No one in the English-speaking world can be considered literate without a basic knowledge of the Bible… All educated speakers of American English need to understand what is meant when someone describes a contest as being between David and Goliath, or whether a person who has the ‘wisdom of Solomon’ is wise or foolish, or whether saying ‘My cup runneth over’ means the person feels fortunate or unfortunate. Those who cannot understand such allusions cannot fully participate in literate English… -Dan Pogreba, Helena High School
“No person in the modern world can be considered educated without a basic knowledge of all the great religions of the world — Islam, Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and Christianity. But our knowledge of Judaism and Christianity needs to be more detailed than that of other great religions, if only because of the historical accident that has embedded the Bible in our thought and language.” –E.D. Hirsch, The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy
Directions: For each of the biblical allusions below, find enough information to make yourself familiar with the meaning of the story. You may want to even find the passage in the Bible and add the reference.
1) Alpha and Omega—
when Jesus was entering the world, God stated that He is “the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” Alpha and Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet respectively, represent that God was there when the world started and will be there when the world ends.
2) Cain and Abel–
sons of Adam and Eve. When making a sacrifice to God, Abel sacrificed the best of his flock, while Cain did not. God then favored Abel’s sacrifice over Cain’s, causing Cain’s envy to drive him to murder his younger brother. Therefore, Cain was the first man to be born, and Abel was the first man to die. Due to the murder of his brother, Cain was forced to bear what is known as the Mark of Cain, and he was also killed by stones, the way he murdered Abel.
3) Abraham and Isaac—
God ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son, and when Abraham bound Isaac to an altar atop a mountain, God sent a messenger, who told Abraham that he had proven himself to God as a God-fearing man. God stayed his hand and then sent a ram so that Abraham could sacrifice it instead of Isaac.
4) Eye of the Needle—
Jesus, when a wealthy man asks him how to achieve eternal life, responds that the man must sell all his belongings, give to the poor, and follow Jesus. When the man expresses hesitation, Jesus states, “Indeed it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a wealthy man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
5) David and Goliath–
Goliath of Gath continuously provoked the Kingdom of Israel for forty days and forty nights, challenging the Israelites to send a warrior to defeat him. While all the other soldiers fled at his colossal appearance, David (youngest of eight) accepted his challenge on the forty-first day. Goliath wielded a sword, and David the word of God. With a stone, David struck Goliath in the head and defeated him.
6) Good Samaritan
This is the typical axiom “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Jesus is explaining how you should be kind and loving to your neighbor, which is quite vague, to a lawyer. The lawyer, in true student of the law fashion, tries to get an exact definition of a neighbor, and basically the outcome is that those you should consider a neighbor are those who are kind and loving, and that each person should try to be that neighbor to someone else.
7) Ten Commandments
The ten commandments are:
- I am thy lord, thy god. Thou shalt have no other gods but me, which basically says that God wants to be the only god that people worship.
- Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, which means the people can’t have Idols, and God admits that he’s really jealous.
- Thou shalt not take thy name of the Lord thy God in vain, which is God saying that you can’t use his name in any insulting or slanderous manner, and you can’t just run around saying his name, it has to be in prayer or worship or a sermon or something where it’s religiously appropriate.
- Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. This means that, since God made the world in 6 days and took a break, the people should too, and that they must toil for the first 6 days of the week, (then Sunday through Friday) and rest the 7th (then Saturday), and they must allow anyone who works with or for them to do the same.
- Honor thy father and thy mother, which means respect your parents since they gave birth to you.
- Thou shalt not kill.
- Thou shalt not commit adultery.
- Thou shalt not steal.
- Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
- Thou shalt not covet.
8) Doubting Thomas
When Jesus was resurrected, 10 other apostles were able to see him before Thomas had a chance to, and Thomas didn’t believe it was feasible for him to be resurrected, so he basically said “I’ll believe it when I see it and feel it for myself”. The apostles gathered together, and Jesus appeared, asking Thomas to do what he needed to do in order to believe, then saying that those who had faith and didn’t need proof were blessed.
Jesus went to Gethsemane to pray to God, as he knew he was going to be killed by his “betrayer”, Judas. Though he is the son of God, he knew he has to die, but, since he is human, he is scared. He asked his followers to watch his back, but they fell asleep, as they do not believe any harm will come to him, but they are mislead, as one of their own will be the one who will kill Jesus.
10) Samson and Delilah
Samson was an incredibly strong man, whose only weakness was that if he shaved his hair, he would lose all his strength. He fell in love with a woman, Delilah, and she was paid to discover his secret. He lied to her, as he had promised God that he would keep his weakness secret. Eventually, she plagued him with guilt, and he revealed his secret to her. An army came in and shaved his hair, then bound him. They placed him on display and, though he thought he had lost God, he called out to Him for his strength to return once more, to get his revenge, and he brought down the entire temple he was trapped within.
Solomon was the last leader of a United Israelite Kingdom. He was most famous for his wisdom. According to the Bible, two women came to Solomon for him to decide custody of a child that each claimed was theirs. Solomon said that since it was impossible for him to tell, he would cut the child in half and give one half to each woman. The woman that cried out and immediately retracted her claim on the child was declared to be the true mother by Solomon, as any mother would give up her child rather than have it killed.
