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Actual Errors in Genesis

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This is more of a placeholder than anything else for the moment. It is spawned from a discussion in About the Way about their being no rain before Noah's flood. The consensus on that thread was that TWI got it wrong, that there was rain before the Flood. But other issues were brought up -- for example the teaching by Earl Burton that the universe is encapsulated in a gigantic bubble with water on the other side of it. No, seriously. And when reading Genesis, it is not hard to see where he got this idea. Genesis speaks of a firmament (a solid structure) separating the waters above (in the sky) from the waters beneath.

Looking at it from the primeval point of view of Genesis, when they didn't have the slightest inkling what the sky was made of, it's easy to see what's being described here: a flat earth covered by a large dome holding back a wall of water. The sun, moon and stars are IN that dome. Birds fly UNDER it. The firmament is NOT synonymous with what we think of as the sky. If visions of Stephen King dance in your head, you're on the right track, for that is precisely what the Bible describes.

Were the authors of Genesis being literal? Or were they being poetic? I don't know for sure. I haven't read all the scholarship on the matter. But I am sure of this: the Bible offers no indication whatsoever that they are NOT being literal. So I'll be describing what the Bible actually says, but I'll keep a very open mind about what it all means -- with an eye on what it meant to those living at the time Genesis was first written.

For those not keeping track, let me be clear at the outset of this thread: I no longer consider myself Christian, and I no longer believe in God. But you need not hold the same view to recognize what many -- Christians and atheists alike -- have realized for a very long time: There are actual errors in the Bible. Not errors of interpretation. Real, documentable, tangible blunders that show Genesis does not pass PFAL's criteria for what it means to be God-breathed.

For those who remain Christian, the challenge is simple: Deny the evidence and conclude Genesis DOES pass PFAL's criteria, or reject PFAL's criteria. Maybe God-breathed means something else entirely. If the second solution satisfies you, far be it from me to take that away from you. I'm not looking to persuade anyone that there is no God. If it's at all possible, I ask you to separate that proposition from the point I am making, which I will reiterate: There are actual errors in Genesis. What to do with them is up to you. Let's examine them. I probably won't be right about every point I make. But I will be right about many of them, and I suspect if you are honest with yourself, you will agree with that statement (even if you loathe where it has led me).

Let us begin...

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Hi, Raf! I have always respected your thinking, and have no problems with the decisions you have made. If I had the same experiences you have had, I may well have come to the same conclusions myself. This post should not be interpreted as argument against your position, but just raising questions with which I've also had to deal.

I probably wouldn't have chimed in at all, but right now, I happen to be writing a paper for archaeology class on "Genesis as a conversational response to the Enuma Elish," so I've been thinking about the first 11 chapters of Genesis.

Your post raises two questions to my mind. First, why should we privilege the PFAL definition of what it means to be God-breathed, or anything else from PFAL for that matter? And second, what exactly do we mean by "error"? That is, is it valid to privilege a post-Enlightenment definition of "truth" as propositional over the traditional definition of "truth" as poetic. After all, poetic expression is much closer to actual experience than abstract proposition. Propositional expression has proven very powerful for science and technology, but can we really say that hydrogen bombs are the best end products of human ingenuity?

Is it really fair to hold the writers of Genesis, or the Enuma Elish for that matter, to standards of "truth" that would have been totally alien to their way of thinking?

Love,

Steve

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First off, thanks. I deeply appreciate your courtesy.

I don't know if I want to commit myself to a single definition of error, because that might limit the discussion. In the strictest sense, the firmament is a whopper of an error. We've been to space. But can we imagine that the imagery was poetic and not intended to convey a scientific truth? My opinion is no, we can't. But I certainly respect that other opinions may differ. It's worth pointing out, agreeing to disagree, and moving on.

Now, when science and biology teach us that mankind cannot trace its first common female ancestor until tens of thousands of years before Eve would have lived, is that an "error"? I may say yes. You may say no. Ok. Stalemate.

There was no worldwide flood. That's an actual error. But wait! Lots of Christians believe the flood of Noah was local, not worldwide. Fine. But it still moved a boat from wherever Noah began his journey to Ararat. Actual error.

Did the human race speak one language until languages were confounded at Babel? No. Actual error (and that's one I don't think can even be argued).

