The Bible ... it's the main reason the Guttenberg printing press was created, meaning that it vaulted the world into a new era of literacy. Yet, like cookbooks, which people buy but rarely make even half the recipes, the Bible is a book that is widely owned, yet lightly read.
Hey, we're not judging! Like a lot of religious texts, the Bible is not light reading. It's long: 66 books, containing about 750,000 words, depending on the translation. It's dense, with some books repeating the same messages over and over with little change in phrasing; Psalms and Proverbs are good examples of this. And it's not always easy to relate to everyday life: Some books of the Old Testament, like Numbers and Leviticus, contain endless rules for the Hebrews' life after the exodus that are extremely detailed and not very applicable to modern everyday life. In fact, Christians embrace the idea that Jesus came to earth to start a new covenant between God and man, a much simpler one, summed up in the commandment 'to love the Lord your God ... (and) love your neighbor as yourself.'
Even so, if you're curious about how your Bible knowledge stacks up, we've got a quiz with a little something for everyone -- easy questions, moderately difficult ones, and hard ones. So even if you consider yourself a Bible whiz, you might find a few questions here to stump you. If you're not, well, you're sure to find a few you know. Either way, good luck!
One of the first things children learn in Sunday School is to name the first five books of the Bible. They are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. These five books are also called the Torah in Judaism.
At the center of the Garden of Eden was the Tree of Knowledge, from which Adam and Eve were not supposed to eat. This leads religious skeptics to ask: Why place it right there? Why not put it at the North Pole, if eating from it would condemn humans to lives of toil, painful childbirth, and so on?
Of course, it was Noah. Shadrach was the name of one of his sons, who was on the ark with him, and survived to help repopulate the Earth.
The name of this town should be familiar even to the non-religious, due to how frequently it's mentioned at Christmastime. For example, in the Christmas carol, "O Little Town of Bethlehem."
This book is also called "The Revelation to St. John" or "The Revelation to John," because John of Patmos received the visions it contains. He was exiled on the Greek island for continuing to practice his faith in the face of Roman oppression.
The name Judas has become synonymous with "traitor." From it, we get the expression "Judas kiss," for a gesture which looks kind but is treacherous.
While it's true that there are four gospels, Jude is a letter found late in the New Testament. The missing gospel, above, is that of Luke.
The book of Acts (the name is short for "Acts of the Apostles") tells the story of how the Church grew after Christ's ascension into heaven. The famous story of Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus is included in Acts.
Eve had at least three sons. Genesis tells us that the Lord gave her Seth because she was saddened by Abel's murder and Cain's banishment.
Joseph was a carpenter, and Jesus was evidently also trained as a carpenter. He would have had to do something for work, as he did not begin his ministry until the age of 30, well into adulthood.
Jesus was crucified on a hill called Golgotha, outside Jerusalem. Other important sites from the Passion week, like the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane, are there as well.
Peter, James the Greater, and John were all fishermen on the sea of Galilee who apparently knew Jesus for some time before the beginning of his ministry. Biblical scholars suggest that Jesus, trained as a carpenter, might have worked as a shipwright, putting him in contact with fishermen.
Jacob made the stew, and Esau, his older brother, sold his birthright (his privileges as oldest son) for a bowl. Esau was evidently so hungry he couldn't think straight. Imagine that -- an example, in the early pages of the Bible, of how low blood sugar causes bad decision-making.
The other three were Jews in Babylonia who refused to worship Babylonian gods. Ham was part of another trio: Shem, Ham and Japheth, the sons of Noah in Genesis.
1, 2 and 3 John can be found late in the New Testament. There's a debate among scholars as to whether the letters were written by the same "John," and which "John" actually wrote them. The first one is considerably longer and more like a sermon than personal letters to church leaders, which the second two are.
Abraham first had a son with Sarah's handmaid, Hagar, because it seemed that Sarah was too old to bear a child herself. Later, God "opened Sarah's womb," and she bore Isaac. Ishmael is considered the father of the Arab nations, which is why "Ismail" is a common name in Arabic countries, but not in Israel. In Israel, the name "Yitzhak" is common, honoring Isaac.
