#335. Where were the Israelites from the 2nd to 40th year of the Wilderness period: traveling southward from Kadesh toward the Gulf of Elath, then northward back to Kadesh OR traveling northward from Sinai to the Gulf of Elath OR traveling southward, encamping around Mount Seir, and then traveling through Edom? (Num 14-20 vs Num 33:17-35 vs Deut 2:1-15)

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The Wilderness itineraries of the Torah diverge quite radically after the Israelites depart, or never had arrived as the case may be (#332-334), from Kadesh in the 2nd year. Here is a brief summary of these traditions.

  1. The combined Yahwist (J) & Priestly (P) Traditions of Numbers 13-20. This now combined narrative has the Israelites depart from Kadesh in the 2nd year and trek into the wilderness toward the Sea of Reeds (yam sup). This verse, Num 14:25, is the end of J’s narrative, and we are to assume that the Israelites travel in a southernly direction toward the Gulf of Elath or Aqabah, after which the skirting of Edom will ultimately take place (Num 20:14-21). But ironically, the way this combined J/P narrative had been stitched together, the Israelites instead find themselves back at Kadesh in the 40th year—as stipulated by the P tradition presently in Numbers 20:1-13 & 23-29. Again, as previously demonstrated, the combined J/P narrative of Numbers 13-20 is the only tradition of the Torah where the Israelites arrive at Kadesh twice: in the 2nd and 40th years. See: #334. How many times did the Israelites arrive at Kadesh: once OR twice?

  2. The Priestly Tradition of Numbers 33. As noted in contradictions #332-334, the Priestly tradition of Numbers 33 does not have the Israelites arriving in Kadesh on the 2nd year. To the contrary, this tradition only has the Israelites arriving once, and that is in the 40th year (Num 33:36-38). However, this is not our only contradiction. Narratively speaking the move in the Yahwist tradition from Kadesh to the Gulf of Aqabah (and back to Kadesh when P is appended onto J!) is replaced in the Priestly tradition of Numbers 33 with a movement starting from Hazeroth (the encampment prior to Kadesh in J) through a string of 18 place-names (vv. 18-35) that, except for a couple, are not mentioned in any other itinerary tradition of the Torah. They finally end in verse 35 at Ezion-Geber, identified as a port city on the Gulf of Aqabah, and then move to Kadesh in verse 36 for the first time. One might be tempted, if we knew the location of these 18 place-names, to harmonize this trek with that of the J tradition’s move toward the Sea of Reeds. But even here this will not do. Since the P narrative of Numbers 33 does not narrate a stop at Kadesh in the 2nd year, the movement from verses 17 to 36 (that is, from the Wilderness of Sinai to the Wilderness of Zin) is a northerly trek ending at Ezion-Geber and then proceeding northerly again to Kadesh! The J tradition’s trek is southerly, from Kadesh to the Gulf of Aqabah!  

  3. The Deuteronomic Tradition of Deuteronomy 2:1-15. For the most part, it appears that the Deuteronomic tradition followed J’s itinerary. “And we turned and traveled to the wilderness by way of the Sea of Reeds” (Deut 2:1). However, the Deuteronomic tradition adds 2 details not present in the earlier Yahwist tradition: (1) the Israelites stayed around the Mount Seir region for an extended period of time. This region is typically located in a northeasterly direction from the Gulf of Aqabah on the other side of the Jordan Rift Valley! And (2) chronologically speaking this movement is earlier than the 40th year since D claims that on the 40th year the Israelites have already passed through Edom—not skirted it! (see #275)—and are at the Wadi Zered, the border between Edom and Moab!

So to sum up:

  1. J has the Israelites move southward from Kadesh to the Gulf of Aqabah, perhaps taking 38 years as the Deuteronomic tradition explicitly claims. Yet when the P tradition of Numbers 20 is added to J, then the Israelites are seen moving back northward to Kadesh and arriving there again in the 40th year.
  2. P alone has the Israelites moving northward from the wilderness of Sinai to the wilderness of Zin, perhaps also during a period of 38 years, and arriving at Kadesh for the first time in the 40th year.
  3. D has the Israelites moving southward from Kadesh to the Gulf of Aqabah, as J does, but stresses that the Israelites encamped around the Mount Seir region for an extended amount of time, thus traveling across the Jordan Rift Valley. This additionally takes a shorter amount of time since in the 40th year, in this tradition, the Israelites are at the Wadi Zered, i.e., the border of Edom and Moab!

There are other discrepancies to note as well. I’ll try to keep them coming . . .

2 thoughts on “#335. Where were the Israelites from the 2nd to 40th year of the Wilderness period: traveling southward from Kadesh toward the Gulf of Elath, then northward back to Kadesh OR traveling northward from Sinai to the Gulf of Elath OR traveling southward, encamping around Mount Seir, and then traveling through Edom? (Num 14-20 vs Num 33:17-35 vs Deut 2:1-15)

  1. The Numbers-33 itinerary also betrays the fact that there weren’t really forty years of wandering. Notice that Sinai, which was reached only three months after the Israelites left Egypt (Exodus 19:1) is stop number 11! Jumping ahead to year-40’s events, we see that including Kadesh (even leaving aside the “first Kadesh” problem), there are 10 stops So the author of this list would have us believe that the Israelites stopped 11 times in the first three months, at least 10 in the final year (!), but during the intervening 38 years only camped 20 times! (There are 42 places listed above, including the starting and ending points.) It’s obvious that the above list is contrived, listing 40 camping points (between beginning and ending locations) to correspond to the 40 years, which is itself contrived. Too bad the sources don’t agree.

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