5 Horrific Stories from the Old Testament

The Old Testament is the foundational text of the bible for all three of the Abrahamic religions. This article covers five horrific tales from the religious tome.

Sep 13, 2023By Uriel Kantor, BA Liberal Arts & Humanities w/ History Concentration

horrific stories old testament


The beginning of the heavens, the earth, and life, according to the Old Testament, is well-known. Within six days, God created all that is known, along with the first of humankind. Adam was wrought from the soil of the earth. Adamah, in Hebrew, literally means the ground, soil, and earth. Eve was created from the rib of Adam. Adam and Eve betrayed their promise to God, ate the forbidden fruit, and were exiled from the Garden of Eden. Their story symbolizes a recurring theme in the Old Testament: the human struggle with temptation and sin, as well as failed obedience to a vengeful God. The following article tells five tales of sin, horror, and vengeance found in the Old Testament.


1. Noah’s Ark: The Wrath of God

noah_s ark edward hicks
Noah’s Ark by Edward Hicks, 1846, via Philadelphia Museum of Art


One of the better-known tales of the Old Testament is that of Noah and his Ark. The story emphasizes the recurring biblical theme of the importance of following God’s commands with obedience.


According to the story found in the book of Genesis, humanity had become wicked and sinful. Thus, God decided to wash away sin by destroying all living things on earth with a great flood. Among the dregs of humanity, however, there lived Noah, who was righteous and good. So, God decided to spare Noah and his family, along with representatives of every living creature, in order to preserve life on earth.


God gave Noah specific instructions for the construction of an enormous ark that could survive the upcoming flood. Furthermore, Noah was told how to gather two of every kind of animal to ensure the survival of all life. Noah worked for years to build the ark.

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Once the construction was completed, God sent a great flood that lasted for forty days and forty nights, destroying all life outside of the ark. After the flood subsided, Noah sent out a dove to see if the waters had receded. The dove returned holding an olive branch in its beak, indicating that the floodwaters were receding. Thus, Noah, his family, and all the animals left the ark, and life on earth was preserved.


Though this narrative may at first seem like a tale of God’s mercy and kindness in saving Noah and his family, it masks something darker. Regardless of the wickedness of humanity and the lack of faithfulness to God, the destruction of all living creatures for their sinfulness is a long step away from a merciful God.


2. Sodom and Gomorrah: Annihilating Two Cities

Lot and his Daughters by Lucas van Leyden, 1520, via Louvre


The story of Sodom and Gomorrah, also found in the book of Genesis, has a similar moral to that of Noah’s Ark. The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were reputedly full of wickedness and sin. Upon considering how to vanish the evil in the two cities, God sent two angels to investigate.


The two angels were met with hospitality by Lot, the only righteous man in Sodom, who welcomed them into his home. Shortly after, the men of the city came to Lot’s house and demanded that he turns over the angels. According to the narrative, the men were so wicked and full of ill intent that they wished to rape the angels. Lot, however, refused their demands. The angels bade Lot and his family to flee as they struck the men of the city with blindness.


As Lot and his family fled, they were told not to look back. Upon leaving the cities, fire, and brimstone rained from the heavens until nothing was left but ash and rubble. However, before Lot and his family had left Sodom entirely behind, his wife turned to see the ensuing devastation and was turned into a pillar of salt.


Similarly to Noah and the flood, God passed judgment upon humankind in the most extreme of ways: genocide. Indeed, wickedness and sin are certainly ill-favored, but do they justify annihilation? Furthermore, it was not only the wicked that were vanquished but also Lot’s wife, whose only sin was curiosity.


3. The Rape of Dinah: Lust & Massacre

rape dinah sebastiano ricci
The Rape of Dinah by Sebastiano Ricci, 1700, via Bremen Museum


Dinah was the daughter of Jacob, who would later be called Israel, and was also the ancestor of the Israelites. The book of Genesis describes how Dinah visited the town of Shechem and caught the eye of Shechem, the son of Hamor, the prince of the land. Schechem took Dinah and raped her. Shechem asked his father to arrange a marriage with Dinah. Hamor then went to Jacob to ask for Dinah’s hand.


Jacob’s sons were outraged and insulted by both the rape and the subsequent offer of marriage. Deceitfully, they claimed that they would accept the proposal of marriage only if the men of the city would agree to the rite of circumcision. The men of Shechem conceded.


