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Are There Contradictions in the Tanach?

By Shlomo Phillips © 05.15.2014

Why this study was written:

Most traditional Christians believe in the inerrancy (i.e. the absence of any error and/or contradiction) of the sixty six books of the Christian Bible (i.e. the Tanakh and the New Testament). Critics often cite the obvious contradictions in the New Testament as evidence that the inerrancy claim is not accurate for the New Testament (knowledgeable Christians of course have ready answers for these allegations that they, if not their detractors, accept as supporting biblical inerrancy). After demonstrating the contradictions with a few examples the critics then argue that because of the contradictions the entire Christian religion must be false. At this point their logic fails them in my opinion. The contradictions in the New Testament (and they certainly exist) pose serious but not terminal issues for Christians. While Christians are "a people of a Book," theirs is primarily a faith based religion.

My dear friend Noach enjoys debating doctrine and beliefs (as do I) and sent me the following examples of alleged contradictions within the Tanakh (i.e. the 'Old Testament') for my perusal and comment. If there are contradictions in the Tanakh do they pose the same type of issues for us Jews as the Christians confront? No they dont.

This was the impetus of this study.

Judaism and Christianity vary widely in their views concerning the Scriptures. Judaism is very diverse of course and I would never presume to speak for any other Jew. The following is my opinion only. It reflects how I see these proposed contradictions

For us Torah (i.e. the Five Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) is "God breathed," to use that terminology, which we normally wouldn't. Those are "thus sayeth the Lord." The rest vary as the texts themselves say. When the Prophets are writing for instance they or their chroniclers are reporting events in their own words. When the prophets say, 'thus say HaShem' etc. those are Divine communications from the Holy One. The rest is 'inspired' but not 'Divine utterance'. Likewise with the Psalms and other sections. In most cases they are written by holy people inspired by their relationship, need, desire, love, etc. of God but their words are their own. Contradictions in human writings, even when the authors are inspired, is to be expected. And yet there are few if any to be found in the texts of the Hebrew Bible.

Such questions are very important however. They gave rise to our Oral Traditions like the Talmud, in which the sages and rabbis determine our understandings (or at least their own!). Throughout the millennia our sages and rabbis have carefully dissected ever passage in Torah and Tanakh seeking ever deeper wisdom and insights.

What follows is my attempt to answer numerous challenging questions about alleged contradictions. Mostly these replies will be my own but in several cases I will also include the answers of our sages. The list of 'contradictions' I received was very long. I plan to respond to each of them and so this page will expand over time.

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From My Friend Noach:

The Verses:

Man was created equal, male and female. Gen.1:27. Woman was created as a companion to the man only after he rejected the animals. Gen.2:18-24.

Man was created after the plants. Gen.1:12, 26. Man was created before the plants. Gen.2:5-9.

The birds were created out of the water. Gen.1:20. The birds were created out of the land. Gen.2:19.

The animals were created before man. Gen.1:24-26. The animals were created after man. Gen.2:19.

On the first day, God created and separated light and darkness. Gen.1:3-5. On the fourth day, God again created and separated light and darkness. Gen.1:14-18.

God encouraged reproduction. Gen.1:28. He said it was an unclean process. Lev.12:1-8 (Note that bearing a daughter is more unclean than bearing a son).

God was pleased with his creation. Gen.1:31. God was not pleased with his creation. Gen.6:6.

Adam was to die the day he ate the forbidden fruit. Gen.2:17. Adam lived 930 years. Gen.5:5.

The name of "The Lord" was known in the beginning. Gen.4:26; Gen.12:8; Gen.22:14; Gen.26:25. The name of "The Lord" was not known in the beginning. Ex.6:3.

God preferred Abel's offering to Cain's. Gen.4:4, 5. God shows no partiality. 2 Chr.19:7; 2 Sam.14:14.

God asks Cain the whereabouts of his brother. Gen.4:9. God goes to see what is happening. Gen.18:20, 21. God is everywhere and sees everything. Prov.15:3; Jer.16:17; Jer.23:24.

It rained on the earth. Gen.7:4. There was rain from above and below. Gen.8:2.

Two pairs of each kind were to be taken aboard Noah's ark. Gen.6:19, 20; Gen.7:9, 14-16. Two pairs and seven pairs of some kinds were to be taken aboard. Gen.7:2, 3.

Noah entered the ark during the Flood. Gen.7:7. Noah entered the ark after the Flood. Gen.7:12, 13.

