A Comprehensive List of Contradictions in the Bible, identified verse by verse and explained using the most up-to-date scholarly information about the Bible, its texts, and the men who wrote them.

Posts in category Exodus

#4. Is the origin of the Sabbath to be found in God’s rest on the 7th day OR the manner in which Yahweh gave rest to the Hebrews when they were slaves in Egypt? (Gen 2:2-3; Ex 20:8-11 vs Deut 5:12-15)

The origins of the Sabbath are obscure; there are no contemporary parallels in ancient Near Eastern practices. On the other hand, the Bible gives two contradictory accounts for its origin. Both Genesis 2:2-3 and Exodus 20:8-11 claim that its origin is

because for six days Yahweh made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them, and he rested on the seventh day. On account of this, Yahweh blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

The last sentence here is a direct reference to the Priestly creation account (Gen 2:3). Whoever authored this origin for the Sabbath—bear in mind that Ex 20:11 is merely a part of its immediate context, the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:1-17)—was familiar with P’s text or the textual tradition from which P itself was composed.

Deuteronomy 5:12-15, however, which is a part of a duplicate rendition of the Ten Commandments in the Deuteronomic source (Deut 5:6-18), accredits a different origin to the Sabbath:


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#11. When was the name Yahweh first invoked: in the earliest generations of man OR not till Moses at Sinai? (Gen 4:26, 12:8, 13:4, 15:7, etc. vs Ex 6:2-3)

This is a contradiction that you won’t find listed on your average, nor above average, contradictions in the Bible website; in fact, I doubt you’ll find it anywhere but here! It, like many of the ones to come, is only perceivable to those who have carefully studied the theologies of the various biblical authors. In fact, this is one in my long-list of favorites, because we start to see what the biblical scribes were up to as they crafted their narratives and how their competing theological views, beliefs, and ideologies were woven into their narratives, and even expressed through the mouthpiece of their god! Having said that, this contradiction is quite mild compared to others of this genre that we will look at.

We left off noting how the Priestly writer used genealogies to provide a narrative and interpretive structure to the earlier Yahwist material. Yet the Priestly writer was doing more than this. He was also involved in the whole theological

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#13. Does Yahweh regret and change his mind OR does he not? (Gen 6:6-7; Ex 32:13-14; 1 Sam 2:30-31, 15:35; Amos 7:3; Jon 3:10 vs Num 23:19; 1 Sam 15:29; Mal 3:6)

“And Yahweh regretted that he had made mankind on the earth and he was grieved to his heart” (Gen 6:6).

We have already discussed the Yahwist’s anthropomorphic portrait of Yahweh [or if you’ve missed it see: Conflicting portraits of Israel’s deity], so there is nothing surprising in this characterization of the deity in this verse. The Hebrew word, nehem, in this passage describes a change of heart or mind, and is typical of J’s anthropomorphic conception of the deity. In the Yahwist text, Yahweh often repents, regrets, grieves, even deceives, and is moved by fierce bouts of anger. In other words, J’s very “human” presentation of Yahweh is not to be assimilated to later theological programs that assert omniscience and omnipotence to the deity. Nowhere in J are these later theological ideas even hinted at.

In Genesis 6:6-7, the Yahwist depicts Yahweh grieving and regretting that he had created a humankind that has since

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#27. Are Yahweh and El the same god OR different gods? (Gen 14:22, 17:1, 21:33; Ex 6:2-3; Ps 82:1 vs Deut 32:8-9; Ps 29:1, 89:6-8)

Recent archaeological, biblical, and extrabiblical research has led scholars working in the area of the origins of Israelite religion to assert rather boldly and confidently that the original god of Israel was in fact the Canaanite deity El.1 Just exactly how has this come about you ask?

First, the name Israel is not a Yahwistic name. El is the name of the deity invoked in the name Israel, which translates: “May El persevere.”2 This suggests that El was seen as the chief god in the formative years of Israel’s religious practices. In fact, the etiological story explaining the origin of the name Israel occurs in Genesis 35:9-15, where Jacob obtains this name through the blessing of El Shaddai, that is “El of the Mountain.”

Second, there exist numerous parallels and similarities between descriptions and cultic terminology used for El in the Canaanite texts and those used for Yahweh in the biblical sources (see below). At some point

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#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 the Yahwist, while that of Exodus from the Priestly writer, as we will see when we get to the book of Exodus.

Both of these dates are fictional. 400 is a traditionally used round number expressing 10 generations—10 x the mythic 40 yrs for each generation. The 430 years of P is calculated with a different plan in mind, and is representative of this author’s larger interest in dates and the periodization of history in general.

The earlier Deuteronomic tradition accords 430 years to the time period in which the Temple stood, from

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#63. Can a mortal see God face-to-face and live OR not? (Gen 16:13, 32:30; Ex 24:9-11, 33:11; Num 14:14; Deut 5:21, 34:10 vs Ex 33:20; John 1:18, 5:37; 1 Tim 6:16)

This is an oldie but a goodie as they say, and can be found on numerous other sites and throughout the literature. I will keep to my procedure of stressing that such contradictions are the result of an editorial process that brought together different textual traditions written over a period of 1,000 years, each expressing divergent and contradictory beliefs, worldviews, and theologies.

In fact, contradictory traditions now preserved side-by-side in the Bible yield divergent responses to this question. In the Yahwist narratives of Genesis, Abraham, Sarah, and Jacob see Yahweh face-to-face, and Abraham even prepares a meal for Yahweh and two angelic guests, and eats with them (Gen 18:1 ff.).

In an Elohist text, Jacob encounters the god of Penuel, from whom he wrestles a blessing (#62)

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#76. Was it 66 OR 70 OR 75 males from Jacob’s loins who came to Egypt? (Gen 46:26 vs Gen 46:27, Ex 1:5, Deut 10:22 vs Acts 7:14)

The passage in question is Genesis 46:8-27 which breaks from the narrative to offer yet another genealogy: “And these are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt…”

We have seen elsewhere that such interest in genealogies, dates, and ages were evidence of the Priestly writer’s hand. Yet this passage also evidences editorial reworking, possibly even done by a scribal hand during the recopying of the manuscript. In other words, within this single source there is a discrepancy pertaining to the number of male descendants from Jacob’s loins that went down to Egypt.

Verse 26 states that there were 66, while verse 27 states 70. One of these is an editorial correction most likely inserted during textual transmission. That seems to be the best hypothesis that fits the textual data.

If one counts up all the male descendants of Jacob listed in the passage, one arrives at the total of 70—thus verse 27: “All the persons

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#80. Were the children of Jacob given the land of Rameses to inhabit OR did they build it generations later? (Gen 47:11 vs Ex 1:11)

This is our last contradiction for the book of Genesis and it should be held in tandem with tomorrow’s #81, our first Exodus contradiction.

The various textual traditions that we have been examining in Genesis—the Yahwist, Elohist, and Priestly—continue into the book of Exodus. The Yahwist source makes minor appearances in Exodus and when it does it often presents duplicate traditions to those narrated by the Elohist. The Elohist has a stronger presence, particularly visible in the Plague narrative, the Horeb revelation, the giving of the laws, and the Golden Calf story. The Priestly sources emerges as the dominant and sole source in the later third of the book of Exodus, giving way to the core of the Priestly literature, the book of Leviticus.

The beginning of the Exodus narrative in its present composite form retains variant traditions related to Rameses. Exodus 1:8-12, for example, relates how on account of the growing fear in the increasing

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#81. When did the Exodus allegedly happen: during the reign of Rameses II (1279-1213 BC) OR in 1447 BC? (Ex 1:11 vs 1 Kgs 6:1)

In its present form, the book of Exodus is a composite of the Yahwist, Elohist, and Priestly sources. These biblical traditions, which record the story of the Israelites’ enslavement in and exodus from Egypt, maintain that the Israelites were oppressed by an unnamed Pharaoh, used as forced laborers in the Pharaoh’s building projects, and were subsequently liberated by Moses, under Yahweh’s guidance, with signs and wonders.

Yet despite these traditions, historical specifics are never described, and neither are there any extent extra-biblical sources nor archaeological data to corroborate these narratives:1

  • no Egyptian records of a large number of, nor any, Israelites in Egypt during the alleged time periods proposed by our biblical sources
  • no literary nor archaeological records of a mass flight of 600,000 males (Ex 12:37) accompanied by women, children, servants, and livestock in what would have been a heavily fortified Egyptian presence from Egypt to Canaan
  • no archeological record of settlements in the Sinai peninsula in and around the time of Rameses II, or the whole New Kingdom period (15th-11th c. BC) for that matter—especially true of Kadesh-barnea where this one million plus troop allegedly encamped for 38 of the 40 years spent in the peninsula!
  • no trace of Egyptian influence on Hebrew material culture and language as the result of four centuries of direct Egyptian contact.

These are not the only problems encountered when mistakenly reading the Exodus story as history. There are numerous other historical and textual problems as well.

First, the biblical traditions themselves do not agree on the date of the Exodus. The tradition preserved in 1 Kings 6:1 does not square with the mention of the building of

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#82. How long were the Hebrews enslaved: 400 years OR a mere generation? (Gen 15:13 vs Ex1:6-12)

As I was typing up yesterday’s contradiction (#81), it dawned on me that the imposition of the later Priestly writer’s chronology onto the older JE sources was not the only visible discrepancy in the narrative’s chronology. It was also there in the older sources themselves. So we’ll backtrack a bit here and note one more Genesis-Exodus contradiction.

In Genesis 15:13, Yahweh is presented as claiming/prophesying to Abraham that the Hebrews will be “slaves in a land not theirs and will serve them, and they will oppress them 400 years.”

Yet this is not at all what happens, and it is in fact completely negated by what is claimed in the opening of the book of Exodus. For there we learn that the enslavement and oppression only occur after Joseph, his brothers, and all that generation had died and on the eve of Moses’ birth! In other words, only for a generation, or 80 years if we adopt P’s age of 80 for Moses at the time of the exodus (Ex 7:7).


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#83. Does Egypt’s king command the Hebrew midwives to kill all male infants OR does Pharaoh command his people to drown them?
#84. Are all the male infants spared OR is only Moses? (Ex 1:15-21 vs Ex 1:22-2:10)

Exodus 1:15–2:10, the story of Pharaoh’s decree to put to death all male-born Hebrews, presents itself in its current form as: first, a failed attempt by Egypt’s king since the Hebrew midwives refuse to comply to the king’s demand, and thus all the newborn babes are spared (1:18); and second, a supposed reissue of the ordinance by Pharaoh to his people, this time specifying to drown the male infants, wherein we learn of the legendary tale relating Moses’ birth and deliverance (1:22-2:10).

Although as the text now sits these two stories can be read as a sequel, in actuality this narrative is a composite of two once independent versions of the story, the Yahwist and the Elohist, each one narrated in slightly different terms.

Noticeable differences are E’s use of the expression “Egypt’s king” (1:15), while J prefers “Pharaoh” (1:22); and while E recounts that the decree was given to two Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah

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#85. Is Moses’ father-in-law Reuel OR Jethro OR Hobab? (Ex 2:18; Num 10:29 vs Ex 3:1 vs Judg 4:11)

There seems to be some confusion in the traditions preserving—or creating as the case may be—the name of Moses’ father-in-law, Zipporah’s father.

The textual tradition identified as the Yahwist consistently refers to him as Reuel (Ex 2:18; Num 10:29), while the Elohist tradition uses the name Jethro (Ex 3:1, 3:18, 18:1-27).

To further complicate issues, another source names Hobab as the father-in-law of Moses (Judg 4:11), and Num 10:29 refers to Hobab as Reuel’s son, implying therefore that Reuel was Moses’ grandfather-in-law!

These differences most likely represent varying oral traditions. Many scholars have sought to caution against using modern ideas to understand how texts were written in the ancient world. So rather than thinking about an author a more appropriate model might be a scribe who was himself merely copying down a handed-down tradition. This might be a good analogy to understand this textual contradiction. Indeed, it has often been

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#86. Is the mount of revelation Horeb OR Sinai? (Ex 3:1, 17:6; Deut 1:6, 4:10, etc. vs Ex 19:11, 19:18, etc.; Lev 7:38, 26:46, etc.)

