24 Surprising Facts You Never Knew About the Bible
Whether you know your Scriptures chapter and verse or you rarely take a peek at the Good Book, we’ve got news for you.
Thou shalt not steal… this Bible
You may know that the Bible is the best selling book of all time—some estimate 25 million copies are sold each year in the United States alone—but did you know the Good Book is also the most frequently shoplifted? Apparently, certain readers grab it before they reach the Ten Commandments!
An immovable feast
Though the word Bible comes from biblios, meaning scrolls, in Greek, the Bible was actually the first book to be printed by movable type (instead of being written by hand). Johann Gutenberg probably finished his first printing in 1455, in Mainz, Germany. Almost 600 years later, three perfect Gutenberg Bibles are still in existence; one is under lock and key at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
Dying for a translation
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Not so long ago, translating the Bible into English could get you in more than hot water. John Wycliffe went ahead and did it anyway in the 14th century; 43 years after his death, the Roman Catholic Church actually dug up his corpse, burned it and threw the ashes in the river to punish him for his supposed sins. Another early translator, William Tyndale, was burnt at the stake for heresy in 1536. Ironically, these days there are 58 English-language versions of the Bible for sale. There also happens to be a Reader’s Digest version.
A fount of inspiration
In the end, the first official English-language Bible was worth waiting for. The influence (and beauty) of the King James Bible, issued in 1611, can hardly be overestimated. As the late essayist Christopher Hitchens, himself an atheist, once wrote, the King James Bible’s “crystalline prose…continue[s] to echo in our language: ‘When I was a child, I spake as a child’; ‘Eat, drink, and be merry’; ‘From strength to strength’; ‘Grind the faces of the poor’; ‘salt of the earth’; ‘Our Father, which art in heaven.”’ Check out these other surprising phrases you never knew came from the Bible.
The sinner’s Bible
What a difference one little word can make! In 1631, once English-language Bibles were finally legal, publisher Robert Barker came out with a version most notable for its omission involving the 7th Commandment: “Thou shalt commit adultery.” About 1,000 copies of this Sinner’s Bible (aka the Adulterous Bible or the Wicked Bible) were distributed before anyone noticed. We’ll never know how many people obeyed the amended commandment. But 400 years later, there are only nine copies of the Sinner’s Bible left.
The She Bible
Even fairly minor typos in early Bibles get collectors really excited. Take the “She Bible,” dating to 1611. You would think a time-traveling feminist had got hold of the book and changed God’s gender throughout. Instead, it’s just a misprint in the Book of Ruth, reading “she went into the city” rather than “he went into the city. A copy of the “She Bible” turned up at St Mary’s Parish Church in Lancashire, England, a few years ago, and was valued at over $65,000. Find out the 9 things you didn’t know about Eve in the Bible.
The most expensive book in the world
Sold for more than $14 million at Sotheby’s in 2013, the Bay Psalm Book is easily the highest priced book in the world and it isn’t even a complete Bible. It’s a poetic English translation of psalms by leading Puritan ministers from the Massachusetts Bay Colony published in 1640, the first book ever printed in what is now the United States. At 47 pages, each page is worth almost $300,000. As an artifact of colonial America and religious history, it’s practically priceless.
The tiniest Good Book
Now the faithful have no excuse to leave their Scriptures at home: All 1.2 million letters of the Old Testament have been nano-printed onto the surface of the Nano Bible, a five-by-five millimeter aluminum disk. But since each impossibly tiny letter measures 600 nanometers, you would need an electron microscope to read it. It might just be easier to go to the nearest hotel and consult a Gideon’s Bible. Here’s why there are so many Bibles in hotels.
The biggest Bible in the world
Goliath himself might have trouble toting around the largest Bible ever recorded—it’s at the Abilene Christian University in Texas. This gargantuan King James version weighs over 1,000 pounds, is 43.5 inches tall and measures 98 inches wide when fully open. It took Louis Waynai, a self-ordained minister, two years to print the text on each mammoth page using his own self-made rubber stamp press. That’s a Bible too big to thump…
Not all novel editions of the Bible are so enduring. In 2006, the Christian publishing house Thomas Nelson repackaged the New Testament as “Blossom BibleZine” for young girls: “With the look of the latest teen magazines, the wisdom of Scripture, and sidebars filled with the great advice of a big sister, it helps you find your way through topics like school, friends, parents, beauty, your body, and peer pressure. These years won’t be easy, but by studying what God has to say to you, you can develop into a girl of faith.”
Aging, biblical style
Either modern humanity is getting a raw deal or our understanding of time in the Bible is seriously wrong: Early Biblical characters have stunningly long life spans. As you may know, Methuselah lived the longest, finally passing at 969 years of age. But Adam, Seth, Noah, and a few others apparently also made it past 900. After the Flood, Biblical lives shorten dramatically, but Abraham and Isaac both got close to 200, and even comparatively short-lived Joseph makes it to 110.
The greatest toy story ever told
The Brick Bible may just be the oddest version of Scriptures ever created. An artist known as Elbe Sperling has illustrated a book—and website—with Bible scenes faithfully recreated in LEGO bricks. Recognizing that not all biblical material is PG, Sperling has thoughtfully provided a Brick Bible for Kids, focusing on tamer tales like Noah’s Ark and Jonah and the Whale. Or you may want to check out this list of children’s books that encourage kids to be nice.
Was Judas a redhead?
