Category Archives: Studying the Bible

Using Moses to Rewrite History

When the author of the book of Deuteronomy sits down to write his text, he has Moses renarrate the story of Israel’s past from the revelation at Sinai to the current narrative setting on the plains of Moab. Renarrate because this “history” was already narrated in earlier textual traditions which served as the Deuteronomist’s sources. These earlier texts now make up parts of the books of Exodus and Numbers, and scholars have identified them as belonging to the Elohist and Yahwist.

In other words, stories from the older Elohist and Yahwist traditions, which are now preserved in the books of Exodus and Numbers, were used as sources for the Deuteronomist’s composition. Yet, on every single renarration of these stories, of this “history,” the Deuteronomist’s Moses radically alters them—indeed outright contradicts them—claiming to say and do things he never said and did, and narrating things that never happened, or happened … Read more

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The Bible’s Contradictory Stories and “Histories”

I rarely post here anymore since my more recent and extensively more active site, contradictionsinthebible.com, has been the focus of my attention. But I think I’m going to change all that, and start posting excerpts from a recent book I’m working on. It’d be nice to get some feedback from the public on these matters.

The book is tentatively titled Conflicting Stories and Competing Histories: How and Why the Bible’s Authors Rewrote, Altered, and Contradicted Each Other’s Texts. My one-liner about the book and its aims might be laid out as follows: The Bible’s authors consciously adopted, altered, and rewrote the texts and traditions they inherited, and in so doing left behind numerous contradictory stories and even “histories” in what later generations of readers labeled the Bible. The primary purpose of this book is to demonstrate this claim and to discuss how and why this happened, and the … Read more

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

To answer our question directly, as it will be demonstrated below, because the Bible itself tells us so. Since I’ve been advocating and tooting the objective study of the Bible, one where conclusions are drawn, such as the one pronounced above, by collecting, examining, and explaining the textual data, let’s see if I can walk the talk.

First, let me start by stating what I’m not claiming. Just because the biblical writers were not writing history—if indeed this hypothesis holds up to the textual data—that does not mean that there are no historical facts or events in the Bible. Second the biblical writers were not writing mythology or allegory, other than at various places (e.g., Gen 1-11), rather it is what scholars call historiography— that is “history writing” from the perspective and conventions of the time period in which these writers were writing. This is not to be equated with … Read more

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Studying the Bible objectively

What does it mean to study the Bible scientifically or objectively? How is this different from studying the Bible subjectively, that is with respect to its subject, its readers? What might be the advantages of studying the Bible objectively? What would be its purpose? Or, the real question might be: can the Bible be studied objectively given that it is dear, on a subjective level, to the hearts of millions?

If, for example, I posted a survey where one had to fill in the blank, “the Bible is ______?,” I suppose that I would receive a number of differing responses. I suppose furthermore that these different responses would all be subjective in nature. They would all be premised by an unarticulated “I think that the Bible is….” or “I believe that the Bible is….,” or “My inherited tradition, culture, or faith community informs me that the Bible is….” But what … Read more

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Conflicting portraits of Israel’s deity

The use or non-use of the name of Israel’s god, Yahweh, is not the only distinguishing feature between the Yahwist and Elohist traditions when it comes to how they portray and conceptualize the deity. Right from the Yahwist’s opening creation account in Genesis 2:4b-3:24, Yahweh is depicted in stark anthropomorphic terms. Yahweh forms man from the dust of the earth, presumably with his hands, breaths into the man’s nostrils, plants a garden, takes and puts the man in the garden, commands the man, forms animals from the ground, builds a woman from the man’s rib, walks in the garden, calls and speaks to his creation, makes skins of garments for the human pair, and finally puts the human pair outside the garden. This type of anthropomorphism, that is presenting a deity in human terms, is only found in the Yahwist source and for the most part attests to its antiquity. … Read more

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Contradictions in the Bible

Did you know that the Bible contains thousands of contradictions, from minute differences in narrative details to sweeping theological and ideological disagreements? And that this has been a well-known fact in the scholarly community for roughly three centuries!

Join in this educational adventure here, at my new website, where I will be posting and explaining a biblical contradiction a day! That’s right—a contradiction a day!

Unlike many sites that have attempted to enumerate the Bible’s many contradictions, and in somewhat simplistic or even antagonistic terms, this site is devoted to explaining why there are contradictions in the Bible using modern biblical source criticism. As the term implies, this methodological approach to the Bible looks at the Bible’s sources, that is its once separate and individual texts—all of which were penned by more than 70 different authors, over a period of roughly 1,000 years, to vastly different audiences, and to … Read more

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Aaronids vs Levites

Did you know that there existed rival priestly houses in ancient Israel, and that they had vastly different and even contradictory views on religion, the role of the cult and its priesthood, Yahweh, ethics, sin, and even the covenant—all of which were preserved in two different and competing textual traditions now found together in the Pentateuch?

That’s correct. 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 each wrote have come to be identified as the Aaronid writer of the Priestly source, whose main religious and cultic ideology is found in the books of Leviticus and Numbers, … Read more

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The Case Against the Mythists

A recent post over on Robert Price’s blog, author of The Christ Myth Theory and Its Problems, critiquing Bart Ehrman’s recent book, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, in which he defends the historical existence of Jesus, got me thinking about the topic.

Currently unfamiliar with both of these books, I nonetheless offer up these points for consideration. At first glance, here is the evidence as it stands stacked up against those who would claim that Jesus is but a myth, that no historical Jesus ever existed.

1) There are frankly speaking no mythic elements in the Jesus story/stories preserved in the gospels. There are no talking serpents, no anthropomorphic deities, no allusions to agricultural myths, no presentation of a primordial or pre-historical time-frame, no description of a decent and ascent from the underworld, no personified rivers, trees, magical palm leaves, etc. The only … Read more

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The Scientific Study of the Bible

In attempting to contribute to a larger cultural dialogue that promotes thinking and the elevation of rational discourse, I am convinced that any sort of meaningful conversation between theists of all denominations, atheists, and biblical scholars must start from the text, where the biblical text serves as the meeting ground. Can the scientific study of the Bible achieve such a goal?

I am also deeply disappointed by the the low level of public knowledge and education about the Bible. Both the word “Bible” and the biblical texts are so riddled with personal and cultural presuppositions, misuse, abuse, and misunderstanding, that it is even hard to have an intelligent and informed conversation on the topic. Additionally, many automatically invoke ideas of what the Bible is based on preconditioned cultural norms, the authority of long-standing interpretive traditions, what such-and-such faith community says the Bible is, personal theological agendas, etc., rather than really … Read more

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The Yahwist

The textual tradition know as the Yahwist (J) was so named by academics because of its consistent and unequivocal use of the god of Israel’s name, Yahweh. Even though the divine name appears approximately 1,800 times in the Pentateuch alone, the other Pentateuchal sources (Elohist, Deuteronomist, and Priestly) restrain from using it prior to its revelation to Moses in Exodus: at 3:14-15 in the Elohist tradition and at 6:2-8 in the Priestly tradition. Only the Yahwist text, in other words, affirms and acknowledges—in contradiction to the claims of the later Priestly source—that the name Yahweh was known to and frequently invoked by the patriarchs prior to its revelation. Indeed, it is for this reason that the Yahwist tradition does not narrate a revelation of the divine name. According to this tradition, it was known right from the first generation of mortals (Gen 4:26). This is merely one of dozens of … Read more

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