Variant textual traditions now preserved side-by-side in the Bible reference two different places or place-names where Yahweh revealed himself and his commandments to Moses—neither of which has been archeologically identified.1

Both the Elohist and the later Deuteronomist consistently refer to the place of revelation as Horeb or “the mountain of the god.” Contrary to the Elohist however, the Deuteronomist does not present the giving of the laws as happening at Horeb, as we will see when we get to the book of Deuteronomy. (Some of my favorite contradictions here!)

Conversely, the Yahwist and the Priestly sources consistently refer to it as Sinai. However, there is no revelation of the divine name in the Yahwist tradition. The name Yahweh, the Yahwist claims, was known right from the earliest generations of man (contradiction <a title="#11. When was the name Yahweh first invoked: in the earliest generations of man OR not till Moses at Sinai? (Gen 4:26

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#87. Does the god of the Hebrews reveal himself to Moses in Midian OR in Egypt? (Ex 3:1-15 vs Ex 6:2-3, 6:28-29; Ezek 20:5)

Did you know that the Bible recounts two different revelation scenes in the book of Exodus? That there are two different stories recounting the revelation of Yahweh, his person and his name, to Moses? Are you also aware that these two revelation scenes occur in two different geographical locations: in Midian and in Egypt? By now, you’re probably not surprised to hear that these two different accounts have been identified as parts of two different, and once separate, sources: in this case the Elohist (3:1-15) and the Priestly (6:2-8) sources.

The more famous of the two is obviously E’s version, the story of the burning bush. In this particular account Moses is already presented as the son-in-law to the Midianite priest Jethro and the setting for this theophany is also in Midian, at “the mountain of the god,” namely Horeb (3:1). It is here, we are told, that Yahweh’s messenger appears to Moses as a flame in a bush, “but the bush was

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#88. Does Yahweh command Moses to perform the signs before the elders of Israel OR before Pharaoh? (Ex 3:16, 4:1, 4:8 vs Ex 4:21)

The opening chapters of Exodus display narrative inconsistencies, doublets, differing styles and vocabulary, and indeed contradictions that have continuously led scholars to reaffirm the text’s composite nature. Having said that, it is difficult to assign with certainty some of these passages to the Elohist or Yahwist source. P remains clear; but since the Elohist now starts to use the divine name Yahweh, seeing that it has now been revealed, this feature no longer separates the Yahwist and Elohist textual traditions from this point forward, and the task of distinguishing the two becomes more difficult.

Nevertheless, Exodus’ variant textual traditions have Yahweh commanding Moses to perform the staff into snake sign in front of the elders as a sign, and, on the other hand, in front of Pharaoh as a sign. The two indeed occur in the combined narrative, but this clearly is not how one of the sources originally conceived of this.

For example, in the

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#89. Does Moses demand a leave of three days from Pharaoh’s service in order to sacrifice to Yahweh OR an unconditional release? (Ex 3:18, 5:3, 8:23 vs Ex 6:6-8)

“And you will come, you and Israel’s elders, to the king of Egypt, and say to him: ‘Yahweh, god of the Hebrews happened upon us. And now, let us go on a trip of three days in the wilderness so we may sacrifice to Yahweh, our god’” (Ex 3:18).

The theme of a petition to leave the king’s service for three days in order to sacrifice to Yahweh in the wilderness—an apparent shame or trick on the part of Moses—is nevertheless only found in E’s version of the flight. The duplicate story in P, Ex 6:6-8, mentions no ploy to leave for three days in order to sacrifice. The Priestly presentation of the exodus is an outright redemptive liberation of the people, as well as a covenantal renewal event!—themes inherent to P.

But more relevant is that the northern Elohist’s version of the story actually reflects the historical circumstances of the north during the mid to late 10th century BC, at least as it was depicted in 1 Kings 11-12.

It was already

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#90. Does Pharaoh choose not to let the Hebrews go OR does Yahweh harden his heart? (Ex 3:19, 7:13-14, 8:11-15, 9:35 vs Ex 4:22, 7:3, 9:12)

This is not necessarily a contradiction between sources, but rather a theological tension inherent in the Hebrew Bible itself. The question of agency with respect to a wrongdoing or sin is often presented in a dual manner. The present case is merely one example of that.

Here, the plague narrative presents both Pharaoh as choosing not to let the Hebrews go and Yahweh as pulling his strings, so to speak, and hardening his heart.

On the other hand, the Hebrew Bible as a whole is often ambiguous about whether sin is produced by human agency or divine intervention. It is often presented as a mixture of the two. This is clearly the implication drawn out in the Plague narrative where both Pharaoh is presented as hardening his own heart (8:11, 8:28, 9:35) and Yahweh is presented as hardening his heart (4:21, 9:12, 10:20, 10:27, 11:10).

Although Yahweh may be the cause of Pharaoh’s own wrongdoing, it would be inaccurate to assign guilt to Yahweh, that is looking

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#91. Moses’ staff OR Aaron’s staff OR God’s staff? (Ex 4:2, 7:15, 17:20, 9:23, 10:13 vs Ex 7:9-12, 7:19 vs Ex 4:20, )

Exodus 4:2, 7:15, 7:20, 9:23, and 10:13 all indicate that the staff or rod involved in producing Yahweh’s signs was Moses’ staff, perhaps even his personal shepherd’s staff. Indeed 4:2, which introduces the staff in the narrative, seems to imply that it was already on Moses’ person: “‘What’s this in your hand?’ ‘A staff.’”

However, Ex 7:10, 7:12, 7:19, 8:1, and 8:12 refer to the same staff now as “Aaron’s staff” and, more surprisingly, depict Aaron, not Moses, performing the famous rod-to-snake, err -serpent (see #92) sign. But if that weren’t enough then there is the reference in Ex 4:20 to the staff as—literally—“the god’s staff.” So whose staff was this: Yahweh’s, Moses’ or Aaron’s?

It is not unusual in biblical literature specifically, and in the mythology of the ancient Near East in general, to find gods depicted with magical or divine weaponry. Stelae preserved from the ancient Levant commonly portray

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#92. Does the staff turn into a snake OR a serpent? (Ex 4:3 vs Ex 7:9-10)

Not only do the Elohist and Priestly sources disagree on whose staff we’re talking about: Moses’ or Aaron’s (#91), but they also use different terms when it comes to describing the serpent or snake it turns into. In E (4:3) the staff becomes a snake (nahash), but in P (7:10) it becomes a serpent (tannîn). Each author chose a different term, and the Priestly writer might have even had a reason for changing nahash to tannin.

Furthermore, in E it was supposed to be Moses who was to produce this sign with his own staff (4:17), but in matter of fact, in P (7:10, 7:19, 8:1) it is rather Aaron who produces the sign, and contrary to E’s account where Aaron performs the sign in front of “the children of Israel” (4:29-31), P claims that Aaron performed the sign with his own staff and in front of the Pharaoh and his servant (7:10)! But we are getting ahead of ourselves here. More about how and why P rewrote E in the forthcoming contradictions.

#93. Does Moses have a heavy mouth and tongue OR uncircumcised lips? (Ex 4:10 vs Ex 6:12, 6:30)

We have already seen in contradiction #91 how the later Priestly writer modified the tradition that he inherited so that it better suited his own ideology and legitimated his own priestly guild, while on the other hand denigrated that of the Levites, whose forefather was Moses.

Yet nowhere is the Priestly writer’s bias against Moses more pronounced than in his rewriting of E’s Moses, who is literally “heavy of mouth and tongue” (Ex 4:10), to “uncircumcised of lips” (Ex 6:12). Again, these were literary techniques employed by biblical scribes as a means to polemically denigrate the claims of a rival priesthood, here the Levites, by portraying their founding figure in defamatory and unflattering terms. P’s choice of words presents a Moses who is now equated with ritual defilement!

Ezekiel, for example, who was an Aaronid priest himself, labeled this as a disqualification from the priesthood (Ezek 44:7-9). Thus the Priestly writer, in rewriting the

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#94. Does Yahweh make a person blind, deaf, or dumb OR does Beelzebub (Ex 4:11 vs Mk 1:34, 3:22, 5:9-13; Matt 9:33, 12:22, etc.)

“Who makes a person dumb or deaf, gives sight or makes blind? Is it not I, Yahweh!”

Exodus 4:11, like other Old Testament passages, expresses a theological tenet shared by many of the authors of the Hebrew Bible—namely that Yahweh is sovereign. Other examples of this theological perspective can be found elsewhere. Here are just a couple examples:

“Should evil befall a city and Yahweh has not done it?” (Amos 3:6)

“I am Yahweh and there is none other; I fashion light and create darkness; I make peace and create evil. I am Yahweh who does all these things!” (Isaiah 45:6-7)

What these proclamations express is that Yahweh is sovereign over all things, personal and national. This entails that Yahweh is in control of everything: life, death, fertility, from making a person blind or ill, to destroying whole peoples and their lands, to being the god of both creation and destruction. This is what is meant by the theological tenet, viewed as a

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#95. Is Aaron Moses’ brother Levite OR brother? (Ex 4:14 vs Ex 6:20, 7:1, 7:7; Num 26:59)

Exodus 4:14, usually identified as belonging to the Elohist source, labels Aaron as Moses’ Levite brother, that is, a fellow Levite.

However, at Exodus 6:20, 7:1, and 7:7 Aaron is presented as Moses’ flesh and blood brother. In fact, Exodus 7:7 identifies Aaron as the older brother by 3 years! These passages fall in with other Priestly indicators and have been identified as part of the Priestly source. As we saw in contradictions #91 and #93, here too the Priestly writer changes the tradition he inherited, transforming Aaron’s pedigree from a fellow Levite to Moses’ older brother. This is merely one literary technique that P employs to raise Aaron’s status on the one hand and denigrate Moses’ on the other hand.

While the JE narrative had a very limited role and importance for Aaron, in the Priestly writer’s rewriting Aaron is not only elevated to the status of Moses’ brother, but even higher. Aaron is the central most important

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#96. Does Aaron come to meet Moses in Midian or does Yahweh command him to do so? (Ex 4:14 vs Ex 4:27)

Aaron appears on the scene from nowhere. In Exodus 4:14 the narrator tells us that he is coming to meet Moses, his Levite brother (#95), in Midian without having previously introduced the character of Aaron. We can only surmise: Did he too escape Pharaoh’s decree to kill all the firstborns (#83)?

Yet Exodus 4:27 would seem to be a doublet, narrating a second time Aaron’s coming. Except now Aaron is commanded by Yahweh to meet Moses at the mountain of the god.

These are some of the seams or fractures scholars identify in the composite text which suggest that multiple textual traditions have been stitched together. Granted this example is by no means among the best. But even here we can detect inconsistencies in the final form of the narrative that suggest it was formed by stitching together different versions of the same story.

For instance:

  • In Exodus 4:14 Moses is at God’s mountain conversing with the deity when Yahweh states that Aaron is coming: “here he is coming out toward you!”
  • In Exodus 4:18 Moses returns to Jethro, his father-in-law, i.e., according to one tradition (#85). And Jethro bids him farewell on his return to Egypt. There is some interesting stuff going on in verse 19, but we will look at that at contradiction #99.
  • Exodus 4:24-26 presents Moses journeying on his way back to Egypt, where he meets Yahweh in quite a gruesome affair. I’ll let you read this one on your own.
  • Where’s Aaron? He came out and met Moses at God’s mountain in Exodus 4:14, but there has been no further mention of him, not in Exodus 4:18 nor in 4:24-26.
  • Well here he is. In Exodus 4:27 Yahweh now commands Aaron to meet Moses, a second time, at the mountain of the god. But Moses has already departed and is heading back to Egypt. And Aaron had already met Moses, supposedly, in Exodus 4:14.

These inconsistencies, or seams and fractures in the narrative, as some of my colleagues like to say, are none other

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#97. Is Aaron commissioned before OR after Moses fails to convince Pharaoh? (Ex 4:14-16 vs Ex 5:4-5, 7:1-2)
#98. Is Aaron commissioned to help Moses address Israel OR address Pharaoh? (Ex 4:14-16, 4:27-31 vs Ex 7:1-2)

Another narrative discrepancy that occurs from the combination of our duplicate stories is the, now, doublet of Aaron’s commission.