There were many languages before the tower at Babel. Gen.10:5, 20, 31. There was only one language before the tower at Babel. Gen.11:1.

Abraham married his half-sister and was blessed. Gen.11:29. Incest is wrong. Deut.27:22; Lev. 18:9; Lev. 20:17.

Abraham made a covenant with Abimelech and Phichol. Gen.21:22, 27, 32. It was Isaac who made the covenant with Abimelech and Phichol. Gen.26:26-28.

Hebron was the name at the time of Abraham. Gen.23:2. Hebron was named differently. Josh.14:15.

Jacob's name was changed at Peniel. Gen.32:28-30. Jacob's name was changed at Padanaram.Gen.35:9,10.

Isaac's servants dug a well at Beer-shebah. Gen.26:32, 33. Abraham dug a well at Beer-shebah. Gen.21:29-31.

Esau married two Hittite women. Gen.26:34. Esau married three Canaanite women. Gen.36:2, 3.

Bashemath was a daughter of Elon the Hittite. Gen.26:34. Bashemath was a daughter of Ishmael. Gen.36:3.

Luz was renamed Beth-el. Gen.28:19. Luz was a different place than Beth-el. Josh.16:2.

God renamed Jacob and called him Israel. Gen.35:10. God forgot the new name. Gen.46:2.

Eliphaz had six sons. Gen.36:11,12. Eliphaz had seven sons. Gen.36:15,16. Eliphaz had seven different sons. 1 Chr.1:36.

Dan had one son. Gen.46:23. Amazingly, this one son produced over 62,000 military-age males by the first census. Num.1:38,39.

Moses married a Midianite. Ex.3:1. Moses married an Ethiopian. Num.12:1.

All the beasts died in plague number six. Ex.9:6. All the beasts received boils in plague number seven. Ex.9:10.

All the beasts were hit with hail and fire in plague number eight. Ex.9:25. All the beasts lost their firstborn in plague number ten. Ex.12:29.

All the plant life was destroyed by hail. Ex.9:25. All the plant life was destroyed by locusts. Ex.10:15.

God instructs the Israelites to spoil the Egyptians and plunder their enemies. Ex.3:22; Deut.20:13-17. God prohibits stealing or defrauding a neighbor. Lev.19:11,13.

Moses' father-in-law proposed the idea of judges for the people. Ex.18:17, 24. Moses proposed the idea of judges for the people. Deut.1:9-18.

Jethro was the name of Moses' father-in-law. Ex.3:1. Ruel was the name of Moses' father-in-law. Ex.2:18. Raguel was the name of Moses' father-in-law. Num.10:29. Hobab was the name of Moses' father-in-law. Jud.4:11.

The priests were with Moses at Mount Sinai. Ex.19:22, 24. Moses appointed the first priests later in the wilderness. Ex.28:1.

Moses was great. Ex.11:3. Moses was meek. Numbers 12:3.

Moses was the only allowed near God. Ex.24:2. Moses was not the only one allowed. Ex.24:9-11.

Moses condemned the making of an idol. Ex.32:19, 20. Moses made an idol. Num.21:9; 2 Ki.18:4.

The commandments were memorably given at the beginning of the wilderness trek. Ex. 19 and 20. The people appeared not to remember later in the wilderness. Lev.24:12; Num.15:34.

Moses told the people they would pass over the Jordan that day. Deut.9:1. It was Joshua who took them over much later. Josh.1:1, 2.

The number of Israelites, excluding children, was 600,000. Ex.12:37. The number of Israelites, including children, was only 7000. 1 Ki.20:15.

Manna tasted like coriander seed and honey. Ex.16:31. Manna tasted like fresh oil. Num.11:8.

The Sabbath Day was to remember creation. Ex.20:11; Ex. 31:17. The Sabbath Day was to remember the sojourn in Egypt. Deut.5:15.

God details sacrificial offerings. Ex.20:24; Ex.29:10-42; Lev.1:1-17; Num.28:1-31. God says he did not order sacrifices. Jer.7:22.

The Book of Jasher was written at the time of Joshua. Josh.10:13. The Book of Jasher was written at the time of David. 2 Sam.1:17,18.

The Israelites were a numerous and mighty people. Ex.1:8, 9. The Israelites were few in number. Deut.7:7.

The Israelites had plenty of water to wash their clothes for purification. Ex.19:10. The Israelites had no water and rioted for a drink. Ex.15:22-24.

