Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who's Who

Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who's Who

by Frederick Buechner, Katherine A. Buechner, Katherine A. Buechner

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In this second book of his popular lexical trilogy, Frederick Buechner profiles more than 125 of the Bible's most holy and profane people — and one whale. In his lively and witty prose, Buechner brings to life such moments from scripture as:

  • Adam's pangs of regret for a remembered Eden

  • Delilah's last glimpse of


In this second book of his popular lexical trilogy, Frederick Buechner profiles more than 125 of the Bible's most holy and profane people — and one whale. In his lively and witty prose, Buechner brings to life such moments from scripture as:

  • Adam's pangs of regret for a remembered Eden

  • Delilah's last glimpse of Samson as they dragged him away

  • Lazarus's first impressions upon rising from the dead

To read Peculiar Treasures is to realize that many of these legendary figures are not who we thought they were. But they are — in their human dreams,ambitions, and imperfections — very much like us.

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Annie Dillard
“Frederick Buechner is one of our finest writers.”

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Moses was three years younger than his brother Aaron, but starting with the day Pharaoh's daughter fished him out of the bulrushes and adopted him, Moses was the one who always got the headlines while Aaron got the short end of the stick. Even when Moses had to clear out of Egypt for doing in an Egyptian Jew-baiter, he landed on his feet by marrying the daughter of a well-heeled sheep rancher across the border.

Aaron, in the meanwhile, went quietly off into the ministry where in the long run he didn't do so badly either except that the only people who knew about it were the ones who turned to the religion section on the back pages. Moses, on the other hand, was forever making the cover. The pay-off came around the time Moses hit eighty and out of a burning bush God himself voted him Man of the Year. As usual, Aaron had to be content with playing second fiddle, which he did well enough until he got the break he'd been waiting for at last, and he blew it.

With Moses lingering so long on Mount Sinai that some thought he'd settled down and gone into real estate, the people turned to Aaron for leadership, and in no time flat -- despite an expensive theological education and all those years in denominational headquarters -- he had them dancing around the Golden Calf like a bunch of aborigines.

Nobody knows whether this was Aaron's way of getting even with his kid brother for all those years of eating humble pie, or whether he actually believed with the rest of mankind that a God in the hand is worth two in the bush.




When King David was nearing the end of his days, not even his electric blanket could fend off the ominous chill he felt rising in his bones. The fires of life were all but out, and in an effort to rekindle them for the old man and at the same time preserve their own jobs, the establishment enlisted the aid of a beautiful young woman named Abishag. In the hope that she if anybody could start his blood coursing again, they persuaded her to join him in the sack. By this time, however, the old man was past rising to the occasion, and not long afterwards -- perhaps as the result of his unsuccessful attempts to do so -- he died. When one of his sons offered to make an honest woman of Abishag by marrying her, the establishment turned him down on the grounds that by taking over his father's girl friend, he was just making a play for taking over his father's throne. What finally became of Abishag is not recorded, and perhaps it is just as well.

This sad story makes it clear that in peace as well as in war there's no tragic folly you can't talk a nation's youth into simply by calling it patriotic duty.

(1 Kings 1-2)


If a schlemiel is a person who goes through life spilling soup on people and a schlemozzle is the one it keeps getting spilled on, then Abraham was a schlemozzle. It all began when God told him to go to the land of Canaan where he promised to make him the father of a great nation and he went.

The first thing that happened was that his brother-in-law Lot (q.v.) took over the rich bottom-land and Abraham was left with the scrub country around Dead Man's Gulch. The second thing was that the prospective father of a great nation found out his wife couldn't have babies. The third thing was that when, as a special present on his hundredth birthday, God arranged for his wife Sarah to have a son anyway, it wasn't long before he told Abraham to go up into the hills and sacrifice him (see ISAAC). It's true that at the last minute God stepped in and said he'd only wanted to see if the old man's money was where his mouth was, but from that day forward Abraham had a habit of breaking into tears at odd moments, and his relationship with his son Isaac was never close.

In spite of everything, however, he never stopped having faith that God was going to keep his promise about making him the father of a great nation. Night after night, it was the dream he rode to sleep on -- the glittering cities, the up-to-date armies, the curly-bearded kings. There was a group photograph he had taken not long before he died. It was a bar mitzvah, and they were all there down to the last poor relation. They weren't a great nation yet by a long shot, but you'd never know it from the way Abraham sits enthroned there in his velvet yarmulke with several great-grandchildren on his lap and soup on his tie.

Even through his thick lenses, you can read the look of faith in his eye, and more than all the kosher meals, the Ethical Culture Societies, the shaved heads of the women, the achievements of Maimonides, Einstein, Kissinger, it was that look that God loved him for and had chosen him for in the first place.

"They will all be winners, God willing. Even the losers will be winners. They'll all get their names up in lights," say the old schlemozzle's eyes.

"Someday -- who knows when? -- I'll be talking about my son, the Light of the world."

(Genesis 12-18, 22)


Almost from the start, Absalom had a number of strikes against him. For one thing, he was much too handsome for his own good, and his special pride was such a magnificent head of hair that once a year...

Peculiar Treasures. Copyright © by Frederick Buechner. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Annie Dillard
“Frederick Buechner is one of our finest writers.”

Meet the Author

Frederick Buechner, author of more than thirty works of fiction and nonfiction, is an ordained Presbyterian minister. He has been a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award and was honored by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His most recent work is Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABC’s of Faith.

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