The First Scientist
The city of Ur was a nest of vipers in those last days of Babylon. People lived freely with war on their doorstep, in ignorance that their age was ending. The lessons of Nimrod’s reign stuck, Empires were born. Each new nimrod trying to out nimrod the next.
But people always rise up. The strong and powerful will grow cunning and sharpen their weapons, but the people will always remember that they are worth more. Few would try compassion. Few dared risk freedom. Few sought power in order to share it. But this unmet desire would find ways to escape. The powerful bred dynasties. Build strength in people, and enlist those who will bend for any reason, and pass the power onto your children.
Sumu-abum built an empire from God’s Gates. His children were handed the strings they had on people, and their children. The names of kings changed, but their most valuable treasures remained Power and Violence.
Despite the failure of war to produce peace, despite the growth of misery, despite an industry built on cruelty, despite the power of compassion and independence, every king knew the same truth: the other guy was wrong. Everything good in the world belonged to them, and them alone. Those who gained power with physical might were brutal children. Those who survived were cunning adults. Anything was better than facing death.
Sarai was born in a cruel city, to cruel parents. She dreamed there was a curse on the city. She saw the weakness that hid in the heart of every man, and how easy it was to use that weakness as a weapon. Her father gave her to a man named Abram, like she was property, and to the cruel city, she was. The man was her half-brother, for even the people feared non-relatives too much to risk loving them.
Even neighbors, although strangers living near each other were rare. Cities were divided by families. Professions by families. Neighborhood by families. They blamed their misery on God. They blamed their mistrust on flaws in others. They blamed the deformities born to their own children from their inbreeding on their children themselves. Curses from gods, or possessions by demons, not even their own children were enough to help them see the results of their own decisions. So Sarai married her half-brother, an arrangement entirely decided by their mutual father.
But Abram wasn’t like the other men in the family, he treated her like a person. He talked with Sarai at length with the problems he saw in the temple where he worked, he listen to her counsel and loved her with all his heart. He did not seem to fear anything. Not even the gods.
He worked at the temple, watching it at nights. His father was one of the idol makers for the temple, and Abram helped care for them. Sarai was so curious, she became the first scientist. “Do the gods talk at night?”
“What? No. They’re just idols.” Abram said, laughing. He helped father make the idols and sells them to the priests.
“Then why do we pray to them? Why not pray to the gods? Where are they?” Sarai inquired.
Abram shrugged: “It’s just what people do. The priests won’t give their blessings if you don’t do the proper things. I have seen people desperate, without a scrap of clothing, but the priests still require the same sacrifices.”
Sarai was not satisfied: “Why do the priests get to decide?”
“They don’t of course,” Abram said. “The gods tell the priests what to do.”
“But you’ve never heard them talk.” Abram suddenly saw mystery she pursued, and vowed to listen more carefully.
Sarai’s First Vision
In the temple of Baal – one of the greatest of Gods, the Beautiful Immortal, Ruler of the skies, Bringer of Rains, who wields the drought as a weapon, and when angry, will strike evil with lighting, cursing evil in thundering echoes – Sarai was in deep prayer and meditation when she was overcome with a vision.
She was in an empty plain and Baal’s face look at her from the clouds in a flash of lightning without thunder. Then all was dark until the clouds parted, and the field shimmered blue Lit by nothing but a billion stars above her. All the stars pulsed with a voice, the blackness between them pulsed with a voice, the ground below pulsed with a voice:
“We are Elohim, the Gods of El, Those who all Gods pray to.”
Every atom in Sarai, every particle, every wave, every thread of spacetime vibrated with Your voice.
“If you stay in this city and seek truth, you will know nothing but death. Go forth, escape the coming famine and find your own bountiful life. But be wary, you will risk–”
The world was shaking, dissolving; no Abram’s hand was shaking, she was shaking. “I am home, my love,” Abram said with a large smile. She was still feeling the echoes of the vibrations, as Abram was telling a story.
“Not one peep all day. So I stuck around as the priests left for their suppers, and made complete sure everyone was gone. Then I smashed up the idols. Almost every single God was smashed to splinters. I put the ax I used in front of El. The only idol I didn’t touch.
“Peleg is the first to come back, and you should have seen the look on his face!” Abram is trying not to laugh while Sarai is trying to come out of the depths of the vision, and confusion — wasn’t she in Baal’s temple? She can’t find a memory of coming home. Is this still the vision?
“He then notices me. I’ve got this face of complete fear and confusion. He buys it, but looks terrified. ‘What in Gilgamesh’s loin cloth happened to all the idols!’
“And I just point, with a shaky finger, like I’m about to collapse with fear. He looks. Pause for him to recognize I’m pointing at El, and notice the ax. I go, ‘He did it.’
“Peleg gives me this look. He knows, he knows that’s not possible. Guilt by face-ossiation. Because he also knows he can’t put it on me, because then I’ll know he knows. I’m just daring him to…”
Abram continues his story. Sarai is able to listen, but only after the importance of her vision sinks in. Elohim, the God of Gods, and El with an axe. She had been taught that Elohim did not concern humans. Only the Gods were worthy to speak with Them. Perhaps the priests had been wrong about that, too.
