#238. In the face of there being giants in the land, who encourages the people to have faith in Yahweh: Caleb alone OR Caleb and Joshua? (Num 13:30 [J] vs Num 14:6-9 [P])
#239. In his anger, Yahweh swears to slaughter all the Israelites except Caleb OR except Caleb and Joshua (Num 14:24 [J] vs Num 14:30 [P]; Deut 1:36-38)
#240. Does Yahweh immediately wipe out the other scouts [P] OR not [J]? (Num 14:37-38 vs Num 14:22-24)


Another textual indication that Numbers 13-14 now contains what once was two independent versions of the spy story are the duplicate and contradictory accounts of who steps forward to encourage the Israelites to have faith in Yahweh, and conversely whose lives out of all 600,000 men, or as the case may be 647,550 (#116 & #218), Yahweh spares!

Thus, in response to the people’s lack of faith in their ability and perhaps willingness to defeat the giants of the land, it is Caleb and Caleb alone who comes forward to quiet the people and encourage them: “Let’s go up and we’ll take possession of it” (Num 13:30-31).

Likewise, Numbers 14:20-25 relates how Yahweh vows to destroy all 600,000 of the men standing there because of their lack of faith and conversely to spare only Caleb and his seed.

“And my servant Caleb, because a different spirit was with him, and he went after me completely, I’ll bring him to the land where he went and his seed will possess it.” (14:24)

Yet contrary to these passages, where only Caleb of Judah is mentioned, other passages now woven into Numbers 13-14 speak of, in a duplicate rendition of the same storyline, Caleb and Joshua being spared.

For example, Numbers 14:1-3 [P] is a duplicate telling of how, this time, all the congregation refused to have faith. In other words, it tells again of the people’s unwillingness to fight first narrated in Num 13:31 [J].

Likewise, Numbers 14:6-9 [P] is a duplicate account of Numbers 13:30 [J], except now it is Caleb and Joshua who together encourage the people to have faith and fight. As a side note, when the author of Deuteronomy has Moses renarrate this event (Deut 1:22-40), he has Moses claim that it was him, not Caleb, who encouraged the children of Israel to have faith. We will look at this contradiction and others in this pericope later on.

Likewise, Numbers 14:26-35 [P] is a duplicate account of Numbers 14:11-25 [J], where in the first account Yahweh vows to wipe them all out save Caleb alone, and in the second rendition Yahweh again vows to wipe them all out except now only Caleb and Joshua.

From these textual duplicates, differing vocabulary and expressions, and thematic emphases, it would not be difficult to restore the original Yahwist and Priestly versions, some of which I did already in #235-236. Indeed many of my colleagues have done just this as well. For instance, consult Richard Friedman’s The Bible with Sources Revealed, p. 262-265.

At this point we might speculate why the Priestly writer added Joshua to Caleb. It might be reasoned that unlike the southern Judaic scribe who wrote the Yahwist text, or recorded its traditions, and was thus only, or primarily, interested in the fate of Judah, the later Priestly writer was more interested in a unified Israel. Thus in his retelling of the spy story, it is both Caleb from the south and Joshua from the northern tribe of Ephraim who are spared by Yahweh.

Finally, there are many other differences between the Yahwist version of Yahweh expressing his wrath, indignation and desire to wipe out all 600,000 men, and Moses placating that wrath in Numbers 14:11-25, and its Priestly duplicate in Numbers 14:26-38. One difference, however, which I added as one of our contradictions here, is that in the Priestly version, although Yahweh vows to kill off all 647,550 men, he immediately kills the other 10 chieftains by plague (14:37-38).

9 thoughts on “#238. In the face of there being giants in the land, who encourages the people to have faith in Yahweh: Caleb alone OR Caleb and Joshua? (Num 13:30 [J] vs Num 14:6-9 [P])
#239. In his anger, Yahweh swears to slaughter all the Israelites except Caleb OR except Caleb and Joshua (Num 14:24 [J] vs Num 14:30 [P]; Deut 1:36-38)
#240. Does Yahweh immediately wipe out the other scouts [P] OR not [J]? (Num 14:37-38 vs Num 14:22-24)

  1. @ Justin You wrote, “…we see that in the description of the spies, Joshua is not listed…” However, the P author lists Joshua in vv: 8, 16, making the merging with J’s narrative smoother. It might be helpful to look at the two-column breakdown that Steven provides for contradiction #235. This format shows how the traditions were combined. If you have access to it, read Friedman’s The Bible with Sources Revealed, which color-codes the entire Torah according to the sources.
    Here is the footnote from page 262:

    The J story begins without identifying who [sic] Moses sends. The original beginning of J may have been removed because it duplicated (or contradicted) the beginning of P. When the Redactor combined the two versions of the episode of the scouts, he opened with the P report that Moses sends them, and then he placed the J account of Moses’ instructions to them next. Note that the phrase that comes here precisely at the juncture between the two is “And Moses sent them” (13:17). This is a verbatim repetition of the report in P a few verses earlier (13:2). Such a resumptive repetition precisely at a juncture between two sources is a frequent sign of redaction. It is also known as an epanalepsis.


