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Did Nehemiah Poorly Copy Ezra? — Ezra 2:1–42 v. Nehemiah 7:5–45

Believe it or not, kids, there was a time when “copy/paste” wasn’t as simple as long-pressing a touchscreen to cause a context menu to appear allowing you to choose “select,” tapping “copy” in a subsequent context menu which appears, navigating to a different text box, long-pressing to pull up its context menu, and finally tapping “paste.” Oh no. Back in the day we used our mouses to click-and-drag over the text we wanted, pressed Ctrl+C to copy the text, navigated to a different text field, and finally pressed Ctrl+V to paste in what we wanted. Sounds pretty archaic, doesn’t it? However did we survive?

What if I told you that there was a time before even that method of copying. Long ago. Before computers. Before the most basic of Turing machines. Before even the printing press.

It was the age of handwriting (ask your parents if you’ve never heard of this). Original copies (known as autographs) were written by one’s own hand. If more than one copy was desired (which, let’s be honest, is the desire of just about every author), copies had to be made. For a long period of history, scribes tasked themselves with copying documents, over and over and over.

The more important the document being copied, the greater the care taken would be. In fact, when it comes to the Bible, we are told that biblical scribes copied the texts in about as laboriously time-consuming a method as possible, so as preserve what was believed to be the words of God.

What are we to make of it, then, when we find substantial contradictions between not insignificant passages of the Bible containing very definite details and in which the latter passage is a direct copy of the earlier?

That is the situation seen in Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7. [ref]You know Ezra and Nehemiah, right? They’re pretty easy to miss — far enough in that most people give on the “read through the Bible in a year” plans, but just before what the “well, I’ll just start with Psalms and go from there” folks will see. Bummer, right?[/ref]

Both Ezra and Nehemiah are speaking about groups of families who are returning from exile — from where, to where, and for why aren’t really relevant here. Here is how Ezra introduces his list:

Now these were the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of those exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried captive to Babylonia. They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own town. 2They came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum, and Baanah.

Ezra 2:1–2, ESV

Now, here is Nehemiah’s introduction to his version of the list, leaving little doubt that the same group of people is being described:

… And I found the book of the genealogy of those who came up at the first, and I found written in it:

6These were the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of those exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried into exile. They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his town. 7They came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Azariah, Raamiah, Nahamani, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispereth, Bigvai, Nehum, Baanah.

Nehemiah 7:5b–7, ESV

Before continuing to the two lists of families, it is important to note that both Ezra and Nehemiah are describing the same group of people — those who returned from exile to their own homelands. The lists are not exiles plus additional births or minus deaths or any other assumption made in an attempt to reconcile the two lists, as any such reconciliation actually casts doubt upon Nehemiah’s veracity.

Family (where Nehemiah gives a variant name, it is bracketed) Ezra reference Ezra’s # Nehemiah reference Nehemiah’s # Difference
Parosh 2:3 2,172 7:8 2,172 0
Shephatiah 2:4 372 7:9 372 0
Arah 2:5 775 7:10 652 123
Pahath-moab, namely the sons of Jeshua and Joab 2:6 2,812 7:11 1,818 6
Elam 2:7 1,254 7:12 1,254 0
Zattu 2:8 945 7:13 845 100
Zaccai 2:9 760 7:14 760 0
Bani [Binnui] 2:10 642 7:15 648 6
Bebai 2:11 623 7:16 628 5
Azgad 2:12 1,222 7:17 2,322 1,100
Adonikam 2:13 666 7:18 667 1
Bigvai 2:14 2,056 7:19 2,067 11
Adin 2:15 454 7:20 655 201
Ater, namely of Hezekiah 2:16 98 7:21 98 0
Bezai 2:17 323 7:23 324 1
Jorah [Hariph] 2:18 112 7:24 112 0
Hashum 2:19 223 7:22 328 105
Gibbar [Gibeon] 2:20 95 7:25 95 0
Bethlehem 2:21 123 7:26 188 9
Netophah 2:22 56 Counted with Bethlehem
Anathoth 2:23 128 7:27 128 0
Azmaveth [Beth-azmaveth] 2:24 42 7:28 42 0
Kiriath-arim [Kiriath-jearim], Chephirah, and Beeroth 2:25 743 7:29 743 0
Ramah and Geba 2:26 621 7:30 621 0
Michmas 2:27 122 7:31 122 0
Bethel and Ai 2:28 223 7:32 123 100
Nebo [the other Nebo] 2:29 52 7:33 52 0
Magbish 2:30 156 Omitted
the other Elam 2:31 1,254 7:34 1,254 0
Harim 2:32 320 7:35 320 0
Lod, Hadid, and Ono 2:33 725 7:37 721 4
Jericho 2:34 345 7:36 345 0
Senaah 2:35 3,630 7:38 3,930 300
Jedaiah, of the house of Jeshua 2:36 973 7:39 973 0
Immer 2:37 1,052 7:40 1,052 0
Pashhur 2:38 1,247 7:41 1,247 0
Harim 2:39 1,017 7:42 1,017 0
Jeshua and Kadmiel, of the sons of Hodaviahm [Jeshua, namely of Kadmiel of the sons of Hodeveh] 2:40 74 7:43 74 0
Asaph 2:41 128 7:44 148 20
Shallum, Ater, Talmon, Akkub, Hatita, and Shobai 2:42 139 7:45 138 1
Names & quantities are from the English Standard Version.

