Making Light of Sin: A Three-step How-to

Making Light of Sin

The three-step how-to as illustrated by Aaron the Priest

You might remember the story of the Golden Calf in the Hebrew Bible.  It is one of those passages that leave you saying, “What the…”, or something like that.  The Israelites had just been taken through a sea, and have been following a pillar of fire for quite some time now.  How on earth could they get tricked into idolatry so fast?  Well, that’s a question for tomorrow.  Today, we look at how one might make light of sin if he or she wanted to.

Moses had left to go to the top of the Mountain, and has been there nearly forty days.  That’s quite a while to be on top of a mountain.  So, the Israelites just assumed the worst.  Here is the passage:

32 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2 So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.” 6 And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ex 32:1–6.

It’s unclear whether or not “gods” here should be translated “god.”  Aaron clearly thinks the “god” he made represents Yahweh (vs. 6).  Whichever view you land on partly determines whether you think the first or the second commandment is being violated.  Anyhow, I hope it is not too presumptive to draw attention to the first word the Israelites say to their priest who had been left in charge, “Up!”  I suppose he wasn’t doing much of anything.  It doesn’t look like he was doing priestly things like promoting religion.

We might also wonder about Aaron’s motive in making the Israelites take the gold from their family members.  Was it a poor attempt at dissuading the crowd?  Or is it just that gold makes for a more precious idol.  Anyhow, Aaron finally does rob the whole Israelite congregation of the gold they received from Egypt by the hand of the LORD (Ex. 12:35 “The people of Israel had… asked the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry and for clothing. 36 And the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.”). Third, Aaron probably worked very hard on this.  He had to melt the gold and fashion it with a tool.

Last, we can note that Aaron decides, now, to invest a ton of time and action into foolishness.  The Israelites don’t have to prod him (Up! Up!).  He announces that a feast is going to take place the next day.  Well, anyone familiar with the Bible knows this doesn’t end well for the Israelites.  Aaron failed as a leader.  He was lazy.  He robbed the people.  He promoted Idolatry.  He spent copious amounts of time wasting their money.  But, and now to the point, if any of you should find yourself in this position then this is how you seek to escape it.  You will be confronted.  Moses was not happy with Aaron, and if you ever fail as a leader, act lazily, steal, lie, or sin some other way then you will meet someone unhappy with you.  This is one method on how to alleviate your embarrassment.

Ex. 32:21 And Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them?”

I.  Tell the other guy to cool off
22 And Aaron said, “Let not the anger of my lord burn hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil.

You’re overreacting, Moses.  Don’t be so angry.  Cool off.  No. Big. Deal.

II.  Blame others
22 And Aaron said, “Let not the anger of my lord burn hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil.

Come on Moses!  You know these people.  They just can’t get right.  How am I supposed to lead people like them?

III.  Minimize your part in it
23 For they said to me, ‘Make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 24 So I said to them, ‘Let any who have gold take it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.”

I swear, Moses!  All I did was just throw the gold in.  The calf practically made itself.  No graving tool.  No fashioning.  No smelting.  So, you see, I’m pretty innocent in the matter.

So there you have it.  You now have a way to make light of sin as illustrated by the father of all Israelite priests.  But on a serious note.  These are tendencies that I’m sure we are all prone to.  They never really fool anyone who is looking closely.  They only exhaust the interrogator.  The words of St. John shine like fashioned gold in light of this story,

1 Jn. 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.







JEDP’s Death Throes: Part IV Duplications (Of Wives and Kings)

OT And History

Cassuto and JEDP’s Death Throes: Part IV Duplications, Contradictions and Repetitions

Last week we looked at the creation account in Genesis to see if whether there are really two separate creation accounts merged together or whether Genesis 1 & 2 form a literary unit.  Today, we are going to overview why repetitions might exist in the first place.  More specifically, we will look at Umberto Cassuto’s explanation for why the Torah records Abraham lying to a king about his wife being his sister and Isaac following suit about Rebekah.  I will reference material from Cassuto in parentheses.

