1 Chronicles 23-25: The Assignments

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I’ve decided to combine chapters 23-25, since they all have to do with David organizing the Temple duties. Technically, I should include chapter 26 as well, since it covers the same ground, but the post is going to be long enough as it is. So I will be lumping those duties in with the military and civil affairs of chapter 27 instead.

To introduce this section, the Chronicler situates it in David’s old age, when he has resigned from power and made Solomon king in his place. Clearly, he has trouble letting go, since here he is dictating all the civil and cultic duties. In fact, much of the following chapters has David scheduling shifts for a Temple that has not yet been built, that will be built after his death. The David of Chronicles has absolutely no faith in Solomon whatsoever.

In any case, he gathers the leaders of his son’s kingdom around him, both secular and religious, to deliver his orders.

The Levites

David begins by numbering the Levites. Now, I might think that David would be a little more hesitant to try that sort of thing again after what happened last time (see 1 Chron. 21), but what do I know?

In any case, he manages to find 38,000 Levites over the age of 30. This age agrees with Num. 4:3, where only men between the ages of 30 and 50 are eligible for Temple service. Things get a bit complicated later on, but we’ll deal with that in the appropriate spot.

Of the 38,000 Levites, David decrees that 24,000 of them will work in the Temple, 6,000 will serve as officers and judges, 4,000 will be gatekeepers, and 4,000 will be musicians.

And this is where things start to get a bit more complicated. There appear to be two lists of Levite chiefs, the first in 1 Chron. 23:7-23, and the second in 1 Chron. 24:20-31. The former is nearly organized into the descendants of Gershom, Kohath, and Merari (the sons of Levi). The latter seems to have attempted the same, but is a complete mess. I’m assuming its been corrupted, and while there are some overlapping names, there are plenty of differences.

In between the two lists, we are told that the priests Zadok and Ahimelech helped David to organize the priests. To me, this suggests that the first list (ch.23) is in the wrong spot. Perhaps an editor realized that the ch.24 list was hopelessly corrupted, and decided to provide a “clean” version, then unfortunately copy+pasted into the wrong spot. We’ve all been there.

The list in 1 Chron. 24:20-31 goes:

  • Shubael, son of Amram;
  • Jehdeiah, son of Shubael;
  • Isshiah, son of Rehabiah;
  • Shelomoth, of the Izharites;
  • Jahath, son of Shelomoth;
  • The sons of Hebron: Jeriah (their chief), Amariah, Jahaziel, and Jekameam;
  • Micah, son of Uzziel;
  • Shamir, son of Micah;
  • Isshiah, brother of Micah;
  • Zechariah, son of Isshiah;
  • Mahli and Mushi, the sons of Merari;
  • Beno, son of Jaaziah;
  • The sons of Merari: Jaaziah, Beno, Shoham, Zaccur, and Ibri;
  • Eleazar, son of Mahli (who had no sons);
  • Jerahmeel, son of Kish;
  • The sons of Mushi: Mahli, Eder, and Jerimoth.

In contrast, the list in 1 Chron. 23 goes:

Gershom

  • The sons of Gershom: Ladan (named Libni in 1 Chron. 6:17) and Shimei;
  • The sons of Ladan: Jehiel (their chief), Zetham, and Joel – in 1 Chron. 6:20, Libni’s son is named Jahath, who fathered Zimmah, who fathered Joah, names that are kinda sorta similar-ish to Jehiel, Zetham, and Joel;
  • The sons of Shimei: Shelomoth, Haziel, and Haran;
  • The additional sons of Shimei: Jahath (their chief), Zina, Jeush, and Beriah (neither Jeush nor Beriah had many sons, so their lineages were merged).

Kohath

  • The sons of Kohath: Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel;
  • The sons of Amram: Aaron and Moses;
  • The sons of Moses: Gershom and Eliezer;
  • Shebuel, son of Gershom;
  • Rehabiah, son of Eliezer (the text notes that Rehabiah was Eliezer’s only son, but that he himself had many);
  • Shelomith, son of Izhar;
  • The sons of Hebron: Jeriah (their chief), Amariah, Jahaziel, and Jekameam;
  • The sons of Uzziel: Micah (their chief) and Isshiah.

Aaron’s lineage is presented out of order, sandwiched between the two lists of Levites. We are given only the list of his sons: Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. We are reminded that Nadab and Abihu died young (as described in Leviticus 10), and that they had no children.

