David Plotz made a ¬†pretty interesting argument about the location of food sources during the time the Hebrews spend in the wilderness. If we’re interpreting correctly, the manna, which God is happy for the Hebrews to eat, is collected “round about the camp” (Exodus 16:13). The forbidden quail, on the other hand, are gathered “a day’s journey on this side and a day’s journey on the other side, round about the camp” (Numbers 11:31).

We’ve seen hints of this ‘inside vs outside’ discussion in relation to the tent of meeting, as well. We get hints – such as Exodus 33:7 which reads: “Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp; and he called it the tent of meeting” – of an older tradition in which the tabernacle was kept apart from the people. This was clearly replaced by a later tradition in which the tent of meeting is found in the centre of the camp (as shown in Numbers 2).

[This tradition may be connected to the ones that describe Moses as being assisted by elders, rather than 12 tribal leaders, since the narrative about Eldad and Medad in Numbers 11:26-30 describes them as having remained “in the camp” instead of going “out to the tent” (v.26).]

It may be that the association of being “in the camp” as having God’s sanction and the wilderness being associated with the opposite conflicted with the tradition of locating the tent of meeting outside of camp, helping to elevate the primacy of locating the tent in the centre of camp.