Deuteronomy 10-11: Circumcised Hearts

4 Comments

The scribe who makes poor partitioning decisions strikes again, and Deuteronomy 10 opens in the middle of the Golden Calf story from the last chapter. In this version of the story, Moses takes the credit for making the stone tables (blank, for God to write on) and the ark (Deut. 10:3). I’m sure that, if he were still alive, Bezazel would have loved to hear that.

Moses then talks about going to Moserah, where he says that Aaron died. He may be losing his memory a mite in his old age, though, since Num. 20:27-28 and Num. 33:38 are quite clear that Aaron died on mount Hor.

There’s some issues with the itinerary, as well. Deut. 10:6-7 has the journey going Beeroth Bene-jaakan > Moserah > Gudgodah > Jotbathah. Numbers 33:31-33, on the other hand, had the journey go Moseroth > Benejaakan > Horhagidgad > Jotbathah. Moses may be a fine prophet, but he’d be a terrible travel agent. I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere about this explaining the whole ’40 years in the desert’ thing, too, but I think that dead horse has been well-flogged.

According to Moses, it’s at Jotbathah that God “set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the Lord, to stand before the Lord to minister to him and to bless in his name” (Deut. 10:8). Of course, he’d done this way back in Numbers 3 (and arguably as early as Exodus 32:28-29), long before Aaron died and the people arrived at Jotbathah.

Flaws aside, the historical review we’ve just gotten is Moses’s way of setting the stage. He is explaining, in essence, why his listeners should care about what follows.

The Rules

Now that his listeners know why they should care about this God character and what he has to say, Moses moves on to give them some of God’s rules.

I was somewhat shocked that Moses begins his recitation of the rules by saying: “And if you will obey my commandments which I command you this day” (Deut. 11:13). Am I reading too much into this? Because it looks an awful lot like Moses is conflating himself (and his authority) with God – the same hubris that may or may not have spelled his death in Numbers 20 (depending on variation and interpretation, of course).

Moses and the Burning Bush, Bréviaire de Paris dit Bréviaire dit de Charles V [Breviarium Parisiense]

Moses and the Burning Bush, Bréviaire de Paris dit Bréviaire dit de Charles V [Breviarium Parisiense]

Moses next gives the reasons why the people should pay attention to and follow God’s/his rules. Firstly, because it’s “for your good” (Deut. 10:13). Of course, this brings to mind a twist of the Euthyphro dilemma – are the rules good for the people in their own right, or because of the punishment/reward system that God himself has created? Of course, that question is largely answered in Deut. 11, when we hear about all the nice things that the people will get in return for following the rules (v.8-12), and the punishments for failing to do so (v.16-17).

The easy rebuttal would be, I am sure, that if God has created the universe, then the natural consequences of an action would be every bit as much his imposition as an active reward/punishment. For example, stealing would only victimise someone because God has created a universe in which this is so. So I suppose that you have to have at least one foot in the naturalist philosophies before this discussion is even remotely interesting.

The actual rules that Moses felt were worthy of getting another mention include the hilarious: “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of you heart” (Deut. 10:16). Even more hilarious is that my Study Bible, which has allowed so many weird passages to go unaddressed, felt that this needed an explanation: “[It] means to open the mind, to direct the will toward God” (p.228). Yes, thank you, that was rather obvious. Or, as I interpreted it, it means that the outward expressions of worship aren’t enough. They must be accompanied by an internal devotion.

But I can just imagine the Study Bible planning committee meeting when they got to this line and someone said “Yeah, people are going to notice this one…”

Another rule that gets a mention is to: “Love the sojourner therefore; for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Deut. 10:19). As I’ve argued before, this is a lovely sentiment – really awesome! – but what it looks like in practice is more complicated. I discussed the problem at greater length when looking at Numbers 15.

