An essay donated by R. C. Symes
"Is the Bible the Word of God or Myth of men?"
A Progressive Christian interpretation:
Part 2: Biblical errors and contradictions
Biblical errors and contradictions:
Those who believe that every word of the Bible is true because the Bible is God-made, not man-made, have their work cut out for them to explain its many errors and contradictions. Some key problems are found in the following areas:
History and Archaeology:
The Old Testament has many historical stories that have been confirmed by archaeological studies to be invalid.
- One example is Joshua’s destruction of Jericho (Joshua, chapter 6) by blowing horns to make its mighty walls come tumbling down and then massacring all of the the city’s inhabitants -- adults, children, and babies. This is an historical impossibility. According to the Bible’s chronology the massacre took place about 1450 BCE, but multiple archaeological digs in recent decades have confirmed that Jericho was no more than an abandoned ghost town between 1550 and 1200 BCE.
- There are no records in Egyptian history of the seven horrendous plagues and natural disasters on Egypt that God sent, including the final one in which angels were said to have murdered all of the first born humans and animals in every family in Egypt, except those of the Jews who had placed animal blood on their doors to cause the angels to "passover" their home.
- Archaeologists have also failed to find any tangible records of the Israelites’ Exodus when Moses led about 600,000 men from Egypt to the Promised Land. Including women and children, over a million people were involved. (Exodus 12:37) The Bible says that it took them 40 years to wander through the Sinai wilderness. Most of that time was spent at Kadesh-Barnea (Numbers 13:26, 20:1). However, detailed studies of the area have never discovered any traces of the Exodus. There was no human occupation there before the 10th century BCE, about 300 years after the supposed Exodus!
The Answers.com web sites states that the distance from:
"Cairo to Jerusalem is about 312 miles. At an average 3 mph, that's 104 hours of walking time. Figure two weeks."
The 40 years that the Exodus took would have been more than a thousand times longer -- over 2,000 weeks!
Primitive Science and Cosmology:
There are two contradictory stories of the Creation of the earth and the heavens in the book of Genesis, written either by different authors or an author drawing on different sources. In chapter 2:4-24, which is probably the older version of the story, creation takes place in the space of one day, man was made before any plants and animals, and woman was made later after animals failed as suitable companion/helper for a man. However, in chapter 1, creation occurs over six days, with plants, fish, birds, and animals created before humans: man and woman were created at the same time. Which Bible version is the true word of God? Or does it not make more sense to regard these Bible stories as creation myths collated in the first millennium BCE, especially in light of modern scientific evidence about the age of the earth and the evolution of species?
Biblical cosmology portrays a three tier universe (the heavens, earth, and the underworld). The basic observations of primitive man are related in the Bible as God’s word -- the earth is described as flat (Isaiah 11:12; Matthew 4:8), stationary (Psalms 93:1; 104:5) with the sun moving back and forth across the heavens (Ecclesiastes 1:5). Earth is also covered by a vault (dome) held up by pillars (Job 26:11; Psalm 104:3) in which the stars are fixed. The dome has windows which can be opened to let down rain (Genesis 7:11). Biblical literalists who accept all this as God’s true word (as did Jesus) are ignoring proven knowledge. And those who try to make the words mean something different in order to conform to scientific reality are distorting the original language and meaning.
The Flood Myth:
Many fundamentalists still try to prove that the great worldwide flood at the time of Noah as related in Genesis chapters 6-9 is literally true. However, the geological record shows no signs of the earth covered in water 8.8 km (5.5 miles) deep which is the height of the earth’s highest mountain. Also, the wooden ark which was about 168 meters long (the length of about one and a half football fields) would have been too structurally unstable and leaky not to capsize. At the same time it would not have been large enough to hold over 45,000 species of the phylum Cordata (mammals, reptiles, birds and amphibians), or 90,000 paired individuals, as well as food and water for them. Also, how some unique species could have made their way from the Americas and Australia to Noah’s ark in the Middle East -- and later return to their place of origin -- remains unsolvable. There were also over a million species of insects that needed to be accommodated as well as salt water fish species needing sea water (greater than the volume of the ark) for survival after the oceans were diluted by the rain. Feeding and waste removal for all these creatures for over a year had to be handled solely by Noah and his family! This is not history, but myth.
Yet what is most disturbing about this myth is the morality related to it. The Bible tells us that God was angry with human wickedness and therefore decided to kill almost all living creatures on the planet (not just humans). If this is true as fundamentalists claim, then this is the worst human genocide in history (only 8 people survived), and was a near mass extinction of all life, ostensibly carried out by a just and loving God.