Since P’s story of the revelation of Yahweh and commission of Aaron (Ex 6:2-7:13) is placed after E’s version, where both the revelation of Yahweh and commission of Aaron have already been narrated (Ex 4:1-30), these events in the current version of the text happen twice.

Aaron is therefore commissioned both before (4:14-16) Moses is sent to the people (4:27-31), in an attempt to solve the problem of Moses’ “heavy mouth and heavy tongue” (4:10), and after he initially fails (5:4-5, 6:9). Yet the second commission, P’s version, displays no knowledge of the previous failure on the part of Moses, that is in E’s version. P wrote his version as a new story which highlighted the role of Aaron. However, a later redactor, most likely of the same Aaronid guild, placed P’s version of the commission of Aaron

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#99. Does Moses return to Egypt by asking Jethro’s leave OR is he commanded by Yahweh to return to Egypt? (Ex 4:18 vs Ex 4:19)

Exodus 4:18-20 seems to narrate Moses’ return to Egypt twice. Let’s look closely at the features of this passage.

18And Moses went back to Jethro, his father-in-law, and said to him, “Let me go so I may go back to my brothers who are in Egypt and see if they’re still living.” And Jethro said to Moses, “Go in peace.” 19And Yahweh said to Moses in Midian, “Go! Go back to Egypt because all the people who sought your life have died.” 20And Moses took his wife and his sons and rode them on an ass, and he went back to the land of Egypt.

First, we should notice that the use of the name Jethro, rather than Reuel, for the name of Moses’ father-in-law was a feature of the Elohist source (#85). And in this verse Moses is presented almost as a suppliant asking Jethro’s permission to return to Egypt. It is granted, and Moses departs in peace.

Verse 19, however, seems to begin the “return motive&#8221

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#100. Does Moses take his wife and son(s) with him on his return to Egypt OR do they stay behind in Midian? (Ex 4:19-20 vs Ex 18:4)
#101. Does Moses have one son OR two? (Ex 4:20 vs Ex 18:4)

One hundred days, one hundred contradictions. Booyah! I would have never known that April 10th is the 100th day of the year if it weren’t for this project.

Picking up where we left off (#99), Exodus 4:20 informs us that Moses took with him on his return to Egypt his son(s) and his wife. Additionally, although the text as it now stands states that Moses took “his sons” there has only been one son mentioned thus far in the narrative—and this happens to be the Yahwist narrative—and that is Gershom (Ex 2:22). And neither is there any more than one son mentioned in the circumcision passage which immediately follows (Ex 4:24-26), and which is also from J. Why the plural sons?

Thus having returned to Egypt with his son(s) and wife, the Exodus narrative as it has come down to us then continues with: the Priestly writer’s revelation scene in Exodus 6-7 (where Moses never left Egypt! see <a title="#87. Does the god of the Hebrews reveal

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#102. Do the people believe and listen to Moses OR do they not? (Ex 4:29-31 vs Ex 6:9-12)

We have already seen how, and attempted to understand why, the later Priestly writer when rewriting the exodus story presented Moses as initially failing in his task (#91, #93, #97-98). Contradiction #102 continues from these observations.

In one version of the story (E), Yahweh reveals himself to Moses in Midian at the burning bush and informs Moses that he has heard his people’s sufferings and has prepared to liberate them in all his pomp and glory—the complete extermination of all of Egypt’s drinking water, vegetation, livestock, and firstborns! At root, E’s story is a theological demonstration, and it is quite effective in this respect. I will detail this in a subsequent entry. At any rate, Moses is to bring this message to the people; but alas he fears that they will not believe him (4:1). Therefore, Yahweh provides him with a couple “signs” to perform: turning his staff into a snake and his hand leprous.

Thus asking

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#103. Does Aaron perform the rod-to-snake/serpent trick in front of the Israelites OR Pharaoh? (Ex 4:30 vs 7:10)

The beginning of the book of Exodus is marred with doublets, sometimes triplets—that is two unique versions of its various stories are presented, both of which most likely came from two, or three, once independent sources. Often these versions contradict one another in minor narrative details or in some cases larger theological claims. We have already seen many of these:

  • 2 contradictory versions about the length of the captivity in Egypt (#82)
  • 2 versions of a decree to kill all firstborns (#83-84)
  • 2 versions of Moses’ father-in-law’s name (#85)
  • 2 versions providing different names for the mount of revelation (#86)
  • 2 radically different versions of the revelation itself (#87)
  • 2 versions where Yahweh commands Moses to perform his signs (#88)
  • 2 versions of the need to leave Egypt motive (#89)
  • 2 contradictory versions about whose staff it is (#91)
  • 2 versions about Aaron coming to meet Moses (#96)
  • 2 versions describing Aaron’s relationship to Moses (#95)
  • 2 versions of the commission of Aaron (#97-98)
  • 2 versions detailing Moses’ return to Egypt (#99)
  • 2 contradictory versions about Moses’ wife and sons (#100-101)
  • 2 versions recounting whether the people accepted Yahweh’s message via Moses (#102)
  • 2 versions of Aaron performing the signs (#103)
  • and finally 2 versions of the forthcoming Plague narrative

Taken individually these doublets don’t look like much. But taken as a whole, these doublets and their contradictory content, style, vocabulary, and theological messages make a persuasive claim about the Bible’s composite nature. And the above are merely from 7 chapters of this so-called “Book”!

It would not be too difficult to closely study these doublets, examining them for reoccurring features, theological emphasis, vocabulary, narrative style and tone, etc. in an effort to reconstruct the original sources that made the book of Exodus as we now have it. Indeed

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#104. What is the first plague: the staff into serpent OR the waters into blood? (Ex 7:8-13 vs Ex 7:14-18)

Close readers of the Plague narrative (Exodus 7-9) have observed that it too seems to be a composite of, mainly, two different sources: the Priestly source and the Elohist. Each version stresses unique themes and accentuates different aspects of the story. We will see in #106 that Psalms 78 and 105 also preserve variant versions of the Plague signs and their order. Here, we are interested in the first sign, which in the composite text is the turning of the Nile into blood. But the Priestly source may have had a different first sign.

Recall that the Priestly source does not make an appearance until Exodus 6:2 (#87)—its revelation scene. Moses then takes Yahweh’s message to the people, but “they did not listen” (6:9). In other words, in P there is no dialogue between Moses and Yahweh about needing a “sign” to persuade the children of Israel to believe him. He simple relates the revelation to the people, but they don’t listen.


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#105. Does Moses strike the Nile with his staff for the first plague OR does Aaron with his own staff? (Ex 7:15-18 vs Ex 7:19-20)

In the story related in Exodus 7:14-18, Yahweh commands Moses to take his staff, “the staff that was changed into a snake,” and to go to Pharaoh and say:

“Here, I’m striking with the staff that’s in my hand on the waters that are in the Nile, and they’ll be changed into blood. And the fish that are in the Nile will die, and the Nile will stink, and Egypt will weary themselves to drink from the Nile.”

But this is not at all what happens in the following verses. In fact, the story starts anew, with no recognition of what had been said in Exodus 7:14-18. It’s a completely new retelling, albeit with some interesting differences.

And Yahweh said to Moses: “Say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and reach your hand over Egypt’s waters, over their rivers, over their canals, and over their pools, and over every concentration of their waters.’ And they will be blood! And blood will be in all the land of

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#106. What is the order and number of the plagues: water into blood, frogs, mosquitoes, horseflies, etc. OR some other order and number? (Ex 7-9 vs Ps 78:44-51, 105:27-36)

There are a number of different traditions in the Bible concerning the number and order of Yahweh’s signs and wonders when he brought the Israelites out of Egypt. The less obvious of these differences are those between the Elohist and Priestly versions which we have already encountered (#105). There are, however, a couple of variant traditions preserved in the Psalms, both of which exhibit differences in the number and sequence of Yahweh’s signs. Psalm 78:43-51 presents them as follows:

How he displayed his signs in Egypt, and his miracles in the fields of Zoan. He turned their rivers to blood, so that they could not drink of their streams. He sent among them swarms of flies, which devoured them, and frogs which destroyed them. He gave their crops to the caterpillar, and the fruits of their labor to the locust. He destroyed their vines with hail, and their sycamores with frost. He

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#107. “All the cattle died” OR the cattle are still alive? (Ex 9:6 vs Ex 9:18, 10:25, 11:5, 14:28, etc.)

The fifth plague falls upon the Egyptian livestock. Yahweh inflicts a heavy plague upon cattle, horses, sheep, goats, camels, and asses. “And Yahweh did this thing on the next day. And all Egypt’s cattle died” (9:6).

Yet later on in the same narrative, there is mention of cattle. In 9:18-25 the text speaks of cattle being struck by Yahweh’s seventh deed, hail; in 10:25 it is implied that the Egyptians will provide the Israelites with sacrificial animals; in 11:5 the cattle are also present only to die again to the plague inflicting all the first born; and finally in 14:28 and following, the Egyptians pursue the Israelites with horse-driven chariots, which die a second death in the sea.

It is quite possible that the plague narrative may have originated as separate stories, each with its own plague, and then later combined together. At any event, it is clear that our author has a penchant for exaggeration.

#108. Moses never sees Pharaoh’s face again OR Moses does see Pharaoh again? (Ex 10:29 vs Ex 12:31-32)

There seems to be an inconsistency between Exodus 10:29 and Exodus 12:31-32. In the former passage Moses declares that he will never see Pharaoh’s face again; yet later on in the narrative he does indeed confront Pharaoh face to face once more, and for the last time.

Scholars have been troubled by this passage because this contradiction, as in the case of the previous one (#107), is not the result of different sources. Both passages seem to belong to the same source. So here would be another example of a textual discrepancy within the same textual tradition. If nothing else, it does bring into question Moses’ prophetic abilities.

We will get back to looking at more significant contradictions starting tomorrow when we will take a close look at the differences in the Pentateuch’s Passover accounts: Exodus 12:1-20, Exodus 13:1-16, and Deuteronomy 16:1-8.

#109. When does the slaughter of the firstborns and the Passover occur: on the eve of the day that Moses last speaks to Pharaoh OR 4 to 14 days later? (Ex 11:1-8 vs Ex 12:1-11)
# 110. When is the Passover animal chosen: on the very eve of the slaughter of all the Egyptian firstborns OR 4 days earlier? (Ex 12:21 vs Ex 12:1-11)

The 10th and final plague that Yahweh unleashes on the Egyptians is the death of all firstborns, livestock and humans—no exceptions. In fact, this decree not only goes out to the Egyptians, but to ALL humans in the land of Egypt. The Israelite firstborns are merely redeemed through an apotropaic blood ritual that keeps them protected from Yahweh’s Destroyer.

“And the blood will be for you as a sign on the houses where you are. And I will see the blood and protect over you, and harm from destruction will not be upon you in my striking the land of Egypt.” (Ex 12:13)

And Yahweh will pass to harm Egypt and will see the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, and Yahweh will protect over the doorway and will not allow the Destroyer to come into your houses for harm. (Ex 12:23)

This apotropaic (‘to ward off harm/evil’) blood rite is Yahweh’s Pesah, or more commonly know as Passover. It is one of the three, or

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#111. Is only a small goat/sheep permissible as the sacrificial animal for the Passover OR are older cattle included as well? (Ex 12:3, 12:21 vs Deut 16:2)

Both Exodus 12:21, from the Elohist version of the Passover, and Exodus 12:3, from the Priestly writer (#109-110), state that the sacrificial animal of the Passover must come from the flock. The Hebrew denotes a small goat or sheep.