Merari

  • The sons of Merari: Mahli and Mushi;
  • The sons of Mahli: Eleazar and Kish (here, we are told that Eleazar died without sons, so that his daughters married the sons of Kish; In 1 Chron. 6:29, however, neither of these characters appear, and Mahli has only one son, Libni);
  • The sons of Mushi: Mahli, Eder, and Jeremoth.

Summarizing the list, 1 Chron. 23:24 tells us that these were all the descendants of Levi over the age of 20. Back at the beginning of the chapter, only the men over the age 30 were counted (1 Chron. 23:3). While the age of 30 corresponds with Num. 4:3, Num. 8:24 tells us instead that Levites over the age of 25 are to serve in the Temple. Clearly, there’s a discrepancy here in how old a Levite must be to get the job.

James Bradford Pate offers the suggestion that the work itself would begin at 30, but that training might start earlier.

Another possibility is that the age requirement was lowered over time, and that each number references a source written at a different point in Israel’s history. According to Pate: “Ezra 8:15-20 seems to indicate that post-exilic Israel had difficulty finding Levites; thus, it would make sense that requirements for Levitical service would become a bit looser at that time.” Another possibility is that David anticipated the Temple’s needs would be greater than the needs of the tabernacle, and lowered the age to accommodate the change.

Finishing off the chapter, we hear David’s rationale in ordering the Levites: They are no longer needed for the carrying of the tabernacle, and must thus be organized for their new duties in the Temple.

Assignments

Helping David to organize the other priests are Zadok (descended from Eleazar, son of Aaron) and Ahimelech (descended from Ithamar, Aaron’s other son).

The work is recorded by a scribe named Shemaiah, son of Nethanel – a Levite. According to my New Bible Commentary, “the stress is not so much on his being a Levite, but that he was not the royal scribe” (p.381). I’m not sure why this is important, except perhaps to show that the organizing of the priests was conducted by David, the individual, rather than the crown as a representation of secular authority. From what I’ve gathered, it seems that there was, historically, some tension between the secular and religious authorities, as both tried to use the other to their own ends.

We also learn that the work was witnessed by (perhaps with input from) the king, the secular leaders, Zadok, Ahimelech, and all the chief priests and Levites.

In the counting, it comes out that there are 16 households in Eleazar’s lineage, but only 8 in Ithamar’s lineage, totalling 24. These 24 households were then organized into numbered groups, which would take turns performing the Temple’s duties. The text doesn’t explain this system, apparently presuming pre-existing knowledge, but I gather that each group would serve for about two weeks a year. Such a system would allow the priests to maintain their own affairs, coming in only once a year (plus the big festivals) to tend the Temple. Further, since the lunar months don’t correspond perfectly to the solar year, the season in which each group is on duty would rotate, ensuring that one group isn’t always stuck with, say, service during a major harvest when it would be a pretty big imposition to be away from home.

The lots, in order, fell to the following chiefs:

  1. Jehoiarib;
  2. Jedaiah;
  3. Harim;
  4. Seorim;
  5. Malchijah;
  6. Mijamin;
  7. Hakkoz;
  8. Abijah;
  9. Jeshua;
  10. Shecaniah;
  11. Eliashib;
  12. Jakim;
  13. Huppah;
  14. Jeshebeab;
  15. Bilgah;
  16. Immer;
  17. Hezir;
  18. Happizzez;
  19. Pethahiah;
  20. Jehezkel;
  21. Jachin;
  22. Gamul;
  23. Delaiah;
  24. Maaziah.

Turn Up The Music

The Chronicler has several lists of musicians, including 1 Chron. 6:31-48, 1 Chron. 15:16-24, 1 Chron. 16:4-7 (which mentions only Asaph as the chief musical director), 1 Chron. 16:37-42 (in which Heman and Jeduthun appear together). It goes without saying that there are some pretty major discrepancies (perhaps referring to different points in time).

The main three lineages in charge of the music are the sons of Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun – who lead as well as father the other leaders among the musicians (and are explicitly placed under the control of the king). Jeduthun, while he appears in 1 Chron. 16:37-42, is elsewhere replaced with Ethan. The instruments they play are the harps, lyres, and cymbals.

The Choristers, by James Tissot, 1896-1900

The Choristers, by James Tissot, 1896-1900

The text makes the connection between music and prophesying explicit throughout this chapter, particularly 1 Chron. 25:1. That bears remembering, and is a delicious clue to the form of worship at the time.

The sons of Asaph are: Zaccur, Joseph, Nethaniah, and Asharelah.

