from the French by Alastair D. Pannell and the author
(Paris: Editions Seghers, n.d.)
By Rolan Monje
The book is written by a French surgeon who, after
being intrigued by the piety of certain people, started
studying out the Qur'an. He set out to find out the
aspects of Islam which remain unknown to the vast
majority of non-Muslims. In the process, he learned
Arabic and took on the task of analyzing the Bible
and the Qur'an in the light of Modern Science.
Thinking that this book would highlight the credibility
of the Bible, I was surprised that it was not the
case. On the contrary, his treatment of the Bible
was quite unfair, making disparaging comments that
showed bias more than anything. His writing style
is direct and his approach is scholarly. However,
there are several weaknesses in his book.
Strong points of the book
1. Interesting writing style. Bucaille writing style
is lively and interesting. The book is not boring
at all. His choice of words reflect a scholarly and
2. Good grip of history. The author is able to clearly
present the history behind the issues he is referring
to. Also, he is able to do this using short, direct
statements which quickly get to the core of the issues.
One example of this is how he explains the growing
methodologies in textual criticism.
Weak points of the book
1. Limited sources. The book uses a limited number
of sources. Bucaille's references are confined to
a few French commentaries, none of which are written
by renowned experts in their field. Bucaille mentions
Danielou, O Culmann, and Kannengiesser so much that
the whole first part of the book seems to just revolve
around the thoughts of these authors. Furthermore,
obvious tendency to take material from a limited amount
of sources shows poor scholarship.
2. Conjectural statements. Bucaille makes certain
statements that appear to well-researched but are
still questionable. Sometimes I think his conclusions
don't really follow from the statements that are supposed
to support them.
3. Sweeping generalizations. The book is filled with
sweeping generalizations and catch phrases which obviously
attempt to undermine Biblical authority. Some of these
statements suggest that gospel authors forced their
own material and biased thoughts into their writing.
Some suggest that the Pentateuch was formed from a
mosaic of half-truths and hearsay. At one point the
book says that the Bible simply has monumental errors.
There are two issues that I'd like to discuss in
order to answer the author's charges against the New
Testament's credibility. (Bucaille sharply criticizes
the time element of the gospels. He claims that each
gospel is a loose patchwork of stories and legends
with little historical value.) The first issue has
to do with the Jesus' statement about his death in
the gospels and the second with the His' genealogies.
Jesus in the tomb, how long?
1 This is found in pages 63-66.
2 A possible exception is De Vaux who is a professor
of Old Testament History and Theology and has written
volumes of work in his field.
In Matt 12:30-45, Jesus is conversing with the Pharisees
and teachers of the law. In Jesus' view, this crowd
represented this "evil and adulterous generation"
who asked for a sign. "The sign of the prophet
Jonah" denotes that Jonah is a type of Christ,
and surely Jesus knew long in advance about his death,
burial, and resurrection (Mt 16:21). With Jonah established
the type of Christ, then question now becomes a matter
of interpreting the term "three days and three
The word "days" (h?meras, from the singular
h?mera) and "nights" (nuktas, from nux)
are the usual words for "days" and "nights"
in Greek. Moderns usually regard "a day and a
night" as 24 hours and so "three days and
three nights" would mean a total of 72 hours.
However, according to Jewish tradition, a day and
a night make an onah (a day), and a part of an onah
is as the whole. Thus, "three days and three
nights" could also mean a series of three parts
of day. This length of time would not necessarily
mean 72 hours.
There are many verses that attest to the resurrection
of Christ "on the third day" (Matt 16:21,
17:23; Act 10:40; 1 Cor 15:4). The doctor Luke especially
wrote "to set forth in order a declaration of
those things" about Christ (Lk 1:1-4). The term
kathexes ("in order") shows that he valued
the proper chronology of his material.
Saying, The Son of man must suffer many things, and
be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes,
and be slain, and be raised the third day. [Lk 9:22,
Luke also maintains in Luke 18:33 that Jesus claimed
to be raised on the third day. Luke 23:54 adds more
And [Joseph] took it down, and wrapped it in linen,
and laid it in a sepulchre that was hewn in stone,
wherein never man before was laid. And that day was
the preparation, and the sabbath drew on. [Lk 23:53-54,
Jesus was taken down from the cross around sunset
of the day of preparation (hemera paraskeues) and
the Sabbath was coming (epephosken). This would mean
that if the period of interment was only from evening
of Friday to the dawn of Sunday, only one whole (24-hour)
day is covered. The best way to reconcile this is
to conclude that "three days and three nights"
means three "portions of a day". A similar
phrase is given in Joshua 1:11, where "three
days" simply means "the day after tomorrow"
or "in a few days" and not 72 hours. (See
also Josh 2:16, 22; 3:2; 9:16.) So Jesus could not
already have been buried for three whole nights and
three whole days. That would have required His resurrection
to be at the beginning of the fourth day.