  2. Alright, so question that probably has only speculative answers available:

    We see the story is obviously contradictory in that Caleb is said to be the only one able to pass into the promised land out of his generation, however we’re then given Joshua as another recipient in very close literary vicinity. Not only is this contradiction there, but also we see that in the description of the spies, Joshua is not listed, thus making his inclusion as a spy later on an inconsistency. The question is this: if the error in the narrative is so explicit and closely linked (thus making it more obvious), why wouldn’t a redactor have merged the stories rather than doubling?

    Looking forward to your opinions!

  3. thanks John. I did catch the “Eleazar son of Aaron” in the Joshua 24 passage and wondered if that was the pivotal point. The details that one skims over in “studying the bible” …which I have done for 30 years without seeing these things…or, if seeing them, setting aside any questions.

    It’s a shame that questioning is so frowned upon. I literally received a frown from a Bible study leader, just this past Friday when I brought up my current journey with biblical discrepancies. “What is *one* discrepancy that you’ve discovered, hmmm?” and I could see the “I know I can answer that, if you want, because we bible literalists have all the answers” come into his expression. We didn’t go there, and I don’t think I will.

    How unprepared Christians are to delve into this legitimate pursuit of knowledge. How ready with “all the answers” we are, when these legitimate questions do arise.

    thanks for the exchange. This is all proving to be most interesting and enlightening.

  4. @Heidi W,

    Exodus 6:23-25:
    23Aaron married Elisheba, daughter of Amminadab and sister of Nahshon, and she bore him Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. 24The sons of Korah: Assir, Elkanah, and Abiasaph; these are the families of the Korahites. 25Aaron’s son Eleazar married one of the daughters of Putiel, and she bore him Phinehas.

    Numbers 25:7-13:
    7When Phinehas son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he got up and left the congregation. Taking a spear in his hand, 8he went after the Israelite man into the tent, and pierced the two of them, the Israelite and the woman, through the belly. So the plague was stopped among the people of Israel. 9Nevertheless, those that died by the plague were twenty-four thousand. 10 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying: 11‘Phinehas son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the Israelites by manifesting such zeal among them on my behalf that in my jealousy I did not consume the Israelites. 12Therefore say, “I hereby grant him my covenant of peace. 13It shall be for him and for his descendants after him a covenant of perpetual priesthood, because he was zealous for his God, and made atonement for the Israelites.” ’

  5. I’m confused about your assertion that Eleazar and Phineas were among the older generation of wilderness wanderers? what in the passages that you cite indicates that either of them were not among the youngsters who did not die in the 40 years of wandering?

  6. In my last comment, I should have said, “…how Phinehas, who had to be at least in his mid-60s when he entered Canaan (the minimum age for priesthood plus the wandering period) could still be alive during the latter period of the judges!” I was referring to Judges 20:28, but I inadvertently typed “Eleazar.” One thing I’ll add is that some early interpreters were apparently troubled by Phinehas’s extraordinarily long life, as evidenced by the difference between the MT and LXX “translations” of Joshua 24:33.

    Joshua 24:33 (NRSV):
    33 Eleazar son of Aaron died; and they buried him at Gibeah, the town of his son Phinehas, which had been given him in the hill country of Ephraim.

    LXX of same passage (Brenton’s translation):
    33 And it came to pass afterwards that Eleazar the high-priest the son of Aaron died, and was buried in Gabaar of Phinees his son, which he gave him in mount Ephraim. In that day the children of Israel took the ark of God, and carried it about among them; and Phinees exercised the priest’s office in the room of Eleazar his father till he died, and he was buried in his own place Gabaar: but the children of Israel departed every one to their place, and to their own city: and the children of Israel worshipped Astarte, and Astaroth, and the gods of the nations round about them; and the Lord delivered them into the hands of Eglom king of Moab and he ruled over them eighteen years.

    Oddly, the LXX doesn’t alter Judges 20:28:

    26 And the children of Israel and all the people went up, and came to Baethel; and they wept, and sat there before the Lord; and they fasted on that day until evening, and offered whole-burnt-offerings and perfect sacrifices, before the Lord, 27 for the ark of the Lord God was there in those days, 28 and Phinees the son of Eleazar the son of Aaron stood before it in those days; and the children of Israel enquired of the Lord, saying, Shall we yet again go forth to fight with our brethren the sons of Benjamin? and the Lord said, Go up, to-morrow I will give them into your hands.

