50 Interesting Facts about Christianity (That You Didn’t Know!)

Written by Joshua Schachterle, Ph.D

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Date written: March 14th, 2024

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily match my own. - Dr. Bart D. Ehrman

There are so many interesting facts about Christianity that it’s hard to know where to begin!  It remains the largest religion in the world, with 31.6% of the world’s population identifying as Christian in 2022. What’s more, scholars are still making new discoveries and reinterpreting texts and archeological evidence about Christianity’s origins.

In this article, I’ll provide 50 hidden facts about Christianity that most people don’t know.  I've also organized the list into facts about important figures such as Jesus and  Apostle Paul, as well as key sections of the Bible like the Gospels and Genesis.

50 Interesting Facts about Christianity (That You Didn’t Know!)

Facts about Christianity: Starting with Jesus

#1 Jesus was John the Baptist’s disciple before his own ministry started.

Scholar Joel Marcus says that the fact that John the Baptist baptizes Jesus in the Gospels indicates something interesting: Jesus likely started out as a follower of John the Baptist before beginning his own ministry. While John and Jesus were probably not related, as the Gospel of Luke says, most scholars agree that Jesus was originally John’s disciple.

#2 Jesus spent the majority of his life in one region: Galilee.

It may seem strange that such a massive global religion began so small, but the Gospels are clear that Jesus spent the vast majority of his ministry not only in Palestine but in the relatively small region of Galilee where he was born and raised.

#3 Jesus’ ministry was supported by wealthy women.

Luke 8:1-3 says this about those who accompanied Jesus:

The twelve [disciples] were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who ministered to them out of their own resources.

It's clear from this passage that not only were these women followers of Jesus, but that several of them, including Mary Magdalene, were wealthy and used their wealth to provide for Jesus and his disciples.

#4 Jesus had siblings who joined the Church after his death.

In Mark 6:3, people in Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth make this comment about Jesus:

“Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?”

While we aren’t told the number or names of Jesus’ sisters, he clearly had at least six siblings. The Gospels say in several places (Mark 3:21, John 7:4-6) that his siblings weren’t his biggest fans during his lifetime. However, his brother James became an important leader in the early Church after Jesus’ death (See Galatians 1:18-19) and his other brothers (or possibly brothers and sisters) went on missionary journeys on behalf of the church (See 1 Corinthians 9:5).

#5 Jesus was not born in Bethlehem.

This is one of the most interesting and lesser known facts about Christianity. The Gospel of Luke says that the reason Joseph and the pregnant Mary travel to Bethlehem is because a census requires everyone to register in their ancestral homes. However, we know that censuses never required everyone to go to their ancestral cities in the 1st century.

Had the emperor demanded this, it would have crippled the economy, stopping everyone’s production of food and other products while they all traveled slowly (it was the ancient world, after all!) to their ancestral cities and back.

Bart Ehrman writes that the story of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem is likely a literary device used by Matthew and Luke designed to have Jesus fulfill a prophecy from Micah 5:2. This prophecy implies that the Davidic Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. However, Jesus was probably born in Nazareth where he grew up. 

#6 Jesus really was a carpenter.

Mark, our earliest Gospel, depicts someone from Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth identifying Jesus as a carpenter. While Matthew, using Mark as a source, modifies this to “the carpenter’s son,” the earliest written memory recorded of Jesus’ life says that this was his profession before his ministry began.

By the way, John Dominic Crossan says that unlike today, where a carpenter is a highly-skilled, well-paid worker, the Greek word used for carpenter in Mark (tekton), indicates that he was a kind of day laborer coming from a background of poverty.

#7 Jesus believed the world would end soon.

Apocalyptic views were increasingly common in Jesus’ time. Jews who believed them said that the world had long been controlled by corrupt forces but that God would soon intervene to punish the wicked and reward the righteous, bringing his kingdom to earth.

This is exactly what Jesus preached, but he also says in Matthew that “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” Jesus probably thought the end was near.

Facts about the Apostle Paul

#8 Although he was Jewish, Paul’s first language was Greek.

