Undesigned Coincidences

I’m going to try my best to host a database of undesigned coincidences here. I will upload most of the coincidences from the classic sources – Paley, Blunt, et al. – and then I will welcome any suggestions for new coincidences noticed by others, which will be reviewed by a panel before going up.

I aim to have different species of undesigned coincidence here, some of which perhaps do not deserve the name but are yet related. For example, Blunt, in various places, lists a number of facts mentioned by the Biblical authors which do not interlink with others, but which are so incidental and purposeless that they indicate an underlying truth to the stories, the whole story having been suppressed. I will do my best to indicate where I am listing a coincidence between different texts or passages, and where I am merely listing an incidental fact. Both, it is important to remember, are evidentially useful.

Currently up: Blunt’s sections on the gospels and the Pentateuch

NB: I will not review and be selective with the classic sources. I leave the appraisal of their examples to the reader. But I do wish to point out that I do not think they are all successful examples.

 

The Gospels and Acts

1. Why were James and John mending their nets? (Blunt)

James and John were mending their nets (Matt 4) because Jesus’ miracle producing fish broke the nets (Luke 5); even though Matthew makes no mention of this miracle whatsoever. The miracle in Luke also fits with the eagerness of the disciples to follow Jesus in Matthew.

2. Where did Zebedee go? (Blunt)

James and John are originally with Zebedee (Matt 4:21) but he appears nowhere later even though their mother is mentioned several times (20:20; 27:56). This is explained by an unnamed disciple’s father dying (8:21), especially since the mother is not referred to as the wife of Zebedee.

3. Why are centurions portrayed positively? (Blunt)

There are multiple instances of centurions being portrayed positively, even though there is no explanation for this given: the caring centurion (Matt 8:5); the centurion at the crucifixion (27:54); Cornelius (Acts 10:1-2); the reasonable centurion with Paul in Jerusalem (22:25); Paul calling for a centurion to protect him (23:17); Julius (27:1).

4. Was Peter married? (Blunt)

Paul’s example of Cephas as one who led around a sister or a wife (1 Cor 9:5) is confirmed by the incidental mention of Peter’s mother-in-law in Matthew 8:14.

5. Why did people bring the sick and possessed to Jesus in the evening? (Blunt)

People brought the sick and possessed to Jesus on the Sabbath day (Matt 8:16) because it was on the Sabbath (Mk 1:21; Lk 4:31), and because it was not lawful to heal on the Sabbath (Matt 12:10).

6. Why did Matthew call his house ‘the house’? (Blunt)

While Luke and Mark write of Jesus entering ‘his house’ or ‘his own house’, Matthew simply calls it ‘the house’. There is a naturalness to the expression here which one might expect if Matthew were simply talking about his own house. NB also the company of publicans, which one might expect given Matthew’s profession but which add nothing to the narrative, as well as the location – Capernaum – which might be a good place for a custom house as the Jordan meets the Sea of Galilee. Cf. Zaccheus, another tax-collector, known as a ‘chief among the publicans’ and who met Jesus near Jericho, a large trade city.

7. Why is Matthew named after Thomas? (Blunt)

Comparing Matthew 10:2 with Mark 3:18 and Luke 6:15, where the Apostles are named, Matthew moves his own name to after Thomas’, and adds the epithet ‘the publican’. This might be expected from a humble man who nevertheless wanted to explain who he was without humiliating himself too much.

8. What did Jesus’ mother say to Jesus? (Blunt)

Matthew does not explain why Jesus’ mother and brothers wanted to speak to him (12:46), but incidentally mentions a while later that Jesus then went back to his homeland (13:54), suggesting that his mother may have prompted him to return home.

9. Did Joseph die? (Blunt)

Joseph’s death is never mentioned at all, but is confirmed incidentally by a variety of passages: Jesus’ whole family is named except Joseph (Mk 6:3); his mother and brothers are mentioned a number of times without his father (Lk 8:19; Jn 2:12; Acts 1:13-14); Joseph is not present at the Wedding in Cana, nor at the crucifixion (indeed, he commands John to take care of her).

