10 Stories From The Bible In No Particular Order

by Ian Baaske


When she was a girl and her father would bring her with him to the market, Zuleika would feel the older men’s stares. She remembers the dust and noise and heat mixing strangely with fear and desire and curiosity. Her father and mother still treated her as a young girl, but she didn’t have a young girl’s body, and in her bed she’d trace her fingers along her new breasts, her newly curved hips and buttocks and the budding garden between her legs.

Zuleika’s father was shocked when the great merchant Potiphar proposed. She lay awake the night before her wedding, wondering what she would learn about the real world the next day: what powerful weapon hung beneath the giant man’s flowing tunic, and what sorts of things he’d do to her and have her do to him. Outside, she heard the Nile whispering.

Afterwards, Potiphar bought her oils and perfume, red ochre henna to paint her lips and cheeks, black kohl to line her eyes and brows. A collection of mirrors with strange ivory handles hung on hooks in the bedroom: ram’s heads and beetle’s heads and strangely winking spirits. When he was out, she’d spend long minutes gazing at herself, tilting to see parts she’d never seen before.

Years passed. All softened, and she began to feel like a candle slowly melting over a long evening. In the market, the men’s eyes switched from her to her slave girls and her daughter Asenath.

When the Hebrew arrived, he kept his eyes averted, and the women of the household all noticed him. Like other slaves he was muscled, and his shoulders and pectorals pressed against the thinness of his garment, but unlike other slaves, scarred with misshapen noses, there was a beauty in the shape and symmetry of his handsome face. A softness to it.

To Zuleika, his only utterances were, “Yes, mistress” or “No, mistress,” and when she first told him he needn’t call her “mistress,” he replied with “I would prefer to if it’s all the same.”  When she told him he needn’t hurry off so quickly, he stood still and said nothing. As she looked at him, she thought of the mirrors and the cool feel of the ivory handles. She pictured herself bearded in the marketplace. She pictured herself perched atop the Sphinx. Maybe now, she thought. Maybe now I will do the looking.



The Philistine girls live by the sea and when you were there you could hear the loud murmur of the waves. Drops of ocean and sand freckles danced on their cheeks. To kiss them: their lips, their necks, their shoulders tasted like salt. Whatever sins, whatever anger, whatever thing you’d done, the roar of the water forgave you. You were a different person there, and if they could have understood that much, it would have all been okay. You once killed a lion with your bare hands. When you cut the furry flesh open, bees buzzed out and honey spilled onto your sandals. This was you. They could never understand: this was you. The raging beast, yes, but there was sweet honey inside.

When you saw her at a distance on the rocky sand and she turned, and her hair was flying in the wind, swooping in a black taf-shape, her smile made you breathe strangely. No one had ever smiled at you like that. Maybe that’s why you wanted to believe her, and maybe you were a fool. Here you are of course; they’ll all say of course you were a fool. They’ll all say of course we told you about the Philistines. Of course, the women are no different. Of course, of course, of course.

And what did you think when she wanted to tie you up? When she wanted to bind your wrists with bowstrings and with new ropes and with your own hair? What did you think when she wanted to take complete control of you?

Well, the truth was: you didn’t mind. If she wanted complete control, she could have it. Even now, you think that, your eyes gone. They stabbed them from your face with a sharpened stick. It took four of them to hold you. Even now, resting just a moment with your hands pressed against the posts in the main hall. The roar of the feast. They’re laughing at you. It’s hard to explain but even knowing all this, you’d have still let her tie you up.



Behold, as she lies on the water, floating improbably, the great mass of her body bent and curving as she leans back. All around her, the heads of old men, wrinkled with beards damp with seawater and dirty with seaweed, bob just above the waves. Where they can rub their mouths and their hands across her bare thighs and toes, they do, and her eyes glow with pleasure. Two lick between her legs, the backs of their matted silvery heads bouncing rhythmically. She leans back, and the old men shift, and you can see they all share a red bloated human body, fatty with unmuscled male breasts and a giant belly, connected to the heads at odd angles and decorated with penises both flaccid and erect. She reclines into the red mass. When they see you, the men all glare and their eyes are bag-rimmed and tired. But when she sees you, she smiles. Blood drips from the corners of her mouth and her teeth are stained deep red. You tremble but keep watching.



We could all hear the approach of wild disorder. We eunuchs had woken the queen an hour before dawn, when news first reached us that her sons Joram and Ahaziah were dead. The queen sat up in bed now, the sky deep violet behind her through the open window. We had come with candles.

