I am a biblical scholar and historian of the early Christian period. But over the past 5 years I have become increasingly interested in the compositional history of the Hebrew Bible, especially the Pentateuch. In January 2013 I started posting 1 contradiction a day, with the aim of working through the entire Bible. Although I have lost the habit of posting a contradiction a day, to date I have merely gone through 4 books of the Bible and am presently posting contradictions for the book of Numbers.
Despite its provocative and even misleading title, “Contradictions in the Bible” is a website devoted to bringing biblical scholarship to the public, what experts in the field now know about the Bible’s various textual traditions, the historical and literary contexts that produced these texts, how they came to be assembled together, and even the competing aims and agendas of their diverse authors. Thus, this website’s primary aim is to reclaim the topic of Bible Contradictions for its proper field of study—biblical scholarship.
Yet ironically, and unfortunately, Contradictions in the Bible is a topic generally and almost exclusively treated in the public arena by two opposing camps, both of whom are non-experts in the field: Atheists and Christian apologists. While atheists are generally correct in claiming that the Bible does in fact contain numerous contradictions, from minute differences in narrative details to competing theological and ideological agendas, they often present these contradictions in a shallow and belittling manner—an empty list devoid of substance with little to no real knowledge of the texts themselves, their authors, audiences, and the historical circumstances that produced them. The internet is full of such lists. Although often impressionable, these lists do nothing to further a conversation about the Bible’s texts, nor do they help remedy the increasingly systemic problem of biblical illiteracy currently sweeping across our country.
On the other side of this public debate are the Christian apologists. In general, they perceive their mission as one of “defending” the Bible. But what this often boils down to is defending a particular belief about the Bible or more generally what the label “the Holy Bible” has come to mean or imply on a personal and/or communal level to these individuals. In other words, they seek to defend the ideas inherent in a label that by its very nature imposes its own interpretive framework and theological understanding onto this collection of ancient texts based on the beliefs and perceptions of a reading community that lived centuries after these texts were written. This is a far cry from actually knowing, understanding, and even defending the actual beliefs and competing messages of the individual authors of the Bible’s once independent texts. In the apologist’s paradigm, the meaning of these texts are now carried by this collection’s title or what is implied in that title, “the Holy Book,” and not by the competing messages, agendas, and belief systems of its various authors. The old adage “You can’t judge a book by its cover” is no where more true than when it comes to speaking about the Bible. Its cover, “the Holy Bible,” functions to prescribe a centuries-later understanding of these texts, and often at the expense of understanding the texts themselves and on the terms of their once individual authors and the historical and literary contexts to which they originally belonged. Like the Atheist’s position, then, the Christian apologist’s position also does nothing to further a conversation about the texts themselves, their messages, and the competing beliefs and views of their authors. Rather, apologists merely succeed in fueling more biblical illiteracy and misconceptions about these ancient texts by imposing upon them the beliefs and concepts implied in the label “the Holy Book.”
Contrary to these two opposing camps of non-experts, biblical scholars have long known that the Bible is a vast collection of differing and at times competing textual traditions, stories, belief systems, and ideologies—for well over a century now! Indeed, in most cases we even know why this is and how it came about. Unfortunately, for various reasons, this knowledge has been slow to reach the public. This site, then, is dedicated to bringing this scholarship to the public in a forum that should be both thought provoking and educational. Nearly all of the contradictions posted on this website are the byproduct of a lengthy editorial process that brought together Israel’s conflicting textual traditions, differing versions of the same story, and competing theologies. After all, our number 1 witness to these contradictions is the biblical text itself, despite the ideas of single-divine authorship and a homogeneous narrative brought to and imposed upon this collection of texts by its centuries-later label, “the Holy Book.” In other words, the claim that the Bible contains competing ideologies and belief systems, contradictory versions of the same stories, and even competing versions of “history” is a claim that the biblical texts themselves make! Our goal, then, is not to harmonize these differences and competing voices away, but to listen to them and understand them on their own terms—not the terms of later readers who imposed their own meaning and understanding onto this collection of ancient literature. — Dr. Steven DiMattei