Out of forty entries [ref]Or thirty-nine entries, if you count Nehemiah’s, due to two entries being combined.[/ref], seventeen of them are conflicted. If Nehemiah were doing this as homework, he would have only gotten a 58%, which I’m pretty sure is failing by almost any teacher’s standard. [ref]Or a 59%, using Nehemiah’s combined entry, but that doesn’t change the conclusion.[/ref]

According to one popular apologist, the numbers differing isn’t a problem or contradiction because Ezra was written a few hundred years earlier than Nehemiah. Apparently this allows them to describe the same event using significantly different numbers because the facts of that event change whether you’re talking about it at one point in history or another. I’m not entirely sure how that’s supposed to make any sense, and I think the aforementioned apologist knows that, as he provides a secondary hypothesis.

Copyist errors, it is reckoned, could account for the errors. Despite what we are told about the biblical scribes’ obsessive attention to detail when copying the biblical texts, it is all too easy for apologists to throw them under the bus when contradictions are pointed out in the Bible. How can the scribes be considered all but foolproof while simultaneously allowing them to have about a forty percent failure rate in the context of Nehemiah 7?

A curious note about the “copyist error” hypothesis is that as Nehemiah’s list progresses, the contradictions become less frequent. It would be far more convincing that, at the end of a tedious list of names and numbers, the scribes began making errors simply due to boredom, tiredness, and the like. However, that the list begins with most of the errors and gets comparatively better as it goes on doesn’t seem to fit the profile of what biblical über scribes would have produced.

A third option I have found is that the variations are simply due to “variations in our English method of spelling proper names,” [ref]Hayley, John W. Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible. New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 1992. 352. Print.[/ref] which I can only assume means that the seventeen families which are conflicted between Ezra & Nehemiah’s accounting are, in fact, thirty-four different families, and that Ezra and Nehemiah were rather incomplete in their details.

Unfortunately, that third option doesn’t take into account Nehemiah’s admission that he was copying the earlier account — not adding to or expanding it.

Ultimately, it must be admitted that the Bible contains at least seventeen contradictions, which should give pause to anyone who even moderately believes that the Bible represents “God’s perfect word” or even that Nehemiah was writing God’s words — why, after all, would God be such a poor copier of his own earlier work (Ezra)?

We cannot even be sure which author was correct — did Ezra provide a correct accounting, or did Nehemiah’s later account correct the earlier work? And why would Christians expect us to take seriously a book which contains irreconcilable details, the truthiness of which is impossible to know?

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On the Irreducible Complexity of the Eye

If you think that the eye is “irreducibly complex” and so poses a problem for the theory of evolution, this video explains how the eye evolved from far simpler forms to the (wide variety) of eyes which we see in the world today.
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Ascending toward a Secular Now

The other day, I described what it is to ascend Olympus, to explore the holy places to determine whether the gods are there. It’s a form of active skepticism — a response to vocal religious apologists with endless claims that God is here and here’s why — and is a form which is not only necessary but also sorely lacking in society.

Oh, sure, you’ll find a handful of celebrity skeptics who’ll ascend Olympus publicly (you may recognize the names Krauss, Tyson, Nye, and Dawkins), and there are certainly a growing number of online personalities doing their part to ascend Olympus (Friendly Atheist, Christina Rad, Jaclyn Glenn, The Amazing Atheist, and so on).

If I were to guess from what I’ve read or seen of their material, we all have one goal, to sort of reclaim society from religion, to make freedom from religion as mainstream as the freedom of religion, such that anyone from any religion (or non-religion) can live life civilly, based upon laws & morality which are agreed upon for everyone’s benefit, and not for the benefit of members of a certain religion or in deference to the laws of a particular religion.

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There Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

Millenia ago, the Greeks worshiped a myriad of gods and goddesses. Zeus & the Olympians[ref]Sounds like a band name…[/ref] ruled over a variety of areas of life from high upon Mount Olympus.

Local legend taught that the Olympians often came down to interact with mortal humans.[ref]It is, after all, how Heracles is supposed to have been conceived![/ref] When finished, they would return to Olympus, the tallest mountain in all of Greece, and their residences within its gorges.

From Olympus, Zeus would hurl lightning down into the realm of humans, while he and the other deities would observe, judge, and perhaps even be entertained by the actions of the mortals.

Why, then, did the Greeks never climb Olympus to find their gods? Was it fear? Were those who did climb it simply disbelieved upon their return?

