Numbers 33 displays the mark of a later tradition that was composed and inserted here in the narrative as a sort of summary to the Wilderness itinerary. It exhibits a number of stylistic features only found in the Priestly source and scholars assign it to a redactional layer by this Priestly tradition. Yet, as we shall see in the forthcoming contradictions, its itinerary is often at odds with the scattered itinerary references throughout the books of Exodus & Numbers. Before we look at these discrepancies and contradictions, I’d like to put forth a surface reading of the Israelites’ legendary 40 year trek through the Wilderness from the Exodus to the plains of Moab—that is what the texts spanning Exodus 12:29 to Numbers 33 say.
1. The Israelites leave Rameses Egypt on the 15th (the eve of Passover) of the 1st year as marked from the Exodus. (Ex 12:1-36) 1/15/01
- an exodus of 600,000 adult males w/infants & children (but see #116)
- leave with very large number of livestock
- carrying unleavened bread
- during their haste, Yahweh finds it convenient to lecture Moses about the “law of the Passover”—no foreigner and no uncircumsiced male may partake of Yahweh’s Passover (but see #118)
- Yahweh also instructs Moses on the law of Firstborns—“All firstborns are Mine”—which must be observed when they arrive in Canaan (see #145)
2. They travel to Succoth, Etham or Shur, Pi-Hahiroth, and cross the Sea of Reeds (yam suph).
- Although how they cross is told with considerable variation (see #120-122).
3. They arrive in the Wilderness of Sin exactly 1 month after the Exodus. (Ex 16:1) 2/15/01
- There, just 1 month after Passover and the Exodus, they complain about not having meat to eat, and although they have brought with them a large number of livestock, sheep, and goat, Yahweh sends them manna and quails as if they had no meat to eat! (see #126 & #227)
4. They then travel to Rephidim, fight the Amalekite, and establish the judiciary upon Jethro’s advice. (Ex 17-18)
- The founding of the judiciary will be renarrated by Moses with considerable variation (Deut 1:9-18)—a forthcoming post
5. In the 3rd month they arrive at Sinai, where they will stay for 11 months, during which time the following occur (Ex 19:1–Num 10:27): 3/1/01
- Yahweh gives them the Ten Commandments & the Law code (Ex 20-24; contra Deut 5:19-28 (forthcoming))
- On the summit, Moses receives instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle and the appointment of Aaron as Yahweh’s sole priests (Ex 25-31; contra Deut 18:1-18 (#152))
- Moses descends, breaks the Tablets and is given a new set, which Yahweh claims are the same, but they are not (Ex 34)! See #134-135, #147, #156, #169
- Moses then orders the Tabernacle to be constructed, from apparently the left over gold that wasn’t used for Aaron’s golden calves (see #158, #159)—roughly 1 ton of it! And we also hear that the Israelites have at their disposal, gold, silver, bronze, gems of all sorts, fine fabric, linen, spices, woods, and jewelry that they had allegedly already divested themselves of (#163). Apparently there is also a smithery at Sinai to fabricate all these components for this portable Tabernacle whose weight was approximately 7.5 tons!
- Apparently this takes some time, and on 1/1/02 the Tabernacle is erected—our fist major chronological discrepancy (see #170, #181-182) 1/1/02
- Where and when this Tabernacle is erected is also contradictorily stated (#164-165)
- Then Yahweh gives Moses and Aaron the sacrificial law code (Lev 1-7)
- Moses then anoints Aaron and all the components of the Tabernacle, thus purifying them, and sacrifices are made (Lev 8-10)
- Again, this contradicts the no-meat-to-eat tradition (#227)
- Instructions concerning what is clean and unclean are given (Lev 11-22)
- Yom Kippur, an “eternal law” (but see #186), is celebrated for the first time (Lev 16), and this must be on 7/10/01
- The Festival Calendar is given (Lev 23) which contradicts in part some of the Festivals given by Yahweh just 4 months earlier, and will contradict others that will be given 39 years from now! (#194-197, #198-204, #205-208)
- One year after the Exodus Yahweh orders the 1st census of men to be taken (Num 1) where we learn of a discrepancy in the number of men who left Egypt (#116) 2/1/02
- The arrangement of the camp is set, with the Tabernacle in the middle (Num 2-3)
- The Levites are assigned non-priestly functions as ministers to the Aaronid priesthood! (Num 3)
- The Tabernacle is established (again!) and a variant tradition on its dedication sacrifices is given (Num 7; #221) 1/1/02 ?
