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Unbuilt Trope / Mythology & Religion

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  • In The Epic of Gilgamesh, the divine god-king is a tyrannical rapist; Enkidu, though remembered, is never avenged; and Gilgamesh's quest ends in stupidity-induced failure. Gilgamesh attempted to Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence in the latter half of his epic. Interestingly, he failed - the first of an indeterminate number of tests he had to pass in order to accomplish this was to go for an entire week without sleep, which he was unable to do. Furthermore, the character's views on morality and religion are surprisingly modern. None of the characters treat the gods as having a monopoly on knowing what morality is; gods and demigods like Ishtar, Enlil, and (initially) Gilgamesh who live flagrantly immoral lives are held in contempt by humans and benevolent gods alike.
  • The Bible might, as many other ancient stories, seem Troperiffic when read today. Still, because of its age, length, and significance, it might have made more tropes than any other work.
    • Picture if you will a being that exists outside of space and time that can make and unmake the universe at will just with its voice, who sometimes sends messengers into the mortal world to manipulate mortals into performing seemingly insignificant actions as small parts of a very long-term plan that is inscrutable to all beings except itself, that has the power not only to destroy said people's bodies but also to lock their souls into an eternal state of And I Must Scream for failing to follow said plan, and that is so incomprehensible to human beings that the mere sight of its true form would kill them instantly and even the most minuscule fraction of its power is able to induce visceral terror in even its most loyal of servants. No, it's not some Lovecraftian Eldritch Abomination; that's God Himself. And He's not out to destroy or mutate the reality He created with His sheer might; He's the benevolent guardian of humanity who sends a manifestation of Himself (Jesus) to show them the light, and protect them from a lesser-but-actually-evil entity (Satan).
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    • The Old Testament as a whole (albeit with a few exceptions) is this. Your society believes that it worships the supreme God and that as long as it does so it will be completely prosperous; then a foreign superpower comes in, conquers your city and destroys the building where He lives and sends your people away from their land where they have to compromise their cultural identity to survive. Then a bunch of you start writing about a God and a world that are a lot more complicated than "do good and get rewarded".
    • Genesis is the Trope Namer of the Adam and Eve Plot, though similar stories are common in other mythologies around the world. It is however not Adam and Eve who fit the trope, but instead Noah and his family; eight people, of whom five are related by blood. The Real Life implication of this plot, unaddressed in later works, is inbreeding. The Exodus tells that the Mosaic Law prohibits incest, implying that it was not sinful until then. Modern interpretations of this plot are now a Discredited Trope.
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    • The Serpent is the Trope Maker of the Smug Snake. While later interpretations feature the trope as a Big Bad Wannabe, the Serpent is described as an independent Big Bad. The Serpent is punished by being forced to walk on its belly; implying that the snake was not very snake-like, or maybe not a literal snake in the first place; its appearance can also be read as a "Just So" Story. The Serpent might also be the Ur-Example of a Talking Animal (and the only Biblical example besides Balaam); it is however banished from God, just because a talking animal disrupted His creation.
    • Protest about divine massacres in the Old Testament is as old as the Old Testament itself. When God tells Abraham that He intends to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham begs Him to not kill the innocent with the wicked. He first gets God to agree that finding forty righteous men would be enough to spare the cities, then gradually haggles down the number until God settles on finding at least ten. Even then, Abraham is unable to save anyone; the story ends with Abraham and his family escaping the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, with Lot's wife becoming petrified after looking back (against instructions, mind you), just to rub some salt in the wound. The Book of Exodus also has Moses beg God to not wipe out Israel as punishment for the golden calf incident, saying it would alienate anyone else who hears about it from wanting to follow the Lord.
    • The Book of Exodus deconstructs the Asshole Victim. When Moses sees an Egyptian overseer abusing a Hebrew slave, he gets so enraged that he kills him. However, this action causes him to be viewed as a violent, dangerous man, even among Hebrews — the next day, he confronts a Hebrew about picking a fight, and he responds by asking if Moses will kill him too.