We are told in the book of Acts that Paul was from Tarsus, a city in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). In other words, he was a diaspora Jew, unlike Jesus and his disciples who were born and raised in Palestine and spoke Aramaic.

In Paul’s time, Greek was the first language of Asia Minor. So, although Paul grew up as a Jew and certainly learned Hebrew, his first language was Greek, and the communities he established were Greek-speaking. This is why all his letters are written in Greek.

#9 Paul didn’t stop being religiously Jewish after encountering Jesus.

While the common understanding is that Paul, after encountering the risen Jesus, became a Christian, most scholars don’t think this is accurate. I think Pam Eisenbaum puts it best:

[Paul] was a Jew who understood himself to be on a divine mission. As a Jew, Paul believed himself to be entrusted with the special knowledge God had given only to Jews. However, Paul also believed the resurrection of Jesus signaled that the world to come was already in the process of arriving and that it was time to reconcile non-Jews to God.

#10 His teachings incorporated the philosophy of Stoicism.

Classicist Emily Wilson writes

that “Paul was deeply influenced by Stoic philosophy… He borrowed the notions of indifferent things, of what is properly one’s own, the ideal of freedom from passion, and the paradoxical notion of freedom through slavery, fairly directly from the Stoics.”

A good example of this is Paul’s use of the term “spirit” (Greek: pneuma). Troels Engberg-Pedersen notes that modern people generally use that word to mean an immaterial thing, something that cannot be perceived or touched by the physical senses. Paul, however, seems to have a different idea. 

When Paul refers to “spirit,”

says Engberg-Pedersen, it is something physical, albeit much more highly refined than our normal, everyday matter, and can thus act upon the physical world.  If he is correct, this is a highly Stoic way of thinking about spirit and matter, signifying that Paul had either read the Stoics himself, or that Stoic thought was just very common in Asia Minor at the time.

#11 He had two names: Saul and Paul.

In Acts 13:9, Paul is called “Saul”. The common belief is that his name was changed to Paul after his lifechanging encounter with the risen Jesus. However, the text never says this.

Acts 13: 9 just says that he was “ Saul, also known as Paul.” In other words, he was sometimes called Saul and other times called Paul. The most likely explanation for this was that as a Jew growing up in the Roman Empire, Saul was the Jewish name given to him at birth and Paul, a common Latin name, was his name in the larger world.

#12 Not all the letters attributed to Paul in the New Testament were written by him.

Of the 13 epistles in which the author claims to be Paul, only 7 are indubitably authentic according to Bart Ehrman. If you've never heard this before, you may find it interesting to know that this is one of the least disputed facts about Christianity on our list.  The vast majority of scholars agree. The authentic letters written by Paul are Galatians, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Philemon, Philippians, and 1 Thessalonians.

There are two other categories of Pauline letters: Deutero-Pauline Epistles (Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians) and the Pastoral Epistles (1-2 Timothy and Titus). Most scholars don’t believe any of these were written by Paul, although a few defend the Deutero-Pauline letters as authentic. All of these were likely written by people long after Paul’s death who used his name to shore up their own authority.

#13 Paul may have been a tentmaker.

Acts 18:3 says that Paul was a tentmaker by profession. While Acts is not always the most historically reliable source, this detail is certainly plausible. Paul himself writes in 1 Thessalonians 2:9 that he and his fellow missionaries “worked night and day so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.” Tentmaking was a solid profession in Paul’s time and fulfilled an economic need, so it’s not unreasonable to believe that he was trained in it and made a living at it.

#14 Paul fought with Peter.

While the book of Acts strains to show that Paul and the Jerusalem Church led by Peter were in perfect harmony, Paul’s letters tell another story. The issue, it seems, was whether Gentile Jesus-followers needed to follow the Jewish Law, becoming circumcised, eating kosher, etc.

In Galatians 2:11-12, he says “But when Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he stood self-condemned, for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction.”

We are only told Paul’s side of the story here, and Paul never says that the issue was completely resolved.  See our free online course: "Did Peter Hate Paul?"


Paul and Jesus: The Great Divide™

This course addresses one of the most controversial issues of early Christianity: Did Paul and Jesus have the same religion? Should they be considered the “co-founders” of Christianity?

