Biblical Allusions

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff
  • Antedeluvian: Antedeluvian is Latin for “before the flood,” referring to the flood Noah rode out in Genesis. Something very old or outdated is sometimes exaggeratedly called antedeluvian. The professor's antedeluvian beliefs made him ill-suited for classroom teaching.
  • Goliath: Goliath was a giant warrior—more than nine feet tall—who was slain by David in I Samuel. In modern usage, both giants and very large or powerful people or things are called goliaths. Small bookstores can't compete against national chain goliaths.
  • Good Samaritan: The book of Luke recounts the parable of the Good Samaritan, in which a man is attacked by thieves and left at the side of the road. A passing Samaritan binds his wounds, takes him to an inn, and cares for him. A good Samaritan now refers to anyone who freely helps others in their time of need. If not for the good Samaritan who jump-started her car, she might still be stuck on the side of the Interstate.
  • Job's comforters: In the book of Job, the title personage was tested with a series of misfortunes. At several points, friends came to “comfort” Job by claiming that his travails were the just consequences of his sins, and that it was therefore unseemly to complain about them. A Job's comforter has come to mean a person who tries to console another but instead has the opposite effect. The Job's comforters told him it was just as well he wasn't invited to the party; he didn't make nearly enough money to interest any of the women there.
  • Jonah: Jonah was a prophet who defied God's command to deliver a warning to the city of Nineveh, instead fleeing on a ship to Tarshish. A storm was sent to punish him, and would not relent—imperiling everyone on the ship—until Jonah was thrown off. A person or thing that brings bad luck is called a Jonah. I'm not going to carpool with that Jonah. Every vehicle she gets into ends up in an accident.
  • Judas: Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus Christ, identifying him to soldiers by giving him a kiss. Somebody who betrays their friend is called a Judas. I'm not going to leave that Judas alone with my boss while we're competing for the same promotion.
  • Killing the fatted calf: See the prodigal son. The prodigal son's father calls for a fatted calf to be killed for the welcoming feast. Killing the fatted calf is now used as an expression for sparing no expense on a celebration. He killed the fatted calf for the lavish anniversary party.
  • Kiss of death: See Judas. A kiss of death is an act of betrayal, or any action which causes another's downfall. The endorsement by a prominent neo-Nazi was the kiss of death to her senatorial campaign.
  • Patience of Job: Job, in the book named for him, was faced by a series of unbearable misfortunes. While this caused him to lament his fate, he nevertheless never wavered in his faith in God. Somebody with a seemingly infinite store of patience is said to have the patience of Job. Dealing with the crotchety old man every day for five years required the patience of Job.
  • Prodigal son: The book of Luke recounts the parable of the prodigal son, in which a son leaves home to fritter away his money on a hedonistic lifestyle, only to end up destitute. The son crawls home, filled with shame and remorse, upon which his father welcomes him with open arms. Somebody who leaves home to lead a dissolute life and regretfully returns home is called a prodigal son. After abandoning football for a semester of drunken frat parties, Northwestern's prodigal son Rick Hammond came back to lead the team to victory in the playoffs.
  • Thirty pieces of silver: Judas was paid thirty pieces of silver for betraying Jesus. Payment for any treacherous act is now referred to as thirty pieces of silver, or blood money. 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.

See also: Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, and Old Testament Names

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