1 Chronicles 9: The Returning

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Concluding all our previous genealogies, we are told that this is as had been recorded in “the Book of the Kings of Israel” (1 Chron. 9:1), which shouldn’t be confused with the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel, which is cited throughout 1-2 Kings.

The fact that only Israel is named in the title of this source, particularly given the Judahite/Jerusalem focus of Chronicles, is a little odd. Some commentaries I’ve looked at have explained this away by saying that, with the fall of northern kingdom and, in particular, in the post-exilic community, the kingdom of Judah (re-)appropriated the name. This would make sense, given how frequently Jacob is referred to as Israel in Chronicles so far. It seems that this name is being thoroughly claimed for a national identity.

For another possibility, we turn to the Septuagint, which calls it “the Book of the Kings of Israel and Juda.” We’ll see a similar title later on, “the Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel” (2 Chron. 16:11). Suggesting that perhaps the source’s original title named both, and that it was corrupted here to refer only to Israel.

This is one of those instances where not knowing Hebrew is very frustrating. In English, the phrase is: “and these are written in the Book of the Kings of Israel. And Judah was taken into exile” (1 Chron. 9:1). It doesn’t take much – moving the period, a wee grammatical fudging – to change the book’s title. Is the same the case in Hebrew? The Septuagint’s translators seem to have thought so (or, at least, the English translators of the Septuagint’s Greek translators, just to add an extra layer to my frustration).

Moving on, we learn that Judah (referring in this case, I presume, to the southern kingdom rather than to the tribe) was taken into exile in Babylon, which was of course because of their unfaithfulness. This brings us to the list of the first individuals to return, who are categorized as: “Israel, the priests, the Levites, and the temple servants” (1 Chron. 9:2). This seems to suggest that the author holds those devoted to the cult apart from the laity, from Israel proper.

If we skip over to the King James Version, the “temple servants” are instead called the Nethinim. James Pate ties these Nethinim servants either to Numbers 31:47 / Ezra 8:20, where Moses gives a number of prisoners of war over to the Levites, or to the Gibeonites who, in Joshua 9, were given to the Levites by Joshua after they tricked him into not slaughtering them (in the first scenario, they are foreign captives, while in the second they merely pretend to be). Pate as a more detailed explanation in his post.

My New Bible Commentary notes at this point that “no effort is made to link the names of this chapter with the detailed genealogies in the preceding chapters” (p.375). This might lead a lesser woman to gently knock her forehead against her desk and wonder what the point of the last eight chapters might have been.

The Inhabitants of Jerusalem

We begin with a few of the people of Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh, who returned to live in Jerusalem. A few commenters note the odd list. Judah and Benjamin were both closely tied to Jerusalem, so they make sense, but why Ephraim and Manasseh? The consensus among those commenters who brother to mention the detail seems to be that Ephraim and Manasseh comprised a fairly large portion of the northern kingdom. Including them here gives the sense of universality – of the idea that these first re-settlers are properly representative of Israel. This isn’t quite taken all the way, as none of the individuals listed appear to be from either of those tribes.

From the tribe of Judah, we have:

  • Uthai, son of Ammihud, son of Omri, son of Imri, son of Bani, descended from the sons of Perez;
  • Asaiah and his sons, of the Shilonites;
  • Jeuel, who was descended from Zerah;
  • And 690 of their kinsmen.

From the tribe of Benjamin, we have:

  • Shallu son of Meshullam, son of Hodaviah, son of Hassenuah;
  • Ibneiah son of Jeroham;
  • Elah son of Uzzi, son of Michri;
  • Meshullam son of Shephatiah, son of Reuel, son of Ibnijah;
  • And 956 of their kinsmen.

Of the priests, we get:

  • Jedaiah
  • Jehoiarib
  • Jachin
  • Azariah son of Hilkiah, son of Meshullam, son of Zadok, son of Meraioth, son of Ahitub, the chief officer of the house of God (commenter consensus seems to be that this was an unknown title that probably did not refer to the high priest);
  • Adaiah son of Jeroham, son of Passhur, son of Malchijah;
  • Maasai son of Adiel, son of Jahzerah, son of Meshullam, son of Meshillemith, son of Immer;
  • And 1760 of their kinsmen.

The first thing that occurred to me when reading this list is that it’s extremely messy. There really doesn’t seem to me any unifying formula, which speaks either to corruption or, my preferred explanation in this case, a cobbling together of numerous sources.

Levitical Families

We turn next to the Levites. I found it strange that they should be listed separately from the priests of 1 Chron. 9:10-13, unless we are seeing a distinction being made between the Levitical priests and the non-Levitical priests.

Of the Levites themselves, we have:

  • Shemaiah son of Hasshub, son of Azrikam, son of Hashabiah, descended from Merari;
  • Bakbakkar, Heresh, Galal, and Mattaniah, the sons of Mica, son of Zichri, son of Asaph;
  • Obadiah son of Shemaiah, son of Galal, son of Jeduthun;
  • And Berechiah son of Asa, son of Elkanah, who lived in the villages of the Netophathites.

We then move on to a list of individuals performing specific cultic duties. Again, the separate listing makes it seem as though we’re talking about a separate category – were the gatekeepers not Levites?

Of this section, my New Bible Commentary also notes that the purpose of including so many names of people involved in cultic duties was not necessarily the importance of the names themselves, but rather to “stress that the post-exilic community was primarily a religious community” (p.276).

In any case, the gatekeepers who were stationed at the king’s gate (on the east side) were:

  • Shallum, the chief of the gatekeepers;
  • Akkub;
  • Talmon;
  • Ahiman;
  • And their kinsmen.

The gatekeepers working in the Levite camp who were in charge of the services, and who were the keepers of the thresholds of the tent, were the Korahites. They were led by Shallum son of Kore, son of Ebiasaph, son of Korah. Previously, their leader had been Phinehas son of Eleazar, “the Lord was with him” (1 Chron. 9:20). This would be the Phinehas from Numbers who murdered Zimri and his Moabite lover/wife Cozbi in Num. 25:7-8, thereby ending God’s plague du jour.

Jewish captives with camel and baggage on their way into exile. Detail of the Assyrian conquest of the Jewish fortified town of Lachish (battle 701 BCE) Part of a relief from the palace of Sennacherib at Niniveh, Mesopotamia (Iraq)

Jewish captives with camel and baggage on their way into exile. Detail of the Assyrian conquest of the Jewish fortified town of Lachish (battle 701 BCE) Part of a relief from the palace of Sennacherib at Niniveh, Mesopotamia (Iraq)

Finally, we have Zechariah son of Meshelemiah, who was the gatekeeper at the entrance of the tent of meeting.

