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Armstrong, the Genesis Flood Contradictions and Multiple Sources

Armstrong, the Genesis Flood Contradictions and Multiple Sources July 2, 2021

Oh, David Armstrong. David, David David. I will try to be as cordial as possible here but please excuse me if I let off some rhetorical steam at times.

I recently posted a piece on the documentary hypothesis as exemplified by the Genesis account of the flood, although I should probably say the Genesis accounts of the flood. For those of you who are not well-versed on the Documentary Hypothesis (DH), or the alternative variation of the Supplementary Hypothesis (SH) as ways of analysing the Pentateuch (Torah – first five books of the Bible), let me briefly sketch them out. Before I do so, let me also emphasise that no serious Pentateuchal scholar adheres to the mosaic authorship and single-source proposal for the Pentateuch. I have listened to countless scholars attest to this. No conference, no symposium, no meeting for the Society of Biblical Literature entails any scholar advocating for mosaic authorship or a single source of the Pentateuch. It just doesn’t happen.

Yet the view of Mosaic authorship is very common. In apologetics only. There is a vast chasm that separates serious Hebrew Bible scholarship and Christian apologetics.

Talking of apologetics, Dave Armstrong has refuted the entire body of Pentateuchal academia in the world my claims. Check it out if you fancy. Am I being fair to his piece paper? When I am reading, just in two books on the DH alone 2000 pages worth of stuff on this, but in all the books I am reading on the DH, about probably 5000 pages worth, not to mention random papers, it gets tiring when he just labels my arguments “potshots”. Actually, whatever. I am supremely confident in what I am claiming, I just worry for people who come across his blog and see only one side of the story and come away with a false impression.

Perhaps I am just really bad at this. I apologise to you all. Because Jim Dailey adds to Armstrong’s piece:

Ugh. Yet another atheist retread argument, long ago abandoned after being subjected to scrutiny.

I have to say JP is disappointing me.

Why I am pissed off is this is so obnoxiously Danth’s Law that my fairness receptors and injustice nodules just implode. I can’t handle the sheer audacity or willful ignorance or naivety of [insert here] on display. Am I warranted in this feeling?

So, Source Criticism.

The Pentateuch contains some irreconcilable issues that fall into four categories: repetition (redundancy), contradictions, discontinuity, terminology and style.

The basic principle is that these four issues demand an explanation.

The only thing that makes sense of this is that there are multiple sources (over multiple time periods) that have been redacted to produce the finished document. Traditionally, under the initial DH, these four sources were called J, E, D and P. I am not going to bother detailing how and why because it is too long for here and not necessary. I’ll link some good videos about this. More recently, some scholars have suggested that E is not coherent enough as an individual source – it is too fragmentary or simply doesn’t particularly exist in its own right. There has been a move that sees some scholars assimilate E into J and/or P. Indeed, some scholars prefer P and non-P. The D source is very obvious and essentially makes up the entirety of Deuteronomy and some other parts.

The SH proposes that D formed the core source and was added to by redactors, probably during the exilic period (when Israel was in Babylonian exile), whereby JE and P were additions that added to the core a little like concentric circles. The redactor(s), R, played a big part and is often seen as a separate source in its own right.

Anyway, there are good arguments for either of these. But pretty much every scholar adheres to one of these, or a variation thereof.

Christians love to trot out criticisms of the DH as if it was still the same thing it was in Julius Wellhausen’s time –  the German scholar who first created the theory back in whenever.

It is not the same thing. So when Dave Armstrong trots out a criticism of the DH from CS Lewis, I know not to take him seriously at all.

Anyway, since I have been doing so much research this week, I posted a quick, “Look, here’s a biblical Genesis flood contradiction, and it’s one of the famous ones for illustrating the multiple source issue”. It was a rough synopsis, or more like shortcut for a much larger and in-depth claim.

Armstrong, in looking for some “win scenario” took on the simple claim of the flood lasting 40 days and nights vs 150 days and went with it, broadly writing a piece on how the rains lasted forty days but the flood took 150 days to recede, so there is no contradiction, and isn’t Pearce rubbish…

Sigh.

Part of what he said:

I truly do wonder (after examining and refuting hundreds of accusations of “contradiction!”) whether Bible skeptics like Pearce even read the texts they are so quick to accuse of internal inconsistency. This is one of the more ridiculous alleged “contradictions”: but — inexplicably — it’s an old chestnut from the hoary old volumes of doctrinaire anti-theist atheism: passed down to yet another generation of gullible and irrational fools.

