Contradictory to the claims made in the quail stories (#125)—namely, that the people did not have any meat to eat and that they would have starved to death if they did not get some meat to eat—the same tradition tells us that they did indeed have a very large and sizable livestock with them.
- Exodus 12:38 records how the Israelites went up from Egypt with a large livestock. “And a mixed multitude had gone up with them, and sheep and oxen, a very heavy livestock.” But according to Exodus 16, exactly 1 month later they complain that they have no meat and are starving!
- Immediately after the quail incident where they complained that they had no meat and were starving (Ex 16:2-3), their cattle miraculously appear again in the narrative. “And the people thirsted for water and complained to Moses: ‘Why is this you brought us up from Egypt: to kill me and my children, and my cattle with thirst'” (Ex 17:3).
- In Leviticus 8-9 various goats, sheep, cows, rams, etc. are brought forward for sacrifices and sacrificial meals. This blatantly contradicts Numbers 11:4-6 where the people complain that they haven’t had meat since the days of Egypt. The Elohist tradition from which this passage in Numbers comes is unaware of the Priestly sacrifices in Leviticus even though these sacrifices now occur earlier in the composite narrative.
- Finally, at the end of the wilderness episode, the tribes are presented as still having a large livestock (e.g., Num 32:1).
Thus the quail stories, wherein it is explicitly stated that the Israelites have no meat to eat and will starve to death, utterly contradict a number of other places in the wilderness narrative where the Israelites’ large number of sheep, goats, rams, and cattle are mentioned. How do we make sense of this?
Much of what has come to be labeled as the “wilderness narrative” was created by the later Priestly writer, and it was crafted by splicing together various independent stories, such as the quail stories. It is impossible to read the wilderness narrative as it has come down to us as a coherent unified whole narrative. Both its “narrative” and itinerary are full of gaping holes, inconsistencies, and contradictions. The wilderness narrative is a composite of many stories and many textual traditions. We will revisit this thesis when we get to the book of Numbers.
Presently we note that the inconsistencies and contradictions between the quail stories and other stories now contained in the “wilderness narrative” were the result of stitching together various different stories. We will now move forward to look at the first of three accounts of the giving of the laws.