New on Ebon Musings: Some Mistakes of Scripture

I realize I haven’t updated Ebon Musings much this year. Between writing for Daylight Atheism, work-related responsibilities, and other projects, I just haven’t had as much time to write longer essays as I’d like to. But I don’t intend to let Ebon Musings go dormant. I’ve still got plenty of things to say, and as proof, I’ve uploaded a new essay: Some Mistakes of Scripture.

This deals with a topic I find very interesting: biblical misquotes. As opposed to biblical contradictions, where two verses simply tell different versions of the facts or advocate different theological opinions, without reference to each other, there are parts of the Bible where one verse tries to cite another, but gets its source wrong – either by bungling the reference, by citing a nonexistent verse, or by egregiously misinterpreting what the cited verse is saying. In short, this essay is about the times when the Bible gets the Bible wrong.

This is an open thread. Do you know any mistakes of the Bible that I left out? Let me know about them!

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://larianlequella.com Larian LeQuella

    Great stuff! Just out of curiosity, you mention that some verses were changed by scribes and such in the middle ages. Is there a resource out there where one can have a look at what the bible supposedly looked like in around 400AD compared to what it looks like today? I know there are differences, even though they say with the 50,000 manuscripts it’s supposedly 99% accurate, and I just want to be able to squish that urban myth as well.

  • Ritchie

    Another great essay! Bravo. It does entertain me to see some of the tenuous linguistic gymnastics apologists will perform simply in order to defend the Bible as inerrant. The author of Matthew wasn’t very thorough, was he?

    Larian – I don’t think it’s quite the case that there was an authorative version of the Bible right up until the Middle Ages, when a few passages were then altered, and have thus survived as cannon ever since. The reality is far more convoluted.

    I believe that no two versions of any of the books of the New Testament we have are identical right up until the invention of the printing press. Admittedly the majority of the discrepancies are down to simple spelling or grammatical mistakes, but a few stand out as more significant. It’s not difficult to explain bearing in mind the low rates of literacy through most of the first millenia AD, and the fact that it took several centuries for these letters to be considered so sacred. Originally they would merely have been letters to and from interested parties. Also bearing in mind that we don’t have original copies of these books, or anything close to copies of the originals, piecing together what the originals actually said is quite a puzzle. So we have to consider whether even the version of the Bible put together at the Council of Nicaea in the fourth century was made up of accurate copies of the originals!

    Bart Erhman has written some wonderful books on exactly these Biblical inaccuracies which I’d heartily recommend, including Misquoting Jesus (retitled in the UK as Whose Word Is It), and Early Christianities, which centres more around the various splinter groups early Christianity split into in the first few centuries, the opposing theologies they followed, and why what we now consider to be ‘orthodox’ Christianity won the battle for supremacy.

  • mike

    In Mark 10:18, Jesus appears to mess up a partial list of the 10 commandments, listing “do not defraud” as one of the commandments.

    Incidentally, I recently found out about youtube user ProfMTH, whose videos are great. He has a video about this particular biblical cock-up, which is where I learned of it.

  • Brock

    There is a pseudepigraphic Epistle to the Laodiceans writtne in the early years of Xianity, which consists of a lot of Pauline statements from other Epistles cobbled together to provide an appearance of authenticity, which shows that this sort of thing has been around as long as the Church has. Incidentally, what I find especially interesting about this attempt to show Paul’s inerrancy is inspired by a reference in Colossians, a letter which most modern scholars consider to be by a hand other than Paul’s.

  • Brock

    “is that it is inspired” Always read the whole sentence before deciding that your proofreading is complete. And “written” by the way.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Here’s a similar post from just 2 days ago.

  • Kevin Morgan

    Reminds me of an old joke: A new supervisor takes over at the Abbey where the monks are dutifully creating hand copies of the Bible. He notices that they are using each new copy as the source for the next and decides that too many mistakes could be made that way and so heads down to the basement where the original is kept. After a while when he doesn’t return several monks go looking for him and find him in the basement banging his head against the wall and repeating over and over, “it’s supposed to say celebrate!!! :-)

  • Caiphen

    If I were to make that many mistakes in an exam, I’d get a monumentous F for ‘FAIL’.
    I thought God was suppose to be almighty, yet He’s the one whom gets a monumentous F for FAIL.

