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.