Back to Noah: how old was he when the flood started? 600 and what? And his sons were what, 30? Because they had to repopulate the earth. So either they were remarkably young to be fathered by a 600 year old man, or they were remarkably old to have wives that could still bear children.

It's not history. It's a myth. People didn't live that long.

Abraham was from Ur of the Chaldeans. Neat trick. The Chaldeans didn't settle in Ur until centuries after the time of Abraham. Centuries after the time of Moses, in fact (which would mean Moses simply could not have written Genesis). That's an actual error.

Even a simple comment like Abraham having camels proves to be an actual error: camels were not domesticated in that area until centuries later.

Now, the Bible never actually says Moses wrote Genesis. At least, I don't think it does. But whoever DID write it did so after Chaldeans were in Ur, after camels were domesticated, etc. This was hundreds of years after the time of Moses (whose existence I question, but that's a matter for a subsequent Actual Errors in Exodus thread).

Etc.

By the way, I'm not saying we should privilege PFALs criteria for God breathed. Actually, if you look at what I wrote, I'm saying the opposite: you have to deny the evidence to maintain such a position. Or you can abandon PFALs criteria and define God breathed differently.

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Actual error: The incredible ages of persons who lived during that era. The human body is genetically destined to "fizzle out" at about 125 years. (Hayflick Limit) Either it's an actual error or they measured their years differently. Still, any "different" measurement of years would suggest that the younger ages cited would be in error, instead.

Edited by waysider

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is the fact that a claim defies credibility enough to make that claim an actual error? I would have to say no. Not that I believe for a fraction of a second that people lived to be hundreds of years old. I don't believe such a thing. But an unsubstantiated claim is not the same thing as an actual error as I have used that term in the past. Of course, I am not the arbiter of what is and what is not an error. I leave the final judgment to each reader.

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You have a good point. To say a modern day person could achieve such longevity would be an actual error, based on what we now understand about human physiology. We don't, however, really know all the nuances involved in the Genesis account. So, although the chances of the account being accurate are astronomically remote, we can't say with all certainty it's an actual error.

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The flip side of the old age problem is the young age at which people had babies. Thirty seems totally reasonable today but, if years were measured in a different manner (Some fundamentalists have suggested years were really months), it would mean that children of pre-school age were giving birth to their own children.

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Here's an idea of something I would not consider an actual error: The Bible refers to the moon as a "light." We now know that the moon is not a light in itself, but that it reflects the light of the sun. Lots of atheists like to point this out as an example of early scientific ignorance. It may be. But I wouldn't go that far. From our perspective, the moon is a light source. At least, it is at night, depending on how full it is. I think atheists are nitpicking here.

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According to Genesis 3, snakes crawl on their bellies and eat dust in retaliation for the serpent's role in the temptation.

Why?

If it was "Satan," and not a literal snake, why punish snakes? (Never mind that snakes don't eat dust).

If this "curse" is not really being directed at snakes but at Satan, it makes no flipping sense. Satan doesn't crawl on his belly or eat dust. And there's nothing in the narrative to indicate that we're talking about anything other than the animal.

So again, why punish snakes?

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Here's an honest question:

Anachronisms are obviously mistakes/errors. If Genesis says Abraham had camels (it does) and camels weren;t domesticated in that region until centuries later (also a fact), then that's an error -- subject to revision if REAL additional evidence warrants it.

But what about the implications of anachronisms? Anachronisms happen because someone either accidentally or intentionally reads a historical fact into an earlier era in history. For example, if we were to write a short story about Abraham Lincoln's favorite TV shows, that would be an anachronism. Lincoln didn't have a TV. Or a radio. But for me to make such a mistake, I must know something about television. Thus, the use of the anachronism proves that I am not a contemporary of Lincoln.

Abraham's camels demonstrate that the writer(s) of Genesis lived after camels were domesticated, roughly 1000 BC. Whoever wrote Genesis would have to have lived AFTER that time. The writer would also have been ignorant about how long camels had been domesticated.

So what, right? The anachronism is an error, but does it really matter whose error it was? Well, yeah. Sort of. If you assume the writer of Genesis was Moses, you have a problem. Moses would have been long dead by the time camels were domesticated. Problem is, does the Bible actually SAY Moses wrote Genesis? Or is that a tradition we never challenged because we never thought to?