There were 212 gatekeepers in total. The text here tells us that these offices were established by David and the prophet Samuel, despite the inclusion of Phinehas among their number above. They were arranged into four groups, each being in charge of a cardinal direction, and each having its own chief. These four chief gatekeepers were Levites (does that mean that the others weren’t? Or didn’t need to be?), and they were also in charge of both chamber and treasury of the temple. 

These gatekeepers had to lodge near (or perhaps within the broader complex) of the temple, so that they could be present to watch over the temple – as was their duty – and to open the gates every morning. But lest they become lonely, their kinsmen were required to come in from their respective villages once every seven days to be with them. 

Those who were in charge of the utensils used in cultic services were required to count them whenever they were brought in or out. Others were in charge of the furniture, others of the vittles. The sons of the priests were in charge of mixing the spices, and Mattithiah son of Shallum the Korathite was in charge of making the flat cakes. Other Kohathites were in charge of preparing show-bread for each sabbath.

After the gatekeepers, we get the singers, who were also Levites. They lived in the temple, and “were on duty day and night” (1 Chron. 9:33) as musicians, and therefore had no other responsibilities.

Before we leave the Levites, James Pate brings up an interesting point about which group(s) were to have the high priesthood, and that there seems to have been different opinions on the matter:

Should it go through Aaron’s son Ithamar (through whom Eli and Abiathar came), or Aaron’s son Eleazar (though whom Phinehas and, according to the Chronicler, Zadok came)?  I’m not saying that there is any place in the Hebrew Bible that supports Ithamar, but it is interesting to me that Ithamar’s descendants were the high priests in I-II Samuel, when God had promised Eleazar’s son Phinehas an everlasting priesthood in Numbers 25:13, plus Phinehas appears to be the high priest in Judges 20:28.  What happened to Phinehas?  Was the priesthood taken away from him and given to Ithamar’s line?  Could the Jewish story of how God removed God’s presence from Phinehas be (at least in part) an attempt to address this question?  In any case, Phinehas’ line got the high priesthood back, assuming that Zadok was the descendant of Phinehas.

The Family of Saul

Without any segue, we move from a listing of the returnees back in time to another genealogy of Saul, a repetition (with differences) of 1 Chron. 8:29-40. It seems significant that the return is bracketed by Israel’s first king.

We open in Gibeon with Jeiel, called the father of Gibeon. With his wife, Maacah, Jeiel’s sons were: Abdon, Zur, Kish, Baal, Ner, Nadab, Gedor, Ahio, Zechariah (who appears as Zecher in 1 Chron. 8:31), and Mikloth. The addition of Ner to the sons of Jeiel is rather important, since it connects Saul’s lineage directly to Jeiel (which 1 Chron. 8 fails to do).

Mikloth fathered Shimeam (who appears as Shimeah in 1 Chron. 8:32), while Ner fathered Kish. Kish was the father of Saul. Saul, in turn, fathered Jonathan, Malchishua, Abinadab, and Eshbaal.

Jonathan fathered Meribbaal, who fathered Micah. Micah fathered Pithon, Melech, Tahrea, and Ahaz. Ahaz fathered Jarah (who appears as Jehoaddah in 1 Chron. 8:36), and Jarah fathered Alemeth, Azmaveth, and Zimri. Zimri fathered Mozam (who appears as Moza in 1 Chron. 8:36) who fathered Binea. From Binea, we get Rephaiah (who appears as Rephah in 1 Chron. 8:37), from whom we get Eleasah, who fathered Azel. Azel fathered Azrikam, Bocheru, Ishmael, Sheariah, Obadiah, and Hanan.

We are now officially up to date and ready to begin the narrative portion of the book!

1 Chronicles 7: The Northern Tribes

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We continue our tour of Israel’s genealogical history with the northern tribes: Issachar, Benjamin, Naphtali, Ephraim, and Asher. These get much more of a cursory treatment than we’ve seen previously, likely because of the Chronicler’s dismissive attitude toward the tribes who rebelled against David’s dynasty to form what would eventually become Samaria.

Issachar

The first part of Issachar’s portion corresponds to Genesis 46:13 and Numbers 26:23-25, with some variations. The sons of Issachar are listed as:

  1. Tola
  2. Puah, who is listed as Puvah in both Genesis and Numbers
  3. Jashub, whom the Masoretic Text calls Iob in Genesis
  4. Shimron

In the next generation, Tola’s sons are: Uzzi, Rephaiah, Jeriel, Jahmai, Ibsam, and Shemuel. They are identified as mighty warriors, with 22,600 of them in David’s time.

The line then goes through Tola’s son Uzzi, to Izrahiah. Izrahiah’s sons are: Michael, Obadiah, Jowl, and Isshiah, which the text claims are five, rather than the four we see (1 Chron. 7:3). Along with them (presumably meaning down through their descendants) were 36,000 men ready to fight, “for they had many wives and sons” (1 Chron. 7:4).

Issachar as a whole produced 87,000 mighty warriors.

Benjamin

Benjamin’s inclusion here is a bit weird, since the tribe’s genealogy will be revisited in more detail – getting a whole chapter to itself – in 1 Chron. 8. Some commentaries argue that the Chronicler was simply continuing the source that was used for Issachar, then moved on to a different source later for Benjamin, which would explain why the two version differ so greatly.

Other commentaries argue that a textual corruption or initial error led to this section being misnamed, and that it was originally meant to be Zebulun. This theory is reinforced by the fact that Zebulun is otherwise not represented, and because this coverage of Benjamin occurs where Zebulun “might be expected from the geographical point of view” (New Bible Commentary, p.374).

The problem with the Zebulun theory is , of course, that there are no similarities between the lineage listed here and the ones attributed to Zebulun in Gen. 46:14 and Num. 26:26-27. There are quite a few discrepancies with what we’ve seen so far as Benjamin, but at least there are some points of similarity.

We begin with the sons of Benjamin: Bela, Becher, and Jediael. Jediael is missing from the Gen. 46:21 version, and eight of Benjamin’s sons listed there are missing here. Only Bela is listed in the Num. 26:38-41 version, with the other four sons listed there being absent here.

Bela’s sons: Ezbon, Uzzi, Uzziel, Jerimoth, and Iri, who became the heads of their houses and who are described as mighty warriors. Their number was 22,034. In support of the theory that the Chronicler simply kept copying from whatever source he was using for Issachar, I noticed that the formula is clearly the same between these two sections.

