There is good evidence in the Bible that different communities preserved their own legends and polemical tales describing the Sinai traditions. The simplest explanation for the differences that exist and the unharmonious presence of these divergent traditions in the Bible, is that certain traditions evolved in Israel and others evolved in Judah. The two Jewish nations existed in separation for centuries, even going to war with each other, and eventually the experience of conquest, exile, and return brought both nations together into one, and the disparate manuscripts were edited into a single composite work.
Evidence for these disparate traditions is found throughout the Bible. For example in one version of the Sinai tradition, found in Exodus, Moses went up the mountain and received rules and regulations from God, which were then recorded by Moses in written form. For example, while Moses was on the mountain he was given the following law to record for posterity.
"Whosoever does any work in the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death." (Exodus 31:15)
A disparate tradition describing how the death penalty was declared for offences on the Sabbath is related in the book of Numbers.
"And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the Sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to and Aaron and to all the congregation; and they put him in custody because it had not been declared what should be done to him. Then YAHWEH said to Moses, "The man shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp." So all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, just as YAHWEH had commanded Moses." (Numbers 15:32)
In one tradition the law concerning stoning for Sabbath violations was delivered to Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus) and in the second tradition found in Numbers, no one knew what to do with a person who violated the Sabbath, and Moses had to consult God on the matter. This suggests that the entire Sinai mountaintop tradition may have been peculiar to one particular sect in the time before the manuscripts were joined and assumed their final form.
The story of God feeding the people quail is another example of two different traditions developing, except that in this case the tradition was familiar to both sects. The first version of the tale is found in the book of Exodus.
"The sons of Israel said to (Moses and Aaron), ‘Would that we had died by YAHWEH'S hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.' ...And YAHWEH spoke to Moses, saying, I have heard the grumblings of the sons of Israel; speak to them, saying, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread; and you shall know that I am YAHWEH your God.' So it came about at evening that the quails came up and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp." (Exodus 16:3, 11)
As the story continues, the people gather manna, the days go by, and on the day before the Sabbath they gather enough for two days. The version of the story in Numbers is told differently.
"Now there went forth a wind from YAHWEH and it brought quail from the sea, and let them fall beside the camp, about a day's journey on this side and a day's journey on the other side, all around the camp and about two cubits deep on the surface of the ground. The people spent all day and all night and all the next day, and gathered the quail (he who gathered least gathered ten homers) and they spread them out for themselves all around the camp. While the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the anger of YAHWEH was kindled against the people, and YAHWEH struck the people with a very severe plague. So the name of that place was called Kibroth-hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had been greedy." (Numbers 11:31)
A common apologetic argument that purports to harmonize these two inconsistent accounts explains that one writer just ‘wrote a fuller account'. However further evidence exists that the two traditions existed separately for a considerable period of time. Each sect compromised there own hymns which contained elements from their separate traditions. For example the same group that was responsible for writing the Exodus account of the quail story also wrote the following psalm.
"They asked, and He brought quail, And satisfied them with the bread of heaven. He opened the rock and water flowed out; It ran in the dry places like a river. For He remembered His holy word With Abraham His servant; And He brought forth His people with joy, His chosen ones with a joyful shout. And he gave them the lands of the nations; and they took possession of the fruit of the peoples’ toil, to the end that they should keep his statutes, and observe his laws. Praise YAHWEH!" (Psalm 105:40)
They people got quail. They were happy. They felt like singing happy songs about the event. And then they all went rejoicing into the promised land. Read the entire 105th Psalm. It is not surprising that it is a recapitulation of the Exodus narrative, including, as you can see, the Exodus version of the quail story. You can contrast this psalm with the psalms written by the same sect that composed the Numbers narrative.
