#304. “Each tribe shall be granted his territory according to its numbers” OR not? (Num 26:54 vs Josh 13-19)


Numbers 26:54 specifically states that the size of land appointed to each tribe is to be determined by each tribe’s number:

“To a larger group give a larger inheritance, and to a smaller group a smaller one. Each tribe is to receive its inheritance according to the number of those numbered among them.”

But this is not what happens when the land is allotted in Judges 13-19. The largest tribe does not receive the largest inheritance, and likewise the smaller does not receive the smaller sizes. As a visual aid, here are the numbers/sizes of each of the tribes according to the census of Numbers 26, in descending order.

Judahites    76,500
Danites    64,400
Issacharites    64,300
Zebulunites    60,500
Asherites    53,400
Manassehites    52,700
Benjaminites    45,600
Naphtalites    45,400
Reubenites    43,730
Gadites    40,500
Ephraimites    32,500
Simeonites    22,200

So according to this list, and specifically verse 54, the tribe of Judah should receive the largest inheritance, the tribe of Dan the next largest, Issachar the next, and so forth ending in the smallest territory occupied by the tribe of Simeon. But here is a map of the allotment of the land according to Joshua 13-19. And it doesn’t support the claims of Numbers 26:54.

 allottment of the land

According to this map, that is according to Joshuah 13-19, the tribes of Judah and Manasseh clearly receive the largest portion. For Judah that makes sense with its 76,500 male individuals, but Manasseh comes in somewhere in the middle with a count of 52,700. Additionally, it looks like the tribes of Benjamin (45,600), Dan (64,400), Zebulun (60,500), and Issachar (64,300) receive the smallest inheritances, when according to Numbers 26 the four smallest allotments should have been assigned to the tribes of Reuben (43,730), Gad (40,500), Ephraim (32,500), and Simeon (22,200). So some other mechanism is being used here in Joshua 13-19 to determine the size of each tribe’s inheritance—contrary to what was announced in Numbers 26:54.

On another note, I am going to have to advocate against another contradiction that is often found in the scholarly literature, and that is the claim that there is a contradiction between assigning land “in accordance with their numbers” (Num 26:54) and “by lot” (Num 26:55). Upon closer inspection, it seems that our author is distinguishing between two separate tasks:

  1. The size of the apportioned territory is to be determined by the size/number of the tribe, which as we have just seen is in itself negated by the Joshua tradition.
  2. The location of that territory is then to be determined by lot!

Support for this assessment can be found in the beginning of Joshua 14, right before Eleazar and Joshua start apportioning the land by lot. Caleb promptly interrupts to remind Joshua that Yahweh has already assigned the location of his clan’s allotment—Hebron and its environs.  This was granted to Caleb and his seed because of Caleb’s loyalty in the spying of the land episode (see #234, #235-236, #238-240). So it would seem that location, not size, is determined by lot here.

I suppose, however, that since Joshua 13-19 displays no knowledge of the decree of Numbers 26:54 that the census numbers of the tribes should be used in determining the size of each tribal allotment, read on its own then the “by lot” of Joshua 13-19 would seem to suggest both the size and location of the allotments were chosen by lot—still in contradiction to Num 26:54.

8 thoughts on “#304. “Each tribe shall be granted his territory according to its numbers” OR not? (Num 26:54 vs Josh 13-19)

  1. So the author of Numbers 32 is wrong then, got it. The territories on the east side of the River Jordan also belonged to Canaan, as you say, and he was mistaken to say that the river was the border.

  2. Common sense is at play here if you will help yourself to it. Go back to Genesis 15:16. Then just look up every time Canaan and Amorite are mentioned. Get back to me with your observations…btw, did 2 and 1/2 tribes cheat non Canaanites out of their land or something, and all in the name of Canaan?

  3. @Sabba,

    28 Then Moses gave orders about them to Eleazar the priest and Joshua son of Nun and to the family heads of the Israelite tribes. 29 He said to them, “If the Gadites and Reubenites, every man armed for battle, cross over the Jordan with you before the Lord, then when the land is subdued before you, you must give them the land of Gilead as their possession. 30 But if they do not cross over with you armed, they must accept their possession with you in Canaan.”
    31 The Gadites and Reubenites answered, “Your servants will do what the Lord has said. 32 We will cross over before the Lord into Canaan armed, but the property we inherit will be on this side of the Jordan.” (Numbers 32:28-32, NIV)

    Clearly the author of this passage believed that Canaan lay only to the west of the river Jordan. So is he wrong or are you wrong?

  4. The land of Caanan was not confined to the west side of the Jordan. You’re mixing current history with what actually happened as they entered the Promised Land. Even one of the lesser future judges of Israel knew better. Read Jephthah’s account in response to the Ammonites who thought then, like you do now…Judges 11-12. You mention Joshua. He gave the borders: Joshua 1: 3-4. These borders were extant in Solomon’s days. As always, your focus is as narrow as your mindset!

  5. Okay, so the issue is what does this particular passage imply, rather than what has to be inferred by tying in other passages that might be written from a different tradition?

    1. Bingo! Mostly what I do here, barring the provocative title of this website, is compare contradictory or competing traditions that were preserved in this collection of ancient texts that later became the Bible. Common stories were told with variation, sometimes small narrative details, other times whopping theological disagreements. Biblical scholars call this source criticism. And in some rare instances, biblical scribes even explicitly mentioned some of their sources they used in their compositions, such as “the scroll of the wars of Yahweh” used in Numbers 21, now lost. But scholars have identified many sources or traditions just be examining the Hebrew text on differing stylistic, linguistic, thematic, and even religious and ideological grounds.

      For me, however, this particular contradiction is minor. I almost want to say that whoever authored the list of 12 tribes in Numbers 26 and claimed that the land is to be allotted according to the number of each of the 12 tribes tallied simply forgot (consciously omitted?) that 2½ of them were/or will be as a reader noticed, allotted outside of the land of Canaan.

  6. Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh requested to give up their assigned inheritances and claim portions on the other side of the Jordan. So wouldn’t their allotment sizes have nothing to do with their relative tribal size? Shouldn’t they and their land be removed from your list?

    1. Good Jenny. Yes. But apparently the tradition of allotting the land in Numbers 26 claims that the land is to be apportioned between the 12 tribes! So I’m merely reproducing Numbers 26 here, which lists all 12 tribes, not the 9½ that we know from Numbers 32, Deuteronomy 3, and Joshua 13. See the previous contradiction, #303.

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