The Priestly writer’s Passover legislation exhibits other differences as well. As would be expected from a text written by priests, at a later date, and to bring the Elohist Passover tradition inline with this priestly guild’s sacrificial traditions and beliefs, there is a heightened awareness and care for the preparation of the sacrificial animal. The animal must be an unblemished male of one-year old (12:5). “Unblemished” is sacrificial language denoting both the animal’s physical health and perfection—no spots, deformities, illnesses, etc.—and “ethical” purity. This unblemished one-year old male lamb is furthermore to be separated out from the realm of the profane for 4 days

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#112. Is the paschal animal to be roasted OR boiled? (Ex 12:8-9 vs Deut 16:7)

The Priestly Passover legislation of Exodus 12:1-11 not only stipulates the preparation of the sacrificial animal prior to its slaughter (#111), but also how it is to be cooked and eaten. “Do not eat any of it raw or cooked in water, but fire-roasted” (12:9).

Yet this is not at all what is relayed in the Passover legislation found in Deuteronomy 16:1-8. There we are told that the paschal lamb or cattle is to be cooked, and what is implied is cooked in water, that is boiled.

Boiling was the typical and normative practice by which sacrificial animals were prepared and eaten (Lev 6:21-28, 8:31; Num 6:19, 1 Sam 2:13-15, etc.). The strict decree to fire-roast the paschal lamb in the Priestly legislation, where elsewhere in the book of Leviticus, also penned by P, meat is boiled, might suggest that fire-roasted represents an older tradition. In fact, it is the language of the whole burnt offering in Leviticus 1; but none of that meat is eaten.

At any

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#113. When does the festival of Unleavened Bread begin: on the 14th OR the 15th? (Ex 12:18 vs Lev 23:6; Num 28:17)

There are several different festival calendars in the Pentateuch, and each one originally belonged to a different textual tradition: Ex 23:14-19 (E); Ex 34:18-23 (J); Deut 16:1-17 (D); and Lev 23 and Num 28-29 (P). When compared against each other, one notices minor differences in festival names, their dates of celebration, and even the place where they were to be celebrated. We will look at these contradictions at a later date.

Presently, we are only interested in the discrepancy between the date of the festival of Unleavened Bread in the Priestly version of Exodus 12:14-20 and, surprise, surprise, the Priestly version found in Leviticus 23 and Numbers 28. So even within this corpus of literature that scholars identify as the Priestly source, there were discrepancies. In fact, Leviticus 17-26 has long been identified as a separate redactional layer in the Priestly source which is intensely interested in holiness and ethical/ritual purity, and has thus

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#114. Are the Israelites forbidden to leave their houses during the night of the Passover OR do they leave their houses? (Ex 12:22 vs Ex 12:31-32)

During the night of the Passover, Yahweh sends his Destroyer out over Egypt to kill all the firstborns. The Israelites themselves are protected by the apotropaic blood rite of the Passover (#109-110): the lamb’s blood smeared on the doorposts of all the Israelites’ houses ward off the evil of the Destroyer. Thus they are commanded not to leave their houses “until morning”—lest Yahweh’s Destroyer strike them down too!

Yet later in the narrative (Ex 12:31-34) they do indeed leave their houses. First, Pharaoh cries with terror during the evening and beckons Moses and Aaron to come. And then we are informed that all of the children of Israel immediately depart, supposedly during the evening! Or is it?

#115. When did Yahweh bring the Israelites out of Egypt: in the morning OR in the evening? (Ex 12:22; Num 33:3 vs Deut 16:1)

There seems to be some variation in the exodus tradition regarding when the Israelites left Egypt. As we saw in the previous entry (#114), in the Elohist tradition although the Israelites were commanded to stay in their houses “until morning” it does seem that they nevertheless leave Egypt during that very evening. But this is certainly not clear from the text (Ex 12:31-34). They could have left in the morning, thereby remaining in their houses “until morning.”

Exodus 13:4 is no more clear: “Today you are going out from Egypt, in the month of Abib.” Yet the tradition recorded in Numbers 33:3 is quite clear on this matter: “And they traveled from Rameses in the first month on the 15th day of the first month. On the day after the Passover. the children of Israel went out with a high hand before the eyes of all Egypt.” This tradition relates that it was the day after the Passover, that is the morning of the 15th.


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#116. How many Israelites left Egypt during the Exodus: 600,000 OR 625,550? (Ex 12:37 vs Ex 38:26; Num 3:39)

There are two contradictory traditions relating the number of males that left Egypt in the Exodus. The older Elohist tradition relates that there were 600,000. This number is revised upward by the later Priestly writer to 625,550.

The reason for this revision is unclear. Perhaps the Priestly writer fabricated it in order to lend verisimilitude to the earlier tradition’s too round of a number. Another Priestly text tells us that there were 603,550 non-Levite males (Ex 38:26) and 22,000 Levite males (Num 3:39), thus totaling 625,550.

In either case, just as there were 400 years of captivity in the earlier sources and 430 in the Priestly version (#32), so too here with the earlier 600,000 and P’s 625,550.

#117. Is the Passover celebrated at home OR is it a national pilgrimage festival celebrated only at Jerusalem? (Ex 12:3-8, Ex 12:43-46 vs Deut 16:1-7)

As previously noted (#109-110, #111, #112), the ritual prescriptions outlined in the Priestly writer’s account of the Passover in Exodus 12:1-20 and 12:40-50—all from P—are at odds with the ritual prescriptions of the Passover outlined in Deuteronomy 16:1-8. This is not because Yahweh changed his mind 40 years later, following the narrative chronology, but rather because these two texts were written by two different priestly guilds and each one sought to present the Passover, authorized through the mouthpiece of Yahweh or Moses, in light of the specific historical audience for which they wrote. The specific contradiction that we’re concerned with in this entry is the place where each of these Passover accounts command the Passover to be celebrated and eaten.

Both in Exodus 12:3-8 and Exodus 12:43-46 the Passover is to be celebrated in each family’s house:

  • on the 10th of this month, let each one take a lamb for the father’s houses, a lamb per house (12:3)
  • if the household will be too few for a lamb, then he and his neighbor who is close to his house will take it according to the number of persons (12:4)
  • and they will take some of the blood and place it on the two doorposts and on the lintel on the houses in which they will eat it (12:7)
  • it shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the meat from the houses outside (12:46)

The Priestly writer presents these prescriptions as “the law of the

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#118. Must one be circumcised to celebrate and eat the Passover OR not? (Ex 12:43-49 vs Deut 16:1-8; Gal 3-4)

Continuing with our discussion of the differences between the Priestly writer’s Passover account in Exodus 12 and that of Deuteronomy 16 (#117), we note that while nothing is said in Deuteronomy about circumcision, in the Priestly literature it is forbidden for an uncircumcised male to eat and partake of the Passover.

And Yahweh said to Moses and Aaron: “This is the law of the Passover:

  • Any foreigner shall not eat it.
  • Every slave purchased with money, you shall circumcise him; then he shall eat it.
  • A visitor and an employee shall not eat it.
  • It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the meat outside.
  • You shall not break a bone from it.
  • All the congregation of Israel shall do the Passover.
  • If an alien resides among you and you will make a Passover to Yahweh, every male must be circumcised; then he may come forward to partake of it, and he will be like a citizen of the land.
  • But everyone who is uncircumcised shall not eat it!” (Ex 12:43-48)

Had the bullet-point format been invented then, I’m sure Moses would have used it! What Yahweh commands and prohibits is clearly laid out and visible for all to see.

If we had to summarize our author’s views, we’d be inclined to conclude that all the extended family and people of the land, Israelites and aliens, can partake of the Passover but must be circumcised in order to do so. Slaves are the family’s property, and the alien (gar) is a person who resides in the promised land, a sacred land for the Priestly writer, and

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#119. In their exodus, are the Israelites protected by Yahweh going in front of them in a pillar of cloud and fire OR by an angel of God? (Ex 13:21, 14:19b vs Ex 14:19a)

Tradition has it that the Israelites, while being pursued by the numerous Egyptian cavalry and charioteers, were nevertheless protected by Yahweh’s presence. But the traditions, each in their own manner, variously represent this divine presence.

The Yahwist tradition always depicts Yahweh as being present in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. This is true even in the wilderness narratives.

The Elohist account, however, speaks of the god’s presence as an angel, who was going in front of the camp of Israel. The martial language of “camp” and having the Israelites flee “armed” (13:18) are also unique features of the Elohist version.

These two unique features were originally part of two unique tellings of the crossing of the Red, actually Reed, sea. Tomorrow will will examine in some detail these varying accounts.

Did you know that Exodus 14-15 preserves 3 once independent traditions recounting this event? Can you spot the contradictions

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#120. How is the Red sea dried up: Moses divides it with his rod OR Yahweh with the wind OR Yahweh with his own breath OR with a shout? (Ex 14:16 vs Ex 14:21 vs Ex 15:10 vs Ps 106:9)
#121. Do the Israelites advance through the sea bed followed by the Egyptians OR do they remain on the shore and only the Egyptians enter the dried sea bed? (Ex 14:23 vs Ex 14:13-14, 25, 27)
#122. Do the Egyptians get washed up dead on the sea shore OR do they sink to the bottom? (Ex 14:30 vs Ex 15:5)

There are three classic examples that biblical scholars use to demonstrate the Documentary Hypothesis: the Flood narratives (#14-18), the Joseph story (#72-73), and the crossing of the Red Sea. In fact there are three visible accounts of this story in Exodus 14-15: 1) the original Yahwist account (the Elohist account is no longer wholly visible); 2) the Priestly writer’s account which was later stitched into the Yahwist account; and 3) an old song version now preserved in chapter 15.

The discovery that the Pentateuch was composed of post-Mosaic sources written by different authors at different time periods, and to address the concerns and needs of different audiences, all of which later came to be known as the Documentary Hypothesis, originally rested on the assumption that the Pentateuchal text was a unified narrative written by a single author, which tradition accredited to Moses. This was the traditional “given” or a priori assumption.


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#123. Is Miriam Aaron’s sister only OR Aaron and Moses’ sister? (Ex 15:20, 4:14 vs Ex 7:20)

And Miriam, the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a drum in her hand, and all the women went behind her with drums and with dances. And Miriam sang to them:

Sing to Yahweh for he triumphed!
Horse and its rider he cast in the sea.

This passage (Ex 15:20) identifies Miraim as Aaron’s sister only, and says nothing of Moses. It comes from the same source that defines Aaron and Moses’ relationship as brother Levites, not siblings (see #95). Thus in this textual tradition Miriam is not Moses’ sister.

On the other hand, the only Pentateuchal source that identifies Aaron as Moses’ sibling is the Priestly source (Ex 7:20). Exodus 7:14-25 is another Priestly genealogy whose single purpose was to give Aaron—the forefather of the Priestly writer’s guild—a pedigree. This was done by grafting Aaron into the Mosaic line. But it does more than that. This genealogy’s sole focus is, not Moses, but Aaron, Aaron’s son Eleazar

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#124. Were the Israelites rebellious and disobedient toward Yahweh throughout the wilderness period OR were they loyal and obedient? (Ex 14:11-12, 16:2-8, 17:1-7, 32:1-29; Num 11:1-6, 14:2-4, 16:13-14, 20:2-13, 21:4-5; Ps 78, 106 vs Hos 2:14-15; Jer 2:1-2)

Exodus 14:11-12 (#120-122) is the first in a series of passages belonging to the “murmuring” traditions associated with the wilderness period. These stories repeatedly depict this newly redeemed nation of Israelites as a bunch of faithless and rebellious grumblers who tested Yahweh on numerous occasions.

In this tradition, we find stories about the Israelites complaining that they have nothing to drink and nothing to eat, to which Yahweh responds with indignation providing them with water, manna, and even quails on one occasion (well actually two). There are also stories about disobedience, such as the Golden Calf narrative, stories about lack of faith, such as the spying of the land episode, and stories that question Moses’ authority and Yahweh’s presence. As one scholar put it: “Israel’s conduct during its formative period as a nation served as a paradigm of religious infidelity, callous ingratitude, and blindness to the dramatic demonstrations

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#125. When did Yahweh provide quails as meat for the Israelites: before OR after Sinai? (Ex 16:1-15 vs Num 11:4-35)

Many of the stories from the “murmuring” tradition (#124) were told in more than one textual tradition. In the present case, the story about the people’s desire for meat in the wilderness and Yahweh’s reluctant response to send quails is recorded in both the Elohist and Priestly traditions. When these textual traditions were later edited together, both versions of the story were preserved. In the composite text we call “the Bible,” the Priestly version of the quails story is found in Exodus 16 before the Sinai revelation, while the Elohist version is preserved in Numbers 11, after the Sinai event.

