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Bishop Colenso's examination of the Pentateuch examined ; with an appendix online

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nooks and on many platforms. Not only did the camels stop
to crop these tamarisks, their drivers were seen at every bush
and in the midst of every tree, gathering arms and laps-full of
twigs for their beasts." — Her route lay along the northern part
of the Paran highlands, on which, as I have reminded you, the
people spent at least thirty-eight of their forty years, and she
gives an account of this portion which will remind you of extracts
from my own Journal in relation to the ground somewhat
further to the south and west. " We had the pleasure of enter-
ing upon a green wady before we stopped to-day, of riding over
grass, however thin it might be, and seeing by the wayside the
purple iris, large and small, wild oats, daisies, buttercups, and
abundance of the homely mallow. The whole ground might
have been English, except for the fine scarlet anemones, which
grew as plentifully as any other weed." And the day before,
she writes, " I saw three large flocks of wild geese . . . and
some of the company observed a herd of gazelles afar."

Now^ it is certain that^ of the variety in the aspect
and resources of the ground of the Mosaic history^


which is apparent in these extracts, our examiner of
the Pentateuch is utterly unconscious. Yet he might
have learned them from Dr. Stanley^s admirable work,
which he has so freely quoted, as well as from the
researches of writers such as Drs. Robinson and Wil-
son, whose aid most examiners of this portion of
Scripture have found to be essential in their investi-
gations. So, again, but little additional research was
needed to learn the existence of those ruins and in-
scriptions which, as I have reminded you, prove deci-
sively that large populations were settled, even in
Christian times, upon this territory. Paran was an
episcopal city in the fifth century, and was in exist-
ence until the twelfth. And on the upper part of the
highlands, on which the people were so long en-
camped, the ruins of at least seven towns, of consi-
derable extent, belonging to the Roman and early
Christian period, are traceable. Moreover, the penin-
sula was constantly traversed by trading caravans
through at least six routes; and even now^, in its
evidently changed and wasted state, its resources are
adequate to the support of not less than 10,000 inha-
bitants, if we include, as here we properly may, the
tribe of the Jehalin, which spreads itself far away,
beyond the South of Palestine, upon the " pastures in
the wilderness."

But, says Dr. Colenso, in his '' answ'crs " to these
considerations — as they are brought forward by Stanley
and Kalisch, in the extracts which he has given (pp.
67-78) from these writers, — How can they be recon-


ciled with tlie express language of the sacred writer
himself upon the subject ? Does he not speak again and
again of the scene of the wanderings as a " waste and
howling/' and as a " great and terrible '' wilderness ?
Does he not represent the people as complaining of it
as " an evil place/' where there was no vegetation, or
water to drink, and in which they and their cattle
must die? And does not the prophet (Jer, ii. 6)
speak of it as a " land of deserts and of pits, through
which no man passed, and in which no man dwelt V —
Undoubtedly, I answer; and if Dr. Colenso had really
examined the passages from which these statements
were taken, he would have found that, in every in-
stance, these epithets are carefully limited by the
historian to two particular localities, as again that he
has also closely connected them with other epithets and
phrases, which show that he did not intend them to
be generally descriptive of the entire peninsula. If
you will turn to the passages which our examiner
brings forward in this instance, you will find that
every one of them refers, either to that long, arid, and
desert valley, which stretches from the Dead Sea to
Akabah, or else to the barren country, east of the
Seir mountains, on the frontier edge of which, where
it blends with the Arabian Desert, the Israelites were
compelled to march in the closing stages of then-
journey. You will observe how I have marked, from
the remembrance of some painful days which I my-
self passed there, the distinctive features of the former
of these two places in the illustrated version of


the people^s wanderings^ wliicli I have above given.
Moses, in his review of their journey, might well speak
of this valley as " waste and howling/-* and as '' ter-
rible ;^^ but, in one instance where he does so (Deut.
xxxii. 10), he carefully connects it with the "1S7P V";^
(z. e. desert land), unto which (see Gesen., in voc.) no
such epithet was suitable ; and in the other he expressly
reminds his hearers and readers that he is referrins; to
the country which they " saw by the way of the Mount
of tlie Amorites, as they came to Kadesh Barnea/'
When he uses the words " great and terrible ''
(Deut. viii. 15) in connexion with their marching
ground on the east of Edom, he carefully reminds us
that it was of this place he was speaking, by alluding
to the " fiery serpents '^ which there afflicted them ;
and again he refers separately, in the followmg verse,
to the "i^"!^^ where he recalls the support which in
this place was vouchsafed to them.