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Creationist Russ Miller’s Glory of God Mathematics

Christians worship the triune God, manifested as the Father, Son & Holy Spirit. Scoffers claim we’re worshipping 3 Gods (1+1+1=3) however, the Bible says the heavens declare the glory of God & His triune character is reflected in His creation’s space, matter & time. Not surprisingly, each of these 3 also exhibits a triune character. Space consists of height-width & depth. Matter is solid-liquid & gas. Time is past-present & future. The correct math confirms (1) Father x (1) Son x (1) Spirit=One God & you can put your trust in His Word, word for word & cover to cover.

It is no secret that Christians will do whatever they can to give their beliefs a grounding in reality. Perhaps most notable are the works of young-Earth creationists who selectively choose what they consider to be “good” science so that they can say science agrees with what they believe the Bible to say about reality.

But then there are some — like (coincidentally) young-Earth creationist Russ Miller of Creation, Evolution & Science Ministries — who think that they can lend credence to their beliefs by imagining connections between beliefs & reality, while simultaneously demonstrating how ignorant they are of reality.

Let’s look at Mr. Miller’s homily, bit by bit.

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Heaven or Hell? Which One Will You Choose?

When I was a Christian, I managed to amass a large collection of tracts, short pamphlets designed to designed to get across a message. And in the case of those that I had, those messages ranged from pointed gospel messages to out-of-left-field messages disparaging certain Bible translations.

I’d do a lot with these tracts: leave them in public places, tuck them away in library books, and of course hand them out door to door with friends of mine — all of this after I meticulously branded the back of each one with not only the address of my church but often, this website’s address back when I wrote as a Christian. This branding was done by hand for thousands of them before eventually investing in a custom stamp. Yes, there was plenty else I could have done with my time; you don’t have to remind me!

I don’t recall finding too many other tracts in the areas I’d frequent back then, but over the past couple of years, I’ve found them with increasing frequency. But now I look at them from a completely different perspective — that of an outsider to their religious message, that of a skeptic, that of (to be honest…) the “target audience” of the tracts.

Rather than grab-and-recycle the tracts as I spot them, I’ll be bringing them to you, the RickBeckman.org & Secular Now audience, beginning with “Heaven or Hell: Which One Will You Choose?”

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Fixing NewsBlur’s “Story” Pane When Browsing Securely on Firefox 23

Ever since the shuttering of Google Reader, I’ve been an avid, several-times-a-day user of NewsBlur, which while it isn’t free if you have over sixty-four feeds, has served my purposes nicely.

One of my favorite features of NewsBlur is its ability to load the actual page a feed entry refers to within a frame of its news reader.

Certain feeds, such as the Dilbert Daily Strip feed, don’t display the content itself, encouraging subscribers to click through to the actual site. With Google Reader, that’s just what I had to do: click through. NewsBlur’s “Story” feature, though, allowed the viewing of these “click through” feed entries from within NewsBlur’s interface, which was fantastic!

Unfortunately, recently I noticed this feature stop working.

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Allow HTML 5 in WordPress Comments

If you’ve taken the time to convert Thesis 1.8.5 to HTML 5 or if you’re using a theme that already is HTML 5, you may have wondered how, if at all, you could allow your visitors to leave rich comments on your posts, marked up in all the rich HTML 5 semantic markup they could need.

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Then to Now: A Blogger’s Tale

I have been on the Internet and making web pages for nearly twenty years. Yeah… I think I made my first website around 1995–1997, using hosting space provided by Dad’s Internet hosting provider, Comteck. It didn’t have its own domain name, but I was proud to have written all of the markup for it by hand, using (if I remember correctly) Netscape Composer and a copy of HTML for Dummies. (Pretty sure that was HTML 3.2. I miss its simplicity at times.)

Hand-written markup would eventually give way to Microsoft FrontPage (*cringe*). What it lacked in elegance, it made up for in efficiency — I was publishing websites as if it were as easy as tying my shoes. FrontPage lost its luster, though, when I realized how badly it was limiting me, and I eventually discovered Dreamweaver and began once again hand-writing a lot of my markup, often with the use of free templates I would find and modify to my liking.

In time, WordPress landed on my radar, and I never looked back. I tried numerous content management systems — even shelled out money for several of them — but all of them seemed so… unpolished compared to WordPress, even back then.

And I began to blog. Too much, at times. I found membership with 9rules prior to… whatever it was that seems to have killed that network. It was during this time I met a ton of other fantastic bloggers. I found my humble attempt at blogging being linked to from other, more established, far more interesting blogs.

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Ten So-Called Fallacies of Atheism

The following has been passed around among a few friends of mine on Facebook, in Bible study groups and the like. It was presumably written by a friend, alias Juan DeChristo. Because it is the nature of the members of the Bible study groups to attack anything posted to their groups like ravenous piranha, making proper discussion difficult to say the least, I’m posting my response here, where I can use proper block quoting.