The sons of Jeduthun are in charge of prophesying with lyres in the thanksgivings and praises to God. They are: Gedaliah, Zeri, Jeshaiah, Shimei, Hashabiah, and Mattithiah (the only one I’ve found identified among the lyre players in 1 Chron. 15:21). Incidentally, the text tells us that Jeduthun had six sons in all (1 Chron. 25:3), but the Masoretic Text lists only 5, omitting Shimei.

The sons of Heman are: Bukkiah, Mattaniah, Uzziel, Shebuel, Jerimoth, Hananiah, Hanani, Eliathah, Giddalti, Romamtiezer, Joshbekashah, Mallothi, Hothir, and Mahazioth.

There are few interesting things going on with Heman’s family. The first is that the names of his sons, from Hananiah to Mahazioth, seem to form a pattern. According to my New Bible Commentary, making it work requires “taking the consonantal text and occasionally dividing the words otherwise” (p.381). When this is done, the result is a phrase, which my study Bible translates as: “Be gracious, O Lord, be gracious to me; thou art my God, whom I magnify and exalt, my help when in trouble; I have fulfilled (or spoken), he has increased visions.”

If we assume that this is true and historical, it’s extremely interesting – certainly far more so than something as trite as theme-ing J names, as the Duggars have done. It’s certainly fitting for a man associated with music (and apparently, with the authorship of at least one Psalm – Ps. 88).

But it’s a rather long phrase, and it seems to put an awful lot of faith into being able to complete it. Well, why not? Heman is specifically identified as the king’s seer, and we are told that God had promised to exalt him (in the context of the number of children he had). Perhaps, given that the phrase doesn’t begin until his sixth child, we can deduce when he received this promise from God.

The other interesting thing going on with Heman is that we are told that he had 14 sons and 3 daughters, and that they “were all under the direction of their father in the music in the house of the Lord” (1 Chron. 25:6, emphasis mine). The implication seems to be that the daughters are included in this. In his post about the verse, Claude Mariottini points to other women associated with music, such as Miriam (Exodus 15), Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11:34), and the women who greet Saul with music (1 Sam. 18:6). This points to some really cool hints of the roles women were allowed to occupy, at least in the tribal period and early monarchy.

The total number of trained musicians is given as 288, compared to the 4,000 in 1 Chron. 23:5. This isn’t a discrepancy if the 288 number refers only to those “trained in singing” (1 Chron. 25:7), while the total number of musicians is actually 4,000.

As with the priests, the musicians are also divided into groups. These are, under Asaph:

  1. Joseph;
  2. Gedaliah (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  3. Zaccur (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  4. Izri (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  5. Nethaniah (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  6. Bukkiah (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  7. Jesharelah (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  8. Jeshaiah(and his 12 brethren and sons);
  9. Mattaniah (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  10. Shimei (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  11. Azarel (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  12. Hashabiah (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  13. Shubael (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  14. Mattithiah (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  15. Jeremoth (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  16. Hananiah (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  17. Joshbekashah (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  18. Hanani (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  19. Mallothi (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  20. Eliathah (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  21. Hothir (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  22. Giddalti (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  23. Mahazioth (and his 12 brethren and sons);
  24. Romamtiezer (and his 12 brethren and sons).

Assuming that Joseph is also accompanied by his 12 brethren and sons (he is the only one for whom this is not specified), and assuming that the leaders are not counted, this total comes out to 288.

Only those musicians under Asaph are listed. It’s possible, especially given the mention of Asaph as the leader of those who invoke God before the ark in 1 Chron. 16:4-7, that Asaph was in charge of the singers, while those under Jeduthun and Heman were charged with instruments only.

1 Chronicles 15-16: A Meandering Path

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David has decided that it is now, finally, time to bring the ark the rest of the way to Jerusalem. His reasoning isn’t explicitly explained, but there are two likely candidates that jumped out at me: The first and more flattering of the two is that, seeing the blessings on Obededom’s household, David realizes that God wasn’t angry that the ark was being moved, but rather that it was being moved incorrectly (in this case, because those moving it were not Levites, as per Num. 1:51). Therefore, once David has appointed Levites to move the ark, it becomes safe and the procession can continue.

The second explanation is that David saw all the blessings the ark was bringing to Obededom, and he wanted to get in on that.

