When the line between religion and history is blurry...

  1. The creation story - an original tale?
    1. The story of creation that involves a great tree of knowledge in a perfect garden, home to the first humans until they disobeyed the creator and were banished, is normally attributed to Christianity - after all, it’s described in the Bible and claimed to be the work of the Christian God. But ancient inscriptions on clay tablets, discovered in the 1800s by the British Museum, show that the Babylonians had the same legend of creation and the fall of man almost 1,500 years before the Bible account was written. Ancient Assyrian carvings also seem to represent the Tree of Life, guarded by a compass-like sword - images the Bible also talks about. But those groups all believed in and worshipped different gods - so who’s responsible for all the creating?
  2.  The Quran - is there only one true copy?
    1. Sometimes bits of the past that were deliberately destroyed wash up on a future shore somewhere unexpected. Like when the oldest Quran manuscript found its way into the hands of a PhD student in Birmingham. And what makes this manuscript so significant is the fact that carbon dating puts it as being written between 568 and 645 AD - the same time that Mohammed was alive. More importantly, according to Sunni tradition, all other versions of the Quran from this period were destroyed by the third leader of Islam and then replaced. Could this be a piece of evidence that would either rewrite or confirm religious history?
  3. Adam and Eve - was there really an apple? 
    1. Most people are pretty familiar with the Christian story of Adam and Eve… Two humans in a beautiful garden + one sneaky snake + one bite of a bad apple = bye bye paradise, right? Wrong. The Bible doesn’t actually mention apples anywhere. There was definitely a tree with fruits that would give humans knowledge of good and evil, but no one knows for sure what kind of fruit. The reason so many of the later versions, retellings and works of art include an apple is linked to the Latin translation of the Bible, which was popular in the middle ages. The Latin word for apple is ‘mālum’, which is almost identical to the Latin word for evil - ‘malum’. See how even simple spelling can change history!
  4. Buddha’s teachings - distorted by memory?
    1. The teachings of Buddha were handed down by memory for 100 years before they were finally written down. The earliest records of his teachings date back to the 1st century in Sri Lanka, centuries after he’s said to have lived (although to be honest there’s a reasonable amount of scepticism over whether Buddha actually existed at all - there’s very little historical evidence that would suggest he did). Either way, there’s a big gap between him offering his wisdom and it getting properly recorded. But hey, Buddhist monks do a lot of meditating, so they probably have fairly good memories... right?
  5. The Assyrian siege of Jerusalem - who won?
    1. It’s pretty definite that this historical battle took place - but who came out on top? The Hebrew account in the Bible tells a very different version of the siege than the Assyrian sources. The Hebrew version obviously mentions God quite a lot but also claims that angels brought a plague on the Assyrians - killing them all in their sleep. In reality, this was probably a case of cholera from dirty water - the wells and springs outside the Jerusalem walls had all been deliberately blocked to deprive the Assyrians of water. Either way, the Assyrian version doesn’t mention any of its own casualties. It says that the Assyrians trapped the Hebrews inside the walls of their city, then went home victorious after receiving a large tribute from them. It’s natural to want to rewrite history so you don’t have to admit you lost - but which group is telling the truth?