The Bible contains the same exaggerated speech, boastful lies and holy hyperbole common for its day and age.
Jubal: he was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ [or flute, NIV]. - Genesis 4:21
“All?” Were the ancient Hebrews claiming that one person in particular brought musical instruments to the world, just as the Greeks portrayed Prometheus as the one human-like god who brought fire down from heaven and gave it to all of humanity? It would appear so, even though stringed instruments and blowing instruments were probably invented numerous times by countless numbers of people over the ages and round the world after someone plucked something or blew into something and enjoyed what they heard.
In this passage, Hebrew spies tell their desert-wandering comrades what they found in Canaan:
…all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature. And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight. - Numbers 13:32-33
The spies are clearly exaggerating (cf. Barker, p. 210). If “all the people” were of such great size, one wonders how to account for the apparently normal size of Rahab, the Gibeonites, and others that Joshua encounters upon entering Canaan 38 years later (cf. Joshua 6:25, 9:3-15). - Peter T. Chattaway, Giants in the Bible, RELG 303, March 10, 1994
The camels were without number as the sand of the sea.
- Judges 7:12
If the entire surface of the earth was filled with camels they would not be “without number,” nor would they be as plentiful as “the sand of the sea.”
As the host of heaven cannot be counted, and the sand of the sea cannot be measured, so I will multiply the descendants of David.
- Jeremiah 33:22
A Hebrew cultural-centric exaggeration. The number of Davidʼs descendants is nowhere near the number of stars in heaven, nor sand in the sea.
Among all this people there were seven hundred chosen men left-handed; every one could sling stones at a hairʼs breath, and not miss.
- Judges 20:16
Seven hundred who could sling stones at “a hairʼs breath,” and “not miss?” Iʼm surprised the authorʼs nose didnʼt grow when he told that one. Even the greatest sharp shooters at the turn of this century, who performed in Wild West traveling shows, and shot cards out of each otherʼs hands, did not retire with all their fingers—because they “missed” some shots by “a hairʼs breath.”
Their slain shall be cast out, and their stink shall come up out of their carcasses, and the mountains shall be melted with their blood.
- Isaiah 34:3
It would take quite a lot of blood to melt a mountain. Isaiah must have been confusing mountains with molehills.
The famine was over all the face of the earth….And all countries came unto Egypt to Joseph to buy corn; because the famine was so sore in all lands.
- Genesis 41:56,57
“Over all the face of the earth… all countries… all lands?” More exaggerated speech. Were folks in far off China and Japan and Australia and North and South America “sorely famished” and had to go to “Egypt” to buy corn?
[In one of the plagues with which the Lord smote Egypt] All the dust of the land became lice throughout all the land of Egypt.
- Exodus 8:17
Doesnʼt the Bible use the word “dust” to describe the ground, mud, and sand upon which we all walk as in “the dust of the earth?” Therefore if “all the dust of the land became lice” would not the Egyptians have drowned in lice and the pyramids been adrift in seas of lice? “Knock, knock.” “Whoʼs there?” “Lice.” “Lice Who?” “Run for your lice!”
Another exaggerated way of speaking. Or perhaps the Lord resurrected the “firstborn” among the cattle just so he could smite them again?
In one plague with which the Lord smote Egypt “all the cattle of Egypt died.” But a few days after that, “all the firstborn cattle died.”
- Exodus 9:6 & 12:29
[The Lord said to the Israelites when they were wandering in the desert] “This day will I begin to put the dread of thee and the fear of thee upon the nations that are under the whole heaven, who shall hear report of thee, and shall tremble, and be in anguish because of thee.”
- Deuteronomy 2:25
A typical Hebrew cultural-centric exaggeration, i.e., to speak of the nations “under the whole heaven… shall hear report of thee… and tremble.”
The Exaggerated Abundance of the “Promised Land”
In the year 1553 Michael Servetus was on trial for his life in Geneva, Switzerland on the charge of heresy. One point raised by the prosecution was Servetusʼs edition of Ptolemyʼs Geography, in which Judea (the “promised land” of the Jews), was spoken of, not as “a land flowing with milk and honey,” but mainly meagre, barren, and inhospitable. In his trial this simple statement of geographical fact was used against him by Protestant Refomer, John Calvin, with fearful power. In vain did Servetus plead that he had simply drawn the words from a previous edition of Ptolemy; in vain did he declare that this statement was a simple geographical truth of which there were ample proofs; it was answered that such language “necessarily inculpated Moses, and grievously outraged the Holy Ghost.”
