There are severe chronological and geographical discrepancies at this point in the itineraries, specifically related to Kadesh, and harmonizing these various traditions is no longer possible. At this point we must try to piece together the views of these different scribal schools—in Levine’s words, to understand “the significantly different perceptions of the wilderness experience” through the eyes of these different scribes as they themselves wrote about it (Numbers 1-20, 49)
For the most part, many of these discrepancies center around the traditions concerning Kadesh. I’ve already posted about contradictory traditions and/or perspectives concerning how long the Israelites remained at Kadesh (#274, #279) and where was it (#260-261). But these are not the only discrepancies. Let’s attempt to look at the texts and see what they reveal about how the Kadesh tradition was variously viewed by the Torah’s different scribal hands.
The Kadesh Tradition in Numbers 13-14
In the traditions preserved in Numbers 13-14 the Israelites move directly from Hazeroth to Kadesh, in the wilderness of Paran (13:26), located in the southern Negeb. The incident here is the scouting of the land. Moses sends the spies out from Kadesh (see also Num 32:8), and because they lack faith to take the land, Yahweh condemns the entire generation of 600,000 men, save Caleb and Joshua, to die in the wilderness, giving us the legendary 40-year sojourn in the wilderness (see #238-240). So according to this tradition, the Israelites’ arrival at Kadesh is reckoned to have happened early in the 2nd year. Indeed they just celebrated their first Passover after the Exodus in Numbers 9:1-14; that’s on 1/14/02 from the Exodus. See my Introduction to Numbers 33.
The Kadesh Traditions preserved in Numbers 20
Numbers 20:1 claims that the Israelites come to Kadesh, again, “in the 1st month,” but now in this tradition it is said to be located in the wilderness of Zin (see also Num 27:14 & 33:36)! This contradiction was already addressed in #260-261. We are also informed in verse 14 that Moses sent messengers to the king of Edom to request passage (so chronologically speaking the setting is before the skirting of Edom), and in verse 23 we are told that the Israelites travel from Kadesh to Mount Hor where Aaron dies, whose death occurs, according to Numbers 33, in the 40th year! I’ve addressed these discrepancies in my Introduction to Numbers 21 and the posts that follow.
The Kadesh Tradition in Numbers 33
As noted in the title for this entry, Numbers 33 presents the Israelites leaving Hazeroth and encamping in Rithmah. There follows a long list of other place-names not mentioned anywhere else in the wilderness traditions of Numbers, or Deuteronomy, and finally the Israelites arrive at Kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin (v. 36). We notice that this happens quite late in the itinerary. In other words, in the tradition of Numbers 33 which presents itself as a whole complete itinerary tradition from the Exodus to the plains of Moab, the Israelites do not arrive in Kadesh in the 2nd year per the traditions above! In fact, according to this tradition the Israelites only arrive at Kadesh in the 40th year since in verses 37-38 it is said that they move to the close proximity of Mount Hor where Aaron dies on the 1st day of the 5th month of the 40th year! Thus this tradition can be harmonized a bit with the traditions in Numbers 20 where we are told Aaron dies at Hor. Numbers 20:1, the Israelites arrival at Kadesh “in the 1st month,” seems, in this perspective, to be the 1st month of the 40th year!
The Kadesh-barnea Tradition of Deuteronomy
The Deuteronomic tradition also has the Israelites arriving in Kadesh, here Kadesh-barnea, sometime after Horeb, from where the scouting of the land occurs (Deut 1:19-21). So this must also be a 2nd year arrival, similar to the tradition of Numbers 13-14. We are then informed that they spent many days (yamiym rabiym) in Kadesh (1:46). And finally that it took Israel 38 years to travel from Kadesh-barnea to the Wadi Zered, during which time all the 1st generation Israelites die off (2:14). See #279.
Here is what these traditions look like when compared to one another.
Num 13 [J/P]
Num 20 [J/P]
Num 33 [P]
Deut 1-2 [D]
40th year ??
(their 2nd time)
40th year (1st and only time)
Red Sea ?
Hormah, then toward Red sea
The wilderness toward Red sea
We notice that there is some consistency between these traditions. The most glaring discrepancy, however, is the itinerary of Numbers 33 where the Israelites arrive at Kadesh only once, and in the 40th year, which seems to partially agree with Numbers 20, where this is counted as their 2nd arrival at Kadesh. Recall also that Numbers 33 claims that its itinerary was written down by Moses “by Yahweh’s word”! See #326.