#321. Is Caleb a Judahite OR Kenizzite? (Num 13:6, 34:19 vs Num 32:13; Josh 14:6)


The Torah bears witness to some conflicting and contradictory information concerning Caleb’s genealogy. Was he a Judahite or a Kenizzite? And why was there some confusion over Caleb’s genealogy? What was the relationship between the sons of Judah, a son of Jacob, and the sons of Kenaz (from which the Kenizzites emerge), a grandson of Esau (Gen 36:11).

While scholars don’t have any clear answers to these questions, we might infer that this conflating tradition has something to do with the Israelites’ own perceptions about the original inhabitants of, and thus sovereignty over, southern Canaan, specifically Hebron and its surrounding hill country.

It was Caleb’s seed, as narrated in Numbers 13-14, who was granted this area as a possession in return for Caleb’s loyalty to Yahweh in the spy event (see #238-240). Joshua 14-15 recounts this.

it’s interesting to note further that the Kenizzite tradition postulates that the original inhabitants of Hebron or southern Judah in general were the indigenous Kenizzites, who were listed among the indigenous Canaanites of the land, at least according to  one tradition (Gen 15:19-21). Still further, this tradition might even point to the indigenous origins of Judahites! Or that at least some of the indigenous Kenizzites became affiliated with the tribe of Judah.

15 thoughts on “#321. Is Caleb a Judahite OR Kenizzite? (Num 13:6, 34:19 vs Num 32:13; Josh 14:6)

  1. Another possibility is that someone of the Kenizzites married one of the tribe of Judah, and Caleb being a descendant of those people. That would make him both a Kenizzite and a Judahite. Not a contradiction, but the omission of unnecessary information.

  2. Another group mentioned as being indigenous to Canaan is the Perizzites. Do scholars conjecture a connection between that group and the story of Perez and Zerah, sons of Judah?

  3. About the post: You don’t take into account that many people had the same names. Likely there was a Kenaz who was a descendant of Judah. Caleb descended from this Kenaz. We are not shown Caleb’s genealogical record (as far as I know) so there very well could have been a Kenaz that Caleb descended from who also descended from Judah. In this way Caleb was a Judahite and a Kenizzite.

    1. Again, the Kenizzites were recognized in at least one textual tradition as part of the indigenous peoples of Canaan (Gen 15:18-20). So labeling Caleb as a Kenizzite seems to reflect the perception of a particular scribal tradition that understood Caleb as part of these indigenous people, which would explain his affinity to the hill country around Hebron. Another tradition, however, viewed him as a Judahite! Indeed, given the importance of Hebron during the monarchy, we might even speculate that these competing traditions were a means of asserting rightful ownership over Hebron, over which both the Judahtes and Kenizzites vied for control. These traditions, in this case, help legitimate each claimant. So it looks like, again, the biblical literature preserves variant traditions, themselves mostly likely the product of different and even competing scribal schools or traditions.

  4. Inheriting land in Canaan doesn’t make sense as a punishment in itself. How can it possibly follow as a consequence of not participating in the conquest of Canaan?

    I don’t think anything pertaining to the Transjordanian tribes makes sense in Numbers. Forty years previously they were all slaves in Egypt. Now Reuben and Gad have a lot more cattle than the other tribes? It also doesn’t make sense that the entire tribe would decide to not go into the land of Promise, sight unseen. I would think such an action would cause a political crisis in the tribal leadership at the very least. And yet, Reuben and Gad are able to do so as tribal unities, but Manasseh gets split over it.

    The only way I see the story making any sense is to presume that Reuben and Gad were always in the Transjordan, and the accounts in Numbers were invented to explain why. I’m curious about how and when the Jordan came to be thought of as the natural border for Israel, given that accounts in Judges and the Elijah/Elisha stories don’t seem to make much of a distinction between the two sides of the Jordan.

    1. The only way I see the story making any sense is to presume that Reuben and Gad were always in the Transjordan, and the accounts in Numbers were invented to explain why.