A. D. White, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, Vol. 1
I have set my king upon the holy hill of Zion… Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen [as slaves] for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron.
- Psalm 2:6,8,9,12
The above psalm is believed to have been sung at the coronations of Hebrew kings. Another Hebrew cultural-centric exaggeration. (Though it must be admitted that this psalm later proved popular with some Catholics and Protestants who used it to justify their “breaking” of the “heathen,” driving them into slavery and stealing their land in alleged fulfillment of this exaggerated Biblical promise.)
[Jesus said] “The Queen of the South [i.e., the Queen of Sheba] came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon.”
- Matthew 12:42
The Queenʼs residence, being probably on the Arabian Gulf, could not have been more than twelve or fourteen hundred miles from Jerusalem. If that is the “uttermost parts of the earth” then it is a small world after all.
All the kings of the earth sought the presence of Solomon, to hear his wisdom.
- 2 Chronicles 9:23
“All the kings of the earth?” Another silly Hebrew cultural-centric exaggeration.
The devil took him [Jesus] up into an exceedingly high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them.
- Matthew 4:8
Shown “all the kingdoms of the world” from an “exceedingly high mountain?” I suppose so, if the mountain was “exceedingly high” and the earth was flat. Verses in the Bibleʼs book of Daniel presume a flat earth the same way that verses in Matthew do:
I saw a tree in the midst of the earth, and the height thereof was great. The tree grew, and the height thereof reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth.
- Daniel 4:10-11
Instead of an “exceedingly high” mountain from which “all the kingdoms of the earth” can be seen, Daniel pictures a tree “whose height was great,” growing from the “midst” or center of the earth and “seen” to “the ends of all the earth.”
Funny how such flagrantly flat-earth verses appear in both the Old and New Testaments. “Bible believers” will of course reply that such verses are only “apparently difficult” to explain, and not the “real truth” as they see it. But it is the “apparent difficulties” that remain in the Bible, as it was written, and they will always remain there, regardless of all the ingenuity employed in explaining them away.
A decree went out from Caesar Augustus that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth.
- Luke 2:1
“All the inhabited earth?” The Romans and Hebrews indulged in the same cultural-centric exaggerations when it came to viewing their cultures as central to “all the earth.”
And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.
- Acts 2:5
“Out of every nation under heaven?” Another exaggeration.
A great famine all over the world took place in the reign of Claudius.
- Acts 11:28
“All over the world?” Another exaggeration.
Paul the apostle wrote:
Their voice [of first-century proclaimers of the Christian Gospel] has gone out into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.
The mystery is now manifested and… has been made known to all the nations.
The gospel, which has come to you, just as in all the world.
The gospel… which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul was made a minister.
- Romans 10:18; 16:25-26; Colossians 1:5-6,23
Sorry Paul, but “Their voice” (of Christians proclaiming the Gospel) had only reached a handful of churches in the Roman Empire when you wrote the above verses. The Gospel had not reached, nor been proclaimed in “all the earth,” nor “to the ends of the world,” nor “to all nations,” and certainly not “in all creation under heaven,” not like you said it “has” and “was.” (Three billion people on earth still havenʼt heard “the Gospel,” at least not according to a statement made by the Southern Baptist Convention in 2004.)
The early church father, Iraenaeus, maintained Paulʼs charade when he wrote:
“Now the Church, spread throughout all the world even to the ends of the earth;” “….even though she has been spread over the entire world;” “Anyone who wishes to see the truth can observe the apostleʼs traditions made manifest in every church throughout the whole world.” (Iraenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.10.1, 1.10.2, 3.3.1-2)
Not a very big “world,” mind you, leaving out most of Asia and Africa, not to mention the continents of Australia, North America and South America.
Summation of the “Exaggerations of Biblical Proportions”
If an all-wise God had inspired the Bible He would have been able to give its human authors a few inspired geography lessons, just to show them how big the earth really is. Instead the Bible contains the same exaggerated speech, boastful lies and holy hyperbole common for its day and age, rather than evidence of special inspiration.