    • There was a full-scale Guilt-Free Extermination War under Joshua to "cleanse" The Promised Land of its current inhabitants (any ironic parallels, anyone?). Many cities were wiped out to a man, with only a tiny fraction of inhabitants being spared to later be assimilated if the Hebrews thought they weren't a threat. The God, according to Joshua's book, kept reassuring him it was all okay and in accordance with His will.
    • The Bible contains some of the oldest examples of The Hero's Journey. Whilst they do celebrate the courage of protagonists such as Noah, Moses, and David, the stories show that they still are subjects of God and His will no less than any other person, deconstructing their heroism in a context where people actually believed that God was almighty. Many heroes have a Fatal Flaw, and Anyone Can Die.
      • Noah seems to be the Ur-Example. While the archetypical hero is young when he gets the Call to Adventure, Noah is six hundred years oldnote  when the action begins. He does complete the quest and gets permission to live Happily Ever After; though when he returns to dry land, he ends up in an embarrassing scene, drunk and naked. Furthermore, Noah's quest is purely about survival rather than defeating a villain, and some interpretations claim that the reason he was chosen wasn't so much because he was a good person as just that the rest of the population was so despicable that just about anything would look good by comparison.
      • Moses gets a Call to Adventure and goes through a lengthy quest; The return is however not a return to his native Egypt, but to The Promised Land which the Jews had left centuries ago. He also doesn't actually live to see the return.
      • Talking about Moses; the Exodus is the Ur-Example and Trope Codifier of The Promised Land. Moses, however, dies before the arrival, and the Hebrews need to fight wars to displace the indigenous population, foreshadowing the later Real Life history of the Holy Land, as well as many other colonial "promised land" campaigns. And the Hebrews hardly lived Happily Ever After.
      • Moses is also an inversion of various royalty tropes: instead of a prince raised as a peasant, he's a peasant raised as a prince. While a prince's return from exile saves a kingdom, Moses' return saves one society (the Hebrews) but severely harms the one that raised him.
    • Mosaic law: Thou Shalt Not Kill has been a maxim for many non-violence movements, as well as an argument against capital punishment. However, it is a misquote; it was actually Thou shalt not "murder". The Torah justifies the death penalty for many crimes, and wars are shown to produce heroes and villains alike.
    • The phrase An eye for an eye (Exodus 21:23) is usually interpreted as quite the opposite of Thou Shalt Not Kill. In modern times, this perceived contradiction makes skeptics disregard Mosaic law as Double Speak. Another interpretation of An eye for an eye is divine justification to Pay Evil unto Evil and Disproportionate Retribution; making Revenge a common theme for later Bible-inspired stories of fiction and Real Life events. The Torah does, however, prohibit revenge in passages such as Leviticus 19:18, and instead enforces trial and regulated punishment. The eye for an eye principle was further deconstructed by Jesus, who told people to Turn the Other Cheek. Even "an eye for an eye" is actually all about Proportionate Retribution; by the standards of the time, the appropriate punishment for "he put out my eye" was often considered to be "let's kill him and his entire family."
    • The Trope Namer of the Uriah Gambit is in the Second Book of Samuel, where King David sends Uriah to die on the battlefield. However, in the first book of Samuel, it was the young David who was sent on suicide missions by king Saul... and succeeding.
    • The story of Samson can be retroactively seen as a deconstruction of the Messianic Archetype. He knew that he was The Chosen One and abused his special status, and he was overconfident with his powers, leading to him getting betrayed by Delilah. In the end, he pushed those pillars down and killed the Philistines out of revenge because he had nothing left to live for. For the irony-challenged, however, Samson is purely a badass folk hero who gets a Great Way to Go.
      • Samson's famous riddle at his wedding (usually translated as "Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness") is one of the oldest and most iconic examples of a riddle contest, predating the Riddle of the Sphinx from Classical Mythology by at least a century. But the riddle is essentially a Clueless Mystery that's outright impossible to solve since it describes a highly unlikely occurrence that only Samson was around to witness.note  Rather than demonstrating Samson's cleverness, it demonstrates his ego, showing that he doesn't play fair with his enemies. And unlike most later examples of the trope, it's not an evenly matched challenge of wits: the Philistines get the answer by threatening the life of Samson's wife until she gives it to them, and Samson instantly realizes that they cheated—since they couldn't possibly have solved it fairly.
