Pages 2-6: spring 1990 HOLES IN THE TWO-AMRAMS THEORY Farrell Till In our first issue of T

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Pages 2-6: spring 1990 HOLES IN THE TWO-AMRAMS THEORY Farrell Till In our first issue of The Skeptical Review, I exchanged arguments with Jerry Moffitt on the general question of Bible inerrancy. Much of what we said focused on the problem of reconciling Exodus 12:40, which claims a 430- year Israelite sojourn in Egypt, with Exodus 6:16-20 in which a genealogy gives at least a surface impression that Moses and Aaron were only three generations removed from Levi, whose family had come into Egypt with Jacob and Levi's brothers, (Gen. 46:8-11). My position was that a 430-year span would cover many more than just three generations. To this, Moffitt said, "We agree with that, if there were only three generations...." (winter issue, p. 8). He went on, of course, to argue that many more generations of Is- raelites, probably as many as nine or ten, had actually lived in Egypt during the period of bondage. He justified this claim by what is sometimes called the skipped-generation theory. He cited a few examples of where Bible writers had obviously skipped generations in genealogical listings and from there went on to argue that this was what had been done in the Exodus-6 genealogy. Before examining Mr. Moffitt's theory, I first want to thank him for admitting that he agrees with my conclusion about the length of the sojourn, if there were only three generations, because he has greatly simplified my task. When I show, as I will, that the Exodus-6 genealogy was presented as a complete Aaronic family tree from Levi through Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron, Mr. Moffitt will then have to concede that there is a discrepancy in the "verbally inspired" Bible text. The crux of Moffitt's argument hinges on Numbers 3:27-28 where a census of the male Kohathites (so named because they had descended through Levi's son Kohath) put their number at 8,600. These were in turn divided into Amramites, Izharites, Hebronites, and Uzzielites, because Kohath, as indicated in Exodus 6:18, had had four sons named Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel. The argument of Mr. Moffitt and the sources he quoted is that the Amram who was the father of Aaron and Moses could not have been the Amram who was Kohath's son; otherwise, this would suggest (on the basis of an equal division of the 8,600 Kohathite males into their four clans) that Aaron and Moses had had "around 2,150 brothers," (p. 8). "That should be hard," Moffitt said, "for even a dedicated skeptic like Farrell Till to swallow." For this reason, Moffitt concludes that there had to have been at least two Amrams, one who was Kohath's son and head of the Amramites and another who fathered Aaron and Moses by Jochebed, (Ex. 6:20). The writer of the Exodus-6 genealogy had simply "skipped" some generations between the two Amrams, so the theory goes, and this has caused some people to wrongly conclude that the Amram who was Moses' father was the same Amram who was Kohath's son. It all comes out sounding very pat, but it's a theory with more holes in it than a sieve. For one thing, unless Moffitt has been living on another planet, he has to know that a major argument against the Bible inerrancy doctrine is based on the outrageous exaggeration of census figures in the books of Exodus and Numbers. Exodus 12:37 states that when the Israelites left Egypt the number of men on foot (not counting women and children) was 600 thousand! When a census was taken in the wilderness (Num. 1:46), it claimed the men of military age (20 years old and up) numbered 603,550! If we assume an equal number of women in this age group--and I guess I can do this if Moffitt can assume an equal division of the Kohathites within their four clans--this would mean the adult population older than 20 numbered around 1,200,000. Then with the children of both sexes under 20 added on, there would have been a total population of two and a half to three million! (Since the Israelites had been breeding like flies in Egypt, we could reasona- bly assume that the younger, under-the-age-of-twenty group would have surely represented an equal, if not larger, proportion of the total population.) Regardless, the fact is that there were an awful lot of people in the exodus, according to the Bible. There were so many, in fact, that one wonders why, given the relatively small size of the Sinai peninsula, a few of them at least didn't accidentally stumble onto the promised land before the end of the forty-year period of wandering, especially since they must have also driven along with them herds of sheep and cattle numbering in the mil- lions in order to have had enough lambs to meet the requirements of forty Passover commemorations and to feed the tabernacle altar the perpetual sacri- fices (for three million people) described in Leviticus and Numbers. I'm having a little fun at Mr. Moffitt's expense, of course, but only to make a serious point. He would be hard pressed to find a reputable Bible scholar anywhere who will say that the population figures in Exodus and Numbers were anywhere close to being realistically accurate. Yet he wants to use one set of those figures as the sole basis for arguing that the Amram who was Moses' father wasn't the same Amram who was