#59. Does Jacob split up his camp in order to save half of them from a vengeful Esau OR in order to placate Esau with an offering of livestock? (Gen 32:7-12 vs Gen 32:14-22)

The reconciliation story between Jacob and Esau is also variously told in Genesis 32, as we saw with the Jacob and Laban story (#55-56). In one version (J) Jacob’s return to the land of Canaan is presented under the ominous fear and threat that Esau will dispense his revenge and strike him (see #48-49 for the story). Compounded by the account of his messenger claiming that Esau is approaching him withRead More

#58. Does the naming of Mahanaim derive from Jacob’s vision of the angels of God OR the division of Jacob’s entourage into two camps? (Gen 32:2-3 vs Gen 32:8-9)

Mahanaim is supposedly located along the Jabbok across from Penuel and there seems to have been a couple traditions associated with the origin of its name, which in Hebrew is a dual noun meaning “camps” or “two camps.” Apparently the Elohist tradition from the north accredits Jacob with its naming because, as with his vision in Bethel when he left the land of Canaan (Gen 28:11-22), so too here upon entry Jacob seesRead More

#57. Is the mound of stones set up to ratify the covenant between Jacob and Laban called Gilead OR Mizpah? (Gen 31:48 vs Gen 31:49)

The book of Genesis preserves two different etiologies—origin stories—for the naming of the boundary marker set up to ratify the covenant-treaty made between Jacob (Israel) and Laban (Aram). Presumably they were originally from two different oral traditions that were both preserved at a later time. In one version, it was the mound of stones (gal), which served as the symbol of the covenant between, not only Jacob and Laban, but remembering that these names are eponymous,Read More

#55. Does Jacob initiate the spotted-speckled sheep and goat deception OR does Laban? (Gen 30:31-33 vs Gen 31:7-8)
#56. Is it through Jacob’s own cunning tactics that spotted and speckled sheep and goats are engendered OR is this God’s doing? (Gen 30:31-43 vs Gen 31:7-13)

The text of Genesis 30-32 as it now stands is actually a compilation of two different tellings of the same story. These different versions (the Yahwist and the Elohist) have been carefully stitched together by later editors that they past undetected by the casual reader. Nevertheless, attentive readers and scholars have long noticed narrative inconsistencies, contradictions, and differences in style, theological emphasis, and the portrait of Jacob, which in the end have revealed twoRead More

Contradictory Stories about Jacob: Yawhist and Elohist storytellers

This post follows from a previous post on the stories of Abraham (#44—scroll down), and will serve us as a brief introduction to the duplicate stories about Jacob by the northern Elohist and the southern Yahwist that we will start to look at tomorrow. We will then look at how the later Priestly writer also modified a few of these stories and amended them to the JE compilation. Remember stories were told, modified, and retold, and then later collected,Read More

#51. Is the origin of the name Rebeun “Yahweh has seen” or “he will love me”? (Gen 29:32 vs Gen 29:32)
#52. Is the origin of the name Issachar “for I have hired you” or “God has granted me my reward”? (Gen 30:16 vs Gen 30:18)
#53. Is the origin of the name Zebulun “my man will bring me presents” or “God has given me a precious gift”? (Gen 30:20 vs Gen 30:20)
#54. Is the origin of the name Joseph “may Yahweh add” OR “God has removed”? (Gen 30:24 vs Gen 30:23)

More fun with duplicate etymologies (see also: #37, #41, #44)! In the ancient word, people told (and created) stories about the origins of names and what those names meant. There are numerous stories of this sort told in the Bible’s various different textual traditions. Not surprisingly all of the names of the children of Jacob, the eponymous twelve tribes of ancient Israel, were given fanciful etymologies where the meaning of each nameRead More

#50. Is it lawful to marry your wife’s sister OR not? (Gen 29:28 vs Lev 18:18)

And you shall not take a wife to her sister to rival, to expose her nudity along with her in her lifetime. (Lev 18:18) “To take a wife to rival her sister” and “to expose her nudity” along side her sister’s is the language of wedlock… and of course, sexual intercourse. As we saw in #43, here also this particular contradiction is one that highlights differences between the biblical writers’ cultural viewpointsRead More

