Besides being an ill-placed episode (#269), this story about a confrontation with the Canaanite king of Arad and the victorious taking of Hormah and other Canaanite cities in the Negeb is absent in the tradition recorded in Numbers 33. There we are simply told that the Canaaite king “heard of the coming of the children of Israel” (Num 33:40). Nothing, however, is said of a confrontation, and furthermore a confrontation that leads the Israelites into the Negeb. On the contrary, the next verse simply says that the Israelites “traveled from mount Hor and camped in Zalmonah, i.e., Edom—contrary the skirting of Edom tradition (see #268).
Why is verse 40 even in the itinerary of Numbers 33 anyway? It serves no purpose at all. Narratively, we could have easily gone from verse 39—“And Aaron died in mount Hor”—to verse 41: “And they traveled from mount Hor. . .”
I might speculate that when this literary unit was composed, the Hormah story of Numbers 21:1-3 was already part of the Numbers narrative or the scroll that would eventually become the book of Numbers. The Redactor of Numbers 33, therefore, reproduced the tradition in part—only that the Canaanite king heard of Israel’s coming. What he left out, however, is even more telling—the march into the Negeb and the taking of their cities. In other words, I would speculate, this Redactor saw the inherent problem in this tradition asserting that the Israelites entered the Negeb, that is southern Canaan, and successfully conquered several of its cities at this point in the itinerary (in the 4oth year). He thus left it out of his version of the itinerary. He also suppressed the whole skirting of Edom tradition! Instead he has the Israelites march directly from mount Hor to Edom! See again #268.
More about Hormah in the forthcoming posts.