She asked when the enemy host would arrive. We told her by dawn. She cried then, quietly but with heavy breaths. The tears bubbled through her squeezed-shut eyelids.

When she opened her eyes, she said, “I’d like to know please how they died.” We told her then that Joram had been shot by a bow and that Ahaziah had bled to death in his chariot. She nodded, calmly. Then her lip quivered; then it was still again.

When we first were mutilated, we didn’t know the soldiers marching into our villages were coming for us. We’d always heard they wanted the prettiest women for slaves, and we all worried and wondered: are our sisters pretty? Were our mothers still pretty? They bound our hands–we young men–and dragged us away in cages atop wagons, pulled by bored oxen who blinked away the flies. For long miles, we’d watch only the thick dried mud matting their hindquarters, as the dusty landscape rattled by.

The shack stood alone, near a grove of trees, stacks of bones laid haphazardly around it, buzzards picking them clean. We were unloaded and forced one by one down into the cellar. We bled and wept and ached for a long blurry time, until eventually they brought us before the queen. Though they thought they’d cut away our desire, we would have liked to have run our teeth and tongues all over her body.

Now the dawn lightened the purple, poking it with red and orange, and we could see the queen’s face aged and tired, but she was no longer crying.

Outside, the people of the nearby towns began to gather. Their chanting rose up along the tower walls. The queen’s counselor, a bent old man who leaned on a walking stick arrived, suggested we make all haste for the tunnels beneath the tower. The queen replied, “I won’t be using any tunnels.” She rose and dressed as the counselor watched, his white beard flapping in disbelief. She looked from the window down on the assembled mob. In the distance, in the early light, we could see a dust cloud. Jehu’s column was approaching.

She sat then in front of her mirror and looked at her face. She traced the lines on the edges of her eyes and on her forehead and at the corners of her mouth with her fingers. We stared, not knowing what else to do. The counselor stammered but his words blended harmlessly with the cacophony coming from down below. Calmly, she took out her horsehair brush and dipped it in the purple of her makeup. With light strokes, she applied it just above her eyes. With crimson, she colored her lips; then the touch of pink to her cheeks. She looked up at us, and we looked back for a long while. Outside, the jeering grew louder. She placed her crown on her head. Studded with jewels, the jagged tips of its points rose well above her head and out like antlers and we used to wonder how in fact she balanced it. As she walked to the window now, her steps were slow and measured, her face grim. When she drew close enough to the new sunlight, the lines were all visible like roads cut through the desert. Down below, the angry crowd’s noise mixed with the yelp of the dogs. We stood behind; we loved her and hated her. Jehu’s host approached.



After the massacre, he dreams of bloody bodies stretched as far as the eye can see. He and his general, Joab, step over them, crunching jaw bones and spines and broken spears, a long walk from the upper Euphrates back south to the Red Sea; their sandals never touch the ground. Behind them the dawn–or maybe the sunset–smears the sky orangish-red and silhouettes the leafless trees sprouting here and there from the carnage. They don’t speak. In profile, Joab’s face and grimy beard are speckled with dark red, his jaw set, his eyes focused forward.

When the king wakes, he climbs the stairway to the palace roof and paces in the still-dark morning, slightly dizzy from the height above the sleeping city. It’s a long while before the dream fades back to where dreams come from. When he stumbles over a stray rock, he thinks it for a moment to be the knuckle of a fallen Ammonite.

He stops. Below him, in a courtyard, not more than a fathom away, in the torchlight, a woman, nude and thinking herself unseen, empties an ewer into the stone bath. The water seethes and drops–like a water snake in the flicker, and drops splash up on the woman’s bare thighs and the silky triangle of curled hair. Her hips, her belly, her breasts quiver as she sets the ewer down. Several strands of her tied-back hair pull loose and hang down on her cheeks and obscure her eyes. The King smiles. He can have her too. He feels a movement deep within his undertunic and fumbles to find the hardness of his penis.

The water settles and reflects the torches ringing the bath and the stars overheard. The woman steps cautiously into the bath–only her left leg at first. Now her right leg submerges; she reaches down, splashes water up over her naked body. The king’s hand is in quick motion now. She’s bent; she turns slightly, accidentally accenting the curve of her buttocks. The watcher’s shallow breathing. His is the land in every direction. His is empire. His is her and everyone like her. His is life. His is death.




When I can’t sleep, I think through my thousand wives: one after another after another.

I start always with the three sisters from Moab who sleep in the same bed, their clothes and sheets red-caked with dried blood: what’s left after their sacrifices to their insatiable god. I even built them an altar on a hill to the eastern side, where it looks across the Dead Sea. But always blood, blood, blood. Blood streaked across their bellies and cheeks and the slippery crevices of their thighs. They sleep close enough to hear each other breathe.

