God, horrified by man’s wickedness, decided to flood the earth. He told Noah, a “righteous man”, to build a wooden ark and, when the floods came, to take his family and two of every living creature on board. The rain fell for 40 days and 40 nights, and every living thing on dry land perished. After 40 days, Noah sent out a dove but it could find nowhere to set its feet so it flew back. A week later, Noah sent out the dove again and when it returned it carried an olive leaf. A week later, he sent the dove out again and this time it didn’t return. Noah saw that the earth had dried, and released his family and the birds and animals on to the land. God promised never to destroy the earth again.
Samson and Delilah
Samson was a man of great physical strength. His lover, Delilah, was paid by the Philistines to find out how to overpower him. Three times Delilah asked how he could be subdued and three times Samson lied to her. The fourth time Delilah asked, Samson told her the truth: if his head were shaved he would weaken. Delilah cut his hair while he was sleeping and the Philistines captured him, gouging out his eyes. The Philistines held a feast day to celebrate his capture and brought him out to entertain them, not realising that his strength had returned when his hair had grown back. Samson brought down the pillars holding up the temple, killing himself and everyone inside.
Joseph was Jacob’s favourite son, hated by his brothers. He dreamed he would be a great leader, but his brothers were jealous and plotted to kill him. They stripped him of his coloured robe, told their father he had been killed and sold him to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt and sold him to Potiphar, one of the Pharoah’s officials. Potiphar made him head of his household, but he refused to sleep with Potiphar’s wife so she accused him of attacking her. Potiphar had Joseph thrown in jail, where he became known as an interpreter of dreams. Pharoah had a bad dream and sent for Joseph, who predicted seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. He told Pharoah to store grain and Pharoah put him in charge of Egypt. When the famine came, Jacob sent 10 of his remaining sons to Egypt to purchase grain. They didn’t recognise Joseph and bowed down before him. Joseph promised them grain if they would give him Benjamin, the youngest brother, who hadn’t journeyed to Egypt. When the brothers did as they were asked, Joseph revealed himself to them and was reconciled with his family.
David and Goliath
The Philistines and the Israelites were at war. Goliath, a giant over nine feet tall, stepped forward from the ranks of the Philistines and called for an Israelite to face him in a duel. For 40 days, no man dared challenge him. Then David, a shepherd who was delivering supplies to his soldier brothers, stepped forward. He refused the king’s armour and sword, and faced Goliath armed only with his slingshot. Goliath ridiculed him but David fired a stone at his forehead and killed him with one shot, then cut off Goliath’s head with his own sword.
The parable of the two builders
Jesus said to the crowds gathered,”The foolish man built his house upon the sand. The rains fell and the floods came and the winds blew and the house built on the sand fell. The wise man built his house upon the rock. The rains fell and the floods came and the winds blew but the house did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. Those that do the will of God will be like the wise man and enter the kingdom of Heaven.”
And Motion recommends:
The first three chapters of Genesis, the Sermon on the Mount and the Crucifixion because they contain stories “people need to know because the narratives are so important and underpin so much else that comes later”; the Book of Ruth; II Samuel, Chapter 22 (David’s song of thanksgiving); and St John’s Gospel, chapter 20 (Mary meeting Jesus in the garden after the crucifixion) because “the beauty of the writing” has “exerted an influence on subsequent writing by establishing itself as a kind of literary DNA”.