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In Chapter 21 of A Prisoner of Birth we find the following scene:

Dave invited his captive audience to pick up their Bibles and turn to the book of Genesis, then informed them that Cain was the first murderer. "Cain was envious of his brother's success," he explained, "so decided to do away with him." Dave then turned to Moses, who he claimed killed an Egyptian and thought he'd got away with it, but he hadn't, because God had seen him, so he was punished for the rest of his life.

"I don't remember that bit," said Danny.

"Nor do I," admitted Nick. "I thought Moses died peacefully in his bed at the age of one hundred and thirty."

However, the Bible explicitly states (Deuteronomy 34:7) that Moses was 120 years old when he died. Why, then, does Nick say that he was 130?

There are several theoretical ways this could be answered, but none of them seem to work here:

  • There is, in fact, some alternate tradition in which Moses was actually 130 years old.

    The problem with this is that there does not seem to be any evidence of such. The various ancient texts which often have variants – particularly with respect to ages – such as the Septuagint, Vulgate, Samaritan, and Syriac versions of the Bible all have Moses's age as 120. Similarly, a pretty comprehensive list of Bible translations does not contain a single version that has the age as 130. Moreover, a quick Google search did not turn up any reference at all to the age being 130, let alone a Biblical one.

  • The character made a mistake.

    The problem with this is twofold. First, it doesn't seem to serve any purpose in the plot to have such a mistake, all the more so if it is not noted as a mistake. Second, the other character present, Danny, describes himself just a couple of pages earlier as follows:

    "Beth and I are Roman Catholics, so we know the Bible almost off by heart, even though I wasn't able to read it."

    If Danny knew the Bible so well, one might expect him to correct Nick's error.

  • The author made a mistake.

    While it is certainly possible for an author to make such a mistake, it doesn't seem very likely. There is nothing obvious to confuse 130 with, and if the author was not a hundred percent sure about Moses's age he likely would have simply consulted the Biblical text when writing this scene. Additionally, it would require that the editor(s) were unaware of Moses's true age, or didn't deem it worthwhile to correct, which, while possible, adds an extra condition for the scenario to have happened.

  • The passage should actually be interpreted entirely differently. The above three possibilities assume that Danny and Nick are correctly pointing out that the preacher was wrong in his interpretation of Moses, since Moses in fact died peacefully. But perhaps, instead, they are not insinuating that the preacher was wrong, but are instead noting that they had forgotten that bit of Moses's checkered past. In this case, the 130 clause would just be another part of Nick's mistaken Biblical recollection.

    The problem with this is that the Bible does not seem to support the preacher's version. While Moses did indeed kill an Egyptian (Exodus 2:12), we do not find that he was punished for this. In fact, the Bible explicitly states (Numbers 20:12) that Moses's death before entering the Promised Land was punishment for a different sin. Additionally, while not mentioning a bed, the description of Moses's death in the Bible seems pretty peaceful, and it is explicitly stated (Deuteronomy 34:7) that he was vigorous and in good health. Moreover, as in the second possibility, this would require Danny, who is supposed to be well versed in the Bible to have forgotten a significant event described therein (in addition to not realizing the mistake with the age).

Is there any evidence to support one of the above four possibilities? Or are there any other potential explanations that I have overlooked?

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  • Was Danny lying? Also, the age of Moses when he died is an obscure point; it's quite possible that even someone who knew the Bible well simply wouldn't know that that was incorrect (since it's approximately correct). May 10 at 18:32
  • And what about "Beth and I are Roman Catholics, so we know the Bible almost off by heart"? The "off" does not seem to fit grammatically, and it is not a common Roman Catholic practice to memorize the Bible.
    – user14111
    May 10 at 22:25
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    @user14111 english.stackexchange.com/questions/414707/… applies, if these characters are British
    – AakashM
    May 11 at 13:03

1 Answer 1

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Jeffrey Archer is a convicted perjurer, with a long record of, at the very least, embroidering his lifestory (claiming to have attended a prestigious public school, been an undergraduate at Oxford University and raised millions of pounds to assist Kurdish refugees),

There is no reason to attribute such a statement in his fiction to anything beyond a basic carelessness with the truth.

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    This is certainly a valid explanation, although many books not written by crooks also contain mistakes. The OP's faith in the infallibility of publishers is mistaken, and especially in recent years (as publishers have sacked many of their editors in a desperate attempt at cost-cutting) it is common to find books with far more egregious mistakes.
    – Stuart F
    May 9 at 18:48

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