Setting in Biblical Narrative

Tim and Jon discuss the importance of understanding “Setting” in Bible stories.

Episode 12
Mar 25, 2018
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Show Notes

This is Part 7, in our “How To Read The Bible Series.” Tim and Jon discuss the importance of understanding “Setting” in Bible stories.

In the first part (0-15:37) of the show the guys talk about how in the Bible, locations and directions are a big deal. For example, after the fall, man is banished to the east of the Garden of Eden. The direction east, is generally associated with exile and banishment in the Bible. This is reinforced in other stories in the Bible. Tim says when a direction or a place is repeated, it becomes a symbol.

In part 2 (15:37-23:48), the guys discuss the use of “time” in the Bible. When reading a story, there can be a speed up or slow down timing process. In the books of Kings and Chronicles the author generally presents episodic events in a paced, chronological order. Yet in the book of Mark, Mark chooses to race through the earlier parts of his life in 10 chapters by briefly recounting key events and then slowing things down immensely when Jesus arrives in Jerusalem. He takes 6 chapters to recount the stories surrounding the crucifixion.

In part 3 (23:48-27:33), Tim continues to outline the use of timing in the Bible. Some moments, speeches or books are expanded into real time. For example, Tim says the whole book of Deuteronomy took place in one day. Whereas, other moments are condensed, such as the speech Paul gave to the Greek philosophers in Acts. Paul would have given a longer speech, but it has been condensed for literary purposes.

In part 4 (27:33-end), the guys briefly discuss the usage of days, times, and years. For example, the number “40” is associated with a period of waiting. 40 days, 40 years, etc...40 is associated with “expected waiting.” Israel was waiting to go into the promised land for 40 years. Jacob was embalmed for 40 days.

Jon asks about distinguishing Biblical time from “bible code” meaning and searching the bible for hidden references, meanings, or numeric/alphabetic codes. Tim says that while it is true the Hebrew alphabet and numerical system were the same, and both used in reading and writing the Bible, he doubts the Bible writers would try to intentionally hide information.

More Bible Project resources are here on the website: thebibleproject.com

Watch the accompanying video to this content here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7FuT8WtoAK0

Show Music:

Defender Instrumental by Rosasharn Music; Wings by Nicholai Heidlas; Thule by The Album Leaf; Acoustic Instrumental by Hyde

Produced by:

Dan Gummel, Jon Collins, Matthew Halbert-Howen

Scripture References
Genesis 2
Genesis 12
Genesis 15
Jeremiah 25
Genesis 13
Ezekiel 20
Hosea 6
Genesis 14-15

Podcast Date: March 19, 2018


Speakers in the audio file:

Jon Collins

Tim Mackie


Jon: The Medieval castles, the Swamps of Dagobah, A Haunted House, the Roman

Colosseum. These are all examples of places. And when these places are used in

stories, they become what we call settings.

Tim: One of the primary vehicles of meaning in biblical narratives is when they highlight

and repeat where events take place.

Jon: I'm Jon Collins, and this is The Bible Project podcast. Today we're talking about

settings. Settings are crucially important to storytellers. If a scene takes place in a

creepy rundown house, you as a reader now have an expectation of what is going to

happen. Some are scary. If a story takes place in the courtroom, you now expect a

story about crime and justice. Settings are a big deal in the Bible: Egypt, Bethlehem,

Moab, Nineveh, Babylon.

Tim: What you're supposed to be doing, what the biblical authors assume you're doing is

keeping a little tally of where every story happens. This is not unique to biblical

stories. Places become symbolic and full of meaning just by nature of the things that

have happened there.

Jon: Today, we talk about the significance of setting. Thanks for joining us. Here we go.

We're talking about how to read the Bible, specifically about how to read biblical


Tim: Talking about plots - how plot, conflict, and resolution works in narratives, and then

learning to read biblical narratives within these kinds of embedded levels of plot

conflict. That's the first main tool that biblical authors use to tell us theological

messages in these narratives.

Jon: How the event is sequenced and [growing?] together...

Tim: Is crucial clue to its meaning.

Jon: The second tool...

Tim: Is how biblical authors talk about the setting of the story.

Jon: Where the story takes place.

Tim: Where the story takes place.

Jon: When and where.

Tim: When, and where. That's exactly right. This is actually a challenge for modern readers

of the Bible because many of these places that get named don't have any

significance for anybody who hasn't lived in that small patch of land, the size of New

Jersey that is called Israel in the West Bank. It's very easy to see the gap. What am I

supposed to think of when I hear the hill country of Ephraim or the wilderness of

Judah or Mount of Olives, or that kind of thing? One way is to book a trip and go


Jon: Right. Holy land tour.

