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The Bible repeats itself too much—Part 3: Implementing plans

This is the third in a series of posts about unnecessary repetition in the Bible.

When characters are telling each other what they’re planning to do, and everything then goes according to plan, a good book will tend to skip telling you the plan, and will just tell you what happened when the plan was carried out. A bad book, like the Bible, will instead tell you all the details of what’s going to happen, and then tell you all the same details again when it gets to the part where it happens.

The Bible says God told Noah he was planning to flood the world. He told him to make an ark to save some people and animals before it rained for 40 days. Then it says Noah did that, some people and animals entered the ark, and it rained for 40 days as God flooded the world. After the flood was over, God told Noah to come out of the ark with his family and all the animals. Then it says Noah came out with his family and all the animals.

God told Abraham to circumcise all the males in his household. Then it says Abraham circumcised all the males in his household.

After Joseph and his family were reunited in Egypt, he said he would go tell Pharaoh his family had come and that they were shepherds, and then Pharaoh would let them live in Goshen. Then it says Joseph went and told Pharaoh that his family had come and that they were shepherds, and Pharaoh said he would let them live in the best part of the land in Goshen. And then it says Joseph’s family went to live in the best part of the land. Later, Jacob told his sons to bury him in Canaan in the cave Abraham had bought. Then after Jacob died, it says his sons buried him in Canaan in the cave Abraham had bought.

Moses said God was going to kill all the firstborn males in Egypt, whether they were royalty, captives, or animals, and there would be loud wailing. Then it says God killed all the firstborn males in Egypt, whether they were royalty, captives, or animals, and there was loud wailing.

Continue reading The Bible repeats itself too much—Part 3: Implementing plans
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The Bible repeats itself too much—Part 2: Similar passages

This is the second in a series of posts about unnecessary repetition in the Bible. This time, I’ll be looking at passages that aren’t saying exactly the same thing as other passages, but are still awfully similar.

Why does the Bible have so many strangely similar stories? In some cases, it’s because the writers had this weird idea that history systematically repeats itself. So if they didn’t know enough about the life of Jesus or whoever they were writing about, they figured they could just look at stories about similar people in the earlier scriptures, and assume Jesus must have done the same things.

In both of the first two chapters of Job, Satan goes to see God along with the angels, God asks him where he’s been, Satan says he’s been roaming the earth, God asks him what he thinks of righteous Job, Satan says Job’s love of God is not unconditional, he tells God what he would have to do to get Job to curse God, God agrees to let Satan do that to Job, and Satan goes off to do it.

There are three different stories in Genesis where a man claims his wife is his sister so no one will kill him over her, then a king tries to take her for himself, and when the king finds out he’s being tricked into doing something wrong, he doesn’t get angry and punish anyone for some reason, but just lets the couple go on their way. This supposedly happened to Abraham twice, and then also to his son Isaac.

The books of Genesis and Judges both have stories where a mob surrounds a man’s house and tries to get him to let them rape his male guest(s), and the man doesn’t think that would be right, so he offers to let them rape his daughter(s) instead.

The Bible says Abraham and Isaac both had disputes over the ownership of wells in Gerar. Wives for Isaac, Jacob, and Moses were all found at wells. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all had wives who were infertile at first, until God intervened. Abraham and Jacob both used a workaround where they had children with their wives’ servants.

In Genesis 28, God appears to Jacob and tells him he will have a huge number of descendants who will inherit the land he’s in. Jacob sets up a stone pillar, pours oil on it, and names the place Bethel. Then in Genesis 35, all that happens again. In Genesis 32, God gives Jacob a new name and claims that Jacob won’t be called Jacob anymore. Then three chapters later, he does it again.

Once in Genesis and twice in Daniel, a king has a troubling, cryptic dream about the future. His magicians can’t tell him what it means. But one man of Israelite descent who had been forcibly brought to the king’s country is able to interpret the dream with God’s help. So the king makes that man a ruler of the land. Then after this has already happened twice in Daniel, in the next chapter of Daniel, a king has a troubling vision of a hand writing cryptic messages about the future. His magicians can’t tell him what it means. But one man of Israelite descent who had been forcibly brought to the king’s country is able to interpret the writing with God’s help. So the king makes that man a ruler of the land.