Pearce creates the ersatz pseudo-“contradiction” by distorting language to his own ends: “in one part of Genesis the flood is 40 days and nights, and in another it is 150 days.” But of course “the flood” and “how many days” it rained are two different things. By trying to make both texts refer to “the flood” he seeks to create a contradiction…

A big sigh.

Because of Brandolini’s fucking Law.

The thing is, I have to respond because there will be lurkers here who might want to know how to respond to things like this.

The first point is context. Let’s not just look at the 40 days vs 150 days in isolation. But before I take a look at the larger Genesis flood story issues and context, let me just show you a neat bit of selective quoting Armstrong did:

Genesis 7:4 (RSV) For in seven days I will send rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights . . .

Genesis 7:11-12, 17 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. [12] And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights. . . . [17] The flood continued forty days upon the earth; and the waters increased, and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth.

Genesis 7:24 And the waters prevailed upon the earth a hundred and fifty days.

Genesis 8:3-4 and the waters receded from the earth continually. At the end of a hundred and fifty days the waters had abated; [4] and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest upon the mountains of Ar’arat.

Genesis 8:5 And the waters continued to abate until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains were seen.

Genesis 8:13-14 In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried from off the earth; and Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and behold, the face of the ground was dry. [14] In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry.

What he failed to quote was some in-between bits. But before we get onto that, literally look at his own quote:

Genesis 8:3-4 and the waters receded from the earth continually. At the end of a hundred and fifty days the waters had abated; [4] and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest upon the mountains of Ar’arat.

Genesis 8:5 And the waters continued to abate until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains were seen.

This makes no sense. The waters abated at the end of 150 days. Furthermore, on the 17th day of the 7th month, the ark came to rest on a mountain.

And then the next verse states that they continued to abate till the 10th month. Biblical months were lunar months, ort broadly the 12-month calendar. So, after what is some 290 days, the tops of the mountains were then seen!

Armstrong has quoted himself into a corner! This is precisely what the DH/SH solve.

[EDIT: Also, we have a verse that he did include, but didn’t dwell on. I use, always where possible, the NASB as a Bible translation as it is renowned as the most accurate. Here is Genesis 7:17:

17 Then the flood [l]came upon the earth for forty days, and the water increased and lifted up the ark, so that it rose above the earth.

The footnote for the “flood came” is that is can be translated as “it was”. So, here we have the flood was “upon the earth for forty days”. NOT, it rained for forty days, but “it was upon the earth for forty days” and “it lifted up the ark”. The waters lifted up the ark for forty days, not the rain from above.

We know this is a differentiation from the idea of it raining for forty days because Genesis 7:12, from which 17 is an idea continuation, states:

12 The rain [i]fell upon the earth for forty days and forty nights.

Let’s put them together:

12 The rain [i]fell upon the earth for forty days and forty nights.

17 Then the flood [l]came upon the earth for forty days, and the water increased and lifted up the ark, so that it rose above the earth.

At most, at best for Dave, we have a 40-day rain and then a 40-day flood (80 days in total). Or, just a 40-day flood, if you take the “then” statement to be subsequent not to the rain, but to the family getting on board:

 12 The rain [i]fell upon the earth for forty days and forty nights.

13 On this very same day Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them, entered the ark, 14 they and every animal according to its kind, and all the livestock according to [j]their kind, and every crawling thing that crawls on the earth according to its kind, and every bird according to its kind, [k]all sorts of birds. 15 So they went into the ark to Noah, by twos of all flesh in which there was the breath of life. 16 Those that entered, male and female of all flesh, entered as God had commanded him; and the Lord closed the door behind him.

17 Then the flood [l]came upon the earth for forty days, and the water increased and lifted up the ark, so that it rose above the earth.

Either way, this doesn’t allow for 150 days. But the flow, even here, is not particularly coherent and could well illustrate source splicing.

This line alone proves my point and disproves Armstrong’s.]

Now let’s see the in-between bit he forgot to quote:

Genesis 8:6:After forty days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground.

So, next, he opens the window after the fortieth day! How convenient Armstrong forgot this.

Jesus wept.

What did Armstrong say?

I truly do wonder (after examining and refuting hundreds of accusations of “contradiction!”) whether Bible skeptics like Pearce even read the texts they are so quick to accuse of internal inconsistency.

Oh yes. That.