Tim: Yeah, do a holy land tour, then you have a visual reference to oh, the hills of Galilee,

oh, Nazareth, oh, that is kind of in the middle of nowhere up in those hills and that

kind of thing. That's one way of beginning to get a sense of the significance of these


But actually, there's another almost more important sense where you don't have to

go there. All you have to do is have a good memory as you read these texts.

Jon: What other stories happened in these places.

Tim: One of the primary vehicles of meaning in biblical narratives is when they highlight

and repeat where events take place. What you're supposed to be doing, what the

biblical authors assume you're doing is keeping a little tally of where every story


Jon: And kind of recalling what those other stories were?

Tim: Recalling those other stories, bringing those memories to bear on the story. This is

not unique to biblical stories. Every culture has its own way of doing this. Places

become symbolic and full of meaning just by nature of the things that have

happened there or the type of place that it is. In American culture, the White House

lawn or something, or Washington DC as a city.

Jon: Or the streets of New York?

Tim: Yeah. That's right. Streets of New York, the canals of Venice or Paris.

Jon: A coffee shop in Paris, it communicates something—

Tim: Correct. And it also prime's your expectations for what you think is going to happen

there. Then the storyteller can either fall into those expectations that they've created

by setting it there or they can surprise you by having something happen there that's

precisely the opposite of what you expected to happen.

In that sense, setting is another character, and it's a crucial way of communicating

meaning. The same is true for Biblical narratives. So it's all these places. Egypt is an

ominous place. And you think of Pharaoh and the conflict, and death of the enslaved

Israelites and murdered children.

But then there are a bunch of stories that preceded the Egypt story that actually the

way that they're told seem to assume your awareness. Like there's a story where

Abraham goes to Egypt in Genesis Chapter 12, and it's very clear the way that story

is told, it assumes that you have read Exodus story.

Even it's not just about sequence. It's once you read the Exodus story, every mention

of Egypt after that, you're supposed to fill your mind. It's from page 1, every place is

loaded already because it assumes that you've already read through it before and

now you're on your 50th read through, and you're keeping a tally of everything that

happens in Egypt as you go into it. That's basically the point.

Egypt, Moab, the wilderness, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, the Jordan River. You'll notice

that almost all the most important stories in the biblical narrative take place in

locations that you go to multiple times throughout the story of the Bible.

Jon: The simple point is, know where it's at and recall what other things have been

happening and what your expectations are of that place?

Tim: Correct, yeah. The wilderness is a time of transition and testing just right throughout,

whether it's for the Israelites or for Elijah, or for David, or for Jesus. Then you're

supposed to—

Jon: For what in testing?

Jon: Transition. Usually, people enter the wilderness in moments of huge transition in

their stories and it usually involves some patient trial or test that they have to wait

through. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they fail, and you're just supposed to

bring that to the occasion.

The first illustration - I remember being introduced this and then I traced through for

myself, it was so rewarding because it starts right in the first pages of the Bible - is

east. The east.

Jon: Banish to the east.

Tim: Actually, the first mention is, God planted a garden in the east in Genesis Chapter 2.

The Garden of Eden is set in the east.

Jon: In the East?

Tim: Or from the east. It's actually a translation rabbit hole or black hole there. But one

main meeting from the east. Then when the humans are banished from the garden,

they're banished to the east.

So from Israelites point of view, to the direct east, is the huge desert. It's the

northern extension of the Saudi Arabian desert that separates Israel Palestine from

the Persian Gulf, and Babylon. Essentially such a huge desert out there. To the east is

ultimately you got desert and then Babylon. So they're banished to the east. Then in

the narrative arc of Genesis 3 to 11, you end up going from the garden to Babylon.

Jon: Which is in the east?

Tim: which is in the East. Exactly. Then Abraham goes the opposite direction. From the

east, he wanders west. There's east and west arc. Then Abraham goes west back to

the land, which isn't...If you look at the geographical locations, it's not the Garden of

Eden. But in terms of just directions of the compass, it's as if he's going back to the

garden. and when he goes there, it's described in Genesis 13, as—

Jon: The land flowing with milk and honey.

Tim: Yeah, totally. And like the land of Eden. Then he goes down to Egypt in Genesis 12,

which is not good and then he has to come up out of Egypt. Then his descendant,

Jacob ends up going east up to Aram, north, and east to get a wife. This is the

Jacob's story. He's banished because he stole his brother blessing and birthright. So

he's banished to the east and then he goes. Then he makes his journey back west


Eventually, once all of the family of Abraham acts like Jacob, they're back down

south to Egypt. Then they come up out of Egypt into the land, just like Abraham.