10. Why refer to ‘the’ ship? (Blunt)

In several places (e.g. Matt 13:2) reference is made to ‘the ship’, suggesting that there was a definite ship known to, or owned by, the disciples during Jesus’ ministry. This would make sense given their background (cf. Matt 4:22; Jn 21:3). This fits with Jesus’ request for a small vessel to be ready for him (Mk 3:9), and Jesus using a ship owned by Simon in Luke 5:3, which might well be ‘the ship’ later referred to in 8:22.

11.Why did Herod speak to his servants? (Blunt)

Herod spoke to his servants about Jesus (Matt 14:1) because he had servants more intimately related to Jesus: Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward (Lk 8) and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod (Acts 13:1). These also explain how Matthew knew what Herod said in private in various situations.

12.  Why the different baskets in different miracles? (Blunt)

In the feeding of the five thousand, the disciples used twelve ‘baskets’ (Greek κοφινους ‘kophinous‘), and in the feeding of the four thousand they used seven ‘baskets’ (Greek σπυριδας ‘spyridas‘). The coincidence here is the uniform use of these terms in all the mentions of the miracles (5,000: Matt 14:20; Mk 6:43; Lk 9:17; Jn 6:13; Matt 16:9-10. 4,000: Matt 15:37; Mk 8:8; Matt 16:9-10). A second coincidence is the detail in Matthew, Mark and John that the feeding of the 5,000 took place on grass. A third coincidence is on comparing John and Matthew: John records: ‘”Make the ανθροπους (people) sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place; so the ανδρες (men) sat down in number about five thousand.’ This is confirmed by Matthew’s mentioning that ‘They that had eaten were about five thousand men, besides women and children.’

13. Why was Herod confused about John the Baptist being risen from the dead? (Blunt)

Herod was confused when he heard the rumour that John the Baptist was risen from the dead (or that another prophet had risen (Lk 9:7). This is explained by Herod’s being a Sadducee, which is very subtly suggested by comparing Mark 8:15 with Matthew 16:6, where the passages are the same except for one substituting ‘Herod’ for ‘Sadducees’ (or vice versa).

14. Did the disciples fast? (Blunt)

Matthew 17:19-21 suggests incidentally that the disciples did not fast. This is confirmed by 9:14 where the disciples of John ask Jesus why his disciples do not fast. Both passages imply that Jesus did fast, however.

15. Why did Jesus have to prophesy regarding who smote him? (Blunt)

Jesus had to prophesy who smote him (Matt 26:67) because he had been blindfolded (Lk 22:64).

16. What was Jesus charged with? (Blunt)

Before the chief priests and the Sanhedrin, Jesus was accused of blasphemy (Matt 26:65), while before Pilate he was accused of sedition (Lk 23:2). The former fits with Jesus’ earlier claims (Jn 10:33; 6; 5:18; 8:58), and fits with the fact that the Jews welcomed him into Jerusalem shortly before asking to free Barabbas (since it was at the trial where the charge of blasphemy came out). That the charge would be changed to sedition before the Romans fits with Acts 23:29 and with extra-Biblical literature. Another coincidence here is that the same pattern is observed for Paul: blasphemy with Jews (21:28) and sedition with Romans (24:5).

17. Why was Peter recognised by the maid? (Blunt)

Peter was recognised by the maid (Matt 26:71) possibly because the ‘other disciple’ spoke to her (Jn 18:16). Note the different implied ways of describing the location and the girl.

18. Why did the disciples need to rest near Capernaum? (Blunt)

The disciples needed to rest near Capernaum, and there was much ‘coming and going’ (Mk 6) because the Passover was near (Jn 6:4). Another coincidence in this narrative: why does Jesus ask Philip where to buy bread from (6:5)? Because they were in Bethsaida (Lk 9:10), from where Philip was (Jn 1:44).

19. Why is Simon of Cyrene described as the father of Alexander and Rufus? (Blunt)

If Mark was written in Rome (as Clement of Alexandria and Jerome maintain), then Simon of Cyrene was known to the Romans, since Mark mentions him. This could explain why Mark describes Simon as the father of Alexander and Rufus (15:21), since Rufus is apparently a prominent member of the Roman church (Romans 16:13).

