Abraham and Sarah
He is the first patriarch of Judaism (first person to accept monotheism). She is his wife. They were married for a long time and had no children. She suggested that he mate with her maid-servant, Hagar, so that he would have an heir. After than child was born, Sarah became pregnant and forced Abraham to throw out the maid and her son, because she was jealous. Their son is Isaac.
Adam and Eve
the first man and woman; she's created from a rib taken from him. They live in bliss in the Garden of Eden until Eve is persuaded by a Serpent into eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, which she then offers to Adam. After they eat, they realize they're naked and become ashamed. God (with some help from the Archangel Gabriel and his flaming sword) expels them from Eden as punishment; often referred to as the "fall from grace," or "loss of innocence."
the Anti-Christ is the antagonist of Christ who will appear before the Second Coming, claiming to be Christ, and make serious trouble until Christ actually appears and defeats him, probably at the battle of Armaggedon, a great battle between the forces of good and evil that is to occur at the end of the world. Armaggedon now means any great and decisive battle.
an ancient city of Mesopotamia known for its wealth, luxury, and vice.
Cain and Abel
the two sons of Adam and Eve. Cain was older and a farmer; Abel was a shepherd. They made offerings to God, who liked Abel's lamb better than Cain's wheat. Cain was jealous and slew Abel, for which he was forced to roam as an outcast, with a horrible mark on his forehead that showed that he killed his brother. He said, "Am I my brother's keeper?"
a young Hebrew prophet who prayed even when the king had ordered that no one pray. For this, he was thrown into a lion's den, where he should have been killed. Instead, God saved him and he came out of the lion's den unhurt. A symbol of God's protection and the rewards of faith.
The Divine Comedy
written by Dante Alighieri between 1308 and his death in 1321, is widely considered the central epic poem of Italian literature, and one of the greatest of world literature. Its influence is so great that it affects the Christian view of the afterlife to this day. The Divine Comedy is composed of three canticas, Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory), and Paradiso (Paradise). In the Inferno, Dante is led by the poet Virgil into the underworld, where he experiences and describes each of the nine circles of hell. The sign at the entrance to Hell reads: "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."
a young boy who had the courage to fight the huge enemy, Goliath, whom he killed with a slingshot. He became king and was quite good, except for lusting after a married woman (Bathsheba), whose husband he then sent to the front lines to get conveniently killed so David could marry her. They became the parents of Absalom and Solomon.
earthly paradise for Adam and Eve
a Jewish woman married to a Persian king. An evil man wanted to kill the Jews but Esther stopped him by pleading with her husband.
an Israeli judge. In a major battle, when his forces were massively outnumbered, he fooled the opposition by making noise with trumpets that made the enemy think that the Hebrew forces were much larger than they really were.
a huge warrior of the Philistines who was killed by a boy (David) with a slingshot; a symbol of great power that can be overpowered.
a famous New Testament parable, that appears only in the Gospel of Luke (10:25-37). The parable is told by Jesus to illustrate the precepts that a person's fitness for eternal life is defined by his or her actions, that compassion should be for all people, and that fulfilling the spirit of the Law is more important than fulfilling the letter of the Law. Jesus tells a parable about a traveler who was attacked, robbed, stripped, and left for dead by the side of a road. Later, a priest saw the stricken figure and avoided him, presumably in order to maintain ritual purity. Similarly, a Levite saw the man and ignored him as well. Then a Samaritan passed by, and, despite the mutual antipathy between his and the Jewish populations, immediately rendered assistance by giving him first aid and taking him to an inn to recover while promising to cover the expenses. By extension, a Good Samaritan is a generous person who is ready to provide aid to people in distress without hesitation.
Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John)
the "Good News": first four books of the New Testament, all telling the life of Jesus, but from four different perspectives. "The Gospel" has come to mean any statement that is unquestionably true.