Let’s look at the wider context (don’t read the NIV translation as they try to bodge this in utter dishonesty):

Genesis 7:2-3:You shall take [a]with you [b]seven pairs of every clean animal, a male and his female; and two of the animals that are not clean, a male and his female; also of the birds of the sky, [c]seven pairs, male and female, to keep their [d]offspring alive on the face of all the earth.

And:

Genesis 6:19: 19 And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female.

What a pointless repetition even if it didn’t contradict. This is known as redundancy and is a major reason why the DH/SH exists. There are doublets and triplets all over the Pentateuch that have no discernible raison d’etre (and even some things four times).

But it doesn’t stop there.

Look at this passage and tell me it makes sense on its own without needing a theory that proposes multiple sources woven into a single narrative:

Genesis 7:6-13: Now Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of water [e]came upon the earth. Then Noah and his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives with him entered the ark because of the waters of the flood. Of clean animals and animals that are not clean and birds and everything that crawls on the ground, they all went into the ark to Noah [f]by twos, male and female, as God had commanded Noah. 10 Now it came about after the seven days, that the waters of the flood [g]came upon the earth. 11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst open, and the [h]floodgates of the sky were opened. 1The rain [i]fell upon the earth for forty days and forty nights.

13 On this very same day Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them, entered the ark, 

Repetition, redundancy and contradiction.

I really wish Armstrong would read his Bible.

There’s more:

Genesis 7:4, 12: For after seven more days, I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights; and I will wipe out from the face of the land every living thing that I have made.”…

12 The rain [i]fell upon the earth for forty days and forty nights.

And:

Genesis 7:11:11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst open, and the [h]floodgates of the sky were opened.

Genesis 8:2-3:Also the fountains of the deep and the [a]floodgates of the sky were closed, and the rain from the sky was restrained; and the water receded steadily from the earth, and at the end of 150 days the water decreased.

Then this classic:

Then it came about at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made; 7 and he sent out a raven, and it [b]flew here and there until the water was dried up [c]from the earth. Then he sent out a [d]dove, to see if the water was low on the [e]surface of the land; but the dove found no resting place for the sole of its foot, so it returned to him in the ark, for the water was on the [f]surface of all the earth. Then he put out his hand and took it, and brought it into the ark to himself. 10 So he waited another seven days longer; and again he sent out the dove from the ark. 11 And the dove came to him in [g]the evening, and behold, in its [h]beak was a fresh olive leaf. So Noah knew that the water was low on the earth. 12 Then he waited another seven days longer, and sent out the dove; but it did not return to him again.

He appeared to do the raven thing, it worked, but then did the dove thing three times until it worked.

Go figure.

Now, it’s easy for Armstrong to blithely wave these things away, but has he done the linguistic analysis of these verses to also find two separate (stylistically/terminologically) coherent source narratives? Only heaps of scholars have. I could quote a gazillion scholars on this, but I’ll just settle for the excellent Joel Baden and Jeffrey Stackert from their opening chapter to the quite brilliant The Oxford Handbook to the Pentateuch (8:34 Epub):

The flood story, for example, can be divided neatly into its two constituent threads exclusively by following its storylines, without taking into consideration the different words used for the dry ground, for dying, or for destruction, or even the two designations for the deity (Schwartz 2007). That these words and designations do, in most instances, turn out to fall precisely into one or the other of the two threads is useful corroborative information; but if they did not do so, the literary analysis would not be changed. In some cases, late interpolations are identified at the end of this process through stylistic comparison.

I will also furnish you with an account of redundancies in the Torah (from Baruch J Schwartz’s chapter “The Documentary Hypothesis”, in the same book, [19.3-10]), and that’s not to mention his section on contradictions…:

A case of redundancy in the Torah is essentially an instance of unexplained and unwarranted repetition of what has already been said. In the narrative portions of the Torah, redundancy is present whenever each of two or more passages purports to provide the one and only account of an event that can logically have occurred only once. In the legal sections of the Torah, redundancy is a case in which two or more passages purport to provide the legal stipulation that is to be fulfilled in a given, uniquely defined situation.