20. Why was Jesus mocked only at the beginning of the crucifixion? (Blunt)

Jesus was mocked primarily at the beginning of the crucifixion (Mk 15:29,31,32; Lk 23:36), which might be explained by the darkness from the sixth to the ninth hour (Matt 27:45; Mk 15:33), which might have caused the change in attitude towards Jesus.

21. Why does Mark record Joseph of Arimathea’s boldness? (Blunt)

Mark deliberately records Joseph’s boldness (15:43), but it is unclear why. This is explained by John, who records Joseph having earlier been timid and discreet explicitly (19:38), as well as implicitly by linking him with Nicodemus. It is also difficult to account for the courage of these two apart from the evidence available to them regarding Jesus.

22. Why were the disciples picking corn on the second Sabbath after the first? (Blunt)

The disciples were walking through corn-fields and picking corn (Lk 6:1-2) at the exactly the right time for corn, since the second Sabbath after the first was within days of the first-fruits of the corn harvest during the Passover (Lev 23:10-12).

23. Why was Jesus treated differently by the Samaritans at different times? (Blunt)

Jesus was not received in Samaria, Luke mentions, because he was intending to go to Jerusalem (9:53). This was a problem, we find out incidentally, because it was near Passover (9:51), which meant Jesus was going to worship at the non-Samaritan Temple for the Passover. This explains why Jesus was received with hospitality on another occasion in John, since he was returning from Judea at a time completely unrelated to the Passover (Jn 4:35).

24. Why were the water-jars empty? (Blunt)

The water-jars were empty at the Wedding in Cana (Jn 2:7) plausibly because it was a later point of the meal, at which, Mark incidentally informs us, the Jews would all have had to wash their hands frequently (7:3).

25a. Why did Jesus teach about thirst and living water on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles? (Blunt)

Jesus had a habit of teaching using examples and figurative language related directly to current events or environments (e.g. teaching about the bread of life after the miracle of loaves). Jesus taught about thirst and living water on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles probably because it was customary on that day to offer God a pot of water drawn from the pool of Siloam, a fact John does not mention at all.

25b. Why does Jesus teach Nicodemus about light and darkness? (Blunt)

In relation to the last point, this habit of Jesus could also explain why Jesus taught Nicodemus about light and darkness (Jn 3:19-21), since John notes that Nicodemus came to Jesus by night.

26.  Why was Samaria receptive to Philip? (Blunt)

Luke records ‘the city of Samaria’ – probably Sychar – as having been receptive to Philip’s message (Acts 8:5-6,12); this fits with Sychar being receptive to Jesus himself while he was alive (Jn 4).

27. Why did those on the far side of the Sea of Galilee think that Jesus was still with them? (Blunt)

John tells us that several boats came to the far side of the Sea of Galilee from Tiberias (Jn 16), so it is difficult to explain the belief among the inhabitants there that Jesus was still with them, since Jesus could easily have taken one of these boats to follow the disciples to Capernaum. This is explained by Matthew’s incidental detail that the wind on the Sea was a contrary one, i.e. blowing towards the far side, preventing Jesus from sailing across on his own. This also explains why the fishing boats arrived from Tiberias in John in the first place, since there was little reason for them to be there other than protection from a strong wind. Moreover, the question the next day put to Jesus regarding how he got to Capernaum indicates their bafflement at how he got across, which fits with this reconstruction.

28a. How long did Jesus stay in Bethany? (Blunt)

Mark’s account of Jesus coming to Bethany (11-14) fits with John’s claim that Jesus came to Bethany six days before Passover (12:1).

28b. What time of day did Jesus retreat to Bethany? (Blunt)

Mark records that Jesus left for Bethany in the evening (11:11), while John notes that at Bethany Jesus was made a δειπνον, an evening meal – even though John does not mention Jesus sleeping in Bethany.

28c. Why did Jesus change behaviour in the night time? (Blunt)

The evidence suggests that Jesus’ main threat was from the priests, not from the multitude (since he was popular with them). This explains Judas’ promise to betray him in the absence of the multitude (Lk 22:6), and might also explain the chief priests deciding not to kill him on the feast day. All this links with a general pattern: Jesus takes bold actions and gets away with them in the day, while Jesus returns to Bethany in the night time. And the first time Jesus stays in Jerusalem overnight, he was seized.