Becher’s sons: Zemirah, Joash, Eliezer, Elioenai, Omri, Jeremoth, Abijah, Anathoth, and Alemeth. They were also mighty warriors, and they numbered 20,200.

Jediael’s sons: Bilhan. Tracing down through Bilhan, we get Jeush, Benjamin, Ehud, Chenaanah, Zethan, Tarshish, and Ahishahar. These, too, were mighty warriors, and their number was 17,200.

At the very end of the section, we get a single verse identifying Shuppim and Huppim as the sons of Ir, and Hushim as the son of Aher. I think. The phrasing is very awkward and likely a corruption. My New Bible Commentary proposes that these may have been intended as a genealogy of Dan, since that tribe doesn’t appear here either (p.374).

Arguing against, we have the fact that the names are rather similar to ones previously connected to Benjamin: Shuppim could be related to Muppim and Huppim appears directly in Gen. 46:21. Then, in Numbers 26:38-41, we get Shephupham and Hupham.

Arguing in favour, we have Hashum listed as the son of Dan in Gen. 46:23, and Shuham in Num. 26:42. On a phonetic basis alone, it seems like a toss up.

Naphtali

If it really is the case that 1 Chron. 7:12 was meant to be a summary of Dan, it wouldn’t have gotten any less of a treatment than Naphtali. Of this tribe, we are told only that the sons of Naphtali are named Jahziel, Guni, Jezer, and Shallum, and that Bilhah (Jacob’s concubine, a slave belonging to his wife Rachel) is their tribal matriarch.

This is notable only because it is the first time the tribal mother is named. Though it is likely just because it was in the Chronicler’s source, rather than for any particular intentional reason. (It is perhaps worth noting that Gen. 46:24-25 specifically mentions Bilhah.)

The names are the same as those found in Gen. 46:24-25 and Num. 26:48-49, with only a spelling variation for Jahziel (Jahzeel) and Shallum (Shillem).

Manasseh

Manasseh’s records are split in half, with the Transjordan portion of the tribe having been covered in 1 Chron. 5:23-26. Here, we get the half from the western bank of the Jordan. Manasseh’s lineage is also discussed in Num. 26:29-33 and Jos. 17:1-13, but there are only passing similarities to this one.

Jacob Blessing His Sons, by Harry Anderson

Jacob Blessing His Sons, by Harry Anderson

Manasseh seems to have found himself an Aramean concubine, which is rather strange. According to James Pate, Manasseh should have spent his whole life in Egypt. “Egypt is far away from Aram: Egypt is to the south of Palestine, whereas Aram (Syria) is to Palestine’s north.” The obvious solution, which Pate points to, is that she came to Egypt through a trade route.

When we get to the genealogy, it’s rather convoluted, and I suspect that we have another instance of corruption. Manasseh, apparently via his Aramean concubine, had two sons: Asriel and Machir. Machir went on to become the father of Gilead, and he seems to have taken a wife from Huppim and one from Shuppim. I think. The phrasing is very odd, and it’s doubly odd to encounter that pair of names again.

Of the mention of Gilead, we can either take that as the literal son of Machir, or as an indication that it is through the descendants of Machir that the location of Gilead would be founded (even though Gilead is named as a literal son who fathers literal children in Num. 26:29-33).

Machir had a sister named Maacah, who was also his wife, or perhaps there are two women named Maacah. It wouldn’t be implausible for him to have married his sister (or half-sister), though. Abraham did it (Gen. 20:12), and Moses hasn’t delivered the laws prohibiting it yet. In any case, Machir and his wife Maacah bore Peresh, and Peresh had a brother by the name of Sheresh (who may or may not have been Maacah’s).

In the middle of this, there is a fragment of a sentence identifying a “second” by the name of Zelophehad who had daughters (1 Chron. 7:15).One possibility that I can see is that Manasseh had one son with a woman who was not Aramean (Asriel), and two sons with woman who was Aramean (Machir and Zelophehad). Zelophehad had only daughters, whereas we shall continue on down Machir’s lineage. Except, of course, that there is a Zelophehad in Num. 26:29-33 who also has only daughters, but he is the son of Hepher, who is the son of Gilead, who is the son of Machir (it is Zelophehad’s daughters who prompt Moses to include women in his inheritance laws in Numbers 27, with an amendment in Numbers 36). That’s the best sense I can make of this passage. 

Back to Machir’s sons, Peresh and Sheresh. One of them – it’s unclear which – fathered Ulam and Rakem. Ulam then fathered Bedan.

Machir also had another sister, by the name of Hammolecheth. She bore Ishhod, Abiezer, and Mahlah.

Someone named Shemida apparently had four sons: Ahian, Shechem, Likhi, and Aniam. This doesn’t jive particularly well with Num. 26:29-33, where Machir is the father of Gilead, and both Shechem and Shemida are the sons of Gilead.

Ephraim

Ephraim’s genealogy appears to be a vertical genealogy, from father to son to grandson and so on, but there are hints that this may not be the case. That, instead, all the names are intended to be Ephraim’s direct sons. For now, I’ll proceed with the assumption that we are dealing with a vertical lineage, beginning with Ephraim:

  1. Shuthelah, who is the only of Ephraim’s descendants to make the list in Num. 26:35-37.
  2. Bered
  3. Tahath
  4. Eleadah
  5. Tahath
  6. Zabad
  7. Shuthelah

From Shuthelah, we get Ezer and Elead. These two were killed by the native Gathites in a failed cattle raid. Here is where things get complicated, as we are told that “Ephraim their father mourned many days” (1 Chron. 7:22).

If Ezer and Elead are meant to be Ephraim’s direct sons, then we have a couple problems. Firstly, it would suggest that all the other names I have listed so far are also Ephraim’s sons. Second, we might ask ourselves what sons of Ephraim were doing in Gath. It’s rather far to go for a cattle raid! James Pate discusses the issue in more detail.

After Ezer and Elead, we move on to another of Ephraim’s sons (this time, the formulation of how he “went in to” his wife makes it quite clear that we are dealing with a literal son), Beriah. Beriah was so named “because evil had befallen his house” (1 Chron. 7:23). Apparently, Beriah can either mean “a gift” or “in evil,” which seems rather ambiguous to me.

Beriah had a daughter, named Sheerah (no, not that one), who built both Lower and Upper Beth-horon, as well as Uzzen-sheerah. If she is historical, it sounds like she might have been a Deborah-like figure, perhaps a local leader or judge.