In either case, he begins by building palaces for himself and pitching a tent for the ark. An odd statement, certainly. I realize that it was culturally known that the temple wasn’t built until Solomon, and that there may have been religious objections to housing the symbol of a nomad god in a permanent structure, but mentioning that David built palaces (plural, mind) for himself, yet merely pitched a tent for the ark seems strange to my modern sensibilities (not to mention my cultural assumptions regarding what a “house of God” ought to look like). Even within a proper context, however, mentioning David’s building projects here seems somewhat out of place.

There’s some odd narrative time skipping in these two chapters, resulting in the ark having been brought to its resting place at least once (possibly twice) before the procession is actually concluded. I suspect that this may be an artefact of the Chronicler’s use of multiple sources, or perhaps just some grammar troubles (one of my greatest difficulties in writing is trying to keep my tenses straight, so I totally get it).

There is also much dwelling on the names of the priests, as well as their roles. I’ll mention those at the end, though, because there’s a lot of them and they are fairly disruptive to the flow. That said, it certainly helped me to understand the commentaries who argue that the Chronicler may have been a musician!

The Journey

Once David had built his palaces and cleared a little camping plot for the ark, he gathered Israel about him and announced that Levites must be the ones to carry and tend to the ark.

He told the priests, Zadok and Abiathar, and the Levite chiefs to sanctify themselves prior to approaching the ark (this would likely involve rituals like fasting, abstaining from sexual contact, and washing). David explains his theory that God attacked the first time (killing Uzzah) because the ark was not being carried by Levites. This is an addition to the story in 2 Samuel 6, which makes no mention of Levites (likely an anachronistic one, as well, since it seems there’s evidence to suggest that the Levitical caste didn’t emerge until later).

The priests do as they are told, and they carry the ark on their shoulders using poles, as per God’s instructions (relayed via Moses, then David).

David dances before the ark, from the Morgan Bible, 1240-1250

David dances before the ark, from the Morgan Bible, 1240-1250

The priests appoint a number of singers, as well as musicians of various varieties to play in the procession and “raise sounds of joy” (1 Chron. 15:16). There are harps, lyres, cymbals, and trumpets. There’s even a conductor, Chenaniah.

Taking from 2 Sam. 6:12-15, the procession goes to the house of Obededom to fetch the ark and they bring it to Jerusalem. There are two main differences between this version and the one in 2 Samuel: The first is that we get a whole lot more detail about the music played in the procession. The second is that David is clothed, this time wearing a robe of fine linen in addition to his ephod. The priests of the procession are also wearing robes of fine linen.

Another possible difference is in the time/location of the sacrifices. In 2 Sam. 6:13, a sacrifice (one ox and one fatling) is made when those who bear the ark have gone six paces. In 1 Chron. 15:26, however, seven bulls and seven rams are sacrificed “because God helped the Levites who were carrying the ark”. Reading far too much into the text, it would seem that the 2 Sam. 6 priests tentatively lift the ark, and thank God right away when they survive the test. In 1 Chron. 15, however, the implication seems to be that they give thanks when the journey is completed, perhaps because God somehow made their burden light or saved them from any accidental stumble that could result in a situation like the one that led to Uzzah’s death. But this is bringing a lot into the text, and there’s no reason why the 1 Chron. 15 version can’t be taken to mean the same as the 2 Sam. 6 version.

As they approach Jerusalem, Michal (here, as in 2 Sam. 6:16, identified only as the daughter of Saul) sees David dancing and she hates him. In 2 Sam. 6:20-23, the reason for Michal’s hatred of David is apparently because he was dancing naked, uncovered save for the ephod, disgracing himself. It’s easy to see how afraid she might be, after her father’s house fell and her whole family was slaughtered. She has ever reason to want David to act the proper king, a king who won’t be judged weak or unfit and deposed. Here, however, the conversation is absent, and Michal’s reasoning is unstated. The implication, then, is that she hated him because she was Saul’s daughter (as this is the only detail we are given of her), and is perhaps seen as further proof of Saul’s dynastic unfitness.

The ark finally makes it to its new tend, and sacrifices are made. David blesses the people in God’s name, and he distributes a loaf of bread, a portion of meat, and a raisin cake to every Israelite (including, for once, the women).

A good deal of 1 Chron. 16 is given to a special thanksgiving song David gives to Asaph and the other musically-inclined priests. It’s a fairly ordinary praise song, much like the ones we’ve had before. God is great, we should seek God, he’s done wonderful works, the descendants of Abraham and Jacob are his chosen people, God has protected them. God is to be “held in awe above all gods” (1 Chron. 16:25), who are but idols while God is actually in heaven. The natural world exults in God for God is good. Also, if God wouldn’t mind delivering his chosen people from other nations – so that we can thank him for it, of course – that’d be great.

