|Donald Morgan's "Bible Absurdities": An Answer Key|
Morgan's list of "Bible absurdities" begins with some gracious qualifications, notably that the list reflects "possible problems" but "especially problems which are inherent in a literalist or fundamentalist interpretation" (which we do not always adhere to, as the terms are defined) and he also allows that some "may be resolvable on certain interpretations" (though not because of actual answers, he says, but because he says "almost any problem can be eliminated with suitable rationalizations").
In the end he leaves the decision with the reader, which is appropriate in this context. To aid in that decision, we present a copy of the list with links to our endorsed solutions. We would only note in closing that it is highly questionable whether, as Morgan implies, "a perfect and omnipotent God could, should, and likely would see to it that such problems did not exist in a book which s/he had inspired." Since Morgan believes that any amount of "suitable rationalization" can solve a problem, is it not logical that the reverse is true, and that any problem can also be created or any clear text can be obfuscated with enough suitable rationalization?
In closing, note that as usual we will bypass anything outside our scope, such as creation-evolution issues (which knocks out much of the first few cites) and we will skip issues of miracles being claimed as absurdities, since that is an obvious matter of philsophical orientation (and will also mean deleting many of them).
GE 2:15-23, 3:1-5, 1TI 2:14 Eve was created after Adam had already been given the prohibition about eating the forbidden fruit. Eve believed the serpent (the craftiest of all of God's wild creatures) when he assured her that she would become wise and would not die if she ate the fruit. Eve has been blamed for causing Adam to fall, and ultimately for the fall of mankind. (Note: Prior to eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve would have had no knowledge of right and wrong; they would not have known that it was a sin to disobey God or to obey the serpent.
That's actually all an ancient would need -- see comments here.
After they ate the forbidden fruit, God placed a guard around the "Tree of Eternal Life" to keep them from eating its fruit. He could have done the same for the "Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil" before Adam and Eve disobeyed.
But that would have made free choice out of loving obedience impossible, would it not?
In addition, even though the prohibition regarding the forbidden fruit was made to Adam before Eve came on the scene, Eve has been blamed for the Fall; 1TI 2:14 says: "... Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.")
That's actually a break for Eve in context, since she was fooled; but Adam transgressed knowingly with no tempation to speak of.
GE 3:14-16 God curses the serpent, Eve, and Adam for what they have done. (Note: This is inconsistent with God's omniscience; God should have known full well, ahead of time, what the outcome would be. Since God created the three as well as the Tree of Knowledge, he is ultimately responsible for the Fall.)
A rather incomplete assessment of free will and foreknowledge. See here.
GE 3:14 The serpent eats dust for the rest of his life (by command of God).
GE 4:15 A mark is placed on Cain as a distinctive identifying symbol when there were only three (known) persons on earth.
It's good that "known" is added, but what would be wrong with provision for those that would follow, as Cain would live for hundreds of years within this paradigm?
>GE 4:17 Cain builds and populates a whole city in only two generations.
Actually the word means any city, town, or encampment of any size, and if Cain lived hundreds of years, this is hardly a problem.
GE 6:5 God is unhappy with the wickedness of man and decides to flood the earth to eliminate mankind. All living things including plants, animals, women and innocent children are also exterminated. (Note: This is like burning down a house to rid it of mice.)
Yet if it was reported that God made air pockets around animals, this would be regarded as absurd, too. For general principles though see here.
GE 8:20 Noah's first recorded action following the flood is to sacrifice one of every clean animal and bird. (Since so few animals were saved, this could be considered rather wasteful and defeating--especially given that the stated purpose of taking the animals aboard the Ark was to keep them alive [GE 6:20].
Given that there were six left out of seven, that's rather an odd objection.
>GE 8:21 The odor of Noah's sacrifices was pleasing to the Lord.
No, I don't see what's absurd here, either. Is it absurd to say God sees and hears as well?
GE 18:1, 7-8 God eats solid food with Abraham.
I don't see the absurdity here either. What's absurd about incarnation beyond, for Morgan, the miraculous element?