This phenomenon is extremely widespread. The creation of the cosmos, of humans, and of animals is described twice (Gen 1:1–2:4a and 2:4b–25); the establishment of the covenant with Abraham is recounted twice (Gen 15:1–21 and 17:1–27); the changing of Jacob’s name to Israel is related twice (Gen 32:28–29 and 35:9–10); the divine name, Yahweh, is revealed to Moses twice (Exod 3:13–15 and 6:2–9), among many others. Redundancy is also rife within individual narratives. For example, in the course of the story of the flood (Gen 6:5–9:17), the narrator twice describes the evil that spurred Yahweh’s decision to bring about the flood (Gen 6:5–6 and 6:11–12); we read twice that Yahweh informed Noah of his decision (6:17 and 7:4); twice we learn that he conveyed his instructions to Noah (6:18–21 and 7:1–3), and more. In the course of the account of Moses’s commissioning (Exod 3:1–4:17), Yahweh twice mentions that he has seen the affliction of his people and has decided to act (3:7–8 and 3:9); Moses twice expresses his objections to having the task imposed upon him (3:11, 13 and 4:1, 10, 13); twice Yahweh responds to his reservations (3:12, 14–15 and 4:2–9, 11–12, 14–16), and so forth. In all these cases and innumerable others, the individual passages provide no recognition that the event itself has already transpired or that it might not be the only such event. Every such narrative, and every similarly duplicated subsection of a repetitive narrative text, presents itself as the one and only account of the event described, as does its counterpart.

Turning to the legal portions of the Torah: twice the Israelites are commanded with regard to permitted and forbidden foods (Lev 11 and Deut 14:3–21), the prohibition of usury (Lev 25:35–37 and Deut 23:20–21), the sustenance of the poor from the produce of one’s field and vineyard (Lev 19:9–10 and Deut 24:19–21), the sabbatical year (Exod 23:10–11 and Lev 25:1–7, 20–22), and more. Three times they are given the laws pertaining to the manumission of slaves (Exod 21:1–11, Lev 25:39–46 and Deut 15:12–18), talionic restitution (Exod 21:22–25, Lev 24:17–22, and Deut 19:21), murder, manslaughter and asylum (Exod 21:12–13, Num 35:9–34, and Deut 19:1–13), and more. They are commanded with regard to the annual festivals four times (Exod 23:14–19, Exod 34:18–26, Lev 23:1–44, Deut 16:1–17; an additional section in Num 28–29, dedicated to the unique sacrifices offered on each festival day, complements the law in Lev 23). Just as in the narrative portions of the Torah, each of these passages is always presented as the sole and complete account of the legislation that it claims to convey, never as an addendum, continuation, or even emphatic reiteration of one or more of its counterparts. They thus compete with one another for the status of the authoritative promulgation of the command in question (see Deut 4:2, 13:1). Furthermore, these competing passages appear in completely different places in the Torah—a fact that cannot be explained reasonably under the assumption that the Torah is a unified work.

Not every case of formal or substantive similarity should be mistaken for redundancy. A single storyteller may recount two similar episodes, if he maintains that they both occurred and there is no categorical impossibility for this to have been so. For example, even if Abram’s wife Sarai was abducted by Pharaoh (Gen 12:10–20), she may also have been abducted later by Abimelech (Gen 20:1–18), and Isaac’s wife Rebecca may have subsequently been abducted by Abimelech as well (26:6–11) since, despite the similarity, the three accounts do not purport to be reports of a single event. Only mutually exclusive competition between two accounts constitutes redundancy.

The most conspicuous and serious instance of redundancy is not limited to two or three competing passages but is woven through the entire Torah. This is the account of how Israel received its laws. The story of the proclamation of the Decalogue and the establishment of a covenant at Horeb (Exod 19:2b–9a, 16aα2–17, 19; 20—23; 24:3–8, 11bβ–15a; 32:1–8, 10–25, 30–35; 33:6–11; 34:1, 4, 28) relates that the laws were written down and that the covenant that Yahweh made with the Israelites was concluded “on the basis of these words” (Exod 24:8), i.e. the written text of the laws. With regard to these laws the people said: “All that Yahweh has spoken (i.e. Exod 20:19–23:33) we will faithfully do” (Exod 24:7), and the story concludes with no expectation of additional laws to be given at some future time. This account thus purports to be the sole report of the lawgiving. Nonetheless, the reader is also presented with a second story of a covenant made at the same time, in the course of which Moses ascended a mountain—Sinai, according to this account—to hear the attributes of Yahweh’s mercy (Exod 19:9b–16aα1, 18, 20–25; 24:1–2, 9–11bα; 32:9, 26–29; 33:1–5, 12–23; 34:2–3, 5–27). Here too, a corpus of laws is given to Moses (Exod 34:11–26), he is commanded to record them in writing, and it is they that are referred to in the statement: “In accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel” (Exod 34:27). This second account shows no signs of continuing, adding to, affirming, replacing, or denying the first; it too is presented as the one and only story of the conclusion of a covenant between Yahweh and Israel, in the course of which Yahweh conveyed his laws to Moses.

