Some fellow pleased to call himself a skeptic, which is to say an atheist, thinks Matthew 28:1 (In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre) contradicts John 20:1 (The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre).
This is listed as the 115th Biblical “contradiction” at Skeptically.org, a contradiction seen by everybody, the author assures us, but “fundamentalist idiots.” The presence of this glaring contradiction indicates two different accounts of Jesus’s resurrection, and two different accounts proves the Bible could not have been given by the Holy Spirit. Thus Christianity is a fraud.
You can hear the exasperated but patient voice of Phillip Campbell as he in The Book of Non-Contradiction: Harmonizing the Scriptures writes: “Dawn means when the sun first begins to come into view on the horizon in the morning. It is still usually kind of dark at dawn.” Indeed, as the poet said, it is then darkest.
That Campbell had to trouble with this is telling. It proves that many are ready, even eager, to accept the thinnest, most patently ridiculous evidence in order to support a cherished belief. What makes it funny is that these stunts are normally done in the name of “rationality”.
Anyway, there is pleasure in walking through the 191 supposed contradictions (Campbell tackles them all). The effect is to strengthen one’s convictions and not weaken them, and this is because the solving of small riddles bolsters belief.
Campbell doesn’t set right only minor misunderstandings, but major conundrums, too. And most of these are solved by realizing that — surprise — not every culture acts identically to ours. This discovery will astound many moderns, who assume that people throughout history were aiming for our point in time. So that when a person writes of things he heard or saw Jesus or King David do, he was thinking of us when he was writing, so that this witness took great care to use words and forms familiar to us via media like television or court reporting. Thus, if his words do not conform to modern expectations, it must be that the events he saw did not happen or don’t mean what he implied.
Campbell runs through fifteen major controversies, such as the supposed differing accounts of creation and of Jesus’s genealogy, and of why we still proscribe homosexuality and do not eschew shellfish, two laws from the Old Testament.
Two examples will suffice to give an impression. Seemingly conflicting accounts make it appear, in Luke 22 and John 18–19, that the last Passover Jesus attended was on two separate dates. How could this be? Well, in modern times Passover only happens on fixed dates, made known well in advanced by printed calendars. But two thousand years ago several calendars were in use (the Jews had more than one, the Romans another, etc.) and they gave varying advice on which day to celebrate. Different sects within Judaism picked different but nearby dates.
So that when it appears that the eyewitness testimony gave differing dates, the reality is that it probably was different dates; i.e. more than one celebration. This happens in modern Christianity, too, but it doesn’t cause anybody to fret. Catholics and most protesting Christians have one date for Easter, and the Orthodox another. But not many atheists would claim Catholics and Orthodox don’t exist because there are “conflicting” reports of Easter celebrations.
This brief description makes it sound too easy and leaves out a wealth of detail, but be assured Campbell’s analysis is painstaking and thorough.
My favorite example involves Richard Dawkins, who often uses a version of the following fallacious argument, which (of course) convinces his followers: God ordered the genocide of certain peoples; therefore, since God is love and love doesn’t kill, God doesn’t exist.
The real and obvious and sobering and awe-inspiring argument seems to have escaped that great man: God ordered the genocide of certain peoples; therefore, don’t piss off God.
Campbell is having nothing to do with modern squeamishness which seeks to dismiss the events related in Joshua and other points in scripture. When God said smite the Canaanites, He meant smite them, and smite them good.
Though the Canaanites seemed to have it coming, why they were put to the sword is God’s business, not ours. Did not God wipe out the greater part of humanity in the Flood? Let’s not forget Sodom and Gomorrah. And let’s not forget you, either, dear reader.
Now we come to the crux of this issue: what we ultimately need to keep in mind when looking at the Canaanite genocide is that God is the ultimate authority over human life and can take it in any way He chooses.
Again, there is much more to it, and Campbell brings us through it.
Two trivial complaints, neither of which should stop you from buying the book, which you should. The book’s typesetting swaps en dashes (and maybe even em dashes?) for hyphens which should be used in compound words; e.g. “the principle of double—effect” versus “the principle of double-effect”. Grates on my eyes, though I doubt it’s noticeable to most. And Campbell could never bring himself to write about himself in the first person; e.g. “we recommend the article ‘Deconstructing the Documentary Hypothesis’ by Phillip Campbell.” William M Briggs also recommends the article.