  • http://timecube.com Oro Mezclado

    Nice try, Ebon, but all these so-called mistakes are going to be cleared up in Conservapedia’s new Bible translation.

    Seriously, though, regarding the No, Wait, It’s Not a Mistake sections: if you view the Bible as inerrant, literal, perfect, and divinely inspired, why are there shelves and shelves full of earthly books explaining what God really meant? Shouldn’t God have been able to pack it all into one book? Oh well, His ways aren’t our ways, I guess.

    I can’t resist quoting my all-time favorite EbonMusings.org zinger: [M]ust we rely on human beings to clarify the things that God forgot to tell us?

    While reading your essay, I was waiting for the obvious upshot of all the interpretive wrangling necessary to make the Bible make sense, and I was pleased to see it in your concluding paragraph: [SPOILERS FOLLOW] if you allow infallibility to be such a low bar to clear, than you can consider any holy book infallible. Obviously this throws the Bible’s claims to uniqueness out the window.

  • John Nernoff

    Larian: I know there are differences, even though they say with the 50,000 manuscripts it’s supposedly 99% accurate, and I just want to be able to squish that urban myth as well.

    N: Say you had 5 groups of 10,000 manuscripts, the first saying 10 horses were at spot X, the second 20 horses at spot X and so forth. How would anyone decide the number of horses at spot X? The number of variant manuscripts alone cannot determine truth.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Is there a resource out there where one can have a look at what the bible supposedly looked like in around 400AD compared to what it looks like today?

    Ritchie’s answer to this was very good (and I’d second his recommendation for Misquoting Jesus), but let me add a few thoughts of my own.

    With no offense intended to you, Larian, the point I most want to hammer on is that there is no such thing as “the Bible”, if by that you mean a single, universally acknowledged, authoritative document. There are thousands of manuscripts, most of which contain only various parts of the New and Old Testaments, and most of which differ from each other in countless ways, most trivial, some important.

    Assembling a book that can be called the Bible requires picking and choosing among the various manuscripts, which inevitably means making a series of judgment calls about which variants are original and which are later scribal inventions. As I’ve said in the past, modern translations like the King James Version or the Revised Standard Version are just snapshots of this ongoing process of critical evaluation and textual evolution. (The KJV, in particular, was assembled from a highly unreliable set of manuscripts called the Textus Receptus.)

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    …there is no such thing as “the Bible”…

    Fuck! Beaten! Man, that’s what I get for feeding the trolls, I guess.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    In general, this reminds me I wanted to suggest allowing comments on EbonMusings as well, because a good portion of the claims you make in various posts are either downright erroneous or subject to debate. For example, I would like to respond to your piece, A Ghost In The Machine, or your aptly-titled Foundation of Sand. Not that I think you’ll actually come down off your high horse and converse with me; it’s much easier to demonize me as a troll, and I gave up any hope of further conversation with you a long time ago. I wish to comment on EbonMusings mostly so that others know there are both problems and alternatives to many of the arguments you present.

    D,

    Man, that’s what I get for feeding the trolls, I guess.

    Huh, now isn’t that interesting: all nice on my site, then over here demonizing those who disagree with you as trolls. Totally fitting for this and most atheist sites, I guess. Did my positive assessment come too soon?

    (comment number 27, in case the link only takes you to the top)

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    cl
    As you know I’m not one of the commenters that snipes at you for the sake of it. When you address the topic and refrain from licking your wounds in public I think you often make for an interesting discussion, but when you post comments like the one above you do kind of make Ebon’s point for him.
    Daylight Atheism provides plenty of opportunity to comment on the essays in Ebonmusings, as Ebon frequently references them himself in the O.P’s when relevent. So what’s your take on this essay? I would be interested to know. Really!

  • Alex, FCD

    Not that I think you’ll actually come down off your high horse and converse with me; it’s much easier to demonize me as a troll, and I gave up any hope of further conversation with you a long time ago.