Down through Beriah’s sons, we get the same problem as above where the grammar lends itself to both vertical and horizontal interpretations. However, since we end with Joshua, it seems likely that this is a vertical lineage. From Beriah, we get:

  1. Rephah
  2. Resheph
  3. Telah
  4. Tahan
  5. Ladan
  6. Ammihud
  7. Elishama
  8. Nun
  9. Joshua

The Joshua who served Moses was also identified as a son of Nun (e.g. Num. 11:28), indicating that this is a lineage of that figure.

We finish up the section with a list of settlements belonging to Ephraim and Manasseh.

Ephraim’s list bears little resemblance, as far as I can tell, to the one found in Jos. 16:5-10. My sources, however, claim that the two lists are generally in agreement. I’m assuming that the territory described must be similar, even if the markers named are different:

  • Bethel
  • Naaran (a Naarah appears in Jos. 16:7)
  • Gezer (Gezer appears in Jos. 16:10)
  • Shechem
  • Ayyah

Manasseh’s list corresponds to Jos. 17:11, and the match is much more comfortable:

  • Beth-shean
  • Taanach
  • Megiddo
  • Dor

Asher

Asher’s genealogy mostly corresponds to those found in Gen. 46:17 and Num. 26:44-46. The sons of Asher are listed as: Imnah, Ishvah, Ishvi, Beriah, and their sister Serah. The only variation here is that Ishvah does not appear in Numbers (though I think it plausible that Ishvah is a duplication of Ishvi that became canon).

In the next generation, we get the sons of Beriah: Heber and Malchiel. Again, this is in agreement.

After that, 1 Chron. 7 gives us new material. Malchiel fathered Birzaith, and Heber fathered Japhlet, Shomer, Hotham, and a daughter, Shua.

Japhlet, in turn, fathered Pasach, Bimhal, and Ashvath, while his brother Shomer (here named Shemer – 1 Chron. 7:32-34) fathered Rohgah, Jehubbah, and Aram.

Another man, here called “his brother” (1 Chron. 35) Helem fathered Zophah, Imna, Shelesh, and Amal. It’s possible that Japhlet and Shemer had another brother who was not listed above, but given the corruption of Shomer/Shemer in the space of just two verses, I think it probable that Helem is a corruption of Hotham (or vice versa).

From there, we get the sons of Zophah: Suah, Harnepher, Shual, Beri, Imrah, Bezer, Hod, Shamma, Shilshah, Ithran, and Beera.

After that, we skip over to someone named Jether, whose sons are Jephunneh, Pispa, and Ara. Then someone named Ulla fathered Arah, Hanniel, and Rizia.

We return to the formula of Issachar and Benjamin to learn that the men of of Asher were mighty warriors, and that they had 26,000 men enrolled by genealogies as ready to fight.

2 Samuel 13: The rape of Tamar

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The following chapter is a rather horrible story of the royal family, and comes with a major content note for rape and incest.

Since familial relationships are important, here’s a refreshment from 2 Sam. 3:2-3: David’s eldest son is Amnon, born of his wife Ahinoam. We aren’t given any information about Ahinoam, except that she is from Jezreel. His next son is Chileab, born to Abigail. Since he doesn’t come up again, it seems likely that he died at some point prior to the events in this chapter (perhaps as an infant). His third son is Absalom, born to Maacah. Maacah is the daughter of Talmai, the king of Geshur. Tamar, who was not listed in 2 Sam. 3 but features prominently in this chapter, is also the daughter of Maacah.

Assuming that Ahinoam, Abigail, and Maacah are all full legal wives (as opposed to concubines), the assumed succession would place Amnon first in line, followed by Chileab, then Absalom. Since Chileab is never mentioned and presumed deceased, that leaves Amnon and Absalom poised to take Israel’s crown if David dies. There’s a little more information on what might have been the inheritance practice in Deut. 21:15-17, though that doesn’t seem directed at the monarchy.

According to a somewhat plausible timeline ( I say “somewhat plausible” because I can see at least one spot where two years magically disappear), Amnon and Absalom are somewhere on the short side of 20 years old during the events of this chapter. Tamar is presumably around the same age, though she could be older since only the births of David’s sons are recorded. It’s possible that she was born while David was still or the lam or during his time with the Philistines, whereas her brothers weren’t born until David’s stay in Hebron. Of course, she could also be younger.

The sham illness

The text tells us that Amnon falls in love with his half-sister, Tamar. “Love,” I assume, is being used euphemistically. But he laments that, because she is a virgin, “it seemed impossible to Amnon to do anything to her” (2 Sam. 13:2). Note that he wants to do something “to” her. That’s not love.

It’s possible that, when he says that it is “impossible” to do anything to his sister, he is referencing prohibitions like Lev. 18:11 or Deut. 27:22. Of course, little seems to have been made of Sarah’s marriage to her half-brother, Abraham, in Genesis, so it could be that the prohibition came later, or that it was an acknowledged practice that certain religious authorities were trying to curb.

But that assumes that his feeling really is love, and that his intention is marriage. I don’t think that’s the case. Rather, I suspect that he is referring to how secluded or protected David’s virgin daughters are. They may be kept away from men, and perhaps are rarely alone. In other words, I think his complaint has more to do with his lack of access, rather than social mores standing in the way between him and the object of his “love.”

He complains about this to his cousin, Jonadab (who is the son of David’s brother, Shimeah, named in 1 Sam. 17:13). Jonadab has a reputation for being a “very crafty man” (2 Sam. 13:3), and he comes up with a plan: Amnon is to take to his bed and feign sickness, then request that he be cared for by Tamar.

As per Jonadab’s instructions, Amnon takes to his bed. When David comes to check in on him, he asks that Tamar be sent to cook for him and feed him. Tamar is sent, and Amnon watches her make cakes. He then sends all of his servants out, and tells Tamar to come close to hand feed him. When she does, he grabs her.

There are two injustices at play in the story. The first is, of course, that Amnon clearly intends to rape Tamar. The second is that Tamar is well aware of the fact that she will lose all status and social support if she attacked by Amnon. In Tamar’s mind, at least, the second is the greater injustice. When she begs for Amnon to stop, she implores him to ask David for permission to marry (a rapist with a wedding band is still a rapist, but at least he would not be taking everything else from her as well). As above, it’s unclear whether marriage to half-siblings was permitted at this time, or if she was trying to convince Amnon that David would grant a special dispensation.

Whether Amnon is uninterested in marriage or doesn’t believe that David would allow the union, he ignores her. “Being stronger than she, he forced her, and lay with her” (2 Sam. 13:14).

Depiction of the rape, by Eustache Le Sueur, c.1640

Depiction of the rape, by Eustache Le Sueur, c.1640

The text tells us that when Amnon is done, his love turns into an even greater hate. It could be that he is projecting his own self-hate for his actions or, I think more likely, his previous “love” was just a form of hate. He hated Tamar for being simultaneously desirable and unavailable. This king of love/hate is a social problem we are still very much dealing with today.