Jesus and Paul New Course by Bart Ehrman

Facts about the Bible

#15 The number of the Beast may be 616 in the book of Revelation, not 666!

We’ve all heard of the number of the beast, 666, from the book of Revelation. It’s been used in horror films and modern evangelical fiction like the Left Behind series. Scholars know that the 666 in Revelation is an example of gematria, an ancient practice in which names were given numerical values and then interpreted. Long story short, 666 refers to the emperor Nero who some believed had never died and would someday return.

However, in two manuscripts of the book of Revelation there’s a surprise: the number is not 666 but 616. Why?

Those two manuscripts, like all our manuscripts, are from long after the book was actually written. The vast majority of the manuscripts of Revelation write the number as 666. It could have been a simple scribal error, or as Bart Ehrman notes, “if you spell Caesar Nero in Hebrew letters, the letters add up to 666.  But there is an optional “n” at the end of his name, and if you take away the “n” the letters add up to 616.”

#16 The Pentateuch was not written by Moses.

Jewish and Christian tradition has long said that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). However, John J. McDermott and most scholars agree that those books were written by at least four different authors or groups of authors over centuries.

#17 The Bible was the first book published in movable type by Gutenberg.

Johannes Gutenberg, a German craftsman, invented a method of printing from movable type in the 15th century, ushering in the modern world of printed books. What was the first full book to be published with this method? The Bible, of course! The Gutenberg Bible was first printed sometime in the mid-1450s in Latin.

Why was this invention so important for the Bible? Remember that before Gutenberg’s invention, all writings were written and copied by hand. There were, therefore, countless scribal errors. The printing press allowed a printer to print a book multiple times with the exact same words without errors (of course that says nothing about the handwritten manuscripts from which the printed Bible had been copied, but still…).

#18 We don’t have original copies of any biblical book.

For a book believed to be divinely inspired, a book of such vast significance for history, religion, and culture, it’s shocking to know that we have zero original manuscripts of any biblical book.

Bart Ehrman notes that the earliest complete manuscript of the Hebrew Bible dates to about 1000 CE, 1700 years after the earliest books were written. The earliest complete manuscript of the New Testament dates to the mid-4th century, 300 years after the books were written. In other words, what we have are copies of copies of copies of copies…

Given the frequency of scribal errors (copyists were only human after all!), it’s difficult to know with any certainty exactly what the original texts said.

#19 A lot of books were left out of the Bible.

In the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, at least 14 books, known as the Apocrypha, were deemed not worthy of being called Scripture by Jewish religious authorities and most Protestant denominations. Others consider at least some of these books to be canonical Scripture.

In the New Testament, several books were excluded, including the hugely popular Shepherd of Hermas, the Didache, and numerous apocryphal Gospels. These are widely available in English translations today but are not considered divinely inspired Scripture by most Christians.

#20 The Bible was originally written in three languages.

Do you know what language the Bible was written in? It’s a trick question: there were three! The vast majority of the Hebrew Bible was written in – surprise! – Hebrew. However, language and cultural changes gradually made Aramaic the language of most Jews in Palestine so two books, Ezra and Daniel, contain both Hebrew and Aramaic passages.

The entire New Testament, on the other hand, was written in Greek. If we know that Jesus and his disciples spoke Aramaic, why were they written about only in Greek? Before the Romans took over, Palestine and much of Europe were part of the empire of Alexander the Great, a Macedonian. This meant that the lingua franca, the international language, of those conquered lands became Greek.

Remember from above that Paul grew up in Asia Minor speaking Greek. His Greek letters are the oldest Christian writings we have. Those who wrote the rest of the New Testament lived in various places like Asia Minor and Antioch, Syria where Greek was one of the main spoken languages.

#21 The Psalms were not written by David.

Jewish and Christian tradition says that David, Israel’s greatest king, composed the Psalms. However, there are reasons to think that this is not the case.

John Kselman notes that the Psalms were composed over the course of at least five centuries much longer than David’s lifetime. As Robert Alter says, “The Davidic authorship enshrined in Jewish and Christian tradition has no credible historical grounding. It was a regular practice in the later biblical period to ascribe new texts to famous figures of the past.”

