#351. After their stay at Horeb, did Yahweh command the Israelites to “Go! Possess the land” OR not? (Deut 1:6-8 vs Num 10:28-36)


Contradictions in the Bible is really a website devoted to textual criticism of the Bible, in particular to what scholars label as source-criticism, that is identifying the Bible’s different and often competing textual sources and assessing when they were written, by whom, to address what historical concerns, in relation to what other literary works, etc. Nearly all of the Bible’s contradictions, from minute narrative inconsistencies to larger theological and ideological agendas and beliefs, are the result of the editing together of divergent textual traditions. This fact the biblical texts themselves bear witness to.

Examining the text of Deuteronomy and noting its discrepancies and contradictions with the Pentateuch’s other textual traditions is really the culmination of our trek though the Torah’s competing textual traditions. It is with the book of Deuteronomy that we begin to clearly see how the Torah’s divergent traditions relate to one another and how they were assembled by later scribes. Again it is often difficult to see this larger picture when one is forced to glean it from looking at individual and seemingly independent contradictions—one of the weaknesses of enumerating the Torah’s contradictions one-by-one as this site does. But for those readers who have been following these seemingly independent contradictions, which were formed when later scribes edited together Israel’s conflating textual traditions to form the Torah in the 5th century BCE, you might now with the aid of Deuteronomy start to see how these traditions relate to one another in the larger picture.

For instance, today’s contradiction has more to do with how the Deuteronomic tradition fits into the Torah’s other textual traditions than looking at how the author of Deuteronomy variously retold earlier traditions, which will be the focus of majority of our forthcoming contradictions.

I noted in the previous entries (Intro to Deuteronomy, and Contradictions #349 & #350) that neither the author of Deuteronomy nor the Moses of Deuteronomy was familiar with the legislation and narratives now found between Exodus 34 and Numbers 10. This fact will be corroborated throughout our forthcoming contradictions. As previously stated the reason for this is because this material—the texts spanning Exodus 25-31 & Exod 35-Num 10—is all part of the Priestly scroll which was written in the 6th century BCE after the text of Deuteronomy had already been composed in the 7th century. Thus given this knowledge it is not surprising that neither the author of Deuteronomy nor the Moses of his text knew of this material. And as we shall see, Deuteronomy’s Moses often contradicts this material in his renarrations of the past specifically due to the lack of any knowledge about the Priestly text and its contents.

This entry further supports this larger textual observation. For instance, Moses’ renarration of the departure from Horeb at Deuteronomy 1:6-8 doesn’t square with the text of Numbers 10, where the Israelites do depart from “the mountain of Yahweh.” Moreover, comparing the Deuteronomist’s reconstructed narrative with the narrative of Exodus–Numbers further corroborates the fact that the authors of the Torah’s different textual traditions each conceptualized the exodus and wilderness traditions in different ways. They were after all storytellers who told the stories that defined Israel in different and even competing manners. Again, the biblical texts bear witness to this fact.

The departure from Horeb, or more specifically according to the Torah’s other textual traditions, from “Sinai” (Ex 34:29–Num 10:12) or from “the mountain of Yahweh” (Num 10:33) isn’t recorded until Numbers 10. Thus in the redacted narrative now spanning the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, the Israelites arrive at Horeb in Exodus 19:1—and according to the later imposed Priestly chronology from the 6th century Priestly source on the 3rd month after the exodus—and depart at Numbers 10:28—and again according to later Priestly chronology on the 20th day of the 2nd month of the 2nd year from the exodus (Num 10:12).

Chronologically speaking, 59 chapters of the Torah are devoted to approximately 1 year of the legendary 40-year wilderness period. I will frequently come back to talk about the content of these 59 chapters and their textual traditions. More shockingly however is that only 6 chapters (Num 15-20) are used to apparently detail 38 years of this legendary wilderness period—at least when we impose Deuteronomy’s chronology (see Deut 2:14) onto the traditions now contained in Numbers, but 11 chapters (Num 15-25) according to P’s chronology. For more see Contradictions #279 & #280.