Elizabeth was the mother of John the Baptist, who would "prepare the way" for Jesus. When Mary arrived at her cousin's house, Elizabeth told her that the baby in her womb had leaped for joy, recognizing the mother of Jesus.
When the risen Jesus appeared to the disciples, Thomas asked to see Jesus's hands and the wound in his side before truly accepting that it was him. This is why the nickname "Doubting Thomas" has come to signify someone who doubts something he or she has been told.
Potiphar's wife is more famous than he is (though, ironically, not named herself). She attempted to seduce Joseph, who fled, leaving his cloak in her hands, rather than betray his boss. (Or maybe he just wasn't that into her, an explanation Sunday School teachers tend not to bring up).
To be clear, Abraham isn't called this in either the Hebrew or the Christian Bible, because the third faith, Islam, did not exist yet. But in Genesis, Abraham is called to be the father of the Jewish people, and Judaism gave rise to Christianity, while Islam sees itself as the extension and culmination of both those faiths.
Biblical scholars are generally united in suggesting that the tree and the fruit were a metaphor, not literal. (Really, the talking snake in the story should have tipped everyone off to that). The idea that it's a sin to gain knowledge and put oneself on an equal footing with God/the gods is a very old idea, also reflected in the stories of the Tower of Babel, Prometheus, and Pandora's Box.
"Synoptic" comes from the Greek word "synopsis," meaning "seeing together or as combined." These three gospels create a fairly unified view of Jesus's life, whereas John, "the disciple whom Jesus loved," has a distinctive viewpoint of his own.
The other three were disciples who followed Jesus during his time on Earth. Paul, then called Saul, was a man who had been persecuting the early Christians until he had a vision on the road to Damascus and was converted.
"Amen" is the Hebrew word for "so be it." It commonly ends prayers, and so it's fitting that it's the final word in the Bible.
The Great Commission is Jesus' sending out of his followers to make disciples of all nations. The most detailed account is in Matthew Chapter 28.
Jacob fell in love with Rachel, Laban's younger daughter. But Laban wanted Leah to be married first, so he disguised her and fooled Jacob into marrying her. After seven years of more labor for his father-in-law, Jacob was allowed to marry Rachel.
Where "Tarshish" was isn't exactly known; possibly it was part of modern-day Spain. The point is, Jonah thought, incorrectly, that he could hide from God there.
The book of Esther is what some academics might call "problematic." The book does not mention God, and Esther hides her Jewish identity to become the wife of a pagan king, then uses her beauty and wiles to have an enemy hanged. However, that enemy, Haman, wanted to have Esther's cousin Mordecai hanged, so he did have it coming. It should also be noted the Esther did reveal her ethnic identity in the end.
The twelve tribes of Israel take their names from the sons of Jacob (not counting his most famous son, Joseph). Jesse was the father of David, the shepherd who would become king.
Hosea dutifully took a prostitute as his wife, and then took her back, publicly, after she left him. Sidenote: His wife's name was "Gomer," which is considered a masculine name in modern times.
Hannah was the mother of the great prophet Samuel, early in Israel's history as a nation. She prayed for a child at the Temple at Shiloh, and her prayer was answered. So she sang the verses which are very like Mary's in the gospel of Luke.
Samuel was the great prophet and priest of Israel early in Saul's reign. When troubled, Saul went to a witch in order to gain counsel from Samuel's spirit. Samuel apparently does appear at the witch's command and speaks to Saul, one of a number of "paranormal" incidents in the Old Testament.
This is one of the Bible's best-loved stories. David, the youngest of his father's sons and a shepherd, agrees to do what none of the men of Saul's army will: fight the giant Goliath. He finds he can't even walk in the armor that Saul gives him, so takes it off and goes out unprotected, with only his slingshot and stones ... and kills the giant.
Obadiah is only 21 verses long. It predicts the fall of a heathen nation, Edom.
The third letter of John is only 15 verses long. It alludes to infighting in a church, indicting "Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first." More information about Diotrephes, or the "Gaius" to whom the letter was written, has not survived.