Hagar and Ishmael
Hagar is the maid of Sarah that Abraham had a child with and Ishmael is the child, who became a wandering outcast.
the king of the Hebrews who ordered John the Baptist beheaded for Salome's reward and who ordered all Jewish males under age two killed to prevent the "King of the Jews" from overthrowing him.
the dish, plate, cup or vessel used by Jesus at the Last Supper, said to possess miraculous powers. It has long been the object of fruitless quests. By extension, the object of an extended or difficult quest.
the son of Abraham and Sarah. God tested Abraham's faith by ordering him to sacrifice Isaac on a mountain. They went up to the mountain, with Isaac just a bit suspicious that there was no animal to sacrifice (Abraham said that God would provide). Just as Abraham was about to slit Isaac's throat, an angel stayed his hand and he then saw a ram caught in nearby bushes, which he sacrificed instead.
Son of Isaac and brother of Esau, whose birthright and blessing he stole when Isaac was on his deathbed. Later, he dreamt of a ladder that one could climb to get to heaven, with each rung being a good deed. He decided to apologize to Esau and then went on to have twelve sons, who became the twelve tribes of Israel.
Jesus Christ is a figure of martyrdom, sacrifice, and loving forgiveness. He is often symbolized as either a carpenter (which he had actually been, along with Joseph) or a lamb (a common sacrificial animal).
the wife of Ahab (a king of Israel), notorious for her evil and vicious actions.
a symbol of loyalty and faith in God. God and Satan made a bet as to whether or not Job would curse God, no matter what bad things occurred. God gave Satan free rein to test Job; everything bad happened that could possibly and still Job didn't curse God. Eventually, god won the bet and gave Job back all the things he had lost.
John the Baptist
born before Jesus and announced his coming. Baptized Jesus and was one of his followers. After Jesus's death, he was captured by Herod for preaching Jesus's word. Salome danced for Herod, who offered her any gift in payment for her wonderful dancing. She requested the head of John the Baptist, which was delivered to her on a sliver platter.
a Hebrew whom God commanded to go to Nineveh to tell the people there to stop sinning. He didn't want to and tried to escape by boat, but God made a great storm. When the others on board realized that Jonah was the person God was mad at, they threw him overboard. He was then swallowed by a "great fish" (whale). He lived inside it for several days, repented, and was regurgitated on the beach. He then went quickly to Nineveh and followed God's orders. A symbol of learning the hard way.
firstborn son of Rachel and Jacob, who loved him more than all his other sons because he loved the mother (Rachel) more than the mother of his other children (Leah). Joseph flaunted his father's favor, especially by showing off his many-colored coat that was a gift from Dad. Other brothers were very jealous and planned to murder him; instead, they sold him into slavery and he was taken to Egypt, where his ability to interpret dreams led him to become the pharaoh's right-hand man.
one of the twelve original disciples of Jesus. He sold out to the Romans for thirty pieces of silver. He kissed Jesus in public so the Romans would know which man was Jesus and could arrest him. The "kiss of Judas" is an act of betrayal, especially one that looks like a loving action.
a man who Jesus raised from the dead, even though he'd been buried for three days. A symbol of Jesus's power and of possibilities.
Loaves and fishes
one of Jesus's most famous miracles. Many people came to hear him preach to feed the masses he multiplied a few loaves and fishes. Everyone was fed with food to spare. Symbolizes a miraculous appearance of resources. Lucifer/Devil/Beelzebub/flies: Lucifer was originally the top angel and sat at God's right hand. He got jealous and attempted a coup, which failed. He was sent to Hell, where he is more commonly called the Devil or Satan. Beelzebub was originally a Philistine deity worshipped as the lord of the flies; that name (and image) was transferred to Christianity; in Paradise Lost, Beelzebub ranks next to Satan.
Mary and Joseph
the father and virgin mother of Jesus. Mary was told by the angel Gabriel that she and her husband would bear the son of God; a carpenter.
a prostitute who came to hear Jesus preach and was accepted by him and became a devout follower. Initially, his other followers were shocked, but he said, "Let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone," so they shut up. She is a symbol of the absolute possibility of repentance and acceptance by God. She is referred to in the Bible as the "favorite" disciple.
