Twice-Told Tales in a Time of Scarce
and Expensive Scroll Materials
Turkel Grabs Another Straw
by Farrell Till
Re-posted here by permission from Farrell Till.
Thank you Mr. Till!
For years, apologists like John Haley, William Arndt, R. A. Torrey, Gleason Archer, and Norman Geisler specialized in far-fetched, how-it-could-have-been interpretations to “explain” biblical discrepancies, but their methods seem to have lost favor with some modern would-be apologists, who have undoubtedly recognized that those methods have not been very convincing and have in some cases actually worked the opposite effect of that which was intended. I know one person, for example, who bought Archer’s Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties with the intention of studying it so that he could become a competent defender of biblical inerrancy, but as he read it, he found the “explanations” to be so ridiculous that he wound up becoming an agnostic and then eventually an atheist, so instead of solidifying the faith of this reader, Archer‘s brand of apologetics resulted in a complete deconversion.
I can remember when would-be apologists would say things like, “You need to read Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict,” but we are now hearing this less and less. I can only surmise that this is because the gullible, to some degree at least, are becoming less gullible, and so even they can see the inadequacies of the old school of apologetics. Some former inerrantists have even come to admit that the Bible does contain errors, but they contend that these were not God’s fault. They were put there by the fallibility of his inspired writers, but the Bible is still in some higher sense the “inspired word of God.” Trying to get the advocates of this theory to explain why God would have even bothered to “inspire” biblical writers if the influence of his “inspiration” was not efficacious enough to protect them from error invariably becomes an exercise in futility, because there is no reasonable explanation to give. Likewise, getting them to explain how one can distinguish truth from error in an errant Bible is a lost cause, because the best that one can hope for from them is abstract mumbo jumbo that speaks of studying the Bible in toto and then making decisions accordingly, with prayerful consideration, of course, as if one’s deity could guide him through prayer to recognize truth from error but the direct “inspiration” of this same deity was unable to protect biblical writers from putting the errors into their books. It seems that “God” unnecessarily complicated things. Instead of eliminating error through the first process of inspiration, he allowed his chosen writers to make errors sometimes, and this necessitated “God’s” having to be on continual call to help those who pray for guidance in understanding the Bible to recognize truth from error. I discussed this view of biblical errancy in “It Doesn’t Matter?”, where an attempt to defend this position can be read in Mark McFall’s letter to the discussion section. I think that those who read McFall’s letter will see that he again failed to give any sensible defense of his position.
Within recent years, we have also seen a “new apologetics” that argues such absurdities as a biblical inconsistency or contradiction is not a discrepancy if the people of that time thought that such statements were true. Robert “No Links” Turkel, who parades under the pseudonym James Patrick Holding has become an advocate of this position. As I pointed out in “It Doesn’t Matter?” (linked above), he will often speak of “idioms,” “subtle nuances,” and “metaphorical” meanings in the original biblical texts (as if he were linguistically qualified to speak with any authority on the dead languages in which the Bible was written), which made the Bible at times not mean what it clearly says. My article just mentioned discussed in detail Turkel’s it-doesn’t-matter theory (meaning that biblical contradictions and inconsistencies don’t matter), which he has appropriated from Abraham Rihbany’s ma besay-il, i. e., it doesn’t matter, position that he expounded in The Syrian Christ. Rihbany’s idea seemed to be that if one biblical writer said that an event happened when Jesus was entering a city but another one said that it happened as he was leaving the city, this would not have been an inconsistency to the people of that culture, because they were more interested in knowing about the event that Jesus was involved in than they were in details about exactly where it happened. According to Rihbany’s rationalization, if a history book said that Custer’s battle at the Little Bighorn was fought in the territory of Nebraska, this would not be an error to people who were more concerned about what happened during this battle rather than where it happened. Such a position, of course, is absurd, because the interests of readers cannot make errors in a written document not be errors.
I need not comment anymore on this theory of biblical apologetics, because I rebutted it in detail in my article “It Doesn’t Matter?” (linked above). Those who read it will see that this theory is completely contrary to what the Bible teaches about the process by which prophets and apostles were inspired to report “all truth” and that it stands in direct opposition to cases in biblical times that show that the people of that era cared very much about inconsistencies and contradictions in their sacred writings. I will focus instead on another harebrained “apologetic” excuse that Turkel has dreamed up to “explain” biblical discrepancies. One of his latest is to argue that some biblical discrepancies resulted from incomplete details in biblical accounts but that this was only to be expected in documents that were written in times when paper was scarce. Well, there is certainly no doubt that “paper” was scarce in biblical times. It was, in fact, nonexistent, but I will assume that Turkel knew this and really meant “metaphorically” for paper to refer to whatever materials were available at the time to make scrolls. If that wasn’t what he meant, he can clarify his position for us. At any rate, Turkel seems to be arguing that a deity who could part the waters of a sea in order to let his “chosen ones” cross on dry land to escape an advancing army and who could send down “manna” from heaven to provide them with food in their desert wanderings and such like somehow could not provide his “inspired” writers with enough parchments and/or papyri to enable them to explain themselves fully, and so confusion resulted to a degree that has led some to think that there are discrepancies in the Bible when really the “discrepancies” wouldn’t be there if the “inspired ones” had only had access to sufficient “paper” to give more details.
As the syndicated humorist Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up. I have seen Turkel resort to this quibble several times. An actual example of it can be found in Turkel’s attempt to explain the New Testament inconsistency concerning who carried Jesus’s cross to Golgotha. The synoptic accounts (Matt. 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26) say that Simon of Cyrene was “compelled” to carry the cross, but John 19:17 says that Jesus carried the cross for “himself.” At one point in Turkel’s explanation, he resorted to the usual apologetic “solution” to this problem: Jesus started out carrying the cross, but along the way, he became physically unable to continue carrying it, and so Simon of Cyrene was impressed to carry it the rest of the way.
