I was recently received a question about inerrancy from a student in my MEMRA institute. Readers here know I’ve spent a lot of time on that subject (see the archived page). My short answer was that the difficulty in talking about inerrancy and errancy is defining what constitutes an error. That is in the eye of the beholder, and I’m no exception. Providentially, I was studying Genesis 48 for a project at work (honestly, how cool is it to be able to say that?) and came across a very good illustration of the difficulty. I thought I’d share it with you.

In Gen 48:21-22 we read (ESV):

21 Then Israel said to Joseph, “Behold, I am about to die, but God will be with you and will bring you again to the land of your fathers. 22 Moreover, I have given to you rather than to your brothers one mountain slope that I took from the hand of the Amorites with my sword and with my bow.”

Gen 48:21-22 refers back to the massacre at Shechem perpetrated by Simeon and Levi in the wake of the their sister Dinah’s rape (Genesis 34). “Mountain slope” is Hebrew shekem, which is an obvious wordplay on the Hebrew place name (and personal name) shechem. Genesis 33:19 informs us that Jacob purchased a plot of land (cf. the “slope”) from Hamor of Shechem–he did not take it by force. The plot of land was likely intended as a burial site (recall Abraham had purchased a plot of land from the Hittite Ephron for that purpose; Gen 23). Hamor is described as a “Hivite” in Gen 34:2.The text of Genesis 34 is quite clear that Jacob had nothing to do with the massacre and rebuked his sons in harsh terms for what they did. It is also clear they left Shechem and did not occupy it. (Read the chapter if it is not familiar).

That summary alerts us to two basic problems in Gen 48:21-22. One is easily adressed; the other is not. Let’s take the easy one first.

1. Hamor of Shechem, the Hivite — why is he referenced with “Amorite” in Gen 48:22?

Briefly, both “Amorite” and “Hivite” are used in the Old Testament broadly, meaning that Hamor could theoretically have been called either in normal discourse. For example, the term “Amorite” shows mixed ethnicity and geography. In Josh 10:5-6 two of the five “Amorite” kings are placed in Jerusalem and Hebron. Those two places are also associated with the Jebusites and Hittites, respectively (cp. Ezek 16:3, 45). The Amorites are also placed outside Canaan in the Transjordan (Deut 1:44). That scholars take the Amorites as the ancient Amurru makes this distribution comprehensible, since the Amurru kingdom extended from parts of Lebanon into Syria and northern Canaan (the location of Shechem) and the Transjordan. The Old Testament also places the Hivites in these same areas, and so that term has the same ethnic/geographical imprecision (see Gen 36:2–3; Josh 11:3; Judg. 3:3; 2 Sam 24:1–9).

So the answer to this question is that Hamor could be called either since either works.

2. “With Sword and Bow”?

The greater problem is how to reconcile the statement of Gen 48:22, that Jacob had taken the slope (Shechem) with his “sword and bow,” when Genesis 34 has him opposing what happened there—and buying a piece of land there (Gen 33:19), something he would not have had to do if he had conquered it prior to the treachery in chapter 34. Compounding the quandary is the fact that when Joshua enters the Promised Land he does not have to conquer Shechem; he simply holds a covenant renewal ceremony there. Indeed, the only conquest of Shechem at any point in Israel’s history occurs centuries later under Abimelech in Judges 9.

There are three possible answers to the problem:

a. Gen 48:22 contains an error (or Gen 34 lies to the reader).

b. Gen 48:22 preserves a lost tradition that is true, but the final editor(s) of Genesis were careless (or indifferent), in that they didn’t bother to reconcile the passages. This would be a case of scribal carelessness that is *not* an error.  Their work just lacks clarity. (But would some call that an error?) This answer suggests there is a way to reconcile them but it is unknown.

c. Gen 48:22 preserves a lost tradition that is not actually related to Genesis 33:19 and Genesis 34. If this is the case, the editors were also careless (or indifferent), since they don’t inform the reader there is no relationship, avoiding the confusion. This answer suggests they don’t need reconciliation, but are best explained separately–but there is no data to tell us how to do that.

So, is there an error?

I think the best response to this (and “response” does not mean “solution”) is “I don’t know.” I don’t see any of the three options as compelling or more or less reasonable than any of the others. In other words, I see no reason to pick one and reject the others. So I don’t know if there is an error here or not.

Hence the problem.