Sherlock Holmes and the Old Testament

Sherlock Holmes was the great detective created by British writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Sherlock Holmes is probably the best fictional character known in the world. According to Wikipedia, “by the 1990s there were already more than 25,000 stage adaptations, films, television productions and publications featuring the detective.”

Sherlock Holmes
Illustration by Sidney Paget

The Guinness World Records says that Sherlock Holmes is “the most portrayed literary human character in film and television history.” In addition, Sherlock Holmes has inspired a group of dedicated fans who have formed clubs to study and discuss the works of Sherlock Holmes. The two most well-known groups are The Sherlock Holmes Society in London and the Baker Street Irregulars in New York.

According to the Wikipedia, Sherlock Holmes referred to himself as a “consulting detective.” “Holmes is known for his proficiency with observation, deduction, forensic science and logical reasoning that borders on the fantastic, which he employs when investigating cases for a wide variety of clients, including Scotland Yard.”

When Sherlock Holmes uses the Old Testament to solve the enigma of a crime, that story deserves to be told. Holmes’ use of the Old Testament appears in Episode 5 of “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.” The episode is titled “The Crooked Man” and it was broadcasted in 1984. The episode was written by Alfred Shaughnessy. Jeremy Brett plays Sherlock Holmes and David Burke plays Dr. John Watson.

The Crime

The story deals with the death of Colonel Barclay and the arrest of his wife for the murder of her husband. It all began when a maid came to bring Mrs. Barclay her tea, however, the maid could not enter the room because the door was locked. The maid heard Mr. and Mrs. Barclay having a heated argument. Mrs. Barclay said to her husband, “How could you do such a thing?” Mrs. Barclay yells at her husband, “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, I hate you. You betrayed him.”

The maid then heard an awful sound. Unable to open the door, an army officer, an assistant to Colonel Barclay, went outside, entered the room through an open garden window and found Colonel Barclay dead and his wife unconscious. He immediately called for the doctor and the police.

The Story

After the death of Colonel Barclay, Major Patrick Murphy, who was the second in command, temporarily in charge of the Royal regiment, asked Sherlock Holmes to investigate what had happened because he was concerned about the possibility of a scandal. Major Murphy told Holmes that Colonel James Barclay was found dead by his assistant with a cut, two-inches long, on the back of his head.

The death was caused by a violent blow from a blunt instrument. And on the floor by the body was a singular hand-carved wooden club. Major Murphy told Holmes that Mrs. Barclay was stretched out unconscious on the sofa. She was now in the hospital, with a police constable standing by. Mrs. Barclay was arrested on suspicion of murder.

According to Major Murphy, Nancy Barclay was a beautiful woman who lived in India for more than 30 years. Her father was a Sergeant Major who was in charge of a regiment of soldiers. Because of her beauty, Nancy had many suitors, but she eventually married Barclay.

After his time of service, Barclay and his wife returned from India. Murphy said that one day, while visiting the Barclay’s home, he saw the couple arguing. Murphy told Holmes that Colonel Barclay was angry because he believed Mrs. Barclay had a lover. The Colonel said to his wife, “Tell me you love me then, me and nobody else. Do you hear, do you hear me?”

After they left the office of Major Murphy, Dr. Watson then told Holmes, “Holmes, suppose Mrs. Barclay had a lover and the Colonel had found out? You know, mild adultery has always been commonplace among officers and their wives serving in hot climates.”

As Holmes continued to investigate the death of Colonel Barclay, he discovered that on the night of his murder, Mrs. Barclay had gone to a mission hall to do charity work, to distribute old clothing to needy people.

When Mrs. Barclay returned home, the maid saw that Mrs. Barclay was walking up and down the room, very pale, and very upset. The maid told Holmes that Mr. and Mrs. Barclay were arguing. She also said that Mrs. Barclay called the Colonel a coward, that he had ruined her life. Then, Mrs. Barclay shouted the name David twice.