Furthermore, if the Bible is speaking in an exaggerated fashion when it speaks of “all the earth,” “to the ends of the earth,” “from the uttermost parts of the earth,” “all the inhabited earth,” “in all creation under heaven,” “under all the heavens,” and, “every nation under heaven,” then how can anyone be expected to assume that the statement, “everywhere under the heavens,” as found in the tale of the Flood of Noah isnʼt also an exaggeration? (It says in Gen. 7:17, “The water prevailed… and all the high mountains everywhere under the heavens were covered.” Why couldnʼt the phrase, “everywhere under the heavens,” be another exaggeration to make the Hebrew version of the Flood story (which they stole from the Sumerians/Babylonians) sound more impressive and appeal to the cultural-centrism of the Hebrewʼs? After all, they did also change the name of the storyʼs hero and the name of the mountain upon which the boat eventually rested, just to suit their culture.
Having run across so many instances of cultural-centric exaggerated speech in the Bible one even wonders what is to become of the central Christian boast, the exaggeration par excellence, namely that Jesus died for the sins of “the world?” Believers from every sacred tradition boast that their beliefs affect “the world,” or must be taken utterly seriously by “the world.” Must they? I cannot take seriously many instances in which Biblical authors exaggerate about the extent of a famine, a census, the distance to a queenʼs residence, the extent to which a message has been spread, the extent of a flood, etc. And, didnʼt “orthodox” Christian doctrines and theology arise via exaggerating the importance of some of the alleged teachings of Jesus above others (as well as by exaggerating the importance of some interpretations of those sayings above rival interpretations)?
An Exaggeration Found at the End of the Fourth Gospel
The Gospel of John ends with this verse:
And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written, every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.
- John 21:25
“The world itself” could not contain the books of “many other things which Jesus did?” The author of the Fourth Gospel was not displaying much prophetic ability when he wrote that line, I guess he wasnʼt inspired enough to foresee that we can now store whole libraries in a single laptop computer and accompanying CDs.
Moreover, the books we do have that tell of “things Jesus did,” consist of only four slim “Gospels,” not one of them over forty pages in length. Two of them, Matthew and Luke, even repeat over 90% of what appears in Mark. So the four Gospels minus the overlapping portions would be even slimmer. Not a lot of “books” about what Jesus did Iʼm afraid. To reiterate the silly last sentence in the fourth Gospel:
And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written, every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.
Is there a less convincing way for an allegedly “inspired” book to end than with the faltering phrase, “I suppose?”
“I suppose” such a last verse made sense to believers back then, who were being regaled and entertained by ever new and fabulous tales of Jesusʼs infancy, youth and adulthood churned out by their fellows and incorporated into additional “Gospels” many of which we only know the titles of today. But ending an inspired book with such a silly exaggeration, followed by the faltering words, “I suppose,” does not make much of an impression, not even strictly literarily speaking.
Exaggerated Commands: “Cut & Pluck” to Avoid “Hell”
Take the following verses:
[Jesus said] If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
- Matthew 5:29-30, repeated redundantly in Matthew 18:8
[Jesus said] If thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee; it is better for thee to enter life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire.
- Matthew 18:8
[Jesus also taught] All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs… which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.
- Matthew 19:12
The inspired words concerning “cutting off” body parts to avoid being “cast into hell,” along with Jesusʼs praise of those who “made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven,” made a deep impression on Origin (an early church Father). He castrated himself.
During the sixteenth century both Catholics and Protestants liked to cite the verses about “cutting off body parts” as a justification behind the censoring and execution of heretics in order that heresies might not spread to the rest of the “body of Christ” and the whole of Christendom risk being “cast into hell.”
And in the 1700 to 1800s a group of Christians in Russia called the Skoptzies cut off their own testicles and scrotums. Female members mutilated their vulvas, breasts and nipples. (“For the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck.” Luke 23:29) Furthermore, they taught that if you also removed your penis (or removed both breasts if you were female) you would be granted the highest honors in heaven. Apparently with the aid of a perfect holy book like the Bible and with the promise of the Holy Spirit to “lead believers into all truth,” this was the truth that the Skoptzies came up with. Bodily sexual temptations could lead to hell, so if mutilating the body aided a person in denying those temptations, it increased oneʼs chances of avoiding hell and attaining heaven.
