I have been explaining that while at Princeton Theological Seminary, I started finding that there could be mistakes in the Bible. My first realization of this involved my study of the Gospels, but I was studying the Hebrew Bible as well, and I finally got to the point where I had to admit there appeared to be mistakes there as well. Lots of mistakes. Contradictions, discrepancies, historical errors. And these show up right off the bat, in the book of Genesis.
Let me detail some of the differences I started finding, as I later summarized them, many years later, in my textbook on the Bible, where I talk about why Moses almost certainly didn’t write the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible, Genesis through Deuteronomy) and about some of the tensions one finds in the text.
As already mentioned, the critical scrutiny of the traditional view of the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch deepened and became more rigorous as scholarship advanced. In addition to the problems just mentioned, other troubling features of the narratives came to the fore. I have already mentioned the fact that there are numerous anachronisms in the stories of Genesis: camels were not domesticated in Canaan in Abraham’s time (despite what is said in the stories), for instance – or in the time of Moses. So too the Philistines did not exist as a nation yet (even though they show up in these chapters). Nor did the city of Beersheba. The stories that contain such references could not have been written in Moses’ day in the 13th century BCE; they must have be dated to a time no earlier than the 11th century or so, and possibly much later.
What is more, there are clear indications that these books were not written by one author at all, especially in the internal tensions that can be found among the stories and the various doublets that they present.
The internal tensions came to be seen as particularly significant. Nowhere were these tensions more evident than …
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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:
- According to Genesis 1, plants were created on the third day; only later, on the sixth day, were humans created. But not according to Genesis 2. There we are told that “the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground” before there were any plants or herbs on the earth (2:4, 7).
- According to Genesis 1, all the animals, of all kinds, were created before humans, on the fifth and sixth days. But according to Genesis 2, “man” was created first (2:7), and then the animals – who were made in order to provide companionship for the man (2:19). Note: it was only after man was made that “the LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air.” None of the animals existed, according to this account in chapter 2, before the man was made.
- According to Genesis 1, humans, both male and female, were created at the same time, as the pinnacle of all creation (1:26-27). 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.
- It was also noted by careful scholars that the deity is called different things in the two accounts. In Genesis 1 the deity is called, in Hebrew, Elohim – the word that is normally simply translated in English as “God” (even though it is plural); but in Genesis 2 the deity is suddenly called “Yahweh Elohim,” which comes into English usually as “LORD God.” The word “Yahweh” was believed in ancient Israel to be the personal name for God, and eventually it was regarded as being so holy, that faithful Jews were not allowed even to pronounce it without committing a blasphemy. God is called by this personal name thousands of times in the Hebrew Bible. But he is called a number of other things as well: Lord, God Almighty, God the King, and so on. It is striking that only one of these terms is used in Genesis 1, and the other term occurs only in Genesis 2. That would make sense if the two stories came from different sources, each with its own view of what happened at the creation, and each with its own favored term for the deity.
- In that connection, it was noticed that the two accounts seem to have different conceptions of the deity (not just different terms for him). In Genesis 1, God is the Powerful, Almighty, Creator of all things; he is distant, and remote, and above all things. But not in Genesis 2, and its companion story about Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3. There God is portrayed in anthropomorphic terms – that is, he appears virtually in human guise. He is here on earth; he works with the dirt; he performs an operation on Adam; he walks through the garden of Eden in the cool of the evening (3:8); he doesn’t know where Adam and Eve are hiding (3:9); and he talks with them and wants to know – as if he doesn’t know — if they’ve done something he told them not to do (3:11).
- Finally, the interests of the two stories are different in key ways. We have already seen that the first creation account, among other things, wants to stress that the Sabbath observance is rooted in the fabric of existence. The second account has nothing like that concern. Here there seems to be an interest in explaining some of the ultimate questions that people have asked over the centuries: Why do women experience such pain in childbirth? Why is it so difficult to provide enough food to eat? Why are men dominant over women? It is also interested in explaining less pressing curiosities, such as why snakes crawl on their bellies instead of walk around like all other creatures.
I will pick up here in my next post.[/private