Moses and Aaron
brothers who worked together to save the Israelites (Jews) from slavery in Egypt (they were still there from Joseph's time). Moses was the leader and God spoke to him, but he stuttered, so Aaron actually spoke to the people and told them what God told Moses. Moses led them across the Red Sea, which parted, and into the desert, where they roamed for many years. He went up to Mount Sinai, where God gave him the Ten Commandments. He was gone a long time and the people started to get nervous, so they built an idol to worship: a golden calf. When Moses came and found them worshipping an idol, he was so upset that he broke the tablets the commandments were on. After they destroyed the calf, he went back and got another copy of the commandments.
After receiving a message from God, Noah built an ark, on which all the animals on the earth went, two by two, to escape drowning in the great flood, which lasted 40 days and 40 nights.
(1167) an epic poem by the 17th century English poet John Milton. The poem concerns the Christian story of the rise of Man: the temptation of Adam and Eve by Satan and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden.
largely the developer of Christianity as an organized system of beliefs; he took his information on the road and went preaching in towns all over the mid-East, just ahead of Romans out to kill him for being a rabble-rouser. After he left a town where he had preached, he often wrote numerous letters to his followers there, to keep them with the faith. The most famous are the Epistles (letters) to the Corinthians.
the first "pope" of the Christian church. His name means "rock" in Latin and he provided the foundation for building the church itself, figuratively.
the traditional enemies of the Hebrews, known for their barbarism and indifference to art and culture.
a wastrel who returns home and is welcomed with open arms. His brother, who had remained home to serve their father, is angry and jealous of the wastrel's warm reception. Symbolizes the benevolence and generosity of God's (or anyone's) forgiveness; unconditional love.
Rachel and Leah
wives of Jacob. He fell in love with Rachel, the younger. Her father said Jacob could marry her if he worked for the father for seven years. Jacob did so. After the wedding, when he lifted the veil, he found that he'd married Leah, who had to marry first since she was older. He still wanted Rachel, so the father said Jacob could have her after another seven years of labor, which he did. Meanwhile, he and Leah turned out kids like crazy.
Ruth and Naomi
Naomi was a Hebrew whose son married Ruth, a Moabite (foreigner). After the son died, Ruth chose to stay with Naomi rather than returning to her own people. She is the first convert to Judaism and a symbol of loyalty.
Samson and Delilah
He had great strength because he had never cut his hair (he was a Nazarite, his life consecrated to the Lord). She was from the enemy tribe (the Philistines) and became his mistress and then betrayed him by cutting his hair while he slept. The Philistines captured and blinded him, but Samson eventually found enough strength to destroy his enemies by pulling down the pillars of the temple they were all in, even though doing so meant that he would die too.
the desert where the Jews roamed for many years, before getting to the Promised Land.
Sodom and Gomorrah
According to the Bible, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah — called as a group The Cities on the Plain - were destroyed by God for their sins. It is often postulated that the sin of Sodom was homosexuality and rape. Before it was destroyed, a virtuous couple, Lot and his wife, were advised by God to leave the city immediately and not look back. Lot's wife submitted to temptation and, as she looked back on the city, she was turned into a pillar of salt.
king of the Hebrews known for his wisdom. When two women appeared before him, both claiming that the same baby belonged to both of them, he ordered it cut in half, so each woman could have half. The woman who screamed not to cut the baby was given it, since Solomon determined that she must really love it, since she didn't want it to die.
the Wise Men who followed the star to Bethlehem to see baby Jesus the night he was born and brought him gifts to honor his birth; often referred to as the "Adoration of the Magi."
Tree of Knowledge
the one tree whose fruit (apple) God forbade Adam and Eve from eating. After they do so (on the advice of Satan, disguised as a serpent), they gain knowledge of good and evil, but are banished from paradise.