Following the Jewish method of reckoning time, the
three whole days would have been Thursday sundown
to Friday sundown, Friday sundown to Saturday sundown,
and Saturday sundown to Sunday. Interestingly, the
Roman method would have considered three days also
: Thursday midnight to Friday midnight, Friday midnight
to Saturday midnight, and Saturday midnight to Sunday
midnight. But only portions of these three days were
considered as "days". Here is a tabulation
of the three days with different methods of reckoning:
Taken as 'onah' day
|Thursday 6pm to
|Friday 6pm to Saturday
||Whole day of Saturday
|Saturday pm to
||Early morning of
3 The Greek term tou pascha (lit., "of the
Passover") is taken to be equivalent to the Passover
Week. This refers to the seven-day Feast of Unleavened
Bread (Heb. massot) that immediately followed the
initial slaughtering and eating of the Passover lamb
on the evening of the fourteenth day of the month
Abib, which by Hebrew reckoning would mean the commencement
of the fifteenth day, right after sunset. Richards,
4 Romans considered days as going from midnight to
Finally, this all fits in with the chronology of
the resurrection week:
"Holy Week" Day
Betrayal and Arrest
Trial by Annas and Caiaphas
Mk 14:17-26; Lk 22:14-30
Matt 26:47-56; Mk 14:43-52; Lk 22:47-53
Matt 26:57-75; Mk 14:53-72; Lk 22:54-65
||Trial by Sanhedrin
Trial by Pilate & Herod
|Matt 27:1; Mk 15:1,
Matt 27:2-30; Mk 15:2-19; Lk 23:1-25
Matt 27:31-60; Mk 15:2-46; Lk 23:26-54
||Burial in tomb
||Matt 28:1-15; Mk
16:1-8; Lk 24:1-35
1. According to Jewish tradition, a day and a night
make an onah (a day), and a part of an onah is as
2. Both Jewish and Roman reckoning agree for the whole
amount of time Jesus was in the tomb.
3. "Three days and three nights" in Matt
12 means three "portions of a day", which
would mean that Jesus did indeed resurrect on a Sunday
Conflicting genealogies in Matthew and Luke
Why do the gospels of Matthew and Luke present different
genealogies? Matthew 1 and Luke 3 give different versions
of Jesus' lineage. The two differ in both content
and presentation. How can this be reconciled?
Both Matthew and Luke recognize the importance of
establishing a genealogy for Jesus, in accordance
with the care given such matters in ancient Israel.
In their handling of Jesus' genealogy, Matthew and
Luke differ in several ways. The simplest way to explain
this difference is to consider the reason why these
accounts were written in the first place. Family history
and lineage were important matters in the Near East.
When placed side-by-side the gospels cater to different
sorts of people and present Jesus from different angles.
Matthew was addressed primarily to Jews while Luke
was addressed to Gentiles. Matthew focused on Jesus'
kingship while Luke focused on Jesus' humanity. With
two different audiences in mind, the two genealogies
had to be presented in distinct forms.
A. General observations
The Temple of Jerusalem as well as other edifices
were destroyed in A.D. 70. Because of this, the gospel
writers may have deemed it necessary to draw up an
accurate account of Jesus' family history. Matthew
and Luke ensure this for us, their future readers.
Also, two distinct genealogies are needed to paint
a complete picture of the Messiah.
There are more details to be noticed in these two
accounts. These can now be understood in terms of
the bigger picture - the two purposes for which the
two gospels were given.
1. Matthew traces forward in time from Abraham to
Christ while Luke traces backward in time from Christ
The Jews considered themselves sons of Abraham and
so Jesus' lineage is highlighted in Matthew. In order
to show Jesus as king (from Zech 9:9), his royal line
had to be established. In contrast, Luke traces Jesus'
bloodline all the way back to Adam to show that he
is wholly human (from Zech 12:10). Skeptics and believers
alike would have to admit that Jesus was a man just
like Adam and all his descendants were.
5 Note that Mark did not need a genealogy since
his focus was to present Jesus as a servant or worker.
John did not need one either since he presented Christ
2. From David, the line goes to Solomon according
to Matthew, to Nathan according Luke.
David is an intersection of both genealogies. Both
Nathan and Solomon were David's sons. Solomon is the
ancestor of Joseph, who married Mary. It was necessary
for Matthew to trace the line through Solomon since
it was Solomon who succeeded David as king. Here the
royal line is indicated. There is a catch though that
I shall show later. Nathan, on the other hand was
the older son of David (1 Chron 3:5). Nathan is the
ancestor of Mary, Jesus' mother. The genealogy had
to be traced to him because Luke wanted to show Jesus
as biological descendant of David.