    See, high-jacking threads to talk about yourself? Kinda trollish.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    cl,
    Please understand that, just like rhetorician, I don’t think “troll” is necessarily an insult all the time always. I understand that this word is used as such almost every single time, but I think of myself as a bitter old cunt in a twenty-five-year-old body, so I hope you can see that dirty words don’t really hold a lot of meaning for me as things that ought not to be said. I’m nice on your site because I want to foster discussion and understand what you believe and why. I am specifically tailoring my style of discourse to appeal to you, in a deliberate attempt to manipulate you into trusting me enough to share your deepest convictions with a total fucking stranger. Most people don’t like to do such a thing, but you’re worth it to me, so I want to be your friend so that I can understand you. I’ll bet you also behave differently around your parents than you do around your friends than you do around your coworkers. Context matters, buddy; I chose my words deliberately so that people here would more easily understand the kind of situation I was describing, as I think they would be likely to describe it themselves.

    That said, trolls is as trolls does. It so happens that you do engage in trolling from time to time, as do a great many people, myself included. You only have to murder one person to be a murderer, you only have to tell one whopper to be a liar, I think you’d agree that a sinner once is a sinner for all time, and one little trolling trawl makes one a troll in deed. I’m a troll. You’re a troll. Alex, FCD is a troll for calling you out on responding to a perceived insult, when I was the one to originally derail the thread – that should by rights have been directed at me (or he should have simply called you out on insulting your host, if that’s what he had a problem with), and his comment just threw flames without adding to the discussion in a meaningful way. Oh, well; let it slide, man. You seem to be letting a bunch of silly crap upset you unnecessarily, and the ways you choose to respond are alienating people who might otherwise like to be your friends.

    Or are you gonna hold grudges forever like the desert deity of old?

  • Joffan

    Meanwhile, back on topic…

    The Christian Courier’s line on critical scrutiny

    In view of these various possibilities, it is not a reflection of scholastic integrity to dogmatically charge Matthew with a mistake

    strikes me as an insight into the world of literalism. Apparently, not only is the Bible inerrant, it is a breach of scholastic integrity to even question obvious textual screw-ups (publicly) unless you can predict and comprehensively disprove every possible comeback, however weak. I imagine they have the stake and firewood ready at all times.

  • lpetrich

    I’d like to add Jesus Christ being the Son of God.

    Various Old Testament kings and the like got called sons of God, but only in a metaphorical, adoptive sort of sense.

    However, the authors of Matthew and Luke insisted on interpreting “Son of God” literally, in the fashion of Greco-Roman mythology, with its numerous biological children of deities. They thus came up with JC’s Virgin Birth.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Steve Bowen,

    As you know I’m not one of the commenters that snipes at you for the sake of it.

    That’s why I like, respect, and take you more seriously than snipers.

    When you address the topic and refrain from licking your wounds in public I think you often make for an interesting discussion,

    Well thanks Steve, but what makes you think I’m “licking my wounds in public?” Such implies that Ebon’s wounded me.

    ..when you post comments like the one above you do kind of make Ebon’s point for him.

    What point would that be?

    Alex, FCD

    See, high-jacking threads to talk about yourself? Kinda trollish.

    Aw, did that make you feel better, Mr. Friend of Charles Darwin? Please.

    D,

    Hey, there’s no need to manipulate me because I will share my innermost with you, and you’re worth it to me, too.

    It so happens that you do engage in trolling from time to time, as do a great many people, myself included.

    Apparently we share differing definitions of trolling. I define trolling as comments left not in the interest of serious resolution of current or previous discussion(s), or comments left just to take snipes at others. IOW, something like, “screwing with people to get a rise out of them.” Verbosity is not trolling. Being persistent is not trolling. Responding to every person who engages oneself is not trolling. Disagreement with Ebonmuse is not trolling.

    However, crying “troll” whenever the going gets rough might be a useful defense mechanism for those who can’t, won’t or don’t want to proceed rationally – and I’m not referring to you there – but Ebonmuse.

    Alex, FCD is a troll for calling you out on responding to a perceived insult, when I was the one to originally derail the thread – that should by rights have been directed at me (or he should have simply called you out on insulting your host, if that’s what he had a problem with), and his comment just threw flames without adding to the discussion in a meaningful way.