Moses also gives the rule: “by his [God’s] name you shall swear” (Deut. 10:20). I may be wrong, but I think that this may be the first positive mention of swearing in God’s name. People are described as swearing or having to swear elsewhere, such as in Numbers 5 where women suspected of adultery must swear that they will suffer physical ills if they have been adulterous, but looking strictly at the mentions of swearing in God’s name, other mentions have always been proscriptive (such as the ordinance against swearing falsely in God’s name, found in Leviticus 19).

As far as I can think of, this is the only instance where people are told that they must swear, if they are to swear, in God’s name.

At the end of Deut. 10, Moses tells the people: “Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons; and now the Lord your God has made you as the stars of heaven for multitude” (v.22). It seems that Moses considers the promise to Abraham to be fulfilled at this point, either as the people sit on the border looking into the Promised Land, or at least once they’ve taken hold of it.

Dathan & Abiram

It wouldn’t be the Bible without a bit of gloating over fallen enemies. In Deut. 11, Moses reminds his audience of what happened to Dathan and Abiram, two of the men who rebelled way back in Numbers 16.

What’s really interesting about this passage is that the Numbers 16 version begins to tell a story about three rebels, Dathan, Abiram, and Korah. About midway through, Dathan and Abiram just disappear, and the rest of the chapter is all about Korah and Korah’s followers getting their comeuppance.

Here, however, Dathan and Abiram are the only rebels mentioned, with Korah nowhere in sight.

It’s a good reminder that, while I’ve been thinking of Deuteronomy as the latest of the Pentateuch books, the Bible is just not quite that simple. While the history recaps of the last few chapters have made clear that the authors of Deuteronomy had access to many of the same stories that we’ve covered in previous books, the errors make it clear that they did not have the texts as we have them now.

Abby, a commenter posting on the King and I project, brings this back around to the documentary hypothesis:

“You know what he did for you in the wilderness as you journeyed to this place, and what he did to Dathan and Abiram sons of Eliab, son of Reuben, when the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them in the sight of all Israel, together with their households and the tents and every living thing in their company.”
YEP thats a retelling of the J story, absent ANY detail from P’s.

In other words, the authors of Deuteronomy had a proto-Numbers, or perhaps just an isolated story, that hadn’t yet received a Korah injection.

I find it fascinating to think of the Bible as a living culture composed of many living units, each going through their lives, changing, growing, and coming together to form the whole that we’ve (some of us, at least) come to believe is a fossilized whole – written in stone, sometimes literally.

System of Magic

In Deut. 11, Moses compares Egypt to the Promised Land. While Egypt required irrigation – which involved watering crops through some amount of manual labour – God will take charge of crop watering in the Promised Land. Suddenly, God is wearing the mantle of a fertility/rain deity, promising a land that “drinks water by the rain from heaven, a land which the Lord your God cares for” (v.11-12). If God is displeased, he will “shut up the heavens, so that there be no rain, and the land yield no fruit” (v.17).

It makes God look an awful lot like other sorts of sky gods, like Hadad (who, according to wikipedia, could also be referred to as Ba’al).

There’s another interesting bit later on where Moses says that he “set before you this day a blessing and a curse” (Deut. 11:26). The blessing, of course, is all the good stuff that will happen for following the rules. The curse is the opposite. But then Moses starts talking about taking the blessing and setting it on one mountain, and setting the curse on another mountain, as through they were physical objects that would be carried around by the people.

We’ve seen similar ways of imagining blessings/curses before, such as in Genesis 27. In that story, Isaac confuses his two sons and accidentally gives his blessing to the wrong one. Even once the error is exposed, the blessing has been unleashed and therefore can’t be recalled.

Numbers 26: Census Do-Over

Leave a comment

Between the plagues, food poisoning, gaping chasms, spontaneous combustions, etc, the usefulness of the census taken in Numbers 1 is rather obsolete. As we near the end of our journey, God decides that it’s time to take another head count of eligible soldiers.

The other purpose for conducting the census is to help with dividing up the lands once they get into Canaan. This seems a little pre-emptive to me, but what do I know. There’s also some talk of lots. If I’m interpreting v.53-56 correctly, all the head of house names are to go in a big hat, and the lot will be used to decide which spot each should get.