What’s interesting about this son in particular is that it appears to be a cobbling together of a few different Psalms. Specifically:

  • 1 Chron. 16:8-22 is taken from Psalms 105:1-15;
  • 1 Chron. 16:23-33 is taken from Psalms 96:1-13;
  • And 1 Chron. 16:34-36 is taken from Psalms 106:1 and Psalms 106:47-48.

Perhaps even more interesting, “none of the three psalms used is Davidic and all are later, possibly even post-exilic” (New Bible Commentary, p.378). This would certainly explain the final verses of the poem, which talk about deliverance from other nations (1 Chron. 16:34-36) – something that would have been salient for the Chronicler, but not so much for the rising star of David who has recently destroyed the Philistines. James Pate proposes that the verses could refer to prisoner’s of war – perhaps some Israelites had been taken in David’s recent battles against the Philistines – and the hope that they should be returned.

Another interesting detail about the song is that it is the only place in all of 1 Chronicles where Jacob is referred to by that name, rather than as Israel.

All the people say “Amen!” and David leaves the priests to their business. The Israelites head home, and David goes to bless his house.

The Priests

Priests and their roles are listed at several points through 1 Chron. 15-16. It begins when David is setting up a location for the ark, and he gathers the Levites to him. They are represented by their leaders:

  • 120 Kohathites, led by Uriel;
  • 220 Merarites, led by Asaiah;
  • 130 Gershomites, led by Joel;
  • 200 Elizaphanites, led by Shemaiah;
  • 80 Hebronites, led by Eliel;
  • And 112 Uzzielites, led by Amminadab.

David then commands these chiefs to appoint musicians from among their sub-tribes to play loudly before the ark as it is being transported. The Levites appoint Heman son of Joel, and Asaph son of Berechiah. The Merarites (listed as though a distinct group from the Levites) appoint Ethan son of Kushaiah, as well as some underlings: Zechariah, Jaaziel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Unni, Eliab, Benaiah, Maaseiah, Mattithiah, Eliphelehu, and Mikneiah. Listed here, as though the role is a musical one, are also Obededom and Jeiel, appointed as gatekeepers.

Next, we get a breakdown of the musicians by instrument as they play before the ark in its procession:

  • Sounding the bronze cymbals: Heman, Asaph, and Ethan;
  • Playing the harps (according to Alamoth – apparently some unknown musical term): Zechariah, Aziel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Unni, Eliab, Maseiah, and Benaiah;
  • Leading with the lyres (according to the Sheminith – some other unknown musical term): Mattithiah, Eliphelehu, Mikneiah, Obededom, Jeiel, and Azaziah;
  • Blowing the trumpets before the ark: Shebaniah, Joshaphat, Nethanel, Amasai, Zechariah, Benaiah, and Eliezer;
  • Lastly, the conductor: Chenaniah.

Berechiah and Elkanah are designated as the ark’s gatekeepers. Then, a verse later, we are told that Obededom and Jehiah are also the gatekeepers (1 Chron. 15:23-24).

Once the procession arrives in Jerusalem and the ark is settled into its new tent, David appoints some Levites to minister to it, led by Asaph, who is to sound the cymbals.

To the harps and lyres, David appoints Zechariah, Jeiel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Mattithiah, Eliab, Benaiah, Obededom, and Jeiel.

Finally, David appoints Benaiah and Jahaziel to blow the trumpets continually (1 Chron. 16:6), though one hopes that they were at least allowed to take turns.

The sons of Jeduthun are appointed to the gate, which apparently includes Obededom (here identified as a son of Jeduthun) and Hosah (conspicuously not identified as a son of Jeduthun).

Jeduthun himself, along with Heman, are given charge of the trumpets and cymbals at Gibeon, where the tabernacle has been left in Zadok’s charge. There is no reason given for why the ark has been separated from its tabernacle and moved into a new tent, but it appears that worship continued at both sites.

One possibility involves the nomadic nature of the early YHWH cult. If David hoped to nurture a more urban society, detaching the local god from its tent would have been a priority. He might not have felt confident enough to to build a permanent temple yet, but he could at least separate the ark from its tabernacle (which had, as evidenced by this chapter, become a locus of worship in its own right). This is, of course, pure fancy and utterly unsupported as far as I know.

Obededom

Obededom is a strange figure in these chapters. Is he the same Obededom who housed the ark in 1 Chron. 13:13? And why is he shoehorned so forcefully into 1 Chron. 15-16?