I believe the anachronism is an error (efforts to refute it are out there, but I don't find them very convincing. Your opinion may differ). But the anachronism's value in disproving Moses as the writer is not an error in the Bible. It may be an error in what we think/thought about the Bible, but that's another matter entirely.

So I think we can say with certainty that Moses didn't write Genesis. But we can't refer to that as an actual error IN Genesis.

Steve Lortz? This is where you come in!

Edited by Raf

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Is it not that the first 5 books were attributed to Moses (ie not written by him) and only some time later actually written? (In the same way that the gospels were circulating as oral stories rather than written ones for quite some time before being committed to papyrus). Some say the "Moses" (and other) books were actually written down by scribes retained by Soloman. Others say that these books were redacted by scribes in the Ezra/Nehemiah restoration period. And by either time, camels would have been domesticated and would have been a symbol of wealth.

So would that then be adding something later that demonstrated the wealth at the preceeding time? (You could say, for example, that the Conquistadors had "thousands of doubloons" to spend on their invasions...wouldn't mean as much as if you said they had "millions of dollars," which conveys the value/amount better.)

Some versions of the Bible in the English language attempt to do something similar by substituting common names - pounds (weight) for example or inches (as cubits don't mean much nowadays to the average reader).

Whose image is this on this "penny"? But that isn't what the unit of currency was called (denarius), and neither does the apparent value (penny) convey the amount/meaning, which was actually a day's wage. In our time, we might have said, whose image is this on this $50 / $100 bill?

So perhaps saying Abraham had camels might be a reasonable way then of expressing his wealth, that "communicated" at the time the books were written down.

Maybe nowadays we'd say that he had top-of-the-line motor vehicles, luxury yachts, transport fleets, or football teams. Or Cayman Islands bank accounts. He was uber-rich.

Edited by Twinky

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You're suggesting that the books of Moses were part of an oral tradition that was later put to paper, and that the anachronisms are the result of the late writing as opposed to the late composition.

The problem I see here is that even if we are to accept that camels are a symbol of wealth, the anachronism still holds. Whatever the animal was, it wasn't a camel, and it makes no sense to change the animal into a camel to convey wealth when the original animal would have done the job quite nicely.

It is not the same at all as an English translation using English weights and measures to convey simple concepts in a translated scripture, because we can go back to the scriptures themselves and see what the original wording was. Yes, we know it wasn't a penny. But we also know it doesn't really SAY penny in the text. We don't know that with Genesis. The only evidence we have is that it says camels. Anything else is speculation. If speculation satisfies your need to clarify an error, I can't argue with you. It doesn't satisfy mine.

Usually when I read historical information about wealth, the writer is explicit in using the term "the equivalent of" to make sure we understand that the conquistadors didn't use "dollars" as currency. We see no indicators in Genesis that they're talking about anything other than camels.

A better explanation would be that they were talking about a different animal, and that the translators were not familiar with that animal so they used the word camel, which they were familiar with. That's why I don't get in a huff about the Bible's descriptions of unicorns. Yes, the Bible does talk about unicorns. No, the creatures described are not horses with a horn growing out of their heads. So what was it? I have no idea. Atheists who rail about the Bible mentioning unicorns are taking a cheap and easy shot. Truth is, we don't know what the Bible is talking about, so it's best to just leave it be. There are enough real errors to worry about errors that arise from confusion or lack of clarity.

I'm not sure there's any evidence of confusion in the translation of camels.

The simplest solution is that Genesis was not written by Moses. It was written centuries later by people who had no way of knowing that they were guilty of introducing an anachronism into their story. Likewise, the description of Abraham as coming from Ur of the Chaldeans could only make sense if written at a time AFTER the Chaldeans were in Ur. Again, that would have been long after the time of Moses.

Again, genuine question: where is the BIBLICAL evidence that Moses wrote Genesis? Is there any? Or did we just assume it because it's what we were told?

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Again, genuine question: where is the BIBLICAL evidence that Moses wrote Genesis? Is there any? Or did we just assume it because it's what we were told?

