The Bible is known as The Good Book, but it is also a very Thick Book that takes a long time to read. Many people know the famous stories from the Bible, but there are a number of frankly grisly stories that people often ignore.
The death and resurrection of Jesus gets a lot of attention, but there are some biblical deaths that deserve to be better known. Here are 10 of the most dramatic demises of biblical characters.
When the ancient Israelites “did evil in the eyes of the Lord,” things tended to get a bit messy. Due to their disobedience to God, a wicked foreign king called Eglon was given power over them. Uniting local tribes, he attacked Jericho, conquered the city, and ruled over the Israelites for 18 years.
This did not sit well with the Israelites. When they begged God for forgiveness, he sent them Ehud to act as their savior. Ehud was then sent to Eglon to deliver the tribute the king demanded from the Israelites each year. Ehud took along the required gold but also a very large sword.
After paying the tribute, Ehud asked for a private meeting with the king. Ehud had a message from God, which was delivered in the form of a sword. The Bible tells us that Eglon was “a very fat man,” and as he rose from his throne, Ehud plunged the sword into his belly so deep that the king’s fat closed over the hilt. The king’s bowels emptied, and Ehud went on his way.
The palace servants thought that Eglon must be on the toilet, so they did not check on him for a long while. By the time they found Eglon, Ehud had made good his escape.
The Herod family does not come out of the biblical story well. While Herod the Great is said to have massacred infants in an attempt to kill Jesus at his birth, his grandson Herod Agrippa attacked Jesus’s followers.
According to the Book of Acts, “King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. When he saw that this met with approval among the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also.”
Peter escaped from this imprisonment, but Agrippa’s card was marked. Later, he appeared before a crowd wearing incredibly sumptuous robes. He spoke with such magnificence that the people called out that it was not the voice of a man speaking but “the voice of God!”
The Bible tells us that “immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory; and he was eaten by worms and gave up the ghost.”
Intriguingly, other sources, like the historian Josephus, mention the same event and that Agrippa died just afterward of a pain in his belly. The worms that ate him from the inside are a detail that crops up in the deaths of many ancient tyrants and villains.
The story of the Levite’s concubine in the Book of Judges is a particularly sad one. Although it deals with the death of a woman, simply referred to as a “concubine,” she does not speak at all in the narrative.
This concubine belonged to a Levite but returned to her family, apparently after being unfaithful to her husband. The Levite came looking for her and was welcomed into her family home. But he wanted to return to his house with his concubine.
On the journey back, they were offered hospitality by another person. But “while they were enjoying themselves, some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, ‘Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him.’ “
Their host tried to dissuade the wicked men by offering them his virgin daughter and the concubine instead, but they still wanted the Levite. The Levite pushed his concubine out of the house, where she was attacked and raped throughout the night.
In the morning, she crawled back to the house and collapsed on the threshold. Her husband picked her up and took her home. There, he cut her up into 12 parts and sent her mangled corpse to the 12 tribes of Israel—raising an army to seek vengeance on the wicked men who did this deed. The rape that is, not the offering up your wife to a mob.
No one likes being mocked by a group of children. Even those with the patience of a saint can be sorely tested by kids being naughty. The prophet Elijah maybe went a bit too far when he punished a particularly unruly group.
In 2 Kings, as Elijah was walking along one day, a group of lads came out from the city to shout names at him—something along the lines of “Oy, Baldy.” People can be rather sensitive about a receding hairline, and so Elijah cursed the boys in the name of the Lord.
Immediately, two she-bears appeared and tore 42 children to shreds. This no doubt taught them a valuable lesson in their final, agony-filled moments.
Even the faithful can find passages like this in the Bible hard to explain. One literalist website quibbles over whether the Hebrew text really says they were little children who were brutally killed, as if 42 teenagers being mauled by bears is better.
In the end, though, they settle for the idea that it was all worth it because anyone who saw the slaughter would have respected Elijah just that little bit more.
Deborah was one of the judges of the Israelites and one of the great strong women of the Bible. Although she was a great spiritual leader, she relied on men to lead the armies.
While facing Sisera, leader of the Canaanites, she called on Barak to fight for her. He agreed only on the condition that Deborah would go with him. For his insolent reply, Deborah foretold that he would have no glory in the defeat of Sisera for the conquest would now be given into the hands of a woman. And that woman was Jael.
The Lord was on the Israelites’ side, and in the battle, Sisera’s forces were scattered. The Canaanite fled back to his camp and hid in Jael’s tent. Jael offered Sisera food, drink, and a soft bed. As soon as Sisera fell asleep, Jael picked up a tent peg and hammered it straight through his temple and into the ground below. Sisera never woke up.
