Cathedral Museum of St. Lazare, Autun, Burgundy, France/Bridgeman Art Library

The bloodthirsty hunter Lamech (far right) shoots an arrow into the throat of his equally savage ancestor Cain (left), on this 12th-century stone capital from the Cathedral of St. Lazare in Autun, France. In the Bible, Lamech boasts to his multiple wives: “I have a killed a man for my wound, a boy for my injury. If Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold” (Genesis 4:23–42). According to medieval Jewish legend, Lamech grew blind with age but still liked to hunt. During an expedition in the forest, he accidentally slew his own great-great-great grandfather Cain when the child who led him through the forest mistook Cain for a wild beast.

Early social scientists like Sir James Frazer and Sigmund Freud suggested that primitive human societies were like those of the apes—led by aggressive, boastful patriarchs who dominated their rivals through violence and through jealously guarding access to the women of the horde. According to William H.C. Propp in the accompanying article, the behavior of the Bible’s “alpha males” reflects our simian heritage.