Biblical Allusions

AP English IV, Per. 1


Cain and Abel both brought sacrifices to God, but God chose the offerings of Abel so Cain killed Abel out of jealousy. The use of Abel often refers to a tragic victim of violence. Example: The man set out intent on killing the innocent Abel that had become his enemy.

Potiphar's wife

When Joseph was made head of Potiphar's household and Potiphar's wife attempted to seduce him, he resisted so she falsely accused him of attempting to rape her resulting in his being sent to prison. Used in reference to Joseph's noble chastity or the jealous malcontent of Potiphar's wife. Example: He felt much like Joseph being accused by Potiphar's Wife as the prosecutor revealed fabricated evidence to convince the court of his guilt in the affair scandal.


Refers to Tower of Babel in the ancient city of Babylon, built in an attempt to reach heaven and culminating in the creation of new languages. In Hebrew, Babel comes from the verb balal, “to confuse or confound”. Alludes to confusion or unintelligibility, especially in relation to sounds or voices. Example: “At the shocking announcement, the conference room broke into a Babel of sounds.”


The chief city of ancient Mesopotamia, capital of Babylonia and known for its luxeriousness and corruption. Most commonly used to describe something as overly luxurious, sinful, or corrupt. Example: The huge, Babylonian city was filled with criminals and prostitutes.

Beat swords into plowshares

Used several times in the Bible in reference to the laying down of arms. Plowshares symbolize creative tools that benefit man. Means that people should give up trying to destroy and conquer, instead work together to create something wonderful. Example: “Until the nations turn their swords into plowshares...” (Heal The World) ~Michael Jackson

Bell, book, and candle

A bishop would recite an oath, ring a bell (tolling death), close a Bible, and snuff out a candle while knocking it to the floor symbolizing the soul of the excommunicant being extinguished and removed from the light of God. Used to describe a death sentence for a great crime. Example: “Bell, book, and candle, shall not drive me back, when gold and silver becks me to come on.” ~Shakespeare

Belshazzar's feast

King of Babylon toasted to his gods with wine in golden goblets stolen from God's temple in Jerusalem, a hand appeared spelling out his kingdom's downfall on the wall, and he was murdered that night. Source of phrase “writing on the wall” meaning a very obvious prediction of doom. Example: The executives continued to pray for the wellbeing of their company despite the writing on the wall.

My brother's keeper

Cain and Abel are brothers and Cain murders Abel out of jealousy. When God questions Cain where Abel has gone, Cain replies "am I my brother's keeper?" Implies a responsibility (or, in question form, the resentment of responsibility) for another. Example: "No, I can't go to the party. I have to stay home and watch Jason tonight. I'm my brother's keeper, you know?"


When God chooses Abel's offering of "fat portions from the firstborns of his flock" over Cain's "fruits of the soil", Cain kills his brother, presumably out of jealousy. Often used to describe a jealous person and is especially fitting in a situation where the older sibling is jealous of the younger. Example: When the new baby was brought home, Isaiah became a regular Cain, doing anything to get attention.

City on a hill

Matthew 5:14, "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden." (Sermon of the Mount). John Winthrop also gave a sermon alluding to this when founding the Puritan colony of New England. Suggests that one is always being watched by the world (and by God in some contexts). Example: "Today, the eyes of all people are truly upon us-and our governments [...] must be as a city upon a hill." ~John F. Kennedy

Cross of gold

William Jennings Bryan’s 1896 Cross of Gold speech condemning the proposed gold standard-“You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.” The figurative crucifixion of one economic class for the enrichment and protection of another. Example: Some would argue that we are creating a cross of gold through capitalism.


The place where Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, lived after they were created. When Eve convinced Adam to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, God punished them by ejecting them from Eden. Usually references some seeming paradise. Example: Escaping the ghetto, the young man found an Eden in suburbia.

Feet of clay

The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar had a dream in which he saw a statue with a head of gold, but feet that were "part of iron, part of clay"; the statue was shattered and destroyed by being struck on the feet. Suggests that someone regarded as an idol has a hidden weakness. Example: The king of Sparta was very powerful yet had feet of clay. His inability to listen to his people led to his downfall.

Four horsemen of the Apocalypse
 

The allusion comes from the Bible, and refers to four horsemen said to come at the end of the world. Used as a description of terribly destructive forces, often echoing the names commonly given the riders (War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death). Example: "Politicians say we shouldn't change horses in midstream. More like change Horsemen in Mid-Apocalypse."

Golden calf

While God was giving Moses the Ten Commandments, the people whom Moses was leading built a golden calf, which they began to worship. When Moses returned, he smashed the tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written and made the people destroy the idol. A false god; anything worshiped undeservedly. Example: The girls fawned over the hunky football player like a golden calf.


Refers to a successful man, who was tormented by Satan but did not curse God. His friends' comfort only made him feel worse. The Patience of Job: refers to extraordinary ability to shrug off misfortune. Job's Comforter 0ne who's consolations do nothing. Examples: “He displayed the patience of Job all through the trial.” “Steve's friends were no more than comforters of Job, suggesting that his firing meant he didn't have to deal with traffic.”


God's chosen messenger, he could not accept the jeers of those he preached to. Thus he left to sea and was swallowed by a huge fish. When he realized that God wished him to be more patient, he was saved. Refers to the idea that one must be patient to get anywhere in life. Turning away from responsibilities or troubles makes them as large as a whale. Example: She learned she must finish the job when her brother told her she was just like Jonah.

Judas' goat
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Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver A type of goat that leads others to slaughter or one who entices others into danger and betrays them Example: “But I am not going to do for Dole what I did for Bush, and be a Judas goat, taking conservatives—practically military ones and pr-lifers who trust me—and...march them into Dole's camp,” he said.

Land of milk and honey

The Lord promises to bring the Israelites out of Egypt and into a land flowing with milk and honey. In the Old Testament, it is a name for the Promised Land. Describes a place where there is an abundance of everything and represents a country where immigrants would like to live because they imagine that their quality of life will improve. Example: Thousands of immigrants flood to the United States because they see it as the land of milk and honey.

Loaves and fishes

Jesus fed hundreds with five loaves of bread and two fishes after his disciples gave them up to him. Refers to the idea that there is hope even when evidence tells us otherwise. By showing compassion for the less fortunate people are filled not only in their stomachs, but also in their hearts. Example: Throughout cities in the U.S. the Loaves and Fishes programs feed thousands of people.

Lot's wife

In destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, God spared Lot's family, but Lot's wife disobeyed good, looking back as the city was destroyed, and was immediately turned to a pillar of salt Used to describe a disobedient person, and also a person who values their vain material possessions over their own life. Example: Unable to abandon her superfluous amount of shoes, she felt sympathy for Lot's wife as she attempted to minimize her college luggage.

Original Sin

Adam disobeyed God when he ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam’s sin, in turn, was passed on to all of his descendants (all humans). Used to describe an event that has a lot of gravity to it or will affect many people. Example: “What that man just did was as horrible as the Original Sin!”

30 pieces of silver
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Judas Iscariot was given thirty pieces of silver for delivering Jesus to the chief priests. describe payment for treachery and is often referred to as “blood money”. Example: Jim got a generous package of stock options for helping depose his partner as CEO, but the thirty pieces of silver didn't keep his conscience from gnawing at him.

Sodom and Gomorrah

God destroys the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for their immorality after sending two angels to find ten righteous men and only finding one: Abraham's brother, Lot. Has given rise to words such as "sodomy“ and “sodomite” and is used to reference immorality, sin, and homosexuality. Example:


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