Here is the first instance:

Genesis 12:10 Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. 11 When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, 12 and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” 14 When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. 16 And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels.
17 But the LORD afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. 18 So Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go.” 20 And Pharaoh gave men orders concerning him, and they sent him away with his wife and all that he had.

Again, a similar instance:

Genesis 20:1 From there Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb and lived between Kadesh and Shur; and he sojourned in Gerar. 2 And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. 3 But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.” 4 Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he said, “Lord, will you kill an innocent people? 5 Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.” 6 Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her.

Interestingly, Isaac also does the same thing at Gerar.

Genesis 26:6 So Isaac settled in Gerar. 7 When the men of the place asked him about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” for he feared to say, “My wife,” thinking, “lest the men of the place should kill me because of Rebekah,” because she was attractive in appearance. 8 When he had been there a long time, Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out of a window and saw Isaac laughing with Rebekah his wife. 9 So Abimelech called Isaac and said, “Behold, she is your wife. How then could you say, ‘She is my sister’?” Isaac said to him, “Because I thought, ‘Lest I die because of her.’ ”

Passages taken from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001).

JEDP theorists, already assuming the conclusion, take these last two instances as possibly being an accidental duplication.  Or, the editor didn’t know whether the patriarchal figure was Abraham or Isaac and just left both stories.  Both are patriarchal figures who lie to a man named Abimelech in the city of Gerar.  Could this really have happened twice or is there a better explanation?

Generally, the explanation is sought within the framework of the Documentary Hypothesis.  Perhaps this tradition which was kept orally became corrupted.  Maybe Abraham was the one who was to have lied to Abimelech and sometime later it was accidentally changed to Isaac–or vice versa.  Maybe one geographical location always believed it was Isaac and then another location always retold the story as Abraham.  The final editor recording the stories in the Pentateuch probably couldn’t have known which was the original and simply left both stories in as a duplication.

Furthermore, the proponents of the Documentary Hypothesis have noted that Abraham’s actions with Pharaoh resemble, in structure, the account of the Children of Israel going to Egypt, plundering Pharaoh and leaving by the exodus.   Consider these similarities:

1. Famine in the land (78)
2. The term Sojourn (79)
3. Abram’s fear that he would die and Sarah (female) would live is echoed when Pharaoh orders the execution of all the male babies and the females are allow to live.
4. Abram/Israel (the people of) both left Egypt with very rich with silver, gold, and cattle.
5. Pharaoh tells Abram/Moses “take and be gone.”
6. Abram sets out towards Negeb. Moses sent spies ahead to Negeb. (80)
7. Abram builds an altar between Bethel and AI, the place where his descendants were destined to fight their first battle for the conquest.

Thomas Thompson, in his dissertation, argues that this is purely a common literary motif–a King plundered by an ancestral figure.2   This, for Thompson, I would assume explains the repetition and why both Isaac and Abraham would have been used in the myth.

But let’s say, for a minute, that this isn’t just a literary motif.  Let’s say that the events in these recorded narratives actually happened.  What would be the purpose of recording a patriarch lying to a king about his wife three separate times?  Let’s be real, the Documentary Hypothesis is a figment of the imagination.  There is absolutely no manuscript evidence of a single ‘source.’  It would take a nearly impossible find (a complete Torah dated to at least 800 B.C.) to disprove.  Each tenet has been devastated by a better explanation of the evidence that we have.  This makes it a poor theory indeed.  But I digress.  If Jesus is correct that Moses is the author of the Pentateuch, then what purpose would Moses have had in recording these three events.  After all, Moses couldn’t have recorded everything.  Moses was selective, and he selected this.  (Well, maybe the material Moses was working with was sparse)

Cassuto states that these parallels are certainly not coincidental. He states that these stories were selected to teach that “the acts of the fathers are a sign unto the children,” and that the “the conquest of the land had, as it were, already taken place symbolically in the time of the Patriarchs.” (81)