The Psalms were likely written in the southern kingdom of Judah, where David had been the king, but they were probably liturgical, used in Temple Services. The ascription to David is a myth.

Facts about Christian History

#22 The Church split into divisions soon after Jesus’ death.

The Book of Acts says that Greek-speaking followers of Jesus had some controversy with Aramaic-speaking followers in the earliest Church. The Greek-speakers, who were also Jews, complained that while the church took care of Aramaic-speaking widows, their widows weren’t receiving the same generosity. But this was only the beginning.

Paul believed that Gentile followers of Jesus, those whom he had converted or convinced, should not be forced to be circumcised or to otherwise follow the Jewish Law. The Jerusalem Church, including Peter and Jesus’ brother James, disagreed (see Galatians 2).

Despite the descriptions of loving harmony between these two factions in the book of Acts, we don’t know if they ever resolved this issue. We do know that centuries later, however, a group of Jewish Christians called the Ebionites were still following the Jewish Law while Gentile Christians were not (or at least were not required to).

#23 Women played a big part in early Christianity.

I already wrote about how Mary Magdalene and other wealthy women helped to support Jesus and his disciples. But women would play an even bigger part in the earliest formation of the Church.

Paul praised several women leaders in his letters, including Phoebe, leader of a church in the town of Cenchreae, Priscilla, a fellow tentmaker and missionary, and Junia, whom Paul calls a prominent apostle.

In addition, Karen Jo Torjesen writes that there is ample evidence that women held leadership roles in the early Church, including that of bishop.

#24 Nero may have used Christians as torches.

Nero was the first Roman emperor to officially persecute Christians. The story, as written by a later Roman historian named Tacitus, was that a massive fire broke out in Rome in 64 CE. It caused substantial property destruction and many died. Some thought that Nero had set it himself in order to clear the way for a gigantic palace he wanted to build.

To deflect blame from himself, Nero blamed the Christians and ordered that they be arrested, tortured, and killed. According to Tacitus, this included setting some Christians on fire and using them to light his garden. There is no way to confirm this story for certain, but the persecution was certainly real.

#25 There is no archeological evidence that Israelites were enslaved in Egypt.

While the Exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt is a fantastic story, according to the archeological record, there is no evidence for it beyond the biblical text. As Israeli archeologist Stephen Rosenberg puts it, “The Exodus is so fundamental to us and our Jewish sources that it is embarrassing that there is no evidence outside of the Bible to support it.”

He goes on to say that “there is nothing in Egyptian records to support it. Nothing on the slavery of the Israelites, nothing on the plagues that persuaded Pharaoh to let them go, nothing on the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, nothing.”

#26 No one wrote about Jesus during his lifetime.

Although the four canonical Gospels have sometimes been attributed to disciples or at least to people who knew the disciples, we know that that isn’t the case. Our earliest Gospel, Mark, was written in 70 CE, four decades after the death of Jesus. Given that lifespans were notoriously short in the ancient world – the average person lived 35-40 years – it is unlikely that the apostles would still have been alive forty or more years later. It’s also highly unlikely that they were literate, since only 10% of people in the 1st century could read and write.

There were no eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ life. All writings about him came much, much later.

#27 Christians didn’t invent apocalypticism.

If you read the book of Revelation, you might think that this sort of terrifying account of the end of the world was unique. However, this kind of literature – apocalyptic literature – had already been around in the context of Judaism for a long time. Revelation was just following in the footsteps of this ancient tradition.

The basic premise of apocalypticism, that God was coming to overthrow the corrupt powers of the world and institute an idyllic kingdom for the righteous on earth, was a very common mode of thought among Jews in the 1st century CE. For other examples of apocalyptic literature, see the last part of the book of Daniel, the first Book of Enoch, the fourth Book of Ezra, and the second and third books of Baruch.

#28 Constantine did not make Christianity the official religion of the empire.

While it’s true that Constantine the Great was the first Christian emperor of Rome, he did not make Christianity the official religion. Instead, with a proclamation known as the Edict of Milan in 313 CE, he and his co-emperor Licinius ended any and all persecution of Christians, ordered the return of all property confiscated during persecution, and declared that everyone was permitted to practice whatever religion they wanted.