- Yahweh consumes 92 animals, while apparently the Israelites are still eating manna each day because there is no meat to eat! (but see #227)
- Passover is ordered by Yahweh to be kept on the 2nd year 1/14/02
- And finally on 2/20/02 the Israelites prepare to leave Sinai 2/20/02
So the Israelites encamp at Sinai for 11 months 10 days, during which all of the above has taken place!
6. In 3 days time they arrive at Kibroth Hattaavah (Num 11) where despite the fact that they just had meat to eat 1 month and 9 days earlier for Passover, they complain that they have no meat and Yahweh, duped?, gives them manna (and quail) again, which apparently they had never seen before although it had been given to them each and every day so far for a little over 1 year now! (see #227, #125) 2/23/02
7. They arrive at Kadesh (Num 13-14), apparently early in the 2nd year (but see #260-261).
- A select group scout out the land of Canaan and it is here that Yahweh condemns this generation to death (for their lack of faith ?!), and to wander 40 years in the wilderness. But this too is variously narrated (see #233, #234, #235-236, #238-240; & Deut 1:19-46 (forthcoming)).
8. The Israelites turn back into the wilderness toward the Red Sea, and apparently the action from Numbers 15:1–20:22 encompasses 38 years (from the 2nd to 4oth year), or, from Num 20:20 to Num 20:23 is 38 years!?
- Apparently Yahweh deems that this is a good time to give Moses more sacrificial laws, so the Israelites can keep all of Yahweh’s sacrifices when they arrive in Canaan, some 38 years from now! (Num 15:1-31)
- Although this generation has already been condemned to death, Yahweh nevertheless feels obliged to command the death of an Israelite collecting wood in the wilderness on the Sabbath (see #245)
- The Korah rebellion takes place (Num 16-17) See #246-250, #254.
- Laws on tithes and donations are given (Num 18), which Yahweh will contradict in the near future (see #256, #257).
- The Law for death and the dead is given (Num 19).
9. The Israelites come back to Kadesh (Num 20) in the 40th year!? 5/1/40?
- This return to Kadesh tradition will be contradicted by both Num 33 and Deut 1-2, but in different ways (forthcoming entries). Furthermore it’s unclear whether this return to Kadesh happens in the 2nd year or the 40th year. See #260-261
10. Israelites are refused passage through Edom (Num 20:14-20)
- Moses will contradict this in his renarration of it (Deut 2)
11. The Israelites travel to Hor in the 40th year!? (Num 20:21-29)
- Aaron dies on Hor, and from Num 33:39 this happens on 5/1/40
- So in this conception, in between verses 20 and 21, 38 years pass!
- Moses will mistakenly give another place and time for Aaron’s death (Deut 10:6-7 (forthcoming))
12. From Hor the Israelites travel into the Negeb, Hormah, or travel back toward the Red Sea! (Num 21:1-4) See #268
- The Israelites successfully enter Canaan at Hormah, but turn south back toward the Red Sea. There are a number of inconsistencies here (see #269, #271-273, #274)
13. The Israelites travel around Edom (Num 21:4) and travel through Edom (Num 21:10)! See #275
- The Israelites arrive at the wadi Zered in the 40th year (but see #279)
15. Finally, the Israelites arrive on the Plains of Moab (Num 22:1) 11/1/40
- There the Israelites worship Baal at Baal Peor (see #297-298)
- Yahweh establishes an eternal covenant with the Aaronids through Phinehas, which Yahweh will contradict in the following days to come, according to Moses, and in centuries to come (see #299)
- A second census is issued (Num 26)
- Another sacrificial law code is given which in part contradicts laws Yahweh gave 40 years ago, but more so will contradict Festival laws Yahweh will give in the following days to come! (see #194-197, #198-204, #205-208, #311, #312)
- Israel battles Midian (see #313, #314)
- The Transjordanian possessions are allotted
This, then, is a surface reading of the narrative spanning Exodus 12:29 to the end of Numbers 32. As evident from the above, this “narrative” is composed of different textual traditions, variant stories, different narrations of the same stories, etc.
In the forthcoming entries we will look at how the Wilderness itinerary of Numbers 33 contradicts many of these textual traditions and variant stories.