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GRE Vocab Wednesday: Words from The Bible


The Bible is full of famous phrases: “Cast the first stone”, “The blind leading the blind”, “Fall from grace”, etc. But there are many words of the GRE kind that have a biblical origin.


In the Book of Job, which is part of the Old Testament, a giant beast named the behemoth is mentioned. Some speculate that it might be a hippopotamus or even some large crocodile. Regardless of what the animal was, the word today means any large thing, and typically refers to an organization or business entity.

The mom and pop stores of yore have been replaced with retail behemoths that are able to stay in business not with a smile and a handshake but with the ability to buy massive amounts of product, thereby bringing the price per unit to a level that smaller operations simply can’t compete with.


Speaking of big beasts from the Book of Job, we are not done! (Job was this poor guy who had to suffer one tragedy after another in order to test his faith—though he wasn’t mauled by any large beast). The leviathan was a large sea monster, but just as we weren’t concerned with the nature of the beast with a behemoth, we are more concerned with the meaning of leviathan: any large entity. Yes, very similar to behemoth, but the emphasis is that of a large country or governing body.

The United Nations, at over 192 members, has become somewhat of a leviathan–though critics argue that, in some cases, its size is in inverse relation to its influence.


Proverbs, a book of the Old Testament, consists short sayings that impart a moral lesson. Unlike leviathan and behemoth, which have taken on a slightly different meaning, a proverb means exactly that: a pithy lesson. Proverbial, however, means something that has become so well known that it has become almost stereotypical.

The politician, with his proverbial flair for equivocation, was able to dodge the media’s question so effectively that he made it seem that the journalist had been impertinent asking such a thing in the first place.


The word scapegoat has a cool etymological history. In the book of Leviticus, actually one of the drier of the Old Testament books, all of the people in the village live with sin. It burdens them each day, throughout the year. So what better idea than to have the village elder obtain a goat so that the people gather round the hapless beast in order to purge their sins? The thinking goes that by leading the goat into the wild, far from the village, the villagers will have been cleansed of their sins.

Today, a scapegoat is any person or thing that takes the blame for another person’s wrongdoings.

The baseball team, after losing three seasons in a row and firing two coaches, became so desperate that they used the mascot—Chuckie the Chicken—as a scapegoat, claiming that his loud clucking sounds had been distracting the bullpen.


This word doesn’t actually come from a book in The Bible itself, the way the other words above do. Rather, this word explains the scholarly interpretation of The Bible. For instance, many modern exegeses eschew a literal interpretation of The Bible. More broadly speaking exegesis can refer to any critical interpretation.

A related word is hermeneutics, which is not quite as common. It, too, describes the interpretation of The Bible but can also have a broader application.

The movie, which amounts to little more than a collage of clichés, only becomes interesting as exegesis; it’s many defenders can hold forth for hours on how the film expands on Plato’s metaphor of the cave.


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