#221. What transpires on the day Moses sets up and anoints the Tabernacle: Aaron and his sons are anointed as Yahweh’s priests and shut in the Tent of Meeting for a 7 day ordination OR Israel’s 12 chieftains present sacrificial offerings to Yahweh, 1 a day for the following 12 days? (Ex 40:1-17; Lev 8-9 vs Num 7)


Numbers 7 claims to narrate events that happened “on the day Moses finished setting up the Tabernacle” (Num 7:1), “on the day it was anointed” (7:10). This, however, presents two particular difficulties—contradictions—when reading, erroneously, these wilderness stories as a single homogeneous, divinely-authored or any single-authored, historical narrative. This is not what our biblical scribes were doing nor saw themselves as doing. Rather, as stressed repeatedly in other posts, these are the erroneous ideas and beliefs of readers living centuries after these texts were written, often ignorant about the authors of these texts, why they wrote, to whom, and prompted by what historical circumstances, etc.

The first textual difficulty has to do with the disruption in the narrative chronology of these alleged events as it was created and imposed by the Priestly writer himself. I already treated this matter in contradiction #170. Briefly, the erection of the Tabernacle, that is of the Aaronid cultic institution and Yahweh’s earthly dwelling, whether factual or fictional, was so important to our Aaronid priestly writers that they set its establishment in the archaic past and more importantly on a specific date: 1/1/2.

That is, when reckoning time from the Exodus event, which our Priestly writers reckoned occurred on 1/14/1 (see Ex 12:1), the establishment of the Tabernacle and the sacrificial cult happened on 1/1/2 (Ex 40:1, 17). See also #217.

If the events of Numbers 7 also occur on 1/1/2—“on the day Moses finished setting up the Tabernacle” (Num 7:1), “on the day it was anointed” (7:10)—then this would mean that all that is recorded in the book of Leviticus and Numbers 1-7 happened on 1/1/2 as well (on the composite nature of Leviticus see #172). But this cannot be the case according to the Priestly chronology articulated at the opening of the book of Numbers where it is stated that we are on 2/1/2. So Numbers 7 (and 8-9?) are chronologically out of place.

If this was once a separate tradition, then why did a later scribe place it unchronologically here? Good question. I would speculate that it was because of chapter 7’s content—contextually it belongs with Numbers 1-4, and 8. And this brings us to our second point.

Second, and more glaring, is that there seems to be 2 different and contradictory priestly traditions “recording” what transpires immediately after, “on the day,” the Tabernacle is erected and anointed by Moses, as recorded in Exodus 40 and Leviticus 8. One tradition states that on this day, 1/1/2, Aaron and his sons are anointed and then shut in the Tent of Meeting for 7 days thereafter as part of their purificatory ordination ceremony. Then on the 8th day, which would be 1/9/2, they come out, gather the Israelites together and Aaron performs a sacrificial ritual atonement, a sin-offering, for the people, and we’re even informed, in Yahweh’s presence (Lev 9:23-25).

But the alternative tradition of Numbers 7, which later scribes also preserved and placed here in the narrative, describes a 12-day sacrificial dedication ceremony to Yahweh that commenced “on the day Moses finished setting up the Tabernacle” (Num 7:1), “on the day it was anointed” (7:10)—in other words, on 1/1/2! It describes how the chieftain of each tribe, a tribe a day, each presented Yahweh with: 1 bull, 1 ram, and 1 lamb as burnt-offerings, and 2 bulls, 5 rams, 5 he-goats, and 5 yearling lambs as well-being offerings. That’s a daily total of 3 bulls, 6 rams, 5 goats, and 6 lambs being sacrificially offered up per day—3 of which Yahweh consumed whole himself. Or, over the 12 days, from 1/1/2 to 1/12/2, that’s a total of: 36 bulls, 72 rams, 60 goats, and 72 lambs over a 12 day period. What a feast!

So while Aaron and sons were enclosed in the Tent of Meeting from 1/1/2 to 1/8/2 in the Leviticus 8-9 tradition, so that no sacrifices were being offered during this purificatory ordination period of 7 days, sacrifices were being offered during this time period and the Aaronid priests were active according to the Numbers 7 tradition.

Oh, and as a side note: and these were (Ex 16 [P]), and will be (Num 11 [E]) the same Israelites crying that they have no meat to eat!? —not! (#126). And we should furthermore not forget to mention that in the Priestly chronology, Numbers 11—which is not Priestly material; it comes from E—transpires in the same week that these glutenous tent-dwelling Semites eat, literally—let’s see, minus Yahweh’s portion, that’s—24 bulls, 60 rams, 60 goats, and 60 lambs!

But, yes, as some apologist will point out (NB: an apologist defends his/her faith or beliefs about the Bible, but never the biblical texts themselves), that’s not a lot of meat for our 625,550 well-bodied males (#218) and their women and children. And let’s not forget that the Levites themselves were responsible for moving this 7.5 ton cultic institution (#158#217), so they was probably real hungry (must be recited with a slow southern draw).