Then because they act like Jacob, treacherous, they get banished back to the east of

Babylon in exile. So these big movements going down to Egypt, coming out of

Egypt, going back to Babylon.

Jon: So getting bashed the east to Babylon and then going down to the south to Egypt,

those are parallel ideas?

Tim: Yes. You end up down in Egypt. It's complex why you end up in Egypt. Abraham

goes there because of a famine in the land. That's precisely why Jacob takes his

whole clan down there. Joseph ends up down there, and so on because of the

famine in the land.

Jon: And to get there, do you have to go through the Negev?

Tim: Yeah, you go through the wilderness to get there, though that's not particularly

highlighted in the stories. But Israel coming up out of Egypt, that's the wilderness


Jon: But that's how you would have gone down to or is there another way?

Tim: No, that's the way through the southern dessert.

Jon: You got to go through the desert.

Tim: Yeah, that's right. Then for the journey east to Babylon, and then out of Babylon,

that arc happens multiple times. This is why the return from exile in the books of

Ezra and Nehemiah are depicted as a new exodus as they go out of Babylon.

Jon: Because those are parallel ideas?

Tim: Yeah, they're parallel. Even though by the compass Egypt to south and Babylon is

east and north, they both carry different kinds of symbolic meaning of being

banished from the land. That all is very meaningful. In the Abraham stories, the

Jacob story, the story about Joseph, the stories about the exile—

Jon: If you were to make a video just on that, what would that be? That wouldn't be a

theme video. That would be a—

Tim: Promised land and exile is basically about that.

Jon: Okay. But I thought you said that one was also about living in Babylon and seeking

the peace of Babylon and that kind of stuff?

Tim: That's right.

Jon: That would be another part of it?

Tim: That would be another layer of it. But the point is just the large narrative arc of the

whole Bible has these movements, and the east is ominous, and the South is

unknown. That kind of thing. But then every individual place, you know, all these

things happen at Bethlehem, and they're almost always related to David or

preparing you for the things that will happen in the life of David.

Jon: What's the town called where Abraham go? Herob or?

Tim: Bethel or Hebron?

Jon: Hebron. I was just in Numbers, and in the spy passage, when they go up, it calls out

that they went first to Hebron. Why did they bring up that town and that's a town

where Abraham came from?

Tim: Yes, exactly.

Jon: So that's why they call it out?

Tim: Yeah. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, when they tour around the land, they go to all of

these places that will later become places of really significant events in the biblical

story. It's on the large-scale narrative way of saying Israel story is lived out by its

patriarchs and ancestors. The life of Abraham—

Jon: Is that where he was originally, Hebron?

Tim: He went to a number of places; Bethel, Hebron, Beersheba.

Jon: But then he gets called out?

Tim: Well, then he goes south, and then he comes back, and he hangs up by the Oak of


Jon: Okay.

Tim: But the point is, if you've read the whole Old Testament and then you come back

and read the Abraham story, you're like, "Oh." And it's exactly the sequence. If you

look in the book of Joshua, the order of cities that they go to in those Southern

mountains is precisely the order that Abraham visits them in, in Genesis.

So it's as if the whole story of Israel is already being told in the sequence in the story

of Abraham. Then his ancestors are retracing his footsteps. It has that effect in you.

Jon: Cool.

Tim: The point is, is keep a little tally of places. Moab. Anyway, Moab.

Jon: The Moabites.

Tim: Yeah, the Moabites. Where characters come from? Moab.

Jon: The only ones coming to mind is in numbers with the king of Moab. What else

happens in Moab?

Tim: Well, first of all, Moab actually you first learned about it through people, not the

place. So Abraham's nephew that he was not supposed to take with him - Abraham

was told to leave the land and your family and your household, but he doesn't. He

takes Lot with him.

Then in that choice, - we'll get into this with characterization - the narrator never

sermonizes on Abraham's poor choice, but Lot creates headaches for Abraham, and

headaches for Abraham's descendants. And it's after the story of Sodom and

Gomorrah where Lot and his daughters flee, and then they have sex with their dad in

the cave. Scandalous story.

But then the children born out of that scandal are Moab and Ammon. Then their

descendants in the narrative go on to immigrate east to the other side of the Jordan.

Then they're the people associated with the Moabites and the Ammonites, who

become these arch-rivals of the tribes of Israel. So both place and those family lines,

all emerged out of that sex scandal in the cave.

