Why are there contradictions in the Holy Scriptures

The Torah says: “The Israelites marched from Beeroth to Moserah. Aaron died there and was buried there.” Deuteronomy 10:6 This contradicts Numbers 33:31 where it says they traveled from Moserah to Beeroth, the reverse order. Also in Numbers 20:22 it says Aaron died in Mount Hor not in Moserah. So we have two different contradictions in just one verse.

And there are many other conflicting details in the Torah. Do these contradictions mean that the Torah is unreliable and therefore false? Or does it teach us that spiritual truths do not follow from factual details. Does faith derive from facts or do ‘factual’ details exemplify faithful feelings?

Which statement is spiritually higher/holier: I love her because she is the most beautiful woman I ever met; or she is the most beautiful women I ever met because I love her.

O.K. contradictory details are not really important. But what about contradictions in rules of conduct or Mitsvot? The Book of Proverbs says, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly lest you become like him.” The very next verse says, “Answer a fool according to his folly so he will not become wise in his own eyes.” Proverbs 16:4&5

Obviously both of these cannot be universal principles. And this is exactly what scripture is teaching us. No one behavior should be applied in every possible case. Free speech isn’t an absolute right. Capital punishment isn’t always wrong. Love isn’t always the answer.

A good rule can in some circumstances be offset by another good rule. Ethics are not relativistic, they are pluralistic. There are many supreme values. We have to use our intelligence and our years of studying Torah and living according to its Mitsvot to decide which Torah rule is the one that applies in each case.

What if the values themselves are opposed in principle? Ecclesiastes 4:2 says, “I praise the dead who are departed more than the living who are still alive.” But 9:4 says, “A living dog is better than a dead lion.” These are two very different evaluations of life. They reflect two very different personalities and life circumstances. Yet the same person may believe each at different times, or different people may believe each at the same time.

Life contains many contradictions. That is why the Bible is filled with inconsistencies. This is true for all Holy Scriptures; the Gospels, the Koran, the Vedas, the Gita, etc. Indeed, if a rational all encompassing and entirely consistent truth is impossible even in math (Godel’s proof) how much the more so, in a theology for human life.

God obviously knows this even if some orthodox religious believers do not. We do not all have to believe in the same way or in the same things. This is why God loves to hear us debate the various interpretations of the Torah. As Psalm 62:11 states: “God spoke once, but I heard it twice, “Power belongs to God.”

The power that belongs to God is not the dictatorship of ONE TRUTH. It is the power of diversity and the pluralism of two or more truths.

Over the course of time, any religion that has inspired people for more than a few centuries will develop variations in its perspectives and its insights. This is especially true for the major world religions, because they span more than one civilization; and they have lasted for more than one historical epoch. Judaism, as the longest lasting monotheistic religious community, gives evidence of this more explicitly than any other religion I know.

In the first century the rabbis were divided into two major schools; the school of Hillel and the school of Shammai, which differed from each other in more than 400 points of Jewish law. Two centuries after the destruction of the Temple, when most of the other various sects and parties of the first century had disappeared: “Rabbi Abba said in the name of Rabbi Samuel: For three years there was a dispute between the school of Shammai and the school of Hillel. Each said: The law is according to our views.

“Then an echo of a divine voice declared, “‘Both are the words of the living God, but the law is fixed according to the school of Hillel.’ Since both are the words of the living God what entitled the school of Hillel to have the law fixed (in 90% of the disagreements) according to their rulings?

“Because they were kindly and humble; they taught their own rulings and also the rulings of the school of Shammai, and even more, they taught the school of Shammai’s rulings before they taught their own.” (Talmud Eruvin 13b)

So, the moral qualities of personal humility, and respect for dissenters, are more important than ‘seeking the truth’.

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 250 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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