I am not a religious man. I do not believe in any gods or higher powers, I believe in science and facts. That being said, I do enjoy some religious stories (although most of them are tales from the Greek and Egyptian pantheons where the gods are more numerous, flawed and complex) but because I was brought up by a Christian family in England and attended a primary school where each assembly was started by a Bible reading, I’m familiar with the Christian faith. Although I found the Bible dull and ham-fisted in it’s moral messages, I did enjoy researching the facts behind some of the stories. Every legend has a grain of truth in it.
In todays article I’ll be looking at five stories from the Bible and the real life events that may have inspired them. Obviously this post won’t be for everyone but I’ll try to be respectful of all religions. If you choose to comment on this post or on any form of social media, all I ask is that you be respectful. Happy Easter!
1. The Tower of Babel
The Tower of Babel was a structure built by the human race, shortly following the Great Flood. The aim of the tower was to reach the heavens, thus showing that humanity were equal to God. God, upon seeing the tower, destroyed the construction and scattered the human race across the globe. He also stripped them of a unified tongue which explains why there are so many different languages across the earth.
The myth of a human thinking himself equal to or better than a god is common in most religions. Niobe from Greek mythology decided it was a good idea to proclaim she was better that the Goddess Leto because she had fourteen children while Leto had only produced two. Leto’s response to this was having her two children (the God and Goddess Apollo and Artemis) murder all of Niobe’s family. Another example would be Bellerophon who, believing he was equal to the gods, attempted to ride Pegasus up to Mount Olympus. Zeus forced Pegasus to drop Bellerophon who, depending on what version you know, either died or became blind as a result.
While I can’t explain flying horses, the Tower of Babel has some founding in our world. Human migration can be traced back to when neanderthal man first left Africa and traveled across the continent of Pangea. Different languages developed naturally among different tribes of humans across the world. (An example of this would be the English language which is formed up of Celtic, Anglo Saxon, Latin, French and Old Norse. You can read the history of the English language by clicking anywhere in this bracket.) The Tower of Babel myth suggests that the building of such a tower was impossible for the human race and the fact that humans had the nerve to attempt such a feat was insulting to God. However there are many historical structures that were deemed impossible to build and many of these ancient monuments could serve as the inspiration for the tower. Along with the likes of Stonehenge and the Pyramids of Egypt, the Ziggurats in Babylon especially the Etemananki (pictured below) is a magnificent piece of architecture that is tower-esk in appearance. It’s name is translated as “to rise high” and it would be been built around the time the Tower of Babel story was written. Babylon also plays a significant role in other biblical stories, it was home to Hanging Gardens of Babylon which in turn was based of the Garden of Eden.
2. The burning bush/the voice of God
This is perhaps one of the most well known stories in the bible and in some ways the most terrifying. A shepherd called Moses was wandering in the desert and discovered a bush. When he approached the bush it spontaneously caught fire. Although the bush should have been destroyed in a matter of moments, it continued to burn far longer than is normally possible. Moses then heard the voice of God ordering him to travel to Egypt to release the captured slaves.
Although setting things on fire sounds more like the work of the Devil than God, researchers have suggested that the logical explanation is that the bush, an acacia bush to be exact, was growing over a volcanic vent. The heat of the near by volcano caused the bush to catch fire and kept it burning. As for the voice of god there are two different explanations. The fumes of the volcano could have had an hallucinogenic effect, similar to the Doctor Who Episode the Fires of Pompeii. The characters Lucius and Evelina have both inhaled volcanic fumes and gain the ability to hear the gods (They are actually listening to Aliens but the point still stands. Their conversation starts at 1:40.)
Another theory states that Moses ate a hallucinogenic herb. In Homer’s Odyssey Odysseus’s crew wash up on an island and discover a beautiful witch called Circe who gives them a meal after their long voyage. After the crew have eaten her food Circe turns them all into animals. When Odysseus hears about this, he rushes towards the witch’s house to save his men but is stopped by the God Hermes who tells Odysseus to eat a herb before confronting the witch. Odysseus does so, is immune to Circe’s spells and rescues his crew.
Although Circe properly wasn’t a real witch there was a plant in the region called Jimson Weed which has hallucinogenic properties and causes short term memory loss. Likewise the herb Hermes gives Odysseus is called Moly by the gods and had a black root with a milky white head. This description matches a herb that is found in the Russian mountains called Snowdrop which, it is said plays a role in helping to cure polio and Alzheimer’s.