29. Why did Jesus set the Good Samaritan between Jericho and Jerusalem? (Blunt)

Luke 9-10 records the journey of Jesus from northern Israel towards Jerusalem, leading through Samaria. Jesus comes to the home of Mary and Martha, which John tells us is Bethany (11:1). Mark recounts a similar but different journey where he goes to Jericho first (10:46). So if Jesus took the same route multiple times it is plausible that Jesus travelled from Jericho to Bethany (which is the same road as between Jericho and Jerusalem), explaining why he chose that as the setting for the parable just previously. The priest and the Levite are also appropriate characters given Jericho’s religious history (2 Kgs 2:5) and that many Temple-workers would have lived there. The choice of a Samaritan also fitted as a rebuke to his disciples, since it was just previously that James and John asked Jesus to call down fire on the Samaritans (Lk 9:54).

30. How does John know Malchus’ name? (Blunt)

John records that the high priest’s servant whose ear Peter cut off was called Malchus (18:10). There is some reason to think that the ‘other disciple’ John mentions in this chapter is John himself. Several church fathers suggest this, as does the fact that John often speaks of himself in the third person as the ‘other disciple’ (20:2-3), as does the fact that Peter and John are often in association (Lk 22:8; Jn 21:7,21), as does the recording of various trivial details regarding comings and goings in John 18, as does the fact that the other gospels do not mention the ‘other disciple’, nor much detail regarding the event. If this is so, then it can be explained why John is the only gospel writer to name the servant, since John 18:15-16 notes that the ‘other disciple’ was known to the high priest and to the girl who kept the door,  which gives him an easy way of knowing the names of the high priest’s servants. This also explains how John recognises Malchus’ kinsman when he charges Peter with knowing Jesus.

31. Why did Jesus’ implication that his servants did not fight go unchallenged? (Blunt)

Jesus says in John 18:36: ‘if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight’. No one points out that Peter had just attacked Malchus, even though this was very recent and witnessed by the present company, including a relative of Malchus’ (18:26). This is explained by Jesus healing Malchus straight away, which is recorded in Luke (22:51) but not in John.

32a. Why did John outrun Peter to the tomb? (Blunt)

John outran Peter to the tomb (20:4) plausibly because he was younger than Peter. This is agreed upon by the church fathers and perhaps suggested by Jesus referring to Peter’s youth in John  21:18. This fits with John dying nearly 40 years after Peter, and Peter’s martyrdom possibly not cutting his life very short (2 Pet 1:14).

32b. Why did Peter enter the tomb first? (Blunt)

Peter entered the tomb first (Jn 20:5-8) probably because most of the disciples were scared of spirits (e.g. Matt 14:26), while Peter had always been rash and bold (e.g. Matt 14; Jn 18; Jn 21; Acts 5:18,29; 12:3)

33. Did John record the ascension? (Blunt)

John confirms the ascension of Acts in incidental mentions: ‘no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven’ (3:13); ‘What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?’ (6:62); ‘Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father’ (20:17); even though he never describes it.

34. Why did the Pharisees and Sadducees change in their hostility towards Christians? (Blunt)

In the gospels, the main opposition to Jesus comes from the Pharisees: they receive the Woes of the Pharisees (Matt 23:29,32); they conspire with the chief priests to capture Jesus (Jn 11:57); they support Judas in his betrayal of Jesus (Jn 18:3). But in Acts the main opposition comes from the Sadducees: Peter and John were set upon by them (4:1); they threw the apostles in prison (5:17); Paul appeals to the Pharisees against the Sadducees (23:6). This is explained by the Sadducees rejection of the doctrine of the resurrection (Acts 23:6), since the disciples barely mentioned it in the gospels (cf. Mk 9:10) but made it a key doctrine later (Acts 1:22; 2:32; 3:12; 4:10; 5:31; 10:40).

35. Why did Barnabas travel the way he did? (Blunt)

The peripheral figure of Joses/Barnabas from Cyprus has a considerable amount of coherent evidence confirming the stories involving him: Luke reports that he was a Levite from Cyprus (Acts 4:36); he vouches for Paul’s sincerity as if knowing him, which is explained by Cyprus being annexed to Cilicia, in which Tarsus, a centre of education, was the main city. They might have both studied there, explaining Paul’s Greek education and since there was unlikely to be a major school in Cyprus. Since they both moved to Jerusalem, they might also have known each other there. They might also have common friends. Barnabas also took Paul from Tarsus to Antioch seemingly unnecessarily.

