A Great Case for Historical Reliability? A Brief Response to Lisa Quintana

Over at her blog Think Divinely, Christian apologist Lisa Quintana has a post entitled “Odd Verses that Authenticate the Bible.” At its heart, it is an attempt to briefly explain why the hard parts of the Bible – purported contradictions, embarrassing stories, etc – actually demonstrate the Bible’s validity. She includes a number of examples: the lackluster history of Israel, Jesus’ seemingly failed prophecy that his return would come in the generation of the disciples, and more. She then writes,

These are just a few of the odd, embarrassing, or seemingly contradictory statements, that are in the Bible. It makes a great case for the historical reliability of the transmission of these ancient texts. I mean, if anyone wanted to change this stuff (the problematic parts of Scripture) over the centuries, they certainly could have. Nonetheless, these verses were unchanged and because of that, it makes a great case for the accurate transmission of the original wording of the Bible (with the exception of a few spelling errors, or flipped numbers, here and there).

This is a rather simplistic take on the issue and it really doesn’t get to the reliability of the Bible itself, merely its transmission. Nevertheless, let’s consider the question of why a scribe or a redactor might include seemingly contradictory information within a text. We don’t have to go far in the Bible to find just such a thing.

Two Visions of Creation

The opening chapter of the Torah is a creation myth. It involves Elohim, a plural form of El, the high god of the Canaanite pantheon. Within the narrative, Elohim is the transcendent creator who can simply speak the world into existence and does so in six days. He creates plant life on day three, animal life on days five and six, and humanity – both male and female – on day six as well. Elohim makes them in his image and gives this the responsibility of ruling over all he had made.

There is a second creation myth that begins in Genesis 2:4b. There, instead of Elohim, we read of Yahweh Elohim and his creative acts. Rather than taking six days to make the world, Yahweh Elohim takes just one. And whereas Elohim spoke the world into existence, Yahweh Elohim is more hands on. Before plants were created, Yahweh Elohim takes dirt from the ground and uses it to mold a man just as a pottery might use clay to mold a vessel. And he breathes into the nostrils of the man to bring him to life. He then creates plant life including the tree of life and the three of the knowledge of good and evil. When Yahweh Elohim notices that the man was alone and that it was not good for him, he then creates animal life and, upon finding no suitable mate for him, he puts the man to sleep and extracts a rib from which he creates a woman.

The version of the creation story in Genesis 1 is different from the version in Genesis 2. Why? Because they come from two different sources. The version of Genesis 1 came from a priest who wanted to make sure people had a healthy and respectful view of the God of Israel. He was transcendent and wholly other. And it was this God who established the sabbath day of rest upon completing the creation of the world. The version we see in Genesis 2:4b is from an author who sees God in somewhat more personal terms and whose name isn’t simply Elohim but Yahweh. Yahweh Elohim is a God who doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty.

So why does the book of Genesis contain two very different accounts of the creation story? Why didn’t the compiler of the Torah leave one or the other account out altogether? Because both accounts were likely seen as important and authoritative to people. They were each sacred versions held to by different groups of Jews. So the compiler puts them together, side-by-side, warts and all.

If a redactor of texts was willing to include two contradictory accounts then we shouldn’t be surprised that a scribe didn’t alter those texts considerably. Why would he? He would have likely viewed what he was transcribing and copying as sacred, warts and all. This doesn’t mean that those texts are true, merely that they were viewed as true (or at least important).

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6 thoughts on “A Great Case for Historical Reliability? A Brief Response to Lisa Quintana

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  1. As I tweeted at you, the Argument from Embarrassment is not evidence of fact, it is evidence that the author either did not consider the passage embarrassing or that he made an error.

    My classic example is from “The Sign of Four” Sherlock Holmes, where Conan Doyle has Holmes as a cocaine Addict, but there are other examples. Tolkien’s Giant Eagles not taking Frodo direct into Mordor, and virtually all of Dan Brown’s works

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  2. Well said. One small point:

    Elohim is not a plural form of El, even though it contains a shared root. A plural form of “El” is in the OT, but it’s “Elim” and is a term to designate powerless gods.

    “Eloah” appears to be a later derivative of Elohim to force a singular God narrative (and separate Him from Elohim and the sons of Elohim as in Job).

    But even though they share a root that may mean “powerful one”, and Elohim can be a singular or plural designation, thay doesn’t mean that one is an extension of the other.

    I like your use of “hands on” when speaking of Genesis 2. It’s a perfect description!

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  3. Just saw this – sorry I am late to respond. In your response to my blog post, you make statements without backing up your sources. How do you know, with 100% certainty, that “The version of Genesis 1 came from a priest who wanted to make sure people had a healthy and respectful view of the God of Israel.” Where did you find that information? Back up your statements with footnotes, and it will be more credible.

    The reason my blog is “simplistic” is because of my intended audience. I am not writing to academics in a university setting. I am writing to the average person who may not be that interested in all the academic details. (Heck, getting anyone to actually read my blog is enough these days. We do live in an information saturated society, so yeah… I take all of the into account when I blog.)

    I am not an expert on the Book of Genesis, nor am I a theologian. But from what I’ve learned, most theologians do credit Moses with writing Genesis, although it is still an area that is debated. And the two different creation accounts, from what I know of the subject, are repeated for use in oral tradition. The chiastic structure was also used as a memory device in the culture of the Jews. Some see the two accounts following along these literacy devices.

    Bottom line – you can find sources to confirm your bias, as well can I. At the end of the day, it really boils down to faith. I think there is enough reason to believe the Bible is inspired, and you believe contrary. That is your choice, after all, you do have free will.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for commenting, Lisa. I apologize that it got sucked into the spam folder and I wasn’t able to see it when you first posted it!

      Regarding the authorship of Gen 1, I’d recommend taking a look at Joel Baden’s ‘The Composition of the Pentateuch: Renewing the Documentary Hypothesis,’ pgs. 169-192, for an overview of the Priestly Source and why it is “priestly.” I’d also recommend Mark Smith’s ‘The Priestly Vision of Genesis 1.’ And if you’ve not read Steven DiMattei’s ‘Genesis 1 and the Creationism Debate: Being Honest to the Text, Its Author, and His Beliefs’ you should because it is an excellent overview of why Gen 1 and Gen 2 appear to be from two different sources.

      Regarding Mosaic authorship, it is usually only those on the far right among Christians and Jews who would believe Moses wrote the Torah. The Torah certainly never makes that claim for itself and there are good reasons for thinking it was written at a much later time. I’ve discussed some of that in a post responding to Heather Schuldt here: https://amateurexegete.com/2018/11/01/the-towering-arrogance-of-cheap-apologetics-heather-schuldt-moses-and-the-documentary-hypothesis/.

      I can appreciate being “simple” but “simplistic” is problematic since these kinds of topics require nuance that is usually absent when people speak of biblical texts. On the one hand you have those who think it is the inerrant word of God without any error whatsoever and on the other you have those who think it is entirely ahistorical without any redeeming value (i.e. many in my camp). As you know, the Bible is far more complicated than either of those views allow. For me, it’s what makes the Bible so interesting!

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