The repetition of Sarai in Egypt/Gerar and Rebekah in Gerar serve to solidify the promise contained.  “Everything done twice or three times is to be regarded as confirmed and established.” (82) See Josephs statement about Pharaoh’s dream occurring twice (with different metaphors), “And the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass” Gen. 41.32 (83)

We ought to understand that although Abraham and Isaac would have lived many, many years before Moses was born, Moses was writing for the generation he was with.  For this reason, Moses would have emphasized  the Kings of Egypt and Canaan being plundered as a confirmation of the the promises made to those who left Egypt (plundering Pharaoh).  The children of Israel are travelling the path of their forefathers, and Yahweh has guaranteed their inheritance.  Furthermore, this would only make sense if Moses were writing the account for that generation.  The story of how a Hebrew bests foreign kings by the promise and protection of Yahweh would be nearly irrelevant for a post-exilic group of Israelites.

In the end, I agree with Cassuto’s conclusion:  These are intentional recapitulations, and not things that happened on accident or by chance because of a later redactor.  (83)

One may say, “We do not need to assert the historicity of these events in order for us to claim that they are repetitions given in order to strengthen the Israelite’s hopes of a successful conquest.”  This seems counter-intuitive to me.  How exactly would a fictional story about a fictional ancestor strengthen anyone to risk their life in battle?  If Yahweh never actually gave his patriarchal, covenantal follower salvation from the hand of a foreign king and richly rewarded them, then how is that going to give a new generation certainty that they will receive the land and the promises despite the fierce battles they would have with the Canaanites.

Imagine you are part of an army preparing to storm a beach that, if taken, will be a turning point in the war.  The beach is heavily defended.  Would the knowledge of D-day strengthen you?  Would you take comfort in remembering that this had been done before and that it could be done again?  Would it have the same effect on you if that had never happened, but was part of a comic book you had read?  Would knowing that there is a real, historical precedent for victory help?  I think so, and with those who believe otherwise we may just have to disagree.  They can speak all they want about how they are fictional stories that still carry true meaning,  but I think it makes total nonsense out of the situation.


1. Umberto Cassuto, The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch, (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1961)
2.  See chapters 9, 11, and 12 in Thompson, Thomas. The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives. (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1974.)

JEDP’s Death Throes: Part IV Duplications (Genesis 1&2)

OT And History

Cassuto and JEDP’s Death Throes: Part IV Duplications, Contradictions and Repetitions


One mainstay of the Documentary Theorists is the persistent belief that certain Old Testament narratives are contradictory duplications of other passages.  As par for the course, Genesis 1-2 makes for a great example.  I don’t believe for a minute that these are two separate creation accounts, but let’s take a look at what some of these theorists might say about Genesis 1 and 2.  As always, Cassuto’s work will be referenced in parentheses.

There are three contradictions or inconsistencies that are argued for between the two repetitious creation accounts.

I. The Number of Days Creation Took to Complete

The first creation account states:

2:2 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.

The second creation account states:

2:4  These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.

The first creation account states that it took six days for God’s creation to be completed, but the second account states that it happened in one day.

II.  The Creation of Male and Female

1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

2:15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it…
18 Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”
21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.

What we see between these two passages is that in the first creation account God made man and woman at the same time, but in the second account God created Adam first and then formed Eve later.

III.  Plants

In Genesis 1, plants were created on the third day which is prior to human beings (sixth day).  In Genesis 2, we find:

2:5 When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, 6 and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— 7 then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

So, in one account plants precede Mankind, and in the other the opposite is true.



Now it is true that, at least for the first two points, one must already believe the Documentary Hypothesis in order to view this as evidence of two creation accounts.  Thus, it is a bit circular.  To be fair, though, I’m assuming the text to be a literary unity, and so I bring my assumptions to the table when I am reading Genesis 1-2.  Second, the theorists approach the text assuming there are two creation accounts for reasons other than I’ve listed here (Use of Divine Names, Language, Repetitiveness).  Many of these other reasons have already been dealt with by Cassuto.  I’m mentioning this only because I want to deal fairly with those who hold to the Documentary Hypothesis.  It’s not entirely fair to say, “You’re assuming the conclusion.”

