In the beginning, there was G-E-N-E-S-I-S.

Three hundred pious pupils put their memories to the test in Schaumburg, Ill., recently at the second National Bible Bee, modeled after the popular high-stakes Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.

Contestants, ranging in age from 7 to 18, had to recite with precision up to 800 verses from the Old and New Testaments to win more than $200,000 in cash.

Organizers say the point of the competition is not only to reward rote memorization, but to set moral compasses at an early age and train disciples to spread the gospel word for word.

“This is the future of God’s army,” said Tammy McMahan, director of operations for the Bible Bee. “We’re equipping the Body of Christ.”

Tom Widdoes, vice president of development for the Shelby Kennedy Foundation, which sponsors the bee, said the contest also honors the memory of a 23-year-old woman who recited Scripture as she died of cancer. The foundation and bee are financed by an anonymous donor and Kennedy family friend.

“From the world’s standpoint, we ought to be able to have a world-class Bible bee that is as good as the (National) Spelling Bee,” said Widdoes, “What they’re memorizing is worth a lot more than learning how to spell the words.”

Many of the participants came from fundamentalist or evangelical churches that support a literal interpretation of Scripture. Home-schooled students occupied most of the chairs in the competition’s final rounds.

Last year’s winner Daniel Staddon, 19, of Oak Brook, Ill., saved his prize money for a rainy day, naturally citing Proverbs 8:11. “Wisdom is better than rubies.”