      Exactly Robert. . . and this is why I have always been perturbed about this verse. However, I have now started to write something up for this contradiction suggested by John. Both verses 22 and 30 seem to suggest two very different ways to legitimate Reubenite and Gadite occupation in Transjordan, which seems to be the Priestly writer’s central concern here. Concerning the Jordan as border, it’s interesting to note that one significant difference in Deuteronomy’s retelling of the Transjordanian conquest is that this author has Yahweh command, “Go! Begin dispossessing the land,” as if the occupation begins not at the crossing of the Jordan, but here in Transjordan!

  5. Regarding #322, I think there is tension in the text. It makes no sense to think that a punishment of “your sin will find you out” is the same as inheriting land in Canaan. Some punishment! Regarding #324, Joshua 4:12 seems to be take paniym in 32:17a literally, and even includes the half tribe of Manasseh:

    11As soon as all the people had finished crossing over, the ark of Yahweh, and the priests, crossed over in front of the people. 12The Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh crossed over armed before the Israelites, as Moses had ordered them.

    Numbers 2:9 says that Judah was ordinarily in the front. Maybe I’m taking both passages too literally, but “before the Israelites/children of Israel” seems to contrast with “before Yahweh.” Write up whatever you feel confident is a contradiction.

  6. #322. What would be Reuben and Gad’s punishment for not fighting with the rest of Israel: their sin’s would find them out (v:22) or they would inherit land in Cisjordan rather than Transjordan (v:30)?
    #323. Did Moses give them Transjordan land before the Conquest (v:33), or were Eleazar and Joshua to give it after the Conquest (vv: 28-29)?
    #324. Were Gad and Reuben to lead the Israelites into battle (v:17a: “as a vanguard before the Israelites”; see also Joshua 4:12) or to fight along with then (vv:20, 21, 29, “before Yahweh,” “cross over with you.” See also Joshua 6:13b)?
    #325. Were the Transjordan cites destroyed and in need of restoration (vv:16-17, 24-26; see also Num. 31:10), or were they already occupied by Israelites (v:32; see also Numbers 21:25, 31)?

    1. John, This is some fine work! My apologies for getting careless on this. I did have a question mark next to verse 30 for your #322. I suppose I rationalized that v.22 was Moses speaking to “them” while v. 30 he is speaking to Eleazar and Joshua. I’m not sure if that softens the tension here? On the other hand, the text as a whole reads as if we have a duplicate. #323 fits in with the group #315-316. I should have seen this then. Deut 3:12; Josh 1:15, 13:8 need to be added. . . interesting that the Priestly redactor did not correct this in his reading of Joshua. I’m a bit leery about your #324 since it relies on an almost literal reading of paniym (פְנֵי). And #325 I have as part of my “utterly destroy or not.”

      Shall I write these up then?

      My apologies for taking so long to get through Numbers. I have had many obstacles and other commitments that have taken priority. Prior to working through this text, I had been mostly unfamiliar with this book. I recall Levine saying in his Introduction to Numbers (Anchor Bible) that Numbers is the most composite text of the Torah. This has indeed proven true!

    1. Ha! I’m not sure what you’re seeing here, but I do have 1 more entry of 2 contradictions. I was debating whether to present it here or with the Deuteronomy contradictions because it’s mainly a D rewriting J according to D’s ritual herem ideology—that is the utter annihilation of cities and peoples (D) OR not (J). I’ve dealt with this in part somewhere else on the site. I’ll have to track it down. Am I missing anything else? I’m still undecided with how to interpret P’s banah (32:16, 24) since the term could be understood as “rebuilt” in these contexts.

  7. Noth thought the original tribes that formed the southern kingdom were Judah, Caleb, Cain, Simeon, Jerahmeel, and Othniel. Lipinski suggests that “Judah” was originally formed by the Kenizzite, Kenite, Calebite, Jerahme’elite, and Ephrathite tribes that lived in the “land full of ravines”, i.e. Erets Yehudah.

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