It was a big step forward for Christians, but certainly didn’t mean the end of traditional Roman religion.

Hidden facts about Christianity

Facts about Christianity: the Gospels

#29 The four canonical Gospels were written anonymously.

We’re accustomed to thinking of the Gospels as being written by people named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The truth, however, is that we have no idea who wrote them.

None of the Gospel authors identify themselves as Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John in their texts. In other words, the internal evidence tells us they were written anonymously. But even early external evidence tells us this. Early Christian apologist Justin Martyr mentions the Gospels, calling them “the memoirs of the apostles,” but never names them.

The names were added much later by scribes, probably in the 2nd century CE.

#30 Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source.

Matthew and Luke share a large amount of material with Mark, often using the exact same wording. This is why these three Gospels are known as the Synoptic Gospels. The word “synoptic” is Greek for “seen together,” because when you see these passages together, they are virtually identical.

Since we know that Mark was written well before Matthew and Luke, the only sensible conclusion is that Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source. But not the only source…

#31 Matthew and Luke had another source: Q.

As I said, scholars have known for more than a century that Matthew and Luke used Mark as one of their sources. But there is a fair amount of material shared by Matthew and Luke but not by Mark. Where did it come from?

Enter the Q Source Hypothesis. The Q source – I’ll refer to it as Q – is named for the German word Quelle meaning “source.” It was conceived of as an explanation of the material shared by Matthew and Luke but not Mark. Richard Valantasis notes that Q likely began as a set of oral traditions that were later written down. This is only a hypothesis, though, since no actual copies of Q survive.

Q consisted mostly of sayings attributed to Jesus. If its dates are as early as some scholars believe, the earliest level of Jesus traditions are sayings rather than stories.

#32 The original ending of Mark was… different.

The conclusions of all four canonical Gospels tell of the resurrection of Jesus. But there’s one oddity that is more difficult to understand: the original ending of Mark.

As in the other Gospels, devoted women return to Jesus’ tomb to anoint his body, only to find the stone rolled away from the tomb’s opening and only a young man in white robes inside. The young man tells them to tell the disciples to go to Galilee and they will see Jesus there. But the women run away and tell no one because they’re afraid.

That’s the end.

Later scribes added more to the story, including Jesus appearing to the disciples and ascending to heaven as in the other Gospels. But that’s not the original ending.

While many have speculated that there was simply a page missing from Mark’s original, Bart Ehrman says the abrupt ending might simply be a logical and intentional conclusion to Mark, a book in which the disciples don’t understand Jesus and Jesus silences anyone who does understand who he really is. It’s impossible to know for sure.

#33 “Virgin” in Matthew was based on a mistranslation.

Scholars have known for a long time that the authors of the New Testament all read the Hebrew Bible in its Greek translation, known as the Septuagint. However, since translation is seldom perfect, using that version as a source may have caused some problems.

Case in point: in Matthew, Jesus is said to be born of a virgin to fulfill a prophecy in Isaiah 7:14, which is written like this in Matthew 1:23:

“Look, the virgin (Greek: parthenos) shall become pregnant and give birth to a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

That is indeed how the Septuagint translated Isaiah 7:14. However, the prophecy in its original Hebrew says “Look the almah shall become pregnant and give birth to a son.” The Hebrew word “almah” simply means “young woman.”

The very idea of the virgin birth may have come from a simple mistranslation of one word in the prophecy.

#34 The story of the woman taken in adultery was not in the original Gospel of John.

You probably remember this story from John 7:53-8:11: a woman caught committing adultery is about to be stoned to death by scribes and Pharisees. They ask Jesus if this is the right thing to do. Jesus tells them that whoever among them is without sin should cast the first stone. They reluctantly drop their stones and leave.

As Bart Ehrman writes, it’s a great story, but our oldest manuscripts of the book of John just don’t have it. In addition, Ehrman notes that the style of the passage is markedly different from the rest of John. It is now accepted amongst most Biblical scholars that the story is not original to the Gospel of John.  The story may have been an oral tradition that later scribes inserted into the Gospel.

