And Yahweh said to Moses:
- “Go up this mountain, Abarim” (Num 27:12 [P])
- “Go up to the top of Pisgah” (Deut 3:27 [D])
- “Go up this mountain Abarim, Mount Nebo” (Deut 32:49 [P or R])
- “to the mountain of Nebo, to the top of Pisgah” (Deut 34:1 [D])
It looks as if there were differing traditions concerning the mountain Moses ascended and from where he was allowed to view the promised land. It also looks as if later writers and/or redactors were aware of these differing traditions and tried to link them together. I have identified these traditions from the scholarly literature: P = the 6th c. Priestly source; D = the 7th c. Deuteronomic source; and R = the 5th c. Redactor, who was himself of the Priestly tradition.
Scholars are content to classify Abarim as a range of mountains. This has largely been supported by the plural “mountains of Abarim” noted in Numbers 33:47-48, which, these verses also tell us, are located in front of Mount Nebo. And the encampment Iyye-Abarim (Num 33:43) also implies a mountain range. If this assessment is correct, then it is possible to eliminate one of these contradictions and to understand Deut 32:49 as stating “Go up to Mount Nebo, in the mountains of Abarim.” We should further note that Deut 32:49 and Num 27:12 are part of the same textual tradition, P. So the fact that there are no compelling inconsistencies with these two verses is not surprising.
The real problems start when we get to Nebo and Pisgah. Mount Nebo has been archaeologically identified. Pisgah, however, still remains uncertain. Given that Abarim is now a mountain range and that apparently Nebo is part of that range, then it is quite possible to see Pisgah as part of that mountain range as well. So the remaining contradiction is between Pisgah and Nebo. Not surprisingly theologically-minded archaeologist and Christian apologist have sought to make the identification of these two mountains identical. But I would stress that the biblical traditions themselves seem to bear witness to the fact that they were competing traditions and that the biblical scribes/redactors themselves tried to combine them. This seems evident enough in Deuteronomy 34:1.
If we look at the traditions above. Pisgah is only mentioned in the Deuteronomic tradition. And it is only in Deut 34:1 that there was an explicit attempt to link Pisgah with Nebo. The text might have originally read, “to the top of Pisgah” as Deut 3:27 does. So originally the Deuteronomic tradition told the story with Mount Pisgah as the mountain that Moses ascended. Later, it would seem, that a Redactor aware of the Abarim-Nebo tradition of P added Nebo into the mix and made it identifiable with Pisgah.
There are other differences between Deut 3:23-28 where Moses allegedly renarrates the events of Num 27:12-21.