This last contradiction of Numbers 21 will be a short entry since we’ve already dealt with the competing Transjordanian itineraries between the Priestly writer of Numbers 33 and the Yahwist material of Numbers 21 with respect to its alleged conquest or not. See #281 & #282-285.
Thus, as J presented the conquest of Amorite territory in Transjordan and P was silent on the matter—there is no Transjordanian conquest in P—so too here as well. There is no record of the conquest of Bashan in the Priestly itinerary of Numbers 33. In fact, they do not even travel northward into Bashan as recorded in the Yahwist material of Numbers 21:31-35. In the Priestly account, the Israelites move directly from mount Nebo to the plains of Moab.
The Deuteronomic tradition in Deuteronomy 3:1-13 and Joshua 12:4-5 follow the older tradition of the Yahwist. It begs the question then, why did P opt out of duplicating this tradition? Was its suppression a conscious choice?
Once more, these types of questions are more speculative. The textual data is evidence enough that we have two competing traditions or sources. Why a later writer chose to modify an earlier tradition or suppressed it all together are speculative questions that build off of the textual data.
We can see that in both the Priestly material of Numbers 21 and 32 that P had little interest in the Transjordanian settlements in general—certainly not to the extent that J and D did. This may be reflective of the geopolitical and historical circumstances of the time period in which our Priestly guild was writing. After the Babylonian destruction, much of this Transjordanian territory was gone. I believe if I recall correctly, the Moabites are no longer heard of beyond this point as well. Thus the Priestly writer might have been less concerned about legitimating Israelite territory in Transjordan—recall that’s exactly what the Yahwist tradition was doing (#282-285)—when he was writing in the 6th century BCE, since this was no longer a political issue for the Israelites. If this is correct, then we see once again how the geopolitical world as it existed when these texts were composed is retrojected into the past when these scribes composed their stories about the archaic past.
That is, the present influenced how a scribe retold the traditions that he himself inherited and likewise this renarrated past shed light on explaining the geopolitical realities present in his own time period. One of my favorite examples of this, which I will write up when we get to the book of Deuteronomy, is that while in the earlier Yahwist tradition of Numbers 21:12-21 the Israelites are refused passage through Edom and the Edomites come out hostilely to confront the fearful Israelites, when the Deuteronomist retells this tradition the Israelites pass through Edom and it is the Edomites who are fearful of the Israelites! What in the Deuteronomist’s own geopolitical world ‘forced’ him to retell this story in this completely contradictory manner? And more significant: if he could and did consciously alter this tradition, did he himself think it was historical?
Keep tuned in to find out. . . jolly-ho!