#35 The author of the Gospel of Luke also wrote the book of Acts.

We know the order of the New Testament, right? First the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John tell the story of Jesus. Then the book of Acts tells the story of the early Church after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. What you might not know, though, is that the same person who wrote Luke, wrote Acts. In fact, scholars generally think of it as one unit, Luke-Acts.

One way we know this is that both books have introductions addressed to someone the author calls “most excellent Theophilus.” This may have been Luke’s patron.

Facts about Moses

#36 The infancy story of Moses mirrors that of Sargon of Akkad (2334 – 2279 BCE).

The story of Moses’ infancy is familiar: Moses is born into slavery in Egypt. The Pharaoh, concerned about a future uprising, declares that all Israelite babies should be thrown into the river. Instead, Moses’ mother puts him in a basket and floats him down the river where he is found by Pharaoh’s daughter who raises him as her own.

This story would have been familiar to other ancient peoples as well. Sargon of Akkad, the first ruler of the Akkadian Empire, had a similar legend told about his origins: he was born secretly to a priestess who then set him adrift on a river, where he was discovered by a laborer who would raise him.

The author of Exodus may have used Sargon’s story as a model for the story of Moses.

#37 Moses, as depicted in Exodus, represents the Jewish people’s hopes in their post-exilic period.

Stephen Russell writes that the book of Exodus was written over at least two centuries during and after the Babylonian exile. Thus, Moses was depicted as a leader and a hero around whom the Israelites could rally, a defining prophet whose story told them who they were and where they came from.

If exile had threatened Israelite identity and even made them forget some of their ancient traditions, Moses gave them a model for taking that identity back and forging it anew.

#38 Moses is known as the lawgiver.

When Moses goes to the top of Mount Sinai and gets the Law (Torah) from God, he helps to define the Jewish people. It’s not just that the Law tells them how to behave. It also tells them who they will be from now on: this is our God, and this is the Law we will henceforth obey for the sake of our God.

#39 Moses encounters God face to face.

Despite 1 John 4:12 which says “No one has ever seen God,” Exodus 33:11 says that on Sinai, “the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.”

No words can adequately describe what an honor this would have been. God isn’t merely ordering Moses around, but engaging with him as a companion. This reinforces the incredibly high status Moses would always have for the Jewish people.

#40 Matthew bases its depiction of Jesus on the life of Moses.

Matthew is often acknowledged as the most Jewish of the canonical Gospels. This is evident, for example, in the way Matthew uses Moses as a model for Jesus.

In Jesus’ infancy, for example, King Herod orders the slaughter of all children two years old or younger. Jesus, of course, escapes, just as Moses escapes the wrath of Pharaoh as an infant.

Furthermore, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is portrayed as a new Moses, a new lawgiver. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets,” he says. “I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” As the Messiah, he is there to fulfill prophecy. As the new Moses, however, he is there to make sure that Jews understand the true interpretation of the Torah. As such, he interprets Moses’ Law in even stricter terms. For example:

You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment, and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council, and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.

#41 Moses is considered a prophet in all Abrahamic faiths.

Moses is the foundational prophet for Jews. But he is just as important for Christians and Muslims.

For example, 3rd-century theologian Origen of Alexandria interprets the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness, led by Moses, allegorically as a spiritual journey in his Homily 27 on the Book of Numbers. For Origen, Moses is like a divine messenger, leading the soul towards perfection.

In Islam, Moses, called “Musa” in Arabic, is one of the most significant prophets. His story from Exodus is repeated in the Quran and he is actually the most frequently mentioned individual in the Quran: his name is mentioned 136 times!

#42 Moses wasn’t a real person.

And now the bad news: scholar Jan Assmann writes that it is all but impossible to know if Moses actually existed because no evidence for him exists outside the tradition. In other words, no extra biblical sources point clearly to Moses’ life. William Devers agrees, since there is no archeological confirmation of his existence, Moses was probably a myth.

Facts about Genesis

#43 Genesis was written by three authorial traditions: Yahwist, Elohist, Priestly.

