A few weeks ago I posted about how we’ve been watching “Little House On the Prairie” on a nightly basis since around the time that quarantine began. I knew from watching the series as a child that the episodes often quoted the Bible, but I noticed this time that sometimes the Bible was quoted in a light-hearted manner. In one episode, Pa Ingalls tells a couple of “bad Dad jokes” about the Bible. In another, Ma chastises her husband for not washing dishes, by quoting this verse at him: “and I will wipe Jerusalem, as a man wipeth a dish” (2 Kings 21:13).
So as a lark, I began noting these citations, and as usual, I just kept going until it became one of those Major Projects I’m always starting. I now have a full list of all the quotations of the Bible — okay, 95% of them — in the “Little House” series. It took about a year to compile, since that’s how long it took us to watch the full series.
Because I’m a book nut, I also noted, in italics, quotations from other books or poems; and I’ve noted some of the hymns sung in the series.
I’ve noted prayers from Judaism featured in one episode (“Come, Let Us Reason Together”) and even Native American prayers and chants (“Freedom Flight” and “Injun Kid”), though I don’t know in what language the latter were spoken. Any help here in identifying the language and perhaps even translating the prayers would be appreciated!
The pilot episode (“Little House On the Prairie”)
Charles scolds the children, “The Bible says ‘Thou shalt not argue before breakfast,’” to which Caroline replies, “That’s not in the Bible, Charles.” He says, of course, “Well, it ought to be.”
The events depicted in the pilot cover the entirety of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s third “Little House” book, “Little House On the Prairie,” which tells of the family’s time in Kansas. The book has Caroline, fearing an Indian attack and sitting in the dark one night with the shotgun on her lap, singing a hymn that Laura later said was her mother’s favorite, “There is A Happy Land”. This scene is depicted in the pilot as in the book, and it shows Caroline singing a few lines:
There is a happy land far, far away Where saints in glory stand, bright, bright as day; Oh to hear the angels sing, glory to the Lord our King, O to hear the angels sing praise, praise for aye
And the pilot reproduces this little tune from the book exactly:
Git out of the way for old Dan Tucker!
He’s too late to get his supper!
Supper’s over and the dishes washed,
Nothing left but a piece of squash!
Caroline says, “Pride goeth before a fall,” a common misquotation of Proverbs 16:18, “Pride cometh before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall”. Caroline also says, “Remember, Laura, ‘do unto others’” (Matthew 7:12) and “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39).
“The Hundred Mile Walk”
Caroline recites from the Book of Ruth, when she brings the wives over to gather fallen wheat, saying “And she gleaned until even, and then she beat out that she had gleaned with flails and winnowing”, a close quote of Ruth 2:17 —
So she gleaned in the field until even; and she beat out that she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley.
“Mr. Edwards’ Homecoming”
The congregation sings “Bringing In the Sheaves,” an 1874 hymn that appears in many Little House episodes, probably more than any other hymn (but which appears nowhere in the Little House books).
Mr. Edwards tries to read “The Three Bears” to Carrie (see the Three Bears’ Wiki page for the story’s evolution).
“The Lord Is My Shepherd”
Charles and Caroline say Psalm 23 together when Charles, Jr. dies.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
Reverend Alden says in a sermon, “If you rid yourself of evil deeds and thoughts, the Lord will make all things possible,” a paraphrase of at least three Bible verses.
One is Matthew 19:26, which deals with the possibility of a rich man going to heaven –
But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.
Another is Mark 14:36, where Jesus prays —
Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.
See also Matthew 17:20, in which Jesus tells his disciples why they couldn’t cure a certain child:
And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.
“The Richest Man in Walnut Grove”
Harriet Oleson says to Caroline, “Pride cometh before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall”, to which Charles answers with the correct reading, “pride goeth before destruction” (Proverbs 16:18).
Mr. Sprague mentions the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Ebenezer Scrooge is not mentioned, but that name would have been famous since the 1843 publication of “A Christmas Carol.”
“The Spring Dance”
Charles tells two Bible jokes (the Bible mentions baseball In the Big Inning; the time of day that Adam was created was just before Eve). Two novels are also mentioned. Dr. Baker has finished “A Tale of Two Cities”, lent to him by Grace Snyder. Charles is reading “Silas Marner”.
The central plot of the “Silas Marner” — an old man is drawn out of an emotional shell by a little girl — happens to be the theme of many “Little House” episodes, though usually with a twist:
- Laura and Ebenezer Sprague, the banker (“Ebenezer Sprague,” season 2)
- Laura and the old widower (“The Haunted House”, season 2)
- Laura and her paternal grandfather (“Journey In the Spring,” season 3)
- Laura and the blind old man whom she compels to help her (“The Hunters,” season 3)
- Laura and the old hermit Zechariah, a gold-prospector who does not love gold, and who teaches Laura about greed (“Gold Country”, season 3)
- Jenny and Dr. Marvin, a man who is embittered about losing his practice but ends up helping Jenny out of her own depression (“Marvin’s Garden,” season 9)
The complete list of Bible-and-book references in the “Little House” TV series is on this page.