Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Contradiction in the Torah

Exodus 12:40 states “The habitation of the Children of Israel during which they dwelled in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years.”

This verse clearly contradicts Exodus 6:18-20 which states that Kohath lived 133 years and Amram lived 137 years. Kohath came to Egypt with Jacob (Genesis 46:11). Moses, the son of Amram, died at the age of 120 (Deut. 34:7), which was 40 years after the Exodus, making Moses 80 years old at the time of Exodus. Therefore the Egyptian exile could not have lasted more than 350 years. (In fact, according to the Talmudic tradition, it lasted only 210 years.)

This contradiction has been addressed by many Biblical commentaries, from ancient times to the present. Personally, I have not yet found an explanation which I, with my tiny intellect, feel is very plausible. (I believe the ibn Ezra comes the closest by stating that the verse means that there were 430 years from Abraham's departure from Ur his birthplace until the departure of the Jews from Egypt. However that's entirely different than what the verse actually says.) Needless to say, critics of Judaism have used this verse as proof that the Torah was not written by God, since obviously God would not have made a mistake and the number 430 is clearly a mistake.

I believe, however, such a conclusion is unwarranted.

The evidence in favor of the divine origin of the Torah is overwhelming. Exodus 12:40 is a single verse which I don’t understand. In my opinion, this does not outweigh the evidence in favor Judaism.

This same type of logic is commonly applied in any other area of research.

Take for example the discovery of DNA in dinosaur bones. This would seem to contradict the well established fact that dinosaurs lived tens of millions of years ago, because soft tissues can never survive that long. However rather than contradict the massive evidence of the age of dinosaurs, scientists must simply accept the fact that somehow in this case soft tissue did survive 70 million years, although we don’t understand how.

Only when the preponderance of evidence would favor a much younger age for dinosaurs, something almost inconceivable, would that conclusion be accepted. By the same token, in regarding Judaism, only when the preponderance of evidence would shift to a human authorship of the Torah, something almost inconceivable, could that conclusion be accepted.

In other words, as the old Yiddish saying goes, “Fun a kasha shtorbt man nischt”. “You don’t die from a contradiction.”


Garnel Ironheart said...

Your dinosaur bone example doesn't fit.
You are trying to resolve a textual inconsistency by proposing a scientific one. You have no proof that scientific laws have ever been different and in fact, the preponderance of evidence suggests that the laws of physics have been constant for billions of years. On the other hand, you have the text contradicting itself. This demands a solution based on a drash by the meforshim.
BTW, Ramban does reconcile by showing how the Exodus was a literal 430 years.

jewish philosopher said...

"You are trying to resolve a textual inconsistency by proposing a scientific one."

The late 19th century concept that science has some special, different status in comparison to other types of research, and in particular in compared to religion, is not logical. There is no difference between the authenticity of the Torah and the age of dinosaurs; it's a all a question of the preponderance of evidence.

Mike said...

You do realize that not too many frum folks hold any longer that the world is 5700 years old, right? Most agree that it is, in fact, millions of years old, and that the natural laws didn't become effective until the 6th day of creation, with the prior days not being literal 24 hour days. A "yom" could be millions of years before the 24 hour standard was set. There is no conflict.

jewish philosopher said...

I actually have a different interpretation on that.

Abe said...

"jewish philosopher said...
I actually have a different interpretation on that."

Well, if its only an interpertation, my interpertation is that there is no god. And my interpertation can beat the pants off your interpertation any day. ~~~Nyah, nyah, nyha ...nyah.~~~~

jewish philosopher said...

Yes, but your interpretation is penis based, not brain based.

NC said...

"“You don’t die from a contradiction.”

Your point is valid. However, what I don't understand is why you distinguish between a textual contradiction, such as the one you mention, and other logical contradictions and problems in the Torah which which require a suspension in rational thinking to reconcile. For example, the problem with getting all of the species in Noah's ark. Or why the text says, "don't cook a kid in its mother's milk" 3 times when it really meant "don't eat milk and meat together and keep separate pots and pans or else kasher them". (I know the talmudic interpretation, but, as you say in miy tiny intellect, I don't feel it is plausible. ) Or the very specific differences between the 2 narratives of creation.

If you are willing to accept the midrashic explanations of the above, then you should have no problem reoonciling different year counts, by miraculous means.

So therefore, in my mind, there is way more than "one" contradiction, but hundreds of problems in the Torah text. And if a scientific theory had not one but many contradictions, it would be rejected.

jewish philosopher said...

Regarding the flood, I deal with that here

Regarding the two creation stories I explain that here

Regarding the contradictions between the written and oral laws I explain that here

Regarding Exodus 12:40, I have no explanation. It's nonsensical to say that 430 "miraculously" equals 210 when by definition it doesn't.

NC said...

"It's nonsensical to say that 430 "miraculously" equals 210 when by definition it doesn't."

Its just as nonsensical to say that billions of species "miraculously" fit into and lived in a struture the size of a ferry boat. No modification of natural laws can make that work.

If God can do it, than he can make 430 years to one person can be like 210 to another.

Both are equally not plausible.