He is mentioned three times as a gatekeeper:

  • When he and Jeiel are counted among the Merarite musicians (1 Chron. 15:17-18);
  • When he and Jehiah are added, as if as afterthoughts, when Berechiah and Elkanah are listed as gatekeepers (1 Chron. 15:23-24);
  • As a son of Jeduthun, who are appointed to the gate (1 Chron. 16:37-38).

This is, of course, in addition to his mentions as a musician.

The way in which he is mentioned feels very forced, particularly in 1 Chron. 15:23-24. I feel like there must be a reason for this.

If this Obededom is the same as the Gittite in 1 Chron. 13:13, it introduces a possible problem. The term “Gittite” is usually used to refer to people from Gath – a city under Philistine control. If Obededom is a Philistine, then he is not an Israelite, and he is certainly not a Levite.

That’s not a certainty, though. It could be that Obededom is merely an Israelite from Gath, or perhaps the name “Gath” was used in a few different place names and the designation of Gittite does not even refer to the Philistine city.

James Pate imagines that Obededom, having had direct experience with the ark and received its blessings while it was in his home, followed it to Jerusalem. It’s an amusing image!

1 Chronicles 6: The Levitical Line

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We next turn our attentions to the tribe of Levi. It’s worth noting both how detailed a treatment they get compared to the other tribes, and the fact that they are placed in the very middle of the genealogies, just as they were physically placed in the middle of the camp in Numbers 2. It’s hard to ignore the symbolism.

Roughly speaking, the narrative begins with the priestly genealogies, then discusses the temple musicians, and ends by looking at the territories under direct Levitical control.

The genealogy portion seems to be based on Exodus 6:16-25, but with some variations.

The sons of Levi are: Gershom, Kohath, and Merari. There’s some duplication of information as each section serves a different purpose that sometimes requires the same information. However, since my purpose is different than the Chronicler’s, I’ll be condensing a little.

The sons of Kohath are: Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel. From Amram came Aaron, Moses, and Miriam. From Aaron, we get Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. From this point, we follow Eleazar down in a direct line:

  1. Phinehas
  2. Abishua
  3. Bukki
  4. Uzzi
  5. Zerahiah
  6. Meraioth
  7. Amariah
  8. Ahitub
  9. Zadok
  10. Ahimaaz
  11. Azariah: According to 1 Kgs 4:2, Azariah was Zadok’s son, not his grandson. However, this wouldn’t be the first time that “son” might have been used simply to mean “a descendant of.”
  12. Johanan
  13. Azariah: The text specifies that he was priest when Solomon built the temple.
  14. Amariah
  15. Ahitub
  16. Zadok
  17. Shallum
  18. Hilkiah
  19. Azariah
  20. Seraiah
  21. Jehozadak: The text indicates that he was taken into exile by Nebuchadnezzar after the fall of Jerusalem.
Aaron, from the Frauenkirche, Dresden

Aaron, from the Frauenkirche, Dresden

There is apparently some discussion as to whether or not Zadok (#9 on this list) was really of Levitical descent. Apparently, the Jebusite Hypothesis argues that Zadok was a priest in Jerusalem, serving the Jebusite god El Elyon, when it was conquered by David. Further, it argues that David may have appointed him as high priest as an appeasement to the conquered residents of the city (not only offering some continuity of leadership, but also bridging David’s god and their own).

In support of this, the similarity between Zadok’s name and the names of pre-Israelite inhabitants of Jerusalem is pointed out (for example, Melchizedek in Gen. 14:18 and Adonizedek in Jos. 10:1).

Some apparently also cite his role in Nathan and Bathsheba’s conspiracy to place Solomon on the throne, instead of Adonijah (1 Kgs 2). The argument goes that Solomon, born in Jerusalem, would have been preferred over Adonijah, who was born in Hebron.

The second lineage of Kohath: We also get a secondary list of the sons of Kohath, which is clearly not the same as above, beginning with Amminadab, and tracing down:

  1. Korah
  2. Assir
  3. Elkanah
  4. Ebiasaph (appearing as Abiasaph in Ex. 6:24)
  5. Assir
  6. Tahath
  7. Uriel
  8. Uzziah
  9. Shaul

A few sources I looked at suggested that Amminadab might be an error here (albeit a strange one). Drawing from Exodus 6:21, they argue that Izhar may have been meant instead, which would certainly make a lot more sense.