When you pick up a book like Ruth, a family from Bethlehem ends up going to the

land of Moab and these Bethlehemite men marry Moabite women. You're like, "Oh,

I've already been here, and it did not go well. You don't marry Moabites. You just

don't do it." That's a good example.

But then the events of Moab actually become the vehicle of redemption because

Ruth, the Moabite woman, becomes the means by which - and some other means -

Boaz and so on becomes the means by which God saves this family. In that case,

Moab becomes a surprise redemptive place. The place of this horrible memory

becomes transformed into a surprising hope. That's a good example where the

author will play with your expectations.

Jon: Which is the same thing that happens in Numbers in the desert of Moab.

Tim: Yeah, that's right. God turns the curse of Balaam into a blessing.


Jon: This almost could be an entire new series of videos, where you take characters and

settings and you just do a quick little study on.

Tim: One could. I mean, you can see why now I wanted to do narrative in more than one

video on how to read series. You could do a video on each plot, setting. And we

haven't talked about characters yet.

Jon: Oh, yeah. Just to set them up. But then you can just do whole entire series on the

different studies. Like you could do Moab.

Tim: Oh, I see. Oh, yeah.

Jon: We could do a three-minute video on Moab or we could do a three minute on Egypt

or the Bethlehem or the East or Babylon or all these different—

Tim: We could.

Jon: And then you could do it with...

Tim: We're talking about video series. Do a video for each one.

Jon: That'd be a setting video.

Tim: If we're doing word setting this would be like a place study.

Jon: Yes, it'd be a place study.

Tim: It'd be cool.

Jon: It'd be cool.

Tim: Setting. Setting is narrators could create an environment for the events through

telling you where. But also they construct an environment through time - how they

talk about time. Because when you're watching a movie, you're in a location and

you're in time moving through this sequence.

Jon: By time, do you mean like the time in human history? Or you mean...?

Tim: The way time is constructed. This is not a pipe.

Jon: I was thinking about that just...I think last night I was watching an episode of 

something and just observing how time works, it's just something you

don't think about. You can go through a lot of time but it's not jarring. When do

they decide to cut scenes to help you transition from moment to moment? It's

actually a pretty sophisticated technique.

Tim: It's really sophisticated. And how transitions of time or gaps in time are

communicated or if they're not communicated, the way to events that even though

in the narrative world, they might be separated by 10 years, but you could place

them right next to each other with a little transition sentence. And then all of a

sudden, two events that you would never put together in normal life, all of a sudden,

you're reading them next to each other, and they take on a whole new significance.

Jon: Movies that mess with time are some of my favorite movies.

Tim: Oh, of course.

Jon: Like "Memento."

Tim: "Memento," oh, man. Amazing. I'll never, never grow...

Jon:  "Groundhog Day." 

Tim: "Groundhog Day!" Well just Bill Murray. 

Jon: Bill Murray in general. Have you ever seen the movie "About Time"?

Tim: No.

Jon: Oh, you need to see it. It's great. It's like this romantic comedy time travel movie. It's

one of my favorite movies because it's essentially about how to live in the present,

which is a lesson I need to learn in life. But it's then couched in this really fun time


Tim: That's good. That's good. Think about more recently, "Arrival." It came out last fall.

Jon: Yeah, that one messes with time.

Tim: Holy cow! Because you start in what you think is one time, and then you're in real

time, but then you're not sure. And you're like, "Are the flash forwards actually

flashbacks?" Anyway. The way the way time is constructed in biblical narrative, it's

through words. Once again, this is not time. It's ink on a page. "In the year of such

and such a king and so on," that's one way to establish time.

Like in the book of Samuel and kings, those events get strung together in sequence

of the reigns of kings and so on. But then within those larger sequences, there could

be "in the fourth year of his reign" and then you'll get an episode. Then the next

story will be "and after this" or "and in those days" or "at that time," and you have no


The whole Abraham narrative is designed like this. "After these things," God makes a

covenant with Abraham in Chapter 15. It begins with "and after these things." You're

like, "After what things? What story just happened?" Where Abraham became like a

special ops covert mission soldier with 318 men and did guerrilla warfare on these

alliances of Kings, he rescues lot.

Jon: He meets the Melchizedek.

Tim: Yeah, meets the king of ancient Jerusalem. And then, "after these things," who

knows? No way of knowing. Are we talking about years, months, days? No clue.