#48. Is Jacob’s motive for leaving Beersheba fear of Esau’s revenge OR Isaac’s insistence that Jacob take a wife from Paddan-Aram? (Gen 27:41-45 vs Gen 28:1-5)
#49. Does Jacob go to Haran OR Paddan-Aram? (Gen 27:43, 28:10 vs Gen 28:2, 28:7)

Following what was said in #46-47, we now learn that the story of Jacob’s flight and the reason(s) why he leaves Beersheba are also variously given: to flee Esau’s wrath (Gen 27:41-45) and to find a suitable wife from among his own people (Gen 28:1-2). Additionally, the text also narrates Jacob’s departure twice and to two different locales: in Genesis 28:7 we are informed that he goes to Paddan-Aram, but then at Genesis 28:10 to Haran. Again,Read More

#46. Is Jacob blessed by a bedridden, blind, and old Isaac over a ceremonial meal OR by a relatively still youthful Isaac whose eyes are good via the transference of the blessing made to Abraham by El Shaddai? (Gen 27:1-29, 27:41 vs Gen 28:1-5)
#47. Does Jacob’s blessing come by means of deceiving and tricking his father Isaac OR is it knowingly and consciously given to Jacob by his father Isaac? (Gen 27:1-29 vs Gen 28:1-5)

The book of Genesis, as it has come down to us, recounts the blessing of Jacob on two separate occasions: Genesis 27:1-29 and Genesis 28:1-5. They are in fact doublets, and at this point it should not be surprising to learn that they are each a part of two, once separate, textual traditions which were later grafted together, and as a result created these contradictions. In the first account (Gen 27:1-29),Read More

#45. Was Abraham dead OR alive when Jacob and Esau were born? (Gen 25:7-8 vs Gen 25:21-26)

This contradiction, like the one we saw in #42, is more of a narrative inconsistency in the chronology of the story which was created when the later Priestly source was redacted into the early JE storyline. Genesis 25:7-11 displays features and vocabulary typical to the P source: a heightened concern for ages, dates, genealogies, and marriage, death, and settlement records.1 In this passage we are informed of Abraham’s death: Abraham lived 175 years and expired—a term uniqueRead More

#44. Is Beersheba named on account of Abraham’s oath with Abimelek and his digging a well there OR Isaac’s treaty with Abimelek and his digging a well there? (Gen 21:30-32 vs Gen 26:32-33)

The subject matter of this story is the origin behind the naming of Beersheba, which was an important Judean stronghold near the Philistine border in the 9th through the 8th centuries BC. Like the stories explaining the origins of the name Ishmael (#37) and Isaac (#41), it too is an etiological tale. Its purpose was to answer the question of how Beersheba came to be possessed and named by the Israelites. Yet, the book of Genesis asRead More

#43. Is it lawful to marry your sister OR not? (Gen 20:12 vs Lev 18:11, 20:17)

Customs, beliefs, and worldviews change, and with them so too laws—no mystery here. But when we have a so-called “Book” that in actuality is a collection of the laws and narratives that reflected the customs, beliefs, and worldviews of a people (and peoples!) spanning approximately 1,000 years, contradictions are bound to occur. There should be no mystery here either. Thus, reflective of archaic customs shared throughout the ancient Near East, the older Yahwist and Elohist traditionsRead More

#42. Is Ishmael 15-17 years old when Sarah expels him and his mother Hagar OR still a mere babe? (Gen 17:25 vs Gen 21: 8-17)

We have already seen on various occasions that the Priestly writer has a vested interest in genealogies, dates, and the ages of the patriarchs. But when this textual tradition with its dates and ages is redacted together with the JE text some interesting narrative tensions arise. For instance, P informs us that Ishmael “was 13 years old when he was circumcised at the flesh of his foreskin” (17:25)—that is “on that very day”Read More

#41. What is the origin of Isaac’s name: Abraham laughed OR Sarah laughed? (Gen 17:17 vs Gen 18:12)

We have already seen a double etymology given for the name Ishmael (#37), and likewise we will encounter many others. Here 2 traditions attempt to provide an explanation for the origin of Isaac’s name, which is built on the verb shaq—“to play,” to rejoice over,” or “to laugh.” One tradition infers the reason for the child’s name by indicating that Sarah laughs when Yahweh—a stranger and a traveler to her—pronounces that she, who isRead More

#40. Concerning the promise of Isaac’s birth, is Abraham visited by a vision of Yahweh as El Shaddai OR by three men, one of whom is Yahweh? (Gen 17:15-22 vs Gen 18:1-15)

Both Genesis 17:15-22 and Genesis 18:1-15 narrate the promise of Isaac’s birth, yet each one does so in drastically different manners. Let us first look at the version found in Genesis 18. 1And Yahweh appeared to him at the oaks of Mamre. And he was sitting at the tent entrance in the heat of the day, 2and he raised his eyes and saw, and here were three men standing over him… 8And he took curdsRead More

#39. Who names Ishmael: Yahweh OR Abraham? (Gen 16:11 vs Gen 16:15)

This contradiction, which builds upon #38, was also formed as the result of an editorial process that stitched together the Yahwist and the Priestly sources. Simply put, the Yahwist tradition accredits Yahweh’s angel with the naming of Ishmael, playing of the etymology: “And you shall call his name Ishmael, for Yahweh has heard (shama‘) your suffering” (Gen 16:11). Yet consistent with his reinterpretive agenda, the Priestly writer does 2 things in rewriting this passage: 1) he eliminates anyRead More

#38. Is Ishmael’s blessing conveyed by an angel of Yahweh to Hagar OR by God to Abraham? (Gen 16:10 vs Gen 17:20)

In #34-37 we looked at the contradictions in the Hagar-Ishmael story that were created as a result of a later editorial process that stitched together two once separate versions of the story, the Yahwist and Elohist. But there appears to be yet another textual tradition now preserved in Genesis that also told of the blessing of Ishmael. In this version we are given further details about Ishmael’s blessing, Abraham’s role, emphasis on “the eternalRead More

#37. What is the origin of Ishmael’s name: Yahweh has heard Hagar OR God has heard the boy? (Gen 16:11 vs Gen 21:17)

Many of the biblical scribes and/or the stories they wrote down display an avid interest in the etymologies of names. An etymology attempts to find the original meaning of a name by referencing what the root of that name means, or was thought to mean. There are many etymologies given in the Bible, from patriarchal names to place names. What we are interested in is where the biblical record gives us 2 different etymologies on the same name.Read More

#34. Is Hagar expelled because Sarah is vexed at Hagar OR at Ishmael? (Gen 16:4-6 vs Gen 21:8-10)
#35. Is Hagar expelled while pregnant OR after she has given birth? (Gen 16:4-6 vs Gen 21:8-10)
#36. Yahweh blesses Hagar as a reward for her suffering OR God blesses her on account of Abraham? (Gen 16:9-10 vs Gen 21:11-13)

In its present form, Genesis narrates the story of how Hagar is forced to depart on account of Sarah’s bitterness on two separate occasions: Genesis 16:1-14 and Genesis 21:8-21. Yet each account of Hagar’s forced expulsion gives two different reasons for why this happens, two different reasons for why Hagar’s offspring is blessed, two different etiologies for the name Ishmael (#37), and two different blessings for Ishmael (#38). Such differences bear witnessRead More

#33. One patriarchal covenant OR three? (Gen 15:18, 17:1-14, etc. vs Lev 26:42)

A theological staple in all the Pentateuch sources (Yahwist, Elohist, Deuteronomist, and Priestly) is the covenant promise of the land of Canaan to Abraham and his seed, variously given as an unconditional and conditional promise, as we have already seen in #29. Furthermore, this covenant, this one covenant, is then transferred to each successive patriarch and his offspring, i.e., to Isaac, to Jacob, and then finally to Joseph’s sons—all P texts (Gen 28:1-5, 35:9-12,Read More

How do we know that the biblical writers were not writing history?

Instead of posting today’s contradiction, I’d like to take the time and space to respond to a reader’s question, a question which perhaps many of my readers have pondered. This and similar questions are important because they are the gist of what we’re doing here. Maybe I will do more posts like this. I apologize for the length, but I wanted to do as thorough of a job with this taskRead More

#32. 400 years of slavery in Egypt OR 430? (Gen 15:13 vs Ex 12:40)

The legendary time-span in which the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt is variously given. Genesis 15:13 states that it was 400 years, presented in the guise of prophecy from Yahweh’s own mouth. While in Exodus 12:40 the narrator states that it was 430 years. Not surprisingly, both of these passages belong to 2 different and once separate textual traditions which were later edited together. The account in Genesis is from theRead More