3. According to Matthew, Joseph's father is Jacob
(Mt 1:16) but according to Luke, it is Heli (Lk 3:23).
Joseph could not have had two fathers. In a genealogy
a child could be listed under his natural or his legal
father. This concept goes back to the Levitical provision
for preserving a married man's name (Dt 25:5-6). Here,
the widow of a childless man could marry the husband's
brother only so that a male child of the second marriage
could be considered (legally) as the son of the deceased.
This provision was created in order to perpetuate
the name of the deceased. Since this rule was generally
followed in Jewish communities up to the time of Christ,
it is probable that Jacob and Heli were physical brothers
and that one of them married and died early, leaving
the widow (Joseph's mother) with the other brother.
I can also see another possible scenario: Jacob and
Heli were brothers-in-law, one of them being married
to Joseph's mother and dying early.
4. Matthew puts a pattern into his account whereas
Luke simply lists his.
Matthew groups his genealogies in fourteens. By custom,
Jewish writers would create certain patterns in their
writing, usually for artistic or mnemonic reasons.
Note that Jewish practice did not require that all
names be written. At times, only the most prominent
son was written. At other times, generations were
skipped in order to highlight a particular generation
or to put form to the presentation.
B. Prophetic considerations
As mentioned earlier, the two family histories of
Jesus are needed to establish him as Messiah. Since
Jesus was to be the fulfillment of a complex system
of prophecies, each one of those prophecies had to
be fulfilled. Two of the most important prophecies
have to do with David's ancestry and the restriction
on Joseph's lineage.
1. The Messiah was to be the actual son of David
according to the flesh. (Ps 89:3-4)
The same fact is carried in 2 Sam 7:12-19, Ps 132:11,
and other verses. Interestingly, this detail is also
followed by the apostles who were well versed in the
Old Testament (Ac 2:30, 13:22-23; Ro 1:3; 2 Ti 2:8)
2. The Messiah could not come from the cursed line
of Jehoichin (Jer 22:28-30).
In Jer 22:28-30 we are told that a descendant of
Jehoiachin (son of Jehoiakim) could not acsend David's
throne. This was because of Jehoiachin's wickedness.
It is unfortunate that his line would have to suffer
this curse. Joseph the carpenter was of this line.
In order for both prophecies to be fulfilled, God
took the time to lay out Jesus' family history in
two ways. Joseph's lineage provided the royal line
for Jesus, since he is a descendant of Solomon, David's
son. This is value of Matthew's account. Notwithstanding,
in order to circumvent the curse in Jeremiah 22, it
had to be shown that Jesus was Jesus was not of the
seed of Jehoiachin. This is where Luke's account holds
value. Had Jesus been the biological son of Joseph,
the Jews would have pointed to the writings of Jeremiah
to disqualify Jesus. Jesus is Joseph's son only in
the eyes of the law. In his genes, Jesus is Mary's
child through Mary's bloodline via Nathan.
Two important points of intersection are worth noting:
(1) The generation of David, since Solomon and Nathan
were both his sons. (2) The generation of Joseph,
since his marriage to Mary was the means for legalizing
Jesus' ascension to the throne. In the NT, both these
points of intersection are dealt with in amazing detail.
1. God recorded the genealogies in Matthew and Luke
for documented proof that Jesus Christ is the promised,
virgin-born, Messiah; and, rightful heir to the throne
of David as King of Kings.
2. The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew traces Jesus'
line to David and to Abraham. This coincides with
the fact that Matthew's gospel stresses Jesus claiming
3. The genealogy of Jesus in Luke traces Jesus' line
to Adam. This coincides with the fact that Luke's
gospel stresses Jesus embracing humanity.
4. Two lines are needed to trace the ancestry of Jesus,
one royal and the other legal. Jesus is indeed the
Messiah. His blood rights came through Mary and His
legal rights through Joseph.
The two genealogies do not contradict each other
but strengthen evidence for the Messiahship of Christ.
These confirm the accuracy of the Bible even to smallest
details and should build our faith in God's sovereignty.
Overall, the book challenged my thinking since Bucaille's
approach was critical from the very first page. Indeed,
reading the book was practical training on refuting
the claims of a critic. At times the arguments were
circular, but at times they made a lot of sense. I
had to separate wheat from chaff and come up with
what the author was really trying to say. I believe
that somehow, I was able to employ some of the approaches
in John Oakes' book to marshal lines of reasoning
against such criticisms.