Facts We Learned About The Bible In 2021

List Rules
Vote up the biblical facts that you found most informative.

The Bible's impact is immense – not only on the Abrahamic religions it helped to shape, but on world history and culture, literature, and even everyday figures of speech. Still, there's much about it that many of us don't know. Often, people assume certain facts are in the Bible without actually having read the relevant passages, so mistakes creep into the general understanding. The origins of the Bible's many books, and their contents, are also fraught with mysteries. What accounts for the disparities between different Gospels? Why are Old Testament lifespans so long? What are the oldest biblical books for which physical copies are still extant?

Here's a grab bag of info we learned about the Bible in 2021. Some of it is literally thousands of years old, but it was news to us. Vote up the items that caught you by surprise or enriched your understanding.


  • There May Be Ancient Numerical Reasons Behind The Long Lifespans Recorded In The Bible
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    1
    2,265 VOTES

    There May Be Ancient Numerical Reasons Behind The Long Lifespans Recorded In The Bible

    Redditor u/Nuclear_Cadillacs asked:

    Why are the lifespans of people mentioned in the [G]enesis accounts recorded as lasting so long?

    Redditor u/kookingpot answered:

    So, the first thing we know about this is that it was written well after the events it tells us about. It's not a firsthand account of what happens, but rather a record of ancestral tradition.

    Next, we look for parallels in the ancient world. Are there other similar occasions where lifespans are listed as being incredibly long? As it happens, the answer is actually yes. The most well-known example is the Sumerian King List, which is a list of all the kings of Sumer, and how long they reigned. It includes such passages as:

    In Eridug, Alulim became king; he ruled for 28,800 years. Alaljar ruled for 36,000 years. Two kings; they ruled for 64,800 years.

    So we have examples of lists of important people with extraordinary numbers listed as their ages in multiple examples from the Ancient Near East. So there is a precedent for the Old Testament to do this.

    Some scholars believe that the numbers are being used in a more symbolic way, rather than mathematically. The cultures of Mesopotamia were experts in numbers. They advanced a lot of key mathematical concepts that we still use today (including our division of time into units of 60). 

    The Sumerians and other Mesopotamian peoples (since at least 3100 BCE) used a sexagesimal numbering system, which means that it was base 60, instead of our base 10. Why? Because 60 is the lowest number divisible by all of 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6, making fractions much easier.

    There were a lot of ambiguous things included in this numbering system, such as blank spaces possibly meaning zero, and less value put on the importance of position of the numbers... Practically, this was not much of an issue for the scribes, because their numbers were always in a context that made them very interpretable (amounts of grain, weights of money, etc). Later scribes (such as Hebrews trying to interpret such numbers) would have a much more difficult time without the context.

    The biggest issue with Mesopotamian numbers, however, is the idea of sacred numbers. Some numbers had a symbolic meaning beyond their mathematical meaning, and therefore were numerological rather than numerical in some contexts, meaning that its symbolic value would be used rather than its mathematical value.

    Now, what connection does this have to the Biblical chronologies? The numbers are based on the Mesopotamian system of numbers. All the ages in the Genesis genealogies fall into two categories: numbers divisible by 5 (ending in 5 or 0), and multiples of 5 with the addition of 7 (or two 7s). Five years = 60 months. The final digits are always 0, 7, 5, 2, and 9. Two because 5+7 = 12, and 9 because 5+7+7 = 19. The odds are astronomical that there would not be a number in the list that did not match. Therefore, we have a lot of indications that these are symbolic numbers, based on a very different number system. We don't know what meaning these numbers may have had.

    Therefore, the numbers in Genesis are most likely symbolic of something we do not know, and are based on a numerical system established by the Sumerians, and eventually lost over time. Thus, the ancient traditions of the symbology were likely lost and the compilers of the Hebrew Bible themselves did not understand the symbology behind the ages.

    2,265 votes
  • 2
    1,538 VOTES

    The Oldest Known Physical Biblical Document Dates To 650 BCE

    Redditor u/hey_its_ralph asked:

    Does an original text of the Bible exist, or what's the oldest known religious text in existence?