We’re also reminded that none of the men counted were adults when they originally left Egypt with Moses and Aaron (those guys having all since died), with the exception of Caleb, son of Jephunneh, and Joshua, son of Nun.

Reuben

Reuben, if you remember, was the eldest of Israel’s sons. Unfortunately for him, a little indiscretion lost him his primacy. He had four sons:

  • Hanoch, sire of the Hanochites
  • Pallu (or Phallu), sire of the Palluites
  • Hezron, sire of the Hezronites
  • Carmi, sire of the Carmites

Pallu’s son, Eliab, had three sons: Nemuel, Dathan, and Abiram. We’re reminded that these are the Dathan and Abiram who rebelled with Korah back in Numbers 16. We’re told here that Dathan and Abiram were killed along with Korah, though their deaths weren’t mentioned.

There’s also a little note telling us that “the children of Korah died not” (v.11). This seems to contradict what we were told in Numbers 16:31-32:

As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households, and all those associated with Korah, together with their possessions.

Granted, his children aren’t specifically mentioned, but it does seem implied.

The total number of Reubenites eligible for military service is 43,730.

Simeon

Back in Genesis 46, the Simeon’s sons are named as: Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul. Here, however, the list is:

  • Nemuel, sire of the Nemuelites
  • Jamin, sire of the Jaminites
  • Jachin, sire of the Jachinites
  • Zerah, sire of the Zarhites
  • Shaul, sire of the Shaulites

For whatever reason, the lines of Jemuel, Ohad, and Zohar seem not to have survived, and Simeon apparently picked up Nemuel and Zerah somewhere.

I find it interesting that Jemuel and Nemuel, and Zohar and Zerah are quite similar. I wonder if these are equivalents from two different narrative traditions.

The total number of Simeonites eligible for military service is 22,200.

Gad

We get some more name funkiness with Gad. According to Genesis 46, his sons are: Ziphion, Haggi, Shuni, Ezbon, Eri, Arodi, and Areli. Here, however, they are:

  • Zephon, sire of the Zephonites
  • Haggi, sire of the Haggites
  • Shuni, sire of the Shunites
  • Ozni, sire of the Oznites
  • Eri, sire of the Erites
  • Arod, sire of the Arodites
  • Areli, sire of the Arelites

The lists seem to match, but quite a few spellings have changed.

The total number of Gad’s descendants eligible for military service is 40,500.

Judah

Judah’s story matches up with the genealogy in Genesis 46. I guess they kept better records, or something. His sons were:

  • Er (deceased, no kids)
  • Onan (deceased, no kids)
  • Shelah, sire of the Shelanites
  • Pharez, sire of the Pharzites
  • Zerah, sire of the Zarhites

We get some further subdivision with the sons of Pharez:

  • Hezron, sire of the Hezronites
  • Hamul, sire of the Hamulites

Total eligible soldiers from Judah: 76,500.

Issachar

Issachar’s sons, according to Genesis 46, are Tola, Phuvah, Job, and Shimron. Once again, there’s quite substantial differences. His sons here are:

  • Tola, sire of the Tolaites
  • Pua, sire of the Punites
  • Jashub, sire of the Jashubites
  • Shimron, sire of the Shimronites

Again, the names are kinda similar, just enough to suggest that they come from different oral traditions.

Total descendants of Issachar eligible for military service: 64,300.

Zebulun

Zebulun’s family kept better records. In both versions, his sons are:

  • Sered, sire of the Sardites
  • Elon, sire of the Elonites
  • Jahleel, sire of the Jahleelites

There are 60,500 eligible soldiers among the Zebulunites.

Joseph

Joseph, of course, had two sons: Manasseh and Ephraim. Both are kinda sorta heads of their own tribes, depending on how the count is made.

Manasseh’s sons are:

  • Machir, sire of the Machirites

Machir, in turn, fathered Gilead, sire of the Gileadites.