Kohath's son. He said that even a dedicated skeptic like me would have a hard time swallowing the possi- bility that Moses and Aaron could have had 2,150 brothers, but his reason- ing here was a little fuzzy around the edges. At the time of the exodus, Aaron had already had four sons (Ex. 6:23), and Eleazar, one of those sons, had had at least one son, Phinehas (Ex. 6:25). Moses had also had at least two sons, (Ex. 18:3). These would have all been Amramites, so since the Israelites, as we have already noted, were breeding like flies at this time, it doesn't necessarily follow that an equal distribution of the 8,600 Kohathites into four clans would have meant that Moses and Aaron had "around 2,150 brothers." Many of them could have been their sons and grandsons or nephews and great-nephews through their sister Miriam. Since Moffitt established in his article that probably as many as nine or ten genera- tions of Israelites had lived in Egypt, we could even imagine that many of these 2,150 Amramite males were their grandsons or great-grandsons. This theory would certainly fit into the Exodus-6 genealogy as Moffitt sees it. The writer had just "skipped" some of the generations between Aaron and Phinehas. It might well be, for example, that Eleazar wasn't actually Aaron's son; he could have been his grandson. And maybe Phinehas wasn't Eleazar's son; perhaps he was his great-grandson. This is all very compatible with the skipped-generation theory and makes it quite possible that the 2,150 Amra- mites had all descended from the same Amram who was the father of Moses. But I'm not going to swap far-fetched, how-it-could-have-been scenari- os with Mr. Moffitt. That's a game inerrancy believers have to play. I'm going to return Moffitt's favor and say that I agree with him. If he can establish the reliability of the census figures in Numbers 3:27-28, then I will agree that the Amram who was Moses' father was not the same Amram for whom the Amramites were named. Until he can do that, however, he should- n't expect us to be too impressed with an argument that relies on one probable Bible discrepancy to explain another one. The exodus census numbers have long been suspect in scholarly circles, and, quite frankly, I would find it much easier to swallow the possibility that Moses and Aaron had had 2,150 brothers than that two to three million Israelites had wandered around for forty years in the Sinai desert with immense herds of sheep and cattle. Another point in Mr. Moffitt's article that we certainly don't want to overlook is his claim that as many as nine or ten generations of Israelites had lived in Egypt. He used certain genealogies in I Chronicles to support his claim, and if the sojourn lasted for 430 years, we would certainly agree that nine or ten generations would be a more reliable estimate than the four implied in the Exodus-6 genealogy. The tragedy for him, however, is that even if he is right on this point he still loses. In Genesis 15:13-16, a prophecy about the Hebrew bondage in Egypt was made to Abram presumably by Yahweh himself: "Know of a surety that thy seed shall be sojourners in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; and also that nation whom they shall serve, will I judge; and afterward shall they come out with great substance.... And in the fourth generation they shall come hither again...." So if Mr. Moffitt is right and nine or ten generations of Israelites did live in Egyptian bondage, he makes his God Yahweh a false prophet. Yahweh said that the Hebrews would come out in the fourth generation, but they really didn't make it out until the 9th or 10th. I look forward to seeing what "figurative" explanation Mr. Moffitt will devise to explain away this problem. That's another game the inerrancy defenders play. No matter how compelling the evidence for textual contradic- tions and discrepancies may be, they always manage to come up with some "figurative" interpretation of the problem passage to show how "it could have been" or what "it may have meant." With all of Mr. Moffitt's quibbles out of the way, we can now look at evidence that clearly disputes the claim that generations were skipped in the Exodus-6 genealogy. First, we should notice that the theory of skipped generations in this genealogy is just that--a theory. It is based on nothing but pure speculation. As Moffitt has noted, Matthew did call David the son of Abraham, and other writers at times clearly did skip generations in express- ing genealogical relationships, but in all of these cases we know that genera- tions were skipped because of information provided outside the genealogical texts. As the Bible tells its story, for example, we read about Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Boaz, Jesse, and the many other generations that Matthew skip-ped in calling David the son of Abraham, but where is the Bible passage(s) that tell(s) of the generations presumably skipped between the two Amrams of Exodus 6? Unfortunately for Mr. Moffitt, they simply do not exist. Every time the Levitical genealogies of either Moses or Aaron are listed in the Bible, they always show the same order: Levi, Kohath, Amram, and Moses and/or Aaron, (Ex. 6:16-20; Num. 26:57-59; I Chron. 