The story of the quails in Numbers 11, where the people demand meat to eat, proceeds as if the earlier quail episode in Exodus 16 never occurred. There is not only no recognition of this earlier “miracle” that according to the later imposed chronology of the Priestly writer happened exactly one year ago, but there is

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#126. Did the Israelites have meat to eat in the wilderness OR not? (Ex 12:38, 17:3, Lev 8-9; Num 32:1 vs Ex 16:2-3; Num 11:4-6)

Contradictory to the claims made in the quail stories (#125)—namely, that the people did not have any meat to eat and that they would have starved to death if they did not get some meat to eat—the same tradition tells us that they did indeed have a very large and sizable livestock with them.

  • Exodus 12:38 records how the Israelites went up from Egypt with a large livestock. “And a mixed multitude had gone up with them, and sheep and oxen, a very heavy livestock.” But according to Exodus 16, exactly 1 month later they complain that they have no meat and are starving!
  • Immediately after the quail incident where they complained that they had no meat and were starving (Ex 16:2-3), their cattle miraculously appear again in the narrative. “And the people thirsted for water and complained to Moses: ‘Why is this you brought us up from Egypt: to kill me and my children, and my cattle with thirst'” (Ex 17:3).
  • In Leviticus 8-9 various goats, sheep, cows, rams, etc. are brought forward for sacrifices and sacrificial meals. This blatantly contradicts Numbers 11:4-6 where the people complain that they haven’t had meat since the days of Egypt. The Elohist tradition from which this passage in Numbers comes is unaware of the Priestly sacrifices in Leviticus even though these sacrifices now occur earlier in the composite narrative.
  • Finally, at the end of the wilderness episode, the tribes are presented as still having a large livestock (e.g., Num 32:1).

Thus the quail stories, wherein it is explicitly stated that the Israelites have no meat to eat and will starve to death, utterly contradict a number of other places in the wilderness narrative where the Israelites’ large number of sheep, goats, rams, and cattle are mentioned. How do we make sense of this?

Much of what has come to be labeled as the “wilderness narrative” was created by the later Priestly writer, and it was crafted by splicing together various independent stories, such as the quail stories. It is impossible to read the wilderness narrative as it has come down to us as a coherent unified whole narrative. Both its “narrative&#8221

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#127. The water from the rock at Meribah happens before OR after Sinai? (Ex 17:2-7 vs Num 20:2-13)

As we saw with the quail stories (#125), so too with the story about drawing water from a rock at Meribah. In other words, Exodus 17:2-7 and Numbers 20:2-13 are doublets. And we might surmise as we did with the quail stories, that the redactor preserved both versions by placing one before Sinai and the other after Sinai.

Both versions of the story share identical themes: the people’s complaint that they are thirsty; their testing and contention; hitting the rock to bring forth water; Moses’ staff; and the mention of the name Meribah.

Despite these similarities there are some acute differences as well. In the Exodus account the event is said to happen at Horeb (Ex 17:6) and Moses is commanded to strike the rock so that the waters will gush forward. But the version in Numbers occurs at Kadesh (Num 20:1) and Moses is commanded to speak to the rock not strike it, which he does anyhow.

The latter account in Numbers 20 has been identified as part of the

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#128. When does Moses’ father-in-law return to his land: before or after Sinai? (Ex 18:27 vs Num 10:29-30)

In the composite text that we now call “the Bible” there are two places in the narrative where Moses’ father-in-law returns to his land: Exodus 18:27 and Numbers 10:29-30, before and after Sinai respectively. In the same manner that we saw in the two previous entries (#125 & #127), these two stories are doublets. Both passages speak of Moses’ father-in-law’s departure back to his land. However, as we’ve already seen (#85) both of these textual traditions preserve a different name for Moses’ father-in-law. Jethro is the hallmark of the Elohist tradition, while Reuel, or here Hobab, that of the Yahwist.

The selection of the judges in Exodus 18 also stands in sharp contradiction to the same account in Deuteronomy 1. However we will look at all the Deuteronomic contradictions together when we get to the book of Deuteronomy some time in the Fall, I imagine.

Tomorrow we will start to examine the Sinai pericope, Exodus

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#129. Do the people agree to Yahweh’s words and commandments before OR after Yahweh gives them? (Ex 19:7 vs Ex 24:3, 24:7)
#130. Are the priest commanded to approach Yahweh OR are they not? (Ex 19:22 vs Ex 19:24, 24:1)
#131. Who ascends the mountain: Moses OR Moses and Aaron OR Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of Israel’s elders? (Ex 19:3, 19:19, 24:3, 32:3 vs Ex 19:24 vs Ex 24:1, 24:9)
#132. What mountain is ascended: Horeb OR Sinai? (Ex 24:13 vs Ex 19:18, 24:13, 34:2)

In its current form, Exodus 19-24 is a compilation of different traditions relating Moses’ or Moses and company’s ascent(s) and descent(s) to and fro Yahweh, the giving(s) of Yahweh’s commandments, Yahweh’s theophany(ies), and the ritual ceremonies ratifying Yahweh and Israel’s covenant—all of which are a byproduct of lengthy editorial processes, which in the end have created a composite narrative with some amusing internal inconsistencies.

For example, in the text’s current narrative sequence Moses ascends a total of 6 times (19:3, 8, 20; 24:1, 9, 13) and descends only 4 times (19:7, 14, 25; 24:3). Once he is commanded to ascend only to be commanded to descend (19:19-21), and on another occasion Moses is commanded to ascend while still on the mountain (24:9-13)!

In other places, Moses is commanded to ascend not alone but with Aaron (Ex 19:24), or with a larger host: Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of Israel’s elders (24:1, 9). There is also

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#133. Who speaks the Ten Commandments to the people: Moses OR Yahweh? (Ex 19:25 vs Ex 20:1)

The storyline at the end of Exodus chapter 19 is disconnected to what is immediately presented at the opening of chapter 20.

19:25And Moses went down to the people and he said to them. 20:1And God spoke all these words: “I am Yahweh your god… You shall have no other gods before me.”

What continues from here to verse 18 is the Ten Commandments. Verses 1-17 are an insert. The Ten Commandments (Ex 20:1-17) was inserted here, into the present narrative.

First, we are abruptly introduced to Yahweh speaking in 20:1, instead of Moses as the previous verse implies (19:25). Likewise, the text of the Ten Commandments abruptly stops at verse 17, where Yahweh also stops speaking, and the previous storyline continues in its own narrative voice at verse 18.

Second, the end of Exodus 19 has Yahweh commanding Moses and Aaron to ascend the mountain, but this never happens, or happens later on very different terms (24:1). The end of chapter 19 also speaks of

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#134. Which Ten Commandments: Ex 20:1-17 OR Ex 34:14-26?
#135. Did Yahweh write down the same Ten Commandments OR did he not? (Ex 34:1 vs Ex 20:1-17, 34:14-26)

Unknown to millions of so-called “readers” of the Bible, there are actually two different and quite unique accounts of the Ten Commandments. In fact, the only one that is specifically referred to in the text as “Yahweh’s 10 words” is the version least known!

In the composite JEP text that we now have before us, these two once independent Ten Commandments traditions were brought together by a later editor to form a new narrative—the giving (Ex 20-23), breaking (Ex 32), and re-giving (Ex 34) of the Ten Commandments. In source critical terms this narrative is composed of the Elohist’s account of the giving of the laws (Ex 20-23—with the insertion of the Ten Commandments (#133)), the Elohist account of the breaking of the covenant via

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#136. Are the sins of the parents reckoned on their children to the third and fourth generation OR are sins reckoned to each offender only? (Ex 20:5, 34:7; Deut 5:9 vs Deut 24:16; Jr 31:29-30; Ez 18:2-4)

The notion of hereditary guilt runs throughout the Bible and was a common characteristic of most ancient societies.

Exodus 20:5, for example, claims from the mouth of Yahweh himself that he is a jealous god, “reckoning fathers’ sins upon sons, on the third and on the fourth generation.”

This theology of inherited sin is duplicated in the Deuteronomic version of the Ten Commandments (Deut 5:9), and is prominent throughout the Deuteronomic History. It was also cited to provide the theological response as to why Jerusalem fell (Lam 5:7), and it permeates the book of Daniel, with its repetitive refrain, “the sins of our fathers.”

Yet other textual sources negate this theology of inherited sin, or at any rate draw it into question, such as we find in Jeremiah 31:29-30 and Ezekiel 18:2-4.

After explaining theologically the fall of Jerusalem on account of the sins of the fathers, Jer 31:29-30 imagines an ideal restitution wherein “all shall die for their

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#137. Does Yahweh decree that his altars are to be built of earth OR his one altar of acacia wood plated with bronze, 5 cubits by 5 cubits? (Ex 20:24 vs Ex 27:1-2, 38:1-2)
#138. Are sacrifices to Yahweh permitted on any altar OR only the altar before the Tabernacle? (Ex 20:24 vs Lev 1-9, 17)

Today’s contradiction actually marks our first contradiction between the Pentateuch’s law codes. As it has come to be assembled, the Pentateuch contains three separate law codes: Exodus 20-23, Leviticus 17-27, and Deuteronomy 12-26. Each one of these law codes was written by a different author, in a different historical era, and to address the concerns and needs of different audiences. In general they share much in common, but there are also gaping differences in their worldviews, ideologies, and even conceptions of religion.

Of the 3 law codes in the Pentateuch, the one at Exodus 20:22–23:19 is the oldest. It has been attributed to the Elohist tradition of the north, and displays features common to northern religious practices and agrarian society. The law code in Leviticus, which focuses on maintaining purity, is from the Priestly writer, and Deuteronomy 12-26 from the Deuteronomist, and displays a greater interest in secularism.

These 3 law

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#139. Are Hebrews permitted to have Hebrew slaves OR not? (Ex 21:2; Deut 15:12-18 vs Lev 25:39-43)
#140. How long should a Hebrew work for another Hebrew: for 6 years OR until the Jubilee? (Ex 21:2 vs Lev 25:40)

I suppose an entry about slavery is inline since the Bible’s stance toward it is variously represented by 3 different sources: the Elohist (Ex 21:12-6), the Deuteronomic (Deut 15:12-18), and the Priestly (Lev 25:39-55).

The typical manner in which the slavery contradiction is articulated is to ask if Hebrew slavery was permitted or not—the 2 contradictory texts being Exodus 21:2 and Deuteronomy 15:12-18, which clearly speak of Hebrew slaves (i.e., to other Hebrews), and and Leviticus 25:39-43, whose stance is somewhat more ambiguous, but nonetheless avoids the term. The text claims the following for a Hebrew that has been sold to another Hebrew.

  • you shall not have him work a slave’s work; rather, he shall be like a resident hireling
  • he shall work with you until the jubilee year
  • he and his family shall go out with him
  • you shall not dominate him with harshness

These different treatments for the Hebrew servant, the avoidance of the term slave (‘ebed), and the text’s rationale for why a Hebrew cannot be a slave to another Hebrew—because they are Yahweh’s servants and cannot be sold into slavery since they are Yahweh’s (25:42

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#141. A manslayer may seek asylum at Yahweh’s altar OR not? (Ex 21:14 vs Ex 29:37; Lev 8; Num 4:13-15, etc.)

Whoever strikes a man and he dies, he shall be put to death. But the one who did not lie in wait, but God by happenstance conveyed it to his hand, I shall set a place for you that he shall flee to. But if a man will plot against his neighbor to kill him with treachery, him you shall take from my altar to die. (Ex 21:12-14)

Ancient cultures typically associated a deity’s altar as a place of sanctuary or asylum for an offender. This is the custom referred to in the last verse. The man who has intentionally killed another is guilty: “he shall be put to death”; “him you shall take from my altar to die.” The individual who without intention kills another, he is to be taken from the altar and placed in one of the cities of refuge.

