In “Inconsistency in the Torah,” Rabbi Dr. Joshua A. Berman, addresses questions that have bothered scholars and clergy for centuries—the many seeming contradictions that are found in the Torah, in both its narrative and legal portions. He offers a solution that they ignored, a solution that makes sense. He suggests that many of the problems that they noted, some of which are described below, can be solved by looking at how other ancient Near East cultures wrote their books. By doing so, readers will find that not only the Torah contains the so-called “problem of contradictions,” but so too did other ancient cultures; this was the way the ancients wrote their books.
Scholars raised questions about these problem areas and using their intuition, without looking at the writings of other cultures or any similar proof, argued that the problem they saw in the scriptural text proved to them that the Bible is a document that was composed by several different authors and editors, frequently living at different times and frequently altering the text they received to reflect the situation they saw in their time, and to insert their own world-view.
But looking at other ancient writings, as Dr. Berman suggests, explains what bothered these scholars, we see that the ancients did what these modern scholars consider problem areas. For example: Not only Israelites gave God more than one name – Elohim and y-h-v-h, other ancient religions also gave their gods more than one name.
Similarly, Berman discusses the many incidences where there appears to be conflicting texts, such as the following: (1) Genesis chapter one seems to say that Adam and Eve were created at the same time, while chapter two states that Eve was formed from Adam’s side when God felt that it was not good for man to live alone. (2) The differences between the wilderness accounts in Exodus and Numbers on the one hand, and Deuteronomy on the other. (3) The inconsistency between the narrative versions in regard to the splitting of the sea in Exodus 13:17 and Barak’s defeat of Sisera’s army in Judges 4, and the poetic descriptions of these events in Exodus 15:18 and Judges 5. (4) Exodus 17:14 states that God will engage in the struggle with Amalek, while Deuteronomy 25:19 gives the mandate to the Israelites. And there are many more texts that deviate from another. Berman explains that the ancients also told inconsistent versions of events, even when it is certain that the two versions were composed by the same individual, and he explains why they did so.
He also discusses other questions raised by scholars such as the alteration between the use of the singular and the plural to refer the same person or event. He shows by examples from ancient texts that such grammatical usages, what we would consider an inconsistency today, was widespread in Near East documents.
He also focuses on the differences between the laws in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers and their differences in Deuteronomy, and compares this phenomenon of changes with those in the Near Eastern texts. His explanation for the changes is very enlightening.
Berman quotes Levi ben Gershom (1288-1344), a great scholar known as Gersonides, who wondered why Exodus repeats in chapters 35-40 what appears to be tedious detail that was already stated in chapters 25-31. Gersonides wrote: “Perhaps we may say that it was the convention at the time of the giving of the Torah to fashion literature in this way and that the prophet expresses himself through the conventions of his time.”
Although Gersonides lacked the ancient documents, Dr. Berman shows by reference to them that what Gersonides thought might be true is now proven to be correct. There is no doubt that Dr. Berman’s findings will make a great impact upon future biblical study.