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Now: Literary Inconsistencies in the Old Testament

Yesterday I started answering a question about whether the problems in the Hebrew Bible were as significant as those in the New Testament, and my response was: Yes! Even more so! In yesterday’s post I talked about the problem with the manuscripts. In this post I’ll talk about internal discrepancies and contradictions. Rather than write the whole thing out, though, I’ve decided just to include a chunk that deals with the issue from my Introduction to the Bible, as I did once before, many years ago on the blog.  In the context of my discussion in the book, am talking about what 19th and 20th century critical scholars discovered with respect to discrepancies within the Pentateuch, leading to the theory that the first five books of the Hebrew Scripture actually derived from four major sources, written at different times, that have been spliced together, creating internal problems.

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The internal tensions came to be seen as particularly significant. Nowhere were these tensions more evident than in the opening accounts of the very first book of the Pentateuch, in the creation stories of Genesis chapters 1 and 2. Scholars came to recognize that what is said in Genesis 1 cannot be easily (or at all) reconciled with what is said in Genesis 2. These do not appear to be two complementary accounts of how the creation took place; they appear to be two accounts that are at odds with each other in fundamental and striking ways. Read them carefully yourself. Make a list of what happens in chapter one, then a list of what happens in chapter 2, and compare your lists. Among other things you will notice the following:

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Did the Exodus Happen?
What About the Original *Old* Testament?

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Comments

  1. Lev
    Lev  September 12, 2019

    “But in Genesis 2 the LORD God first creates “man” (adam); he then creates all the animals in order to provide a companion for “man.” And when none of them is deemed suitable, then, and only then, does the LORD God make a woman out of a rib that he has taken from the man.”

    So I guess Adam wasn’t that keen on dogs OR cats?! What was wrong with him?

    On a more serious note, I find it fascinating that Gen1 portrays God as distant, almighty and remote and stresses the Sabbath law, whereas Gen2 portays God appearing in the garden as a human-like being who is dotting over his creation and the chapter tries to grapple with why humans suffer.

    Have scholars been able to detect or create a portrait of the two communities who authored these differing accounts? I understand there is a hypothesis that the ancient Hebrews were likely to have been two communities who merged into one; a clan resembling the priestly Levites who fled from Egypt and settled with their ancestors in Cannan, and the (larger) Cannite population of Hebrews who were always indigenious to Cannan. Is that your sense also, and would that explain the merging of the traditions?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 15, 2019

      Oh yes, there has been a lot of work trying to figure out the theologies and views of the different groups behind the various sources. But it was much more complicated than there being only two originating groups.

  2. Avatar
    Fanex  September 12, 2019

    For me it helps a lot Yale open course Introduction to the Old Testament by Christine Hayes.
    Another important course is Introduction to the NT by Dale Martin and Introduction to Ancient Greek History Donald Kagan.
    Thru Dale Martin course on you tube I found Bart Ehrman debates and other stuff.

  3. Avatar
    mkahn1977  September 13, 2019

    Isn’t the competing view about the authorship of the Pentateuch gaining more acceptance now? I’ve read it called either the Fragmentary Hypothesis or the Supplementary Hypothesis.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 15, 2019

      There are a bunch of competing views, as it turns out!

      • Avatar
        mkahn1977  September 15, 2019

        Are there any books, scholarly or popular, that covers the competing views you’d recommend?

        • Bart
          Bart  September 16, 2019

          Off hand I don’t know if there are books that cover all the possibilities (most just lay out their own views). Maybe some of William Dever’s do? I’m not really sure.

  4. Avatar
    hankgillette  September 19, 2019

    In Job, we learn that God considers children fungible. Satan kills all 10 of Job’s children, but after the testing is over, God blesses Job with 10 more children, so everything is okay again. I kind of feel sorry for Job’s wife!

    • Bart
      Bart  September 20, 2019

      Yes, it’s one of the most disturbing ideas in the Hebrew Bible.

  5. Avatar
    Enzoastro  September 28, 2019

    Thanks for the book suggestions, just finished ‘who wrote the bible’ and currently on ‘the death and resurrection of the beloved son’.
    Re Zipporah at the inn, I’m drawn to the idea it could be saying something about moving from sacrifice of the son to his foreskin, whether foot is God’s actual foot or a euphemism?
    Anyone know which source it’s by, I guess that could say something to motivation.

  6. Avatar
    tefairfax15  October 10, 2019

    Bart, I have admired your works for years, but after much thought and deliberation, I have finally summarized my entire understanding of God, Jesus, the Bible, and essentially all religions.

    “Everything you need to know about God and religion is in the Bible; Hebrews 11:1, which essentially states that faith is that which is unseen, but we hope to be true. If you DO have faith in God and the Bible then nothing anyone can say or do can change your mind. And if you DON’T have faith in God and the Bible then nothing anyone can say or do can change your mind. So why argue about it?”

    I am fairly certain that organized religion was created as a means of controlling the masses. This is clearly sinister intent. Having said that, I believe that the masses do need to be controlled to some extent as we seem to have some rather nasty innate inclinations (read: repressed behavior). We normally do it with codified laws, and beyond that we rely on the church. So clearly there is a place in society for organized religion as long as there are people who need some extra help in being moral.

    I honestly believe that the Bible is not the word of God – it is the word of men who, at best, believed that they were inspired by God and, at worst, had nefarious intents and agendas. That does not mean the Bible is of no use or even questionable use, it is a magnificent collection of books and letters that, when used properly, can bring solace, inspiration, meaning, and even purpose to a person’s life.

    I do not believe that the Bible gives an unquestionable view of history although many parts of it are clearly historically correct. In light of this I believe that the Bible is best described as a collection of parables, inspiring stories intended to help us lead a better life. As such, there is no conflict in my mind between the Bible and generally accepted facts of science such as evolution. In my interpretation of the Bible they can reside side-by-side.

  7. Avatar
    TheDudeDiogenes  June 9, 2020

    Hi Prof. Ehrman, After reading this post, I have started to wonder why the authors of biblical texts either didn’t notice or didn’t care to erase or smooth out inconsistencies. We use inconsistencies like you have mentioned above (and in other posts about the NT) to find the “seams” where an author stitched together different sources. Why didn’t the authors notice these seams? Were they just less sophisticated than us moderns? (Doubtful.) Did they expect their audience to not notice any such discrepancies? (Seems more plausible, but also highly speculative.) Is there any scholarship on this topic of which you are aware? What are your thoughts regarding this matter?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 10, 2020

      I think the reality is that “us moderns” almost never notice the differences until someone else points them out to them. The ancients were no different. I’ve known actual biblical scholars who didn’t realize a particular discrepancy until someone pointed it out to them. And hey, now that I think of it, I’m one of them!

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