From all this you must begin to see that Dr,
Colenso has really been bringing into view the accu-
racy of the " story " he has striven to discredit. But
if you will now turn to the passage quoted by him
from Jeremiah (ii. 6), I think this impression will be
deepened. It is, indeed, true that the prophet speaks
of part of the country traversed by the people as a
" land which no man passed through," and in which
" no man dwelt." But he, too, guards himself, in
the same verse, from that misconception of his mean-
ing into which Dr. Colenso has fallen : he expressly
warns us that it is only part of the ground of the


wanderings lie is speaking of, by previously referring
to the other, and wholly different,, region that was
comprised in it. More than this I surely need not
say in reference to that particular difficulty raised by
our examiner, which we are here considering. With
the clue which I have thus suggested, I will ask you
to look afresh over this, which is by far the most
elaborate, chapter in Dr. Colenso^s volume. And I
will venture to affirm that you will then recognise
an amount of misrepresentation in its sixteen pages
which will awaken your astonishment, not less than
your indignation. Other feelings, however, may well
succeed these when you also see that this weapon, too,
of our assailant may be turned against himself, and
that he has really brought into view the truthfulness
of the record which he has been striving to discredit,
and to defame.

His misconceptions, however, concerning the phy-
sical character of the peninsula and its resources do
not by any means constitute his only difficulty.
Another is continually brought forward in different
parts of eighteen chapters of his work, and he more
than once assures us that this finally decides the un-
historical character of the Mosaic writings. I am here
referring to w-hat he calls his proofs of the untrust-
worthiness of the numbers given in them. For this,
he assures us, is beyond all question. Figures cannot
be mistaken ; sums accurately worked out supply a
witness that is unimpeachable. Measure the open


spaces of the peninsula, and compare witli them the
census of the population ; consider the length of the
caravan in its marchings, and the extent of the
ground which must have been covered by the en-
campment. Think of the time that would be con-
sumed in offering the sacrifices, the number of the
pigeons that must be eaten by the priests, &c. ; and,
he tells us, conclusions will then be forced on you,
" which alone, independent of all other considerations,
are enough to throw discredit upon the historical
character of the whole narrative/^ He farther believes
that " to the great majority^' of his readers, " they will
be as new^^ as they were to himself "until a recent
period ;^^ and he is convinced that, if they are duly
considered, there will be such a defeat and overthrow
of our convictions, that " five years hence, unless liberty
of speech be granted in these matters, it will be impos-
sible that any of the more hopeful and intelligent of
our young men, &c.,'^ as quoted supra, p. 4.

In reading all this, one thought, among many others,
instantly occurred to me, as it must have occurred to
most readers familiar with the subject, and it was this :
that, whatever other value may belong to these nume-
rical investigations, the merit of novelty at all events
cannot be claimed by them. I remember to have met,
many years ago, with another " examination '^ of the
Old Testament, of which Dr. Colenso probably has not
heard. Certainly he cannot have read it, for, if he
had, references and inverted commas should, as I shall


show you^ have been inserted in certain pages of his
volume^ where they do not now appear. The work to
which I am referring is entitled " The Age of Reason ;
being an investigation of true and fabulous Theology,
by Thomas Paine.^^ On reading Dr. Colenso^s com-
putations, I was immediately reminded of it, for I
had an impression that it contained some arithmetical
arguments of a similar character. Lest, however, I
should be mistaken, I sent for the "shilling edition^'
of the work, which I had reason to know was pub-
lished and circulated in immense numbers for the
purpose of giving working men instruction similar to
that with which one of our Bishops is now providing
them. Alas ! the demand had exceeded the supply !
The publisher reported that " his shilling edition was
out of print; but the 'Age of Reason' might be
had for three shillings, along with the entire religious
works" — of the illustrious theologian. Of this treasure
I accordingly possessed myself, and found the fact is
as I supposed. I much fear that Dr. Colenso will feel
annoyed at having been anticipated by such a writer in
his applications of arithmetic. But he has been. In
the ''Age of Reason'^ he will find sums worked out
in his own style, and with results not less convincing
than those which have been established by him. I
shall have more to say upon this subject. But thus
much I thought it well to say at once concerning the
novelty of his investigations, of which let me further
remark, that he has not brought from them one consi-
deration which has not been long familiar to every