GE 30:37-43 Jacob alters the genetic characteristics of cattle by letting them view a striped rod. (Note: His purpose in doing so was to fleece Laban of his cattle.)
See here. Also, how is this "fleecing"? Jacob had married Laban's daughters; it wouldn't be in Laban's best interest for Jacob to own as many animals as possible?
GE 32:24-30 God takes part in a wrestling match. He wins by injuring Jacob's hip.
Again, what's the absurdity, beyond (for Morgan) miraculous incarnation?
GE 38:27-29 Twins are being delivered. One puts out his hand and the midwife binds it with a scarlet ribbon to identify him as the firstborn. But he draws back his hand, and his brother is born first (thereby obtaining the rights of the firstborn son).
I don't know what the absurdity here is, either.
EX 4:24 The Lord sought to kill Moses (one of his own prophets.)
EX 12:30 The Lord kills all the first-born of Egypt and there is not a house where there is not at least one dead. (This means that there was not a house in Egypt that did not include at least one first-born---a most unusual situation.)
It is? Where did Morgan get population stats for ancient Egypt? Childlessness was practically unknown and a "house" included an extended family that could go as far as four generations.
EX 12:37, NU 1:45-46 The number of men of military age who take part in the Exodus is given as about 600,000. Allowing for women, children, and older men would probably mean that a total of more than 2,000,000 Israelites left Egypt at a time when the whole population of Egypt was less than 2,000,000.
EX 17:14 God says that he will utterly blot out the remembrances of Amalek. (That remembrance is now permanently preserved in the Bible.)
The word actually means commemoration, not mere memory. Anyone over there have an embassy to Amalek? Not that it would make a difference under the provision of ancient "trash talk"; see here.
LE 11:20-21 There are winged creatures (birds or insects) that go around on all fours. (Note: There are no birds that go around on four legs, and all insects have six or eight legs.)
LE 11:6 (States, incorrectly, that the rabbit, or hare, chews its cud.)
LE 14:33-57 God himself believes that a house or clothes can have leprosy and he details the remedy.
This is not what we call leprosy (Hansen's disease) but more likely a sort of mildew.
NU 11:31-33 A "wind from the Lord" brings such an abundance of quail that "he who gathered the least gathered ten homers," or about 62 bushels. Altogether, this would have been enough to fill several thousand boxcars. Unfortunately, it was immediately followed by a great plague (food poisoning?) from the Lord.
See link above, Ex. 12:37).
This is merely language of representation, as when it is said the President "speaks to the nation" (even if some of the nation is watching Hee Haw instead).
Yes, and what? The average lifespan of the day was 35.
DT 25:5-9 A man has an obligation to produce a child with his brother's widow. If he refuses, his sister-in-law is to spit in his face in front of the elders.
This is not an absurdity but a normal practice of the ancients.
JS 10:12-14 God obliges Joshua by making the sun and moon stand still (so that he can finish his battle by daylight).
See though here.
JG 3:21-22 (KJV) "Ehud ... took the dagger from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly. And the haft also went in after the blade; and the fat closed upon the blade, so that he could not draw the dagger out of his belly; and the dirt came out."
I don't see what is "absurd" about this unless Morgan is bothered by the vividness of the description.
JG 7:12 The camels were without number as the sand of the sea.
JG 20:16 There were seven hundred men who were left handed and could sling a stone at a hair and not miss.
I don't know what's absurd about this either, unless Morgan is objecting to the use of "trash talk" in ancient war settings. See link above.
1SA 13:5 The Philistines had "... troops like the sand on the seashore in multitude."
See again here.
1SA 16:14-23 Evil spirits can come from God (and be exorcised with God's help).
See however here.
1KI 3:12, 16-28 Solomon, the wisest man that ever lived, can think of no better way to determine the natural mother of a child in dispute than to threaten to divide the child in half. (Note: This does not take into account the possibility of mental derangement on the part of the natural mother.)
Our laws don't make exceptions for mental derangement either; the courts do that. So are our laws flawed for not accounting for every possible exception?
