The Top 10: Book titles taken from the Bible

A set of sometimes unexpected scriptural references

John Rentoul
Friday 25 September 2020 17:53 BST
Stephen Fry’s memoir, Moab is My Washpot, takes its name from Psalms 
Stephen Fry’s memoir, Moab is My Washpot, takes its name from Psalms 

A list suggested by Tom Harris, who started with numbers 2 and 5. Alphabetically by author, then...  

1. The Pale Horse, Agatha Christie. Revelation 6:8. Nominated by the Crewe Normal and Graham Sutton. Evil Under the Sun is a paraphrased quotation from Ecclesiastes 6:1: “There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy upon humankind.” Thanks to Scope Davies.  

2. Moab Is My Washpot, Stephen Fry. Psalm 60:8. Also Psalm 108:9, because it was so good they used it twice. It is God speaking about victory (Moab being an ancient kingdom on the east side of the Dead Sea): “Moab is my washpot; over Edom will I cast out my shoe: Philistia, triumph thou because of me.” From Tom Harris.  

3. Strait is the Gate, Andre Gide. Matthew 7:14. From the bit that gives us “strait and narrow”, an example of emphasis by tautology that has been altered in the common phrase “straight and narrow”. Thanks to Stephen Date and Sarah Burwood.  

4. The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway. Ecclesiastes 1:5. Nominated by Graham Kirby, Richard Evans and Distant Cities, which is a perfectly sensible name for a person.  

5. Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee. Isaiah 21:6. Also from Tom Harris.  

6. Through a Glass, Darkly, Donna Leon. 1 Corinthians 13:12. Also a film by Ingmar Bergman, 1961. And an episode of Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, 1996. Thanks to Rootless Cosmopolitan.  

7. The Violent Bear It Away, Flannery O’Connor. Matthew 11:12. Nominated by Richard T Kelly.  

8. East of Eden, John Steinbeck. Genesis 4:16. From Grainne Murphy and Mark Hart. The Grapes of Wrath, meanwhile, is another paraphrase, of Revelation 14:19: “The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath.” Thanks to James Strachan.  

9. Vile Bodies, Evelyn Waugh. Philippians 3:21. Nominated by Allan Holloway, Adrian Hilton and Ian Greenfinch.  

10. Consider Her Ways, John Wyndham. A title used first by Frederick Philip Grove for his 1947 novel. Proverbs 6:6 (“Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise”). Thanks to HeyAdora.  

Lord of the Flies, William Golding, nominated by Allan Holloway, didn’t quite make it, as it is a disputed etymology of Beelzebub, 2 Kings 2:1. Various single-word nominations, for Exodus, Leviathan and Armageddon (Leon Uris or Max Hastings), were rejected.  

There are always a few who don’t take my lists seriously. This week Michael Crick, Star Man and Neil Matthews nominated Kane and Abel, Jeffrey Archer.  

Next week: Greatest political errors of all time, inspired by Jo Swinson’s decision to allow Boris Johnson to have an election.

Coming soon: TV shows that lasted longer than the thing they were portraying, such as Dad’s Army, which ran for longer than the Second World War.  

Your suggestions please, and ideas for future Top 10s, to me on Twitter, or by email to

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