Since biblical law allowed for a family to take vengeance on the individual who murdered a relative (e.g., Ex 21:13)—an instance of lex talionis, life for a life (Ex 21:23-25; Lev 24:17-22)—the guilty

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#142. Can a murderer ransom his life through a monetary compensation? (Ex 21:30 vs Num 35:31)

All of the Pentateuch’s 3 law codes attest to the ancient custom of lex talionis, the law of retaliation—in this case, a life for a life.

The law code in Exodus 21 lays out this penalty quite clearly.

  • one who strikes a man and he dies shall be put to death!
  • one who strikes his father or mother shall be put to death!
  • one who steals a man and sells him shall be put to death!
  • one who curses his father and mother shall be put to death!
  • an owner who knows that his ox is a goring ox and it gores a man so that he dies shall be put to death!

It’s difficult to say whether these law were actually practiced, and to what extent, or if they were merely part of a scribal culture or tradition. All of the above also find themselves in the laws of the King Hammurabi whose 8ft. stela depicts the king receiving the laws from the god Marduk.

The goring ox example is interesting because the owner of the goring ox, who is guilty for murder, is also allowed to have his life ransomed by a monetary compensation. “If a ransom will be set upon him, then he shall give everything that will be set upon him for the redemption of his life” (Ex 21:30). This may not be the only case. If an owner strikes his slave and the slave dies, immediately, the law tells us that the slave’s life “shall

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#143. If someone strikes you do you seek retribution per the law OR offer the other cheek as well? (Ex 21:12-24 vs Matt 5:39)

One who strikes a man and he dies, he shall be put to death! (Ex 21:12)

And if there be any injury, then you shall give a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot, a burn for a burn, a wound for a wound, a hurt for a hurt! (Ex 21:24)

The lex talionis—the law of equal retaliation—was a common principle or policy of retribution shared by many cultures in antiquity. The Israelites were no exception to this and biblical scribes placed this “philosophy of justice” on the lips of Yahweh, as in the above example. Laws of equal retribution were used to curb escalating violence. It is a public decree that any villian will receive his just deserts: a life for a life, eye for an eye, etc.

It would be ridiculous to think that cultures living millennia later, in different geopolitical and religious worlds, would still employ this system of equal retaliation. Add to this the eschatological worldview

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#144. Is the reparation for stealing four or fivefold OR one and one-fifth fold? (Ex 21:37 vs Lev 5:24)

The Bible’s variant legal codes give 2 contradictory responses concerning how much reparation ought to be payed by a thief.

Exodus 21:37 states that if a man should steal an ox or a sheep and slaughter it or sell it, he shall pay 5 oxen for the stolen ox, and 4 sheep for the stolen sheep. Later one at 22:3 we’re informed that if the stolen animal is still alive or in the thief’s possession then he shall pay back 2 animals.

The Priestly legislation, however, only requires that the thief pay back a sum equal to the stolen animal’s worth plus a fifth.

#145. Are firstborn sons sacrificed to Yahweh OR are they redeemed? (Ex 22:28 vs Ex 13:2, 13:11-16, 34:19-20; Lev 27:26-27; Num 3:12-13, 3:40-59, 8:16-18, 18:15-18)

The Bible’s sacrificial theology mandates that the firstfruits of reproduction—whether of plants, animals, or humans—be sacrificed to Yahweh.

“Consecrate every firstborn for me [Yahweh]. The first birth of every womb of the children of Israel, of a human and of an animal, is mine!” (Ex 13:2)

This divine decree must be understood in the context of the Passover narrative. In other words, biblical scribes accredited the origin of sacrificing all firstborn sons to Yahweh to the Passover/Exodus. Its origins, however, most likely lie elsewhere.

Immediately following the Passover narrative, the verse below, which comes from the Elohist, explains this sacrificial theology of the firstborns in the form of commemorative ritual:

And it was when Pharaoh hardened against letting us go, and Yahweh killed every firstborn in the land of Egypt, from firstborn of a human to firstborn of an animal, that on account of this I am sacrificing to Yahweh every first birth of

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#146. Does Yahweh vindicate the guilty OR not? (Rom 3-4; Gal 3-5 vs Ex 23:7)

“For I shall not vindicate a guilty one!” (Ex 23:7)

One of the many gaping theological contradictions between the Old and the New Testaments—between a culture and worldview which existed in the 1st half of the 1st millennium BC and one which existed in the 1st century AD—has to do with who Yahweh vindicates or accords righteousness to.

As posted in an earlier entry (#6), Old Testament theology was constructed on the empirical. If an individual or a nation was suffering distress or illness then obviously that individual or nation has transgressed Yahweh’s words and are enduring the appropriate punishment. Conversely, if one follows Yahweh’s commandments and laws then that individual or nation will reap its just rewards, living on the land (see #29). In other words, Yahweh vindicates those who do the works of the law and punishes those who do not.

There is no middle ground. The guilty, those who have transgressed Yahweh’s

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#147. Who writes the laws and commandments on stone tablets: Moses OR Yahweh? (Ex 24:4, 34:28 vs Ex 24:12, 32:16, 34:1)

The traditions relating the giving of the law present both Moses and Yahweh writing them down on stone tablets. If we follow the composite text as it now stands, here is how the occurrences progress.

  1. Exodus 24:4 states that “Moses wrote all of Yahweh’s words.” Presumably we are to understand this in its context, that is that Moses wrote down both the Ten Commandments of Exodus 20 and the laws of Exodus 21-23—all of Yahweh’s words.
  2. But Exodus 24:12 states that Yahweh has written “the instruction and commandment on the stone tablets.” These two statements cannot come from the same tradition. We must surmise that two traditions have been conflated here, one recording that Moses wrote down the laws, the other that Yahweh wrote them down.
  3. Next, Exodus 32:16 reaffirms that both the tablets and the writing were “God’s doing,” and “God’s writing.”
  4. Likewise, Exodus 34:1 has Yahweh proclaim that he will write them down again after Moses had smashed the tablets because of the Golden Calf incident (but this is in fact not the case; see #134-135).
  5. Yet, Exodus 34:28 claims that Moses wrote down “the Ten Commandments.” How do we sort all this out?

The later Deuteronomist proposed a solution. For when he re-presents this tradition he claims that Moses wrote the laws and commandments, but it was Yahweh who wrote the Ten Commandments (Deut 4:13, 5:19). But this division does not fit neatly onto what the older Yahwist and Elohist sources claim. The Yahwist tradition, which is the clearest, states that Moses wrote down the Ten Commandments (Ex 34:28). The Elohist tradition (Ex 24:12, 32:16) preserved a version in which Moses wrote the laws and the Ten Commandments of Exodus 20-23. And Exodus 34:1 might best be explained as an editorial remark using the Elohist as its source, which presents Yahweh as claiming that he wrote them down—and at that, a different set of Ten Commandments (#134-135)!

It should furthermore

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#148. Are sacrifices permitted before the Tabernacle, Altar, and Aaronid priesthood are established and consecrated OR are they not? (Ex 24:4-6 vs Ex 40; Lev 1-10)
#149. Is Moses allowed to perform sacrifices OR are only Aaron and his descendants? (Ex 24:4-6 vs Ex 29:1-9, 19:28-29, 40:12-16; Lev 1-9; Num 25:10-13)

We have now finished examining the contradictions in the Sinai traditions (#129-132, #134-135), and the Elohist’s law code (#137-138, #139-140, #141, #142, etc.) found in the book of Exodus. With the exception of JE material in Exodus 32-34, the remainder of the book of Exodus is from the Priestly source. And the book of Leviticus, our next stop, is also all from the pen of P.

What we have seen thus far is that according to the Elohist, Yahweh gave both the Ten Commandments (Ex 20) and case laws (Ex 21-23) to the people at Horeb. Furthermore, a covenantal blood ritual has bound the people to the law (24:3-7). Later, however, we will see that the Deuteronomist, when he has Moses retell this event, has Moses claim that Yahweh only gave the Ten Commandments at Horeb and no other laws! Why the Deuteronomist has Moses falsify this early tradition will be discussed then. But the Priestly writer also felt obliged to change the Sinai revelation, or add to it.


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#150. Are the poles of the Ark not to be removed OR are they? (Ex 25:15 vs Num 4:6)

Exodus 25-31, from the hand of the Priestly writer, is a detailed description of the components of the Tabernacle and all of its equipment and how they are to be constructed, which Moses receives from Yahweh while on Sinai.

Likewise, Exodus 35-40 is a detailed account of the construction of the Tabernacle and all of its components per its descriptions. There are a few contradictions in these Priestly passages, but more apparent are the contradictions that Exodus 25-31 and 35-40 create when added to the JE material in Exodus 32-24—which we will shortly look at.

Today’s contradiction has to do with the poles that are constructed to carry the Ark. Since all of the Tabernacles components: the Ark, Table, Menorah, Altar, etc, were deemed holy, i.e., untouchable by anyone but the Aaronid priesthood, they were carried and transported by poles. This was the job of the Levites. But the Levites themselves could not touch the holy items lest they die. Only

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#151. Does Yahweh dwell among the people, in the Temple OR not? (Ex 25:8, 29:45 vs Deut 12:11, 12:21; Acts 7:48)

“And they shall make me a holy place and I shall dwell among them.” (Ex 25:8; cf. Ex 29:45)

One or the central and most important theological tenets of the Priestly theocracy was that Yahweh dwelt among the people, tented in the Tabernacle which was at the center of their camp.

This theological conviction alone necessitated a strict ethical and ritual code that quickly expunged and expiated any impurities that came into the camp—thus the Priestly legislation’s strict adherence to purity and cleanliness, both ethically and ritually.

“You will be holy, for I, Yahweh your god, am holy!” (Lev 19.2)

At the center of this “holy” encampment was the Tabernacle where Yahweh dwelt. Only the Aaronid priests were allowed entrance into it. Next, were the anointed Aaronids themselves, and after them were the Levites who ministered to the Aaronid priesthood (Num 4). Extending further from the center were the people, and finally

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#152. Does Yahweh choose only the Aaronids as priests OR all the Levites? (Ex 28:1, 28:41, 29:1-9, 40:12-16; Lev 1-8; Num 3:1-9, 25:10-12 vs Deut 18:1-8)

“Bring Aaron, your brother, forward to you, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel for him to function as a priest for me.” (Ex 28:1)

The redacted text of the Pentateuch as it now stands bears witness to an internecine rivalry that existed within the tribe of Levi, that is within the priesthood itself. At least two priestly groups that we know of wrote texts aimed at legitimating their right as sole officiating high priests and mediators to Yahweh. These two priestly schools and the texts they wrote have come to be identified as the pro-Aaronid Priestly source, whose main religious and cultic ideology is found in the books of Leviticus and Numbers, and the (rest of the) Levites whose religious views are found in the book of Deuteronomy, as well as a couple of passages from the Elohist source.

These two priestly schools—the Aaronids and the Levites—had vastly different and competing views on religion, the role of the cult and its priesthood

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#153. Who judges the people: the Aaronid priests OR the Levites OR the elders OR the prohets? (Ex 28:30; Lev 13; Num 5:16-28 vs Deut 17:8-13 vs Ex 18:13-26 vs 1 Sam 7:15, etc.)
#154. Who carries the Urim and the Thummim: the Aaronid high priest OR the Levites? (Ex 28:30 vs Deut 33:8-10)

As a composite text of competing ideologies and theologies, the Bible—the creation of a later generation of readers living centuries after these once individual texts were written (see What is the Bible?)—preserves multiple origin stories relating the establishment of its judiciary and who ministers judgment. Indeed, these competing texts do share one definable common feature: Yahweh is the ultimate Judge. It is he who judges. But what is variously represented in the Bible’s competing sources is who, or which group, functions as Yahweh’s viceroy: the elders, the prophets, the Levites, or the Aaronids?

The Elohist law code (Ex 21-23) implies that it is the elders who pass judgement. This is specifically apparent in the origin story of the judiciary in Exodus 18:13-26 (cf. Deut 1:15-18). On the other hand, the Deuteronomic source specifies that it is the Levites who pass judgement in judicial matters (Deut 17:8-13).