Despite being an act of treachery—not to mention bad hosting—on Jael’s part, the murder of Sisera is generally counted as a good thing by many people who read the Bible.
Absalom is one of the bad boys of the Bible. Attractive, naughty, and rebellious, he is a great, if flawed, character. The son of King David, Absalom was a favorite of both the people and his father and should have been set for an easy life.
When his sister Tamar was raped by their half-brother Amnon, however, Absalom set out for revenge. He invited all of King David’s sons to a feast. He got Amnon drunk and had his men murder Amnon.
After this, King David was a bit displeased with his son. Absalom fled, though he managed to regain his father’s trust and love. When people began to grumble about David’s judicial rulings, Absalom started to suggest that he would do a better job if he were their king. With his new supporters, Absalom declared himself king. David had to ride out to do battle with his son.
At the Battle of Ephraim’s Wood, Absalom’s army was completely defeated. The would-be usurper was forced to flee on a mule through the woods. Absalom’s fashionably long hair was his downfall, however, when it caught in the branches of a tree and left him hanging “between Heaven and Earth.”
There, he was found, and despite David’s command not to hurt his son, Absalom was speared three times through the heart.
All families have their little squabbles, but the sons of King Gideon could really have used some family counseling. When Gideon died, his son Abimelech decided that he would have to act fast if he wanted to get ahead.
Going to his mother’s family, he borrowed enough money to hire a group of rogues and went to his father’s palace and murdered his 70 brothers. Only his brother Jotham escaped the bloodbath. He cursed Abimelech and all who followed him.
Abimelech was not an ideal king as he tended to be brutal and made war against his own people. He once burned 1,000 civilians, including women and children, to death in a fort to kill the rebels inside with them. When he besieged the city of Thebez, however, the women would not let Abimelech immolate them.
The king had fought his way toward a high tower where most of the people were hiding after having climbed to its roof. As Abimelech prepared to set the tower on fire, one of the women above dropped a millstone on him, shattering his skull.
The wounded king turned to one of his own men and gave this order: “Draw your sword and kill me, so that they can’t say, ‘A woman killed him.’ ” And so Abimelech died with his male ego intact.
Sodom has a bit of a bad reputation. Even God found the city a bit much, and so one day, He decided to destroy it. After meeting with Abraham and haggling a little over the exact number, God agreed to save the city if 10 good men could be found dwelling in it.
God then sent two angels into the city to search for any good men. At the gate of the city, they met Lot, who insisted that they come into his house for hospitality.
Unfortunately, the more wicked men had seen the two angels entering Lot’s house. Surrounding it, they demanded, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”
Lot decided that this was a bit much. But not wanting to leave the crowd unsatisfied, he offered them his virgin daughters instead. The crowd had come for the angels, however, and tried to force their way in. But the angels struck the crowd blind. Then the angels told Lot to take anyone he cared about out of Sodom for the city was to be destroyed.
Everything should have been well for the Lot family as they escaped from the city while God rained sulfur down on it. But Mrs. Lot, who remains unnamed in the text, made the mistake of looking back at what must have been a spectacular sight. For her curiosity, Mrs. Lot was turned into a pillar of salt.
As a refugee, Lot had several other adventures, including drunken incest with his daughters.
Even the best preacher can sometimes lose his audience, and the Apostle Paul was no exception. One man was literally bored to death by St. Paul.
One day, St. Paul came to speak to the Christians of Macedon and Greece and so had a meal with them. As often happens at dinner parties, conversation got carried away. We are told that St. Paul spoke until midnight with servants having to bring out many lamps.
Listening to the talk was a young man called Eutychus who had seated himself on a window ledge. Perhaps inevitably, he began to close his eyes and finally fell asleep—before promptly falling out the window and dying on the ground three stories below.
St. Paul rushed out and told everyone not to panic before declaring that Eutychus was in fact alive. And miraculously, he was. No one wants to lose their audience in that way.
When people think of the biblical plagues, they tend to focus on the ones sent by God to get Pharaoh to release the Israelites from slavery. In fact, the Bible is full of plagues. Perhaps the most dramatic one is the plague of snakes sent to teach the Israelites not to complain about the conditions in the desert when they were free of Egypt.
Apparently, the people whined to Moses. They asked, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”
God did not like this questioning of his plans and so sent a multitude of venomous snakes among them. Many people were bitten and killed. The people cried out for Moses’s aid, and he prayed for them.
God spoke to Moses and said, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”
So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. When anyone was bitten by a serpent and looked at the bronze snake, they lived. Which was perhaps little comfort to those who had already died.