    Well sure, but you’re an atheist, so why would he criticize you? It’s often team politics and party lines here just like anywhere else; don’t kid yourselves. Now, I agree that you were the first, which was why I spoke up at all. Still – unlike you and Steve Bowen – Alex FCD is among those who only comment to me when they wish to take snipes. Hence, the irony of his accusation is amusing.

    Further, I do not intend to insult Ebonmuse by sharing my opinion that he rides on a high horse; that’s what he’s shown to me, and I’m not the only one, mind you.

    Oh, well; let it slide, man. You seem to be letting a bunch of silly crap upset you unnecessarily, and the ways you choose to respond are alienating people who might otherwise like to be your friends.

    D, you seem to be the one coming unnerved here. At the end of the day, I could care less about what a bunch of pretentious bloggers say about me. I don’t harp on this crap out of personal vendetta, or because my feelings are hurt, I harp on it to leave constant reminders for new theist visitors, and also in hopes that other atheists might see the pack mentality.

    Or are you gonna hold grudges forever like the desert deity of old?

    I don’t hold grudges, D; I’m willing to respectfully move forward with any of my detractors. I don’t harbor actual animosity against Ebonmuse or anyone else I disagree with online. However, I will call it like I see it, and I won’t change that for you or any other mortal.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    Wow, cl, you are just full of surprises! I thought I was getting to know you, and here’s yet another interesting facet.

    Please re-read my comment. I didn’t “cry troll,” I said I was feeding the trolls. I said to no one, “Hey, you’re a troll!” “Feeding the trolls,” as I have come to understand the phrase, is something that says more about the feeder than about the feedee, and I’m sorry you didn’t understand that. That’s what I get for not educating everyone on Something Awful, where trolls are seen as an inexorable force of nature. But you’ve not been acting like that, so why should you be insulted if the insulting meaning so clearly does not apply to you? One of the commandments of the internet is, “Don’t feed the trolls,” and I’ve been breaking it like Bane.

    I don’t know if it was Alex, FCD in particular, but I’ve been called out on here. It was because they disagreed with what I was saying. Now, of course there are party lines in a way, and in another way there are not and there is only vanity; but here’s what I’m saying: you’re treating all us folks like a wall, and so we respond as a wall, and now you can only yell at the wall or beat your head against it. And now things go nowhere. If you’re happy with that, then I guess that’s cool. Maybe I don’t know you as well as I think.

    Ebon seems to have found his way of making peace with you, and irony of ironies, his peacemaking has proven divisive! Who could have guessed? But what caused that division was the peacemaking measure, which is itself the product of the relationship between the both of you. You then went and became more thoughtful because of it, which is a good thing; but you also stirred up a hornets’ nest, which doesn’t seem to have improved anyone else. Hmm…

    I will call it like I see it, and I won’t change that for you or any other mortal.

    A-ha! I’ve found your magical glowing weak point! And it’s so much your weakness that you’ve probably convinced yourself it’s a strength. Here’s my question to you: should you break that principle, then so what? What would come of it? And what if you needed to break that principle to achieve some other goal?

  • Alex, FCD
    See, high-jacking threads to talk about yourself? Kinda trollish.

    Aw, did that make you feel better, Mr. Friend of Charles Darwin? Please.

    Kinda fun but, on reflection, not really helping the discussion along. And too easy. Sorry everyone. In the future, I resolve to just avoid these little pity-parties altogether.

    Although it should be noted that FCD is my title, not my surname.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    Although it should be noted that FCD is my title, not my surname.

    That’s interesting! I’ve never seen that title before, what does it mean? (I looked and I still have no idea.)

  • Nes

    Friend of Charles Darwin.

    (That looks way too much like spam as is… but what else is there to say?)

  • Alex, FCD

    Nes has it right. It’s much easier to obtain than, say, a KBE*. Or a BSc. Or a BA, even**.

    *Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire. I think you have to kill a dragon or something.
    **Just kidding humanities people.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    Oh, gotcha! Cool, cool. I always wanted my philosophy degree to be a Bachelor’s of Science, so I could say I’ve got a BS in BS.