We have additionally already noted that different textual traditions referred to the mountain of revelation differently (see contradiction #86), and this fact will become important in reconstructing our sources the way they might have originally existed when the author of Deuteronomy sat down to write his text. For example we notice that:

  1. Mount Sinai” is used in Exodus 19
  2. “The mountain” or “Mountain of God” is used in Exodus 20-24
  3. Mount Sinai” is used from Exodus 24:16-31:18
  4. “The mountain” or “Mount Horeb” is used in Exodus 32-33
  5. Mount Sinai” in Exodus 34
  6. Mount Sinai” is used from Exodus 34:29 to Num 10:12, that is up until they depart
  7. “Mountain of Yahweh” is used in Num 10:29-36
  8. and “Horeb” is used throughout the text of Deuteronomy

These differences amount to merely 1 piece of textual data among literally 100s that together attest to the Torah’s divergent textual traditions. Number 6 above is quite interesting since we know that this material—Exodus 34 to Numbers 10—is all from the Priestly pen. Contrarily, the Deuteronomic tradition (#8) consistently uses “Horeb” to identify the mount of revelation, as does apparently the earlier Elohist material (#2 and #4 above). Now let’s look again at the claims of the Deuteronomic tradition against the background of the textual traditions preserved in Exodus-Numbers.

The traditions preserved in Numbers 10—that is the Priestly tradition of moving out from “Mount Sinai” by trumpet call and camps around the Tabernacle (Num 10:1-28) and the Yahwist (?) tradition of Jethro’s not coming (Num 10:29-36)—do not tell of any speech given by Yahweh to “Go possess the land!” as claimed in the Deuteronomic tradition. Likewise, the Moses of Deuteronomy posses no knowledge of what did in fact happen just before the departure from “Mount Sinai” and/or “the Mountain of Yahweh” according to the traditions in Numbers 10. So each one of these textual traditions fails to recognize the material in the other tradition. And there are specific reasons for this as we will see.

An interesting observation is made when we remove the later 6th century Priestly textual tradition now housed in Exod 24:16-31:18 & Exod 34:29–Num 10:28 (this is all the material from the Priestly scroll which was written after the text of Deuteronomy!). And if we remove the material of Numbers 10:29-36 (which appears to be a random Jethro tradition) and the Yahwist version of the second set of Ten Commandments in Exodus 34:1-28 (see Contradiction #169), we see that the original Elohist material now preserved in Exodus 23-24:15 + 32-33 did in fact end with Yahweh’s invocation to leave Horeb—not Sinai—and advance toward the land of Canaan!

What these traditions tell us is that when the author of Deuteronomy sat down to write his renarration of the exodus-wilderness narrative the only tradition that he had inherited was the Elohist text, whose departure from Horeb originally ended in the texts now preserved in Exodus 23-24:15 + 32-33. Thus in this case and only in this case does the Deuteronomist’s claim through Moses’ mouth that “Yahweh spoke to us from Horeb saying. . . ‘Go, possess the land'” (Deut 1:6-8) make sense.

We now readily see that the author of Deuteronomy sought to compose a text that could be narratively and logically amended onto the earlier authoritative tradition that this author and his community already inherited—only the Elohist material. Again this is only perceivable to us modern readers if we acknowledge multiple textual traditions and moreover acknowledge that the Priestly source which is now contained between Exod 24:16-31:18 & Exod 34:29–Num 10:28 had not yet been written when the author of Deuteronomy sat down to write his text.

We have already noted that one of the main reasons for concluding this is that neither the author of Deuteronomy nor the Moses of Deuteronomy were familiar with any of the legislation or narratives contained in Exodus 34:29–Num 10:28! Again my readers my be daunted by this fact, but it is a fact borne out by the texts. That is the texts themselves reveal this very fact.

Continuing along these lines, when we also remove the Yawhist material of Exodus 34:1-28 and the random Jethro tradition of Num 10:29-36, we do in fact see that the Deuteronomist did start his narrative from the ending of the Elohist tradition which he know of! Moreover, the Deuteronomist uses the same terms of this tradition—mount Horeb! So the claims of Deuteronomy 1:6-8 ring true only when we reconstruct the text he had when he sat down to compose his renarration of that tradition in the 7th century BCE.

So to an original Elohist textual tradition whose departure from Horeb is now narrated in Exodus 32-33 (see also Exod 23:20-33), the Deuteronomist added his composition wherein Moses is presented renarrating this departure at Deut 1:6-8. Later, however, the Yahwist’s duplicate version of the Ten Commandments was added into the tradition (now at Exod 34) and the 6th century Priestly scroll was cut into this tradition (now contained between Exod 35 and Num 10). This later editorial process created as it were our current contradiction and many of our forthcoming ones as well.

Leave a Reply