      • For that matter, Delilah is often thought of as an originator of The Vamp, Honey Trap and Femme Fatale tropes, but her relationship with Samson didn't begin in deceit; the Philistines approached her when they were already together. In films, though, she is typically depicted as being sent to seduce Samson, as already having some personal fixation on him, or even as offering her services to the Philistines herself instead of the other way around. (Or all three, in the Cecil B. DeMille version!)
    • The story of Balaam is a deconstruction of the Stubborn Mule, as well as an example of Truth in Television. Balaam was hired to curse the Israelites but was held back by his mule, who refused to cooperate. When the mule was granted to speak, she revealed that she was protecting him from the invisible angel in front of them, who would have killed Balaam had the mule cooperated. The fact that the stubbornness exhibited by donkeys and mules is really an act of self-preservation is largely overlooked in future media.
    • "Jonah and the Whale." "In the belly of a whale" is often used to refer to a period in a story where the protagonist is caught in a situation with no hope. However, in the story of Jonah the whale is actually not a punishment but God's way of saving Jonah from drowning. It also represented him giving Jonah a second chance by taking him back to land. Note, though, that the Bible itself compares being in the whale as a trial when Christ compares the three days in the whale with his upcoming three days dead before resurrecting. There is also what would now seem a deconstruction of the idea of prophecy. The prophecy of Nineveh's destruction is true, but seeing the people's repentance God changes his mind. He doesn't cancel the judgment entirely, but he postpones it to come to pass for a future generation. When Jonah complains about this God spends the last chapter of the book calling him a bloodthirsty idiot.
    • The Book of Ezekiel and the Valley of the Dry Bones that came to life inspired the "Dry Bones" song, the Trope Namer of the Dem Bones trope. The song is based on a Biblical incident involving Ezekiel, who was told by God to create a skeleton army with a prophecy. However, the bones are immediately given flesh and souls during their resurrections, instead of being a literal skeleton army like those created by Ray Harryhausen.
    • The Book of Esther includes one of the first examples of a bad guy begging a good guy to have mercy on them when Haman falls at Esther's feet and pleads for her to spare him. But her husband King Ahasuerus comes back into the room (he'd left to blow off some steam after Esther revealed what Haman planned to do) and assumed Haman was trying to attack/rape his wife. Enraged, he immediately orders Haman's execution. It's not often that a bad guy trying to plead for mercy just makes things even worse for them.
    • The designs of the various kinds of angels are amazing. Take the seraphim: they have six wings; two covering their face, two covering their feet, and two to fly. The cherubim, no connection to the cute baby angels you might knownote , have "four faces and four wings, with straight feet with a sole like the sole of a calf's foot, and "hands of a man" under their wings. Each had four faces: "The face of a man, the face of a lion on the right side, the face of an ox on the left side, and the face of an eagle." If you saw that in a manga, movie, comic book or something else like that (like, for example, Shin Megami Tensei or Neon Genesis Evangelion), it'd be praised for its innovativeness.
    • The Massacre of the Innocents created the Nice Job Breaking It, Herod! trope. However, Herod himself dies while Jesus is still a child (The Bible provides no exact dates; according to modern scholarship, Jesus was born in 7 BC, while Herod died in 4 BC, at the age of 70) so he would never have confronted the grown-up Jesus anyway.note  The Book of Exodus has a probable Ur-Example this trope, with an ironic twist. Pharaoh wants to kill the Hebrew boys. Ironically, his daughter ends up adopting a Hebrew boy, who really defeats the next Pharaoh.
    • The Gospel of Mark can be considered to be this in comparison to the other gospels of the New Testament, at least according to this essay. Of all four gospels, it is by far the most ambiguous concerning the nature of Jesus' feats, identity, and resurrection, and it contains no references to his birth or childhood. It's also the oldest of the four gospels.
