While anachronisms are quoted widely, narrative discrepancies are also seen as evidence
of post Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. Narrative discrepancies represent perceived
textual inconsistencies, differences, or disagreements within the narrative. And some
discrepancies can be attributed to copyist errors as discussed in this article
The Reality of Copyists' Errors.
One common example is Genesis 21:14.
In this apparent discrepancy, Sarah has Hagar expelled from the family when Ishmael is a
young man around the age of 14 - 17. Destructive critics of the late 1800s based their
criticism on the translation of the Septuagint version of Genesis 21:14:
And Abraam rose up in the morning and took loaves and a skin of
water, and gave them to Agar, and he put the child on her shoulder, and sent her away,
and she having departed wandered in the wilderness near the well of the oath.
(Septuagint version – Gen 21:14)
From this translation, destructive critics ask how it is possible for
Hagar to carry this young man Ishmael on her shoulders?
It is a valid question; however, the Septuagint is well known to have many corruptions
in its text. The collection of scriptures that make up the Septuagint has a complicated
and varied translation history including a Hebrew book translated more than once,
revisions to particular Greek translations, and instances of modifications and
amplifications. Thus, while it is worthy for study and consultation, it is not a
manuscript used for the basis of today’s Old Testament translations.
The more accurate ben Asher text (Leningrad Manuscript B19a), used as
the basis of many contemporary translations, indicates the translation of
Genesis 21:14 as:
So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of
water and gave them to Hagar, putting them on her shoulder, and gave her the boy, and
sent her away. And she departed and wandered about in the wilderness of Beersheba.
(NASB – Gen 21:14)
This apparent narrative discrepancy used by destructive critics, and repeated often
today, is based on a manuscript that was produced in a manner that did not have the
fidelity of Massoretic traditions.
Aaron’s death represents an example of a geographical discrepancy that is used as
evidence that the Pentateuch is a compilation of various sources. Critics point out that
Aaron was buried in two different places: did Aaron die on Mount Hor or in Moserah?
Numbers 20:27-28 – Mount Hor
So Moses did just as the LORD had commanded, and they went up to
Mount Hor in the sight of all the congregation. After Moses had stripped Aaron of
his garments and put them on his son Eleazar, Aaron died there on the mountain top. Then
Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain.
Numbers 33:38-39 – Mount Hor
Then Aaron the priest went up to Mount Hor at the command of
the LORD, and died there in the fortieth year after the sons of Israel had come from the
land of Egypt, on the first day in the fifth month. Aaron was one hundred twenty-three
years old when he died on Mount Hor.
Deuteronomy 10:6 – Moserah
(Now the sons of Israel set out from Beeroth Bene-jaakan to
Moserah. There Aaron died and there he was buried and Eleazar his son ministered
as priest in his place.
It is believed that Moserah is the name of the district where Mount Hor is located.
A similar example is seen in Horeb, which is the name of the mountain complex where Mount
Sinai is located. However, current extrabiblical literature does not answer the question
of whether Moserah was the regional name for the area of Mount Hor.
The absence of knowing the precise definition of geographical terms has led to some
confusion and fuel for those who challenge Mosaic authorship; yet, it is intellectually
disingenuous to fail to consider that current scholarship does not fully understand the
ancient Hebrew’s use of geographical terms.
Another apparent narrative discrepancy that is often quoted is the disbelief that the
events of Numbers 21 through 36 all took place in the span of 6 months. During this time
the nation of Israel mourned the death of Aaron for 30 days (Num 20:23-29),
the Caananites of Arad were defeated in the Negev (Num 21:1-3),
Sihon king of the Amorites was defeated (Num 21:2-35;
Deut 2:24-36), judgment against
apostasy at Peor (Num 25:1-18), the
census at the Moab plains by the Jordan River near Jericho (Num 26:1-63),
Og king of Bashan was defeated (Num 21:33-35;
Deut 3:1-7), and the Midianites were
destroyed (Num 31:1-24).
In making this statement, critics have failed to include the context to the biblical
A possible and approximate route take from Mount Hor to an area
opposite Jericho, including the distance to confront the Caananites of Arad, is about
340 miles and would take about 19 days to travel. The campaign against Sihon king of the
Amorites was along the way.
The travel time of 19 days, not including the time for the Arad and
Amorite campaigns, was based on the travel time from Horeb to Kadesh-barnea. According to
Moses, this 200 miles distance was covered in 11 days (Deut 1:2).
The campaign against Og king of Bashan was roughly a round trip of
200 miles north of the crossing point of the Jordan River.
While many of the ancient locations remain unknown, the travel
itinerary was detailed and specific (Num 33:1-49).
Despite not knowing where the Promised Land was, the Hebrews were impatient to get to
there, and were frustrated with taking a circuitous route (Num 21:4).
The number of men available for military service was 601,730
The itinerant Hebrew nation was highly organized. Lead by a
of leaders, the nation was organized in groups as small as 10. (Deut 1:15)
After the campaign against Sihon king of the Amorites, God placed the
dread of defeat on Israel’s enemies (Deut 2:25).
Only 12,000 Hebrew soldiers were sent to destroy the Midianites and
their five kings (Num 31:4-6), and all
of them returned from battle (Num 31:48-50).
When one subtracts the 30 days of mourning and the approximate total travel time of
30 days to arrive at the jump off point into the Promised Land, the nation of Israel has
roughly 120 days to complete all the activities commanded by God. So this alleged
narrative discrepancy was a consequence of examining the biblical text without its
Discrepancies do exist and contribute to the difficulty of understanding the Bible;
however, the source of many of them has been determined and no longer is contradictory
to the biblical text. The few examples highlighted here demonstrate the variety of causes
that have been identified: errors of the copyists, the practice of using multiple names
for people and places, and misunderstanding the context of the passage.
Because much remains unknown the Ancient Near East and it literature, perhaps too
much has been made about this in an attempt to discredit Mosaic authorship. History
continues to show that as more is learned, the truthfulness of the Bible continues to be
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