I believe Wikipedia sums it up best:

"According to [Jewish] rabbinic tradition, all of the teachings found in the Torah (first 5 books: Gen -> Deu), both written and oral, were given by God to Moses, some of them at Mount Sinai and others at the Tabernacle, and all the teachings were written down by Moses, which resulted in the Torah we have today. According to a Midrash (Jewish commentary], the Torah was created prior to the creation of the world, and was used as the blueprint for Creation. The majority of [Christian] Biblical scholars believe that the written books were a product of the Babylonian exilic period (c. 600 BCE) and that it was completed by the Persian period (c. 400 BCE)."

I'd say according to that, there is NO biblical evidence. It may be what the Way taught, but I don't recall. Wikipedia says it is Jewish tradition. But most Christian scholars hold that it was written much much later by those in exile.

One last quote from the wikipedia article that mentions some Orthodox Jews prove it was written by Moses by their dating of the text (Not sure how one could do that since there are no originals):

"Rabbinic writings offer various ideas on when the Torah was composed. The revelation to Moses at Mount Sinai is considered by most to be the revelatory event. According to dating of the text by Orthodox rabbis, this occurred in 1312 BCE; another date given for this event is 1280 BCE.

The Talmud says that God dictated [the first] four books of the Torah, but that Moses wrote Deuteronomy in his own words.

The Talmud says that the last eight verses of the Torah that discuss the death and burial of Moses could not have been written by Moses, as writing it would have been a lie, and that they were written after his death by Joshua. Abraham ibn Ezra and Joseph Bonfils observed that phrases in those verses present information that people should only have known after the time of Moses. Ibn Ezra hinted, and Bonfils explicitly stated, that Joshua wrote these verses many years after the death of Moses. Other commentators do not accept this position and maintain that although Moses did not write those eight verses it was nonetheless dictated to him and that Joshua wrote it based on instructions left by Moses, and that the Torah often describes future events, some of which have yet to occur."

Edited by TrustAndObey

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See, if that's the case, then the anachronisms are errors, but the notion that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible is not a Biblical error.

The implication, then, is that I can no longer think of it as an "error" that the last chapter of Deuteronomy describes Moses' death and burial, etc. That's only an error if the Bible claims Moses wrote the book. But that claim is not actually in the Bible.

P.S.: Trust and Obey, considering that you probably disagree with where I'm coming from, I thank you for participating in this discussion so honestly.

Edited by Raf

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The flood of Noah's day is recorded in Genesis 6-8. I'm just going to handle it here in a cursory fashion, since I think going into intricate detail won't be necessary. The amount of debate generated may or may not lead me to go into further detail.

The first thing that needs to be noted is the scale of the flood. God wants to destroy ALL of mankind. Not just men in a local area, but all men in every area. The notion that this was a local event is, in my opinion, an apologetic response to the rather clear evidence that such a flood could not have taken place as described. Taken on its own, Genesis clearly describes a worldwide phenomenon, not a local one. The flood covers mountains, after all. No local flood would have accomplished that.

The ark is too small to fit two of every kind of animal in the world (never mind the logistics of bringing polar bears, panda bears and koalas to the middle east). Apologetic efforts to reduce the number of animals to a broad category of "kinds" do not solve the problem. There are simply too many animals in too little space to accomplish that goal.

Noah is supposed to bring 7 pairs of every clean animal, and 2 pairs of every unclean animal. There is no prior scripture on which animals are clean and which are unclean (is there? I invite correction). The whole idea of "clean" and "unclean" animals had to do with whether or not we could eat them, and God had not given man permission to eat animals at this point. That happens after the flood.

Speaking of animals after the flood, God says, "The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands." This is not true. Most fish in the sea go their entire lives blissfully unaware of man's existence. And lots of animals are not afraid of man at all.

Then God says: "Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything." Everything? That's some dangerous nutritional advice right there.

Noah was 600 years old when the flood came (yeah right). We are not told how old his wife and sons were, so technically, I can't call this an error, but what do you think is the likelihood of a 600-year-old man being the father of three sons whose wives are still of childbearing age? "Ewww" is the only word that comes to mind. I mean, yeah, it's hypothetically possible, but we're still in Genesis when the thought of Sarah having a child at the age of 75 is literally laughed at.

Conclusion: This story never happened. Not globally, not regionally, not at all. Obviously, there is MUCH more I could say to drive that point into the ground, but I'll limit myself for the sake of [relative] brevity.

