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31 May 2023 ( 999 views )

Facts About Bible Stories That Made Us Say 'Really?'

It should come as no surprise that the Bible is the most widely read book in the world. However, it's a really big book, spanning several centuries' worth of events, and naturally, some passages have become more popular than others. This has led to some interesting Bible stories falling into obscurity, with even the most devoted Christians forgetting their wilder details.

Over the years, many Redditors have shared facts about Bible stories that are often overlooked. The following list offers some of their findings, along with editorial context to clarify their points.

If you're keen on Bible history, this list may amuse, delight, or even shock you. Vote up the Bible story facts that genuinely surprise you.

1. King David Paid A Grisly Dowry For His Wife

TIL that King David from the Bible offered 200 foreskins for his wife's hand in marriage.

Context: The demand for enemy foreskins is part of a plot by King Saul to stop David from threatening his leadership. At the time, Saul is basically possessed by a demon, so it's explicitly meant to be a nasty idea. Saul tells David, "You want my daughter's hand in marriage, go collect these from 100 Philistines," knowing full well it's a high-risk mission with little chance of success. So David not only fulfills the gruesome task, but delivers double.

2. In The Old Testament, God Sends Bears To Devour Children Who Mock The Prophet Elijah

TIL in the Bible, God sent two bears to [slay] 42 children because they mocked a man for being bald.

Context: It is argued by some Biblical scholars that God does this not because the youths mock Elijah for being bald, but for their general disrespect toward an elder and a man of god.

3. The Bible Does Not Describe Angels As Winged Humans

TIL that the depiction of angels as winged humanoids in robes was just a relatively recent idea. In the Bible, they were described as terrifying odd shapes and stuff. One was a burning wheel with multiple eyes and another was a four-faced being. This was why they would say "fear not" to a human.

Context: Various angels are described in the Bible, none of which conform to the popular image of a beautiful human with feathery wings. In Isaiah, "seraphim" have six wings and can be translated as "burning ones." They also may be "flying serpents." Cherubim are described by Ezekiel as having four faces: man, ox, lion, and eagle. They have human hands, possibly four in all, four wings, and are accompanied by "whirring wheels." Ezekiel describes these wheels (AKA ophanim) like so: "They sparkled like topaz, and all four looked alike. Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel. As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the creatures faced; the wheels did not change direction as the creatures went. Their rims were high and awesome, and all four rims were full of eyes all around."

4. Goliath's Height Varies Based On Which Translation You Read

TIL that Goliath from the Biblical story "David and Goliath" was four cubits and a span tall, or roughly 6'9".

Context: The length of a cubit was classically defined as the tip of the middle finger to the forearm, which is a highly subjective measurement. Some cultures used a figure that was as long as 21 inches, though scholars generally put it at 18 inches. So, if Goliath's height is "four cubits and a span" (one span is half a cubit), then he would be 6'9". The "four cubit" measurement is the translation given in the Septuagint and the Holman Christian Standard Bible. However, the "received" Hebrew text gives Goliath's height as "six cubits and a span," which puts Goliath at the much more imposing 9'9".

5. Dragons And Unicorns Are Both Mentioned In The Bible

TIL there are seven Bible verses about dragons.

TIL the Bible mentions unicorns nine times.

Context: Not all the "dragon" references in the Bible explicitly refer to dragons as the Game of Thrones variety. Instead, these are more like wild, unknown creatures. Other references are more metaphorical, such as calling the devil a dragon. As to the unicorns, these are a mistranslation of the Hebrew re'em, which likely referred to a now-extinct breed of ox. But the Greeks translated this word as monokeros, which means "one-horned." The Latin translation by St. Jerome then used the Latin word unicornis. Even then, however, unicornis did not refer to a horse with a horn. We don't get that interpretation until much later, after the Bible was translated into English.

6. A Heavily Redacted 'Slave Bible' Was Created To Dissuade African Slaves From Rebelling

TIL about the "Slave Bible," an abridged version of the Bible made for slaves, in which the enslaved Israelites never left Egypt and lines that condemn slave owners were removed.

Context: Created for African slaves living in Jamaica, Barbados, and Antigua, this version of the Bible was first published in 1807 - three years after the Haitian Revolution. According to Anthony Schmidt, an associate curator at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC, "About 90 percent of the Old Testament is missing [and] 50 percent of the New Testament is missing" from the Slave Bible. All passages that might inspire slaves to rebel were removed, and all passages that reinforced slavery were kept.

7. There Is A Talking Donkey In The Book Of Numbers

TIL there's a talking donkey in the Bible.