For the author, it's immaterial. He wants you to read Genesis 15, and that covenant

in light of the story that just happened. And who knows the time gap between

them? He doesn't want you to think about any other story. He wants you to think

about these stories, one after another. And once you bounce them off each other,

there are all these interesting connections between them. So an author can explicitly

mention time sequences.

Also, there's the difference between narrative time and the time of narration. The

time of narration is the time it takes me to read the narrative aloud. You know, 30

minutes to read the Abraham stories. It's not very long. But then there's the

portrayal of time within that time of narration.

Jon: How much time period had actually come by.

Tim: A great example to communicate the idea is the Gospel of Mark as a whole. The

Gospel of Mark in chapters 1 to 10, which takes like an hour to read aloud, but it's 10

chapters, and it covers a period of a couple of years. The narrative markers are really

sparse. It's mostly just, "and next, and then, and then." But it's a couple of years.

Then all of a sudden, you hit Chapter 11, and they just slows way down. Then you've

got six chapters, so 30% of the whole overall story covers a period of seven days.

Just think about the proportions. You have 10 chapters that cover like two, three

years. You have six chapters that covers seven days.

In terms of speed, you feel like you're racing through the first 10 chapters. And then

the moment you hit chapter 11, Jesus rides into Jerusalem and then, buuu. You can

imagine it visually. Just slows, and it is just scene after scene. It all happening within

like one day.

So you back up and you have to reflect. That's very intentional. What's being

communicated by racing through Jesus up in Galilee, story after story after story,

and then slowing things down in Jerusalem. There's a very strategic effect.

Jon: This week is really important.

Tim: Importance it's a signal to the reader to slow down. You're already supposed to

ponder every single thing, but really, really ponder these events. And what events

are they? Of course, they lead up to the climax of the whole biblical narrative, which

is the crucifixion and resurrection.

The way all of that, the way time gets designed and presented to you, is always

representing a brilliant mind. But it's so subtle, you don't even pay attention to it.

But the skillful reader of biblical narrative will learn how they reference time.


Jon: There is the time for you to read it. Then there's the narrative time that it took. Did

you say the relationship between the two will communicate something?

Tim: Give you clues. Yeah. Same with the overall design of Genesis chapters 1 to 11.


Jon: Generations.

Tim: All these many generations. That's 11 chapters. Then chapters 12 to 50 is just three

generations. Same kind of thing. And then you speed up. You begin Exodus, and

then like us, many generations past—

Jon: You skip a bunch of time.

Tim: You skip a bunch. You could create a little kind of visual chart or something and the

key focus points are these three generations, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, crucial events

happen there. We slow down time. Then we speed up time, and then we slow it

down to just a sequence of a couple years from Exodus to the wilderness to Mount


Then Mount Sinai is one year, and you're there for half of Exodus, all of it. And the

first half of Numbers almost.

Jon: The important year.

Tim: Nearly half of the Torah is taken up, camped out at...that kind of thing. That just

alerts you to, "Oh, these are the key events that are invested with the meaning. I'm

going to discover the core meaning of the biblical stories if I pay attention to the

Abraham stories, the Exodus story, the Mount Sinai story." The whole book of

Deuteronomy takes place in one day. Just look at how the Torah's time—

Jon: Do you think that's the most stretched out in the Bible?

Tim: Yeah, I think. It would be. It's presented as one speech on the day before they

crossed the Jordan River. It's a whole book dedicated to one day. That's a good

point. I've never thought about that in terms of narrative.

Jon: The day is recapping a bunch of history, though and reiterating a bunch of stuff.

Tim: Yeah, solid point. In terms of the whole Bible, that might be the most—

Jon: The slowest moment stretched out.

Tim: The smallest narrative time with the longest time of narration.

Jon: Literary time.

Tim: Yeah, that's right.

Jon: Because it's one speech, really not just one day. It's like one—

Tim: That's like, part of the day.

Jon: However long it takes.

Tim: Yeah, that's right.

Jon: It's real time. That's what it is.

Tim: Yeah, it's presented that way. It's literally representation of that day and that speech.

Jon: But the amount of time it takes to read it is the amount of time that was taken to

have been there and listen to it.

Tim: Yeah. Good job.

Jon: There are other moments of real time.

Tim: They're strung out like that. But that would be the longest. And there are other

moments that could condense. Like Paul in Athens, Greece, the speech that they give

the philosophers in Athens, it takes maybe three and a half minutes to read it aloud.

Surely, he gave longer speech.

Jon: It was longer than that.

Tim: But it's been condensed right to get the essence of the speech. So same kind of



Jon: Then did we talk about just specific times having specific meanings?

