#289. Where does Balaam come from: Pethor OR Aram (Num 22:5 vs Num 23:7)

Within the Balaam story itself, especially between the prose and poetry sections, there seems to be conflating traditions concerning Balaam’s origin. The prose of Numbers 22:5 places his coming from Pethor, while the poetry section of Numbers 23:7 accredits him originating from as far away as Aram. We will note other textual inconsistencies between the prose and poetry sections of Numbers 22-24 in future posts, all of which have led scholars to see these sections as stemming from two different Balaam traditions.

Scholars also prefer the Smaritan Pentateuch’s reading of Numbers 22:5 over that of the MT, which I did reproduce in the previous post (#288). Where the MT states that Balaam came from “Pethor, the land of the children of his people (bene ‘ammo),” the older textual witness, the Samaritan Pentateuch, notes “Pethor, the land of the children of Ammon,” i.e., the Ammonites (bene ‘ammon).

Scholars not only prefer the Samaritan reading on textual grounds, but on archaeological grounds as well. The Transjordanian territory, of which Ammon was a part, has unearthed other Balaam texts from Deir ‘Alla, which I will try to bring into the discussion in forthcoming entries. Thus the reading of Balaam from Transjordan (“the land of the children of Ammon”) where other Balaam traditions also apparently existed makes better sense.

Lastly, Deuteronomy 23:5-6—a later text—attempts to harmonize these two positions by writing that Balaam came from “Pethor of Aram Naharaim,” which is the land between the Euphrates and the Tigris. Deuteronomy, as well as other texts, also differ from Numbers 22-24 in other significant ways, which we will look at.

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