"They quickly forgot His works; They did not wait for His counsel, But craved intensely in the wilderness, And tempted God in the desert. So He gave them their request, But sent a wasting disease among them. When they became envious of Moses in the camp, And of Aaron, the holy one of YAHWEH, The earth opened and swallowed up Dathan, And engulfed the company of Abiram. And a fire blazed up in their company; The flame consumed the wicked." (Psalm 106:13)
"When He rained meat upon them like the dust, Even winged fowl like the sand of the seas, Then He let them fall in the midst of their camp, Round about their dwellings. So they ate and were well filled, And their desire He gave to them. Before they had satisfied their desire, While their food was in their mouths, The anger of God rose against them And killed some of their stoutest ones, And subdued the choice men of Israel. In spite of all this they still sinned And did not believe in His wonderful works. So He brought their days to an end in futility And their years in sudden terror." (Psalm 78:27)
It is obvious that the two traditions developed side by side for a considerable period of time, and as time went by songs were written, songs that, like the stories on which they were based, would eventually be collected into a single work.
It is also clear that there were two disparate traditions that developed which purported to describe the Exodus traditions and the story of the entry of Israel into Canaan. Because of the editing job done on the manuscripts of the Bible, and the way that disparate elements from various traditions were woven together, it can be difficult to disentangle the elements from each tradition in the finished manuscript. This is where these psalms the people from the different traditions wrote become especially useful.
We know from reading the Exodus accounts (or those parts of it belonging to the tradition of the psalmists quoted above) that the people got quail (period, no plague). They then went off rejoicing into the promised land. In the Numbers tradition, the people were not allowed to go into the promised land, but instead were destroyed by God (ending their years in futility and terrors). This was after they had been plagued and swallowed by sink holes and burned up by heavenly fires and suffered horror after horror (in the version of these events described in the Numbers tradition.) Rather than rejoicing and entering the promised land, they were all put to death by God.
"None of the men who have seen my glory and my signs which I wrought in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the proof these ten times and have not hearkened to my voice, shall see the land which I swore to give to their fathers ... And YAHWEH said to Moses and to Aaron, "How long shall this wicked congregation murmur against me? I have heard the murmurings of the people of Israel, which they murmur against me. Say to them, ‘As I live,’ says YAHWEH, ‘what you have said in my hearing I will do to you: your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness; and of all your number, numbered from twenty years old and upward, who have murmured against me, not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun." (Numbers Chapter 14 verse 22)
The book of Numbers crowd then summarized their tradition in the psalms.
"When your fathers tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. For forty years I loathed that generation and said, "They are a people who err in heart, and they do not regard my ways." Therefore I swore in my anger that they should not enter my rest." (Psalm Chapter 95 verse 9)
The tradition of horrors and plagues and endless wrath has, for some peculiar reason, become the 'official' version of events surrounding the Exodus (the Book of Numbers crowd have succeeded in crowding out the more optimistic Exodus tradition). For some reason the more ruthless, pessimistic, even downright terrifying and morbid traditions seem to grip the minds of so many believers with a tenacity that renders them insensible to the knowledge that what they are reading is merely one version of events. That these morbid and violent traditions gripped the mind of the author of Hebrews is obvious from reading the opening sections of his book. He acknowledges the Numbers traditions, and ignores the more optimistic traditions found in the Exodus and the Psalms (if he was even aware they existed, so gripped is by his imaginations of the terrors of the God of Israel). He reminds everyone of the Numbers version of events, and then interprets them through the lens of his own Christian dogma. The people of Israel, he reminds everyone, were being preached to just as everyone else is now being preached to, but they all went straight to hell to burn forever, he warns darkly. This notion that people go straight to hell for not listening to sermons has become the prevailing dogma in the church. (Later in his manuscript he will remind his readers of all the heavenly fires and sinkholes and plagues to make the point that if those people were punished that severely, a backsliding Christian would be punished in hell even more severely. That these Numbers traditions had a morbid hold on his mind is best illustrated by the fact that he ignores (or perhaps is even unaware) that variant traditions are found in the Biblical manuscripts.) He begins by recapitulating the Numbers tradition. He then points out darkly how those people came out of Egypt and then all got sent straight to hell, and concludes his interpretation of this tradition by deciding that Christians are in great danger of being sent straight to hell as well. (Backsliding Christians get sent to hell in the book of Hebrews, the author building his argument on the Numbers tradition and concluding that 'you only get one chance'.)
"Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their hearts; they have not known my ways.’ As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’" Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we share in Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end, while it is said, "Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion." Who were they that heard and yet were rebellious? Was it not all those who left Egypt under the leadership of Moses? And with whom was he provoked forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they should never enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest remains, let us fear lest any of you be judged to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them; but the message which they heard did not benefit them, because it did not meet with faith in the hearers. For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, "As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’" (Hebrews Chapter 3 verse 10)
Now as I pointed out above, the author of Hebrew ignores one fact in his dark broodings, and that is that the version of events that he prefers (the dark, brooding pessimism and cruelty of the Numbers narrative) is one, and only one, tradition, and one, and only one version of events. An optimistic tradition also existed, a tradition that did not include the plagues and fires and sinkholes of the Numbers tradition, but, as I mentioned, there has always been some peculiarity in the religious mindset that gets people fixated on horrors, and so this fact goes unrecognized. Anyone who has read my piece on the Golden Calf will notice that there is also an optimistic tradition woven together with a pessimistic tradition in the book of Exodus itself (I am not suggesting that Exodus in its finished form is a completely optimistic tradition). The pessimistic tradition is the famous (in all those movies) story of the Golden Calf. You will notice when you read the 105th psalm that is a recapitulation of the optimistic Exodus tradition that there is no mention of a Golden Calf, which supports my contention in the piece on the Golden Calf that this is a later tradition interpolated into the book of Exodus by Northern Levites. It is also interesting to note that there is no mention in this Psalm of the Sinai mountain top tradition, which leads me to believe that perhaps it was the Northern Levites who first invented that story as well.
It would seem to me that the ruthless sadism and overbearing cruelty of the God of the Numbers tradition is detestable, but at the same time the overly optimistic portrayal of human relationships with God of the Exodus crowd is also an inadequate description of reality as we have come to know it. I am by nature an optimistic person myself, but I have learned to temper my optimism with skepticism (perhaps for emotional reasons, because in that way I am prepared and it isn't nearly as painful to be disappointed). I would like to be as optimistic as that book of Exodus crowd, but something inside of me says, 'not complete.' So I keep thinking that by itself that tradition fails to adequately address and account for the abandonment issues people must deal with when considering God and their fate at the hands of God, and it also fails to adequately account for the pain and suffering humanity experiences at the hands of evil or human aging, decay, and death. None of these things can be adequately explained by a purely optimistic viewpoint, but to turn to total pessimism and harbor dark broodings about the nature and motives of God, even portraying God as an overbearing, gigantic, all powerful sadist is not a proper response either, but rather is destructive of faith and trust, and works against any true reconciliation.
More mature perhaps, and more in line with lived human experience, might be the synthesis found in the books of the prophets. Here is found both dark brooding pessimism and wrath tempered by gentleness, reconciliation and optimism. For example Jeremiah raged against many nations, but ended his sermons with the doctrine, 'I will restore their fortunes.' Ezekiel wrote, 'I will restore the fortunes of Sodom and Gomorrah'. Encapsulated in the books of the prophets is the Jewish religion in a more mature form, taking into account both wrath (and the evidences of punishment, such as death) and kindness and reconciliation (it was the doctrine of the prophets, repeated again and again, that first came punishment, suffering of consequences, learning, and then repentance and reconciliation. This point of view is not as optimistic as some Biblical traditions, and neither is it as dark and morbid as the more pessimistic traditions. In this way it can be seen as a later synthesis of the varying traditions of the Jewish faith that developed in various sects over time). That such divergent traditions are found to exist on the pages of the Bible should not surprise anyone, for even today there are sects and divisions in both the church and in Judaism (for example, 'Reformed Judaism', 'Conservative Judaism' and 'Orthodox Judaism', evangelical Christians, charismatics, fundamentalists, liberals, and the list goes on).
A Unified Field Theory
The Unified Field Theory
is also available as a zip file -> unified.zip
Introduction :The Pioneer Effect and the New Physics. A brief description of the new physics required to explain the 'Pioneer Effect', which is the constant deceleration of space craft as they fly through space.