Many of the stories from the “murmuring” tradition (#124) were told in more than one textual tradition. In the present case, the story about the people’s desire for meat in the wilderness and Yahweh’s reluctant response to send quails is recorded in both the Elohist and Priestly traditions. When these textual traditions were later edited together, both versions of the story were preserved. In the composite text we call “the Bible,” the Priestly version of the quails story is found in Exodus 16 before the Sinai revelation, while the Elohist version is preserved in Numbers 11, after the Sinai event.
The story of the quails in Numbers 11, where the people demand meat to eat, proceeds as if the earlier quail episode in Exodus 16 never occurred. There is not only no recognition of this earlier “miracle” that according to the later imposed chronology of the Priestly writer happened exactly one year ago, but there is the mention in Numbers 11:4-6 that the people had not eaten any meat since they left Egypt (see also #126)! In other words, according to this textual tradition, the Israelites only eat quails here, and only after they have left Sinai.
The depiction of Yahweh in this earlier Elohist account (Num 11) is also different and more shocking than its Priestly counterpart in Exodus 16.
- “And Yahweh heard and his anger flared, and Yahweh’s fire burned among them” (Num 11:1).
- “And Yahweh’s anger flared very much and it was bad in Moses’ eyes” (Num 11:10)
- “And the meat was still between their teeth, not yet chewed, and Yahweh’s anger flared at the people, and Yahweh struck down the people in great numbers” (Num 11:33)—another great scene for a children’s “real” Bible coloring book!
This depiction of Yahweh as the wrathful deity who slays his own people—only after liberating them from Egypt!—is completely suppressed in the later Priestly version of the story which now exists at Exodus 16, before the Sinai event. Indeed, it may be argued that this was one of the reasons why the Priestly writer rewrote the story—to suppress this depiction of Yahweh.
Furthermore, this is not an event that happens twice, or even happens at all (see #126). Rather they were stories that served a pedagogical purpose: to instil faith in Yahweh by depicting in horrific terms what happens to those who have no faith in Yahweh (#124).
The manna tradition, which is also found in both of these passages, is a duplicate as well. But it has been reworked by the redactor so its second appearance in Numbers 11 is now presented as a recapitulation of its first occurrence now at Exodus 16. Furthermore, the Priestly version lays greater emphasis on the Sabbath, and rightly so since, as we have already seen, the Sabbath is one of the three central covenants of the Priestly literature. In fact, Exodus 16:28-29 assumes that the people have already been given the commandment to observe the Sabbath, but this hasn’t happened yet. It happens in the Elohist tradition in Exodus 20, and in the Priestly tradition at Exodus 31—supporting further the idea that this manna and quail passage originally stood after Sinai, like its duplicate in Numbers 11.
Finally, there is another and more serious problem with these stories of the people’s desire for meat lest they starve to death in its larger narrative context. Can you spot what it is? Tune in for tomorrow’s contradiction.