We then get a list of descendants of someone named Elkanah, who is clearly not the Elkanah who was a descendant of Kohath. The grammar is a little fudgy, but it looks like he had two sons: Amasai and Ahimoth. Then, through Ahimoth, we get:

  1. Elkanah
  2. Zophai
  3. Nahath
  4. Eliab
  5. Jeroham
  6. Elkanah

The sons of Samuel: In 1 Chron. 6:28, switch briefly over to a Samuel, who is presumably the Samuel of 1-2 Samuel, and meant to be related to the just-named Elkanah. This works for a little while, since 1 Samuel 1:1 names Samuel’s father Elkanah, and his grandfather Jeroham. It breaks down after that, however, as Jeroham is the son of Elihu, who is the son of Tohu, who is the son of Zuph. (A genealogy that matches better occurs below, in the discussion of musicians.)

Further, since Zuph is specifically named as an Ephraimite, we have to do a bit of juggling to make him also a Levite. It’s not impossible, since we could imagine a Levitical line living in Ephraim’s territory being identified by their geographical location rather than tribal descent. It’s worth noting that there were Kohathite territories within Ephraim (listed later in 1 Chron. 6:66-69).

In this case, however, there are too many pieces that don’t fit. It seems that, the Chronicler (who at least one of his sources) wished to shoe-horn Samuel into the Levitical line to excuse the fact that he was performing cultic duties. The problem with that, though, is that Samuel is seen making burnt offerings (for example, 1 Sam. 7:10), so why not place him directly in the Aaronic line? And why not mention in 1 Samuel that he was of Levitical descent?

In any case, the sons of Samuel are listed, in order, as Joel and Abijah.

The sons of Gershom are: Libni and Shimei. Gershom, by the way, is sometimes spelled Gershon. Given the phonetic similarity, I’m assuming this is just an error, and I will use the two forms interchangeably. Gershom traces the line down through Libni:

  1. Jahath
  2. Zimmah
  3. Joah
  4. Iddo
  5. Zerah
  6. Jeatherai

The sons of Merari are:  Mahli and Mushi. Going down through Mahli, we get:

  1. Libni
  2. Shimei
  3. Uzzah
  4. Shimei
  5. Uzzah
  6. Shimea
  7. Haggiah
  8. Asaiah

Musicians

David is credited with founding the musical portion of the tabernacle service (or, at least, with reforming the system). When he initially brought the ark to Jerusalem, he appointed to “[minister] with son before the tabernacle of the tent of meeting” (1 Chron. 6:32). When Solomon built the temple, they moved with the ark.

The lineages are presented in reverse order. I’ll re-arrange them as a descent just to make the lineages more comparable to the ones we had above. Keeping in mind that it is the final member of the line who was appointed by David. I’ve bolded the appointees.

From the Kohathites:

  1. Israel
  2. Levi
  3. Kohath
  4. Izhar
  5. Korah
  6. Ebiasaph
  7. Assir
  8. Tahath
  9. Zephaniah
  10. Azariah
  11. Joel
  12. Elkanah
  13. Amasai
  14. Mahath
  15. Elkanah
  16. Zuph
  17. Toah
  18. Eliel
  19. Jeroham
  20. Elkanah
  21. Samuel
  22. Joel
  23. Heman the singer

If the Samuel listed as Heman’s grandfather is meant to be the Samuel who went around anointing Israel’s first few kings, the lineage matches much better than the one we got in 1 Chron. 6:25-28. The only differences are easily attributable to phonetic variations or scribal sloppiness (Eliel is listed as Elihu in 1 Samuel 1:1, and Toah as Tohu).

A second musician, Asaph, is identified as Heman’s brother in 1 Chron. 6:39. However, given the differences in the lineage, it seems probable that the term is meant to mean “brother in craft,” rather than as a description of a blood tie. His lineage is as follows:

  1. Levi
  2. Gershom
  3. Jahath
  4. Shimei
  5. Zimmah
  6. Ethan
  7. Adaiah
  8. Zerah
  9. Ethni
  10. Malchijah
  11. Baaseiah
  12. Michael
  13. Shimea
  14. Berechiah
  15. Asaph

The obvious problem here is that generations are skipped. Gershom’s sons are Libni and Shimei in 1 Chron. 6:17. Jahath isn’t listed until 1 Chron. 6:20, as the son of Libni (Gershom’s grandson). Shimei is missing from the 1 Chron. 6:20 version. After that, the comparison breaks down entirely, as the 1 Chron. 6:21 version continues with Joah, while this list continues through Ethan.