Barnabas’ being a Cypriot also explains why he was chosen in particular to go from Jerusalem to Antioch (9:20), since there were Cypriots in Antioch preaching the gospel. It also explains various journeys of Barnabas to Cyprus (13:4; 15:32). In this latter journey, Barnabas took Mark to Cyprus even after Paul refused to take Mark. This is explained by Barnabas and Mark being cousins (Col 4:10), hence Barnabas’ loyalty and arguing with Paul. It might also explain why Paul refused to take Mark in the first place. Paul refers to Mark deserting them in Pamphylia, which might be explained by the earlier report of the incident, where it turns out they sailed to Cyprus previously. It might be that Mark wanted to go to Cyprus for sentimental reasons without being very serious about preaching the gospel elsewhere afterwards.

36. Why are all the resource allocators Grecian? (Blunt)

In Acts 6:5, it is curious that all the names mentioned are Grecian, even though this is not mentioned as a reason for choosing them. This is explained by the previous mention that it was the Grecians who felt aggrieved that there widows were not being taken care of (6:1).

37. How long did Cornelius’ men take to bring Peter to him? (Blunt)

Luke’s account of Cornelius’ men’s trip to Joppa and back to Caesarea takes four days, on a close reading (Acts 10:5-24). This confirms with Cornelius’ incidental mention that it was ‘Four days ago’ when he had the vision (10:30).

38. Were Christians called ‘Christians’ from the start? (Blunt)

Luke mentions that Christians were first called ‘Christians’ in Antioch (Acts 11:26). It is unclear why he would think this important unless Christians usually went by another name. This fits with the fact that ‘Christian’ is only mentioned on two other occasions in the New Testament (Acts 26:28; 1 Pet 4:16), and that they are usually otherwise called something else: ‘all that believed’ (Acts 2:44); ‘the disciples’ (Acts 6:1); followers of ‘the way’ (Acts 9:2; 18:26; 19:9; 22:4).

39. Was sorcery a big problem in Ephesus? (Blunt)

Paul’s mentioning to Timothy about there being evil men, sorcerers and deceivers, while Timothy was in Ephesus (2 Tim 3:13) fits with Luke’s mention of the book-burning of those engaged in ‘curious arts’ (Acts 19:19).

40. Which centurion is Luke talking about in Acts 24:23? (Blunt)

Luke puts the definite article with ‘centurion’ in Acts 24:23, even though there is no obvious mention of any centurion previously. This is explained by referring to a chapter previously, where two centurions are commanded to seize Paul (23:23). But since the army divided (23:32), this explains why only one centurion was in question later on.

41. Why did Felix expect money from Paul? (Blunt)

Felix expected money from Paul (Acts 24:26). This is difficult to explain if Paul looked as poor on his travels as 22:28 implies. But it is explained by Paul’s earlier mention, in a previous encounter with Felix, that one reason for his travelling was to take alms and offerings to the churches. This also explains why Felix allowed Paul liberty and visitors, since they might bring a ransom.

42. How did the ship in Acts 27 hold the centurion and his numerous party? (Blunt)

The ship in Acts 27 was, we learn from a variety of incidental, dispersed verses, laden (27:10) with wheat (27:38) and sailing from Alexandria to Italy (27:5). These incidental mentions come together with secular history which tells us that Alexandria was a major source of corn for Rome, and that the vessels used to transport the corn were often very big and watched closely. This explains why the ship was able to also transport the centurion and his company.

 

Incidental non-coincidences

1. A young man flees naked (Mk 14:51).

2. John 3:1 records that the Wedding of Cana was on the ‘third day’, but it is never explained what this is in relation to.