thoughtful reader of the Scriptures. This^ indeed,
with most amusing simplicity, he has himself shown,
by appending to each of his own " original " disserta-
tions, pages from the now familiar writings of Kurtz
and Hengstenberg, in which we have full discussions
of the very points concerning which he tells us that
" I believe they will be new to the great majority of
my readers, as I freely admit they were to myself till
within a comparatively recent period/^

But now let us examine the particular difficulty
in question. He tells us, then, that " not only is
the number ^ 600,000 on foot, beside women and
children,^ given distinctly in Exod. xii. 37 (as the
total number of the emigrants) at the time of
their leaving Egypt, but we have it recorded again,
thrice over, in different forms, in Exod. xxxviii. 25-28,
where the number of all that ' went to be numbered,
from twenty years old and upward,' is reckoned at
603,550; and this is repeated in Num. i. 46; and
it is modified once more at the end of the wanderings
to 601,730 (Num. xxxvi. 51). Besides which, on
each occasion of numbering, each separate tribe is
numbered, and the sum of the separate results makes
up the whole. Thus,-'' he continues, " this number is
woven, as a kind of thread, into the whole story of
Exodus, and cannot be taken out without tearing the
whole fabric into pieces." Then he reminds us that
this number of adult males implies a population of
more than two millions, being, in fact, nearly equal to
that of London at the present time. And he bids


US remark the conclusions which flow by the surest
processes from this result.

In the first place, he says, it is clearly inconsistent
with the statement that only seventy persons went down
into Egypt, and that they abode there not more at
most than 230 years. They could not, in an ordinary
way, have grown into any population approaching
this in such a period; and if we suppose that they
w^ere increased miraculously, we are still met by diffi-
culties which are as obvious, as they are insuperable.
This total number of adults, and the enumeration of the
separate tribes, are inconsistent with other figures
given by the writer (pp. 107-112). Moreover, the
spaces of the wilderness are not extensive enough for
the encampment of such hosts (pp. 38, 39) ; its re-
sources are insufficient to maintain them (pp. 65-81) :
water and food for them, much less for their flocks and
herds, could not have been obtained (ib.). Here,
we are told, are plain difficulties lying on the surface
of the narrative ; and in regard to many of them we
have no hint of any miraculous interposition; and
since we have no right to invent one, miracles cannot
here be pleaded. Manifestly, therefore, the history of
the Pentateuch is wTihistorical (= fictitious).

Here Dr. Colenso leaves his conclusion. But
surely other conclusions, needing also to be taken into
account, flow from it. There is a series of inferences
which must yet further be developed, as thus : —

" Therefore, and for reasons so strikingly obvious.


the history in the Pentateuch is unhistorical, in other
words, it is fictitious." Therefore, all those marvellous
conformities of page after page in it to extant facts,
and those not less marvellous interior coherences which
connect book with book, and the parts of each book
with one another — are accidental; or else the compiler
of the " legends,^^ who was so careful and astute in
respect of all these points, was foolish enough to
betray himself by obvious and egregious blunders,
which the most superficial glance was sufficient to
detect. Therefore, too, all the Jews, in Egypt as well
as Palestine, who were familiar with the peninsula, and
constantly journeying across it, and to whom this
manifestly fictitious "story," with all its glaring
absurdities on the face of it, might well be expected to
show itself in its real character — were either imposed on
by the legends, or agreed to acquiesce in the imposture.
Therefore, too, all the neighbouring people to whom
they presented their Pentateuch, and in the Greek as
well as Hebrew language, as the historical record of
their church, and as the interpretation of their worship
— maintained silence, though they might have been
expected to proclaim aloud their scorn of a document
which was so palpably incongruous with scenes as
famihar to them as are the Alpine valleys, or the
Scotch highlands, to thousands of our countrymen.
Therefore, too, if this may be said. He Who claimed
for these writings historical authenticity, was also
misled by the imposture, and aided in its propagation.