Tim: Yeah. A subset within narrative time is explicit mentioning of time. "In the year of

King so and so" or “in the fourth year of his reign." But then also, there's where

characters will enter a moment in the story and the period of time that the event


Jon: Is important.

Tim: Yeah. So periods of 40; 40 days, 40 years.

Jon: 40 days they spied the promised land.

Tim: 40 days they spied the promised land, then they...

Jon: 40 days Jesus fasts in the desert.

Tim: 40 days they wander in the wilderness.

Jon: 40 years they wander in the wilderness.

Tim: Yeah, as a consequence of those 40 days. Elijah goes to Mount Sinai for a trip for 40

days. Moses was up on the mountain, the people waiting for him for him for 40 days.

Jon: Oh, really?

Tim: Yeah. So 40 days gets associated with the period of expected waiting. There you go.

Expected waiting.

Jon: Expected waiting. See, this could be another part of the series. It could be places and

significant times.

Tim: Yes. Same with Noah and the ark; 40 days and 40 nights. It's almost always periods

of waiting.

Here's a great example. Ezekiel calls the exile. At the end of chapter 20, he calls

Israel's exiled of Babylon, he calls it Israel being sent into the wilderness of the

nations. Ezekiel chapter 20. The wilderness, of course, was iconic the period of 40

years, but the exile is associated with this iconic number of 70. And that comes from

an announcement by Jeremiah in Jeremiah 25. And then it gets expanded by seven

in the book of Daniel. 77.

Jon: It gets multiplied.

Tim: Totally. What you have is this, even though it's 70 years of exile and 40 years in the

wilderness, they are different numbers, but Ezekiel sees them symbolically, similar

periods of time. Then you have all these other interesting...the ending of the book of

Genesis has this interesting thing going on, where when Jacob or Israel - Jacob, the

grandson of Abraham, but he gets renamed Israel - when he dies, he gets embalmed

for 40 days, and then the Egyptians weep for him for 70 days.

When Israel dies, he has a 40-day transition period for his body, and then a 70-day

period of mourning. Almost certainly the author's winking at us here in light of the

wilderness, 40, and the exile, 70. His name is Israel. So this kind of thing. All these

periods of time, three days and three nights that Jesus drew attention to that one.

Jonah, who swallowed up in the belly of the monster for three days and three nights,

he connects to that as a symbolic transition from death into life. There's an

interesting poem in Hosea Chapter where the image of three days and three nights.

So yes.

Again, you realize, "Oh, my gosh, I'm in the presence of Jedi Master." You know, you

just thought, "Okay, well, it was 40 days. It took 40 days to embalm him, so


Jon: So they recorded that?

Tim: Yeah, they recorded that. Remember, these authors don't have to tell you anything.

The biblical narrative style is extremely compact and economic. They will only

include details that are relevant to the development of the story or unless they're

packed with meaning. And so they'll often truncate time, stereotype time, round up,

round down to do this kind of thing.

Jon: Now, it's important to distinguish this from Bible code kind of stuff, right?

Tim: Oh, totally. Yes, yes, yes. Oh, yeah. Big difference.

Jon: I don't know a lot about, but it's kind of like a Hebrew alphabet is also numbers. And

if you find patterns in these numbers, there's dates, and there's always different

information embedded in this. And that's not the literary genius...That's not them—

Tim: It's different. Well, biblical authors are aware of how these numbers work and they

use them as time reference and as vehicles of meaning. They're engaged and really

sophisticated ways of doing it., but they are ways that you can at least make a case

that almost surely the author intends to this.

For example, in that story, we referenced earlier where Abraham covert operation, he

takes 318 men. You're just like, "Okay, I guess that's how many many took." But then

the next chapter 15, and the time reference between them is just after these things is

this whole conversation and God says, "You're going to become a great nation." And

Abraham's like, "I still don't have any kids."

"And the one who will inherit my house is Eliezer of Damascus." We've never heard

of Eliezer or before in any other story. You're never going to hear about him ever

again. So the question is, why do we bring up Eliezer? This was in early Jewish

interpretation. So imagine that your alphabet has also your numbering system.

When you're looking at letters you also see numbers. That's how the Hebrew Bible is

for Hebrew readers. Early readers paid attention, the fact that Eliezer is the number


Jon: Oh, interesting.

Tim: Other than just it's a way the stories are paired together, and then it's invitation to,

oh, are there other connections between those stories? There are interesting

connections between Genesis 14 and 15. So they do that kind of stuff all the time.