 

Pentateuch

1. Was there an early proto-church? (Blunt)

Suggestion that there was an early proto-church despite this never being mentioned:

a. Holy places: things done before the Lord (same phrase as e.g. Lev 1:3; Deut 16:16) in the same place at different times (Gen 18:22-23; 19:27; 25:22; cf. 13:18; 27:7); tent for seeking Yahweh before Tabernacle existed (Ex 33:7)

b. Priests: Melchizedek (Gen 18:14) blesses Abraham and receives a tithe; Jethro called a ‘priest of Midian’ (Ex 2:16); ‘priests’ mentioned as a class before consecration of Aaron (Ex 19:22); proto-preachers and prophets including Noah, Abraham (Gen 20:7); Balaam, Job, Enoch)

c. Priestly dress: In general, robes inseparable from priesthood (patriarchs did not sacrifice without them; also cf. Ex 28:35; 1 Sam 2:19 might be relevant); Jacob given Esau’s ‘goodly raiments’ (chamad beged) to receive blessing from Isaac before the Lord (beged always but not only used for priestly garments – alternative term salmah never used for priestly garments; chamad usually reserved for sacred objects; Greek στολη ‘stolē‘ used in LXX for Jacob’s and Aaron’s robes; Rebekah’s care and adding aroma to it indicate sacredness, cf. Ex 37:29); Joseph’s coat of many colours (Aaron’s coat was multicoloured, cf. Ex 39:1; Joseph might have been made ‘firstborn’ given Reuben’s disgracing father and Joseph’s being Rachel’s first son)

d. Rites: Jacob consecrates worship place with oil (Gen 28:18), promises to offer tithe there (28:22) and later pours drink-offering (35:1,5), cf. 31:13; imposition of hands (Gen 48); removal of shoes (Ex 3:5); bowing in worship (Gen 24:26-52; Ex 4:31; 12:27)

e. Times of worship: Sabbath kept or hinted many times before official institution (e.g. Noah sending doves at 7 day intervals; Jacob’s waiting a week after marrying Leah; Joseph’s mourning Jacob for 7 days)

f. Moral duties: All mentioned incidentally: Noah’s recognition of clean and unclean animals; Noah’s not eating the blood of an animal; denouncement of murder; adultery forbidden; oaths being binding; making of vows; fornication forbidden; marriage with uncircumcised or idolaters forbidden; a curse on seeing parents naked; purifications for entering a holy place; birthright of the eldest son; brother being commanded to marry and bear offspring from brother’s widow; priest’s daughter to be burned if a harlot; some detail of sacrifices; circumcision; sacraments

g. Blunt also has a discussion of Old Testament types of Christ in this section, but it’s not clear how this is related to undesigned coincidences, so I will not give details here

2. Why did Abraham intercede for Sodom? (Blunt)

Abraham interceded for Sodom (Gen 18) probably because his nephew, Lot, lived there (Gen 14:12).

3. Why did Abraham’s brother’s granddaughter marry Abraham’s son? (Blunt)

Abraham’s brother’s granddaughter married Abraham’s son (Gen 24) plausibly because Sarah was barren for many years (18:12).

4. Why is Bethuel so insignificant? (Blunt)

Bethuel has an unnaturally insignificant role in many transactions: Rebekah only mentions her mother’s house (Gen 29:12); Bethuel’s son is the main person who greets Abraham’s servant (24:29) and spokesman (24:50; cf. 24:55); Bethuel’s son and wife are the recipients of the dowry (24:53); Bethuel’s son is referred to as the son of Nahor (29:5).

5. Why was Isaac meditating? (Blunt)

Isaac was meditating sadly (Gen 24:63) probably because of the recent death of his mother.

6. Why was Isaac anxious about his health and heritage? (Blunt)

There are some coincidences to suggest that Isaac was in a state of poor health a reasonably long time before his death, explaining his anxiety. He prepared to bless his son (Gen 27:2,4) a long time before his death; he wanted ‘savoury meat’; he was bid to ‘arise and sit’; he ‘trembled very exceedingly’; Esau mentioned ‘days of mourning’ for his father; Rebekah worried about ‘being deprived of both of you in one day’; the prolongation of Isaac’s life may have prevented Esau from taking revenge on Jacob.

7. Why did Jacob’s companions have idols among them?  (Blunt)

Jacob’s companions had idols among them when Laban pursued them plausibly because they had recently pillaged Shechem and taken Shechemites with them. This could also explain Jacob’s command to everyone with him to purify themselves.