Therefore the same charge must he against all thoughtful
Bible-readers since_, large communities of them having
been natives^ or else neighbours^ of the country in
which the " story ^^ is alleged to have occurred. And
therefore^ too, Dr. Colenso is the first Christian Bishop
who has been gifted with sagacity enough to discover,
or w^ho has had the courage and honesty to proclaim,
for the advantage of his fellow-Churchmen, the palp-
able delusions under which all of them are labouring.
Unto which " therefores ^^ I need not say innumerable
others may be added.

Have Dr. Colenso and his disciples, if he has any,
reflected on these difficulties, surrounding them on every
side, which necessarily flow from his conclusion ? He
tells us that it rests on matters of fact which are obvious
and unquestionable. But he does not appear to see
that the more palpable these are, the more unmanageable
is the dilemma in which his inference from them has
involved him. Supposing he has proved that the spaces
and numbers given in the history are, in certain in-
stances, palpably incongruous, would not any man really
acquainted with it, say at once; — The very obviousness
of your difficulty supplies proof enough that it is capable
of explanation ! This is certain on the supposition that
the history is authentic. But it is not less certain, even
if we suppose the document was forged, or that it has
been edited from some legendary fragments of the early
Jewish history. For, consider the marvellous care which
has been bestowed on all but the few sentences in it


to which you are alluding. How perfect in all other
respects is its interior coherence and symmetry, and its
harmony with truths that are unquestionable ! These
congruities cannot be fortuitous ; and how consummate,
on our present hypothesis, is the subtilty displayed by
them. Such a forger or editor could not have blundered
in matters so palpable as these you dwell on : there
must be explanations which will bring them into con-
sistency with the remainder of his " story.'^

So, I think, every man of common sense would
reason, even if he read the books unconscious of the
reverence with which we must look on them. He
would say there must be misconception somewhere in
the perplexities which develope into such a series of
inferences as those which are above enumerated; and,
if he were really ^^ examining ^^ these writings, he
would then apply himself, as we must now do, to its

You will find all the considerations or arguments
which Dr. Colenso has connected with ths difficulty
now before us, fairly represented in the statement of it
which I have given above. And here, as vou again
review them, you will at once remark that the first, viz.,
that the few (seventy) immigrants into Egypt could not
have grown into the enormous multitude given by the
census — has already been disposed of. We have seen
that nothing can be more certain than the fact that,
instead of seventy, or thereabouts, the caravan headed
by Jacob in his migration must have included many


hundreds at the least, and that it is most probable
that upwards of two thousand were comprised in it.
Now such a company, increasing in many successive
generations at the ordinary rate of increase, w^ould
become that which the sacred writer calls them, a
"great nation,^^ long within the time which is assigned
by him. You observe I speak of " many " successive
generations, and I use this word to call your attention
to one of the most singular errors and misstatements
on the part of our examiner, which, exuberant as he is
in this kind, I have noticed in his volume. If you
will turn to what he has written, in chap, xvi., on this
subject, you will see that it all proceeds on these
three assumptions, viz., (1) That the average rate of
the increase "from generation to generation ^^ was four
and a half sons to each parent, "since (he says) the
twelve sons of Jacob had between them (at the time of
the migration) fifty -three sons, i.e., on an average four
and a half.^^ Were no more sons, then, born to them
after their settlement in the country? This cannot
be supposed, when the oldest of them was at that
time not more than fifty. Then he assumes (2) that
because, according to the promise, they " went out in
the fourth generation (as we see in the family of
Moses),^' not more than four generations had been born
in all the other families, during the whole duration of
their settlement; and (3) that there was only one
generation of the emigrants younger than that of
Moses or his contemporaries, when there must have


been three at leasts and probably there were four^ or
even five. Obviously each of these assumptions is
gratuitous ; and when they are, therefore, disregarded,
and we have fixed on only a few hundreds even as the
number of the original immigrants, the first element of
the difficulty before us, on which Dr. Colenso lays
such important stress, is entirely removed.