Having taken from her what he wanted, Amnon orders Tamar to leave. She begs him to at least mitigate the damage of his actions, because “this wrong in sending me away is greater than the other which you did to me” (2 Sam. 13:16). Once again, we see here the interplay between the two injustices – the personal and the social. By sending her away, Amnon is refusing to marry her (which would be required as per Deut. 22:28-29). He is using social morality to further victimize her – not just humiliating and violating her, but crushing her entirely as a person of worth in her society. And it is his society that gave him this power by diminishing/removing her value for his actions.

Rather than hear her protests, Amnon has his servants throw her out of his house and bolt the door behind her.

Tamar rends her clothes and puts ashes on her head, symbols of mourning. I’ve read some describe this seen as a mourning for her virginity, but I don’t think that’s quite right. Since Tamar is now considered “damaged goods” and, unless Amnon changes is mind, is now ineligible for marriage, she is effectively dead in a social way. She cannot marry, she cannot have children, she has been cut off from normal social participation. It is that life, and the lives of the family she will never have and that will never be born, that she is mourning. Take away all the loss implied by her lack of virginity and she would have nothing to mourn. She could focus on healing from her attack and then, in time, resume her life. But it is her society, its fetishizing of virginity, and its lack of recognition of women as people worthy of respect in their own right that gives her a tangible construct to mourn. I really can’t harp on this enough – evil as Amnon is, how much more evil is the social context that has given him so much power to destroy Tamar!

Tamar doesn’t go to David, and no reason is given for this. Perhaps she knew what his reaction would be, or perhaps she was too ashamed. Instead, she goes to her brother Absalom’s house. When he hears what happened, Absalom tells his sister, “Now hold your peace, my sister; he is your brother; do not take this to heart” (2 Sam. 13:20). To me, this response just sounds incredibly callous. In light of his later actions, some apparently take his words as comfort and reassurance that something will be done, but that’s not how it struck me. In fact, Absalom’s response is eerily similar to what friends have heard in the aftermath of their rapes – men, relatives and friends, telling them not to make sure a big deal of it. After all, it was “only” their boyfriend, husband, doctor, and it was “only” sex/touching.

David’s reaction appears to be even worse. In my version, the text merely tells us that he was angry, nothing else. It doesn’t seem that he actually does anything, either to protect Tamar or to punish Amnon. The Hebrew Masoretic text leaves it there, but the LXX and Dead Sea Scrolls tell us explicitly that David decided not to punish Amnon “because he loved him, for he was his firstborn” (2 Sam. 13:21). In other words, he is choosing to shelter a rapist because of his own personal feelings for him – another behaviour for which we have plenty of modern examples (and, as an atheist, I’d say this is a pretty good parallel to what has been happening regarding Michael Shermer’s rape of a drunk woman and his subsequent protection by many of the most powerful and influential men in the atheist movement, including James Randi and Richard Dawkins). At no point does David express his love or sympathy for his daughter, Tamar. In fact, at no point is she referred to as David’s daughter, merely Absalom and Amnon’s sister.

It’s notable how similar Amnon’s crime is to David’s. Amnon’s attack on Tamar was unambiguously rape, but I think that there’s a fairly strong case to be made that David’s relationship with Bathsheba began as rape as well (including the sending her away so that she had to contact him by messenger to notify him of her pregnancy). This makes David’s refusal to punish Amnon and protect Tamar even more pointed.

For his own part, Absalom is outraged, but he bides his time.

Revenge

Two years pass.

Absalom’s sheepshearers are apparently having a festival, presumably something like Nabal’s sheepshearing festival in 1 Sam. 25:4-8. He invites David and all of his brothers to come, but David refuses, expressing concern that it would be “burdensome” to have so many of them there. He could suspect what Absalom has in mind, or perhaps he is nervous at the idea of having so much of the royal family in one place that is not as well fortified as Jerusalem. If David won’t come, says Absalom, couldn’t Amnon at least make it? David agrees.

At the festival, Absalom gets Amnon nice and drunk, then commands his servants to kill him, finally avenging Tamar. Though I am sure the fact that Amnon’s death puts Absalom first in line for Israel’s crown didn’t escape him.

David’s other sons mount their mules and flee, though they apparently do so quite slowly. Word reaches David that Absalom has started killing his brothers before any of those brothers make it home, so David believes that Absalom has murdered them all. He rends his clothes and lies on the ground, but Jonadab, clever as always, seems to guess at what is really going on. He explains to David that only Amnon has been murdered, killed for his rape of Tamar. He is proven right when David’s other sons come riding home.

Absalom flees to his maternal grandfather, Talmai, the king of Geshur, and remains there for three years. The final verse is a little confusing, but the meaning I drew from it is that David grieved for Amnon (or perhaps for his rift with Absalom), but eventually longed to be reunited with his son. David, once again, is inhumanely practical – quickly forgetting about his dead children (and ignoring the female children entirely).

I mentioned that Tamar’s rape could have been seen by Absalom as an excuse to move against his older brother. There could also be a class issue at play: Absalom and Tamar’s mother was a princess, so they are royalty through both parents. Amnon’s mother, by contrast, was merely from Jezreel. It could be that the recourse of murder was motivated not just by Amnon’s crime, but also Absalom’s own feelings that Amnon was heir to the throne and had forced himself on a woman who would, almost certainly, have otherwise been married to a king.

Numbers 34: Redistribution of wealth

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It’s not even theirs yet, but the Israelites have decided that it’s already time to start planning how they will divvy up the loot. There’s a relevant saying, something about chickens hatching.

They begin by setting out the boundaries of the ideal Israelite country:

  1. The southern side should include some of the wilderness of Zin, along the border of Edom. The boundary will start in the east from the southern tip of the Salt Sea (which some translations give as the Dead Sea), then south of Akrabbim, cross the wilderness of Zin, and south of Kadeshbarnea. From there, it should go on to Hazaraddar, and then on from Azmon to the Brook of Egypt (which may be the Nile, or something else, who knows?), ending at the Mediterranean.
  2. The western boundary should be the coast of the Mediterranean.
  3. The northern side should run from the Mediterranean to Mount Hor (which is confusing because the Mount Hor we’ve been reading about is to the south of Canaan. Apparently, there are two of them?). From there, the boundary goes out to the entrance of Hamath, ending at Zedad. It then goes to Ziphron, ending at Hazarenan.
  4. The eastern boundary should run from Hazarenan to Shepham, then down to Riblah (on the east side of Ain), and then along the slopes east of the Sea of Chinnereth (which some translations give as the Sea of Galilea). Then hit should head down along the Jordan and end at the Salt/Dead Sea.