The Book of Proverbs begins the Proverbs of Shlomo, and then the Proverbs don't

start until Chapter 10. Then that first collection of Proverbs consists of 375 proverbs,

which is precisely the numerical value of the name Shlomo - Solomon.

Jon: They knew what they were doing.

Tim: They knew what they were doing. But you can also overcook all of this. Usually, it's, if

you look at the first letter of each chapter, or if you count the overall numbers or

letters, then it's like, "Oh, yeah, dude, you're way beyond"

Jon: That's not what they were doing.

Tim: Also like the way that Hebrew words were spelled throughout manuscript history

changes, like the number of letters in a chapter will change through history—

Jon: So if you're counting number and letters and stuff...

Tim: You are counting all that stuff. You're counting up all the letters in Genesis 1, all the

letters and Genesis 2, and then those numbers spell a word. You're way over cook


Jon: That's Bible code and stuff.

Tim: But on the narrative level, that kind of stuff is almost certainly going on.

Jon: Okay.

Tim: That's cool.

Jon: Thank you for listening to The Bible Project podcast. This episode and all of our

episodes are produced and edited by Dan Gummel. You can watch our videos on

YouTube at youtube.com/thebibleproject or on our website, thebibleproject.com.

Thanks for being a part of this with us.

Mallory: My name is Mallory from Raleigh, North Carolina. My favorite part of The Bible

Project is how you can watch a video and then, say, you're leading a small group,

you can watch it with them as well so that they understand God's Word more with


We believe the Bible is a unified story that leads to Jesus. We are a crowdfunded