6:1-3; 23:6-13). As much as the Bible emphasized genealogies, it seems strange, to say the least, that a complete genealogy of two of its most important figures--Aaron and Moses--is to be found nowhere in the sacred text. But this is the conclusion we are driven to if we accept the skipped-generation theory. Furthermore, this theory ignores a clear intention of the Exodus-6 genealogy, which the writer began as if he meant to give a complete genealo- gy of all of Jacob's sons: "These are the heads of their fathers' houses. The sons of Reuben the first-born of Israel: Hanoch, and Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi.... And the sons of Simeon: Jemuel, and Jamin, and Ohad, and Jachin, and Zohar, and Shaul the son of a Canaanitish woman...." (6:14-15). But after Levi, Jacob's (Israel's) third son through whom the Levitical priests had descended, the writer stopped listing the Jacobite sons; thereafter, nothing was mentioned of Judah, the son through whom Jesus descended, or Gad or Asher, etc., etc., etc. Everything suddenly focused on Levi and his sons, and soon thereafter the focus became Aaron and his sons. Even the descend- ants of Moses were dropped. Aaron and sons assumed center stage. Clearly the writer of this genealogy was trying to make what he thought was an important point about Aaron. What could that have been except to establish that Aaron was clearly a direct descendant of Levi? To understand why the writer of this genealogy would have had such an inter- est, one must know about the struggle that the Aaronic branch of the Levites waged with other family branches through much of Israel's history to win recognition as the only divinely recognized Levitical priests. To show that such a struggle did happen would take more space than I have left, but it is a position I am prepared to prove if Mr. Moffitt or anyone else wants to challenge it. In the light of such a struggle, the writer's purpose in Exodus 6 becomes clear. He wanted to establish that the first priests, the ones who had served the Israelites in the wilderness, had descended from Levi through Aaron. Most reputable Bible scholars, in fact, believe that the writer of this passage was himself an Aaronic priest. If that is so, then he had an impor- tant point to make--important to him at least--and he couldn't very well have done it by skipping generations in this genealogy. He went to elaborate extremes, in fact, to make his point. At the end of the genealogy, he wrote, "These are the heads of the fathers' houses of the Levites according to their families" (v:25), so clearly his intention was to present a family tree from Levi through Phinehas and not a general genealogy of Jacob's family as it appeared when he began it. But why the focus on Aaron and his sons? Why weren't the other Levite families important enough to extend as far as the writer went with Aaron's family? He surely had a purpose, and I believe that purpose has been best explained by scholars who have identified the writer of this genealogy as a priest who had himself descended from Aaron. The writer's hand was further tipped as he continued his conclusion of the genealogy: "These are that Aaron and Moses, to whom Jehovah (Yahweh) said, Bring out the children of Israel from the land of Egypt according to their hosts. These are they that spake to Pharaoh king of Egypt, to bring out the children of Israel from Egypt: these are that Moses and Aaron," (vv:26-27). Somehow, the writer felt compelled to drive home the fact that the Aaron and Moses in this genealogy were the very Aaron and Moses famous for having led the Hebrews out of Egypt. From cover to cover, the Bible mentions no other Aaron and Moses except these, so why did the writer go to such extremes to make it clear what Aaron and Moses he meant? Clearly, he wanted it understood that the first Levitical priests to serve Yahweh's people were descended from Levi through the same Aaron who was Moses' brother. He had a vested interest in selling that point to his readers. This writer's extreme care, however, raises another question. Is it reasonable to believe that someone as redundant as this writer was in identi- fying which Moses and Aaron he meant would list one Amram in a genealo- gy, skip a generation or two (or three), and then resume listing the genera- tions with a second Amram and not tell his readers the two weren't the same person! It stretches credibility too far to imagine it. Besides, we have another case where Mr. Moffitt loses even if he is right. Anyone who knows anything at all about effective writing will agree that if there really were two different Amrams, then whoever wrote this genealogy used extremely poor transition, for in the short space of just two verses, he went from one Amram to another person of the same name without letting his readers know the change was being made. Thus, if Moffitt could actually prove this is not a case of factual error, it would still be a serious composi- tional error. Shouldn't an omniscient God know how to direct his inspired writers to use sound writing practices? But in this case he didn't--if Moffitt is right. So far all my evidence has been circumstantial. None of it actually proves that only one Amram was intended in the genealogy, but now that is about to change. The genealogy says that Kohath had four sons: Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel, (v:18). If I am right in saying that the Amram in this verse was the same Amram identified in verse 20 as the father of Aaron and