According to my Study Bible, the northern border wasn’t actually reached until the time of David – citing 2 Sam. 8:3-14 and 1 Kg. 8:65 (p.210). If true, that leaves us with two options: Either the boundaries presented here are an accidental anachronism written by someone living after the time of David, or the boundaries were written in/modified to legitimize Israelite claims to those lands.

Gad, Reuben, and half of Manasseh have all gotten their spots already, so they don’t have to be part of this process. The Levites are also excluded because, as with the census, they get their own chapter. For the rest, God selects a leader for each tribe to handle the assigning of lands:

  • Judah: Caleb, son of Jephunneh
  • Simeon: Shemuel, son of Ammihud
  • Benjamin: Elidad, son of Kislon
  • Dan: Bukki, son of Jogli
  • Joseph, Manasseh: Hanniel, son of Ephod
  • Joseph, Ephraim: Kemuel, son of Shiphtan
  • Zebulun: Elizaphan, son of Parnak
  • Issachar: Paltiel, son of Azzan
  • Asher: Ahihud, son of Shelomi
  • Naphtali: Pedahel, son of Ammihud

Numbers 9-10: Blowing the horns

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In the first month of the second year since they came out of Egypt, God decides that it’s time to remind the Israelites about celebrating Passover – you know, that time that God murdered a whole bunch of children – on the 14th.

But we get half a story in which some men had become “unclean” by touching a dead body. No word on whose body – it’s really just a set up for Moses to go to God for a revision of the Passover requirement. God amends his requirement by making an allowance for people – like the men – who have recently had contact with a dead body. They are excused from celebrating Passover in the first month, but must celebrate it on the 14th of the second month instead.

This same allowance is made for those “afar off on a journey” (v.10), which seems to presuppose a settled population.

I find this passage rather interesting, theologically speaking. It tells me that God’s law is not immutable, but rather is subject to change and refinement as new situations are encountered. So when believers say that they are anti-abortion, anti-contraception, anti-stem cell research, anti-homosexual marriage, anti-evolution, etc because the Bible says so (to the extent that it actually does), it seems that they are ignoring the precedent of continued revelation.

Then again, a situation where any power-hungry con-artist can claim to be a recipient of revelation in the Mosaic sense scares the holy bejeezus out of me.

The last note on the Passover is that it is also a requirement for the sojourners – the non-Hebrews in Israel. As usual, I can’t help but note my distaste for religious laws that are forced on people outside the denomination, but in this case there’s an added frightening dimension – we read in Exodus 12:48 that “when a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, then he may come near and keep it […] But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it.” That’s right, folks: Anyone who wants to live in Israel – due to the mix of passover laws – must get a part of his penis cut off.

Bronze Aged GPS

Travelling back in time again to the day the tabernacle was set up, God’s cloud pillar takes up residence over the tent of testimony, and it looks like fire at night so it could still be seen. As we’ve read several times already, when the cloud moves, the people move. We then get a really long passage about how the people followed the cloud even when it stood in place for a long time, and even when it moved quickly. Kind of like a really long game of Red Light / Green Light.

The silver trumpets

God tells Moses to make two silver trumpets. These are to be used to summon the congregation, as well as for breaking up camp. If both trumpets are blown, all the men have to gather at the entrance of the tent of meeting. But if only one is blown, then only the tribal leaders meet.

Image source unknown

Image source unknown

Aaron and sons are to be the trumpet-blowers and the trumpeting is a “perpetual statute.”

Using a trumpet to call the whole population together makes no sense whatsoever for a settled population, which would be spread out over too great a distance. But when we discussed how people “on a journey” are to participate in the Passover in Numbers 9:10, it made no sense in a nomadic context. I’m finding the books from Exodus onwards to be an interesting hodge-podge of passages that were clearly written at a much later date than the events they purport to describe, yet some are more ambiguous – either originally from a nomadic period in Hebrew history, or added in an attempt at verisimilitude.

But back to the trumpets, they can be blown for all sorts of reasons, from signalling the beginning  of the month, signalling an appointed feast, whenever a burnt or peace offering is made, or even just “on the day of your gladness” (v.10).

They are also to be brought along and blown when the Israelites go to war “in your land against the adversary who oppresses you” (v.9). Who is this referring to? The earliest “adversary” to oppress the Israelites in their own land that I can think of would be the Assyrians, starting around the 8th century BCE. So, prophecy or a really late composition date?

Moving out

On the 20th day of the 2nd month of the second year (which, according to my Study Bible, would put it at 11 months after the arrival at Sinai and 19 days after the census – p.176), the God’s cloud finally moves and the people follow it – going from the wilderness of Sinai to the wilderness of Paran.

The tribes move out as follows:

  1. Judah, led by Nahshon, son of Amminadab.
  2. Issachar, led by Nethanel, son of Zuar.
  3. Zebulun, led by Eliab, son of Helon.
  4. The sons of Gershon.
  5. The sons of Merari.
  6. Reuben, led by Elizur, son of Shedeur.
  7. Simeon, led by Shelumiel, son of Zurishaddai.
  8. Gad, led by Eliasaph, son of Deuel.
  9. The sons of Kohath.
  10. Ephraim, led by Elishama, son of Ammihud.
  11. Manasseh, led by Gamaliel, son of Pedahzur.
  12. Benjamin, led by Abidan, son of Gideoni.
  13. Dan, led by Ahiezer, son of Ammishaddai.
  14. Asher, led by Pagiel, son of Ocran.
  15. Naphtali, led by Ahira, son of Enan.

In Numbers 2, we read that all the Levites would travel along with the tabernacle in the centre of the column. Yet in this list, we can clearly see that the sons of Gershon and Merari are quite a bit ahead of the Kohathites.

In any case, we’re told that the Hebrews walked for the next three days. Whenever they set out, Moses says:

Arise, O Lord, and let thy enemies be scattered; and let them that hate thee flee before thee.

And whenever they stop, Moses says:

Return, O Lord, to the ten thousand thousands of Israel.

Trouble with the in-laws

In the middle of all this, we get a quick partial narrative of Moses conversing with his father-in-law, here called Hobab, son of Reuel the Midianite, though his name is Jethro in:

And his name is Reuel in Exodus 2:18-21.

Well, in any case, his name is Hobab now. So Hobab tells Moses that he doesn’t want to go on with the Israelites, but instead would like to go back to his homeland and be with his kindred.