1KI 4:29 God gave Solomon wisdom as measureless as the sand on the seashore.
See link above.
See link above. We may as well ask today why are five men needed to watch one guy dig a hole.
1KI 10:24 The whole world sought an audience with Solomon to hear his wisdom.
Once again, see here, though the word used here also has a more limited sense of "land" and may just mean Solomon's own kingdom.
2CH 9:23 All the kings on earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom.
Likely a copyist issue.
See link above for 1 Chr. 22:14.
2CH 21:20, 22:1-2 Ahaziah was forty-two when he became king; he succeeded his father, who died at the age of forty. Thus, Ahaziah was two years older than his father. 2CH 21:20, 22:1-2 Ahaziah was forty-two when he became king; he succeeded his father, who died at the age of forty. Thus, Ahaziah was two years older than his father. [Note: Some translations use "twenty-two" here in an attempt to rectify this discrepancy. The Hebrew is clear, however, that 2CH 22:2 is 42. The Hebrew words involved are Strong's H705 and H8147, "forty" and "two," respectively.]
See link above on copyist errors -- this is normal textual critical principles in action.
2CH 13:3 Abijah sent 400,000 men into battle against Jeroboam's 800,000 men. This is a total of 1,200,000 men, all of them Jews. (Note: Assuming one additional woman per man of fighting age, plus two persons per man [either older persons or children] would put the Jewish population of the surrounding area at a minimum of 4,800,000 persons; hardly feasible.)
Why not? An explanation is needed. Someone will say 2000 years from now that 7 million is "hardly feasible" for an area the size of New York City.
2CH 13:17 500,000 Israelites are slain in a single battle. (Note: This is more than were lost in any single battle of World War II, and even exceeds the number of deaths that resulted from the dropping of the atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. At Gettysburg, the greatest battle of the Civil War, the defeated army lost 5,000 men.)
In all cases, drafted soldiers of speciality armed forces, whereas in the ancient world, if you moved, you were a solider. See here.
ES 6:6, JB 19:27, PS 7:9, 16:7, 73:21, PR 23:7, 16, IS 10:7, JE 11:20, 17:10, 20:12, MT 9:4, LK 2:19, 9:47, AC 8:22, RO 10:9-10, HE 4:12, RE 2:23 (See KJV especially.) Thought occurs in the heart. The kidneys ("reins") are the seat of conscience.(Note: This is not merely a poetic use of these terms, as is now claimed. In early times, it was actually believed that various body organs other than the brain were responsible for our thoughts, feelings, actions and the like. The heart was believed to be the seat of thought processes and beliefs, while the kidneys were thought to be the seat of conscience.)
See here. We still speak of our "heart" today.
JB 9:6 (KJV) God shakes the earth out of its place and makes its pillars tremble.
See link above on the earth being cornered.
This is presumably only called "absurd" because of a presumed Skeptical viewpoint.
PS 58:8 Slugs and/or snails melt as they move.
PS 121:6 It is apparently possible to suffer moonstroke as well as sunstroke.
Actually the word "smite" means kill or punish and has no reference for sunstroke. The reference to stellar symbols actually means government entities, like the Rising Sun represents Japan.
Presumably absurd mainly under Skepticism, but it is proverbial anyway.
PR 20:30 Blows that wound cleanse away evil.
Ditto. And they did so more in ancient times under ancient educational methods.
See link above.
IS 24:1 (KJV) The earth can be turned upside down so as to scatter its inhabitants.
Overliteralism by Morgan.
IS 30:26 The moon will someday be as bright as the sun now is. (Note: Until relatively recent times, the moon and the planets were thought to give off their own light.)
Actually, once again these are politcal symbols.
IS 40:22 The earth is a circle. (Note: The earth is really a sphere, not a circle, and this verse does not imply a sphere as some believers like to infer.)
See link above.
DN 4:11 Daniel dreams of a tree so tall that it can be seen to the ends of the earth. (Note: This implies a flat earth.)
See link above.
MT 4:8 There is a high mountain from which all the kingdoms of the world can be seen. (Note: This implies a flat earth.)