There is ample evidence to support this explanation. Matthew says that Simon was met “as they were going out” (Matt. 27:32). Mark says Simon was just “passin’ by,” and they forced him to carry the cross (Mark 15:21). Luke says Simon was drafted “as they led (Jesus) away.” (Luke 23:26) [sic] Finally, it is well-established that it was the custom of the Romans to have the prisoner carry his own cross, and that they would have no compunction about forcing bystanders to do whatever they pleased.
The obvious implication is that Simon was drafted at some point after the procession to Golgotha began, probably from among the massive crowd of Passover pilgrims, and the scenario above about John gives us a reasonable explanation for him not mentioning Simon: If John stayed behind to plead with the high priest, the last thing we [sic] would have seen was Jesus leaving the area, carrying the cross. (It is McDowell’s title, however, that is misleading in this regard; the cited OT type applicable to Jesus refers to one who is weak, and becomes a reproach to others. This probably is better applied to Jesus’ general condition throughout the trip to Golgotha, and during the Crucifixion, rather than a specific episode of falling under the cross.)
I am not going to spend a lot of time discussing this traditional “explanation” of the discrepancy, because my purpose is to show the absurdity of Turkel’s “paper-shortage” approach to “solving” biblical discrepancies. However, I think a few comments are in order. Turkel said that “(t)he obvious implication is that Simon was drafted at some point after the procession to Golgotha began” (emphasis added), but Luke clearly said that Simon was drafted as the procession was beginning.
Luke 23:26 As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus.
This certainly doesn’t sound as if Jesus carried the cross “halfway” (which, as we will see below, Turkel claimed) and then collapsed so that it was necessary to draft someone else to carry the cross. If Jesus collapsed, then, according to Luke, he would have done so “as [the soldiers] led him away.” How correct would it be to say that Jesus “bore the cross for himself to Golgatha” if in reality he had collapsed “as they were leading him away,” so that Simon of Cyrene was actually the one who carried the cross to Golgotha?
Young’s Literal Translation of this verse is, to say the least, very interesting.
And as they led him away, having taken hold on Simon, a certain Cyrenian, coming from the field, they put on him the cross, to bear it behind Jesus.
Young was a stickler for literalism in his translation, so his use of the perfect participle “having taken hold” indicates his understanding that this text was saying that as they were leading Jesus away, the Romans had already impressed Simon into service. Both Hendrickson’s literal and marginal translations also use the same perfect participle to indicate when Simon was impressed into service. This is a problem in the traditional “solution” that could hardly be explained by Turkel’s “paper-shortage” theory, because no significant difference in the space that would be used would be affected to any appreciable degree by a writer’s choice of verb tenses.
One thing about Turkel‘s apologetics is that he can never be accused of consistency. Whatever “explanation” comes to mind when he is “refuting” humanist or skeptical examples of discrepancy in the Bible is the one that he will use regardless of what he may have said elsewhere on the same subject. Of course, inconsistency shouldn’t be surprising in the writing of an amateur apologist who thinks that inconsistencies in the Bible aren’t discrepancies, and inconsistency is what we find in Turkel’s “apologetics.” Before the quotation above, he had argued earlier in the same article that John stayed behind to plead with the high priest, an assumption that he made from John 18:15, which said only that another disciple “was known to the high priest.” Turkel assumes that this other disciple was “John.”
John just says Jesus carried His cross, but doesn’t say that no one else helped. John may not have known of Simon’s assistance; since he was known to the high priest (John 18:15)[,] he may have tried to use his acquaintance with the high priest to get Jesus released, and thus missed the trip to Golgotha….
If John stayed behind to plead with the high priest, the last thing we [sic] would have seen was Jesus leaving the area, carrying the cross.
Hence, Turkel was arguing that John didn’t mention that Simon carried the cross part of the way, because he was pleading with the high priest, and so the last thing that he saw was Jesus leaving the area carrying the cross. Hence, Turkel speculates that John just didn’t know that Simon had been impressed somewhere along the way to carry the cross. That anyone would resort to such an “explanation” as this merely underscores the ridiculous extremes that would-be “apologists” are willing to go in order to deny that discrepancies are in the Bible. Just look at the problems in this John-didn’t-know “explanation.”
1. That the “other disciple,” who may or may not have been John, stayed behind to “plead with the high priest” is a crass assumption, because John 18:15 says only that this “other disciple” was “known to the high priest.” The text nowhere says that this “other disciple” stayed behind to plead with the high priest after Jesus was taken away.
2. After he had been questioned by the high priest and his council, Jesus was led away to the Praetorium to appear before Pilate, at which time Pilate came out to meet them and told them to take Jesus and judge him themselves (John 18:28-31). At this time, it was still “early” in the day (John 18:28).
3. The Jews rejected Pilate’s suggestion on the grounds that it was not lawful for them to put a man to death (v:31).
4. Pilate then went back into the Praetorium and called Jesus before him for interrogation (vs:33-38).
5. After this interrogation, Pilate went out again to tell the Jews that he could find no fault in Jesus and to ask them what prisoner should be released to them in commemoration of the Passover (vs:38-40).
6. When the Jews screamed for Barabbas to be released to them, Pilate ordered Jesus to be scourged, after which the soldiers made a crown of thorns, put it on Jesus’s head, dressed him in a purple garment, and then mocked him and struck him with their hands (John 19:1-3).
7. Pilate then went before the Jews again and repeated that he could find no fault with Jesus, and brought him out to let the Jews witness his humiliation (v:5).