Moses argues that he must come along – “for you know how we are to encamp in the wilderness, and you will serve as eyes for us” (v.31). Most translations have this as “you know where we should camp,” which changes the meaning quite a bit, and creates a rather large theological issue given all the blathering about God’s cloud being their GPS. Of course, saying that they need Hobab so that they know how to camp isn’t much better, since they’ve been camping for two years now and really should have the hang of it. I don’t quite see poor Hobab having to go out to 603,550 tents every evening to show them how to pitch.

It also creates an additional problem of narrative consistency. Hobab – or, rather, Jethro – has already left. In Exodus 18:27, we read:

Then Moses let his father-in-law depart, and he went his way to his own country.

Moses continues to argue that if Hobab tags along, he will get all the same benefits from God as the Israelites. You know, like spending another 38 years in the desert eating nothing but bug poop and the occasional quail (yet to come), and likely dying before they ever get anywhere even remotely Promised (also yet to come). Yaaaay….

If I had to venture a guess, between the lack of narrative consistency and the unique name, I would assume that this little passage is from a much older tradition – one that did not include God’s cloud leading the people. Somehow, it made its way into the middle of this text, perhaps even cut out from somewhere else since the narrative doesn’t seem to have an ending – we’re never told whether Hobab was convinced by Moses’ arguments or not.

Numbers 7-8: Offerings and Consecrations

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We’ve been wandering in the desert of Leviticus for what seems like 40 years, but it looks like we’re finally ready to get back into the Exodus narrative. Numbers 7 picks up where Exodus 40:17 left off.

If you’ll remember, Moses had just built the tabernacle. We pick up the story later that same day, with each of the tribal leaders bringing covered wagons and oxen (for a total of 6 wagons and 12 oxen) for the Levites to use while moving the tabernacle.

  • The Gershonites get two wagons and four oxen.
  • The sons of Merari get four wagons and eight oxen.
  • The Kohathites get none, because the sacred stuff of the inner sanctuary must be carried on their shoulders.

With that done, each of the leaders takes turns making the following offerings:

  • 1 silver plate weighing 130 shekels, full of fine flour mixed with oil for a cereal offering.
  • 1 silver basin weighing 70 shekels, also full of fine flour as above.
  • 1 gold dish of ten shekels, full of incense.
  • 1 young bull, 1 ram, and 1 year-old male lamb for burnt offerings.
  • 1 male goat for a sin offering.
  • 2 oxen, 5 rams, 5 male goats, and 5 male year-old lambs for peace offerings.

(As a side note, we see the specification that the shekels are “of the sanctuary,” which implies a fairly late composition date for the text – certainly far later than the events it purports to describe. We discussed this in more detail when we read Leviticus 27.)

Now, each leader makes the same set of offering, each one on a different day. In case you’re curious, that’s a total of 252 animals killed in a 12 day period. And yet the people are sticking to eating bug poop for some reason…

So here’s the order of offerings:

  1. Nahshon, son of Amminadab, leader of Judah.
  2. Nethanel, son of Zuar, leader of Issachar.
  3. Eliab, son of Helon, leader of Zebulun.
  4. Elizur, son of Shedeur, leader of Reuben.
  5. Shelumiel, son of Zurishaddai, leader of Simeon.
  6. Eliasaph, son of Deuel, leader of Gad.
  7. Elishama, son of Ammihud, leader of Ephraim.
  8. Gamaliel, son of Pedahzur, leader of Manasseh.
  9. Abidan, son of Gideoni, leader of Benjamin.
  10. Ahiezer, son of Ammishaddai, leader of Dan.
  11. Pagiel, son of Ocran, leader of Asher.
  12. Ahira, son of Enan, leader of Naphtali.

In true biblical tradition, we’re given the full list of offerings with each tribe – even though it’s the exact same list each time – and then once more as a summary of what all the tribes gave, just for good measure.

A note on holiness and consecration

We read about the ordination of the priests in Leviticus 8. In Numbers 8, we read about how they are consecrated – meaning that they are made sacred, which allows them to approach the holy areas and objects.

Replica of the Ark of the Covenant, George Washington Masonic National Memorial. Photo by Ben Schumin, 2006

Replica of the Ark of the Covenant, George Washington Masonic National Memorial. Photo by Ben Schumin, 2006

These days, we tend to associate the word “holy” with “good,” but that’s a fairly modern notion. When the Bible is talking about “holy,” it’s talking about “power” – specifically, supernatural power. This is what Raiders of the Lost Ark was drawing on.

Not to give too many spoilers, but when the ark was opened, Indy yells at Marion to close her eyes – because seeing the power of the ark would destroy her (as it destroys the Nazis). Marion and Indy are the good guys, and an understanding of “holy” as something that is righteous or morally good wouldn’t have allowed the ark to harm them. Instead, the ending would have played out more like the trial by ordeal that we saw in Numbers 5, in which the holy object would either kill the morally bad or preserve the morally good.

This is why we are told that, without the barrier of consecrated Levites, the Israelites would suffer a plague if they approach the sanctuary (v.19).

This sounds rather evil to my humanist sensibilities, but I think that the ancient Israelites would have seen it in the same way as we might see a nuclear power station. Only “consecrated” people may approach (people who have the right training and are wearing the right protection). If a lay person were just to walk in and start fiddling with stuff, they’d probably die – or at least get very sick. This notion of supernatural power does seem to strip God of agency, though. He is power, and contact with the wrong people would kill them whether he wants it to or not.

Make of that what you will.

The consecration of the priests

To consecrate your priest, do as follows:

  1. Sprinkle the “water of expiation” on them.
  2. Have them shave their entire body.
  3. Wash their clothes and their bodies.
  4. Fetch two young bulls and a cereal offering.
  5. Present the priest to the entire people, before the tent of meeting. At this time, all the people (all of them – all 603,550 of them, assuming that “people” refers to adult men) should come up and lay their hands on the new priests. This step could take a while.
  6. Aaron – or, I would assume, whoever happens to be high priest – should present the Levites as a wave offering. (Remember that wave offerings are not the offerings that get set on fire – a source of much relief to Levites through the ages, I am sure).
  7. The new priests should now lay their hands on the heads of the bulls.
  8. One bull should be offered as a sin offering, and the other as a burnt offering.

I think that the symbolism of most of these steps is pretty obvious, but step #2 does seem to confuse a few people. I’ve seen a couple commentaries asking why the priests have to shave their whole bodies, and what’s so evil about hair anyway. My assumption would be that hair is seen as a symbol of adulthood (within a couple days of birth, most babies are fairly hairless – at least as far as their bodies are concerned), so my assumption is that the point would be to make the priest “new” again, to give them a symbolic fresh start. We saw this same idea when we covered the Nazirite vow in Numbers 6 – if they are contaminated while under the vow, the Nazirite must shave their head and start growing it again from scratch.

