Ten Surprising Stories in the Bible

From Snakes to Prostitutes to Vegetarians.


You may know the basic Bible stories, but the Bible is a long, multifaceted work, and it goes a lot deeper than the forefathers and foremothers. Here are ten biblical stories you may have missed (or skipped in Hebrew school). Some of them might make you gasp, others might make you snicker. All of them are worth reading.

1. Judah and Tamar

Genesis 38

Tamar marries two of Judah’s sons. After the second one dies she’s supposed to be married to Judah’s third son, but Judah stalls the marriage. So Tamar dresses up like a prostitute and sleeps with her father-in-law, ultimately giving birth to twins that he fathered.

2. Moses’ Healing Snake

Numbers 21:4-9

jephthah's daughter

The Return of Jephthah,
by Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini.

After the Israelites complain about how hard life is in the desert they’re struck by a plague of fiery serpents that bite and kill many of the people. When the Israelites beg Moses to intercede on their behalf he makes a copper snake sculpture that heals all who look at it.

3. The Sacrificial Daughter

Judges 11:29-40

When a warrior named Jephthah is in battle he promises that he will sacrifice to God whatever comes out first to greet him when he gets home. Unfortunately, that turns out to be his daughter.

4. The Chopped Up Concubine

Judges 19:22-30

A concubine is gang-raped and left for dead by a group of violent men in the town of Gibeah. In the morning, when her husband finds her, he takes her home on his donkey, and then chops her up into twelve pieces, which he sends to the different parts of Israel to show the people how violent and depraved they have become.

5. Watch Out for the Hemorrhoids

Samuel I 5:9-6:18

After the Philistines capture the Israelites’ Ark they move it from town to town because wherever it goes the people nearby catch hemorrhoids. Eventually the Philistines decide to give the Ark back, paying interest in the form of golden sculptures of mice and hemorrhoids.

6. Witches and Ghosts

Samuel I 28:3-25

After the prophet Samuel dies, King Saul realizes he still needs advice from his mentor and hires a witch to raise Samuel’s spirit. This, despite the fact that it was Saul himself who outlawed witchcraft in Israel. When Samuel is risen he berates Saul for breaking the rules, and predicts Saul’s downfall.

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Tamar Fox is an associate editor at MyJewishLearning.com. She has an MFA in fiction writing from Vanderbilt University, and a BA from the University of Iowa. She has worked as the editor of the religion blog at Jewcy.com, and is on the Editorial Board at The Jew and the Carrot. She spent a summer as a fellow at Yeshivat Hadar, and was a Senior Apprentice Artist for four years at Gallery 37 in Chicago.

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