Are we to assume that through all of this, which would have required a considerable passage of time, John was still back at the home of the high priest pleading on behalf of Jesus? That requires more credulity than any reasonable person could muster, besides the fact that the biblical text lends no support to it, for if “John” was at the home of the high priest and could therefore report only what he had witnessed, how was he able to report the events numbered 1 through 7 above? And what about what was said in the verse below?
John 19:5 So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” 6 When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.”
Turkel’s quibble would require us to believe that the chief priests were present at this time, which was before Jesus was led away to be crucified, but that the high priest was not with them because he was back at his home listening to John plead on Jesus’s behalf.
After the chief priests had yelled for Jesus to be crucified, Pilate took Jesus back into the Praetorium for further interrogation, after which he brought Jesus out to the judgment seat and tried again to reason with the Jews, but the chief priests (absent the high priest?) cried out again to demand Jesus’s crucifixion (v:15), at which time Pilate delivered Jesus to be crucified. At this time, it was the “sixth hour” (v:14), so Turkel apparently expects reasonable people to believe that John had stayed behind “early” in the morning (18:25) to plead on Jesus’s behalf before the high priest and that the high priest had sat to listen to John’s pleading through at least the sixth hour of the day. Only someone with a very gullible mind could accept such an unlikely scenario, but there are many who read Turkel‘s absurd speculations and swallow them hook, line, and sinker. That is a sad commentary on the critical skills of Turkel‘s choir members. Anyone with that kind of mindset is going to believe what he wants to believe no matter how much evidence may clearly indicate that his belief is wrong.
Aside from this, there is the monkey wrench that divine “inspiration” throws into Turkel’s apparent belief that a person who was inspired of God to write a book was not able to include information that he had not experienced in person. How does Turkel explain the many passages of scripture in which writers reported things that they had not witnessed personally? Was the apostle John present on the scene, for example, when the Jews sent representatives to John the Baptist to ask him if he was the Christ (John 1:19-23)? At that time, Jesus had not yet selected his apostles, so if the apostle John was not present to witness this exchange between John the Baptist and the Jewish emissaries, how did he know what they asked and what John the Baptist had said in reply? Furthermore, if the apostle John was back at the home of the high priest pleading on Jesus’s behalf and therefore could not report what he didn‘t personally see, how did he know what had happened between 18:28 and the time that Turkel surmises that John finally made it to the crucifixion scene, apparently somewhere midway in chapter 19? All of the events listed above (Pilate’s interrogation of Jesus, the scourging, the mocking, etc.) happened during that interval, when Turkel speculates that the apostle John wasn’t present, so how did John know that they had happened? There are more holes in this silly quibble than one could ever find in a sieve.
At any rate, Turkel’s position in the article cited and quoted above was that John didn’t tell about the role of Simon of Cyrene in carrying the cross because he didn’t know anything about it, yet in another article that attempted to resolve this problem, Turkel took a different approach, which will bring us to his “paper-shortage” apologetics. Joseph Sommer, the skeptic whom Turkel was ‘answering,’ identified the problem.
Describing Jesus being led to his execution, John 19:17 maintains that Jesus carried his own cross. In contradistinction, Mark 15:21-23 claims that a man called Simon carried Jesus’ cross to the crucifixion site.
Did Turkel reply this time by arguing that John didn’t mention Simon of Cyrene because he didn’t know anything about Simon’s participation in the journey to Golgotha because he was at the home of the high priest pleading on Jesus‘s behalf? He did not. He took the traditional position that Jesus had carried the cross “halfway,” at which time Simon was pressed into service, and John omitted the details about Simon because “paper was expensive.”
Duh oh! If Simon picked it up halfway, then obviously Jesus did carry his own cross part of the way. Hello? Joe is demanding complete detail-reportage from people who lived in an era when paper was expensive and there was neither room nor call for including a detail unless you had a point to make. John had that point: his picture is of Jesus as the Son of God dependent on no man. He omits the Simon episode purposely.
Duh, oh! Hello? If John’s “point” was that Jesus was “dependent on no man,” then John must have intentionally tried to present a false point, because the synoptic accounts clearly state that Simon of Cyrene carried Jesus’s cross to Golgotha. What the synoptics said about this must be true; otherwise, the synoptic writers reported something that didn’t happen, and I don‘t think that even Turkel would want to admit that. If Simon did carry the cross (only partway, of course) because Jesus could carry it no farther, then, contrary to the “picture” that Turkel says “John” was presenting, Jesus was dependent on others. Why, then, did “John” (so Turkel says) “purposely” leave out a detail that would have shown that Jesus was dependent on others? Did “John” intentionally present a false “picture” of Jesus? Maybe Turkel can tell us.
Anyway, Turkel was arguing here that John purposely omitted the part about Simon because “paper” was just too expensive to include this detail, whereas he had argued in another article (quoted above) that John didn’t mention Simon’s part in the journey to Golgotha because he didn’t know anything about it (even though he was divinely “inspired” to write his account of the life of Jesus). Although Turkel will often say one thing in an article and then something completely contradictory in another, he seems to be committed to defending some biblical inconsistencies on the grounds that a scarcity of “paper” in biblical times required writers to omit details that to modern readers leave the impression of inconsistency. In “Crimes by Omission?” he argued that there were not just “compositional constraints” on what details a gospel writer could select from the life of Jesus but also economic considerations that restrained them from telling “the rest of the story.”