Gilead’s sons are:

  • Jeezer, sire of the Jeezerites
  • Helek, sire of the Helekites
  • Asriel, sire of the Asrielites
  • Shechem, sire of the Shechemites
  • Shemida, sire of the Shemidaites
  • Hepher, sire of the Hepherites

It’s unclear through which of these sons the Gileadites are counted.

Hepher also had a son: Zelophehad. Unfortunately, Zelophehad only had daughters:

  • Mahlah
  • Noah
  • Hoglah
  • Milcah
  • Tirzah

So if the line of Hepher is getting named as a land recipient, that implies that there’s some way for these women to pass their father’s land to their own children.

Total soldier-able descendants of Manasseh: 52,700.

Ephraim’s sons are:

  • Shuthelah, sire of the Shuthalhites
  • Becher, sire of the Bachrites
  • Tahan, sire of the Tahanites

Shuthelah sired Eran, who sired the Eranites. Did Shuthelah have other sons, or are all Shuthalhites also Eranites and vice versa?

There are 32,500 eligible soldiers among the descendants of Ephraim.

Benjamin

With Benjamin, we get some genealogical issues. Benjamin’s sons are:

  • Bela, sire of the Belaites
  • Ashbel, sire of the Ashbelites
  • Ahiram, sire of the Ahiramites
  • Shupham, sire of the Shuphamites
  • Hupham, sire of the Huphamites

Only Bela (named Belah) and Ashbel are found in Genesis 46, listed along with their brothers: Becher, Gera, Naaman, Ehi, Rosh, Muppim, Huppim, and Ard.

Then, from Bela, we get his sons:

  • Ard, sire of the Ardites
  • Naaman, sire of the Naamites

Notice that both of these were listed as Benjamin’s sons, not his grandsons, in Genesis 46.

The total military contingent provided by the tribe of Benjamin is 45,600.

Dan

In Genesis 46, Dan’s only son is named Hushim. Here, of course, his son’s name is Shuham (sire of the Shuhamites).

Descendants of Dan, you only had one name to remember! Sheesh!

Total descendants of Dan eligible for military service: 64,400.

Asher

In Genesis 46, Asher’s children are named Jimnah, Ishuah, Ishni, Beriah, and a daughter named Serah. Here, his children are named:

  • Jimna, sire of the Jimnites
  • Jesui, sire of the Jesuites
  • Beriah, sire of the Beriites
  • Sarah

Back in Genesis 46, Beriah’s sons are Heber and Malchiel, which matches the names given here (sires of the Heberites and Malchielites, respectively).

Not that I’m complaining, but I find it interesting that Serah/Sarah is named in both genealogies, especially given that there’s no mention of anything special about her. She’s not sire to any sub-tribe, so there’s really no reason to mention her in this census.

I’m apparently not the only one to be confused. It seems that some early midrash composers felt that she wouldn’t be mentioned unless there was something pretty special about her, so there’s a fairly substantial collection of fanfic that’s been written about her.

The total number of Asher’s descendants who are eligible for military service is 53,400.

Naphtali

Naphtali’s sons are:

  • Jahzeel, sire of the Jahzeelites
  • Guni, sire of the Gunites
  • Jezer, sire of the Jezerites
  • Shillem, sire of the Shillemites

The total number of eligible soldiers among the descendants of Naphtali is 45,400.

Adding them up

That’s a total of 601,730, only 1,820 fewer people than counted in the last census. That’s a pretty amazing reproduction rate, considering the fact that God’s been killing these people by the thousands for a few years now.

What’s interesting to me is to compare the two censii and see how the various tribes made out. Reuben, Gad, Ephraim, and Naphtali all saw a reduction, mostly in the 2,000-8,000 range.

Some tribes actually grew, albeit modestly: Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, Dan, and Asher.

But the really surprising ones are Simeon and Joseph. Simeon, apparently, really ticked God off, because at 37,100, they took the heaviest losses. As for Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim appear to have traded places, with Manasseh going from 32,200 to 52,700, and Ephraim going from 40,500 to 32,500. A rather impressive feat from Manasseh!

