#234. Are the spies to reconnoiter all the land of Canaan OR only the southern part, Judah? (Num 13:2, 13:21 [P] vs Num 13:22-24 [J]; Deut 1:24-25 [D])


Continuing from the previous post, #233, today’s contradiction reveals that in the earliest spy-story tradition, the Yahwist, only the land of the southern kingdom, namely Judah, is reconnoitered, and a later retelling of this tradition expanded the area to include all of Canaan.

Numbers 13:22 makes it clear that the spies enter Canaan through the southern Negeb and arrive at Hebron, which is the capital of Judah until it is moved to Jerusalem by David. So its significance, already known to our 9th-8th century BCE Yahwist scribe is being highlighted. In fact both the mention of Hebron and Caleb accentuate the southern focus of this story, Caleb being a hero of the south. More about Caleb later.

Thus in the earliest tradition, the spying of the land was the scouting of the land of Judah exclusively. The Deteronomist seems to have preserved this tradition as well, noting that the spies go up to the Wadi Eshcol, just north of Hebron, and return (Deut 1:24-25).

It is the later Priestly writer who not only expanded the scope of the spy mission to include northern Israel but also adds another faithful alongside Caleb, who will also be spared from Yahweh’s wrath and thus enter the promised land, Joshua from the northern tribe of Ephraim.

Thus in the Priestly retelling of the spy story, “[all] the land of Canaan” (v. 2, 17a) is reconnoitered. Contrary to the earlier Yahwist’s claim that “they went up to the Negeb and came to Hebron” (13:22), the later Priestly redactor adds just prior to this verse: “they went up and scouted the land from the wilderness of Zin to Rehob at the entrance of Hamath” (13:21). Not only is the wilderness of Zin a Priestly toponym, but Hamath, which is located to the extreme north, is attested as the same northern boundary in another Priestly passage (Num 34:8).

Lastly, the 6th century BCE Priestly writer might have extended the boundaries of the spy mission in order to reflect the concerns and realities of his own geopolitical world. The exiles who were returning to “the land of Canaan” from Babylon sought to reclaim all of their former land, or make a political claim for all of Canaan, from its current inhabitants. An archaic story that defined these boundaries to include both Judah of the south and Israel of the north would have functioned to legitimate such a claim.

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