8. Why was Jacob so wary? (Blunt)

There are various understated hints of Jacob’s wariness, perhaps stemming from the threat of revenge from Esau because of his early trickery, as well as the threat of Laban, even though the author makes no attempt to describe the character of any of the patriarchs. Thus later Jacob declares to Pharaoh that the days of the years of his life had been evil; he pre-emptively takes the precaution of stealing from Laban instead of being sent away empty; he sends a message to Esau without going himself, calling him ‘lord’ and himself ‘servant’; he divides his camp so one half can flee if the other dies; he provides a large present for Esau; he puts his most treasured people in the least exposed part of the camp; he avoids Esau’s offers to guard him or escort him home in peace; he hesitates before taking revenge on Shechem; he worries that he will be destroyed after destroying Shechem; he hesitates before sending Benjamin to Egypt; he needlessly tells his sons to take a large offering to Egypt.

9. Why were the Ishmaelites carrying spices to Egypt? (Blunt)

The Ishmaelites were plausibly carrying spices to Egypt (Gen 37:25) for the Egyptian practice of embalming (50:2-3).

10. Was Egypt a great producer of corn/food? (Blunt)

There are multiple hints that Egypt was plentiful: Abraham went there during a famine (Gen 12:10); Isaac planned to go to Egypt during a famine (26:2); contemporaries of Jacob went to Egypt during a famine (41:57); one of Pharaoh’s distinguished officers was the baker (40:1); straw was plentiful enough to be given to the Israelites to work with for bricks (Ex 5:7); ovens and kneading  troughs were abundant and perhaps universal (Ex 8:3; 12:34).

11. Why was the priests’ land spared during the famine? (Blunt)

The making permanent of Joseph’s deal regarding a fifth of the land is somewhat natural and artless itself; but the sparing of the priests’ land in this deal (Gen 47:22) fits with the respect given to the priests also seen when Pharaoh, aiming to honour Joseph, gave him the priest’s daughter as a wife (41:45).

12. Did Joseph have a special fondness for Jacob? (Blunt)

This would make sense since Rachel died when he was young and since Jacob favoured Joseph. Realistically, Joseph’s character changed while that of his brothers did not (since they were older); then Joseph breaks down at the mention of Jacob, while enquiring after him multiple times; he requests to see Jacob; he receives Jacob and treats him well; he receives Jacob’s blessing; he embalms Jacob’s body; he mourns Jacob longer than usual; his brothers invoke Jacob’s name when worrying that Jacob’s death may remove the last tie of loyalty Joseph has to them; he names his child Manasseh since Manasseh made him forget his toil and his father’s house (as though Manasseh fills a void left by Jacob).

13. Why did Levi’s grandson marry Levi’s daughter? (Blunt)

Levi’s grandson Amram married Levi’s daughter Jochebed plausibly because Jochebed was born while Levi was in Egpyt (Num 26:59), i.e. much later on.

14. Why did Nadab and Abihu make their own fire? (Blunt)

Nadab and Abihu made their own fire erroneously (Lev 10) perhaps because they were drunk, since God slightly later instructs Aaron and his sons not to drink strong wine in the Tabernacle. NB also that Moses is not afraid to chronicle the disgrace of his own nephews.

15. Who were the defiled men in Numbers 9? (Blunt)

The defiled men in Numbers 9 are plausibly Mishael and Elizapahan, who carried Nadab and Abihu’s bodies out of the Tabernacle (Lev 10:4). Numbers 9:1 suggests this is the same Passover, and since the censuses excluding Levites either side of the Tabernacle’s erection had the same number of men, it is unlikely that a non-Levite had died.

16. Why did the Amalekites attack? (Blunt)

The Amalekites attacked Israel (Ex 17) plausibly because Moses had acquired water (cf. Gen 21:25; 26:22; Ex 2:17; Num 20:17; 21:22; Deut 2:6; Judges 5:11) – this might explain why the Amalekites were particularly destroyed later, since they specifically aimed to steal miraculous water, indicating complete irreverence for God.

