God Is In the Details

The famous architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was fond of the saying “God is in the details.” His point was that the more diligent we are when we make something, the closer it resembles an object of divine character. The closer it is to something God would have made.

The phrase has been turned around as well and some have said, “the Devil is in the details.” This is usually meant to mean that a small, seemingly insignificant error in something complex can be its unraveling.

We can apply this principle to examine books that claim inspiration. If God truly wrote the Qur’an, The Book of Mormon, or The Bible, then when we compare the details of the text with what we know to be true from history and archeology, we find that if the text is accurate, then God is truly behind it, whereas if the details are wrong, God is nowhere to be found.

One area we can examine is how the “divine” work treats money, and the monetary system when relaying an event. It is easy for someone living in one monetary system to mistakenly apply that system back to a time before it existed.

Let me give a clear example. The Qur’an claims to be inspired by God. It claims that an angel came to Mohammad, and gave him the text, which he then recited to others. It is considered by Muslims to be the final and inerrant word of God. If this were true, we would expect to find that when stories from ancient times were relayed, the details of the story, such as the money they used, would be accurate.

However, what one finds is quite the opposite. For instance when giving the account of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers Surah 12:20 states the following:

“They sold him [Joseph] for a miserable price, for a few dirhams counted out; in such low estimation did they hold him!”

Joseph lived approximately 1900-1800 B.C. Coins were first made in the Greek isles in Lydia in about 687 B.C.  The dirham, mentioned in the text of the Qur’an, would not have existed until just before 200 B.C.  and was derived from Parthian coinage. The Qur’an therefore places a currency into an account that would not exist for at least 1600 years after the event took place. Surely such a grievous error would not come from the hand of God. It appears that with the Qur’an, “the Devil is in the details.”

Does The Book of Mormon handle money any better? The Book of Mormon claims to be inspired, also by an angel, this time revealing the text to Joseph Smith. In the book of Alma, the details of the monetary system used by Native Americans are discussed. The discussion starts in Alma 11:4 and states:
“Now these are the names of the different pieces of their gold, and of their silver, according to their value.”

In verses 5-19 it then lists several measurements for pieces of gold, (senine, seon, shum and limnah) and silver, (senum, amnor, ezrom and onti). It then goes on to describe lower numbers shiblons (worth half a senum), shiblums (half a shiblon), and leahs (half a shiblum).

The problem is that this monetary system is completely fictitious. There is no historic or archeological evidence to show that any of these measurements ever existed. In fact, gold and silver were not even traded by Native Americans at that time. They preferred to trade in goods that had actual value for daily use or decoration. If this were written by the hand of God, He would not need to make up His own system of currency that could not be verified by archeology. He would have used the monetary system of the day and of that region. Again it appears that “the Devil is in the details.”

Now let’s examine the Bible and its reference to monetary terms. In terms of Biblical history, from the time of creation, through the flood, the patriarchs, the period of bondage in Egypt, the judges, and the kings trade was by barter, as coins did not yet exist. We see this clearly in passages such as Genesis 13:2 or in Job 1:3 where the wealth of Abram and Job is put in terms of livestock and weights of silver and gold. Financial transactions were sometimes carried out by weight of a precious metal (Job 28:15), but never with currency such as coins, which did not exist at those times.

Perhaps the most telling example would be to use the Biblical account of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers.
Genesis 37:28 reads “. . . they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmeelites for twenty pieces of silver:. . .”

Precious metal was often cut into standard weights and used as currency, but not in a specific coin form for several hundred years.

Here we see the hand of God as He writes into the account, details that give the authenticity needed for true faith.

Others may copy or adapt stories to suit their own needs. Still others may invent systems to lend a sense of authenticity to the ignorant reader. Upon close examination their claims start to fall apart. The Bible stands the test of time and the divine character is never marred by error or inconsistency. With the Bible, we can be assured that God is in the details.