project by people like me. Find free videos, study notes, and more at


40 Episodes

Episode 40
The Obvious and Extravagant Claim of the Gospel
All four gospels are pointing toward the same simple yet profound claim. As we read the Gospels, how should we understand discrepancies and variations to see the point of it all?
52m • Sep 30, 2019
Episode 39
Why Are There Four Accounts of the Gospel?
Each of the four gospels begin differently—and for a reason. Learn more about the unique opening chapters of each gospel and discover new ways to read these accounts and understand their claims.
1hr 8m • Sep 23, 2019
Episode 38
The Gospel Is More Than You Think
Where does the word "gospel" come from, and are we using it right? Learn the history of this word and dive into how the biblical authors talked about the Gospel.
55m • Sep 16, 2019
Episode 37
What Does the Word "Gospel" Mean?
Explore the history of the word, "gospel," how modern Western Christians often use the word different than the biblical authors. What is the gospel? The answer is far more exciting and complex than we've been led to believe.
1hr 11m • Sep 9, 2019
Episode 36
Wisdom Q+R
Enjoy our Q+R episode on the wisdom literature in the Bible.
1hr 12m • Jul 29, 2019
Episode 35
Solomon the Cynic and the Job You Never Knew
Welcome to our final episode discussing wisdom literature in the Bible. In this episode, Tim and Jon cover two books, Ecclesiastes and Job.
1hr 5m • Jul 15, 2019
Episode 34
Song of Songs: Semi-Erotic Love Poetry
Welcome to episode 5 in our series on How to Read Biblical Wisdom Literature! In this episode, Tim and Jon discuss Song of Songs.
1hr 4m • Jul 8, 2019
Episode 33
Proverbs: Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly
Welcome to episode four in our series on how to read the wisdom literature of the Bible. Today, Tim and Jon dive into the book of Proverbs.
45m • Jul 1, 2019
Episode 32
Solomon: The Wisest of the Fools
Welcome to our third episode discussing the theme of Wisdom in the Bible.
1hr • Jun 24, 2019
Episode 31
The Quest for Wisdom
Welcome to our new series on how to read the wisdom books in biblical literature!
46m • Jun 10, 2019
Episode 30
Law Q+R
Listen to our audience's questions about how to read biblical law.
56m • Jun 3, 2019
Episode 29
Jesus Fulfills the Law
Welcome to another episode exploring how to read biblical law. This is the final part of this discussion before our Q+R episode for this series.
48m • May 27, 2019
Episode 28
God's Wisdom in the Law
Welcome to our fourth episode on how to read biblical law!
51m • May 20, 2019
Episode 27
The Law as a Revolution
Welcome to our third episode on how to read biblical law!
1hr 2m • May 13, 2019
Episode 26
The Law as a Covenantal Partnership
Welcome to our second episode on how to read biblical law!
1hr 13m • May 6, 2019
Episode 25
The Purpose of the Law
Listen in as we begin our disccusion on the laws in the Bible.
1hr 13m • Apr 29, 2019
Episode 24
Prophets as Provokers
Welcome to episode two in our series on How to Read the Prophets.
56m • Apr 22, 2019
Episode 23
What Prophecy Is for
Welcome to episode one in our miniseries on how to read the Prophets.
58m • Apr 15, 2019
Episode 22
Poetry Q+R
Here is our question and response episode where we answer our listeners' questions about poetry and metaphor in the Bible.
48m • Jul 2, 2018
Episode 21
Chaotic Waters
In the last episode of our Metaphor series, Jon and Tim discuss how water is often displayed as rambunctious and dangerous in the Bible.
1hr 11m • Jun 25, 2018
Episode 20
The Mountain Garden and the Human Ideal
This is our second episode in our series on metaphors in the Bible.
46m • Jun 18, 2018
Episode 19
Metaphor and Our Imagination
This is our first episode in our three-part series on the use of metaphor in the Bible.
59m • Jun 12, 2018
Episode 18
God Speaks in Poetry
This is the 2nd episode in our Art of Biblical Poetry podcast where we explore how God speaks in poetic language.
44m • Jun 4, 2018
Episode 17
The Thunder of God
This is episode 1 in our series on Biblical Poetry!
1hr 18m • May 28, 2018
Episode 16
Chaotic Waters and Baptism
Tim and Jon continue to recap key stories in Genesis and the Old Testament. The key themes in these stories are the chaotic waters and salvation through them.
1hr 2m • Apr 23, 2018
Episode 15
Crossing the Chaotic Waters
Tim and Jon discuss literary design patterns in the Bible.
51m • Apr 16, 2018
Episode 14
Live from Milpitas! Part 2
This is part 2 in our live conversation from Milpitas California! Tim and Jon continue their discussion on design patterns in the Bible.
1hr 18m • Apr 9, 2018
Episode 13
Live from Milpitas! Part 1
Tim and Jon discuss literature design patterns in the Bible to a live audience and answer questions from the audience.
1hr 16m • Apr 2, 2018
Episode 12
Setting in Biblical Narrative
Tim and Jon discuss the importance of understanding “Setting” in Bible stories.
35m • Mar 25, 2018
Episode 11
Character in Biblical Narrative
In this episode Tim and Jon discuss character design in the Bible.
49m • Jan 15, 2018
Episode 10
Plot in Biblical Narrative
Tim and Jon discuss how understanding the unique ways plot and narrative are used by the Hebrew authors to write Bible stories can impact how we read the Bible.
51m • Oct 2, 2017
Episode 9
The Bible as Jewish Meditation Literature: Jewish Scripture Meditation vs. Modern Meditation
In this episode, Tim and Jon continue their conversation about Cain and Abel and why it is a good example of Jewish meditation literature.
40m • Aug 11, 2017
Episode 8
Why Isn't There More Detail in Bible Stories?
Maybe, like us, you've asked yourself this questions or found yourself confused while reading the Bible. We don't know why a character did what they did, or what they looked like, or even what the moral of the story is. How do we make sense of this?
44m • Aug 4, 2017
Episode 7
Poetry, Narrative, and Prose Discourse
Jon and Tim discuss the different literary styles used in the Bible.
45m • Jun 23, 2017
Episode 6
Literary Genres and the Stories We Tell Ourselves
Tim and Jon discuss the three literary styles used in the Bible: narrative, poetry, and prose discourse.
1hr 1m • Jun 19, 2017
Episode 5
Is Reading the Bible Together Just a Form of Groupthink?
A jam-packed episode where Tim and Jon discuss the ancient Hebrew practice of reading the Bible aloud, the sociology of both creating environments and being created by environments in Christianity, and the different kind of power between stories and facts.
48m • Jun 9, 2017
Episode 4
Ancient vs. Modern Ways of Reading Scripture
Tim and Jon discuss the differences in ancient and modern ways of reading scripture, including why the Hebrew people would read scripture together as a group. The guys also talk about how challenging it can be to read the Bible by yourself.
59m • Jun 2, 2017
Episode 3
What Is the Story of the Bible?
In this episode Tim and Jon discuss the big narrative arcs of the Bible. What is the Bible really talking about?
59m • May 26, 2017
Episode 2
What's in Your Bible?
In this episode, Tim and Jon give an overview of the entire Bible with a focus on the Hebrew Scriptures.
1hr 10m • Feb 14, 2017
Episode 1
The Bible as Divine Literary Art
Why are the books of the Bible ordered the way they are? Is there a value in reading the Bible in any other order?
1hr 3m • Feb 8, 2017
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