Maybe God could have used less emphatic language and not linked the cutting off of body parts with avoiding hell? “Let him who has ears to hear…”
“Whaaat? I canʼt hear you, I recently cut my ears off. They ‘offended’ me. And I would rather be in heaven without them than be cast into everlasting fire with them.”
Too Much Reverence For the Literal Words of the Bible Coupled with Too Much “Fear of God?”
Construction worker Thomas W. Passmore, 32, filed a lawsuit in April for $3.35 million against Sentara Norfolk, Virginia, General Hospital and four doctors over the loss of his hand. Passmore admits to having cut off the hand because he believed it to be possessed by the devil and to having refused twice to allow doctors to reattach it. However, he claims the hospital was negligent in not asking his family to overrule his poor decision.
- Tulsa World (AP), May 14, 1996
According to the story above, Mr. Passmore thought he saw the number “666” on his right hand, and, “If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee, for it is better to enter eternal life maimed than have two hands and be cast into everlasting fire.” Mr. Passmore sued the hospital for not having reattached his hand, but he is an adult and if the hospital had operated against his will he might have sued anyway for violating his wishes, or maybe even for violating his “freedom of religion,” like when Jehovahʼs Witnesses deny themselves blood transfusions, and the doctors must comply even if that person is bleeding to death, because the Jehovahʼs Witness religion interprets the Biblical passage, “the life is in the blood” to mean that blood transfusions are forbidden.
Ivan Henk, of Plattsmouth, Neb., whose son, Brendan Gonzalez, age 4, had been missing since Jan. 6, admitted in a courtroom outburst in April that he killed his son. “The reason I killed Brendan is that he was the Antichrist. He had 666 on his forehead.”
- Lincoln Journal Star, April 30, 2003
A thirty-two-year-old Filipino farmer sliced his genitals off with a machete in a fit of religious fervor because he believed his penis was leading him to sin. In a follow-up to this story: He was right, and it worked.
- Jimmy Fallon, Saturday Night Live News
Jimmy Fallonʼs joke was based on a 2002 or 2003 news story, and not that unusual for the Philippines because every Easter a number of fervent Christians in that country publicly act out Jesusʼs sufferings: They are whipped, or walk down the road carrying a cross from which they are later suspended with ropes. In a few extraordinary cases, some people have even sought to be crucified, but not to death.
An Exaggerated Command: “Give To Everyone Who Asks”
[Jesus commanded] Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not away.
- Matthew 5:42
Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again… But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.
- Luke 6:30,35
Next time an evangelical Christian targets you with their soul-seeking missiles, tell them to look up the above verses and read them aloud. After which, ask them for their Bible. If they do not give you their Bible then ask them to please turn to the end of the same sermon in which Jesus spoke the verses above, and read aloud what Jesus said at the very end of that sermon, emphasizing the word “doeth”:
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father….Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man… And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man.
- Matthew 7:21-24,26
Remind your evangelical friend that if they do not “doeth” what Jesus commandeth them, they risk hearing Jesus say unto them, “Depart from me, ye that work iniquity!” Is that what they want to hear Jesus say to them? Or do they want to give you their Bible, since you asked them for it?
After they have handed it over, tell them, “Thank you,” and say that you donʼt want to keep their Bible forever, nor destroy it. You would just like them to read a few books about the Bible, books that take a more “inquisitive” approach to the Bible and Christianity, like Hitting Below the Bible Belt. And then you will return their Bible to them.
Speaking of “giving to all who ask,” hereʼs an idea for the IRS to try. They should print Mat. 5:42 and Luke 6:30 on all tax forms. Beneath the verses should be a little note from the IRS that says, “We ask all Bible believing Christians, especially wealthy televangelists and pastors of mega-churches, to not claim religious tax exemptions this year.”
In fact, I invite everyone to ask their “Bible believing Christian” friends for money every day and keep asking, especially any fat cat Christian ministers they might know. Call their TV stations and radio stations, stand up in their mega-churches, etc., and quote the above verses and ask them for money. There is no limit put on the above commands.
An Exaggerated Promise: “You Wonʼt Be Hurt”
And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name… They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them.
- Mark 16:17-18
This promise (which does not appear in the earliest known manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark) has inspired crippling illnesses and fatalities, including the death of the founder of the “serpent-handling” sect of Baptists who died from a poisonous snakebite.
Of course, if any Christians truly believe that “if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them,” why donʼt they move their families to homes built on toxic landfills which they could buy for a prayer?