We’ll never know. There are many redhaired portrayals of the infamous apostle who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, including in paintings such as DaVinci’s “The Last Supper” and even plays like Shakespeare’s As You Like It: “His very hair is of the dissembling colour, something browner than Judas.” But nowhere in the text of the New Testament does anyone actually describe his hair color; the net effect of all these false portrayals was to whip up centuries of prejudice against people with red hair. Find out other historical figures you’ve been picturing all wrong.
The Orphan Psalms
No, they’re not the ones about orphans. They’re the psalms without an author attached (18 in the Hebrew Bible, 17 more in the New Testament). In addition to King David, who is credited with some of the best of the lot including the 23rd (“The Lord is my shepherd/I shall not want”), and his successor Solomon, there were at least half a dozen other contributors, including Moses.
Toughest biblical heroine
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Hands down, it’s got to be Judith. A ravishing, ruthless widow in the town of Bethuliah who seduces Holofernes, the general of the invading Persian army, gets him drunk in his own tent, and decapitates him with two strokes of his own sword. She sticks the head into a bag, walks up to the gates and displays it, scaring away the enemy forces. Could a modern spy do better? We think not.
Worst family member in Scriptures?
There’s a lot of competition for this one. Abraham, who was willing to sacrifice his only son on God’s command, is certainly in the running. Then there’s Cain, who kills his only brother (more about him below). Then there’s Rebecca, who connives with her son Jacob to cheat his elder brother Esau out of his birthright, even going so far as to lay a pelt on Jacob’s arm to convince her dying husband he is actually Esau (who was known as a “hairy man”).
However, Joseph’s brothers take the cake: When father Jacob gives Joseph a coat of many colors (remember the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat?), his jealous older brothers decide to kill Joseph and throw him in a hole. One brother intervenes, so they sell him into slavery instead, telling dad that Joseph was eaten by a wild animal. How’s that for sibling rivalry?
The Bible’s most married man
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Of all the polygamists in the Bible (and there are quite a few), King Solomon clearly takes the cake. Described as having 700 wives and 300 concubines, one wonders how he could remember their names, let alone distinguishing details. If he visited a different woman every night in turn, almost three years would pass before each one saw him again. But he must have spent more time with some, because his foreign wives are credited with leading him to worship their gods, bringing about the eventual downfall and division of his kingdom.
Animals in the Bible
So many Biblical figures are shepherds that it isn’t surprising to find that sheep are by far the most frequently mentioned critters in the Scriptures. (Goats are a distant second.) But there are about 100 other animals ambling across its pages, including some that have since disappeared from the Middle East such as “hippopotami (Job 40:15–25), crocodiles (Ezekiel 29:3–6), hartebeest (Deuteronomy 14:4), cheetahs (Habakkuk 1:8), bears (2 Kings 2:24) and lions (mentioned on over 150 occasions). One animal that never makes an appearance: The domestic house cat.
The first nudist
We don’t really count Adam and Eve since they grabbed those fig-leaves as soon as they realized they were naked. No, the prophet Isaiah is the first Biblical character to go naked deliberately. Obeying God’s commands, Isaiah roamed around barefoot and stark naked for three years, warning against the coming threat of Ethiopia and Egypt. These days, stripping to the buff might not strengthen a preacher’s credibility, but he would certainly still draw a crowd. Check out these 27 embarrassing stories about rabbis, priests, and ministers.
It takes a special kind of moxie to portray the Almighty even in a movie, but many actors have taken on the challenge. Some favorites are Charleton Heston booming commands in The Ten Commandments, Graham Chapman as a grumpy floating head in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and Morgan Freeman’s light, humorous role in Bruce Almighty. Check out this list of the 10 best movies to watch every Easter.
The simplest form of fortunetelling may be the practice of asking a question and opening a sacred book at random to divine the answer. Naturally, the Bible has been used for this practice countless times. One source suggests “It may be that the earliest evidence of using the Torah to uncover secrets can be found in Scripture itself. So, for instance, in Psalms 119:18 the psalmist pleads, ‘Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law.’”
Verily, I will sing unto the Lord
Many musicians are well known for their religious beliefs, from Christian singer-songwriter Amy Grant to the Irish band U2: According to The New Yorker, “Churches around the world have held “U2charists”—full services at which traditional church music is replaced with songs by U2.” But other pop greats who’ve drawn on Scriptures include Bob Marley (By the Rivers of Babylon), Bruce Springsteen (Adam Raised a Cain), Carole King (Where You Lead), David Bowie (Lazarus), and, our personal favorite, Iron Butterfly (In a Gadda-da-Vida, which translates to In the Garden of Eden). Learn the reason Christmas is celebrated on December 25.
What’s in a name?
Just in case you had any doubt about the Bible’s continuing influence on contemporary culture, take a look at naming trends. More than half of the top 50 baby names for boys in 2017 have biblical origins, including old standbys like James (#4) and Jacob (#10), more recent hits such as Noah (#2) and Caleb (#50), and nicknames or foreign versions of Biblical names like Jackson (#20) or Mateo (#42). Of course with a book this long, there’s a lot to choose from.
Worst biblical names
While the Scriptures supply some excellent monikers, there are other choices that would cast a truly hideous shadow on a poor child’s life. The weirdest one is also the longest word in the Bible: the prophet Isaiah’s son Mahershalalhashbaz, meaning “plunder speedeth; spoil hasteth.” (The parents of the talented actor Mahershala Ali rose to the challenge: His actual name is Mahershalalhashbaz Ali Gilmore.) Abednego, Hepzibah, Nebuchadnezzar, and Nimrod are also pretty bad. But in its own way, the fratricidal Cain might just be most awful one of all. Next, take a look at these hilarious church signs that are sinfully funny.