In Genesis, Jacob pronounces blessings on each of his sons, and in Deuteronomy, Moses pronounces blessings on each of the tribes descended from Jacob’s sons.

Post-exodus parallels

Moses’s father-in-law praised God, who rescued Moses from the hand of the Egyptians, and who rescued the people from the hand of the Egyptians.

In both Exodus and Numbers, there’s a story where God gets angry at his people for idolatry and wants to kill them all, some Levites help him kill some Israelites, and God rewards all the murderers’ descendants with a special status.

God had both Moses and Elijah stand in a certain place so he could show himself to them. It happened to Elijah after God asked him what he was doing there in a cave. Elijah explained his situation, and God told him to go out and stand where God was about to appear. After three similar sentences about where the omnipresent God wasn’t present, Elijah went where God was. God asked him what he was doing there at the mouth of the cave, as if he wasn’t the one who had just told him to go there, and Elijah explained his situation to God again. And then God told Elijah to go somewhere else.

Exodus 40 says “as the Lord commanded him” eight times after describing what part of the Tabernacle Moses was working on. Leviticus, 1 Samuel, and 2 Chronicles all have stories where God decides to punish people for making offerings to him.

Each of the first two chapters of Numbers has a long list of tribal leaders. Numbers 7 repeats 12 times in a row almost exactly the same description of an offering a leader brought. The only difference is what day it was, who brought the offering, and what tribe he was from. Then it repeats the same description of what they all brought yet again.

The daughters of Zelophehad asked Moses how the law should be applied to their unusual situation, and Moses consulted God and gave them an answer. But apparently God didn’t think of everything, because nine chapters later they had to come back and ask for further clarification.

The books of Joshua and 2 Samuel both have stories where a woman hides two spies from the men sent by the king who the spies’ boss is plotting to overthrow.

A later passage in Joshua gives monotonous descriptions of what Joshua did to the nations that lived in the land the Israelites wanted. Later, in Judges 2, God decides he’s not going to help them drive out the nations anymore, which is strange because earlier in the same chapter he mentions that he had already decided that. (Referring to what he said back here in Joshua, perhaps?)

When 1 Chronicles describes the territory the Kohathites got, it says something like “From the tribe of [tribe] they received [towns] together with their pasturelands” nine times.

Post-settlement parallels

Judges has two different stories where the Ephraimites get excessively offended because somebody didn’t ask them for help fighting his enemies. In another story in Judges, a man keeps repeatedly persuading his visiting son-in-law to stay a little longer, which goes on for several days.

The Bible describes Samuel and Jesus growing up in pretty much the same way. As a child, Samuel heard someone calling him at night, went and said “Here I am, you called me,” and was told to go back to bed, and then all that happened two more times before anyone figured out what was going on.

When Saul and David were enemies, someone pointed out that Saul was vulnerable, but David refused to harm him. He just stole something from Saul, and showed it to him to prove that he wasn’t trying to kill him. And Saul decided to stop trying to kill David. Then two chapters later, the same thing happened again.

When describing how some people were assigned duties, 1 Chronicles says “The [Nth] (lot fell) to [Name], his sons and relatives: 12” 24 times. There are more efficient ways they could have expressed that. Then two chapters later, when it’s listing some people who served David, it says “In charge of the [Nth] division for the [Nth] month was the commander [Name]. There were 24,000 men in his division” 12 times.

1 Kings and 2 Chronicles both conclude the story of Solomon in the same way, except the books they tell you to refer to for more information are different. Same with Rehoboam, and Abijah.

Post-split parallels

Two consecutive kings of Judah are introduced by saying they became king during the reign of Jeroboam of Israel and were descended from a woman named Maakah. Meanwhile, Jeroboam and one of his successors are both told by prophets that God chose them when they were commoners and made them kings, but since God’s chosen kings didn’t turn out to be good ones, God is now going to slaughter their whole families.

