Sortes Biblicae, also known as drawing the Sortes, is a method of fortune-telling by selecting and interpreting randomly chosen texts from the Bible. Like many other aspects of early Christianity, it is a pragmatic example of incorporating much older beliefs into local versions of the new religion, such as the conversion of temples into churches, rather than their destruction.
Evidence for the practice in the Christian church emerges in the 5th century, when St Augustine laments the number of individuals whose “Christian commitment was shallower than in the past”. It is perhaps therefore ironic that Augustine’s own conversion to Christianity was the result of this kind of divination. By his own account, upon hearing a child’s voice urging “Tolle, lege; tolle, lege” (“Take up, read; take up, read”) he opened a copy of the Scriptures, and his eyes fell on a passage from Romans 13:13–14 that changed his life.