By Israel Drazin
Many religious people accept the teaching that the Bible was a gift from God revealed to human beings. Yet, isn’t it still possible that during millennia when it was copied by hand by scribes no miracles occurred and, as usually happens with humans, errors crept into the text? Is it sacrilege to believe this? Let’s look at three examples of many dozens that could be sited.
- After the Israelites left Egypt, the Egyptians pursued them to force them back into Egyptian slavery. The original Hebrew of Exodus 14:19 and 20 states: “19. And the angel of God who went before the camp of Israel removed and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud removed from before them and stood behind them. 20. And it (singular) came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel; and there was the cloud and the darkness, and it (singular) lit up the night, and the one did not come near the other the entire night.”
The Bible told readers previously that the cloud led the people during the day. Leaving aside the questions “why was the cloud used for this task?” and “who or what was the angel of God; was it the cloud?” and “was the darkness and the cloud two items or did the cloud cause the darkness?” verse 20 seems to be garbled. It states that there was “the cloud and the darkness, and it (apparently the darkness) lit up the night.” Something is missing here; darkness does not produce light. The commentators suggest that what is missing is that while it was dark for the Egyptians the Israelites had light.
- Exodus 4:24-26 has a story that is totally obscure; much is missing. “And it came to pass on the way (while Moses was traveling to Egypt, as God had instructed him, with his family to help save the Israelites from Egyptian slavery) on the way at the lodging place, that the Lord met him, and sought to kill him. Then Zipporah (his wife) took a flint, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet; and she said: ‘Surely a bridegroom of the blood art thou to me.’ So he let him alone. Then she said: ‘A bridegroom of blood in regard of the circumcision.’”
There are many questions about this episode. Here are some of them. Why does God want to kill Moses when he had sent him on this mission? Why did Zipporah act and not Moses? What was Moses doing while Zipporah acted? Why did she circumcise her son? Why wasn’t the boy circumcised before the trip began? Was it the lack of the circumcision that provoked God’s anger? If so, was the neglect so egregious that it should stop the redemption of the Israelites from slavery? Why did Zipporah “cast” the foreskin and who did she cast it at? What is a “bridegroom of blood” and who is the bridegroom, Moses, the child, God? Why did Zipporah feel she had to make a statement and why did she do so twice? Some things are missing. All kinds of suggestions have been offered, but all are imaginative; they suggest a scene which the Bible itself lacks.
- A final example: The original Hebrew of Genesis 4:8 states the Cain and Abel went out to the field “And Cain said to Abel his brother.” But what he said is missing. Some, such as the Jewish Publication Society translation, change the text to remove the difficulty: it uses “spoke” instead of “said.”