Toxic Acres is the place for me!
Mark 16 lets me live there comfortably.
Land spreadinʼ out so cheap and wide.
Keep sin city just gimmie that DI-OXIDE!
Exaggerated Numbers of People Wandering in the Desert for Forty Years
According to the Bible the number of people who followed Moses out of Egypt during the Exodus was “about six hundred thousand on foot that were men.” (Ex. 12:37) To that number must be added women, children, and a “mixed multitude” of non-Hebrews who followed Moses out of Egypt, raising the total way above the six hundred thousand Hebrew males, and nearer to a grand total of two million men, women and children. That is like the population of New Orleans (or Columbus, Ohio, or San Antonio, Texas), being kept on the move (following “a pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night”) every day for forty years. The only day of the week they were not moving was the Sabbath day. Thatʼs a heap of packing and unpacking—of setting up “camp” and breaking it down again. Of course, God miraculously prevented the Israelitesʼ shoes and clothes from wearing out during the 40 years in the wilderness (Deut. 29:5), and their knee joints too, apparently (though the latter miracle is not mentioned). Plus we are to believe that all the men who were “warriors” walked “outside the camp” (a really huge camp) each time they had to go to the bathroom.
Moreover, there were sacrificial/sacramental duties that also needed to be performed for two million people (must have fit those in at night after they had ceased wandering each day), and the Bible only mentions Aaron and his two sons as being available to conduct all the burnt-offerings, meat-offerings, peace-offerings, sin-offerings, trespass-offerings, thank-offerings for all of the Israelites. (Num. 3:10) Just the number of pigeons to be brought as sin-offerings for newly born children, would have averaged, based on a “multitude” of nearly two million “wanderers,” more than 250 a day, not counting all the bulls, sheep, lambs, rams, goats, and turtle doves needing to be sacrificed for reasons too numerous to mention—and their carcasses having to be bled ceremonially, the fat removed meticulously, the organs burned as an offering to God, and the carcass dragged “outside the camp” to be burned (a camp of perhaps 16 miles in diameter).
Miraculously, these two million or so Israelites left no traces of their forty-years in the wilderness. No traces of encampments, tent holes, potshards (or other items discarded during their marches), nor traces of their daily sacrifices—no evidence of large charred ash deposits nor blackened stones nor bones. (Oddly enough archaeologists have discovered the remains of a small fire in the Sinai wilderness that was carbon-dated back to about that time. But one small fire could not have warmed the alleged two million who marched nearly every day for 40 years up and down the Sinai.)
So staggering are the problems raised by the exaggerated Biblical number of “600,000 males” (an embarrassingly well attested number, repeated three more times in the Bible—on each occasion each separate tribe being numbered, the sum of the results making up the whole), that even conservative Christian scholars have admitted that “600,000 men,” beside children, women, and the mixed multitude, is an exaggeration on par with many others found in ancient Near Eastern lore.
Evangelical Christian, W. M. Flinders Petrie, author of Egypt and Israel (London Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1911) pointed out, “There are… two wholesale checks upon the total numbers. The land of Goshen recently supported 4,000 Bedouin living like the Israelites, or at present holds 12,000 cultivators. To get “600,000 men” with their families out of that district would be utterly impossible. Also on going south the Israelites had almost a drawn battle with the Amalekites of Sinai. The climate of that desert peninsula has not appreciably changed; it will not now support more than a few thousand people, and the former inhabitants cannot have exceeded this amount. How could the Israelites have had any appreciable resistance from a poor desert folk, if they outnumbered them as a hundred to one? Again, we are compelled to suppose that the Israelites were not more than a few thousand altogether. Thus we see that more cannot be got out of Goshen or into Sinai.”
