Introduction to Forthcoming Contradictions in the Bible

Seldom do readers of the Bible actually think about the compositional nature of the text they hold in their hands. Many Jews and Christians are completely unaware that the Bible is composed of a vast collection of different texts, themselves composed from a variety of texts and traditions, all of which were written over a period of roughly one-thousand years, by varying authors, and under diverse historical circumstances and religious and political convictions. Many of the Bible’s books—or more precisely the texts and traditions that went into the composition of its books—went through lengthy periods of continual revision, often supplemented with other texts and traditions, and redrafted to suit an ever-changing audience’s political and religious needs. In today’s culture, most biblical enthusiasts merely invoke the name “the Bible” in a variety of contexts with little or no real knowledge of the nature of the biblical text itself. Those few who have actually read a smattering here and a smattering there, have usually done so under the influence of predefined assumptions about the nature of the text, frequently prompted by personal beliefs or the particular concerns and dynamics of this or that faith community in the modern world. Rarely, in other words, are the texts of the Bible read on their own terms; most often they are read on the terms imposed by its vast and divergent readership.

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

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

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

On a methodological level, Contradictions in the Bible not only identifies every contradiction in the Bible, but more importantly discusses the reasons why they are present and what they tell us about the compositional nature and origins of the biblical text(s). I realize that the words “contradictions” and “Bible” in the same sentence may be a cause of alarm for many. But due diligence must be given to the biblical text itself, or as already indicated, to the biblical texts themselves.

The Bible is a composite text. It is a collection of a vast array of traditions, archival material, cultic law, liturgy, political and religious propaganda, historical narrative, etiological stories, poetry, personal correspondences, etc.—all of which went through complex processes of transmission, collection, editing, and finally canonization. Of course any anthology of texts of this dimension will evidence variant traditions, variant and changing religious and cultic laws to suit an ever-changing audience, competing theological and political perspectives, and divergent views on monarchy, prophecy, the priesthood, and even Israel’s deity. Nearly all of the more than two-thousand contradictions in this and forthcoming volumes are explained by observing the composite nature of the text under examination. In other words, the biblical text itself makes evident, and attests to, its own composite nature, perceivable through its duplicate stories, contradictions, repetitions, and differing stylistic, thematic, and theological features and emphases. These variations, differences, and contradictions have all served as clues in unraveling and discovering the composite nature of the biblical text in the scholarly community over the last three-hundred years. Centuries of meticulous, genuine, and earnest investigation of the biblical text itself has revealed its composite nature, and it is precisely because of this composite nature that the Bible exhibits numerous contradictions. This is not open to debate. This is the fact. We may ask why they are there and what they mean, but to claim that they are not there or to harmonize them away under some later theological interpretive agenda is simply imposing one’s personal or communal beliefs and presuppositions onto the biblical text(s) in lieu of an honest consideration for and approach to the biblical texts themselves, and on their terms not ours. Thus, it is the biblical text itself which is our point of departure; being as honest as we can to these ancient documents, which means understanding their socio-historical contexts and purposes of composition is our first concern. The biblical text and the texts and traditions that make up this text is the focus of this book.

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