Moses, then Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel were the uncles of Aaron and Moses. Is there any proof that they were? Unfortunately for the skipped- generation theory, there is. Mr. Moffitt is no doubt familiar with the story in Leviticus 10:1-2, where Yahweh incinerated Nadab and Abihu, the priestly sons of Aaron, for using "strange fire" in their censers. I wouldn't even try to estimate how many you-better-toe-the-line sermons by Church-of-Christ preachers have been based on this story. Perhaps Mr. Moffitt has preached a few of them himself. At any rate, after the fire had "devoured them," we read this: "And Moses called Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron, and said unto them, Draw near, carry your brethren from before the sanctuary out of the camp," (v:4). Here it plainly says that Aaron had an uncle named Uzziel. Was this the same Uzziel as the one in Exodus 6:18 who was "the first Amram's" brother? Notice that Aaron's Uncle Uzziel had two sons named Mishael and Elzaphan (Lev. 10:4) and that the Uzziel in the Exodus-6 geneal- ogy (brother of Amram I) had three sons: Mishael, Elzaphan, and Sithri, (v:22). What will Mr. Moffitt say about this? Will he now come forth with a skipped-generation, two-Uzziels theory? Furthermore, we have the fact that Exodus 6:20 states that Amram, the father of Aaron and Moses, "took him Jochebed his father's sister to wife; and she bare him Aaron and Moses." Now if Amram's wife Jochebed was his father's sister and if this Amram who married Jochebed was the same Amram who was Kohath's son, then Jochebed would have been Levi's daughter, because Kohath was Levi's son. Is there anything in the Bible to indicate that Jochebed, the mother of Aaron and Moses, was indeed Levi's daughter? In relating the circumstances of Moses' birth, Exodus 2:1-10 says that his mother was "a daughter of Levi," (v:1). Mr. Moffitt will argue that she was a daughter of Levi only in the sense that she was a descendant of Levi, and he could probably get away with this were it not for Numbers 26:57: "And the name of Amram's wife was Jochebed, the daughter of Levi, who was born to Levi in Egypt: and she bare unto Amram Aaron and Moses, and Miriam their sister," (ASV). Inerrancy believers have desperately tried to deny the clear conclusion this passage leads to, even to the point of tampering with the text. The NIV renders it like this: "The name of Amram's wife was Jochebed, a descendant of Levi, who was born to the Levites in Egypt...." Most versions, however, faithfully represent the Hebrew meaning as it was translated in the ASV quoted above. Nevertheless, Bible fundamentalists still adamantly insist that Jochebed wasn't literally Levi's daughter, that she had been "born to Levi" only in the sense that any Levite woman of Jochebed's time had been born to Levi. Those who so argue have never been able to explain why the passage states that Jochebed had been born to Levi in Egypt. Why specify that it was in Egypt that she had been born to Levi? In the maze of genealogical information in Exodus, Numbers, I Chronicles, and elsewhere, no other person of Jochebed's time was identified as a daughter (or son) of Levi who had been born to him in Egypt. If there was no special significance to the expression, then it would have been appropriate to say of any woman of Jochebed's tribe and generation that she had been "born to Levi in Egypt." Yet it was never said, except in the case of Jochebed. Surely there was a reason why. We have already noticed the intense interest of the Exodus-6 genealogy in establishing Aaron's descent from Levi. Scholars generally recognize this genealogy and Numbers 26:57-59 both as parts of the P Document redacted into the Bible by an Aaronic priest. If so, that would explain the preoccupa- tion of both passages with establishing Aaron's descent from Levi. He wasn't just a descendant, specifically a great-grandson, of Levi; his mother was even a daughter (literally) of Levi, so he was Levi's grandson as well as a great-grandson. That would have made him about as "Levitical" as anyone could claim. Possibly realizing that some readers of his redaction would chal- lenge the claim that Jochebed was Levi's daughter on grounds that no daugh- ters were credited to Levi in earlier genealogies (Gen. 46:11), the writer took care to specify that she was Levi's daughter because she had been born to him in Egypt. To say the least, Mr. Moffitt has his work cut out for him. To estab- lish any kind of credibility in his two-Amrams theory, he must repair the holes the facts in this article have shot into it. In particular, he must ex- plain away Aaron's uncle Uzziel and his mother Jochebed, who was said to be the "daughter of Levi" who had been "born to Levi in Egypt." If he can't do this, by his own admission (as noted earlier), he must agree that the Israel- ite sojourn in Egypt spanned only three generations, which would have been considerably less than 430 years. If he persists in claiming that other genealogies show a span of nine or ten generations during the sojourn, all he will prove is that intertextual contradictions are in the Bible, and this is what we have been arguing all along. So even when he wins he loses. ******************************** FREE SUBSCRIPTION: A free one-year subscription to The Skeptical


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