First of all, you are limited to using only about 20 sheets of paper. What, you say? No more than that? Sorry. Office Depot won’t be open for another 1900 years, and neither will WalMart [sic], or Eckerd’s, or any other place you are thinking of buying paper. You’re not going to be writing on paper. You’ll be writing on a scroll, and scrolls are both expensive and go no larger than a certain size. As Gamble reports in Books and Readers in the Early Church [44-50, 266]….
Something that has always puzzled me about Turkel is that he seems completely unable to recognize when he contradicts himself even from one paragraph to the next. He said above that those “expensive” scrolls were “no larger than a certain size,” but in citing what Gamble said about the length of ancient scrolls, Turkel said this in his very next paragraphs (emphasis added).
Scrolls could be fashioned to any length desired, but practically speaking, the mean length was seven to ten meters. “A roll of ten to eleven meters was too cumbersome for the reader to handle… authors of long new works made their own divisions by taking the customary length of rolls into account.”
A roll of papyrus of typical quality “cost the equivalent of one or two days’ wages, and it could run as high as what the labourer would earn in five or six days…”
So Gamble recognized something that is common knowledge among those who have done any reading at all on the subject of ancient manuscripts: scrolls could be made any length necessary by simply stitching or gluing together pieces of parchment or papyus. The Samaritan Pentateuch, which contained all five of the “books of Moses,” was 60 feet in length (William E. Barton, The Samaritan Messiah: Further Comment of the Samaritan High Priest, Chicago, Open Court Publishing Company, 1907, p. 534). The Isaiah scroll, discovered at Qumran, is 24 feet in length and is made of 17 leather sheets sewn together with linen thread, so if the “compositional constraints,” which Turkel talks about with routine regularity now, kept gospel writers from giving complete details in their narrations of events in the life of Jesus, one wonders how the scribes who copied the much longer book of Isaiah on a scroll were able to pull off that feat, and I have to wonder if Turkel is aware that the book of Isaiah is much longer than the gospel of John. If “Isaiah” could have found enough scroll space to write his book, one chapter of which (37) repeated verbatim what was recorded in 2 Kings 19, why wasn’t “John” able to find scroll materials that would have enabled him to give all of the details necessary to make his gospel consistent with the others?
Another website, which discussed archaeological discoveries that dispute the claims of skeptics who argue that writing did not exist in the time of Moses, contains a section that discussed the types of writing materials that were available in biblical times. It pointed out the following about materials used to make scrolls (emphasis added).
d. leather . The Jewish Talmud specifically required that the Scriptures should be copied on the skins of animals, on leather. It is most certain, that the Old Testament was written on leather. Rolls or Scrolls were made by sewing skins together that were from 3 to 100 feet or more in length.
e. Papyrus . It is almost certain that the New Testament was written on papyrus because it was the most important writing material at that time. Papyrus is made by shaving thin sections of the papyrus reed into strips, soaking them in several baths of water, and then overlapping them to form sheets. One layer of the strips was laid cross ways to the first. Then these were put in a press that they might adhere to each other. The sheets were made 6-15 inches high and 3-9 inches wide, pasted together, forming rolls that were usually 30 feet long, though one was found to be 144 feet in length. Our English word “paper” comes from the Greek word for papyrus.
One would think that a 30-foot papyrus scroll would have been long enough for “John” or “Matthew” or any of the gospel writers to give sufficient details in their narrations to have provided readers with enough clarity to prevent the disputes that have arisen over inconsistencies in parallel accounts, such as the one about who carried the cross of Jesus to Golgotha, but the information available on the subject of scrolls clearly tells us that if a scroll of typical length (30 feet) wasn’t long enough to do the job, it could have been made longer by just pasting on more sections of papyrus, but Turkel ignores this fact about papyrus scrolls and grabs a straw to try to justify inconsistencies in the biblical text.
Now maybe if you are wealthy, or know someone who is, you can get another scroll and do a “Life of Jesus, Part 2”, [sic] perhaps a shorter half. But if you do, bear in mind that generations beyond you (and how can you anticipate WalMart [sic], or the printing press?), in order to preserve your work, will have to also buy [sic] two scrolls. If you want your work to get out to people, that’s not a very smart move. Your work is going to cost more to keep around than a work with one scroll. So you’d better plan carefully what you want to put on those scrolls. By the way, writing is cumbersome and difficult with comfortable chairs and writings [sic] desks not in the picture — unless, again, you are very wealthy. So better keep it simple.
Turkel seemed to think that decisions about what to put onto the scrolls and how long to make them were left entirely to the writers. Whatever happened to “inspiration,” and what was the purpose of whatever brand of “inspiration” that Turkel believes in if it wasn’t intended to guide the writers into reporting truth and not error? Maybe Turkel can also explain why the “Holy Spirit”–who was presumably guiding “John” and the other chosen ones into “all truth” (John 16:13)–could not have “anticipated” Wal-Mart or the printing press? Is Turkel implying that the Holy one was unable to know what the future held, or is this just more of his say-anything-and-the-gullible-will-accept-it approach to “apologetics.” Pardon me for thinking the latter.
As for the difficulty of writing on scrolls when “comfortable chairs and writings [sic] desks were not in the picture,” writing on scrolls wouldn’t have been so difficult for someone sitting at a table, would it? Tables were in the picture in those days, weren’t they? If not, how could the Bible, which referred to tables several times, have mentioned something that was nonexistent? Well, I will have to take that question back, because it implies a bad argument. The Bible mentioned several nonexistent things, such as, gods, angels, cherubim, demons, heaven, hell, etc., so reporting the nonexistent is not at all unusual for the Bible. At any rate, Turkel very fancifully speculates that “John” and other biblical writers were forced to be confusingly brief at times because they just couldn’t afford enough parchments or papyri to give enough details to prevent ambiguity and “apparent” inconsistencies. This quibble leaves much to be asked about why an omniscient, omnipotent deity, who often intervened, as mentioned above, to perform all kinds of miracles on behalf of his chosen ones, somehow seemed powerless to scrounge up enough scroll materials to enable his “inspired” ones to write clear and coherent accounts of whatever they were recording, and the quibble is certainly inconsistent with the realities of needless repetitions and parallel reporting in the Bible, which wasted far more scarce and precious scroll space than what it would have taken “John” to report that Jesus carried his cross partway after which Simon of Cyrene took over. If writing materials were so scarce and “expensive” in biblical times that brevity was necessitated, how does Turkel explain the following unnecessary usage of scroll materials?