Elijah and Elisha both did the same kind of food-multiplying miracles to help poor widows, and they both brought a dead boy back to life in the same weird way. Elisha also did the same kind of food-multiplying miracle to feed a crowd that Jesus did twice.

In both First and Second Kings, there are stories where Jehoshaphat the good king of Judah is strangely willing to be an ally to one of the evil kings of Israel, but he insists that the evil king find a prophet of God to consult. In between those two events, another evil king of Israel sends a captain with 50 men to summon another prophet of God, but the prophet gets God to kill all those men with fire, just because he can. Then that happens again, and then it almost happens again.

Three times, Elijah told his apprentice Elisha to stay where he was, and Elisha refused to leave him. And the first two of those times, some other prophets asked the annoyed Elisha if he knew that God was about to take Elijah away from him.

Mass-murdering maniac Jehu somehow repeatedly convinced his enemy’s messengers to join him, while accusing his enemy of not being peaceful enough.

Sennacherib king of Assyria sent a message to the people of Judah saying they shouldn’t depend on their God to save them, because no other nation’s gods had ever saved them from Assyria. Then in the next chapter, he sent a message to the king of Judah saying the same thing. (And this same repetitive story that was told in 2 Kings is later told again, in Isaiah.)

Later, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon besieged and captured Jerusalem, took the king prisoner, raided the temple, exiled all but the poorest people, and appointed a new king over those who were left. Then in the next chapter, Nebuchadnezzar besieged and captured Jerusalem, took the king prisoner, raided and destroyed the temple, exiled all but the poorest people, and appointed a new governor over those who were left. (This is after the king of Assyria besieged and captured the capital of Israel, took the king prisoner, and took the people into exile.)

Post-exile parallels

In both the third and the sixth chapter of Daniel, Jewish exiles living in Babylon refuse to obey the king’s decree for religious reasons, and are sentenced to death, but then saved by an angel.

In the first six chapters of Ezra, Cyrus king of Persia sends some exiles back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, which they manage despite opposition. Then in the first six chapters of Nehemiah, Artaxerxes king of Persia sends Nehemiah to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall, which he and his people manage despite opposition. Nehemiah 3 describes the people rebuilding the wall pretty repetitively: Next to him, half-district, made repairs, near his house, bolts and bars, blah blah blah. Ezra and Nehemiah also both got really mad at their people for intermarrying with other nations.

Luke and John both have stories where Jesus makes Simon Peter’s fishing efforts successful. Apparently those are supposed to be two different events, since Lukes’s story is when Jesus first met Peter, and John’s story is after the resurrection.

Jesus told two parables back-to-back that were about basically the same thing: Somebody sells everything he owns so he can buy something even more valuable that he just found.1

When Jesus went to see Lazarus’s family after knowingly delaying his visit long enough for his friend Lazarus to die, Lazarus’s sister Martha told him Lazarus wouldn’t have died if Jesus had been there. Then Lazarus’s sister Mary said the same thing.

Continue reading The Bible repeats itself too much—Part 2: Similar passages
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The Bible repeats itself too much—Part 1

In the beginning, God said: Let there be lights in the vault of the sky… and let them be lights in the vault of the sky. God created us in his image, and in his image he created us. And that’s the story of the heavens and earth when they were created, when God created the earth and heavens.

That sounded awfully unnecessarily repetitive, didn’t it? Well, that’s pretty much how those parts, and a whole lot more, are written in the Bible. Unnecessarily repetitively. Imagine how much shorter the Bible would be without all that pointless repetition…

After God is done talking to Job, he speaks to the people who have been claiming that God is just, and he tells them that unlike Job, they have not spoken the truth about him. Then he says the same thing again.

