Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Scriptural Discrepancies ... some insight

One awakening from my retreat earlier in September.

I have had this trouble with Scripture: The commentary explains away contradictions by saying the author is only retelling the story to make his point, and there are two pre-existing traditions the biblical author used ... and, presumably, the two traditions have conflicting details. This has never done much for me or my Biblical reading.

As an example, see the Genesis story of Joseph's being sold and taken to Egypt.

Gen 37:27 One brother proposes selling him to the Ishmaelites, and all agree with this proposal

"'Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.' And his brothers agreed."

Gen 37:28 Midianite traders got him but sold him to the Ishmaelites who took him to Egypt.

"When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt."

Gen 37:36 Midianites sold him in Egypt to Potiphar

"Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard."

Gen 39:1 Potiphar bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him there

"Now Joseph was taken down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there."

Scriptural Quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition

The Commentary "explains" this as two Traditions, pre-existing stories. As I said, this never did much for me until …

… until I reflected on one of my own stories, The Tale of the Deer ( Click here for the long, previously blogged, version ). Ellie and I experienced deer crossing the road in front of our car. We were alone. At first we disagreed on the direction the deer were going; later we agreed on that but disagreed on who changed their story.

It occurred to me that:
  • we did not consipire to disagree
  • we had two conflicting stories about an event that had occurred something like three to four weeks earlier
  • had we not spoken to each other and discovered these discrepancies, I would have told my story and she hers. Some people would have developed the “walter tradition” and others the “ellie tradition.”
  • both traditions would be true ( not deviating from the actual facts as the story teller knows them ) but only one ( at most ) is actually how it happened.
As a result of reflecting on this, I have a much better appreciation of how two traditions, based on identical and long ago event(s), differing in detail, can develop. Ellie and I are not able to reconcile "The Tale of the Deer," and that event took place rather recently. All biblical authors dealt with events that were very much older than our deer tale.

I am no longer bothered when there is a discrepancy in the story and the Commentary informs me that there are two traditions. I chuckle a little, am able to say, “of course,” and move on, looking for the point of the story.

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