See link above.
MT 13:41 Jesus will send his angels to purge his kingdom of evildoers and sin. (Note: How did evildoers get into his kingdom in the first place?)
The "kingdom" is an ideological one established on earth; see here.
MT 18:19 If two [believers] agree about anything they ask, God will do it for them.
MT 24:29-30 Although the sun and the moon have been darkened and the stars have fallen from heaven, there is still enough light to see.
MT 26:52 All who take the sword will perish by it.
It's rule of thumb and proverbial (see link above). Shall we disagree with, "a stitch in time saves nine" because sometimes it saves only eight?
MK 11:12-14, 20-21 Jesus curses a fig tree for not bearing fruit out of season. (Note: Rather than cause the fig tree to wither and to bear fruit never again, he could have performed a miracle and made it bear fruit even out of season.)
MK 16:17-18 Those who believe are able to handle snakes and drink any deadly poison without suffering harm.
LK 22:28-30 Jesus assigns each of his twelve disciples (including Judas, his betrayer) a place (or throne) in his kingdom.
Would Jesus would drop too early of a hint by saying, "All but you, Judas"?
JN 6:24-30 A large crowd of persons (probably several thousand)
asks Jesus for a sign so that they might see and believe. This occurs immediately following the Feeding of the Multitude which should have been one of the greatest miracles and most convincing signs of all time.
Note the comparison to manna -- it's a roundabout way of trying to get fed again.
JN 8:51 Jesus says: "... if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death."
"Death" in the ultimate, spiritual sense -- per the dual meaning of the word ever since Genesis.
JN 12:34 A crowd of persons (speaking in unison?) asks Jesus a thirty word question.
Morgan overliteralizes a literary technique.
JN 16:23 Jesus says: "Whatever you ask in my name, my Father will give you."
See link above.
The former refers only to the Roman Empire (oikoumene) while the latter is the hyperbole of praise; though both qualify on that account.
2CO 12:4 There are things which cannot be told--things which man cannot utter.
How does Morgan know this is not true, since he does not know what it is and hasn't therefore tried it? But the meaning is more to the effect that no man should utter them, like the sacred name of God.
GA 1:8-9 An angel (from God?) who preaches a gospel contrary to that of Paul will incur Paul's wrath.
And how is this absurd? But it doesn't say "Paul's wrath" at all.
1TI 5:11 Younger widows want to marry because their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ.
OK -- so Morgan surveyed the widows of ancient Ephesus and found this was not true? This is actually a rule of thumb, but can Morgan disprove it?
1TI 6:10 The love of money is the root of all evil(s). (Note: Some translations emend the text to read, "The love of money is the root of all kinds of evils," or something similar, in an attempt to ameliorate an obvious problem. Those additional words are not there in the Greek of the oldest and most reliable manuscripts.)
What "obvious problem" is this? It's proverbial even so (see link above). A reader adds: Although this isn't terribly important, Donald Morgan needs to be a bit more careful with how he gets his information. First, there is no dispute over the Greek text of this passage. This makes one wonder to what he is refering when he says "the oldest and most reliable manuscripts." Whatever the source of this information, it is obvious that no one checked any manuscripts. All of the manuscripts (per Tischendorf, NA27, and NA-Vulgate) have this sentence with the exact same wording. The problem is entirely gramatical. After a detailed analysis of all of the possible options, Wallace (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics) concludes with regard to this passage: "Gramatically the most probable option is to see rhiza as qualitative. The idea would be either that all evils can be motivated or initiated by the love for money or that all kinds of evils can be motivated by love for money. The qualitative idea makes no comment about anything else that might motivate or produce evil. It simply states that loving money does motivate/produce all (kinds of) evils." (265)
TS 1:12 "One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are alway liars ...." (Figure the logic of this verse.)
Ask See here.
RE 14:1-4 Heaven is to be inhabited in part by 144,000 virgin men who have not been "defiled" by women.
Heaven? See here.
RE 21:16 The city of New Jerusalem (where the residents of heaven reside) is only about 1500 miles square.
I don't see the absurdity.