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Perhaps we can just think of the book of Genesis as figurative to teach spiritual truth and not literal. For example, was it a literal serpent or talking snake that talked to Eve in the garden of Eden? Do snakes actually talk to people? :evilshades: This is spiritual talk and not physical talk. Jesus Christ even got a voice in his ear from the deceiver which is the devil or one of his spirits. Again this represents spiritual truth that all mankind gets voices of truth and voices of lies and deceit. We just need to be able to learn from Jesus Christ and know the truth from the lies like Jesus did as described in Matthew 4:1-11.

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Ok, but how far do we take that concept? What parts of Genesis are figurative rather than literal? Are the characters of Adam and Eve historical? Without getting too complicated, science/DNA/genetics has determined that they cannot have been historical, for a variety of reasons. Did a literal snake talk to Eve? If not, why did God punish snakes? If it was figurative, why is there no indication whatsoever that this is just an allegory? And how much of it is allegory?

Did the original audience consider it a fictional allegory that is not history? What are the implications of that. Luke's genealogy of Jesus goes all the way back to Adam. Did he think Adam was a historical figure? Must have.

I don't see evidence in the text that this is anything other than a factual account of what took place in Mesopotamia a few thousand years ago. And as a "factual" account, it strains credibility beyond the breaking point.

Etc.

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Raf, do you see any actual truth that you can learn from? Regardless of whether Adam was literal or figurative, one can still learn truth. Not physical or scientific, but spiritual.

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Sure. There's plenty I can learn from this story. But there's plenty I can learn from Aesop's Fables, Star Wars and the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, too.

Referring to a truth as "spiritual" assumes the existence of a "spiritual" plane, and that requires defining and accepting such a thing. There are other words that might convey a mutually agreeable meaning, and we can then look at this material from that perspective.

In college, studying Genesis as literature, one professor noted that according to the story, "with the knowledge of good and evil comes a loss of innocence." Whether you accept this as historical, allegorical, divinely inspired or pure fantasy, I think honest people can agree that this is one of the messages that can be drawn from the tale.

And for all I know, that WAS the original intent of the tale. We don't know who wrote it or why. We do know how it was received, accepted and represented over the course of history, and it's this latter view that I no longer accept.

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There are tons of things we can learn if we accept it to be allegory. The problem, however, is that fundamentalist thinking insists it is historical. That approach brings the learning process to a grinding halt.

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In case Mark missed it, I now feel this way about the whole Bible, not just Genesis.

Not to say that there's nothing historical in it, or nothing that can be learned. I am simply no longer a "believer" in the sense that I have been and have presented myself on this board for so many years. So I'm coming at this all from a different framework than you. You are free to engage, to disengage, to argue, and of course to disagree.

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I should pay some cursory attention to Genesis 1, but I really don't want to dwell on it. Taking it at face value:

There is no way the creation of the earth in any way preceded the making of the sun.

There is no way plant life developed on earth before there was a sun.

There is no way there were three days and three nights before there even was a sun.

The sun, moon and stars are not in a firmament as described in Genesis (unless you butcher the meaning of the word firmament, which is a solid structure surrounding the earth, which only makes sense if the earth is flat).

Etc.

And I'll do us all a favor and just leave evolution as the great unspoken of this thread. Unless, of course, someone wants to go there.

Edited by Raf

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For whatever it's worth, The Way used to tackle evolution by teaching it was lateral rather than vertical and could not cross genus boundaries.

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For what it's worth, The Way had a fairly ignorant understanding of evolution, playing off our own ignorance on the subject. Evolution does not predict a horse will breed with a cow and produce a cowey horse or a horsey cow.

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For what it's worth, The Way had a fairly ignorant understanding of evolution, playing off our own ignorance on the subject. Evolution does not predict a horse will breed with a cow and produce a cowey horse or a horsey cow.

Aside from scientific details, Wierwille had a flawed concept of the purpose of evolution. Evolution has no "end goal". It's a simply an ongoing process of survival. The specimens that are most adept at adapting to change are the ones that survive and propagate. The idea that Man is the highest form of evolution is deeply flawed. This, I think, is the aspect that frustrates deniers the most.

edit: This may constitute an "actual error" because Genesis states that Man has dominion over everything. That's a lofty sounding concept but it's not founded in reality.

Edited by waysider

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