Verbatim repetition of long passages: The 38 verses in Isaiah 37 are the same as the 37 verses in 2 Kings 19. They differ in the number of verses only because verses 15 and 16 in Isaiah 37 were combined into just one verse in 2 Kings 19. Now if scroll materials were so scarce and “expensive,” why didn’t Yahweh tell either “Isaiah” or the author(s) of 2 Kings that one of them would not have to use precious scroll space to record this passage because another “inspired” writer had already recorded it? Does Turkel ever wonder about things like this? Did he even know that these identical biblical passages exist?
This is not the only example of verbatim repetition in the Bible. Psalm 18:2-50 and 2 Samuel 22:2-51 are also the same, as are Jeremiah 52 and 2 Kings 24:18-20 through 2 Kings 25 (with just very minor variations). Why would writers inspired by an omniscient, omnipotent deity have wasted scarce, precious scroll materials to repeat verbatim up to 48 verses of what other inspired authors had written? If such repetition as this was so often “inspired,” it does seem that the omni-max one could have inspired “John” to waste just a little bit of space to write 19:17 in a way that would have been in agreement with the synoptic accounts of the same event. Just look how easy that would have been.
Then Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus, who carried the cross by himself until he could no longer bear it, and then they compelled Simon of Cyrene to carry it on to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha.
There are only 53 words in this rewritten version, compared to the 38 in “John’s” account.
Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha.
There is only one more line in the rewritten version, which, if Turkel’s traditional interpretation of John 19:17 is right, would have removed all doubt about what had happened. Does he seriously expect reasonable people to believe that “John” just wasn’t able to be this explicit because of “compositional constraints” caused by the scarcity and cost of scroll materials in those days? If Turkel’s speculation is true, then that doesn’t say very much about the importance that his god puts on human souls. The “inspired word” claims that “God” wants all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:3), but according to Turkel, “God” didn’t want this if it was going to necessitate the use of space on costly and scarce scroll materials.
Don’t any of Turkel’s choir members ever take the time to analyze critically his harebrained “explanations” of biblical discrepancies?
Before and after repetition: There is even an example of a story being told twice in different books, so that one who accepts the biblical inerrancy doctrine must believe that the incident happened both before Joshua died and then after he was dead. This story was told first in the middle of a chapter where Joshua was dividing the conquered lands among the tribes of Israel.
Joshua 15:15 15 Then he [Caleb] went up from there to the inhabitants of Debir (formerly the name of Debir was Kirjath Sepher). 16And Caleb said, “He who attacks Kirjath Sepher and takes it, to him I will give Achsah my daughter as wife.” 17 So Othniel the son of Kenaz, the brother of Caleb, took it; and he gave him Achsah his daughter as wife. 18 Now it was so, when she came to him, that she persuaded him to ask her father for a field. So she dismounted from her donkey, and Caleb said to her, “What do you wish?” 19 She answered, “Give me a blessing; since you have given me land in the South, give me also springs of water.” So he gave her the upper springs and the lower springs.
At this time, Joshua was still alive, because he was the one in charge of the distribution of the conquered lands. The death of Joshua was recorded at the very end of this book (Josh. 24:29-33), and the next book (Judges) began with a reminder that Joshua was dead.
Judges 1:1 Now after the death of Joshua it came to pass that the children of Israel asked Yahweh, saying, “Who shall be first to go up for us against the Canaanites to fight against them?” 2 And Yahweh said, “Judah shall go up. Indeed I have delivered the land into his hand.”
So at the time of Othniel‘s conquest of Debir [Kirjath Sepher], Joshua was still alive, but presumably the incident also happened after he was dead.
Judges 1:11 From there they went against the inhabitants of Debir. (The name of Debir was formerly Kirjath Sepher.) 12 Then Caleb said, “Whoever attacks Kirjath Sepher and takes it, to him I will give my daughter Achsah as wife.” 13 And Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, took it; so he gave him his daughter Achsah as wife. 14 Now it happened, when she came to him, that she urged him to ask her father for a field. And she dismounted from her donkey, and Caleb said to her, “What do you wish?” 15 So she said to him, “Give me a blessing; since you have given me land in the South, give me also springs of water.” And Caleb gave her the upper springs and the lower springs.
I don’t know what track Turkel may take to try to explain how Joshua could have been both alive and dead when this incident happened, but some biblicists will argue that because the book of Judges opened with a notice that Joshua was dead wouldn’t necessarily mean that everything recorded in this book happened after Joshua’s death. I won’t dwell long on this quibble, because the needless repetition of the tale is the point most pertinent to the thesis of this article, but a few comments would be in order. If one will go back and read Judges 1:1, he will see that it says that “after the death of Joshua,” the Israelites asked Yahweh (as they routinely did in those days) who should go up first against the Canaanites, and Yahweh’s answer was that Judah should go up. The verses that follow then recorded exploits of the tribe of Judah in its conquest after Yahweh had told Judah to go up, and verses 11 through 15, which told the tale of Caleb’s gift of “the upper and lower springs” to his daughter, is right in the middle of the writer’s account of the cities and lands that the Judahites conquered, so clearly the author of Judges was saying that the incident involving Caleb’s daughter had happened at that time. However, if one will check Joshua 15, he will see that this entire chapter is concerned with land that Joshua distributed to the tribes of Israel, and “the lot of the tribe of the children of Judah according to their families,” was reported in the first 20 verses of Joshua‘s land distribution. The insertion of the story of Caleb’s gift to his daughter in this section surely meant that the author of Joshua understood that the incident had happened while Joshua was still alive. Hence, biblical inerrantists are left with the problem of explaining how the same incident could have happened while Joshua was both alive and dead.
