The ancient Babylonian ritual of humbling the king happened every year during the New Year festival called Akitu. On the fifth day of the festival, the Babylonian king would surrender his crown and scepter to the head priest. The priest would then drag the king by the ear in front of an image of the Babylonian god. The king knelt to pray for forgiveness. Then the priest would slap him in the face as hard as he could. If tears fell from his eyes, it was a sign that God still favored the king. If the king failed to cry, it was a sign that God was angry.
We live in the era of the lawsuit. A farmer has sued the German government for failing to tackle climate change. An Indian man has sued his parents for giving birth to him. Sometimes it seems as though anything goes! Yet when Nebraska state senator, Ernie Chambers, announced he was going to sue God, it turned heads. “Could you sue something which might not exist?” some people asked.
The gods of Greek mythology could be brutal when angered. Of all the punishments given by the gods, the one given to Sisyphus stands out above the rest. Sisyphus was a king and a trickster. He was so clever that he actually cheated death – twice! As punishment for his hubris, he was forced to push an enormous boulder up a mountain for eternity. Again and again, he would struggle under the weight of the rock only to watch it roll back down. The punishment was a recipe for meaningless frustration. According to behavioral economist Dan Ariely’s research, the Greek gods must have known something about the human psyche.
At the age of 13, a French peasant girl named Joan D’Arc began hearing voices and having visions. The voices told her to go on an important mission to save France. It was the 1400s, and England was occupying much of France, forcing many French people to leave their homes.