Older material preserved

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#155. Does Yahweh command sacrifices during the wilderness period OR not? (Ex 29:38-42; Lev 1-9, 16-17, 23; Num 7, 19:1-10, 28-29 vs Amos 5:25; Jer 7:22, etc.)

In the Priestly literature that we are now looking at, the cult, sacrifices, and maintaining strict ritual and ethical purity were the central concerns and elements of its belief system and worldview. As we’ve already discussed (#148-149, #151, #152) the Priestly writer’s legislation was largely concerned with safeguarding and/or restoring ritual purity and cleanliness, as well as ethical purity and cleanliness, i.e., being blameless or sinless.

When an individual came into contact with something prohibited by the law code, such as a dead animal, a menstruating woman, a leprous man, unclean food, etc., that individual needed to restore his state of purity, since for the Priestly writer Yahweh dwelt among the people (#151). Often ritual and ethical

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#156. What is written on the stone tablets that are placed in the Ark: the instructions for building the Tabernacle OR the Ten Commandments? (Ex 31:18 vs Ex 24:12, 34:27-28)

In the Priestly tradition, what is engraved upon the stone tablets that are placed in the Ark would appear to be the instructions for building the Tabernacle and all its equipment, which Moses receives from Yahweh while on Sinai (Ex 25-31).

And when he finished speaking with him in mount Sinai, he gave the two tablets of the Testimony to Moses, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God. (Ex 31:18)

I have already noted that the Bible’s various traditions have preserved two contradictory statements pertaining to who wrote the stone tablets, Moses or Yahweh (#147). Here we’re concerned with what were on these tablets.

In Exodus 24:12, attributed to the Elohist source, we are informed that Yahweh will give Moses the stone tablets which contain Yahweh’s instruction and commandment. In the redacted text as it now stands, we could easily assume that these are the very tablets that Moses then receives in Exodus 31:18, and which Moses breaks in

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#157. Is the festival associated with the Golden Calf a festival to Yahweh OR to other gods? (Ex 32:5 vs Ex 32:1, 32:4, 32:8)

The Golden Calf narrative is perhaps one of the most memorable tales from the pen of the Elohist. But the story is not as ancient as one might think. In fact, it most probably was put to pen some time in the 8th or 7th century BC. The specific contradiction presented here is not so much a contradiction between two textual traditions; rather, it is between some apparent inconsistencies in the narrative itself.

For instance, the people clamor for gods who “will go in front of us” since Moses has apparently disappeared. Aaron abides by their wishes, and melting the peoples’ gold jewelry down he “fashioned it with a stylus and made a molten calf,” and then proclaimed: “these are your gods Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” As our first textual anomaly, we notice that one calf is made, yet the text proclaims “gods” in the plural. Why?

Second, and largely illogical in the larger narrative context, merely days after the Horeb revelation

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#158. Is the people’s gold used for fabricating the Golden Calf OR for the construction of the Ark, Menorah, Tabernacle, and Altar of incense? (Ex 32:2-4, 32:23 vs Ex 25-26, 35:4-24)

Exodus 25-31 and 35-40 clearly stand as a unit. Not only do all of its chapters use the same vocabulary and expressions, but their content is also the same. Exodus 25-31 details instructions for the constructing of the Tent of Meeting and all its components: the Tabernacle, the ark, the table and menorah, the altar, the incense altar, and the garments for the high priest, Aaron. Exodus 35-40 passes over the same material in the same detailed manner except now these things are actually constructed, ending in the erection of the Tabernacle on the New Year.

Thus originally the content of Exodus 35 immediately followed chapter 31. This Priestly material has now been cut in half and the JE material of Exodus 32-34 has been inserted between chapters 31 and 35—thus creating our present contradictions.

The two panels of Priestly material (Ex 25-31 & Ex 35-40) that now encase the Golden Calf story (Ex 32) create some amusing tensions and contradictions with

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#159. The Golden Calf OR the Golden Cherubs? (Ex 32:4 vs Ex 25:18-20, 37:7-9)

This is a continuation of yesterday’s (#158) and the previous day’s entry (#157).

In the Priestly literature that now surrounds the Elohist’s Golden Calf story, Yahweh commands Moses to have the Israelites make two golden cherubs, of solid hammered gold. These cherubim moreover sit on top of the Ark’s atonement dais which resides in the inner most shrine of the Tabernacle, the Holy of Holies.

And he made two cherubs of gold. He made them of hammered work, at the two ends of the atonement dais, one cherub at this end and one cherub at that end. He made the cherubs from the atonement dais at its two sides. And the two cherubs were spreading their wings above, covering over the atonement dais with their wings, and their faces each toward the other. (Ex 37:7-9)

A possible rendition might be:

What is the difference between these golden cherubs and the golden calf? Why is it permitted to fabricate golden cherubs and not the golden calf

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#160. Does Aaron bring the great sin upon the people OR does he bear the people’s sin and atone for it? (Ex 32:21 vs Ex 28:38-41; Lev 4-5, 16:16, etc.)
#161. Does Yahweh vow to erase Aaron for his sin OR make him his exclusive anointed high priest? (Ex 32:33 vs Ex 28:38-41, 29:6-29, 40:12-16)

The narrative tensions and deep-rooted theological contradictions created when the JE material of Exodus 32-34 is inserted between the Priestly literature of Exodus 25-31 and 35-40 is nowhere more apparent than in its portrait of Aaron. On the one hand, he is the cause of the people’s sin, having fabricated the Golden Calf (#157); and on the other hand, he is the exclusive anointed of Yahweh, consecrated and without sin, the sole high priest whose function it was to atone the people’s sin.

I have already outlined much of this in previous entries (e.g., #105, #137-138, #148-149, #152, #153-154, #155, #157) so I’m going to limit my comments here.

In brief, this is just another example of how the Priestly writer’s whole theological and ideological belief system and cultic institutions were subverted and belittled by the redactional processes of later generations of readers who stitched together competing texts, each with their competing

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#162. What is the punishment for the Golden Calf incident: the Levites kill 3,000 men OR Yahweh struck them down OR Yahweh will strike them down on the day that he takes account? (Ex 32:27-28 vs Ex 32:35 vs Ex 32:34)

There are 3 different punishments stated for the sin of the Golden Calf, two of which are ambiguous in nature. The most explicit is that Moses and the Levites kill about 3,000 men: “kill each man his brother, each man his neighbor, and each man his relative.”

The text goes a far way to explicitly present the Levites in the favorable role of expiating the sin. In other words, the Levites are portrayed in a priestly function here, making atonement for the sin by expunging the sinners. Ironically this portrait of the Levites as Yahweh’s means for expiation, and conversely the negative portrait of Aaron, is negated by the later Priestly material in Exodus 25-31 and 35-40 that now encases this Elohist narrative. In the Priestly texts which surround the Golden Calf narrative, Aaron is in the midst of being selected by Yahweh as chief priest, that is he who resides and officiates over all atoning sacrifices, and conversely the Levites are given a remedial position

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#163. Do the people divest themselves of their jewelry OR not? (Ex 33:6 vs Ex 35:22)

Another contradiction created from the stitching together of the Priestly text of Exodus 35-40 and the Elohist text of Exodus 32-33 has to do with what happens to the people’s jewelry (see also #158). As a result of their sin in the Elohist’s Golden Calf story, Yahweh commands them to divest themselves of their jewelry and to leave it behind. “And the children of Israel divested their jewelry from mount Horeb” (Ex 33:6).

The Priestly literature, however, has already necessitated that their jewelry, as well as a whole host of other precious material (Ex 25:1-9), be used as a donation to build Yahweh’s Tabernacle and all of its components. Later in Exodus 33, the people bring forward their jewelry as a donation. The whole story of the Golden Calf and the people’s jewelry was unknown to the Priestly writer.

And everyone whose heart inspired him came, and everyone whose spirit moved him brought a contribution for Yahweh, for

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#164. Is the Tent of Meeting in the camp OR outside the camp? (Ex 25:8; Num 1:50-2:32 vs Ex 33:7-11)
#165. When is the Tent of Meeting constructed: on the New Year of the second year from the Exodus OR sometime before that? (Ex 40 vs Ex 33:7)

Et voilà! — More contradictions that resulted from the stitching together of the Elohist text of Exodus 32-33 and the Priestly literature of Exodus 25-31 & 33-40. Honestly, this is not magic. I did not contrive these contradictions. Rather, competing priestly guilds and scribal schools of ancient Israel did, with their different views and beliefs. Not my fault either that readers living centuries later, for reasons endemic to their own historical circumstances, stitched the texts of these competing scribal and priestly guilds together, and then readers living still centuries later, ignorant of this whole affair, labeled these competing and contradictory texts “the Book.” Nor is it my fault that modern readers—ignorant too of this so-called Book’s textual history, who wrote its 70 plus texts, why, when, to whom, prompted by what historical circumstances, and why were they collected together, by whom, when, and for what purpose

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#166. Is Joshua allowed to enter the Tent of Meeting OR are only Aaronid priests? (Ex 33:11 vs Num 1:51, 3:10, 3:38, 18:5-7)

This contradiction continues from the previous two (#164-165), where we saw that the views and perceptions concerning the Tent of Meeting differed radically depending on what source we were looking at, the Elohist or the Priestly source.

Here too, the Elohist attaches no priestly, cultic, nor holy and sacred significance to the Tent of Meeting, at least not in the manner in which we find the Aaronid priestly writers doing in the Priestly source. So in the Elohist text of Exodus 33, Joshua is permitted to enter the Tent of Meeting. Nothing in the text indicates that this is a problem.

However, from the perspective and theology of the Priestly writer this act would not only been seen as anathema, but Joshua would have met a swift and immediate death. For the Priestly writer’s Yahweh pronounces this on many occasions. Anyone besides Aaron or his sons shall not approach the Tent of Meeting lest they die.

#167. Is Yahweh a god slow to anger OR a god whose anger flares often and erratically? (Ex 34:6; Num 14:18 vs Ex 4:14, 22:23, 32:10; Num 11:1, 11:10, 11:33, 12:9, 22:22, 25:3)

Exodus 34 is the Yahwist’s version of the Ten Commandments, which was treated in an earlier entry, along with the fact that Exodus 34:1 is a lie—Yahweh does not, as the text claims, write the same material on these new tablets of stone that were on the original tablets (#134-135)!  Today’s contradiction treats a different matter and fits in with the Conflicting portraits of Yahweh penned by the Bible’s different authors.

The Yahwist tradition preserves the following hymn in Exodus 34:6-7 and Numbers 14:18:

Yahweh, Yahweh, a merciful and benevolent god, slow to anger and abounding in kindness and faithfulness, keeping fidelity for thousands of generations, bearing crime and sin—though he does not acquit—reckoning father’s sins upon sons and upon son’s sons, upon a third and upon a fourth generation.

Even though this is supposedly from the Yahwist source, its placement right after the Elohist’s Golden Calf story is not fortuitous

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#168. Is the festival of firstfruits the festival of Harvest OR of Weeks? (Ex 23:16 vs Ex 34:22)

There are several different festival calendars in the Bible, each penned by a different author: Exodus 23:24-19 (E), Exodus 34:18-23 (J), Deuteronomy 16:1-17 (D), and Leviticus 23 and Numbers 28-29 (P).

We will look at these differences in greater detail later on. Here, I simply note that the spring festival of reaping the first barely crop is variously labeled as the festival of Harvest in the Elohist tradition and the festival of Weeks in the Yahwist. It is possible the Yahwist’s tradition was shaped by the Deuteronomist, since it evidences the Deuteronomist’s week long festival.

Basically, I need more time to look through these different festive calenders in order to discuss their differences. I’ll do that when we get to Leviticus 23.

#169. Yahweh makes a covenant with Israel based on which Ten Commandments? (Ex 24:3-8 vs Ex 34:27)

Both Exodus 24:3-8 and Exodus 34:27 present Yahweh as making a covenant with the children of Israel based on “all of Yahweh’s words (Ex 24:4) and “based on these words” (Ex 34:27). Yet the words, or commandments, referred to in each of these passages, Ex 20:1-23:19 and Exodus 34:14-26 respectively, are not the same—despite the fact that the text claims that they are (Ex 34:1)!