Levi and Simeon, two sons of Jacob, awaited three days following the circumcisions when the men of Shechem were most in pain. Upon this day, they came into the city and, in surprise, killed all the males. They murdered Hamor and his Shechem, took Dinah, and went away. They did not end there, however, as they plundered the city, its wealth, and all that was in the houses of the inhabitants.


This story is topical to the horrific stories of the Old Testament. It is not the only mention of rape within its pages. What is telling and sorrowful is that although it was Dinah that was raped, there is no mention of her intent and wishes concerning the fate of all involved. Beyond the horrors of rape, the story tells freely of the massacre of a whole city, including those who were hardly involved in the tragedy.


4. The Prophet Elijah: Vanquishing the Unfaithful 

the sacrifice of elijah before the priest of baal
The Sacrifice of Elijah Before the Priests of Baal by Domenico Fetti, 1621-1622, via Royal Collection Trust


Elijah was one of the most prominent prophets of the Bible. He was known for his extensive deeds in vanquishing the enemies and nonbelievers of Yahweh, the one true God of the Jews. In fact, Elijah’s name means “My God is Yahweh” in Hebrew. Elijah was famous for his stark challenges against the worship of Baal, the Canaanite God of rain, thunder, and dew.


Elijah preached God’s word during a turbulent age in Israel where reverence of Yahweh was not exclusive. At the time, Ahab, the king of Israel, propagated the worship of Baal. He denounced Elijah for troubling the spiritual peace of Israel, to which Elijah blamed Ahab for following false Gods.


Thus, Elijah, believing that Yahweh would come to his aid, decided to put their conflicting faiths to the test. Ahab summoned the people of Israel and 450 prophets of Baal to Mount Carmel. Elijah proposed that he and Baal’s prophets each sacrifice one of two bulls by placing them on wood that they would not light. Instead, Elijah bade the prophets of Baal to pray for a fire that would light the sacrifice. All day they prayed, but with no success.


Elijah proceeded to woo Yahweh to accept his sacrifice, but not before he had poured four large jars of water three times onto the altar. As Elijah invoked the name of Yahweh, fire rained upon the altar, and the bull was consumed. The people of Israel were immediately convinced that Yahweh was the one true God. Elijah commanded the people to seize the prophets of Baal, and Elijah killed them all.


Through God’s power and miracles, Elijah’s zealous deeds triumphed in establishing Yahweh’s dominance in Israel. A heroic moment for Yahweh but a tragic and horrific end for countless that opposed Him.


5. The Levite and His Concubine: Abuse and Murder

levite concubine death
The Death of the Levite’s Concubine by Willem Bartsius, 1638, via Hermitage Museum


Traditionally, the Israelites were separated into 12 tribes, descended from the 12 sons of the biblical patriarch Jacob. The Levis was one such tribe. This story follows the misadventures of one Levite and his concubine.


As the Levite and his party were traveling, they stopped in Gibeah of the Benjaminites (another of the 12 tribes). Hoping to be hosted, they stood in the public square, but no one came forth. Eventually, an old man invited the Levite party to stay at his house.


After some time, a collection of men came to the old man’s house and knocked on the door. They demanded to speak with the Levite, as they wanted to have intercourse with him. Instead, the old man offered his daughter and the Levite’s concubine, as men’s honor was considered more important than women’s.


The Benjaminite men abused the Levite’s concubine all night, after which she collapsed outside the door. The story does not tell when or where the woman died. The Levite then cut his concubine’s body into twelve pieces, which he delivered to the twelve tribes of Israel, hoping to incite revenge.


The horror of this story and others like it in the Old Testament depict a violent world of recurring tragedies. Whether or not these tales teach morals that are relevant today and whether they should be taken with earnest philosophical consideration or merely as what they are, stories, is still debated. What is certain is that these vivid images are not for the faint-hearted.

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By Uriel KantorBA Liberal Arts & Humanities w/ History ConcentrationUriel has been writing creatively and academically for about ten years, with a keen interest in the humanities. Particularly passionate about ancient history, he believes that the past is not merely a story but a formative identity that should not be ignored. Aiming to illuminate the colorfulness of history, Uriel wishes to help people breach narrow-minded approaches to history and hopes to bring about awareness of the diversity inherent in humanity’s story.