Next: sweet Naamah, her middle fat with my still unborn child. She sleeps on her back, her hair wrapped around her like a budding flower. She snorts sometimes in her sleep. The God she worships: Malkam, her people call him. He has the head of a bull and blows smoke from his nostrils. They immolate their children before him, burn them all up to ash and smoke. They wouldn’t dare touch mine. I once told a pair of women fighting over a child I’d cut the horrid little thing in half if they didn’t stop and of course that put an end to it.

The beautiful vaginas of the Sidonians, always nude, their hairs neat and trim. Their tent smells of strange oils and they like to kneel before the immense statue of their goddess in the corner, her body cut perfectly into alabaster. It took a dozen eunuchs to pull the wretched thing inside. The stone, smooth like a tooth, her hair gray and floating, long earrings dangling down to her shoulders, a gold collar around her neck. No other clothes. Her eyes are red rubies; two horns mount the top of her skull. Often, they’ll be face down in the tent’s dirt, prostrate, their buttocks and backs the same color as the alabaster, nearly inseparable like a cresting wave.

I think too about the Queen of Sheba, though we never wed, and it’s been many years. She’d arrived with long rows of camels, laden high with jeweled boxes. The spices seemed to flutter in the air before her, like a rain of fine grains. Behind them, she sat bethroned on a large slab, dragged by slaves, her face covered by a shimmering bit of muslin.





I don’t remember much about him now. I did like that my camels spit at him. He’d wiped the saliva off his beard with the back of his hand. I remember he was scrawny and ghostly, the faded cloud color of his beard and his eyebrows and the ocean foam of his hair all blending with the paleness of his skin. Like all men of the North, he seemed almost not there at all.

When we talked about his wisdom, he told me any number of silly things. He said he’d once offered to cut a baby in two and claimed the adopted mother hadn’t minded. I didn’t say anything. But I know a number of adopted mothers and if he’d touched their babies, he’d have been the one cut in half.



At harvest’s end, Boaz slept in the circle of threshed ground, the grain piled in stacks all around him. He was naked and merry with wine and covered with a wool blanket. His remaining hair circled the base of his skull, the bald top shiny in the torchlight. His club, ringed with spikes, had fallen from his hand and lay helpless by his side.

He was still snoring alcohol fumes when she lifted the blanket off the lower part of his body and snuggled in at his feet. He shifted uneasily. In his dream, the reapers stepped through the corn, stripping away the stalks, cutting a path through the high patch of green. The shadows of the women following fell across him. One with dark green eyes. The breeze rearranged her tunic. The wind flapped the fabric revealing her belly and the soft underside of her left breast. She didn’t seem to mind.

Only slowly did he wake as he became aware of the warmth of her body at his feet. He knew who it was. He let his toes drift along her wrapped form. She stirred in the starlight, but her body didn’t lose contact with his feet and ankles. He felt the harshness of her tunic, then the softness of her skin underneath.

Her warm body wiggled back towards his shins; they touched the rounded curve of her shoulder. He knew he shouldn’t, but he couldn’t help flexing his foot. His toes moved down the front of her shoulder–a boat slipping across the water. Down now so that his largest toe touched the pointy perfection of her nipple. She breathed, and her breast filled the space at the bottom of his foot. His eyes were closed. Every bit inside seemed poised to explode.



If you’ve ever closed your eyes and felt yourself moving while standing still, you know something of what it feels like. You can slip deep into the dark. Against the backs of your eyelids, you begin to see the path. It leads downward. I’ve been this way before. They call me the Witch of Endor. The path’s edges are marked by crumbling stone walls. Sharp sometimes to the touch, they can be your only signpost.

A funny little man, this “king” who bid me here. I like him. He coughs nervously in his hand when he speaks. Whatever royal post he claims to hold, he finds me terrifying, and when I ask him to take my hand, his is slipsloppy and trembles.

The path winds down a long way until it doesn’t, and I can see the crypts, scattered throughout the muddy soil. Weak wooden fences lay broken in an order that maybe once made sense. Now there is some light, and a steady curtain of rain drops. I pull my shawl tightly around my shoulders. I can’t help but shiver.

Crude markings cover the outside walls of the tombs, written in a language I have never seen in the waking world. I’ve spent much of my life learning to decipher them, because there are things sleeping here without names that you do not want to wake. I pause to remember exactly who the silly man had requested. Maybe if I keep my eyes closed and whisper. Whom shall I bring up unto thee?