While tradition says that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, also called the Pentateuch, scholars have known for many years that it was composed over centuries by three authors (or authorial traditions).

The first was the Yahwist tradition. It’s called this because it calls God Yahweh. Scholars abbreviate this as “J” since the German spelling began with a J. According to Joel Baden, the Yahwist material was written in the land of Judah and contributes the lion’s share of material in Genesis.

The second was called Elohist, abbreviated as “E” since this source calls God “Elohim”. E contributes much less to Genesis than J, although E contributes far more to the book of Exodus.

The third was called the Priestly source or “P”. It’s called Priestly because its main concerns are rules for priests involving ceremonies and cultic regulations.

#44 According to Genesis, God did not create the world out of nothing.

While creation out of nothing (Latin: creatio ex nihilo) has become a standard Christian belief, Genesis makes it clear that God created the world out of at least some material that already existed. Here’s what Genesis 1:1-2 says:

When God began to create the heavens and the earth, the earth was complete chaos, and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

While there is an earth and water, it’s in sheer disarray. Part of the creation process, then, is that God organizes the existing material, creating a border between land and water, for example. Genesis doesn’t claim that God creates entirely out of nothing.

#45 It was just a snake, not Satan, who tempted Adam and Eve in the garden.

While centuries of exegetes have decided that the serpent in the garden of Eden was actually the Devil, the passage in Genesis 3 never actually says this:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’ ” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die, for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

While the serpent is clearly the villain here, the text is clear: it was just a devious snake, folks.

#46 Genesis falls under a literary genre called “antiquities” in the ancient world.

John Van Seters says this genre usually included the creation of a certain people as well as their prominent forebears, heroes, and some foundational genealogies. Most ancient Mediterranean civilizations composed such books to explain their own origins and establish or clarify their traditions.

#47 Genesis was written to establish and/or explain Jewish traditions after a period of exile.

Coming out of a long period of exile in Babylon, the Jews were eager to hang on to their old traditions and to create new ones. The book of Genesis was the struggle by three such groups over many centuries, to establish a history and identity for exiled and returning Israelites.

#48 Genesis is divided into two main parts.

The first is called “Primeval History” which goes from chapters 1-11. This includes the creation stories, the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden, Cain’s murder of Abel, Noah’s Ark, and the Tower of Babel.

The second section, comprising chapters 12-50, is called the “Patriarchal Age”. It includes all the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and ends with the story of Joseph in Egypt, which allows the next book, Exodus, to begin with the Jewish people living in Egypt.

#49 Its original name wasn’t Genesis.

The word Genesis is a Greek word meaning “origin” or “coming into being”. This was the name given to the first book of the Bible in its Greek translation, known as the Septuagint. This is appropriate in the sense that it is the story of how the world, and specifically the Jewish people, began and how they overcame adversity through the advocacy and power of their God.

However, the original Hebrew title was Bereshit, which simply means “beginning.” This is also the first word of the book in Hebrew.

#50 Bonus Fact: Jesus Didn’t Intend to Start a New Religion

As I said at the start, Christianity is a massive religion, including at least a third of the world’s population. But was the creation of a new religion Jesus’s intention?

Everything we know about Jesus’ life indicates that he was deeply Jewish. He was born in Palestine, his parents took him to the Temple to be circumcised on the 8th day after his birth, he went regularly to the synagogue, and quoted constantly from the Jewish Scriptures.

Matthew Thiessen answers the question of whether Jesus meant to start a new religion this way:

The Jesus of the Gospels… is a Jesus concerned to keep the law properly and to make legal arguments for why he keeps it in the way that he does. Whatever the precise difference between history and the narratives of the Gospels with regard to details about deeds and sayings, the historical conclusion can only be that the halakic [law-observant] Jesus of the Gospels exists only because the historical Jesus was himself law observant. Did Jesus plan to start a new religion, then? No.


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Josh Schachterle

About the author

After a long career teaching high school English, Joshua Schachterle completed his PhD in New Testament and Early Christianity in 2019. He is the author of "John Cassian and the Creation of Monastic Subjectivity." When not researching, Joshua enjoys reading, composing/playing music, and spending time with his wife and two college-aged children.

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