The Bible, which parents and Sunday School teachers give children to teach them love, kindness, and good behavior, actually contains a good deal of violence, most of it in the Old Testament. Some of the Bible's most famous stories involve fighting and killing. It starts with Cain, the first murderer, in the early chapters of Genesis. Later, David kills Goliath in a one-on-one duel; it's a story that is taught in Sunday School, and which has also inspired classic art. Think of Caravaggio's "David with the head of Goliath."
Here's a bigger surprise: A good bit of the violence in the Bible is committed by God himself! Early in Genesis, in a fit of angry remorse over creating humanity, God drowns everyone on the planet except Noah and his family. Later, God kills the firstborn of every Egyptian family, and then drowns the Egyptian army in the Red Sea. It's a relief to reach the New Testament, with its focus on peace -- except, of course, for the central act of violence the entire New Testament revolves around, the crucifixion of Christ.
How familiar are you with the significant acts of violence in the Bible, the perpetrators and the victims? Test your knowledge with our fill-in-the-blank quiz!
This is the first murder in the Bible, which makes it, for observant Jews and and Christians, the first murder in human history. It is followed up by Cain's famous statement, "Am I my brother's keeper?"
"Sulfur" in this verse is "brimstone" in other translations. This is why we call preachers who stress God's fearsome judgment "fire and brimstone" preachers.
What stands out about this verse is how blunt the phrasing of God's request is. He says "your only son" and "whom you love," making it clear He knows how great a sacrifice this would be for Abraham.
Joseph interprets dreams for both the Pharaoh's cupbearer and the baker. Joseph says that the baker will be hanged, and this comes to pass. The baker's offense against Pharaoh is never explained.
This is another famous Bible story. Goliath is the Philistine giant David kills; Saul is the king who shies away from one-on-one combat with Goliath, and Jonathan is Saul's son, who will soon be David's close friend.
Like Cain before him, Moses is shifty about the murder he commits. Cain denied knowing what happened to Abel, and Moses looks both ways for witnesses before killing the Egyptian. But in both cases, blood will out.
This is a famous story, often told in Sunday School. The teachers tend to gloss over what happens next: The people of Israel kill everyone in Jericho, down to the "young and old, oxen, sheep and donkeys." Really? What did the livestock do wrong?
We've actually shortened this verse a little. The final phrase goes, "... and all the firstborn of the livestock." So they weren't spared, either. You have to feel sorry for all the animals who die in the early books of the Bible, as God punishes hard-hearted humans like the Egyptians.
King Herod's actions echo those of the Pharaoh in Exodus. While the Pharaoh was generally afraid of the growing numbers of the slave people, the Israelites, Herod was specifically afraid of the prophesied Messiah, who would be born in Bethlehem.
Only the gospel of John identifies the disciple who does this as Peter. (He even identifies the slave, as "Malchus.") Jesus heals the man, his last miracle on earth.
This verse from Revelation is well-known. The violence follows in the verse's second half: "...they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, famine and pestilence, and by the wild animals of the earth."
Samson is a lot like Hercules in Greek mythology. Hercules kills the Nemean Lion, while Samson kills an unnamed lion early in his exploits. Sidebar: We're not sure how many people could even tear "a kid" (a baby goat) apart barehanded, frankly.
This is perhaps the most unusual weapon used in the Bible. However, Bible scholars do note that such a jawbone was sometimes made into a sickle for reaping grain, so its use as a weapon isn't as unusual as you'd think.
This is a directive from Pharaoh to Egyptian midwives. It seems odd that Hebrew women didn't have Hebrew midwives, since this is both an intimate and a common duty, but the killing of the Hebrew males is essential to the story of Moses, so let's not quibble!
King Nebuchadnezzar, of Babylonia, had a bit of an anger-management problem. He laid this punishment on the three men from Israel because they would not worship his golden idol. God saves the faithful men, however.
Sometimes friendships go bad. Really bad. David once found favor with King Saul, but when David became more successful as a warrior and beloved of the people than the king, Saul sought to kill him.
King Darius was very reluctant to do this, as Daniel was a valued adviser whom he apparently liked. But he was trapped by an edict he himself had signed, which he could not be seen allowing anyone to defy. The night Daniel was in the lions' den, Darius did not eat or sleep.
Called "the Prince of Peace," in Isaiah, Jesus is almost never violent. But he is rather forceful in driving the money-changers out of the temple, though no one appears to be harmed.
Though Joshua and the early judges of Israel vanquish many Caananite tribes, attention soon shifts to the people who will be a long-running enemy: the Philistines. They are Samson's enemy as well, and he will take his revenge by bringing down a building on 3,000 of them, killing himself in the process.
This is our introduction to the unlikely man who will become perhaps the greatest of apostles, Paul. His conversion on the road to Damascus is not far away.
The Devil is then thrown into "the pit" for a thousand years, "after which he must be let out for a little while," says John of Patmos, who received the Revelation. Don't worry: This last book of the Bible tells of God's ultimate victory over Satan.
This is an inversion of the better-known Biblical phrase, "They will beat their swords into plowshares." That is found in Isaiah 2:4.
The actual violence committed -- the drowning of the Egyptian army pursuing the Hebrews -- takes place in the previous chapter, Exodus 14. But we chose this verse, part of the Israelites' song of praise, because it is so well known. Aaron's wife Miriam repeats it later in the chapter, singing with other Hebrew women.
Jesus was speaking metaphorically of his own body, of course, which would be resurrected. Many of the people listening did not understand this, which probably didn't help his growing reputation as a threat to the existing religious order.
The Bible provides two explanations of how Judas died: first that he hanged himself, and then this story of a fall. How Judas came to fall so violently that he was killed (disemboweled, even) is not made clear; what is clear is that divine justice was served.
Paul and Silas were imprisoned for their faith when the earthquake happened. When the doors all burst open, though, they do not flee. Instead, they stay to prevent their jailer from committing suicide (he fears he lost all his prisoners and failed at his job), and to convert him to their new faith.
James and John were the sons of Zebedee, fishermen in Galilee before their calling. James is not the first martyr, but he is the first of the twelve to lose his life.
Absalom was trying to steal the throne from his father David; Joab took advantage of an unfortunate accident he had while riding. David's grief for his son gave William Faulkner a name for one of his novels: "Absalom, Absalom!"
The temple to Diana (Artemis, in more modern translations) was at Ephesus. Though no one appears to be hurt in this incident, it is commonly described as a "riot."
This did in fact come to pass, after the queen fell from a high tower. Despite the disturbing nature of this story, "Jezebel" has become the name of a popular feminist online magazine.
This is another story we're glad they leave out of Sunday School picture books!
Uriah is the warrior whose wife, Bathsheba, David has seduced. David must arrange his death, because Bathsheba is pregnant with David's child, which might be identified as David's if Uriah is alive to testify that he did not sleep with his wife during the relevant time. Nathan is the prophet who will condemn what David has done.
This is part of an ugly incident among the children of King David. Amnon feigns illness to get his half-sister Tamar to visit him on his sickbed, then rapes her. Absalom, Tamar's full-blood brother, is angry enough to have his half-brother killed because of it.
Perhaps no verse has given atheists more ammunition in debates than this one, which suggests that God had children mauled by bears for making fun of Elisha's baldness. (This happens in the previous verse: "Go away, bald-head!") Google "Elisha and the she-bears" for both the atheist and Christian interpretations of this problematic passage.