12) Four Horsemen
The four horsemen are symbols of an upcoming apocalypse. In the bible, a scroll held in God’s left hand had seven seals holding it closed. When the lamb of god opened the first four seals, he released four horsemen. One rode a white horse, the other black, and the last two rode red and pale horses. The traditional interpretation is that Humanity will experience four calamities, where many will die. These horsemen each represent calamity, and are often referred to as the “four horsemen of the apocalypse” as they are seen as symbols of death and destruction (Conquest, war, famine, and death).
13) The Flood
The flood occurred when God saw that the people on earth were wicked. He decided to flood it in order to wipe it clean, but Instructed Noah, a righteous man by him, to build an ark to save the animals. Once the ark was built, a pair of each animal boarded, and Noah and his family boarded. Then, it rained for 40 days and 40 nights, until the whole world flooded and all life not on the ark perished. After that, when the waters receded, Noah and god agreed that god would never flood the earth again.
Job was a prosperous man, who lived righteously. One day, God’s praise of Job angered Satan, who claimed that Job only loved God because he protected Job and gave him prosperity. To prove that this wasn’t true, Satan was given permission to take his health, and prosperity, but not his life. Job only responded by cursing the day he was born, but not questioning God, as all was god’s will. Later, he met three friends of his, who claimed God was unjustly punishing him. Job debated them, defending God. Later, God appeared to Job, but Job did not ask him any questions or challenge him. This proved to Satan that Job really was loyal to God. So, God restored his life and prosperity, but made it even better than before, as a reward for being loyal to him.
Jonah was instructed by God to go to Nineveh to go and preach to the people there. Jonah refused, as they were the enemies of his people, and went instead to Joppa to flee to Tarshish. In anger, God sent a bad storm to the ship. The people on the ship prayed to God, and asked Jonah to pray to God to stop the storm. It failed.They then asked Jonah where he was from and why he was on the ship. After he told them, he said that they needed to throw him off the ship to get the storm to stop. They refused, and tried to plead with God instead. This also failed. The passengers threw Jonah off the ship and the storm instantly stopped. Then a fish ate Jonah, where he stayed for three days and three nights. Afterwards, he was commanded to travel to Nineveh again and preach. This he did, telling residents that their city would be destroyed. This caused the city to repent, and God decided to spare the city. When Jonah found out, he wanted to die, so that he would not be ridiculed as a false prophet. The lesson God wanted him to learn was that all people hold his love and affection, and that people who worship idols could also have good in their hearts.
16) Judas/30 pieces of silver –
Judas was one of Jesus’s original twelve disciples. Judas’s name is synonymous with betrayal and treason, as before the Last Supper, he agreed to hand over Jesus in exchange for 30 silver coins. He showed them who Jesus was with a kiss, referenced as the kiss of betrayal. This set in motion the events that led to Jesus’s crucifixion and later, resurrection. Judas later returned the money, filled with remorse for what he had done. The “blood money” was used to purchase potter’s field – a common grave for unknown or indigent people, where Judas died.
17) Prodigal Son –
The story of the prodigal son is the third and final part of the cycle of redemption, and is one of the parables Jesus shares in Luke. The parable begins with a man with two sons. The younger of which asks for his inheritance, and wastes away his fortune (prodigal meaning “wastefully extravagant”). After becoming destitute, he returns home, expecting to beg his father to make him a servant in order for him not to be sent away. The father welcomes his son with open arms, while the older brother refuses to celebrate. The father reminds the elder that he will inherit everything, and that they should celebrate that the younger has been lost and now found. The parable is meant to impart that it is never too late for sinners to ask for forgiveness in the eyes of God, because the father will always welcome them with open arms.
18) Armageddon –
Armageddon is described in the Book of Revelations in the Bible. Armageddon being the prophesied location for the gathering of the armies of heaven and hell, for the battle at the end of times. As a location, Armageddon is interpreted both literally and figuratively. Armageddon also refers the scenario of the end of the world itself. Armageddon is often synonymous with apocalypse.
19) Sodom and Gomorrah –
Sodom and Gomorrah are two cities of the five cities of the plain. Sodom and Gomorrah are known for having divine judgement passed by God, and being consumed by fire and brimstone. The names are synonymous with impenitent sin, and their fall a manifestation of divine retribution for sin. The sins of Sodom and Gomorrah are often referred to as vices or homosexuality. (Sodomy) Abraham asked God to spare the cities, as his nephew Lot lived in Sodom. God says he will spare the cities if ten righteous men can be found among them. When Lot and his family are found to be the only righteous ones, God tells them to flee and not look back. Lot’s wife turns back and is turned into a pillar of salt, while the cities are destroyed by sulfur and fire.
20) Christ Figure –
Jesus Christ was the son of God, born to the virgin Mary. Christ figures in literature often display traits such as performing miracles, healing others, being guided by their father or their father’s spirit, are often kind and forgiving, and are often a martyr. Christ figures are often resurrected after their death, as Jesus proved himself as the son of God by rising from the dead three days after his crucifixion.