#241. Do the Amalekites live in the land of the Negeb OR in the valley? (Num 13:29, 14:45 vs Num 14:25)

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Numbers 13:25 claims that the Amalekites and Canaanites “live in the valley” and that therefore the children of Israel are to “turn and travel tomorrow to the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea” (Num 13:26).

This is the conclusion of the spy narrative in the Yahwist account (see previous entries, #235-236#237, #238-240) and verses 25-26 set the stage for the Transjordanian conquest—that is, since the Israelites had no faith in conquering the people and the land of Canaan directly from the south, they are now forced to head southeast and then northward, skirting Edom, through Transjordan, and invade Canaan from Transjordan on its east side. Therefore, with the Israelites presently at Kadesh (v. 26) it makes little sense to speak of avoiding Amalekites living in the valley, and furthermore which valley?

But more problematic, Numbers 13:29 had already located the Amalekites living in the Negeb, and the Canaanites along the coast. Likewise, Numbers 14:45 place the Amalekites in the hill country of the Negeb. It is apparent that the Yahwist is simply using the Amalekites as a foil to refer to Israel’s enemies in general, and indeed the Israel of a later period’s archenemy.

The Amalekites were one of Israel’s oldest enemies in the region, and seem to have shared a particularly hostile relationship with the Saulides (1 Sam 15). They are even depicted as Israel’s first military rival that they encounter in the wilderness period (Ex 17:8-16). Unmistakably the narratives of the wilderness period wherein the Amalekites are presented in battle with the Israelites are etiological in nature: they provide the reasons for later animosities toward these two peoples. In other words, military engagements with the Amalekites of the Negeb in these wilderness narratives reflect the historical realities of the 10th and 9th centuries BCE, and not the implied narrative time frame of these wilderness narratives, the 13th-12th centuries BCE, when Israel did not even exist! (#81). A 9th or 8th century BCE scribe, knowing that anyone wishing to enter Judah from the south must first confront the Amalekites of the Negeb, retrojected his own geopolitical world onto a narrative set in the remote past. The mention in Num 14:25 that they live in the valley with the Canaanites is not only puzzling, but apparently also inaccurate.

 

7 thoughts on “#241. Do the Amalekites live in the land of the Negeb OR in the valley? (Num 13:29, 14:45 vs Num 14:25)

  1. @ Martin,
    Good comment. It’s also notable that Caleb and Joshua never disputed that there were Nephilim in Canaan. I should have added Amos 2:9 previously:

    9 Yet I [Yahweh] destroyed the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of cedars, and who was as strong as oaks; I destroyed his fruit above, and his roots beneath.

  2. John, thanks for comment #1. I myself have bought that piece of apologetics for years.

    Now that the scales have fallen from my eye, I recall another detail: The spies “cut down from there a branch with a single cluster of grapes, and they carried it on a pole between two of them“.

    Logically this detail doesn’t make sense: The readers of the Bible (the Jews) knew about the size of grapes in the Holy Land. The story about a giant cluster of grapes that took two men to carry doesn’t really lend credence to the story.

    The only thing this improbable detail could do for the story would be to prove that the spies had indeed been in the land of the giants.

  3. I hadn’t payed attention to whom these claims were being attested, the spies or Yahweh. That’s a nice observation.

    I make note of the speaker because one inerrantist dodge is that if the speaker isn’t Yahweh or Jesus, it’s not a contradiction, since no one said that Moses, David, Peter, etc. are inerrant.

    If it wasn’t for that parenthetical remark in Gen 6:4—and also afterwards—I would have listed the Nephilim contradiction. It is suspicious and looks like it was added by a later scribe attempting to harmonize Numbers’ mention of the Nephilim with the fact that all flesh were killed in the Flood. It is probably a later gloss that got added to the manuscript during copying.

    It may be a copyist’s gloss, but how is this any different from what “the Redactor” did? Or for that matter, what P and D did? The LXX and MT both contain it, and the DSS is missing the first part of Genesis 6. Are they actual contradictions of they were done by the theoretical J,E,D,P, and R but not if an equally theoretical “later scribe” added them?

    1. I would agree with you John. But in the redacted text as we have it, by this redactor’s addition the contradiction—were the Nephilim destroyed by the flood or not—disappears. So it would be a case were the redactor himself, assuming this is a later gloss, eliminated the contradiction through the addition of these words. On the other hand, it’s quite possible to articulate the contradiction as that between Gen 6:4 and Gen 7:21-23—perhaps that’s what you originally intended, in which case I’m with you there. And at that point, in this contradiction bring in the text of Num 13 to further accentuate the inconsistency here, with the speculation that “and also afterwards” was an attempt to alleviate the contradiction by a later redactor. OK, so having written this out and thought this through more, yes, I see your point. I agree. Another one I’ll have to add then. :)

      That’s actually nice, since I always felt reluctant that I couldn’t talk about these rascally Nephilim! They must have been taller than the deepest flood waters!

  4. This map provides a visual aid to what you’re saying and may be helpful to readers:

    Of note is that Numbers 13:29, which claims that the Amalekites live in the Negeb and the Amorites, in the hill country, is spoken by the spies. 14:25, which says that the Amalekites and Canaanites live in the valleys, is spoken by Yahweh. The parallel to 14:25, Deuteronomy 1:40, says to “journey back into the wilderness, in the direction of the Red Sea,” with no mention of the Amalekites, and the parallel to Numbers 14:45, Deuteronomy 1:44, says that, “The Amorites who lived in that hill country then came out against you and chased you as bees do. They beat you down in Seir as far as Hormah,” which bears out the spies’ report in Nu. 13:29 that Amorites, not Amalekites, lived in the hill country. In other words, the spies were right and Yahweh was wrong.

    Before we live the spy narrative, I’ll note that Numbers 13:33 claims that the Nephilim were living in Canaan, despite the fact that they preceded the Great Flood (Genesis 6:1-4), which destroyed “all flesh” except for Noah and the other occupants of the ark (Genesis 7:21-23). A common harmonization is to assert that the spies were lying or exaggerating when they said that the Nephilim were there. However, there are at least two problems with this contention:

    1) Numbers 13:33 has the parenthetical explanation that “the Anakites come from the Nephilim” and the Anakites existed in Canaan (Nu. 13:22, 28; Joshua 15:14; Judges 1:20). If the Nephilim died in the Flood, how did they father the Anakites?

    2) Genesis 6:4 says, “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterwards—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them.” “Those days” refers to the time before the Great Flood, so even if the spies lied or exaggerated in Numbers 13:33, there is still an internal biblical contradiction, since nothing except the passengers on Noah’s ark survived “afterwards,” according to Genesis 7:21-23.

    1. John,

      Thanks for the map. The Deuteronomic contradiction with Numbers where the mention of Amalekites are changed to Amorites I’ll discuss more when we get to Deuteronomy. I hadn’t payed attention to whom these claims were being attested, the spies or Yahweh. That’s a nice observation.

      If it wasn’t for that parenthetical remark in Gen 6:4—and also afterwards—I would have listed the Nephilim contradiction. It is suspicious and looks like it was added by a later scribe attempting to harmonize Numbers’ mention of the Nephilim with the fact that all flesh were killed in the Flood. It is probably a later gloss that got added to the manuscript during copying. I think all that’s left on the spies is the Hormah contradiction, which I be posting shortly.

      Cheers,

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