Sarai told Abram her vision, when the time was right. The families were confused, but they explained their story: wild hills, fresh land, milk and honey for those who serve the Gods. To tell them it was to find the Highest God could have gotten them killed, or worse disinherited. Abram’s half-brother and sister’s son, Lot, heard about their plans. He begged Abram and Sarah to let him come with them. They told him the truth, and he and his wife vowed to quest with them for this ruler of the gods.
Sarai, Abram, and Lot traveled through the wild lands, to the southwest. These lands were rough and barren. The season had been dry. Food was scarce.
But the land was filled with people. Although the people were starving, they shared with each other easily. They took responsibility for themselves. The people in the land shared their stories and their food, and Sarai shared in return. They grew skinny in form, but happy in heart. She could feel Elohim pulling them away from the cities.
They never stayed long in any one area, and always left people with just a little more food, or a newly dug well, and many thanks, many thanks, many thanks. As the years and kilometers wore down their sandals, they found themselves at the border of another Empire. One so old, that it was already a legend.
Statues, stelae, and pyramids rose around her cities, already ruins of an age as long ago for them as this story is for you. They had science that made Babylon’s mathematics look like scribblings of children. Their science was so powerful that famine broke against their borders. Food and water was given away, spilling out of baskets and jars.
Refuge in Egypt
A guard took them to the relatively new royal city, Itjtawy, which was older than any brick found in Babylon. He asked gruffly, looking at Sarai but speaking to Abram, “Is this woman one of your wives? Or is this fine creature a gift for me to let you into the city?” The guard grabbed Sarai roughly.
Before Abram could answer, Sarai slapped the guard and scolded him: “I am a gift for The Pharaoh Who Belongs to the Justice of Re, Lord Nimaatre. Does he allow lowly guards to sample his treasures? I am this man’s sister, and this other man is our nephew.”
The guard prostrated himself, begging forgiveness and escorted them to the court of the Pharaoh. Abram asked Sarai quietly what her plan was, and she replied: “If the Pharaoh takes me, then he will spare and reward you with riches in return. Otherwise, we would just be killed – and I might be taken first anyway. This way, we’ll live and you’ll grow rich.”
Abram was shocked, and hissed: “But you are my wife!”
Sarai replied, soothing his jealousy: “And you love me as much as I love you. The Pharaoh will either prove himself to be worthy of us or mortal, then nothing will stop us from leaving here with more than we came with. He cannot touch our love. The Elohim protect us.”
Abram asked: “And if he takes you, how am I to get you back?!”
Sarai said: “I’m sure you’ll think of something. Trust in Elohim. We will live here until the famine is over, then you will have the knowledge to free me.”
Punishment is Delivered
Sarai used Amenemhet’s lust against him, working her way into his court, gaining allies and ensured Abram was showered with wealth. He was given land, goats, camels, sheep, and many, many slaves. The Pharaoh was so won over, that he even gave one of his daughters, Keturah, to Sarai as a servant, and a captured prince of Damascus, Eleizer, to run Abram’s house.
Abram went to sleep in luxury every night, his stomach twisted in knots of anxiety. Sarai went to sleep in luxury, manipulating the Pharaoh’s desires, growing bored with the charade.
Late one night, a man jostled Sarai awake in darkness, she threw him on the ground in a flash before recognizing Lot.
Lot whispered and offered her a pouch: “Here, take this. Abram has learned much of their science. Mix these with the ointments before the Pharaoh’s massage. Be sure to wash your hands.”
Sarai took the pouch and asked: “What is this?”
Lot heard a sound at the door and he hurried to the window. “Trust in Elohim… And your husband!” And with no more sound than a hummingbird, Lot was out the window and gone. Sarai felt insulted for not being told more, but then realized it was probably Lot he didn’t trust. She smirked, realizing this gives him a chance to show-off.
A few days later, Nimaatre stormed into Abram’s home, with Sarai behind him, flanked by four guards. “Abram! What is the meaning of this!”
Sarai saw Abram trying to hide his pride in seeing the effects of his potion come out so well, but he quickly grew afraid, looking to her to help him understand how he was the known cause. She gave him a knowing look, and a stare that told him to play a part. Abram came down the stairs and knelt before Pharaoh Nimaatre, kowtowing deeply. “My Lord, have I done something to anger you and treat my w–sister so disgracefully?” Abram said with lowered eyes.
“She has revealed the truth. Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife?!” the Pharaoh raged, releasing her to scratch a terrible rash on his back. “Take her back, and tell your Gods, these Elohim, to lift this curse from me!”
That’s when Abram realized that Sarai had built upon his plan. The Pharaoh continued: “I want you gone. I will not take anything back you have been given. Just go. Take every person, every animal, every gram of gold and silver, every unplanted seed. My priests have tried their cures, but nothing! Just promise that you will cure me of these plagues.”
Abram stammered for what he needed to say: “Yes, yes. As soon as we are out of Egypt, you will be cured. It should take us three days to reach the border.” And the powders should wear off by then on their own! He took Sarai back into his anxious arms.
The Pharaoh put himself together and told his guards: “Make sure they reach the border as quickly as possible. Help them load their carts and camels and make sure no one touches a single hair on their bodies. And tell Abram, ‘do not return to Egypt, under any circumstances. Not even your children will be welcomed. I promise you, as long as the Dynasty of Ay reigns, your family will pay for this trickery should they return to Egypt!”
And with that, the Pharaoh stormed off, raging at any nearby servants, and Sarai and her house left Egypt wealthier than they could imagine.