John William Colenso

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John William Colenso (1814-1883), bishop of Natal, created a crisis in the Church of England with his 1863 publication of The Pentateuch and Book of Joshua Critically Examined."

Naive questions from his parishioners about simple matters of fact in the Bible led him to examine the Bible critically. The conclusion he came to was that many accounts in the Bible could not be taken, in all their details, as literally accurate historical accounts.

Many of his concerns involved numerical inconsistencies. For example, the book of Deuteronomy opens

These be the words which Moses spake unto all Israel.

Colenso estimated that the number of Israelites must have been several millions, and showed that was too large for it to have been physically possible for it to have been assembled and to have been addressed by Moses.