Exaggerated Sizes of Armies in the Bible
In the 18th century, Frederick the Great had an army of 83,000 troops when he became King of Prussia. Other states—Austria, France, and Russia—fielded larger armies, but rarely did they approach 100,000 troops. Frederickʼs greatest victories—Rossbach and Leuthen—involved about 75,000 and 115,000 troops respectively on both sides. Napoleonʼs greatest victory—Austerlitz—involved about 150,000 troops total. So did Gettysburg, Americaʼs greatest Civil War battle. Alexander the Great, who controlled Greece, Macedonia, Thrace (Southern Yugoslavia), and a little bit of Western Anatolia, was able to raise between 90,000 and 100,000 troops total. Yet the Bible says that Hebrew kings, David and Saul, fielded far larger armies than those. King David had 1.57 million troops (1 Chron. 21:5)….or 340,000 plus the muster of Issacher….or 1.3 million (depending on which verses you read). While King Saul could field 210,000 troops. (1 Sam. 15:4)
Did the dry scrubland of Judea—populated by scattered villages and small settlements—raise up armies larger than the Persian Empireʼs when it faced destruction at Alexanderʼs hand, larger than Frederick the Greatʼs, larger than Napoleonʼs in all his battles save the invasion of Russia, larger than the Unionʼs and Confederacyʼs in their epic struggle? Truly such a feat must constitute one of the least heralded miracles in the Bible.
In the ancient world only the greatest powers, such as the Bronze Age Egyptians, Hittites, Assyrians, Babylonians, and later the Persians, fielded armies upward of 50,000 or more…When Egyptʼs king Ramesses II fought the Hittites at Kadesh in about 1285 B.C.E., he recorded their force as 37,000 infantrymen and 3,500 chariots and said that the Hittites mustered much of the military power of their empire, which covered most of Anatolia, Syria, and a bit of Iraq (Sir Alan Gardiner, The Kadesh Inscriptions of Ramesses II, 1975, p.41-42). Ramesses had possibly the largest army Bronze Age Egypt ever fielded. It is worth noting that in his poetic account of the battle of Kadesh, Ramesses claimed to have personally killed “hundreds of thousands” of Hittites and their allies (Ibid., pp 10-13), and Ramesses probably lost the battle. (Propaganda was invented long before the Israelites appeared.)
William Sierichs, Jr., “Those Amazing Biblical Numbers: Taking Stock of the Armies of Ancient Israel,” The Skeptical Review, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1995
Exaggerated Numbers of People Slain
According to the Bible, Abishai & Jashobeam each slew 300 men using only a spear (2 Sam. 23:8 & 1 Chron. 11:11). But thatʼs nothing, because Shamgar slew 600 men with an ox-goad (Judges 3:31). And Adino slew 800 with a spear (2 Sam. 23:8) Do ya suppose Adino was the inventor of Shish-ka-bob? Last but not least, Samson slew 1000 men with the jaw-bone of an ass (Judges 15:15). If only their techniques in the lethal arts of the “spear,” the “ox-goad” and the “jaw-bone” had been preserved for posterity, imagine what martial arts films Chinese directors could make today, featuring hundreds of deaths in one long (and obscenely bloody) scene!
Exaggerated Ages of the Biblical Patriarchs
It is certain that one cannot build up a chronology on the spans of years attributed to the Patriarchs, nor regard it as factual that Abraham was seventy-five years old when he left Harran and a hundred when Isaac was born and that Jacob was a hundred and thirty when he went into Egypt, for the evidence from the skeletons in the Jericho tombs shows that the expectations of life at this period was short. Many individuals seem to have died before they were thirty-five, and few seem to have reached the age of fifty.
- Dr. Kathleen Kenyon (the eminent excavator of the city-mound of Jericho)
Exaggerated Ages of the Sumerian/Babylonian Kings Compared with those of the Hebrew Patriarchs
According to ancient Sumerian/Babylonian “king lists,” their kings could live for tens of thousands of years, but of course the worthies of the kings lists were not merely men, but gods or demigods (“kings from heaven”), whose ages could consequently be recorded astronomically. The Hebrew authors dealt only with men, and therefore the ages they assigned to them are comparatively modest, less than a thousand years, because above one thousand years is a perspective proper to God alone. (Ps. 90:4). (The Hebrews were partial to that number, “1000,” as anyone can see who does a “search” for it throughout the Bible.)
Interestingly, both the “king lists” and the Hebrew list of the patriarchs are composed of ten kings/patriarchs. And in both lists the number of years that a king reigned (or patriarch lived) dropped after “the Flood.” (The Sumerian/Babylonians had their own “Flood” story that pre-dates the one found in Genesis.) In fact the Babylonian kingʼs ages dropped after their “Flood story” to ages appropriate to the ages of the Hebrew patriarchs before the Flood, i.e., none of the kings after the Flood reigned longer than 960 years.
