As noted in A Brief Introduction to Numbers 21, the Priestly writer’s chronology and geography of the wilderness period does not coincide with the Deuteronomist’s chronology and geography. These geographical differences were treated in #268, #274, and #275, Here we will address the chronological discrepancies.
Again, the clearest expression of the Deuteronomic chronology comes from Deut 2:14:
And the days that we went from Kadesh-barnea until we crossed the Wadi Zered were 38 years…
But in both Priestly traditions (Num 20:22-21:12 & Num 33:37-44) this trajectory, that is Kadesh to the Wadi Zered (i.e., the Moabite/Edomite border) all happens in the latter half of the 40th year—in other words, in a period of months! Again, the reason for this is the conflicting textual traditions that were redacted together in these highly condensed chapters, Num 20-21, some of which as we have already reviewed were placed here in error causing grave geographical and chronological inconsistencies and discrepancies.
Yet, on the other side again, one could rally the PJ traditions that span Numbers 13-21 as another contradiction. Since P adopts the early Kadesh-spy story of J (also present in D), measuring the chronology from that Kadesh (see #260-261) to the arrival at the Wadi Zered across chapters 13 to 21 one would arrive at 38 years, or something close to that.