Thou Shall Not Kill

By Sally Carpenter

Looking for a different way to bump off the victim in a mystery? I found some effective methods in the Bible. Yes, the good book describes humans with all their warts and foibles in brutal honesty.

Later this month I’ll be giving a talk titled “Thou Shall Not Kill: A Mystery Writer Looks at Sin and Redemption” at my home church as part of the annual University Series, a Lenten program of adult education classes presented in 12 county-wide parishes. I’ll be discussing sin, the devil, the psychological and biblical basis of evil, the “shadow side” of Nancy Drew (she isn’t all niceness) and the world view expressed in the various mystery subgenres.

In my research I found a number of murders in the Bible. The point of this blog is not to generate a theological discussion or negative comments about religion, but that a mystery writer can find inspiration anywhere.

*Ehud, a southpaw, set out to kill the fat and wicked Eglon, king of Moab. Ehud strapped a dagger to his right thigh. He got the king alone and reached for his knife. The king saw nothing suspicious, since a right-handed person would have a dagger on the left thigh. Ehud plunged the knife so deep into Eglon’s belly that the fat covered it (Judges 3:15-25).

*General Sisera of the Canaanite army, foes of the Israelites, fled from the battlefield and found refuge in the tent of Jael. She gave him milk to drink, invited him to rest, and covered him. As he slept on the ground, she took a mallet and pounded an iron tent peg through his skull (Judges 4:17-22).

*Women rock! This time the Assyrians laid siege to Israel. Judith, a widow, dressed up and met the leader of the Assyrian army, Holofernes, in his camp. She let him woo and dine her. After four days he got roaring drunk at dinner and attempted to seduce her in his tent, but fell asleep instead. Judith took Holofernes’ sword, cut off his head in two whacks, put the head in a bag, and returned to the Israelites to rally them to victory (Judith 13:1-10).

*A case of murder/suicide. Strong man Samson was weakened and captured by the Philistines, who blinded him and set him to work pulling a grindstone. Some time later, hundreds of Philistines gathered inside and atop a building for a party. They brought in Samson to amuse them. During his time in prison his hair had grown back and his strength returned. Samson put his hands on the building’s supporting pillars, pushed, and the roof collapsed, killing everyone.

*Evil Queen Jezebel put on her cosmetics and looked out her upper-story window to lure Jehu, Israel’s head of state. He ordered her eunuchs to throw her out the window, which they did. The Bible even describes the blood spatter (Judges 9:33). Then dogs ate the body, leaving only the skull, feet and hands (Judges 9:30-37).

*St. Stephen was stoned, a gruesome method in which the victim sometimes took hours to die (Acts 7:58-59). The victim was thrown into a pit with rocks on the bottom, and more rocks were piled on.

*But the classic story is one of adultery and murder. King David was walking atop his palace and spied on the rooftops below. He saw beautiful Bathsheba bathing and had her brought to the palace. Before long she became pregnant, which proved awkward, as her husband, Uriah, was off fighting in David’s army. David sent a letter to the army commander to place Uriah in the heaviest part of the battle and pull back the reinforcements. The enemy quickly killed Uriah, and David married Bathsheba. The baby died, but their next child was the great king Solomon.




15 thoughts on “Thou Shall Not Kill

  1. My Sunday School kids (boys especially) loved the story about the fat king–there’s more to it that they loved too–couldn’t believe it was actually in the Bible.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, there’s lots of good stuff in the good book, but many people don’t read it and miss out! But I found more than 30 murders (not counting all the holy wars) in the Bible.


  2. It is amazing how people who write mystery/murder can look around to most instances in history and find viable ways to kill off a character. Sounds like a great presentation!

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  3. I would love to be there as well; Sally, this is so interesting. The Bible is filled with murder treachery and supernatural events ( Arch Angels and Satan). Redemption is also woven throughout. This is an incredible thread ( just as interesting as your Peanuts post). St. Stephen was the first martyr, I believe.

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    1. Yes, you’re right about Stephen as the first martyr. And one of those present at his stoning was the man who became St. Paul, who was also martyred by beheading;.


      1. Redemption can also be seen by St Paul’s conversion in the Epistles. I like what your parish is doing. Paul ( Saul) was guilty of many things, but then he became one the most faithful.

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  4. I love this! I wish I could go to your lecture. I’ve been looking to the Bible for some mystery inspiration myself recently, though I was looking as part of my research into the idea of redemption, not ways to commit murder…!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jane. The David story is the best one on redemption. The prophet Nathan tells David a story about a rich man who killed a poor man to steal his one lamb. When David said that man should be punished, the prophet says, “You are the man!” and the king repents.

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