Or, we should understand Ex 16 and Num 11 as our scribes intended them—as dramatized lessons, and Num 7 as an idealized, and fictionalized, dedicatory ceremony. Indeed this may even reflect a real historical, albeit dramatized too, dedicatory ceremony celebrating the erection of the Temple (see 1 Kgs 8).

In any event, and once again, the biblical text itself bears witness to the fact that it is a compilation of different, and often contradictory, texts and traditions. And thus far we have only acknowledged 221 of these points of convergences, and alas I’m only at page 200 of my 1200 page Bible!

5 thoughts on “#221. What transpires on the day Moses sets up and anoints the Tabernacle: Aaron and his sons are anointed as Yahweh’s priests and shut in the Tent of Meeting for a 7 day ordination OR Israel’s 12 chieftains present sacrificial offerings to Yahweh, 1 a day for the following 12 days? (Ex 40:1-17; Lev 8-9 vs Num 7)

  1. Numbers 7’s placement creates other chronological difficulties. Numbers 3:5 ff, as we have discussed before, is one record of the consecration of the Levites, who were to assist Aaron and his sons, the priests:

    5 Then Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying: 6Bring the tribe of Levi near, and set them before Aaron the priest, so that they may assist him. 7They shall perform duties for him and for the whole congregation in front of the tent of meeting, doing service at the tabernacle; 8they shall be in charge of all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, and attend to the duties for the Israelites as they do service at the tabernacle. 9You shall give the Levites to Aaron and his descendants; they are unreservedly given to him from among the Israelites.

    As you mention above, chronologically this is stated to be in month two, year two (Numbers 1:1), a month after Exodus 40:1,16 states that the tabernacle was erected. However, Numbers 7 takes for granted that the Levites have already been consecrated when the tabernacle was erected:

    1:1 On the day when Moses had finished setting up the tabernacle, and had anointed and consecrated it with all its furnishings, and had anointed and consecrated the altar with all its utensils…4Then Yahweh said to Moses: 5Accept these from them, that they may be used in performing the service of the tent of meeting, and give them to the Levites, to each according to his service. 6So Moses took the wagons and the oxen, and gave them to the Levites.

    Further, Leviticus 10 records the story of how Nadab and Abihu were killed by Yahweh for offering “unholy fire.” This episode occurs after the tabernacle was set up, and indeed the story presupposes the existence of the tabernacle. After their untimely demise, Nadab and Abihu are carried “away from the front of the sanctuary” (10:4). Numbers 3 refers to this incident in verse 4, right before the aforementioned separation-of-the-Levites pericope. Now, lest someone argue that Numbers 3:1-4 is just a flash-ahead, keep reading in verse 32, which states that Eleazar, not the older Nadab or Abihu, was to be “chief over the leaders of the Levites, and to have oversight of those who had charge of the sanctuary.” In other words, even though chronologically the deaths of Nadab and Abihu had to have taken place after the tabernacle was set up, in Numbers 3, the instructions presuppose that their deaths have already occurred.

  2. Hauled around until it served its purpose! How long would that take for one act
    of rebellion? This seems so strange that it took so long. Interesting though. Nehushtan is found in the Masoretic text somewhere between the 7th and 10th century CE says Wikipedia from the E source. Anything else you know of or can comment on, I’d appreciate it….Thanks

  3. And let’s not forget that the Levites themselves were responsible for moving this 7.5 ton cultic institution…

    Speaking of hauling around heavy objects, don’t forget that the Israelites eventually had to haul around a huge bronze serpent (Numbers 21) and continued to do so as they conquered Canaan, through the period of the judges, and beyond. How do we know this?

    2 Kings 18:4:
    4 [Hezekiah] removed the high places, broke down the pillars, and cut down the sacred pole. He broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it; it was called Nehushtan.

    I say that the serpent was huge, since Numbers 21:6 says that “many Israelites” died because of bites from the serpents that Yahweh sent, and the bronze serpent had to be large enough for the surviving Israelites that got bitten to be able to see it to avoid death (vv: 8-9). Even if it were placed at a high vantage point, it would need to be rather sizeable. One wonders how this bronze serpent could have gone undetected while it was getting hauled around and worshiped. Surely someone would have noticed or Yahweh would have alerted Moses, or later Joshua, Saul, David, etc. about the problem. Even if it wasn’t being worshiped the whole time from Moses to Hezekiah, surely Yahweh, who forbid graven images, should have known to order it destroyed once it served its purpose.

  4. “An apologist defends his/her beliefs about the bible but never the biblical texts themselves”
    Cause they are not honest even with themselves!

  5. Let me be the first one to offer a comment here. As I’m re-reading the post, I don’t want it misconstrued that since according to Priestly chronology the Tabernacle was constructed on 1/1/2 that this means that it was set up on January 1st, 0002. Indeed, it is the 1st of the first month for our Priestly authors, but this was the month of Abib, in early spring, and reckoned by a lunar calendar so that the 1st coincided with the appearance of the new moon. For more on Israel’s ancient calendars (plural) see The 5 Festival Calendars.

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