De Gruyter Advent Calendar | Door 3
Coded clues are an essential plot device in crime novels; often enough biblical passages provide a way of encoding and relaying secret information.
Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2005) is one famous example of crime fiction in which biblical clues lead to the capture of a killer. Ian Rankin’s Black and Blue (1997) is based on the real case of a serial killer nicknamed “Bible John”, who supposedly quoted from the Bible.
In addition to providing mysterious plot elements in contemporary fiction, the Bible itself might just be an early example of crime fiction - it tells the story of the first murder, after all. Cain murders his brother Abel in the book of Genesis (chapter 4).
The Bible also contains a wise-cracking detective and a show-trial (in the story of Susannah and the Elders in Daniel 13), cunning deceit (in the story about Joseph and his brothers in Genesis 37-50), disguises and vigilantism (in the story of Tamar and Judah in Genesis 38), as well as riveting spy stories (in the stories of Israelite spies exploring the land of Canaan in Numbers 13 and Joshua 2).
Bible in Crime Fiction
In Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, biblical passages provide clues to track down the killer.
Using Bible citations to relay coded information is mocked in Thomas Harris’ The Red Dragon: Hannibal Lecter communicates with a killer in biblical verses – or so it seems, as the references are actually from The Joy of Cooking!
The Bible not only provides archetypes and hint-hunts, but is also adapted in crime fiction in more abstract and encompassing ways. Biblical themes such as guilt, justice, retribution, and even the apocalypse appear in crime fiction. W.H. Auden once wrote that crime fiction imagines the world as a garden of Eden, disrupted by an evil-doer but restored by the detective. Seen like this, crime fiction can actually address larger ethical issues. It can choose to present unexpected fictional worlds, beyond a simple distinction of “good” and “evil”.
In G.K. Chesterston’s fiction, for example, there are both repenting thieves and detectives who are aware that they themselves are not always perfect.
Further reading exclusively for readers of the Advent Calendar
Browse the Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception (EBR) 30 days for free and read the article on "Crime Fiction".
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