Numbers 32 continues where Numbers 21 left off—the allotment of the Transjordanian territories that had been conquered from Sihon and Og. And as noted in a previous contradiction (#313), all this takes place during the 11th month of the 40th and last year of the Wilderness period—that is according to P’s chronology that was imposed upon these stories by this later editor/redactor.
At first, Numbers 32 presents the plea to possess this Transjordanian territory by two tribes uniquely.
The children of Reuben and the children of Gad had a great amount of livestock . . . and they saw the land of Jazer and the land of Gilead . . . and said to Moses . . . “If we’ve found favor in your eyes, let this land be given to your servants for a possession.” (Num 32:1-5)
This solely two-tribe plea continues throughout Numbers 32 and is repeatedly articulated:
- First (Num 32:6-15), Moses uniquely and only rebukes “the children of Gad and the children of Reuben” for their request, which is seen as a sin tantamount to the sin of the spies from the first generation of Israelites, which in effect led to the 40-year punishment of not being able to immediately enter the promised land! See #238-240.
- Then (Num 32:16-19), the children of Gad and the children of Reuben alone promise that they will equip themselves and crossover with their brethren to subdue the Canaanites in battle and safeguard the possessions of land west of the Jordan for the remaining tribes before returning to their desired Transjordanian possessions. Thus contrary to Joshua 1:12-18 & 22:1-5, there is no mention of the half-tribe of Manasseh here.
- Third (Num 32:20-24), Moses then sets the conditions for only “the children of Gad and the children of Reuben” to obtain their Transjordanian possessions, and the punishment that will incur if they fail to meet these conditions.
- And finally (Num 32:25-32), only “the children of Gad and the children of Reuben” agree to these conditions and commandments. Again, contrary to the claims made in Joshua 1:12-18 & 22:1-5.
And then out of the blue Numbers 32:33, as a sort of summation to what preceded, now presents Moses giving these Transjordanian territories to “the children of Gad and the children of Reuben, and the half-tribe Manasseh!” Nowhere, in other words, does Numbers 32:1-32 prepare us for this out-of-the-blue addition! Moreover, this half-tribe of Manasseh, the Machirite clan, is now to be allotted territory that had already been allotted to the tribes of Gad and Reuben as stipulated throughout verses 1-32—namely Gilead. This tradition, furthermore, functions to legitimate and explain the settlements of the tribe of Manasseh in northern Gilead and the Bashan during the formative years of the monarchy.
I will have more to say about Gilead and its connection to the tribe of Manasseh in the next two entries, but based on the above and other textual indicators, scholars now see Numbers 32:33-42 as belonging to a once separate tradition that must have been appended here onto the end of Numbers 32, thus resulting in the unprepared mention of the half-tribe Manasseh. Indeed, this is a unique case. Every other textual tradition that recounts the allotment of these Transjordanian territories mentions them in relation to 2½ tribes—Gad, Reuben, and the half-tribe of Manasseh.
Furthermore, since Numbers 32:1-32 is the “original account” (chronologically and narratively speaking) of the allotment of Transjordanian territories and the conditions imposed upon the tribes of Gad and Reuben only—a mostly P text—when this story gets recounted in Joshua, for example, it gets recounted in a way that is textually at variance with this “original” account. Both Joshua 1:12-18 and 22:1-5 claim that this half-tribe of Manasseh was also commanded by Moses to crossover in order to receive their possession. But this is not stated anywhere in the text of Numbers 32. Of course, it is a logical conclusion to draw—as our scribe here did—when these different traditions are assembled together. But the text of Numbers 32 itself does not validate the claims made in Joshua 1:12-18 and 22:1-5. Indeed it contradicts them!
It seems therefore that the Priestly source, which was much less interested in the Transjordanian occupation—for indeed there wasn’t even a Transjordanian conquest in P! (see Num 33:40-49, or for that matter #282-285)—may not have originally mentioned this half-tribe of Manasseh’s affair in the allotment of these Transjordanian territories. For example, the appointment of tribal chieftains in Numbers 34:16-28 to help Eleazer in his allotment of the promised land west of the Jordan—another P passage—mentions only 10 tribes. Not surprisingly Gad and Reuben are not mentioned since they have possessions east of the Jordan. What is surprising is that in a similar vein to that evidenced in Numbers 32:1-32, Manasseh—the full tribe of Manasseh that is—is mentioned among the 10 tribes obtaining inheritances west of the Jordan! So it would appear that even Numbers 34 only knows of Gadite and Reubenite Transjordanian possessions!