But was it worth it? God appears to have been a poor judge of character when He decided to spare Noah, whom he thought was “a righteous man, the one blameless man of his time; he walked with God” (Genesis 6:9). After the flood was over and life began anew, the 600 year old Noah, the righteous favorite of God, was found drunk and naked in his tent by his youngest son Ham. For this discovery, Noah cursed not Ham, but Ham’s innocent son Canaan and condemned Canaan to be a slave for Ham’s brothers (Genesis 9:20-29). Canaan’s offspring established the Canaanite nation that was mercilessly exterminated by the Israelites. Humans carried on after the flood in their usual wicked ways. This raises the question: how then does a moral and omniscient God justify wiping out most of life in the worldwide flood if if he knew that humanity was only to continue on as before?
In the realm of mathematics the Bible gets it wrong when determining the value of (pi), the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. In 1 Kings 7:23-26 and 2 Chronicles 4:2-5, a large circular container (the molten sea) is described as ten cubits in diameter and 30 cubits in circumference, therefore the value of pi would be 30/10 or 3.0. We know that pi is not 3.0, but an irrational number that starts 3.14159, and it has to be exact as possible for uses in engineering, global positioning, etc. Over 1,000 years before 1 Kings was written, the ancient Egyptians calculated pi as having a value of 3.16049 as revealed in the Ahmes (or Rhind) Papyrus. This value is 0.6% off the modern value of pi compared to the 4.5% error in 1 Kings. Biblical apologists try to rationalize the error by saying the measurements were only approximate, or were taken at different places on the vessel, or that the numbers have a mystical interpretation. These excuses rule out one another and can’t get around the obvious mistake in the plain reading of the Bible.
Those who take the Bible literally often point to its many prophecies that supposedly have been fulfilled in history, especially with respect to Jesus, as proof of its truth. This is a false assertion when it is realized that the authors of the Gospels, who were not eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus, selected passages of the Old Testament to flesh out their concept of the Messiah. There were too few biographical details of Jesus in the oral tradition or in the earliest written texts, namely the letters of Paul. Gospel authors, especially Mark who wrote the first biography of Jesus and whom Matthew and Luke copied to a large extent, turned to the Old Testament to flesh out the life of Jesus based on their assumptions of what must have happened.
For example, in describing Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, all the gospel authors except Matthew have Jesus riding on a donkey (e.g. Mark 11:1-11). However, Matthew has Jesus riding on two donkeys simultaneously (Matthew 21:1-7)! This is because Matthew misinterpreted the parallelism in the original source of the story, Zechariah 9:9. In Matthew’s case the importance of the Old Testament as a source of information about Jesus overrode common sense and the other Gospel authors’ descriptions of the event. Events in the life of Jesus, based on plagiarized details from the Old Testament, often taken out of context, were easily turned into prophetic “proofs” about the Messiah.
For a more detailed discussion of these issues please see my articles:
Humans throughout history have believed in thousands of gods and goddesses -– from Yahweh to Baal, from Zeus to Thor, from the Trinity to Aphrodite. The Bible’s authors were no different. They borrow themes and myths from other cultures. Over time, they developed their own views about God, and ponder man’s relationship to the divine.
Unfortunately, the Bible soon begins with the terrible genocide of the world-wide flood and ends with the promise of another end of the world scenario at the Second Coming of Christ to judge mankind. Many regard these genocides as incompatible with the belief in a loving, kind, just deity. The Bible is ambigous concerning who will end up in Heaven and Hell after death. Many Christian denominations teach that only believers in Christ (less than 33% of the world’s population) will obtain eternal reward in heaven, and that non-believers will suffer not just death (the ultimate punishment of the Old Testament). This time they will face eternal punishment and torture in Hell (e.g. Revelation 14:9-11). On the other hand, passages like Matthew 25:41-46 base one's eventual destination on their behavior towards other persons while they were alive on Earth. Other denominations teach that Hell is merely isolation from God. More liberal faith groups teach that Hell was an invention of vengeful humans at a certain moment in history, and could not have been created by a loving and compassionate God,
Many progressive Christians believe that to read the Bible as the literal, unerring, prophetic word of God rather than as a man-made religious myth, insults our knowledge of history, science and rational thought. The Book is more a history of the struggle of humans to make sense of their place in the world and the moral issues of their times. As such, the Bible is not the ultimate word, but only a tentative beginning. In essence, it is not God speaking, but man.
The following information source was used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.
- "How long would it take to walk from Egypt to Jerusalem?," Answers.com, at:
Original posting: 2014-FEB-01
Latest update: 2018-AUG-22
Author: R. C. Symes, with minor editing.