Mike said...

It doesn't equal 210. The time was shortened as per most meforshim.

jewish philosopher said...

"No modification of natural laws can make that work."

The Legislator Who authored the laws of nature can also suspend or change them.

ksil said...

how about turning 40 people into 2 million in 210 years! now that is impossible. in fact, only 1/6 of the jews left egypt 210 years later (and 5/6 died in egypt) so in fact it was 40 turning into 12 million people.

that seems reasonable. NOT


Anonymous said...

If my memory serves me correctly the posuk says, "After 430 years, the Children of Israel left Miztrayim." It doesn't say after what. And it doesn't say that they were in Miztrayim for 430 years.

The whole point of the Theory of Relativity is that time is malleable and subjective. Frame of references and such. So G-d could manipulate time so that it could be both 210 and 430 years. According to The Theory of Relativitym this wouldn't even be a big miracle.

Adn some meforshim say that not every species was represented in the Ark, but rather an archtype or each genus. The archtype then "evolved" into individual species.

jewish philosopher said...

"that seems reasonable. NOT"

A lot more reasonable than amoebas turning into people.

"After 430 years, the Children of Israel left Miztrayim."

Exodus 12:40 is:

Now the time that the children of Israel dwelt in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years.

Anonymous said...

The posuk says "HaMoshav asher Yoshvu." "Hamoshav" is extra. It is used to derive an extra time period from the time of the "Bris Ben Hebesorim when G-d promised a perod of exile for four hundred years.

NC said...

Before you are 2 statements:


1 live cow, occupying 3 cubic meters, can be inserted into a pill box, whose volume is 2 cubic centimeters.

Please tell me what is the difference.

They are both logical impossibilities.

jewish philosopher said...

I imagine the ark miraculously temporarily expanding to whatever dimensions were needed as it filed.

NC said...

"I imagine the ark miraculously temporarily expanding to whatever dimensions were needed as it filled."

I you can imagine that, even though the text says nothing of that sort, than why can you not imagine that 430 years from one perspective was equivalent to 210 from another? Or that god compressed time? Can He not compress time, if he can expand a boat?

Obviously, I think of them both equally implausable....

jewish philosopher said...

The ark getting bigger, if that's indeed what happened, doesn't seem so far fetched. Animals with shells naturally do the same thing (although in my opinion all nature is also a miracle, just a more frequent set of miracles).

Mathematics however is not nature. Mathematics is merely a careful, logical way of thinking about things.

"The posuk says "HaMoshav asher Yoshvu.""

Keep in mind however that Reuben, the eldest child of Jacob (the first "ben Israel") was born only 255 prior to the Exodus,2068710/What-were-the-exact-dates-for-the-ten-plagues.html

Anonymous said...

Didn't Godel proove that any system of logic has to be contradictory? You cna proove something is true and not true at the same time. So contradictions are no big deal.

NC said...

"Mathematics however is not nature. Mathematics is merely a careful, logical way of thinking about things."

True, but measuring natural phenomena, such as time, is nature.

Believe me, I don't need to think of excuses for the Torah. I'm just saying that if you're willing to take the leap of faith and suspend reason and logic, ANYTHING can be reconciled.

Personally, I prefer the preponderance of evidence method. And when I look at the hoops that one must jump through in order to reconcile the various problems in the Torah, as well the additional evidence from surrounding cultures, I conclude that it is a man made document.

jewish philosopher said...

(133 + 137 + 80) < 430 is math.

However atheism is based on so much irrational dogma, it makes the Catholic church with its beliefs in papal infallibility, transubstantiation and the trinity look like the epitome of hard nosed rationalism by comparison.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it was that there minds finally "left" Egypt after 430 years? That it took them that long to forget about Egypt.

Anonymous said...

Some problems you haven't heard before:

1)When Tamar gave birth, the first baby Zorach, puts out his hand and pulls it back. Then his brother, Peretz, comes out first. Have you EVER heard of this happening? It's a medical impossibility. I don't mind miracles when they're explicit, but don't try tell me this was some hidden miracle when the text doesn't present it as such.

2)Did you know that Jacob names the same place Beth-El THREE times - What gives? Clearly different authors at work here.

3) Did you realize that Jacob sends messengers to Esau in the fields of Edom on his way back from Lavan. But after their meeting, when Jacob finally returns home, they are living in Canaan together! Then Esau leaves and goes to live in Edom! But hold on - wasn't he already there!

4)Did you not think it's quite good going for Leah to have 7 children - 6 boys and Dinah, in 7 years. But not only that, her maidservant, Zilpah, gives birth to another 2. Read carefully and you'll see they were all at different times - Leah only gave Zilpah to Jacob when she stopped having her first set! 9 kids, each only conceived after the other was born, in 7 years. Not to mention Bilhah and Rachel also giving birth to 2 and 1. Fantastic! Too good to be true more likely.

jewish philosopher said...

I don't think those are really unanswerable problems. I am sure that the many Biblical commentaries provide plausible explanations. And would an obstetrician really find the Tamar birth story impossible? I'm sure a lot of weird things can happen in a difficult twin birth.