Interestingly, this chapter gives the term of service to the sanctuary for Levites as being from age 25 to 50 (with some duties outside of the sanctuary after 50 – no retirement for these guys, I’m afraid), whereas the census of eligible Levites taken in Numbers 4 didn’t begin counting them until age 30. I’m assuming that this is due to the inclusion of two separate traditions, but it seems like something that would have been reflected by the practice at the time of the text’s composition…

Numbers 1-2: Sitting in his counting house, counting….

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As we get closer to Canaan, God needs a head count of all the “soldier-ready” people he has at his disposal. Looking at this chapter from a modern, cultural Christian vantage point, I find it rather troubling. Shouldn’t God already know how many people he has? Why does he need Moses to actually go out and physically count them? Well, for whatever reason, he does and so off goes Moses.

Since – as we shall soon see – there’s a whole lot of people to count. So God tells Moses to enlist the help of a representative from each tribe – the head of the ‘primary household,’ or, in biblical terms, “the head of the house of his fathers” (v.4). Since all of these helpers are listed, I figured I’d just lump them in with the population list and get it all over with at once:

  1. Tribe of Reuben, represented by Elizur son of Shadeur, has 46,500 members.
  2. Tribe of Simeon, represented by Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai, has 59,300 members.
  3. Tribe of Judah, represented by Nahshon son of Amminadab, has 74,600 members.
  4. Tribe of Issachar, represented by Nethaneel son of Zuar, has 54,400 members.
  5. Tribe of Zebulun, represented by Eliab son of Helon, has 57,400 members.
  6. Tribe of Joseph (through his son Ephraim), represented by Elishama son of Ammihud, has 40,500 members.
  7. Tribe of Joseph (through Manasseh), represented by Gamaliel son of Pedahzur, has 32,200 members.
  8. Tribe of Benjamin, represented by Abidan son of Gideoni, has 35,400 members.
  9. Tribe of Dan, represented by Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai, has 62,700 members.
  10. Tribe of Asher, represented by Pagiel son of Ocran, has 41,500 members.
  11. Tribe of Gad, represented by Eliasaph son of Deuel, has 45, 650 members.
  12. Tribe of Naphtali, represented by Ahira son of Enan, has 53,400 members.

I don’t know if there’s any significance to this, but the tribes are listed in the same order when the representatives are given as when the numbers are given – except for the tribe of Gad. Gad appears 11th in line in the first list, but 3rd in the second.

Another interesting detail here is that the Levites are not counted (they are in charge of the tabernacle and, therefore, not eligible as soldiers – which one might say is a sweet deal until one remembers the consequences of not lighting the incense properly. I’m not sure which is actually the more dangerous profession!). But because it’s really important to keep the number of tribes listed at 12, Joseph’s tribe is split in two.

That’s a lotta people!

At 603,550 people – counting only the men 20 years and older – that’s a whole lot of people. For an idea of what these numbers might mean, BibleSlam compares it to the numbers currently in the United States Armed Forces.

Numbers 1Not only is it a lot of people, it’s an impossible number of people. Keep in mind that we started with only 70 Hebrews just 400 years ago. So what’s going on here?

An easy explanation would be that this is supposed to be a miracle, reflecting God’s promise to Abraham about having as many descendants as there are grains of dust or stars in the sky, with a secondary miracle of God being able to sustain such numbers in the wilderness for so long.

My Study Bible has a possible alternative – that the Hebrew word translated as thousand “is an old term for a subsection of a tribe, based on the procedures for military muster employed by other ancient peoples” (p. 161). In other words, the actual number of men in the group is the second number presented, and the first number indicates how many “units” that number is divided into. For example, the tribe of Reuben has only 500 men, who are divided into 46 subsections. This gives us a much more reasonable total of 5,550 men.

The interpretation of the word as meaning an actual thousand may come from later, in the monarchy  period, when the size of a military unit was standardized to one thousand men.

This still leaves the problem of the nicely rounded numbers. If this were the record of a real census, rather than just ballpark estimates, we’d expect to see more variety.

A note on genre

Commenter Brian Hitt over at The King and I pointed out how similar this chapter is to Book 2 of the Iliad. He notes:

I learned that the purpose of this boring section comes from the medium of the Iliad’s telling. It was part of an oral tradition in which epic poems such as the Homeric Epics were performed by a bard for a gathering of people, often as part of a festival. The bard would list the contributions of the particular people groups (tribes if you will) so that his audience could say “Yeah! That’s us! Go you guys!” and feel connected to the story through their ancestors.

Some suggest that the bard wouldn’t include the entire list in every performance of the epic, it would be personalized for the audience. When the epic eventually got written down, all the different verses listing all the different tribes got included for completeness (reminds me of the extreme inclusiveness of the OT).

The ancient Israelites certainly had an oral tradition as well. I think we discussed how we get glimpses of it in Genesis. I wonder if the purpose of Numbers 1 was similar. To me this seems to point to genre conventions of ancient literature/folklore that were shared throughout the Mediterranean.

Food for thought.

Location, location, location

In Numbers 2, we get to find out that each tribe has a specific spot around the tabernacle. The Levites, who called ‘shotgun,’ get to be in the centre, of course. This is a replacement of the earlier tradition we saw in Exodus 33:7, where the tent of meeting was pitched outside of camp rather than in its centre.

Rather than list all the tribes again, I found this nifty graphic that makes the locations quite clear:

12TribesEncampment

 

I wondered why these locations, in particular, were assigned to each tribe, and I wondered if maybe it reflected their later territorial positions in relation to, say, Jerusalem once they’ve settled in Israel.

If you were to draw north-south/east-west axes with Jerusalem in the centre, here’s how the territorial distribution would look:

  • North-west quadrant: Benjamin, Ephraim, Manasseh, Zebulun, Asher.
  • North-east quadrant: Nephtali, Dan, Issachar, Manasseh, Benjamin, Gad.
  • South-west quadrant: Judah, Simeon.
  • South-east quadrant: Reuben.

Some connections match up, but it looks like statistical noise to me. So I’m back to square one on the great Camp Set-Up Mystery. Anyone have any answers?

When they travel, they have to move in the following order:

  1. The east group goes first.
  2. Then the south group.
  3. The Levites with the tabernacle travel in the middle.
  4. Then the west group.
  5. And the north group brings up the rear.