Interspersed between these two stories and extending over the long text that follows, a third account emerges, according to which Moses is told that the lawgiving will commence only after Yahweh’s portable dwelling, the tabernacle, has been constructed at the foot of Mount Sinai. Only then, by means of divine speech emanating from between the cherubim on the cover of the ark, will Yahweh communicate to Moses “all that I will command you concerning the Israelite people” (Exod 25:22). This plan too is then carried out exactly as promised (see Schwartz 1996a). Just as neither of the other two stories offers any intimation that the legislation it contains is only part of a larger body of laws and that more legislation will follow, this third story contains no indication that the legislation it contains (which extends throughout Leviticus and Numbers) is intended to supplement what preceded. All three accounts ignore each other’s existence entirely, and the author of one cannot be the author of either of the other two.

The same goes for the account of the lawgiving given in Moses’s second valedictory oration. Moses affirms (Deut 5:19–6:3) that the full body of Yahweh’s commandments was given to him at Horeb “on the day of the Assembly” (Deut 9:10; 10:4; 18:16), that is, on the same day that the Decalogue was proclaimed for the entire Israelite people to hear, but he goes on to relate that he did not convey this legislation to the people at the time but has rather kept it to himself until the present, four decades later (see Weinfeld 1991, 236–327; Nelson 2002, 73–85; Vogt 2006, 113–159). This thus constitutes a fourth independent and complete report of how and when Yahweh’s laws were conveyed to the Israelites.

Not only do we possess four independent accounts of the time, manner, and location of the lawgiving, each alleging to be the only such account, but each of the four also includes its own version of the laws themselves, each version purporting to be the laws and statutes commanded by Yahweh through the agency of Moses. The existence of four mutually ignorant legal corpora on the one hand, and of four mutually exclusive stories functioning as distinct narrative frameworks for them on the other, is incontrovertible evidence that the writings of several authors have been incorporated in the Torah.

This one’s for free, Dave. You all really need to read the whole of Tablet XI from the Epic of Gilgamesh, which predates the Bible. It is, fun fact, the oldest known written story to exist. Anywhere. The oldest parts exist in cuneiform to about 2100 BCE. Anyway, go read the whole bit, including the building of the ark. Fascinating. I’ve included the section where the ark comes to a rest and Noah Utnapishtim opens the window to release a raven and then a dove in a coherent fashion. Sound familiar?

Six days and seven nights
came the wind and flood, the storm flattening the land.
When the seventh day arrived, the storm was pounding,
the flood was a war–struggling with itself like a woman
writhing (in labor).
The sea calmed, fell still, the whirlwind (and) flood stopped up.
I looked around all day long–quiet had set in
and all the human beings had turned to clay!
The terrain was as flat as a roof.
I opened a vent and fresh air (daylight!) fell upon the side of
my nose.
I fell to my knees and sat weeping,
tears streaming down the side of my nose.
I looked around for coastlines in the expanse of the sea,
and at twelve leagues there emerged a region (of land).
On Mt. Nimush the boat lodged firm,
Mt. Nimush held the boat, allowing no sway.
One day and a second Mt. Nimush held the boat, allowing no sway.
A third day, a fourth, Mt. Nimush held the boat, allowing no sway.
A fifth day, a sixth, Mt. Nimush held the boat, allowing no sway.
When a seventh day arrived
I sent forth a dove and released it.
The dove went off, but came back to me;
no perch was visible so it circled back to me.
I sent forth a swallow and released it.
The swallow went off, but came back to me;
no perch was visible so it circled back to me.
I sent forth a raven and released it.
The raven went off, and saw the waters slither back.
It eats, it scratches, it bobs, but does not circle back to me.
Then I sent out everything in all directions and sacrificed (a sheep).
I offered incense in front of the mountain-ziggurat.
Seven and seven cult vessels I put in place,
and (into the fire) underneath (or: into their bowls) I poured
reeds, cedar, and myrtle.
The gods smelled the savor,
the gods smelled the sweet savor,
and collected like flies over a (sheep) sacrifice.

Oh, and one more thing, ma’am: how old was Noah again?

Really?

No, but really?

Myth. Pure, pure myth.


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