Bring me up Samuel.


I can find him over the crest of one of the southern hills, an hour’s march across the muddy ground, squeezing around and sometimes over the fences, and I’m tired by the time I reach it and swing the door open.

He’s not the only one here. Bodies in this state lie like small clumps of ghastly white clay, no larger than the length of your arm. Here there’s one on each slab ringing the crypt walls, but the area is well-marked, and I find him.

To raise the dead, if only for a moment, you run your hands along the body, mold the small bit; it will stretch and rise. If the silly man doesn’t wake you first, you can kneed the body slowly upwards and his legs and his arms and his torso will slowly form, and you’ll be able to see his eyes blinking back at you, red-lined, confused and angry. I know you, Samuel-prophet, and the silly man too, the king Saul, who would have me killed for this very act of witchcraft he himself has asked for.

And here now he rises, furious, his limbs of great length, each alone as long as a man but as narrow as a finger, his great white beard drops like a waterfall from his gray cheeks down to the cobblestone. I am now in both worlds, seeing both the darkened inside of the crypt and the empty street with the prostrate king, bowing before the wretched godlike being.



Though king, Herod Antipas found himself utterly unprepared for the dance he himself had ordered. He sat then at the head of the table. It was his birthday, and all the important men of Galilee–the military generals, the high officials, the rich merchants–all sat nearby. Several glasses of wine had already filled his belly when the low drone of the bagpipes began. Across the room, in the corner, nearly shrouded in the shadow of a pillar, stood four musicians. The king squinted in the torchlight. They all wore masks. A rabbit held a lyre while a well-muscled cyclops stood behind the drum. The organist wore the bulging eyes and elongated snout of a goat. The bagpiper stood a half-cubit taller than the rest, thin with long arms wrapped around the dog-skin of his instrument. The low drone continues… now at once the lyre, the organ and the drum enter. A mournful chord driven forward by the steady, slow beat. The light tips of harmonics flitted over the sustained wind-noise of the pipes. The king had heard this melody when he was a boy.

His new wife craned her lovely neck. Heredias was her name, and she had been his half-brother’s wife and she’d been gained at enormous cost and criticism–even now a mad rabbi who hated the marriage rotted in the dungeon below. From where she sat, she could see down the north hallway. Salome must be approaching. The girl had agreed to dance. Herod craned his own neck, but he could see only a dim shape. Here and there a squint of gold.

“She looks lovely,” breathed his wife, her nose large and regal in profile. He was feeling an odd mix of longing and nostalgia from the music. He’d grown up by the water; it was the first thing he could remember, and he thought of it now.

“Can you see her?” asked his wife. The chordal center of the music shifted now–Herod knew nothing about music–but it sounded as if the musicians had all leapt across some sort of chasm and were now on the other side. The drumbeat quickened. Herod felt a dull ache.

When Salome emerged from the shadows, all eyes fell on her. Herod’s breath slowed. She slinked forward, each movement of her hips in rhythm with the drum. Her arms circled above her head, her wrists jangly with bracelets, joining above the black inky sea of her hair, crowned with a golden headband. Below it, his wife’s face but younger, the eyes closed, the skin smooth and white like ocean foam. Her breasts lay loose and visible, pert and unconquered in the wrap’s fabric. She danced still closer, sliding along the low mutter of the bagpipes. There was no separation between her and the rhythm. They were all one. Herod could feel the bated breath of the old men flanking him; even his new wife seemed to be reveling.

But for Herod himself, he felt something else. Something so perfect he couldn’t describe it. When he was a boy, his grandfather asked him, “How big do you think the sea truly is?” and he stumbled. He couldn’t think of any way even to fix its size in his mind, let alone conjure words to describe it.


10. ADAM

The sweet and permanent nakedness, the curve of her hips when she lies on her side, the moistness of her vagina, the leisure and the full light to examine it for as long as needed. When the breeze comes up and rattles the leaves, it’s warm before and during; cool after when sweat lies over them in a sheen, and he can shiver and it’s nice.

It’s only later, when the Cherubim guard the garden gates, the heat from the fire in their swords, their faces, both terrible and beautiful, simultaneously both genders—only then do the words come: time instead of hurried, soft instead of calloused. Eve’s eyes clear and bright, not ringed in purple. His own ache of age. It’s possible only to understand what came before by what comes after.

Ian Baaske’s work has appeared in Bellevue Literary Review, Baltimore Review, and Emrys Journal Online. He lives in the Chicago suburbs with his family and writes at night when everyone else is asleep.