17. Which crops were ripe at Passover? (Blunt)

Wheat was ripe at the Feast of Weeks (Lev 23), so the crop at the Passover must have been a different kind. It turns out to be Barley (Ruth 2:23) which fits with the original Passover. Since Moses was 80 when he went before Pharaoh, was in the wilderness for 40 years and died at 120, it is suggested that the plague of hail was around the same time as the Passover. And this plague ruined the barley but not the wheat (Ex 9:32).

18. Why did Moses give the sons of Merari twice as many waggons and oxen? (Blunt)

Moses gave the sons of Merari twice as many waggons and oxen as the sons of Gershon (Num 7:7-8) plausibly because the sons of Gershon had to transport the lighter parts of the Tabernacle while the sons of Merari had to transport the heavier parts (Num 4:25,32).

19. How did the Israelites march when leaving Sinai? (Blunt)

Numbers 10:5 records that the east parts of the camp should move first, while Numbers 2:3 notes that Judah was on the east, and Numbers 2:14 confirms that Judah led first. Similarly, Reuben went second (10:14), which fits with their living in the south (2:10) and the south camps moving second (10:6). Cf. also Ephraim and Dan in the LXX.

20. How was the camp arranged in the wilderness? (Blunt)

Korah (a son of Kohath, son of Levi) and Dathan and Abiram (sons of Reuben) were the conspirators against Moses and Aaron (Num 16:1), which fits with their all being pitched south of the Tabernacle (3:29; 2:10). A second coincidence is that 26:11 records that Korah’s children did not die, while 16:27 implies subtly that Korah’s children were somehow not involved.

21. Why did Reuben and Gad petition Moses? (Blunt)

The children of Reuben and Gad petitioned Moses (Num 32:1) perhaps because they marched together south of the Tabernacle (2:10,14).

22. Did Hobab accept Moses’ invitation? (Blunt)

Moses’ invitation Hobab, the son of Moses’ father-in-law to journey with them (Num 10:29-33) seems to have been accepted (Judg 1:1)

23. How widespread was distant communication? (Blunt)

The possibility of distant communication is hinted at multiple times: Abraham is told of his new nephews (Gen 22:20); Isaac learns of Laban’s marriageable daughters (28:2); Jacob knows of Esau’s whereabouts and prosperity (32:3); Rebekah’s nurse journeyed from Canaan to Haran (35:8); there is a suggestion that Elim – a secluded spot – was well-frequented (Ex 15:27); Jethro is aware of the history of the Israelites (18:1), as is Edom (Num 20:15), cf. also Num 14:14.

24. Where did Balaam go after Moab? (Blunt)

Both Moab and Midian summoned Balaam (Num 22:7) but Midian is then dropped from the story when Balaam visits Moab. This fits with Balaam later, incidentally, being found with the Midianites (31:8) – suggesting that after visiting Moab, he went on to Midian after all.

25. Who led the Israelite worship of Baal-Peor? (Blunt)

Zimri, whose death caused God’s punishment to cease (indicating that he led the idolatry), was a Simeonite prince (Num 25:14). And though most tribes increased in number between Numbers 1 and Numbers 26, Simeon was reduced by 27,100 (1:23; 26:14), a number similar to those killed in punishment (25:9). These coincidences fit also with Moses choosing not to bless only Simeon in Deut 33:6 just after killing the Midianites, who were partly responsible for the idolatry. This fits also with Simeon being assigned a poor allotment of land in Israel – only the remnants of Judah (Josh 19:9).

 

Incidental non-coincidences

1. Joseph’s brothers later mention Joseph’s anguish at being left (Gen 42:21) even though there is no real hint of this initially.

2. Judah suggests that taking Benjamin from Jacob was a protracted affair (Gen 43:10) even though there is no real hint of this initially.

3. Jacob alludes to an otherwise unmentioned and unexplained incidence when blessing Simeon and Levi (Gen 49:6).

4. Jacob suggests that Reuben’s betrayal caused a huge rift between the two (Gen 49) even though this is glossed over initially (35:22).

5. An incidence explaining who Anah is is given and is apparently well-known, but there is no mention of this anywhere else (Gen 36:24).

6. The first mention of Joshua assumes he is well-known even though he is not mentioned before (Ex 17:9), and the same with Hur.

7. An incidence where Moses ‘sent Zipporah back’ is alluded to but never explained (Ex 18:2).

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