at this time, for example, south western Egypt and the Sudan were great agricultural realms, for example. But within a few hundred years, the region had become almost impassible, with few other than the Berbers prepared to cross the region until the invention of modern cooling systems in the Twentieth Century.
Imhotep was an Egyptian polymath who was what we would later call a Renaissance man. Of course, Imhotep had a 4000 year head-start on Leonardo. He served the Third Dynasty pharaoh Djoser as vizier, although the complete list of his titles ran: Chancellor of the King of Egypt, Doctor, First in line after the King of Upper Egypt, Administrator of the Great Palace, Hereditary nobleman, High Priest of Heliopolis, Builder, Chief Carpenter, Chief Sculptor and Maker of Vases in Chief.
His most notable work to modern eyes is the Step Pyramid of Saqqara, in which the pharaoh Djoser was buried. It was the first pyramid, and comparatively small and primitive, but for its time it was an engineering marvel.
After his death, Imhotep was deified, one of very few Egyptians to whom this occurred (other than the pharaohs).
Gilgamesh is the title character of one of the oldest known literary works, the Epic of Gilgamesh, which dates from approximately 2150 BCE. The most complete surviving version of the Epic was recorded on twelve clay tablets in the library of Ashurbanipal, a later Mesopotamian king.
Gilgamesh was the fifth king of Uruk, an early Sumerian realm that encompassed what is now Kuwait and southern Iraq. His parentage was partially divine – he was two thirds god and one third man. As a result of this, he was abnormally strong and long-lived – some sources describe him as immortal. He seems to have been based on actual historical figure, and several details in the Epic appear to derive from historical figures who were his contemporaries. However, despite his reality, it is unlikely that he reigned for the 126 years attributed to him by Sumerian historians.
Gilgamesh was the king of Uruk for many years, but was not well-loved by his subjects, as he was an oppressive ruler, who insisted of the privilege of sleeping with the young women of the city on their wedding nights. The goddess Arura, seeking to humble Gilgamesh, created a man named Enkidu, who was his opposite in all ways: wild where he was civilised.
Gilgamesh and Enkidu became fast friends, and the two journeyed together from Uruk to the Cedar Forest, where they faced and slew Humbaba. Later, after the gods slew Enkidu, Gilgamesh pleaded for his return, and later journeyed to the underworld to rescue him. Gilgamesh prays to the gods to restore Enkidu’s life, and moved by his humility, they accede.
Hundreds of years before the dawn of history
Lived a strange race of people… the Druids
No one knows who they were or what they were doing
But their legacy remains
Hewn into the living rock… Of Stonehenge!
Stonehenge was constructed out of massive slabs of bluestone, by persons unknown using means unknown for reasons unknown, on a field on Salisbury Plain, in Wiltshire, England.
Theories abound as to its purpose, although as the lyrics above suggest, it is generally believed to have been something druidic. Suggestions include it being a burial ground, a primitive observatory, or a place for human sacrifice. Less likely theories argue that it was constructed by Atlanteans or aliens.
So one day, God, in his infinite wisdom and mercy, got pissed off at basically everyone. I mean everyone.
Except for this one guy, Noah. And Noah’s family and their families. And all but two of each different kind of animal. God told Noah that he was planning to flood the entire planet and drown, well, everyone. He further instructed Noah to build an ark of the dimensions 300 cubits by 50 cubits by 30 cubits, to carry those whom God, in his infinite mercy, had deemed worthy of salvation.
Admittedly, no one’s quite sure exactly how big a cubit is – it’s based on the length of one’s forearm, but of course, no two forearms are exactly the same size either. What is fairly certain is that there’s no way that any such creation could be large enough to fit two of every animal, even allowing for excluding fish.
So God, in all his moodswingy glory, decided to wipe out the entire human race.
Except for this one guy, his wife, his three sons and his three daughters-in-law. So Noah gets told to engage in one of the world’s most unlikely acts of carpentry. He builds an Ark in which to place a breeding pair of every kind animal in the world – which, by the way, would totally not fit in the cubic volume of Ark, unless “cubit” is an ancient hebrew word for “mile” – and apparently successfully places them there.
And then God makes it rain for forty days and forty nights. Fortunately, the flooded Earth has a very low albedo, and all this water eventually evaporates into the vacuum of space, allowing the ludicrously small gene pool we are allegedly all descended from to not suffocate from the vast quantities of water vapour in the air. And there’s a rainbow.
Sargon the Great became the king of Akkad by murdering his predecessor. As king, he led a military conquest of Mesopotamia and neighbouring regions, covering modern Iraq and Kuwait, as well of parts of Iran, Arabia and even Anatolia and Syria, reaching all the way to the Mediterranean coast of the latter. This was the first centrally-controlled multi-ethnic empire in world history.
Sargon’s origin, much like that of Julius Caesar, has been mythologised. In particular, there is a portion of it that describes him as being set adrift upon a river in a basket woven of rushes – a tale strikingly similar to that of Moses (as described in Exodus), and predating the Book of Exodus by around two centuries.
The Tower of Babel was an attempt by the post-Deluge peoples – all of whom spoke a common language – to build a structure upon the plain of Shinar which would reach to Heaven. God took offense to this, and went down from Heaven to prevent the project from succeeding. Having a keen understanding of the importance of good communication, God’s method for disrupting the project was the change everyone’s language. He created an un-recorded number of languages that day, sundering families and friendships, and all to prevent people from reaching Heaven physically.
The traditional religious interpretation of this is that it is a warning against pride. However, God’s words, as recorded in the Book of Genesis, make it fairly clear that, not unlike with that unfortunate business with the snake and the fruit, God was once again acting from fear that mere humans could dethrone Him by equalling him in power.
The first ruler of the Akkadian empire, which covered most of Mesopotamia by the time he was done, Sargon was also the builder of Babylon (which is probably his most lasting mark on history). Sargon’s reign lasted for 56 years, an impressively long figure by the standards of his era.
In Sargon’s later years, much of the conquered territories rose in rebellion, seeing his old age as weakness. Sargon proved them decisively wrong, restoring his rule with considerable bloodshed and brutality. Sargon’s death led to another round of rebellions, naturally, but the Akkadian Empire lived on for nearly another century.