Thursday, September 18, 2008

What Was Hammurabi Thinking?

Consider these interpretations of Hammurabi’s legal code: His main interest is in preserving his society. He’s not trying to change anything, start anything new, or end anything old. He’s got momentum in his civilization, and his goal is to keep it going strong. Babylon was around for several centuries before and after Hammurabi, so he’s in the middle of a good run. So we look at one of his laws not as a moral statement, but as a principle for keeping a society strong. Any society that consistently acts outside of his laws will dissolve into chaos – at least, that’s what he thinks. Hammurabi is not interested in morality. He’s not saying that a certain action is “wrong” or “evil” – he’s simply saying that he wants a community that is capable of existing into the future and not destroying itself. Think about the difference between “good vs. evil” and “legal vs. illegal” – this is the difference between morality and legality. I also think that Hammurabi is not terribly interested in religion. True, he mentions some magic and mystic topics in his laws, and the laws are carved on a tablet that pictures the Babylonian sun god Shemesh, but if we examine the logic of the laws themselves, they are more political than religious. Hammurabi’s society was certainly interested in myth and magic, which is very different than our modern conception of religion as a relationship with a deity. A society embracing myth and magic includes, in the case of Mesopotamia, the concept of a “fertility religion” – a belief system centered on ways to make crops grow, and make the livestock robust. Remember that famine was a real and serious threat. So persuading the sky god to give rain, and the earth goddess to make plants grow, was the main goal of “fertility religion.” This still falls under the heading of “myth and magic,” because the goal is to manipulate – to make something happen. Our more modern concept of religion, by contrast, centers on communicating with a deity – worship, prayer, conversation – and serving a deity.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Gin and Tonic with Lime

Yes, if you're enrolled in our high school's Humanities program, you're too young to legally purchase or consume a Gin and Tonic with Lime, but you're old enough to learn about its historic origins.

Starting in the 1750's the English managed India for almost two hundred years. Unaccustomed to living in that part of the world, with its own weather and wildlife, British soldiers were susceptible to contracting malaria. Their physicians encouraged the continuous consumption of small doses of quinine, a medication used even today to prevent malaria.

But quinine tastes very sour, and isn't something that the men wanted to take frequently.

Mixing quinine with carbonated water, the physicians created "tonic water" - you can buy it today in every grocery store. This tasted a little better, and so the soldiers were more likely to drink it.

In order get them all to drink it, however, the tonic water was mixed with gin, the favorite drink of the English soldiers! The British military had also long encouraged the consumption of limes to prevent the scurvy, a disease resulting from lack of vitamin C. So, to complete the beverage, a twist of lime was added.

By the early 1800's, the drink was well-established among the English living in India. As they finished their years of service and returned home, they brought the recipe with them back to Britain. It was no longer needed to prevent malaria, but the taste had become popular.