Never underestimate the imagination of determined biblicists. They will always find some way to “explain” a problem like this, but for the sake of argument, let’s just suppose that there is some way to explain it. Turkel, the “paper-shortage” apologist, would still be left with the problem of explaining why, in a time when the scarcity and expense of scroll materials necessitated “compositional constraints,” Yahweh would have “inspired” his chosen writers to waste space telling a rather insignificant tale like this twice. The American author Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a collection of short stories entitled Twice-Told Tales. Maybe Yahweh inspired him to write it.
Speaking of “twice-told tales,” I could fill several pages with examples of the same tales that were told twice in the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles. To illustrate Yahweh’s “inspired” repetitions in a time when scroll materials were scarce and expensive, I will quote just a few examples. The two accounts of Rehoboam’s refusal to lighten the tax burden that had been imposed by Solomon are practically identical.
1 Kings 12:1 And Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had gone to Shechem to make him king. 2 So it happened, when Jeroboam the son of Nebat heard it (he was still in Egypt, for he had fled from the presence of King Solomon and had been dwelling in Egypt), 3 that they sent and called him. Then Jeroboam and the whole assembly of Israel came and spoke to Rehoboam, saying, 4 “Your father made our yoke heavy; now therefore, lighten the burdensome service of your father, and his heavy yoke which he put on us, and we will serve you. 5 So he said to them, “Depart for three days, then come back to me.” And the people departed. 6 Then King Rehoboam consulted the elders who stood before his father Solomon while he still lived, and he said, “How do you advise me to answer these people?” 7 And they spoke to him, saying, “If you will be a servant to these people today, and serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever.” 8 But he rejected the advice which the elders had given him, and consulted the young men who had grown up with him, who stood before him. 9 And he said to them, “What advice do you give? How should we answer this people who have spoken to me, saying, ‘Lighten the yoke which your father put on us’?” 10 Then the young men who had grown up with him spoke to him, saying, “Thus you should speak to this people who have spoken to you, saying, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but you make it lighter on us’—thus you shall say to them: ‘My little finger shall be thicker than my father’s waist! 11 And now, whereas my father put a heavy yoke on you, I will add to your yoke; my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scourges!'”
12 So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam the third day, as the king had directed, saying, “Come back to me the third day.” 13 Then the king answered the people roughly, and rejected the advice which the elders had given him; 14 and he spoke to them according to the advice of the young men, saying, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke; my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scourges!” 15 So the king did not listen to the people; for the turn of events was from Yahweh, that He might fulfill His word, which Yahweh had spoken by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat.
16 Now when all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king, saying:”What share have we in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel! Now, see to your own house, O David!” So Israel departed to their tents. 17 But Rehoboam reigned over the children of Israel w ho dwelt in the cities of Judah.
18 Then King Rehoboam sent Adoram, who was in charge of the revenue; but all Israel stoned him with stones, and he died. Therefore King Rehoboam mounted his chariot in haste to flee to Jerusalem. 19 So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day.
2 Chronicles 10:1 And Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had gone to Shechem to make him king. 2 So it happened, when Jeroboam the son of Nebat heard it (he was in Egypt, where he had fled from the presence of King Solomon), that Jeroboam returned from Egypt. 3 Then they sent for him and c alled him. And Jeroboam and all Israel came and spoke to Rehoboam, saying, 4 “Your father made our yoke heavy; now therefore, lighten the burdensome service of your father and his heavy yoke which he put on us, and we will serve you.” 5 So he said to them, “Come back to me after three days.” And the people departed. 6 Then King Rehoboam consulted the elders who stood before his father Solomon while he still lived, saying, “How do you advise me to answer these people?” 7 And they spoke to him, saying, “If you are kind to these people, and please them, and speak good words to them, they will be your servants forever.” 8 But he rejected the advice which the elders had given him, and consulted the young men who had grown up with him, who stood before him. 9 And he said to them, “What advice do you give? How should we answer this people who have spoken to me, saying, ‘Lighten the yoke which your father put on us’?” 10 Then the young men who had grown up with him spoke to him, saying, “Thus you should speak to the people who have spoken to you, saying, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but you make it lighter on us’—thus you shall say to them: ‘My little finger shall be thicker than my father’s waist! 11 And now, whereas my father put a heavy yoke on you, I will add to your yoke; my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scourges!’”
12 So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam on the third day, as the king had directed, saying, “Come back to me the third day.” 13 Then the king answered them roughly. King Rehoboam rejected the advice of the elders, 14 and he spoke to them according to the advice of the young men, saying, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to it; my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scourges!” 15 So the king did not listen to the people; for the turn of events was from God, that the LORD might fulfill His word, which He had spoken by the hand of Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat.
16 Now when all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king, saying: “What share have we in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. Every man to your tents, O Israel! Now see to your own house, O David!” So all Israel departed to their tents. 17But Rehoboam reigned over the children of Israel who dwelt in the cities of Judah.
