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.

#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 #87), the confrontation with Pharaoh and the Plague narrative (Ex 8-11), Passover stipulations (Ex 12-13), the crossing of the Sea of Reeds and various wilderness episodes (Ex 14-17)—there are many contradictions in these narratives which we will look at over the next weeks—and then at Exodus 18:1-5 we hear of Jethro, who proclaims to Moses that he has heard of Yahweh’s wonders, as he comes to meet him with Moses’ wife and two sons, both of whom stayed behind with Jethro in Midian. So in this version of the story, the Elohist’s, Moses’ wife and now two sons did not return to Egypt with Moses.

Richard Friedman, among others, in his The Bible with Sources Revealed, suggests that a later editor aware of the discrepancy in these two versions attempted to harmonize the accounts by making what was an original singular “son” in Exodus 4:20 into “sons.” The rationale was to bring this J passage into alignment with E’s assertion in Exodus 18:4 that Moses had a second son, Eliezer. Thus in the Yahwist tradition Moses only has one son, Gershom, and he takes this son and Zipporah his wife to Egypt with him on his return.

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  1. BeyondBIOS
    April 10, 2013    

    Do you know where I can find an online documentary source bible, possibly color coded?

  2. Steven DiMattei
    April 10, 2013    

    Online, no. But I highly recommend getting Friedman’s book, The Bible with Sources Revealed —at least until mine comes out. :)

  3. HymenaeusAlexander
    April 11, 2013    


    While Friedman’s notes would likely prove invaluable in his book version, you can find a decent online KJV Pentateuch with color-coded sources here: http://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Bible,_English,_King_James,_According_to_the_documentary_hypothesis

  4. PaulR
    April 11, 2013    

    Hymenaeus, that’s great!!

  5. BeyondBIOS
    April 11, 2013    

    Thanks to everyone! I will look at all of these resources. Cheers!

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I am a biblical scholar and historian of the early Christian period. But over the past 5 years I have become increasingly interested in the compositional history of the Hebrew Bible, especially the Pentateuch. In January 2013 I started posting 1 contradiction a day, with the aim of working through the entire Bible. Read more . . .

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