I.  In the day/On the day is a literary colloquialism for “at the time when”  (73)

The use of the Hebrew word yôm can change its meaning.  It can mean a span of time, a literal day, or it can be used in a phrase to mean something else, e.g. “The Day of the Lord.”  In order to assert that Genesis 1-2 is a contradiction, it would need to be proven that the phrase “in the day” necessitates the idea that only one day is in view.  But it doesn’t.

Cassuto calls up many examples, but consider a clear one from David in Psalm 18:


It should be noted that in the day/on the day consists of the same words in Hebrew.  Now, what are we to believe about David’s life now?  The title and content of the Psalm make clear that David is speaking not only about Saul, but also “all” of his enemies.  Were all of David’s enemies really conquered in one day?  If not, is the author ignorant of how his language works?  I’m going to say, “no” on both accounts.  David is giving praise for Yahweh delivering him from Saul and from the foreigners who harassed him.  This happened over a period of time, but it is referred to by the phrase, “On the day.”

This occurs also in Numbers in reference to Moses’ forty days on the Mount of God.

Numbers 3:1 Now these are the generations of Aaron and Moses in the day that Jehovah spake with Moses in mount Sinai.

American Standard Version (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995), Nu 3.

We know in Exodus that Moses spent forty days on Sinai, but Numbers 3 states “in the day.”  But, of course, this is fine because the phrase simply is a colloquialism signifying “at the time when.”

The assertion that this is a contradiction is based on ignorance of a Hebrew phrase.

II.  Repetition is a Characteristic of Hebrew Narratives (74)

In general, much of the discussion concerning multiple sources is rooted in repetition.  But this is a characteristic of Hebrew narratives (and at least NW Semitic, e.g., Baal Cycle in Ugaritic) in general, and not evidence for multiple authorship.

In keeping with what Cassuto has already stated concerning the creation account, he notes that in Genesis 1 we are not told how they are created, but merely that they were created.  Hebrew narratives work by giving a general account that is then followed by a detailed account.   Genesis 1 leaves you with the pinnacle of God’s creation, Mankind, and Genesis 2 gives detail to how that creation happened.

III.  What about the Plants?  That has to be a contradiction, right?

Plants on the third day in Gen. 1, but in 2 “No שיח of the field were yet in the earth and no עשב of the field had yet sprung up.

  1. Notice the construct form שיח/עשב of the field (השדה). Putting a noun into a construct field changes the meaning of a word.  Using the rest of the bible, Cassuto argues that the construct phrase refers to wheat and barley which are planted and grown in fields. (75)
  2. Cassuto argues, “If Scripture tells us that just these plants had not yet grown, it is these kinds and no others that are intended.  On the contrary, the negation also implies an affirmation, to wit, that the other plants were already to be found on the earth.”
  3. The importance of the field is that in 3:18, the curse says they shall eat the עשב השדח by the sweat of their brow and the שיח השדח is synonymous with ‘thorns and thistles.’  What Gen. 2:4ff is stating that these plants (Wheat and Barley) were not available yet because man had not yet transgressed.  After the transgression thorns and thistles came and man had to live on wheat/barley because the fruit of the trees were not available. (75)
  4. Gen. 1 stresses that God created the types of plants that reproduce bountifully with their seed.  Seed is repeated often.  But the plant life excluded in Gen. 1:11 is that which requires rain and tilling.  As Cassuto states: “This excludes those for which seed alone is not sufficient; they need something else in addition, something that had not yet come into the world.  We are specifically told in connection with the שיח/עשב of the field: ‘Now no שיח of the field were yet in the earth and עשב of the field had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, AND THERE WAS NO MAN TO TILL THE GROUND.” (76)  Thorns and thistles actually require rain to sprout Cassuto says, and fields of grain are only produced by man.
  5. 2:4ff is not a cosmology at all.  There is no mention of sea or fish, and even the creation of heaven and earth are mentioned only incidentally.  What we find is a general description followed by a detailed description of the creation of man—which Cassuto says is a frequent literary device employed by the author of the Torah. (77)


Genesis 1 is a general account that God created the world.  Genesis 2 is the detailed account of the creation of Man.  It begins with a notice that fields of barley and wheat did not exist because Man had not transgressed and rain had not fallen.  Rather, being put in the garden, Adam had plenty of food from only those fruit trees and other plants which carry their seed in them and can grow without thorns, thistles, plowing and tilling.  This comes later as a by-product of the curse.