Levi

The Levites, not being eligible for receiving land, are counted separately. They are divided into three groups, after Levi’s sons:

  • Gershon, sire of the Gershonites
  • Kohath, sire of the Kohathites
  • Merari, sire of the Merarites

We’re also given a list of “the families of the Levites” (v.58), though there’s not indication of how they are connected to the original three branches:

  • Libnites
  • Hebronites
  • Mahlites
  • Mushites
  • Korathites

We’re also told that Kohath had one son, Amram, who married his aunt, Jochebed. They are the parents of Aaron, Moses, and Miriam.

Aaron’s sons are Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. The first two, of course, were killed in Leviticus 10.

While the rest of the tribes are counted by how useful they’d be as soldiers, Levites are counted for that whole weird redemption business we heard about in Numbers 3. Because of this, all Levite males a month old or over are counted. Yet still, the total only comes to 23,000.

Numbers 16: Vive la liberté!

Leave a comment

In this chapter, we see the melding of two separate rebellions: That of Korah the Levite fighting for more cultic privileges, and that of Dathan and Abiram, descendants of Reuben, questioning Moses’ leadership. As a result, the narrative bounces back and forth a bit and it can be a little confusing.

The leader of the Levite rebellion is Korah, son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi.

The Reubenite rebellion is a bit tougher to figure out. I think that the leaders are Dathan and Abiram, brothers, sons of Eliab, son of Reuben – and that they were also joined by On, son of Peleth, son of Reuben. But On is never mentioned again. So then I thought of the possibility that Dathan and Abiram are not brothers, that Dathan is the son of Eliab and Abiram the son of On. I don’t think that’s really supported, though, and I can’t find anyone online who agrees with that interpretation. So I think that On was just cobbled in.

Rebel arguments

Since there are two rebellions, there are two major complaints. From Korah and the Levites:

All the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them; why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord? (v.3)

We saw a hint of this in Numbers 11, where Moses delegates some of his prophetic duties. Joshua, not understanding what was going on, interpreted the prophesying by people other than Moses as a threat to Moses’ authority. In that instance, Moses defends himself by wishing that God would “put his spirit upon them” (Num. 11:29) but, sadly, it isn’t so and he (and his inner circle) must bear the burden alone. Here, Korah seems to be challenging this idea from a different angle.

Having been raised a Quaker (sort of), Korah’s arguments resonate for me theologically. How interesting, then, to see God’s reaction.

As Collins points out in A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, we saw in Numbers 8 the description of a harmonious relationship between the Aaronide priests and the Levites (p.77), but this story gives us a hint at the discontent that must have cropped up at least occasionally. Numbers 16 is all about the Aaronide re-assertion of dominance.

Then there are the Reubenites. Their complaint is as follows:

Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, that you must also make yourself a prince over us? (v.13)

First of all, up until now, “land of milk and honey” has always been used to describe the promised land, yet the Reubenite use of it to describe Egypt here emphasises just how awful their wilderness experiences have been. Not only that, but God’s just announced that all of these people are going to die in the wilderness, that they will never again have a stable home or livelihood which, slaves though they apparently were, they at least had in Egypt.

And to add insult to injury, Moses has seemingly crowned himself their king, and all who desire self-governance (which was kinda the point of leaving Egypt, no?) so far have been killed in rather horrible ways.

I really can’t help but be sympathetic to the arguments here.

Moses’ arguments

Moses asks of the Levites: Isn’t it enough that you get to service the tabernacle and minister to the congregation? Of course, this misses the point. Taken at face value, neither the Levites nor the Reubenites are complaining that they, personally, don’t have more power, but rather that Moses and Aaron have too much. Turning it into a greed thing is, frankly, really reminiscent of what Fox News does with opinions they don’t agree with.

Even if he’s right, even if Korah, Dathan, and Abiram really are concerned only with their own personal greed, their stated complaint is still a valid one, and Moses fails to address it.

Moses’ only defence is that he hasn’t taken his position for himself, but rather that it has been thrust upon him by God:

Hereby you shall know that the Lord has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord. (v.28).