    • Among Jesus' best-known miracles are the Miracle Food concept; such as creating bread for 5,000 spectators. However; his ability to create food is first addressed when he fasts in the desert, with him turning down the Devil's wager to turn stones to bread.
    • Jesus's parable of the Rich Man of Lazarus is an ancient Jacob Marley Warning. The rich man tormented in Hell requests Abraham (a stand-in for God) to send Lazarus to warn his living family. Abraham refuses to send any message to the living, since those who didn't follow the prophets would not pay heed even if a man came Back from the Dead. This parable foreshadows Christ's later returns from the dead, to propagate his message.
    • The Antichrist is a concept introduced by The Bible; namely by the Epistles of John (not to be confused with the gospel of John). However, they do not describe Antichrist as a human or superhuman being, but as the Real Life collective of Christianity's opponents. In post-Apostolic theology, as well as modern popular culture, Antichrist has been equated by the Beast and Satan.
    • The Book of Revelation has inspired The End of the World as We Know It and most apocalyptic stories. However, the book of Revelation has a Happy Ending, in contrast to most of the imitators.
    • Perhaps the biggest shock many mainstream Christians (as well as believers of other faiths) have when reading the Bible is Jesus Christ himself. While he is most definitely portrayed in a heroic light, he was not portrayed as the Suicidal Pacifist that he is often both praised and criticized for in modern religious debates and studies.
      • His "turn the other cheek" quote is often misinterpreted as never using any aggression at all. However, right before his death, he warned his apostles to get swords, telling them to even sell their clothing if they are too poor to afford one.
      • The notion that Jesus Christ will save the whole world in the end, particularly in his second coming as many fictional apocalyptic stories with a Biblical theme often portray, is directly contradicted in the Bible. One of the chapters in Luke mentions Jesus stating "But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them ... bring them here and slay them before me." Multiple quotes across the various books of the New Testament emphasize that those who do not accept him will be condemned to hell for eternity upon his second coming.
      • Related with that is Jesus' concept of being saved. Most Christian sects and to a degree many Catholics believe that because Jesus Christ died to save man from his sins, so long as they are Christians they will be saved. However, the New Testament mentions many times that "hypocritical believers" were never accepted by Jesus, and often mentions that even true believers will face terrible wraith for their sins by his second coming. Jesus mentions many criteria that have to be followed, not only to be saved but even to be qualified to believe in him. Even in cases where he forgave individuals, he often gave a warning that if they repeated their sins again, the Father would invoke his wrath, and on several occasions, he gave duties for sinners to cleanse themselves of past sins. There are a few quotes in the New Testament about specific sins being so evil that even nonbelievers are deemed by Jesus Christ as far worthier.
      • The story about Jesus getting enraged and chasing out merchants out of the temple is the one story that shocks mainstream Christians and nonbelievers the most. Jesus, in addition to the modern interpretation of being a suicidal pacifist, being lenient about sins and forgiving you easily so long as you believe, and seeking to save everyone in the end, is often portrayed as even in the worst of times as being optimistic and tranquil in modern interpretations and opinion. So when Christians and nonbelievers come across Jesus's cleansing of the temple, it is completely unexpected and makes many doubt the validity of their specific Church's doctrine. Those already familiar with the story too can be surprised that Jesus didn't just chase the merchants out; he actually made a whip out of chords and was violently hitting merchants and even customers as he chased them away from the Synagogue. Jesus was a disciplined man who is willing to sacrifice his life for mankind, but even he had his limits and was not above using physical violence and rage for what was deemed as justice according to Jewish customs at the time.
    • Hell, even Jesus' personality can come across as this. He's often considered a Gary Stu by detractors and is often shown as such in derivative works by believers as well, but in the actual Bible, he's anything but. Not was he highly critical of members of the establishment like religious leaders & rich people, he hung out with society's dregs like prostitutes, preached respecting your fellow man at a time when that was a shocking thing to say, didn't discriminate against women, and he was a working-class carpenter, to boot. He's more like a liberal anti-authoritarian hippie socialist than the goody-two-shoes boy scout he's typically portrayed as. (Ironic, given that socialists and Christians tend to hate each other).