His assumptions, however, in this instance are not
more gratuitous than is that contained in the statement,
that the numbers 600,000 and 603,550 (of adult
males), given in Exod. xii. 37; xxxviii. 25-28; and in
Num. i. 45, and xxvi. 51, "is woven as a kind of thread
into the whole story of the Exodus, and cannot be
taken out without tearing the whole fabric to pieces."
This is simply not the case; as you will see, if you
will now turn to these passages, and observe the con-
nexion in which they stand. If, in reading them, you
will omit the second clause of Exod. xii. 37, and the
last clause of Exod. xxxviii. 26; and if you will con-
nect Num. i. 16, with the first verse of Num. iii. and
omit Num. xxvi. 5-51, — you will find that not only
does the "story" read continuously, but that not
one historical detail in it is then omitted. So far from
" being woven as a kind of thread " into the Mosaic
history, these sheets of the roll, in w^hich it was origin-
ally read in the great legislator's autograph, may be
detached from the remainder without one fact being
omitted from his narrative. Let me here call your special
attention to this point, unto which I shall again have


occasion to recur, since_, as you will see, it is closely con-
nected with another, which indeed is the chief consi-
deration that should be brought forward in respect of
the difficulty now before us.

You will anticipate me when I say, that I am here
alluding to the principle, acknowledged, and acted
on, by the soundest and most exact interpreters of
ancient writings, viz., that confusions in the numerical
statements of such writings are, alone and of themselves,
insufficient reasons for invalidating the trustworthiness
of their authors. Hence, for example, no one questions
that Xerxes actually invaded Greece, though Herodotus
(or one of his transcribers) affirms (vii. 186) that the
Persian army consisted of more than 5,000,000 of
soldiers and attendants, when^ according to our best
recent authorities, it did not consist of more than one-
fifth of that number. The methods of representing
numbers in ancient writings, and the absence of any
help in the interpretation of them by the context, are
obvious and familiar causes of uncertainty; and it is
well known that from the operation of these causes the
Hebrew Scriptures have not been exempted. Dr. Co-
lenso himself gives us many instances in point, though
he denies that ^^the suggestion (furnished by them) will
avail here, however it may be applied in other cases. ^^
But, why not ? we may well ask, seeing, as we have seen,
how gratuitous is his assertion that the numbers w^hich
perplex him " cannot be taken out of the story of the
Exodus, without tearing the whole fabric to pieces.^^



In the language of another Bishop of our Cluirch, in
his reply to Paine^ we may say to the Bishop of Natal,
^' That every child may have an argument for its
infidelity, you display the particulars, and show your
own skill in arithmetic by summing up. And can you
suppose" — here I give an exact parallel to the sentence
which follows in The Apologij — ^^that the writer (or
editor) of the Pentateuch, who elsewhere shows himself
so accurately familiar with his subject, could not
avoid the blundering incongruities between spaces and
numbers with which you charge him ? You know,
undoubtedly,-'^ continues the bishop, '^ that the Hebrew
letters denoted also numbers, and that there was such
a great similarity between some of these letters that it
was extremely easy for the transcriber of a manuscript
to mistake a n for a 3 (or 2 for 20), a :j for a 3 (or
3 for 50), a 1 for a n (or 4 for 400). Now what have
we to do with numerical contradictions in the Bible,
but to attribute them, wherever they occur, to this
obvious source of error — the inattention of the trans-
criber in writing one letter for another that was hke
il-9^^i9 XJnto which obvious suggestion of familiar

'^ Watson's Apology, 8fc., in a Series of Letters addressed to
Thomas Paine, pp. 141, 142, ed. 1796. In connexion with the
above extract another passage occurs in this work, which is well
worth attention at the present time : " The history of the Old

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Online LibraryGeorge Smith DrewBishop Colenso's examination of the Pentateuch examined ; with an appendix → online text (page 6 of 12)