  7. Contrary to what many people think, Caleb and Joshua are not the only members of the wilderness generation to enter the Promised Land. Two others are mentioned by name as living in Canaan after the 40 (or 38) years of wandering: Eleazar (Joshua 14:1, 17:4, 19:51, 21:1, 24:33 et al.) and Phinehas (Joshua 22:30-33; Judges 20:28). Some contradictions in their own right are whether the Israelites wandered for 40 or 38 years, and how Eleazar, who had to be at least in his mid-60s when he entered Canaan (the minimum age for priesthood plus the wandering period) could still be alive during the latter period of the judges! So much for the 120-year age limit (Genesis 6:3). This ties in nicely with contradiction #12. But back to the issue at hand, how were Eleazar and Phinehas able to get in? Because they are Levites (specifically Aaronids), and the Priestly author made sure to exempt those who weren’t counted in the census from exclusion from Canaan. Compare the different wording regarding who was excluded:

    Numbers 32:8-13
    8Your fathers did this, when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to see the land. 9When they went up to the Wadi Eshcol and saw the land, they discouraged the hearts of the Israelites from going into the land that the Lord had given them. 10Yahweh’s anger was kindled on that day and he swore, saying, 11“Surely none of the people who came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upwards, shall see the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, because they have not unreservedly followed me— 12none except Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua son of Nun, for they have unreservedly followed Yahweh.” 13And Yahweh’s anger was kindled against Israel, and he made them wander in the wilderness for forty years, until all the generation that had done evil in the sight of Yahweh had disappeared.

    Deuteronomy 1:34-38
    34 When Yahweh heard your words, he was wrathful and swore: 35‘Not one of these—not one of this evil generation—shall see the good land that I swore to give to your ancestors, 36except Caleb son of Jephunneh. He shall see it, and to him and to his descendants I will give the land on which he set foot, because of his complete fidelity to Yahweh.’ 37Even with me Yahweh was angry on your account, saying, ‘You also shall not enter there. 38Joshua son of Nun, your assistant, shall enter there; encourage him, for he is the one who will secure Israel’s possession of it.

    Numbers 14:20-25
    20 Then Yahweh said, ‘I do forgive, just as you have asked; 21nevertheless—as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of Yahweh— 22none of the people who have seen my glory and the signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have tested me these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, 23shall see the land that I swore to give to their ancestors; none of those who despised me shall see it. 24But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me wholeheartedly, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it.

    Now, compare this to Numbers 14:26-30:

    26 And Yahweh spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying: 27How long shall this wicked congregation complain against me? I have heard the complaints of the Israelites, which they complain against me. 28Say to them, ‘As I live’, says Yahweh, ‘I will do to you the very things I heard you say: 29your dead bodies shall fall in this very wilderness; and of all your number, included in the census, from twenty years old and upwards, who have complained against me, 30not one of you shall come into the land in which I swore to settle you, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.

  8. John, that’s a very cool breakdown of Caleb’s ancestry. One of the things that I’ve always found interesting is the inclusion of non-Israelites in the important lineages of the bible. In the lineage of Jesus Christ, several women are mentioned, and all of them, except his mother Mary, are not of Israeli descent.

    I think it highlights the inclusiveness of the religion(s) and I like it.

  9. It’s understandable why J would have the faithful spy be a Judahite, but why Caleb? Notice that Caleb is said to be the “son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite” (Numbers 32:12, Joshua 14:6, 14). Who are the Kenizzites? In Genesis 15 Abraham is promised that his descendants will inherit Canaan. In listing Canaan’s pre-Israelite inhabitants, Yahweh includes the Kenizzites (v:19). Another clue is found in Genesis 36:

    10These are the names of Esau’s sons: Eliphaz, son of Adah the wife of Esau; Reuel, the son of Esau’s wife Basemath. 11The sons of Eliphaz were Teman, Omar, Zepho, Gatam, and Kenaz…15 These are the clans of the sons of Esau. The sons of Eliphaz the firstborn of Esau: the clans* Teman, Omar, Zepho, Kenaz… 40 These are the names of the clans of Esau, according to their families and their localities by their names: the clans Timna, Alvah, Jetheth, 41Oholibamah, Elah, Pinon, 42Kenaz, Teman, Mibzar…

    We can also note this connection between Caleb and a relative named Kenaz:

    Joshua 15:16-17a (cf. Judges 1:13):
    16And Caleb said, ‘Whoever attacks Kiriath-sepher and takes it, to him I will give my daughter Achsah as wife.’ 17Othniel son of Kenaz, the brother of Caleb, took it…

    Whether Caleb was a Canaanite or an Edomite, it appears that at some point his clan was absorbed into the tribe of Judah, and the good-spy story is an etiological tale to explain their presence. It’s interesting to note, too, that the name Caleb literally means “dog.” Although “dog” has negative connotations, as The Anchor Bible Dictionary points out, it also means “faithful servant.” Was the J author being clever by giving the faithful spy a name that denotes faithfulness?

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