The Bible says Ephron the Hittite sold Abraham a field with a cave in Machpelah near Mamre, and then Abraham buried his wife in the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre. And then it says Abraham bought the field and the cave. For the purpose of burial. Later, Jacob told his sons to bury him in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, which was the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre that Abraham had bought with the field as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite and buried his wife. Then he says the field and the cave in it were bought from the Hittites.

It tells you that the master of the cupbearer and baker of the king of Egypt was the king of Egypt. It says he put those two people, who were the cupbearer and baker, in custody. And then it tells you what happened to each of those two people (who were the cupbearer and baker of the king of Egypt, who were in prison) after they had been in custody.

God says he’s seen how the Egyptians are treating the Israelites, and he has heard their cry. And then he says it again. God tells Moses he’s the Lord, and to tell the Israelites that he’s the Lord, and that he’ll free them from Egypt. Because then they’ll know that he’s the Lord, who freed them from Egypt. Also, he’s the Lord. (And that’s just in one chapter; there’s plenty more of the same later.)

When a cloud covered the tabernacle and the glory of God filled the tabernacle, Moses couldn’t enter the tabernacle because a cloud covered the tabernacle and the glory of God filled the tabernacle. It says Moses sprinkled some oil and blood on Aaron and his garments, and on Aaron’s sons and their garments. And that’s how he consecrated Aaron, and his sons, and their garments.

Near the end of Leviticus, the Lord decides he needs to tell everybody that he’s the Lord a couple more times. When some Israelites were challenging Moses’s authority, Moses said God would have whoever really belonged to him come near him, and the man he chose he would cause to come near him.

When the priests and soldiers were marching around Jericho for seven days, it says on the seventh day they marched around the city seven times, the same way they had on the previous days, except this time they circled the city seven times. Then when Israel attacked the city of Ai, it says they left no survivors or fugitives. That’s redundant, because in that situation anyone who was one of those things would also have to be the other.

Post-settlement stories

In a story in Judges, six hundred armed men stood at the entrance of the gate, and five men went in and took the idol, the ephod, and the household gods that somebody had in his house, while the six hundred armed men stood at the entrance of the gate.

The story of Ruth begins by telling us about a man from Bethlehem in Judah who took his family to live in Moab. Then it mentions that they were from Bethlehem, Judah, and that they went to Moab, and lived there. Later, it says that man’s wife had a relative from the clan of Elimelek, whose name was Boaz. And then it says the wife’s daughter-in-law went to work in the fields of Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelek.

David told Jonathan that tomorrow would be the New Moon feast. Then after they discussed what they would do tomorrow, Jonathan told David that tomorrow would be the New Moon feast.

After Jonathan died, David asked if there were any relatives left for him to show kindness to. Whoever he was talking to summoned a servant, and then David asked the servant the exact same question. Was it really necessary for the story to include that first part, where he doesn’t get an answer? The servant then tells David about Jonathan’s son, and mentions that the son is lame in both feet. Ten verses later, the narration mentions that Jonathan’s son was lame in both feet.

Rehoboam was advised to be a servant to his people and serve them, so that they would always be his servants. There was war between Abijah and Jeroboam. There was war between Abijah and Jeroboam.

When the king of Assyria removed the Israelites from their land and replaced them with foreigners, he was told that the people didn’t know what the god of that country required. And he was told that that god had sent lions after them, because the people didn’t know what the god of that country required.

When the king of Babylon removed the people of Judah from their land, he carried off all the fighting men, and all the skilled workers and artisans. He also deported the entire force of fighting men, and a thousand skilled workers and artisans.

Jesus (who was God, who was all-knowing) informed God that his disciples were “not of the world” any more than he was, and then he said it again, in case he hadn’t heard himself. According to John, when Judas came to betray Jesus, Jesus betrayed himself instead. And then when nobody arrested him, he did it again. Three times in a row, Jesus asked Peter if he loved him, Peter said he did, and Jesus told him to feed his sheep.

In three different chapters in the book of Acts, Peter tells people that when God sent Jesus to them, they had him killed, and then God brought him back to life.

Continue reading The Bible repeats itself too much—Part 1
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