    Redditor u/imayid_291 answered:

    The oldest physical copy of any of the Bible[s] are two scrolls which are dated to about 650 BCE. They were found in a burial chamber in the Ketef Hinnom archeological site in the Jerusalem area. They contain the Priestly Blessing found in Numbers 6:22-27.

    The next oldest physical texts of the Bible are the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest of which date to 200 BCE. The over 900 documents include fragments of every book in the Hebrew Bible except Esther. The texts include a scroll that contains the complete book of Isaiah (apart from some portions that are too damaged to read).

    1,538 votes
  • Crucifixion Was Banned In The Roman Empire In 337 AD
    Photo: Carl Bloch / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    3
    1,134 VOTES

    Crucifixion Was Banned In The Roman Empire In 337 AD

    Initially a method of execution used against noncitizens, foreigners, and Christians, crucifixion had a 500-year lifespan under the Romans. It brought about death in any number of ways, with individuals suffering the elements as they slowly dehydrated and hanged for as many as four days.

    Crucifixion was officially prohibited by Emperor Constantine in 337 AD, but the practice later experienced resurgences in Japan during the 16th and 17th centuries. At various points during the 19th and 20th centuries, the use of crucifixion was reported in various parts of the world.

    1,134 votes
  • The Phrase 'A Drop In The Bucket' Comes From The Book Of Isaiah
    Photo: Nikk / Flickr / CC-BY 2.0
    4
    994 VOTES

    The Phrase 'A Drop In The Bucket' Comes From The Book Of Isaiah

    "A drop in the bucket" is just a little bit of something, perhaps so small that it doesn't even deserve notice. This same sense comes from its use in Isaiah 40:15:

    Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing.

    It's found in the Wycliffe Bible from the 1380s as well as the King James Version. A variant, "a drop in the ocean," is alluded to in Ecclesiasticus 18:10, from the KJV Apocrypha - books taken out of the original 1611 version in 1885:

    As a drop of water unto the sea, and a gravelstone in comparison of the sand; so are a thousand years to the days of eternity.

    994 votes
  • The Phrase 'The Writing On The Wall' Comes From The Old Testament
    Photo: Rembrandt / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    5
    1,051 VOTES

    The Phrase 'The Writing On The Wall' Comes From The Old Testament

    The reference to ominous writing on a wall is in Daniel 5:1-30, and the story from which it derives traces back to ancient Mesopotamia.

    After a hand scrawls unreadable text on the wall during a feast held by King Belshazzar of Babylon, Daniel is the only one who can read it. He tells the king he would soon be undone by his own arrogance, with Belshazzar guilty of blaspheming God. The king perished that very night. 

    The phrase "the writing on the wall" never actually appears in the Bible, but the sense of impending doom remains part of its usage today.

    1,051 votes
  • The Bible Never Said Mary Magdalene Was A Sex Worker
    Photo: Caravaggio / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    6
    1,430 VOTES

    The Bible Never Said Mary Magdalene Was A Sex Worker

    Mary Magdalene is a popular biblical figure who is often misjudged and merged with the stories of other New Testament women. Have you ever heard anyone say something along the lines of, "Jesus loved everyone! He hung out with prostitutes!"

    While Jesus may have befriended sex workers, nothing in the Bible states Mary was one. She was an incredibly important figure in the New Testament, however - present at the most important moments of Jesus's journey, including his sermons and crucifixion. She helped carry him to the tomb and was the one who revisited the tomb three days later to find it empty. That makes her the discoverer of the most important aspect of Christianity: Jesus's resurrection. 

    Nothing in the Bible claims Mary is or ever was a sex worker. There was a moment where a woman washes Jesus's feet with oils and begs for forgiveness for her sins. That woman is never identified as Mary, but in the Middle Ages, the church took the liberty of labeling her as such. This could be attributed to the fact that the church wanted to provide an explanation for why a woman was one of Jesus's closest friends. They wanted to provide a reason for her dedication to Jesus in the hopes of leading other women "living in sin" to do the same. 

    Mary then became the patron saint of repentant prostitutes, and there were even 18th-century recovery homes for former sex workers called Magdalene Laundries (or Magdalene Houses). The Vatican didn't correct this fallacy until 1969. By then, the idea of Mary as a former sex worker was deeply embedded in the Christian canon.

    1,430 votes