#231. Are the elders allowed in the Tent of Meeting OR not? (Num 11:16 vs Num 3:10, 3:38, 17:28, 18:22)


Contradictions in the Bible don’t just exist on the narrative, thematic, and linguistic levels. Many of the contradictions so far listed, especially those within the books of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, deal with broader theological and/or ideological differences and contradictory views and beliefs as they existed between the various authors of this corpus of literature we call the Bible.

In this example, we can readily perceive a whole different train of thought and belief system concerning not only the function of the Tent of Meeting, but more so how it was envisioned differently by different scribes or priestly guilds. As mentioned in previous entries in the Elohist source, which is mainly a secular piece of literature, the Tent of Meeting is viewed as no more than an oraculum of sorts sitting outside the encampment where Yahweh communicates with Moses (see #164-165, #166, #217). In Numbers 11:16 Moses brings the 70 elders who were selected as judges (but see #228-229) to the Tent of Meeting to be conferred by Yahweh. This, however, completely negates how the Tent of Meeting was envisioned by the elitist priests who wrote Leviticus and 75% of Numbers. No one but the Aaronid priests were allowed to approach the Tent of Meeting. It was consecrated and holy. Only a consecrated and holy individual, that is an anointed Aaronid priest, could approach the Tent of Meeting. All others, the Yahweh of the Priestly source repeatedly and adamantly stressed would be put to death (Num 3:10, 3:38, 17:28, 18:22)!

The Tent of Meeting, which housed the Tabernacle, Yahweh’s altar, was the central most important component in the Priestly sacrificial cult. It is mentioned more than 100 times in the Priestly literature; and by comparison it is never mentioned in Deuteronomy and only a couple of times in the Elohist source. The Priestly literature spends a whole 13 chapters detailing the components of the Tent of Meeting and their construction (Ex 25-31 & 35-40), spends 2 different chapters discussing the anointing of the Tent of Meeting and its components, along with the anointing of the Aaronid priesthood (Ex 40; Lev 8), spends an entire chapter detailing the sacrificial donations to its dedication ceremony (Num 7), and spends 2 chapters looking at its arrangement and proper care for in the encampment (Num 3-4).

Along similar lines the Priestly source takes a very precise attitude toward this most sacred cultic shrine. It is perceived as not only the place where Yahweh tents his glory, kabod, but a sacred space where only anointed Aaronid priests are permitted entry. Anyone else will be struck down by Yahweh! Even touching the components of the Tent of Meeting, even for other non-Aaronid Levites, meant immediate death (Num 4:15; 18:3, 8:32)! This image is radically different than the one we perceive in the earlier Elohist material, where the Tent of Meeting is not only not located in the center of the camp, but is also a place where Joshua, Moses, and now Israel’s elders are allowed admittance to. This would have been anathema in the Priestly writers and to the Yahweh of the Priestly literature.

My god, where was Phineas for Numbers 11—eating quail?

2 thoughts on “#231. Are the elders allowed in the Tent of Meeting OR not? (Num 11:16 vs Num 3:10, 3:38, 17:28, 18:22)

  1. Hey Steven, thank you so much for dedicating so much of your time to this website. I’m loving your posts and today’s is yet another good one. I noticed with this post that you list Numbers 17:28 as one of the verses that contradict Numbers 11:16. However, Numbers chapter 17 only has 13 verses. Verse 13 does seem to establish the contradiction so I assume you meant verse 13. Since you dedicate so much of your free time to this I hate to even say anything, so I only bring this up so you can make the change if you so desire.
    Thank you again for all your hard work!

  2. Henry,

    Thanks! Unfortunately I have gotten myself into the poor habit of not double checking my references. However—and this is a bit awkward—my Bible does have 28 verses in chapter 17 of Numbers, lol! Wait . . . I’m double checking. . . yep, there’s 28. That fixed, I must confess that for this contradiction it was difficult to find opposing verses since we’re really talking about how the Tent of Meeting was envisioned differently by, what we might label, a secular tradition on the one hand (E) and by an elitist priestly guild (P) on the other. Glad to hear you’re enjoying the site! Cheers.

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