18 Then King Rehoboam sent Hadoram, who was in charge of revenue; but the children of Israel stoned him with stones, and he died. Therefore King Rehoboam mounted his chariot in haste to flee to Jerusalem. 19 So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day.
The variations in these two accounts are so minimal that careful scrutiny is required to spot them. The account in 1 Kings 11, for example, says that when Rehoboam went to Shechem to be crowned Solomon’s successor, “they [opponents of Rehoboam] sent [to Egypt] and called him [Jeroboam],” whereas the other account says that “Jeroboam returned from Egypt.” Except for a couple of minor variations like this, the two accounts are identical, and they were “inspired” by Yahweh in a time when scroll materials were scarce and expensive. Yahweh could apparently “inspire” his chosen writers to tell a story like this twice, but for some reason, he couldn’t guide “John” to use just an extra inch or so of writing space to tell his readers that Jesus carried the cross until he collapsed and then Simon of Cyrene carried it on to Golgotha. This is the kind of silliness that inerrantists must resort to in order to “explain” obvious discrepancies in the Bible, because such a quibble doesn‘t explain why “Matthew, Mark,” and “Luke” could provide this detail in a time of scarce and expensive scroll materials, but “John” couldn‘t. If scroll material was too scarce and expensive for “John” to record this detail, why wouldn‘t it have been too expensive for the others to record it?
I will truncate my next examples, but if readers will check the biblical texts, they will see that the rest of these stories, omitted by the ellipses […] at the end of the texts, is almost identical in both versions of the stories. Even though there are at times slight variations, both accounts tell the same stories.
1 Samuel 31:1 Now the Philistines fought against Israel; and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell slain on Mount Gilboa. 2 Then the Philistines followed hard after Saul and his sons. And the Philistines killed Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malchishua, Saul’s sons. 3 The battle became fierce against Saul. The archers hit him, and he was severely wounded by the archers. Then Saul said to his armorbearer, “Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised men come and thrust me through and abuse me.” But his armorbearer would not, for he was greatly afraid. Therefore Saul took a sword and fell on it. 5 And when his armorbearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell on his sword, and died with him. 6 So Saul, his three sons, his armorbearer, and all his men died together that same day….
1 Chronicles 10:1 1Now the Philistines fought against Israel; and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell slain on Mount Gilboa. 2 Then the Philistines followed hard after Saul and his sons. And the Philistines killed Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malchishua, Saul’s sons. 3 The battle became fierce against Saul. The archers hit him, and he was wounded by the archers. 4 Then Saul said to his armorbearer, “Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised men come and abuse me.” But his armorbearer would not, for he was greatly afraid. Therefore Saul took a sword and fell on it. 5 And when his armorbearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell on his sword and died. 6So Saul and his three sons died, and all his house died together….
The twice-told tale of Manasseh‘s evil reign.
2 Kings 21:1 Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hephzibah. 2 And he did evil in the sight of Yahweh, according to the abominations of the nations whom Yahweh had cast out before the children of Israel. 3 For he rebuilt the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed; he raised up altars for Baal, and made a wooden image, as Ahab king of Israel had done; and he worshiped all the host of heaven and served them. 4 He also built altars in the house of Yahweh, of which Yahweh had said, “In Jerusalem I will put My name.” 5 And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of Yahweh. 6 Also he made his son pass through the fire, practiced soothsaying, used witchcraft, and consulted spiritists and mediums….
2 Chronicles 33:1 Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. 2 But he did evil in the sight of Yahweh, according to the abominations of the nations whom Yahweh had cast out before the children of Israel. 3 For he rebuilt the high places which Hezekiah his father had broken down; he raised up altars for the Baals, and made wooden images; and he worshiped all the host of heaven and served them. 4 He also built altars in the house of Yahweh, of which Yahweh had said, “In Jerusalem shall My name be forever.” 5 And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of Yahweh. 6 Also he caused his sons to pass through the fire in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom; he practiced soothsaying, used witchcraft and sorcery, and consulted mediums and spiritists….
In order to accept Turkel’s “paper-shortage” theory, one would have to believe that Yahweh somehow deemed it necessary in a time of scarce and expensive scroll materials to inspire writers to tell the same stories twice, with practically no variations, but for some reason he decided not to provide enough space to his writers chosen to tell the story of his son’s crucifixion for them to record details in a manner that would have eliminated disputes about disharmony in the accounts.
Partial repetitions: In addition to almost verbatim repetitions, the Bible contains numerous examples of passages that repeat the same expressions or ideas, as if saying it once were not enough for readers to understand what was being said. In Joshua 13:1, for example, the “inspired” writer somehow thought it necessary to say twice that Joshua was old and advanced in years.
Now Joshua was old, advanced in years. And Yahweh said to him: “You are old, advanced in years, and there remains very much land yet to be possessed.
For reasons known only to Turkel, the chief advocate of the “paper-shortage” theory, Yahweh somehow thought it was necessary for his “inspired” one to waste precious scroll space to tell his readers twice that Joshua was old and advanced in years. Yahweh would do this, but for reasons also known only to Turkel, would not let “John” report that Jesus carried the cross partway to Golgotha before Simon of Cyrene carried it the rest of the way. Recording both details in John 19:17 would have taken no more space than was used to say twice in Joshua 13:1 that Joshua was old and advanced in years.
In narrating a single story, the author(s) of Judges found it necessary to tell readers twice that this tale took place in the days when there was no king over Israel.
Judges 18:1 And it came to pass in those days, when there was no king in Israel, that there was a certain Levite staying in the remote mountains of Ephraim.
Judges 21:25 In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
A curious thing about this tale of the rape and slaughter of the Levite’s concubine is that the writer(s) of Judges had thought it necessary to say just seven verses before the narration of the story began that there was no king in Israel in those days.