Later, Holmes discovered that while Mrs. Barclay was at the mission hall, Mrs. Barclay met a man who had a crooked back, was physically handicapped, and walked with his knees bent. Nancy Barclay believed that the man was someone deserving of help. She went to talk to the man. When she began talking to him, a change came over her. All the color drained from her face. She looked as though she had seen a ghost.

Holmes then went to find this strange man. When Holmes found him, the man told Holmes his story. His name was Henry Wood. Wood had served with James Barclay in India. Wood said that while they served in India, both courted Nancy, but Nancy only loved one man, him. Henry and Nancy were in love, but Nancy’s father wanted Nancy to marry James.

One day when the British army was dealing with militants in India, the commander asked for volunteers for a dangerous mission. Henry volunteered. James, who was his superior, gave Henry instruction on how to go through enemy lines in order to accomplish his mission. Henry went on his mission, but eventually, he was captured and tortured by his enemies for one year.

One day Henry heard his enemies talking and he discovered that James had betrayed him. James told the enemies where to find Henry. James had sent Henry to die so that he could marry Nancy.

When Henry saw Nancy at the mission hall, he told her what James had done. Nancy went home to confront her husband. Henry followed her home. When he arrived at Nancy’s home, he saw that James and Nancy were fighting and that Nancy was very irate.

Henry told Holmes what Nancy had told her husband. She said to him, “You’ve ruined my life. All these years, all these years. Oh, how could you do such a thing, it was evil. Now, I hate you, I hate you. I hate you, I hate you. David. David, you betrayed him.”

When James grabbed his wife, Henry entered the room where James and Nancy were. When James saw Henry and that he was alive, he was shocked. At that moment, James had a heart attack and died before hitting the ground. Henry told Holmes that Nancy was innocent and that James had died of the shock of seeing him alive after thirty years.

Sherlock Holmes and the Old Testament

After Mrs. Barclay was found to be not guilty and was released, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson returned home. After they sat down, Watson asked Holmes a question:

Watson: “Holmes, there’s just one thing I don’t understand. If the Colonel’s name was James, and Wood was called either Henry or Harry, then who the deuce was David?”

Holmes: “My dear Watson, that name David should have told me the whole story had I been the ideal reasoner, which you are so fond of depicting but alas, my powers of deduction failed me. You see, David, in this case, was evidently used as a term of reproach.”

Watson: “Reproach?”

Holmes: “Don’t you remember how King David sent Uriah the Hittite into the forefront of the battle to die so that he might steal his woman, Bathsheba? I think you will find the story in the first or second book of Samuel. My Old Testament is a little rusty.”

Watson: “You’re quite right, Holmes, II Samuel, 11:14–17. You appear to have looked it up yourself, since we returned home.”

Holmes: “How did you know?”

Watson: “You used this bill for our meal at Waterloo as a bookmarker, did you not?”

Holmes: “Excellent, Watson.”

Watson: “Elementary, my dear Holmes.”

And it is in here where we discover how the Old Testament was used to solve one of the puzzles in one of the murders solved by the famous Sherlock Holmes.

For previous posts on the Old Testament and Hollywood, see my post, “The Old Testament Goes Hollywood.”

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

If you enjoyed reading this post, you will enjoy reading my books.



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This entry was posted in Book of 2 Samuel, Hollywood, Movies, Old Testament and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Sherlock Holmes and the Old Testament

  1. spiritplumber says:

    Fun fact: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes’ creator, unironically believed in fairies.


  2. Larry Walker says:

    Enjoyed this piece. I am fond of Sherlock Holmes, fond of your writing and have good memories of your Old Testament Studies from my days at NBTS. I hope you are doing well.


    • Larry,

      Thank you. I am doing well in retirement. It was bice hearing from you. I enjoy hearing from former students. I also like Sherlock Holmes and the reference to the Old Testament by Holmes prompted me to write this post.

      Claude Mariottini


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