Ten Surprising Stories in the Bible

From Snakes to Prostitutes to Vegetarians.

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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.

7. Amnon and Tamar

Samuel II Chapter 13

Amnon and Tamar are half-siblings, both children of King David. Amnon becomes infatuated with Tamar, and ultimately rapes her. To retaliate, Absalom, another of David's sons, kills Amnon.

8. Elijah passes the torch to Elisha

Kings II Chapter 2

The prophet Elijah doesn't die; he ascends to heaven in a chariot. But before he leaves he gives Elisha a double portion of his spirit (whatever that means), and Elisha performs a series of wild miracles, including summoning two bears to mangle 42 unruly children.

9. Daniel the Wise Vegetarian

Daniel 1:8-21

When Daniel and his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah are living in King Nebuchadnezzar's palace they don't want to eat the (presumably non-kosher) food being served, and they ask for beans and legumes instead. The chief officer in charge of them is afraid going vegetarian will make them weak minded, but they become the wisest of all the men in the kingdom.

10. Hosea's Family Names

Hosea 1:2-8

God commands Hosea to marry a prostitute, which he does. When she begins having children Hosea names them Jezreel, Not-Accepted, and Not-My-People.

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Tamar Fox

Tamar Fox is a writer and editor living in Philadelphia. Her children's book, No Baths at Camp, was published in 2013 by Kar-Ben, and her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, the Jerusalem Post, Tablet Magazine, TheJewniverse.com, and many other publications.