Professor Bruce Vawtner in A Path Through Genesis, suggests that “Both the Hebrews and Sumerians/Babylonians knew that many more than ten generations had elapsed during these periods. To bridge over the enormous gaps in time, therefore, both of them assigned tremendous ages to the few names that they possessed. While the Babylonians simply set down astronomical figures, none of them under twenty thousand years, the Hebrew author has been comparatively moderate, and above all, he made his ten generations serve a religious purpose.”
But before discussing the ages of the Biblical patriarchs further, one must note that there are three different sources for the Hebrew Bible, the ancient Masoretic text, the Septuagint text, and the Samaritan text, and they record slightly different ages for the patriarchs, and different totals as well if you added all their ages up in a straight line one after the other. The MT gives a total of 1656 years, the Septuagint gives 2242 years, while the Samaritan text gives 1307 year. The MT is the one used in most modern day Bible translations. According to the MT text, Noah is the first man to be born (in the year 1056) after the death of Adam (in the year 930). Thus the author singles out Noah at birth as the beginning of the new generation of post-Adamic man that will follow after the Flood. This contrivance is further strengthened by the Hebrew authorʼs choice to have Methuselah, the longest lived man of the old generation (before the Flood) die precisely in the year when the Flood begins. A clean sweep, therefore, is made of all the patriarchs that preceded Noah and the Flood. And this neatly excludes any implication that the patriarchs were linked to the corrupt world that had to be destroyed, since the last, and the most aged of them dies immediately prior to the Flood. At least thatʼs according to ages given in the MT version of the Old Testament.
Secondly, in the MT the age at which the patriarchs “begot,” drops progressively till the beginning of the second half of the list is reached with Jared. Adam, who precedes the first five on the list, and Jared, who precedes the last five of the original ten patriarchs, also lives an identical length of time after “begetting,” i.e., 800 years. Jared also begins his “begetting” 32 years later than Adam, which happens to be 1/2 of the 65 years at which Mahalalel and Enoch (who come directly before and after Jared on the list) begin “begetting.” Enoch, the traditional holy man of the period, who occupies the symbolic 7th place on the list (and whom God “took”) also lived a symbolic number of years (365 being the number of days in the solar year). And simply by doubling Enochʼs year at “begetting,” you arrive at Adamʼs. In fact, all of the numbers of the MT for the ages of the patriarchs, aside from the total age of Methuselah, are in multiples of five or in multiples of five with the addition of seven (seven being the most popular number in the Bible, appearing in various capacities at total of over 500 times). The ancient Sumerian/Babylonian kings list employed a similar fancy of “adding seven” to numbers, like when in two places it explicitly stated that the total length of the monarchic period preceding the Babylonian Flood was “a great sar plus seven sar.”
Other aspects also hint of artifice: In Gen. 6:3 God “allows” man 120 years to live. (“120” is “50” plus “70,” much like the way the ages of the patriarchs in the Masoretic Text of Genesis are all divisible by “5” with the addition sometimes of “7.”) Moses, the supposed author of the passage about God “allowing” man to live 120 years, goes on to live exactly 120 years. Yet in Ps. 90:10 we are told that man lives only 70 years (ah, thereʼs that “7” again). Joseph went to Egypt, and lo, lived to be the ideal Egyptian age of 110 years; then Joshua retrieves Josephʼs bones from Egypt and also lives 110 years. Lastly, compare how awkwardly the author of Gen. 11:10-26 and Gen. 25:8 juxtaposes the scene at Abrahamʼs death with the age of his distant relative, Shem, as though he had no idea that people still lived so long as Shem. For the author states that Abraham died “at a good old age, an old man, after a full life,” while Shem, Abrahamʼs 7X great grandfather lived to SEE his 7X great grandson die “at a good old age, an old man, after a full life!” for Shem was, if we take Gen. 11:10-26 literally, alive and 565 years old when Abraham died at a mere 175 years of age.
Vawterʼs book in chapter 6 and 7 discusses some of the other artifices. All in all, the ages of the patriarchs like the ages of the Sumerian/Babylonian kings, appear mythically larger than life, growing less so the nearer each king (or patriarch) came to the authorʼs actual day. “The Flood” was of course a major disjunction in both their mythologies, separating the world of demi-god-kings (or patriarchs whose father was “born at the creation and walked with God”) with the latter world nearer to the authorʼs own day.
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