True, Moses has been shown to protest the responsibility a few times – notably with the delegation of elders in Numbers 11 and his original reticence in Exodus 3. But the zeal with which God comes to the defence of any who question Moses’ authority (such as Numbers 12) should certainly be concerning to anyone.

That God is in support of this elitist power structure is hardly comforting.

The test

Moses proposes a test to show who has God’s backing. The Levites and Aaron are all to bring their censers – lit and prepared – to the tent of meeting the next day. There’s no real rules for this test, they just have to show up.

And they do.

Moses and Korah, by Brother Maciej, 1466

Moses and Korah, by Brother Maciej, 1466

And God whispers to Moses and Aaron that they should stand apart from the rest of the Hebrew people so that they aren’t killed along with the rest. But the people overhear him and they freak out: “Shall one man sin, and wilt thou be angry with all the congregation?” (v.22).

For once, God chooses to listen to someone other than Moses and revises his plan. Instead, he tells Moses to tell the congregation to stand away from the homes of the rebels.

Then the earth opens up and swallows “their households and all the men that belong to Korath” (v.32). That would include “their wives, their sons, and their little ones” (v.27). Two hundred and fifty “people” in all, plus their families.

As Owen Ball and David Wong put it: “God listened carefully to their complaints, weighed their points, then made the earth eat them alive.”

They are described as having gone “down alive into Sheol” (v.30).

This is the third time we get a reference to Sheol, by the way. The first two, in Genesis 37 and Genesis 44, are both in the context of Jacob/Israel mourning for his son Joseph and saying that he will have to go to Sheol in sorrow (the second time in fear that Benjamin has also died). Several translations have replaced sheol with “grave.”

According to Victor Matthews in Manners & Customs of the Bible, explains that Sheol is a land of the dead inhabited by both the good – as we see in the case of Jacob/Israel – and the evil – as we see here (p.70).

The greater rebellion

God then tells Moses to tell Eleazar (Aaron’s son) to collect the censers the Levite rebels had brought and to hammer them into plate coverings for the altar. They’ve been offered before God, making them holy, so this is a convenient (and non-sacrilegious) way of reusing the metal. Added bonus, they can serve as a warning that “no one who is not a priest, who is not of the descendants of Aaron, should draw near to burn incense before the Lord, lest he become as Korah and as his company” (v.40).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the people aren’t particularly happy with the heavy-handed control tactics God seems fond of using and, the next day, the people are complaining again, this time that Moses and Aaron have “killed the people of the Lord” (v.41).

But God just doesn’t seem to get that people don’t respond well to “do as I say or I’ll kill you all” rule, so he comes down and tells Moses and Aaron to stand apart from the people so that they don’t get hit when he kills them all.

Moses tells Aaron to get his censer and carry it into the congregation, making atonement for them. Already, the people are dying of the plague, but it abates when Aaron comes with the censer. In the end, 14,700 people died, not counting the original 250 who were with Korah.

I’ll hazard to guess that this plague story was appended to the Korah rebellion because of the common feature of the censers.

Not a single ass was given

Earlier in the story, when the rebels were presenting their case, Moses turns to God and says:

Do not respect their offering. I have not taken one ass from them, and I have not harmed one of them. (v.15)

I would have assumed that the offering bit would have referred to the incense in the censers, except that it comes right after the part where Moses tells Dathan and Abiram to be there or be square and they refuse. It could, instead, be a jump back to Korah, in which case the brother of one of the competitors is telling the judge not to let the other guys win, which… yeah.

The ass bit probably refers to bribery. According to the information on Biblehub, it would be customary to present one’s leader with a horse to ride. Saying that he hasn’t taken an ass from them would be a way of saying “I haven’t taken so much as a penny in bribes.”

But why would he say that he hasn’t harmed them? Unless he’s trying to prove that he’s being fair and hand’s off-y, so the ball’s totally in God’s court to decide what to do with them?

I really don’t know, and there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of commentary on this bit. Any bright ideas?