Through this logic, historians and scientists have suggested that Moses took leaves from the Ayahuasca tree which had hallucinogenic properties. It was during this hallucination that Moses heard the voice of god.
3. The Ten plagues of Egypt
In the Book of Exodus, God casts ten plagues down on Egypt to force the ruling Pharaoh to release the captured Israelites to Moses. Like a child who is playing with mods on a Sims game, God unleashes the following ten plagues into the country:
- Turning the waters of the River Nile into blood.
- Unleashing a plague of frogs.
- Unleashing a plague of lice.
- Unleashing man eating animals into the cities.
- Inflicting a plague on all livestock.
- Cursing men with boils.
- Sending thunder and hail that killed any being not beneath shelter.
- Inflicting the city with a swarm of locusts.
- Casting darkness over the city for three days.
- Killing every first born son.
The end result was that the Pharaoh decided to release the Israelites. Can’t blame him really…
It has been suggested that the “blood” in the River Nile was red clay that had been mined further up river. This would have given the impression of blood and polluted the water. The frogs, wishing to escape the waters, entered the cities. When these frogs died the lice fed on their bodies which lead to a sharp increase in lice population. The field that the cattle fed on was also affected by the previous plagues resulting in the cattle either becoming sick or dying. The humans who had eaten the crops and the cattle, grew boils on their skin as a result. The killer storm followed these events (storms are unusual in Egypt but not impossible) which in turn was followed by a swarm of locusts, a common pest in the region. A dust storm blocked out the sun for three days which gave the impression of night and due to all of these changes and the low immune system of the occupants, many children died.
There are other examples of these plagues happening around the world. In September 2016 the Daldykan River in Russia became blood red due to pollution rather than divine intervention. There is also a river in Antarctica, rather aptly called Blood Falls, which runs red due to iron oxides. Aside from solar eclipses several other events can cause the sky to change, for example in October 2017 England experienced a red sun and yellow sky which was caused by Hurricane Ophelia dragging in tropical air and dust from the Sahara desert.
4. The Parting of the Red Sea
This miracle follows the events of the above. Having freed the slaves and escaping across the desert, Moses discovered he was trapped between the Red Sea and the advancing Egyptian army. Moses speaks to God who tells him to raise his staff to the sea. Upon doing so, the sea splits in half revealing a safe passage. Moses and the slaves cross the sea before the waves collapse behind them separating them from their pursuers.
Although this does sound like the work of god, it can be explained by science. In 2010, American scientist, Carl Drews published a paper on a phenomenon called the Wind Set Down theory. In short, the wind, when strong enough and blowing at just the right angle, could separate waves allowing safe passage. His experiment is explained below:
5. David and Goliath
The story of David and Goliath is one of the few Bible stories I like because it sounds like it could of come from George R.R. Martin’s Game Of Thrones.
Goliath is a giant and the champion of the Philistine army. Every morning he comes to the battle field and challenges the champion of the Israeli army to one on one combat. Every day the Israelites’ champion is killed and Goliath returns victorious. One day a boy called David joins the Israelite army, hears about Goliath and accepts the giant’s challenge of combat, in other versions David is press-ganged into the army and forced to battle the giant by his superior officers. When David and Goliath meet on the battlefield Goliath is wearing armour and has a javelin. David has no armour and only holds a slingshot. Goliath charges at David javelin raised. David fired a single stone from his slingshot at the giant’s head. The stone penetrates the giant’s skull and the monster is dead before it hits the ground. The Philistine army, flees in terror at David the giant slayer and the Israelite army wins the battle. David is allowed to keep Goliath’s armour and treasures as a reward for his bravery.
Out of all the stories I’ve covered so far, this is the most realistic. Although they are a very primitive weapon, slingshots were used in ancient battles. Archaeologists have discovered countless slingshots on battlefields around the globe and almost any solider, regardless of experience were able to use the weapon. There are also records throughout history that an unknown boy killing a battlefield veteran with a lucky shot. King Richard the Lionheart was killed by a boy with a crossbow while he was walking a castle’s battlements without wearing his chainmail. It is even true that giants walked the earth, as the term giant was used to describe a very tall or strong man. By that definition you could say that giants still walk the earth if you look at fighters such as Hafthor Julius Bjornsson who plays the Moutain in Game of Thrones or Barri Griggiths/Mason Ryan who played a character called Goliath after the bible story on the British TV show gladiators.
I’ve hope you’ve enjoyed reading this Easter themed website post. Take care, enjoy your hot crossed buns and I’ll see you next time.