Next week, we will look at another repetition often used as evidence for multiple sources, the stories of Abraham and Isaac lying to a king by saying their wives were sisters.


1. Umberto Cassuto, The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch, (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1961).

JEDP’s Death Throes: Part III Divergent Views

OT and History

Cassuto and JEDP’s Death Throes: Part III, Divergent Views

If it is true that the Pentateuch is the result of merging documents and epics into a single literary work, then it would make sense to expect different views of the deity emerge.  This would be the result of geography, naturally, because one epic, J, might be a tradition written by or orally recited by those located in the south.  The southern community might have a different take on how the deity operates with humans than the northerners and their epic, E.  A second factor to consider is how authors might emphasize one aspect of the deity over another.  One example would be that of prophets vs. priests.  Prophets, in their writings and ministry, tend to emphasize the remoteness of the deity who is separate from and different than the sinners.  Priests, however, may emphasize the importance and necessity of the priesthood for proper worship.  Mystics, however, may be so caught up in the God-is-near moment that God speaks directly to them without temple worship or prophetic help.

These are just examples, and are not totally indicative of how those who subscribe to JEDP would describe their position.  But, I hope it helps to see just exactly what we are talking about.  This pillar describes a certain viewpoint that characterizes the so-called JE, and P sources.

J:  the deity is characterized as  personal and corporeal.
E:  the deity is characterized as more distant.  Instead of appearing physically, the deity appears only in dreams and visions.
P: the deity is characterized as more separate.  Communication is done by speech alone. 1

Before continuing, it may be helpful to note that this pillar is somewhat dependant on the others.  The pillars are used in a circular fashion that, while not inherently fallacious, can be used fallaciously.  These divergent views depend on whether or not there are distinct sources and that these sources use the divine name differently and use a different vocabulary (pillars 1 & 2).

Cassuto notes: 2

There are seven visions that occur prior to Moses’ appearance.  Out of these seven, three conflict with the theory.  So, 42% of the time the theory doesn’t work.  This makes for a poor theory indeed.

In Genesis 15:1

15 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ge 15:1.

Notice, here, that Yahweh is used as appearing to Abraham in a vision.  Thus, we have J, not E being “distant.”  Cassuto argues the same thing happens in Genesis 26 with Isaac.

In Genesis 28,

11 And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. 12 And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! 13 And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ge 28:11–13.

Yahweh is the term used once again for referring to an encounter with man via dream.

The evidence does not fit, and so often the text is emended to put the “right name” for the deity in its place.  Gunkel does this in Gen. 15. (59)  But, as Cassuto has already shown, there is a better framework for interpreting why different names are used.  In these three visions above, men in Yahweh’s covenant are being communicated with and that is why all three have revelations from Yahweh.

But in the remaining four, we should take note of these things:

1. Two dreams are to gentiles, and therefore Elohim is to be used (and is).

2. In Gen. 31:10-11, Elohim is used because of the content of the revelation.  Nothing covenantal is being relayed, and the God of Laban (not in covenant), of Jacob and their cattle are in view.

3. Gen. 46:2 Elohim is used when narrating the account of Jacob going down to Egypt.  Cassuto notes that until Moses, Yahweh is never used in association with Egypt.

In other words, the different names for the deity can be made sense of in terms of the rules for using Elohim and Yahweh that Cassuto outlined.  The JEDP theory cannot make sense of the discrepancies, and so some actually change the words.   But why do this when there is a better way?





1. Umberto Cassuto, The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch, (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1961), 59-61.

2. Ibid.