    • The idea that not everything in the Bible — especially the Old Testament — should be taken literally may seem like the result of modern attempts to reconcile faith with increasing knowledge of science and history. But in reality, it's an idea as old as serious Biblical study itself. For example, both Maimonides and Augustine of Hippo took the view that if a literal interpretation of something from the Bible contradicts secular knowledge, then the literal interpretation is probably wrong.
  • Classical Mythology:
    • The original Greek myths might seem like "grim 'n' gritty" reboots of romantic legends to college students who read them after encountering the "cleaned-up" versions as children. Zeus, for one, is no benevolent deity but a very self-centered and even sadistic god; Heracles, meanwhile, is a hot-tempered brute prone to destructive rages and barely a hero at all.
    • Any attempt at making Hades seem a sympathetic or tragic character as opposed to the mythological equivalent of Satan in Greek lore might seem like an attempt to re-think a traditional character or push a Sympathy for the Devil theology. However, in original myths, Hades is often portrayed as a neutral and sometimes even benevolent side-character who only lashes out against "heroes" when they break the rules or betray him. While Hades did kidnap his wife this was hardly unusual behavior among the Greek Gods, and he still comes across as nicer then his brothers, Zeus often flat-out raping women.
    • The story of Tiresias, for the Gender Bender trope: not only does Tiresias have sex both as a man and a woman, but eventually, characters who are in the know about his condition do ask him which sex enjoys it the most. More importantly, the First Law of Gender-Bending is completely averted, and the gender-bending incident is only one minor part of the character’s life.
    • Aegisthus was one of the first evil step-parents in the history of fiction, being introduced long before the trope became a staple of European fairy tales. In hindsight, though, he can seem like a deconstruction of the concept. Notably, he's not just an unwelcome outsider who brings mischief to the House of Atreus for the sake of it; he's Agamemnon's first cousin, and he marries into the family after Clytemnestra willingly has an affair with him as part of a plot to kill her husband. His grudge against his cousin is also very understandable since he's out to avenge his father, who had his throne stolen by Agamemnon's father. And though Orestes and Elektra ultimately avenge their father by killing him, his death doesn't solve their family's misfortune—since Aegisthus was still their kinsman, and they're forced to answer for murdering a family member.
    • To modern audiences, the original Apple of Discord from The Trojan Cycle can come off as a particularly clever deconstruction of the trope that it invented. Notably, the Golden Apple is (in most versions) a completely mundane piece of bling, and it can't grant anyone wealth or power. Instead, the goddesses of Mount Olympus are obsessed with it for a thoroughly petty reason: it's engraved with the words "For the Fairest"—and each of them is convinced that they are "the Fairest". The Apple is created by the Goddess of Strife and Chaos, and it causes plenty of chaos, but all of it is ultimately the goddesses' own fault; Eris just knows how to play off of their petty jealousies and turn them against each other.
    • The story of the Apple of Discord also notably deconstructed the Fairest of Them All trope long before the tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs made it famous. Unlike most later stories that use the trope, it acknowledges that beauty is an entirely subjective quality, and there's no objective way of determining who "The Fairest" is. As a result, the goddesses can only turn to a mortal (Paris) and ask him to judge which of them is most beautiful. Even then, his decision is shown to be completely biased: Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite all openly try to bribe him into choosing them, and Aphrodite succeeds by promising to make Helen fall in love with him.
  • There's a saying: "No one hurts a teaching more than its followers." It means that the followers tend to understand the preachings in oversimplified, naive ways and/or use it as a pretext for destructive actions (or at least, calling for those). I.e. they effectively make tropes out of them, which have flaws that the teachings proper didn't, essentially making the latter into this. Traditional religions are in no way exempt from this phenomenon, as the entries above testify.

See Sadly Mythtaken for more.


Example of: