About Contradictions in the Bible

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Contradictions in the Bible is first and foremost a website dedicated to the Bible. That is to say that it is a website about the very nature of the biblical text itself—a nature, moreover, which is readily perceivable from a cursory glance at the Bible’s table of contents: the Bible is composed of a variety of books. In other words, it is composite in nature. The Bible or “the Book”—from a later Latinized form of the Greek biblia (“books”)—is actually no book at all, but rather a collection of a number of ancient scrolls and codices. It is a compilation of other books, a text composed out of other texts.

This much may be evident to the modern reader, but the biblical text’s composite nature goes much deeper than this. The Bible is not only a composite of 66 different books, but these books themselves—these scrolls and codices to be exact (Hebrew “books” and Christian “books” respectively)—are also composite in nature. That is to say, the authors of the Bible’s various books worked from an array of differing political and religious sources, archives, and traditions. In fact, several authors of the books of the Bible inform their readers of the sources they used and consulted in writing their own scroll. For example, the author of (parts of) the book of Numbers uses material from a source which he identifies as “the scroll of the wars of Yahweh” (Num 21:14). We also hear of “the scroll of Jashar” which was used as a source for the author of Joshua 10:13. Whoever wrote much of the genealogical lists in Genesis identifies his source as “the scroll of the genealogy of Adam” (Gen 5:1). The authors of the books—scrolls—of Kings frequently reference a couple of their sources, “the chronicles of the kings of Israel” and “the chronicles of the kings of Judah” (1 Kings 14:19, 14:29, 15:7, 15:23, etc.). The author of the books of Chronicles, which is a later, and as we shall see, contradictory historical narrative covering the same period depicted in the books of Samuel and Kings, not only uses these books as sources, but mentions others as well: “the chronicles of David” (1 Chr 27:24), “the chronicles of Samuel the seer” (1 Chr 29:29), “the scroll of Gad” (1 Chr 29:29), “the scroll of Jehu” (2 Chr 20:34), etc. “The scroll of the records of your fathers” is mentioned by the author of Ezra (Ezra 4:15), and so on. That the biblical writers—or perhaps seen in this perspective, transmitters of tradition—used sources is evident from the biblical texts themselves. In actuality these are merely but a few of the sources that we know of. We now know that the various authors of the biblical scrolls used a variety of other sources, textual traditions, oral stories, and political archives to compose their writings. Seen in this context, it should hardly be surprising to find divergent, even contradictory, archives and traditions throughout this, more appropriately, anthology of ancient scrolls and codices.

Thus, Contradictions in the Bible is not just about the Book; rather, it is concerned with the various texts and traditions that went into the making and formation of the 66 books that make up what later tradition canonized, labeled, and marketed as “the Book.” On a more extensive level, it is about the historical circumstances, theological convictions, political and cultural ideologies, authorial agendas, and audiences that lie behind the various texts and traditions that make up the books of the Book, and which ultimately prompted such texts and traditions to be created and written down in the first place—texts and traditions that were later collected and canonized into a single composite text which we now call the Bible.

On a methodological level, I will not only identify every contradiction in the Bible, but more so discuss the reasons why they are present and what they tell us about the compositional nature and origins of the biblical text(s). I realize that the words “contradictions” and “Bible” in the same sentence may be a cause of alarm for many. But due diligence must be given to the biblical text itself, or as already indicated, to the biblical texts themselves. The Bible is a composite text. It is a collection of a vast array of traditions, archival material, cultic law, liturgy, political and religious propaganda, historical narrative, etiological stories, poetry, faith proclamations, etc.—all of which went through complex processes of transmission, collection, editing, and finally canonization. Of course any anthology of texts of this dimension will evidence variant traditions, variant and changing religious and cultic laws to suit an ever-changing audience, competing theological and political perspectives, and divergent views on monarchy, prophecy, the priesthood, faith, and even Israel’s deity. Nearly all of the approximately 3,000 contradictions that I currently estimate this collection of ancient texts, which later generations of readers labeled as “the Book,” to contain are explained by observing the composite nature of the text under examination. In other words, the biblical text itself makes evident, and attests to, its own composite nature, perceivable through its duplicate stories, contradictions, repetitions, and differing stylistic, thematic, and theological features and emphases. These variations, differences, and contradictions have all served as clues in unraveling and discovering the composite nature of the biblical text in the scholarly community over the last 300 years! Centuries of meticulous, genuine, and earnest investigation of the biblical text itself has revealed its composite nature, and it is precisely because of this composite nature that the Bible exhibits numerous contradictions. This is not open for debate. This is the fact. We may ask why they are there and what they mean, but to claim that they are not there or to harmonize them away under some theological interpretive agenda is simply imposing one’s personal or communal beliefs and presuppositions onto the biblical text(s) in lieu of an honest consideration for and approach to the biblical texts themselves. Thus, it is the biblical text itself which is our point of departure; being as honest as we can to these ancient documents, which means understanding their socio-historical contexts and purposes of composition, is our first concern. The biblical text and the texts and traditions that make up this text is the focus of our forthcoming contradictions.

Truth is most Jews and Christians who read the Bible, have no idea what they are actually reading—ancient texts produced by royal scribes and priests in powerful political positions who wrote to advocate or legitimate particular political or religious reforms and ideologies. We know this not only because the Bible tells us this—see the forthcoming entries—but also because of the enormous literary parallels from other ancient Near Eastern texts. Much of the ancient literature that makes up what later tradition has come to understand and interpret as “the Book,” had its roots in the scribal activity of the royal courts and temple precincts of the late monarchal (late 8th century and 7th century BC), exilic (598-539 BC), and post-exilic periods—in all, roughly from the late 8th to the early 4th centuries BC. As such it was literature that was never produced for dissemination to the public. In fact there was no such thing as a public readership; it did not exist! Rather, religious and political texts were written to support or legitimate the beliefs or worldviews of its author and its community to other elites and powerful political figures, or to condemn and illegitimate the position of others. We modern readers have gained accesses to these court and temple documents; they allow us to understand how and by what means, royal scribes constructed literature for or against various other ideological and cultic programs. (Again, this will be born out in the forthcoming contradictions.) When beliefs and worldviews changed due to changing socio-historical, and even religio-political ideas and beliefs, a text that had become authoritative for a particular community then becomes subjected to a process of reinterpretation, or revision, out of which a new authoritative tradition emerges. Consequently the re-interpretive tradition then becomes the new mediator of authority, ironically above and beyond the text it presumes to interpret. This process of composition, reinterpretation, and recomposition is extremely complex. We know that certain texts and traditions that were authoritative, but nevertheless “out-dated” by the perspectives of later generations of priests for example, were revised, modified, or rewritten in such a way as to keep them intact while nonetheless composing new religious agendas and cultic laws around them and in contradiction to them (again, many of the forthcoming entries will prove this assertion). To a large extent, this process is what invariably lends itself to producing contradictions in the combined biblical text as we now have it: the out-dated yet authoritative position and claims of one priestly guild, for example, is preserved while a new priestly code and text which argues for contrary views and ideas is written into the earlier one. The earlier text is then read through the theological interpretive agenda of the later text and its audience. This process is reduplicated many times before all these variant texts and traditions finally get codified together centuries later as “the Bible.” In the final analysis, “the Bible,” what that label itself means, invokes, or symbolizes, becomes the interpretive and authoritative framework through which all these earlier texts are then read and understood by later generations of readers. In fact, the mere word “Bible”—more os “Holy Bible”—becomes more authoritative than the earlier and once independent texts and traditions it presumes to interpret. Any reference to “the Bible” unavoidably becomes a reference to the biblical texts’ later interpretive tradition, and not, ironically, the once independent biblical texts themselves, each with their unique authors, unique messages, and unique audiences. In other words, these earlier texts have already been co-opted as part of a later generation’s interpretive agenda. The are understood and read through this later interpretive framework which goes by the name of “the Bible.” This website, however, is interested in hearing the voices of these individual, once separate, texts and traditions which have become silenced by the homogeneous interpretive grid of later generations of readers—designated by the label “the Bible.” Getting back to the independent texts and traditions before they were appropriated for and interpreted to be “the Bible” is the task at hand—hearing the Bible’s many, and at times discordant, voices.

5 thoughts on “About Contradictions in the Bible

    1. Joseph, Great idea. I’m currently looking for a good plugin that will enable me to do exactly that. Keep checking back….

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