While anachronisms are quoted widely, narrative discrepancies are also seen as evidence of post Mosaic
authorship of the Pentateuch. Narrative discrepancies represent perceived textual inconsistencies, differences,
or disagreements within the narrative. And some discrepancies can be attributed to copyist errors as discussed
in this article The Reality of Copyists' Errors.
One common example is Genesis 21:14. In this apparent
discrepancy, Sarah has Hagar expelled from the family when Ishmael is a young man around the age of 14 - 17.
Destructive critics of the late 1800s based their criticism on the translation of the Septuagint version of
And Abraam rose up in the morning and took loaves and a skin of water, and gave
them to Agar, and he put the child on her shoulder, and sent her away, and she having departed wandered in the
wilderness near the well of the oath. (Septuagint version – Gen 21:14)
From this translation, destructive critics ask how it is possible for Hagar to carry this
young man Ishmael on her shoulders?
It is a valid question; however, the Septuagint is well known to have many corruptions in its text. The
collection of scriptures that make up the Septuagint has a complicated and varied translation history including
a Hebrew book translated more than once, revisions to particular Greek translations, and instances of
modifications and amplifications. Thus, while it is worthy for study and consultation, it is not a manuscript
used for the basis of today’s Old Testament translations.
The more accurate ben Asher text (Leningrad Manuscript B19a), used as the basis of many
contemporary translations, indicates the translation of
Genesis 21:14 as:
So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave
them to Hagar, putting them on her shoulder, and gave her the boy, and sent her away. And she departed and
wandered about in the wilderness of Beersheba. (NASB – Gen 21:14)
This apparent narrative discrepancy used by destructive critics, and repeated often today,
is based on a manuscript that was produced in a manner that did not have the fidelity of Massoretic traditions.
Learn how archaeology cleared up
apparent discrepancy of Jabin.
Aaron’s death represents an example of a geographical discrepancy that is used as evidence that the
Pentateuch is a compilation of various sources. Critics point out that Aaron was buried in two different places:
did Aaron die on Mount Hor or in Moserah?
Numbers 20:27-28 – Mount Hor
So Moses did just as the LORD had commanded, and they went up to Mount Hor in
the sight of all the congregation. After Moses had stripped Aaron of his garments and put them on his son
Eleazar, Aaron died there on the mountain top. Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain.
Numbers 33:38-39 – Mount Hor
Then Aaron the priest went up to Mount Hor at the command of the LORD, and
died there in the fortieth year after the sons of Israel had come from the land of Egypt, on the first day in
the fifth month. Aaron was one hundred twenty-three years old when he died on Mount Hor.
Deuteronomy 10:6 – Moserah
(Now the sons of Israel set out from Beeroth Bene-jaakan to Moserah. There
Aaron died and there he was buried and Eleazar his son ministered as priest in his place.
It is believed that Moserah is the name of the district where Mount Hor is located. A similar example is
seen in Horeb, which is the name of the mountain complex where Mount Sinai is located. However, current
extrabiblical literature does not answer the question of whether Moserah was the regional name for the area
of Mount Hor.
The absence of knowing the precise definition of geographical terms has led to some confusion and fuel for
those who challenge Mosaic authorship; yet, it is intellectually disingenuous to fail to consider that current
scholarship does not fully understand the ancient Hebrew’s use of geographical terms.
Another apparent narrative discrepancy that is often quoted is the disbelief that the events of Numbers 21
through 36 all took place in the span of 6 months. During this time the nation of Israel mourned the death of
Aaron for 30 days (Num 20:23-29), the Caananites of Arad
were defeated in the Negev (Num 21:1-3), Sihon king of the
Amorites was defeated (Num 21:2-35;
Deut 2:24-36), judgment against apostasy at Peor
(Num 25:1-18), the census at the Moab plains by the Jordan
River near Jericho (Num 26:1-63), Og king of Bashan was
defeated (Num 21:33-35;
Deut 3:1-7), and the Midianites were destroyed
In making this statement, critics have failed to include the context to the biblical narrative.
A possible and approximate route taken from Mount Hor to an area opposite Jericho, including
the distance to confront the Caananites of Arad, is about 340 miles and would take about 19 days to travel. The
campaign against Sihon king of the Amorites was along the way.
The travel time of 19 days, not including the time for the Arad and Amorite campaigns, was
based on the travel time from Horeb to Kadesh-barnea. According to Moses, this 200 miles distance was covered
in 11 days (Deut 1:2).
The campaign against Og king of Bashan was roughly a round trip of 200 miles north of the
crossing point of the Jordan River.
While many of the ancient locations remain unknown, the travel itinerary was detailed and
specific (Num 33:1-49). Despite not knowing where the Promised
Land was, the Hebrews were impatient to get to there, and were frustrated with taking a circuitous route
The number of men available for military service was 601,730
The itinerant Hebrew nation was highly organized. Lead by a hierarchy of leaders, the nation
was organized in groups as small as 10. (Deut 1:15)
After the campaign against Sihon king of the Amorites, God placed the dread of defeat on
Israel’s enemies (Deut 2:25).
Only 12,000 Hebrew soldiers were sent to destroy the Midianites and their five kings
(Num 31:4-6), and all of them returned from battle
When one subtracts the 30 days of mourning and the approximate total travel time of 30 days to arrive at
the jump off point into the Promised Land, the nation of Israel has roughly 120 days to complete all the
activities commanded by God. So this alleged narrative discrepancy was a consequence of examining the biblical
text without its context.
Discrepancies do exist and contribute to the difficulty of understanding the Bible; however, the source of
many of them has been determined and no longer is contradictory to the biblical text. The few examples
highlighted here demonstrate the variety of causes that have been identified: errors of the copyists, the
practice of using multiple names for people and places, and misunderstanding the context of the passage.
Because much remains unknown the Ancient Near East and it literature, perhaps too much has been made about
this in an attempt to discredit Mosaic authorship. History continues to show that as more is learned, the
truthfulness of the Bible continues to be affirmed.