Judges 17:6 In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
Hey, I get the idea: There was no king in Israel in those days. I suppose the writer(s) thought, for some unknown reason, that it was vitally important to let readers know that there was no king in Israel in those days, but it does seem strange that Yahweh would have “inspired” such repetition as this but then would inspire his chosen writers to leave out important details in other parts of his revelation to the world in order to save scroll space. If Yahweh had just inspired “John” to take an inch or two of extra linear space in his scroll to add that Jesus carried the cross until he collapsed, John 19:17 would never have become the issue that it now is.
In Leviticus 18, the writer(s) declared laws against incestuous offenses and then turned around just two chapters later and repeated many of the same laws.
Leviticus 18:6 ‘None of you shall approach anyone who is near of kin to him, to uncover his nakedness: I am theYahweh. 7 The nakedness of your father or the nakedness of your mother you shall not uncover. She is your mother; you shall not uncover her nakedness. 8 The nakedness of your father’s wife you shall not uncover; it is your father’s nakedness. 9 The nakedness of your sister, the daughter of your father, or the daughter of your mother, whether born at home or elsewhere, their nakedness you shall not uncover. 10 The nakedness of your son’s daughter or your daughter’s daughter, their nakedness you shall not uncover; for theirs is your own nakedness. 11 The nakedness of your father’s wife’s daughter, begotten by your fathe–she is your sister–you shall not uncover her nakedness. 12 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s sister; she is near of kin to your father. 13 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your mother’s sister, for she is near of kin to your mother. 14 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s brother. You shall not approach his wife; she is your aunt. 15 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your daughter-in-la–she is your son’s wife–you shall not uncover her nakedness. 16 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife; it is your brother’s nakedness. 17 You shall not uncover the nakedness of a woman and her daughter, nor shall you take her son’s daughter or her daughter’s daughter, to uncover her nakedness. They are near of kin to her. It is wickedness. 18Nor shall you take a woman as a rival to her sister, to uncover her nakedness while the other is alive.
Leviticus 20:10 ‘The man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, he who commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death. 11 The man who lies with his father’s wife has uncovered his father’s nakedness; both of them shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them. 12 If a man lies with his daughter-in-law, both of them shall surely be put to death. They have committed perversion. Their blood shall be upon them. 13 If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them. 14 If a man marries a woman and her mother, it is wickedness. They shall be burned with fire, both he and they, that there may be no wickedness among you. 15 If a man mates with an animal, he shall surely be put to death, and you shall kill the animal. 16 If a woman approaches any animal and mates with it, you shall kill the woman and the animal. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood is upon them. 17 ‘If a man takes his sister, his father’s daughter or his mother’s daughter, and sees her nakedness and she sees his nakedness, it is a wicked thing. And they shall be cut off in the sight of their people. He has uncovered his sister’s nakedness. He shall bear his guilt. 18 If a man lies with a woman during her sickness and uncovers her nakedness, he has exposed her flow, and she has uncovered the flow of her blood. Both of them shall be cut off from their people. 19 ‘You shall not uncover the nakedness of your mother’s sister nor of your father’s sister, for that would uncover his near of kin. They shall bear their guilt. 20If a man lies with his uncle’s wife, he has uncovered his uncle’s nakedness. They shall bear their sin; they shall die childless. 21If a man takes his brother’s wife, it is an unclean thing. He has uncovered his brother’s nakedness. They shall be childless.
There are variations in wording, of course, and chapter 20 includes laws against sexual intercourse during the female’s menstrual cycle, which were not in chapter 18, but it does seem that an omniscient, omnipotent deity could have guided his “inspired” one(s) to incorporate both versions of these laws into either chapter 18 or 20 so that in a time of scarce and expensive scroll materials, only one chapter on incestuous relationships would have been written. Just think of the cost and space that could have been saved. Of course, if the writer(s) was/were not inspired and the similarities of these two passages resulted from a patchwork method of putting “God’s word” together from different writers and sources, that would explain the repetition more sensibly than thinking that the omni-one was responsible for the unnecessary repetition in a time of scarce and expensive writing materials, but, nah, that explanation won’t work, because the Bible is the “inspired, inerrant word of God,” isn’t it? And who are we to question Yahweh’s ways?
Time would fail me if I should try to discuss all of the biblical texts where space was wasted on genealogical data and then wasted again repeating the same data or where Yahweh “inspired” his chosen ones to give minute details, chapter after chapter, on how to build a tent and make the furniture that was to go into it (Exodus 26-39). No rational person can wade through such tedious, repetitious trivia as this and then believe that parallel accounts in the New Testament sometimes appear inconsistent because “paper” was scarce and expensive in those days, so the “inspired ones” chose to leave out certain details that would have harmonized the accounts if they had told all. This is nothing more than another desperate attempt by an amateur apologist to rationalize obvious discrepancies and inconsistencies in the Bible.
This paper-shortage theory would have us believe that a god who had spared no expense in commanding the Israelites to build a tabernacle to his vanity, in which the furniture was overlaid with pure gold and accessories cast of pure gold (Ex. 25-31), and later a temple even more elaborate, was so much of a tightwad that he would not provide his inspired writers with adequate scroll materials to write complete details of what they were reporting. Down through the years, the efforts of biblicists to defend the inerrancy of the Bible have failed so miserably that they have been forced to abandon their methods in favor of new ones. The paper-shortage theory is one of the latest, and as any reasonable person can see, it is even more ridiculous than the how-it-could-have-been scenarios of John Haley, Gleason Archer, and such like.
The Bible is obviously errant. The “new apologists” should just accept the obvious and get over it.