#224. Do the Israelites set out for the wilderness of Paran OR Hazeroth? (Num 10:12 vs Num 11:35)


Thus far in our examination of the book of Numbers we have only looked at passages from the Priestly source, now preserved as the opening of Numbers (Num 1:1-10:28), and how this literature or more appropriately its ideas, beliefs, and even ideologies contradict other textual sources and traditions that went into the making of the Pentateuch. This material is easily identifiable as Priestly based on its unique vocabulary, formulaic style, and emphasis on the Aaronid priesthood, subordination of the Levites (which only occurs in the Priestly source), its concern for issues of purity, contamination, blood, proper expiatory sacrifices, the observance of Yahweh’s appointed times and festivals, the Tabernacle cult and the arrangement of the Israelite encampment around it, etc. Indeed, as textual critics long ago observed, the literature spanning Exodus 25 (minus Ex 32-34) to Numbers 10:28 including the entire book of Leviticus was all penned by the Aaronid priestly guild and displays this priestly guild’s theological beliefs, ideology, and worldview.

Needless to say, the book of Numbers is highly composite. It contains stories from our older sources, the Yahwist and Elohist traditions. These stories preserve distinct traditions about the wilderness period, which were often characterized by the people’s disloyalty and stubborn behavior toward their deity, Yahweh. Although this image too has its contradictory portrait (#124).

At any event, the carefully laid out presentation of the Tent of Meeting and the arrangement of the Israelite camp around it, the subordinate role of the Levites, and issues of purity all neatly presented in Num 1:1-10:28 are completely absent or even negated by later passages in Numbers, that is by traditions from the Yahwist and Elohist sources. We first encounter these traditions, now heavily edited by surrounding priestly material, in Numbers 10:28-16:35. We will take a look at the contradictions created when these traditions were edited together over the next couple of weeks, from minor narrative details to sweeping theological and ideological differences.

One concern that the Priestly writer had when incorporating this older material into the wilderness narrative that he was creating was imposing a chronology and a wildness itinerary to these random traditions. Numbers 33 will be the fullest display of that itinerary, but there are bits and pieces of it to be found throughout Numbers. For example, Numbers 10:12, attributed to P, states that just 20 days after the events of Numbers 1-9 the Israelites set out toward the Wilderness of Paran, northern Sinai. In fact, Num 10:12 even claims that Yahweh has already settled his cloud there, a sign that the Israelites are to stop and set up camp (Num 9:15-23).

But the Elohist material now in Numbers 11-12 has the Israelites marching toward and encamping in Hazoreth, that is still in the Wilderness of Sinai! As one commentator put it, the later Priestly redactor must have been fully aware of this discrepancy and attempted to rectify it by stating as a summation after this Elohist material in verse 12:15 that “only afterward” did the Israelites then embark on their march toward the Wilderness of Paran.

In a later contradiction we will also see that the Wilderness of Sinai was calculated differently by the Priestly writer than it was in these earlier traditions.

8 thoughts on “#224. Do the Israelites set out for the wilderness of Paran OR Hazeroth? (Num 10:12 vs Num 11:35)

  1. Dear Steven DiMattei, Dr.
    I would like to ask you wether there is a complete list about the Wilderness Traditions of the Old Testament. I would be very grateful to you if you could provide for me that piece of information.
    Thank you in advance
    Constantinos PAPATHOMAS

    1. You mean a complete list of contradictions relating to the wilderness tradition? I’m doing just that here, although they are scattered throughout. Maybe I’ll have to add a tag, “wilderness tradition” on those contradictions that deal with this.

  2. Inconsistencies in the Balaam pericope? I’d be curious to know what you’ve got marked up there.

    Numbers 22:20 says that God told Balaam to go with servants of Balak, yet in v:22, God is angry that Balaam went. Numbers 31:8 says that Balaam was killed when the Israelites slaughtered the Midianites, and v:16 even blames Balaam for the “affair of Peor.” Yet 24:25 states that after Balaam concluded his oracles (which were positive toward Israel!), he “got up and went back to his place,” which we are told in 22:5 is “Pethor, which is on the Euphrates, in the land of Amaw.” And this doesn’t include the bad rap that the NT (2 Peter, Revelation) unfairly gives Balaam.

    1. Thanks John. Except the first one you note, it looks like most of these are contradictions between the Balaam pericope and its surrounding texts. I’ll be sure to include them.

  3. Oh, Numbers in general contains a slew of contradictions which haven’t yet been covered: Was Caleb alone the good spy was Joshua also? Who was involved in the rebellion of chapter 16? Did Korah’s sons die in the rebellion or not? Was Moses kept out of Canaan because of his own sin or the sins of the Israelites? Where did Aaron die? Did anyone 20 or older other than Joshua and Caleb enter the Promised Land or not? And this doesn’t even include the whole Balaam pericope and its inconsistencies. You’ll probably cover these, but maybe I can add some things.

    1. Yea, I should double check my list with what you have—a list that is still being created. I would hate to miss one! As I’ve indicated before, Deuteronomy is done, has been done for some time now. So I’ve been very slothfully traversing Leviticus and Numbers. Inconsistencies in the Balaam pericope? I’d be curious to know what you’ve got marked up there. Other than transitions between Yahweh and El in the poetry sections I don’t recall that I’ve marked any other ones.

  4. Additional evidence that different traditions are at work is that even though 9:17 says that the Israelites knew to camp where the cloud settled, which as you point out is consistent with 10:12, starting in 10:29 (J), Moses requests that his father-in-law travel with them “for you know where we should camp in the wilderness, and you will serve as eyes for us” (v:31). There’s even tension regarding whether the ark went before the Israelites (vv. 35-36, from J) or was in the midst of the Israelites, carried by the Kohathites (v: 21, from P).

    1. Nice! Trying to rectify what has become quite sporadic postings as of late, I have actually drafted out the next 8 contradictions, which are all the result of the redaction of the JE material of Numbers 10:29-12:16 with its surrounding P material. The 2 you’ve mentioned above are my #225 and 226. There are additionally: the question of there already being meat or not, which although I did already count (#126), I might see if I can rephrase a different contradiction here. Then there is the question of who initiates the idea to form a judiciary: Yahweh, Moses, or Jethro? There is also the restating of 600,000 men after Yahweh had already struck some of them down, more the use of a figural trope than the convergence of traditions here. And both the Tent of Meeting and Aaron—and the Ark as you point out—in the E material are radically, and contradictorily, portrayed from what we find in P.


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