God was with the people. Ex.3:12. God was not with the people. Ex.33:3.

Aaron died on Mt. Hor. Num.20:27, 28; 33:38,39. Aaron died at Mosera. Deut.10:6.

After Aaron's death, the people journeyed from Mt. Hor to Zalmonah to Punon etc. Num.33:41, 42. After Aaron's death, the people journeyed from Mosera to Gudgodah to Jotbath. Deut.10:6, 7.

The Canaanites were utterly destroyed. Num.21:3. The Canaanites were left to trouble the Israelites for years. Jud.3:1,2.

Stones were taken out of the Jordan River. Josh.4:3. Stones were placed in the Jordan River. Josh.4:9.

The Nazarite vow is broken if one goes near a dead body. Numb.6:6-9. Sampson, a Nazarite, apparently did not break this vow. Jud.13:5; 15:8,15,16; 16:17.

Samuel ministered to the "Lord". 1 Sam.3:1. Samuel did not know the "Lord". 1 Sam.3:7.

David killed Goliath. 1 Sam.17:49,50. Elhanan killed Goliath. 2 Sam.21:19-21. (Notice that the phrase "the brother of" has been added).

"God" caused David to number the people. 2 Sam.24:1. "Satan" caused David to number the people. 1 Chr.21:1.

Saul utterly destroyed the Amalekites. 1 Sam.15:20. David utterly destroyed the Amalekites. 1 Sam.27:8, 9. David destroyed the Amalekites - again - almost. 1 Sam.30:1,17,18.

God chose Saul to save the people from the Philistines. 1 Sam.9:15-17. Saul dies and the Philistines overrun the Israelites. 1 Sam.31:6, 7.

God chose Saul. 1 Sam.9:16. God repents for choosing Saul. 1 Sam.15:35. God doesn't need to repent. Num. 23:19.

Saul inquired of God but received no answer. 1 Sam.28:6. Saul died for not inquiring. 1 Chr.10:13, 14.

Saul killed himself. 1 Sam.31:4; 1 Chr. 10:4, 5. Someone killed Saul. 2 Sam.1:5-10. The Philistines killed Saul. 2 Sam.21:12. God killed Saul. 1 Chr.10:13,14.

Jesse had eight sons. 1 Sam.16:10, 11; 1 Sam.17:12. Jesse had seven sons. 1 Chr.2:13-15.

Saul knew David before the encounter with Goliath. 1 Sam.16:19. Saul did not know David until after the encounter with Goliath. 1 Sam.17:55-58.

Michal was childless. 2 Sam.6:23. Michal had five sons. 2 Sam.21:8.

David sinned in taking the census. 2 Sam.24:10,25. David's only sin, ever, was another matter. 1 Ki.15:5.

David paid 50 pieces of silver for the property. 2 Sam.24:24. David paid 600 pieces of gold for the property. 1 Chr.21:25.

His name was Solomon. 2 Sam.12:24; 1 Chr.22:9. His name was Jedidiah. 2 Sam.12:25.

Solomon had 40,000 stalls of horses. 1 Ki.4:26. Solomon had 4,000 stalls of horses. 2 Chr.9:25.

Solomon had 3300 supervisors. 1 Ki.5:16. Solomon had 3600 supervisors. 2 Chr.2:2.

Solomon's "molten sea" held 2000 "baths". 1 Ki.7:26. Solomon's "molten sea" held 3000 "baths". 2 Chr.4:5.

More of these are coming!

The thing to remember is that even if there are a few discrepancies in the Tanakh, it is over 2000 years old and remains an utterly awesome book for those seeking to know HaShem. In additions to our mitzvot it is our enduring emuna (active faith) in HaShem that makes us free.

There are many searching questions about God. But it is only fitting and proper that this should be so. Indeed, such questions enhance the greatness of God and show His exaltedness. God is so great and exalted that He is beyond our ability to understand Him. It is obviously impossible for us, with our limited human intelligence, to understand His ways. Inevitably there are things that baffle us, and this is only fitting. If God's ways were in accordance with the limits of our meager understanding, there would be no difference between His understanding and ours, and this is inconceivable -- Rebbe Nachman of Breslov -- Likutey Moharan II, 52

Your questions, submissions to the list, comments, and corrections are sincerely invited.

Be the Blessing you were created to be
Don't let the perfect defeat the good