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, to name but a few, are found in the following areas:
History and Archaeology:
The Old Testament has many historical errors confirmed by archaeology. For example, Joshua’s destruction of Jericho (Joshua, chapter 6) by blowing horns to make its mighty walls come tumbling down and then massacring the city’s inhabitants, is an historical impossibility. According to the Bible’s chronology this took place around 1450 BCE, but multiple archaeological digs in recent decades have confirmed that Jericho was no more than a ghost town between 1550 to 1200 BCE.
Archaeologists have also failed to find any tangible records of the Israelites’ Exodus out of Egypt after God sent seven plagues and natural disasters on Egypt (for which, by the way, there are no records in Egyptian history). Moses led about 600,000 men (double that counting women and children – an unbelievable total; Exodus 12:37) in the Sinai wilderness for 40 years according to the Bible. Most of that time was spent at Kadesh-Barnea (Numbers 13:26, 20:1), but detailed examinations of the area have revealed that there was no occupation there before the 10th century BCE. This is about 300 years after the supposed Exodus!
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 oldest 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 companions/helpers for man. However, in chapter 1, creation occurs over six days, with plants, fish, birds, and animals created before man and woman, who 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 is fixed the stars and windows 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 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 him 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. How then does a moral and omniscient God justify wiping out most of life in the worldwide flood if mankind 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 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 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 invented gods in their image – from Yahweh to Baal, from Zeus to Thor, from the Trinity to Allah. The Bible’s authors are no different. They borrow themes and myths from other cultures and over time develop their own fallible 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. Believers in Christ (only about 33% of the world’s population) will obtain eternal reward in heaven, but non-believers and sinners will suffer not just death (the ultimate punishment of the Old Testament), but this time they will face eternal punishment and torture in hell (Matthew 25:41-46; Revelation 14:9-11). Is this not more reflective of the word of vengeful men at a certain moment in history, than the eternal word of a loving and compassionate God?
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.
Original posting: 2014-FEB-01
Latest update: 2014-FEB-01
Author: R. C. Symes