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!