Context: In this story, the Moabites ask the prophet Balaam to curse the Israelites. Balaam agrees, and while riding on his donkey, his way is blocked by an angel. The donkey nopes right out of the way, causing Balaam to beat and insult her. God then allows the donkey to speak, and she says, “What have I done to you that you beat me these three times?” Balaam isn't fazed by this, and proceeds to yell at the donkey some more. Eventually, however, he sees the angel blocking his path. The angel then tells him, in essence, "I'm gonna smote you if you get closer, but the donkey will be spared." So Balaam turns around and goes home.

8. The Bible Does Not Say How Many Wise Men Visited Jesus

TIL nowhere in the New Testament does it state how many wise men there were, despite traditions widely referring to three.

Context: First, the Gospel of Matthew is the only book of the New Testament to mention the wise men, or "magi." Second, it is assumed that, because Jesus is given three gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, he is visited by three persons - but the number of wise men is never specified in the text. It should also be noted that the wise men do not visit Jesus in the manger, but are explicitly stated to visit him in his house. Finally, the depiction of the magi as three kings is a later church tradition. According to Britannica, from the 8th century onward, they have been identified as Balthasar, a king of Arabia or Ethiopia; Melchior, a king of Persia; and Gaspar (or Casper), a king of India.

9. Modern Concepts Of Heaven And Hell Differ Sharply From What Is Described In The Bible

TIL heaven and hell, as concepts, do not appear in either the Old Testament or in Jesus's teachings.

Context: This requires a lot more context than we have room for here. Suffice it to say, the idea that heaven exists apart from the material world and it's the place your immaterial "spirit" goes to after you expire doesn't really show up in the Old Testament. It's also a much more modern interpretation of heaven than what was preached by Jesus; Paul can be credited with the seed of this notion. Meanwhile, "hell" shows up frequently in various versions of the Bible, but usually as a translation of one of the following words: Sheol, Hades, Tartarus, and Gehenna. These words are often used metaphorically to simply mean "in the grave."

10. Genesis Describes 'Nephilim' As The Giant Offspring Of Angels And Humans

TIL that the Bible mentions powerful, sinful giants known as the "Nephilim," who are the children of fallen angels and mortal women.

Context: The Hebrew word nephilim appears in Genesis prior to the story of Noah and the flood. The passage is: "There were giants [nephilim] on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown." The phrase "sons of god" is also used in the Book of Job to describe angels. Goliath is thought to be a descendant of these nephilim.

11. The Biblical Story Of Belshazzar’s Feast Is Where We Get The Idiom 'The Writing On The Wall'

TIL the phrase "the writing on the wall," referring to impending doom, comes from the story of Belshazzar's feast in the Biblical Book of Daniel.

Context: Britannica writes, "Belshazzar held a last great feast at which he saw a hand writing on a wall the following words in Aramaic: mene, mene, tekel, upharsin. The prophet Daniel, interpreting the handwriting on the wall as God’s judgment on the king, foretold the imminent destruction of the city." Belshazzar later perishes and Babylon falls to the Persians.

12. The Story Of Jesus Feeding 5,000 With Loaves And Fishes Is Recounted In All Four Gospels

TIL the Biblical account of the feeding of the five thousand with loaves and fishes is one of the few stories that are recounted by all four of the Gospel writers

Context: Though the four Gospels ostensibly tell the same story, they describe different aspects of Jesus's life. As writer Pamela Williams eloquently points out, "Matthew... focuses on what Jesus said. Mark... speaks of what Jesus did. Luke... has much to say about what Jesus felt. And finally, John... [emphasizes] who Jesus was." The fishes and loaves story is one of the few events described by all four writers. Other such events include Jesus beginning his ministry in Galilee, his entry into Jerusalem, Jesus knowing he will be betrayed, Peter denying Jesus, and Pilate's sentencing of Jesus to crucifixion.

13. There Are Several Apocryphal Gospels That Are Not Recognized By The Church

TIL about Apocryphal Gospels: ancient writings about Jesus not recognized by the Church.

Context: The gospels written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are deemed authentic (i.e., "canonical") by the church and appear in the New Testament. These books are considered to be "inspired by God." However, since the beginning of Christianity, there have been many more books that claim to contain stories of Jesus's life and teachings. These include the Gospel of Andrew, the Gospel of Bartholomew, the Gospel of Barnabas, and Memoirs of the Apostles. There are also Gnostic gospels, considered heretical to orthodox Christianity. These include the Gospel of Marcion, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Judas, the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Philip, and the Gospel of Truth. 

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