This contradiction is an extension of the 2 versions of the Ten Commandments (#134-135). Despite the fact that there are two different commandments upon which these two covenants are made, the later Deuteronomist will add yet another set of law codes and claim that those are the laws by which Yahweh made a covenant with the people. We will look at this contradiction later.

In the composite JEP text that we now have before us, these two once independent Ten Commandments traditions were brought together by a later editor to form a new narrative—the giving

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#170. Does the action from Exodus 40 to Numbers 7 take place on one day OR not? (Ex 40:2-33; Lev 8; Num 7:1 vs Lev 9; Num 1:1)

And it was in the 1st month, in the 2nd year, on the 1st of the month, the Tabernacle was set up. (Ex 40:17)

This is the Priestly writer’s chronology: the cultic institution, around which its whole theology is based, is erected on the New Year’s day of the second year from the Exodus (see also #109-110). Yet, even within the Priestly source there seems to be some discrepancies concerning what happens on this day.

On this day, at least as depicted in Exodus 40, the Tabernacle and all of its components are anointed, that is rendered holy, consecrated unto Yahweh. Next, in Leviticus 8, Aaron and his sons are anointed, made holy, and consecrated unto Yahweh, and they perform the first sacrifices. Leviticus 1-7 originally stood as a separate document written solely by and for the Aaronid priesthood; it describes in detail how to preform the various sacrificial offerings to Yahweh. It was later inserted between what is now Exodus 40 and Leviticus 8.


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#171. Was the law of the Sabbath known before Sinai OR was it only given at Sinai? (Ex 16:23-30 vs Ex 23:12, 31:12-17, 35:1-3)

This entry looks to be our last contradiction for the book of Exodus. Like others, this one appears repeatedly in the scholarly literature.

The particular textual peculiarity is: While Exodus 31:12-17 and 35:1-3 officially present Yahweh giving the commandment to observe the Sabbath for the first time in P (but in E, already at Ex 23:12), Exodus 16 not only speaks of the Sabbath but presumes that the people already know the Sabbath commandment (Ex 16:28). Indeed, the Sabbath commandment would have been known, however, to the audience of this 6th-5th century BC text.

Additionally, the mention of the Sabbath in Exodus 16 occurs in the midst of the manna/quails story. Yet, as we have seen (#125), the Bible preserves duplicate traditions of the manna story. It

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#181. What happens after the Tabernacle is set up and anointed: Moses anoints Aaron and his sons as Yahweh’s priests OR Israel’s tribes make dedication offerings? (Ex 40; Lev 8-9 vs Num 7)
#182. Where did Yahweh appear to the people: at Horeb/Sinai or at the Tent of Meeting? (Ex 19, 34 vs Lev 9:23-25)

That the Tabernacle and the cult are the central most important concerns to the Priestly writers is incontrovertible. Yet within this body of literature itself, there seems to be two different traditions about what transpires on the day that the Tabernacle is established.

As previously noted, there is also a chronological discrepancy within the Priestly source (#170). Exodus 40:1, 40:17, Leviticus 1:1, and Numbers 7:1 indicate that all of the action from Exodus 40 to Numbers 7 happened on the 1st day of the 1st month of the 2nd year (i.e., 1/1/2). But already at Numbers 1:1 it was noted that the Israelites have past a second month and that it was now 2/1/2. It would seem therefore that Numbers 7 was a once separate tradition about 1/1/2. It recounts how “on the day that Moses finished setting up the Tabernacle and he anointed it” (1/1/2), each tribe brought forth their dedication offerings to Yahweh—one per day for 12 days (see #126).


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#188. Is it permissible to eat a carcass or torn animal OR not? (Lev 17:15-16 vs Deut 14:21; Ex 22:30)

News flash! —- Yahweh has apparently contradicted himself once again at Sinai, claiming at one point that eating a carcass or a torn animal is strictly prohibited and not even a week later—that’s right folks one week later!—claiming that it is permissible to eat. What madness!

Or, we have yet another example of different and contradictory law codes penned by different authors, to address different historical communities, and which were both placed on the lips of Yahweh and at various different places in the narrative: at Horeb (E’s claim), a week later before the Tent of Meeting (P’s claim), and 40 years later on the plains of Moab (D’s claim). When these different textual traditions were brought to stand next to each other in a later editorial endeavor, this and hundreds of other contradictions were created.

The author of Ex 22:30, the Elohist, has Yahweh pronounce as one of its apodictic laws given at Horeb that any

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#189. What is the punishment for having sex with an animal: Death OR being cut off OR being cursed? (Ex 22:18; Lev 20:15-16 vs Lev 18:22-23 vs Deut 27:21)

The ancient scrolls that centuries later came to be labeled the Bible by a later generation of readers contain variant punishments for having, or in one case intending to have, sex with an animal. It is clear that this act was intolerable and highly offensive to all biblical scribes. However, whether it was punishable by death or not may have been a point of contention.

Our oldest text, E, clearly assigns death for this hideous act: “Anyone who lies with an animal shall be put to death” (Ex 22:18). Clear and simple.

Likewise, Leviticus 20 deems this act punishable by death.

And a man who will have intercourse with an animal shall be put to death. And you shall kill the animal. And a woman who will go up to any animal to mate with it: you shall kill the woman and the animal. They shall be put to death. Their blood is on them. (Lev 20:15-16)

What is telling here is that in the case of a woman just the mere intention of sleeping with an animal, and not

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The Festival Calendars (Ex 23:14-17 vs Ex 34:18-26 vs Deut 34:18-26 vs Lev 23 vs Num 28-29)

There are 5 different festival calendars in the Pentateuch, each one originating from a once separate and independent source:

  1. Exodus 23:14-17 (from the Elohist source)
  2. Exodus 34:18-26 (from the Yahwist)
  3. Deuteronomy 16:1-17 (from the Deuteronomist)
  4. Leviticus 23 (from the Priestly source, accredited to the Holiness Code)
  5. Numbers 28-29 (also from the pen of P)

I am presently going through these different calendars and will be posting their contradictions and differences over the next few days/weeks. I have already noted a few of these contradictions, those between the earliest sources and Deuteronomy (#109-110, #111, #112, #113, #117, #118, and #168). However, there are a few that I missed and I will additionally be adding the contradictions between the earliest sources and the late Priestly source, as well as those between D and P.

Here, in this initial introductory post, I merely wish to reproduce each of the different calendars in the broadest view possible, and in chronological order—that is from the oldest textual source forward, not from the narrative chronology as these sources now stand in the redacted text.

1) Exodus 23:14-17 (E): 3 pilgrimage festivals to local altars that must be observed by all males

  1. Festival of Unleavened Bread (7 day festival in the month of Abib; 7th day is the pilgrimage (Ex 13:6)
  2. Harvest Festival (first fruits/grains harvested)
  3. Festival of Gathering (end of year harvest)

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#194. Was the Festival of Unleavened Bread a pilgrimage festival OR not? (Ex 13:6, 23:14-15, 34:18-23; Lev 23:6-8; Num 28:18-19; Deut 16:16 vs Deut 16:7-8)
#195. Was Passover and Unleavened Bread one festival OR two? (Deut 16:1-7 vs Ex 12:21-27, 13:3-10; Lev 23:5; Num 28:16-23)
#196. On what day was the pilgrimage for the Festival of Unleavened Bread: the 1st day OR the 7th day OR all 7 days? (Deut 16:2, 16:7, 16:16 vs Ex 13:6 vs Lev 23:6-8; Num 28:17-24)
#197. How many days was the Festival of Unleavened Bread: 6 OR 7? (Deut 16:8 vs Ex 12:15-16, 12:18-19, 13:6; Lev 6-8; Num 28:17)

Changes and Transformations in the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread:
From the Pentateuch’s Earliest Sources to Its Latest

Working from what was previously posted about the Pentateuch’s 5 Festival calendars, we can see that the two oldest sources, the Elohist and the Yahwist, make no mention of the Passover, and indeed this is to be expected since what is listed in Exodus 23:14-17 & 34:18-26 are those festivals which required a pilgrimage to local sanctuaries.

By pilgrimage festival, or hag in Hebrew, we mean a festival that required Israelite males to journey out from their homes and present themselves before Yahweh at one of his local altars, or later, according to D and P, his one Altar (<a title="#137. Does Yahweh decree that his altars are to be built of earth OR his one altar of acacia wood plated with bronze, 5 cubits by 5 cubits? (Ex 20:24 vs Ex 27:1-2, 38:1-2)#138. Are sacrifices to Yahweh permitted on any altar

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#198. When was the Festival of Firstfruits or Weeks celebrated: on the day the first grains were reaped OR the day following the next Sabbath after the first reaping OR 7 weeks later? (Ex 23:16 vs Lev 23:9-11 vs Ex 34:22; Deut 16:9-11; Num 28:26)
#199. Is the Festival of Weeks a pilgrimage festival OR not? (Ex 23:16, 34:22; Deut 16:10-11 vs Lev 23:17)
#200. On the Festival of Harvest/Weeks what is brought as an offering to Yahweh: the firstfruits of what is sown OR a contribution akin to a tithe? (Ex 23:16; Lev 23:10-11 vs Deut 16:10, 17)
#201. When was the counting of weeks to begin: from the day of the first reaping OR from the first Sabbath afterwards? (Deut 16:9 vs Lev:15-16)
#202. Are Israelites to offer up sacrifices and a first sheaf of their harvest to Yahweh on the first barely harvest OR not? (Lev 23:9-14 vs Num 28:26-30)
#203. What is offered up to Yahweh on the Festival of Weeks: 1 bull, 2 rams, and 7 lambs OR 2 bulls, 1 ram, and 7 lambs? (Lev 23:18 vs Num 28:27)
#204. Is a peace-offering of an additional 2 lambs sacrificed on the Festival of Weeks OR not? (Lev 23:19-20 vs Num 28:27-31)

Like the Festival of Passover & Unleavened Bread (#194-197), the Harvest Festival or the Festival of Weeks also went through several modifications from the earliest period of Israel’s cultic practices to the Aaronid-led cult of the post-exilic period. Once again, it is the Pentateuch’s various sources which bear witness to these developments, or in our case, these contradictions.

Our two earliest witnesses, E and J (see list of festivals by sources here), merely mention that the Harvest Festival, or Festival of Weeks, was a pilgrimage festival that took place, on the one hand on the day that one went out to reap the first grain (E), and on the other hand 7 weeks later (J). It is thought that the Yahwist text evidences Deuteronomic reworking, since it was the Deuteronomist who delayed the Harvest Festival 7 weeks and renamed it the Festival of Weeks.

The 7th century BCE Deuteronomist makes several innovations to the older Elohist tradition

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#205. Was the autumn harvest festival called the Festival of Ingathering OR Booths? (Ex 23:16, 34:22 vs Lev 23:34-43; Deut 16:13-15)
#206. Was the Festival of Ingathering/Booths a 1 day pilgrimage festival OR 7 days? (Ex 23:16, 34:22 vs Lev 23:36, 39; Num 29:12-34; Deut 16:13-15)
#207. Where was this pilgrimage festival: to a local altar OR to Jerusalem? (Ex 23:16, 34:22 vs Deut 16:15)
#208. What was offered to Yahweh on this festival: the crops from the field OR a tithe from the threshing floor and wine press? (Ex 23:16; Lev 23:39 vs Deut 16:13)

As with the previous 2 pilgrimage festivals—Unleavened Bread (#194-197) and Weeks (#198-204)—so too here: the Festival of Ingathering developed and modified into the Festival of Booths with some minor changes implemented by the Deuteronomist, some of which were kept by the Priestly writer, while others were not.

Preceding chronologically—through the sources of the Torah (E, J, D, P) not the narrative as it now stands—the Elohist text of Exodus 23:16 is our oldest witness. This festival is listed as the last of the 3 pilgrimage festivals, of which all males must present themselves to Yahweh at a local altar or shrine.

And the Festival of Ingathering, at the end of the year, when you gather in your produce from the field.

In other words, a pilgrimage festival to a local altar to present a portion of what was reaped at the end of the year harvest was to be observed by all males. Yahweh must receive his due portion before the Israelites can enjoying the harvest.


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