#267. When was Moses told that he could not enter the promised land: in the 40th year of the wilderness campaign OR in the 2nd? (Num 20:1-13 vs Deut 1:22-37)


A new year. . . a new (re)start. Let’s see if I can get back on track here.

First, Happy New Year!

Second, this contradiction continues where we left off—noting the variant traditions concerning Moses’ death and the reasons why, from the perspective of our various scribes (mainly P & D), he was not allowed to enter the promised land. I’m indebted to a reader who pointed this one out to me. Thanks John.

Similar to the way in which the Priestly writer retold the older Yahwist story of the Waters at Meribah so that he could interject into his version a reason why Moses would not enter the promised land (previous post #266), the Deuteronomist retells another Yahwist story for the same purpose—to interject in the tradition that he received the reason why, from his assessment, Moses could not enter the promised land (see forthcoming Deuteronomy contradictions). What I neglected to mention in #266 was that these 2 events occur at the opposite ends of the wilderness campaign, and thus also when Moses was told that he could not enter Canaan.

Thus, while the Priestly source has Yahweh telling Moses that he will not enter the promised land on account of his rebellion concerning the Waters of Meribah in the 40th year of the wilderness campaign (see #261), the Deuteronomic tradition has Yahweh informing Moses of this—due to no fault of his!—in the 2nd year of the wilderness campaign as a direct result of the spying of the land episode. Unlike the present placement of this story in the Priestly redacted book of Numbers (see #233, #234, #235-236, #237, #238-240), in the Deuteronomic tradition the spying of the land happens directly before the 38 years of wandering (Deut 2:14), and indeed causes there to be 38 years of wandering. Thus in this tradition Moses is informed in the 2nd year. Additionally, in the Priestly tradition there is no acknowledgment of this happening on the 2nd year.

Tomorrow we will venture into chapter 21 of Numbers, which on its own evidences a number of textual problems and contradictory traditions.

4 thoughts on “#267. When was Moses told that he could not enter the promised land: in the 40th year of the wilderness campaign OR in the 2nd? (Num 20:1-13 vs Deut 1:22-37)

  1. Hello Steven,
    Your pedigree and wealth of knowledge inspire me greatly! I am so glad you began posting again, Hurrah!
    After serving in lay minister for nearly 20 years, I began to study the inconstancies in the biblical narratives… which lead me to reading “Bart Ehrman, Karen Armstrong, Israel Finkelstein, Sam Harris, “Hitchens” etc… I discovered apologist were famous for forming “INTELLIGENT SOUNDING” arguments, however, these were nothing but the same old arguments (pseudo-scientific, quasi-historical claims, and priori stances) dressed up with anceint superstition and mythology.

    Yes, to the untrained ear they may “sound sophisticated” but they are THE SAME weak arguments! What they are actually doing is making “scientific claims” with no empirical structure. As I have said many times, “I have never heard a solid argument that places god of the universe in ancient Judea! Yes, the theism is just repeating the same script with differ jargon!

    During my DEconversion, I stumbled into anthropology, comparative religion and mythology. At the time I had been a fervent Christian for decades, however, I had only read the footnotes sort to speak. I was a Christian that simply lacked critical biblical information. Had one person I cared about “kindly and intellectually” challenged my theistic beliefs, I would have read my bible, searching for the correct apologetic theme until I proved them wrong. I would have checked my biblical resources and become a more fervent biblical reader.

    Luckily late in life, I overheard a discussion concerning the Sumer-Babylonian “Gilgamesh flood myth,” and how it paralleled the Noah’s Ark flood myth. Within one year from that evening, I had read at least three books debating the authenticity of the Bible. I slowly moved to a “more deistic god,” within three years I was an atheist. Even today I merely tell my friends, “I do not believe in the supernatural!,” and I give my reasons. It has been my experience that this move is usually less threatening. In my case, reviewing the “incredible” biblical contradictions actually aided me in climbing out of theistic memes and outgrowing cultural bubbles.

    Frankly speaking, now a couple of my believer friends (friends who know of my lack of belief) consider me “severely agnostic.” They continue to pray for me, however, now days they review their bibles to exam my claims; claims they had no idea were disputable.
    Much thanks for your return Steven, I look for to engaging with you.


    1. Lance,

      Thanks, and Welcome. Looking over my comment history, it’s amazing to see that the most appreciative of my readers have been ex-Christians, ex-Jehovah Witnesses, etc. Many of these individuals, whether they still believe in God or not, are merely looking to understand accurately these biblical texts—often against an authoritative tradition that has dictated wrongly what these texts are. My other more fundamentalist readers I often have to remind them that I’m not amassing arguments against the belief in God per se. I really have little interest in this debate, as of right now that is. Since many of these types of readers have defined their faith from erroneous views and reader-oriented assumptions about the biblical texts and about their authors—such as the belief that these texts were divinely inspired—they feel that my work on the Bible, which ironically attempts to defend the beliefs of the various authors of these ancient texts, is an attempt to debunk belief in God. That is not the case at all. I wish I could connect with this group better, and have them realize that acknowledging that many of these texts were written under the influence of specific ideologies, propagandist agendas, culturally-conditioned beliefs that varied from one author to the next, and evidenced competing views about Israel’s past, Israel’s god, the priesthood, prophecy, etc. is not an argument against belief in God, albeit it might quite well be an argument against belief in the biblical god! But that too is another project.


  2. Nice to see you back! I look forward to seeing you continue with this Herculean task; I’m curious what contradictions will come after the variant Wilderness traditions and differences in the Law are done.

    1. KW — Thanks! Feels good to be back posting. Lots of catching up to do, comments to reply to.

      I’m curious what contradictions will come after the variant Wilderness traditions and differences in the Law are done.

      Me too! I am currently trying to get the rest of Numbers written up; Deuteronomy should prove interesting and hopefully my more stubborn (more skeptical—now there’s a twist) readers might actually start realizing that indeed later scribes retold differently and often contradictorily the stories and traditions they inherited. Deuteronomy 1-11’s retelling of stories now found in Exodus and Numbers clearly brings this out. Beyond that, I’m vaguely familiar with variant conquest traditions in Joshua; Judges is an anthology of different archaic stories so I imagine there will be some variations there. The books of Samuel I have already dealt with to some extent: variant kingship traditions, variant views of messiah; variant versions of Saul’s death; who killed Goliath; variant traditions on priesthood, prophecy, Israel’s god, and David of course. Most notable will be contradictions between the books of Samuel and its retelling by a later scribe, in Chronicles. Many contradiction websites pick up a lot of these. Once we get into the books of Kings (again there will be variations with Chronicles’ retelling of the same “history”) and the Prophets I’m not sure what awaits us. I imagine there will be variant views and interpretations of the historical events of 722 BCE and 586 BCE, variant views on the priesthood, prophecy, and the monarchy. Working through the literature of Psalms and Proverbs will be taxing. Daniel, Ecclesiastes, and Job start to present a different view of why evil happens (we’ve had conversation about that in regard to #6). Daniel has variant “end-time” scenarios, etc. And it will be nice to address in its historical context “the anointed one who is cut off” (Dan 9:26), who was the high priest Onias III, killed c. 174 BCE. Having been formally trained as a New Testament scholar, I can’t wait to get into the New Testament. As you’re well aware, often I use these textual variations to talk about the historical and literary contexts of these texts, so with respect to the New Testament, historical and literary context is much more clear. It will be fun writing these up! Shit, I’m way behind schedule. Ha!


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