The first two errors can be fairly easily explained either as accidental errors, or as the Chronicler finding himself with a list containing a lovely symbolically resonant fourteen generations between Levi and Asaph, yet finding that it does not quite match his other source. He may have sacrificed Libni in order to include Shimei while still preserving the desired number of generations.

The final error also isn’t too difficult to explain, as there is nothing to say that Zimmah had only one son. His eldest might well have been Joah, while Asaph was descended from a secondary branch.

From the Merarites: The Merarites put forward one appointee, Ethan. His lineage goes:

  1. Levi
  2. Merari
  3. Mushi
  4. Mahli
  5. Shemer
  6. Bani
  7. Amzi
  8. Hilkiah
  9. Amaziah
  10. Hashabiah
  11. Malluch
  12. Abdi
  13. Kishi
  14. Ethan

The sons of Aaron: But only descendants of Aaron were allowed to make offerings, at least in the Chronicler’s time. His lineage is repeated down to Ahimaaz, and is identical to the one in 1 Chron. 6:4-8.

Levitical Territories

In 1 Chron. 6:54, the narrative moves into a discussion of the territories controlled by the tribe of Levi. This list corresponds largely to the one in Joshua 21, even presenting them in the same order (first to the Kohathites, then the Gershonites, then the Merarites).

Kohathite Cities: To the Kohathites, specifically the descendants of Aaron, Judah provided the following cities of refuge: Hebron, Libnah, Jattir, Eshtemoa, Hilen, Debir, Ashan, and Beth-shemesh. An added detail is given about Hebron: While the Levites get the town’s surrounding pasture lands, the fields and villages belong to Caleb son of Jephunneh.

Simeon won’t be listed here as a contributing tribe, but Ashan is allotted to them in Jos. 19:7. This suggests that Simeon had already been absorbed by Judah by the time the Chronicler’s source was written.

From Benjamin, the Kohathites received: Geba, Alameth, and Anathoth.

At this point, the text tells us that the Kohathites control 13 towns (1 Chron. 6:60), but the actual count reveals only 11. By comparing the list to Jos. 21:13-19, we can assume that Juttah and Gibeon were accidentally dropped by the Chronicler (or a subsequent scribe).

There appears to be a corruption of the text in 1 Chron. 6:61. The corresponding spot in Joshua is Jos. 21:5, where we learn that the Kohathites receive ten further towns from Ephraim, Dan, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. The towns are not named in either location.

From Ephraim, they received Shechem, Gezer, Jokmeam, Beth-horon, Aijalon, and Gathrimmon.

The cities contributed by Dan aren’t listed, but  Jos. 21:23-24 names both Aijalon and Gathrimmon as coming from Dan. This seems to be another scribal error.

From the half-tribe of Manasseh, they received Aner and Bileam.

Gershomite Cities: Gershom received thirteen cities from Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, and Manasseh.

From the half-tribe of Manasseh, they received: Golan in Bashan, and Ashtaroth. From Issachar, they received Kedesh, Daberath, Ramoth, and Anem. From Asher, they received Mashal, Abdon, Hukok, and Rehob. And from Naphtali, they received Kedesh in Galilee, Hammon, and Kiriathaim.

Merarite Cities: Merari received twelve cities from Reuben, Gad, and Zebulun.

From Zebulun, they received Rimmono and Tabor. In the Transjordan, they received from Reuben: Bezer, Jahzah, Kedemoth, and Mephaath. From Gad, they received Ramoth in Gilead, Mahanaim, Heshbon, and Jazer.

I only get a count of ten cities, rather than the twelve claimed, but there is some grammatical weirdness around 1 Chron. 6:78 that could account for the discrepancy.

Numbers 26: Census Do-Over

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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!

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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?

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 4: Business Class, Bronze Age style

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In the last chapter, each Levite clan was assigned a specific duty in the care and transportation of the tabernacle. In this chapter, we veer off in a totally different direction and… assign each Levite clan a specific duty in the care and transportation of the tabernacle. Brace yourselves, badger skins are coming.

We start off with yet another census, this time to determine how many Levites are between the ages of 30 and 50 – “all who can enter the service” (v.3). We’ll get through the breakdown in a moment, but the total comes out to 8,580, and the Bible’s total actually matches for once!

Kohathites:

There are 2,750 Kohathites in charge of transporting the inner sanctuary stuff, such as the ark, the special table, the lampstand, the altar, etc.

Where's the dolphin skin?

Where’s the dolphin skin?

Aaron and his sons must prepare all the inner sanctuary stuff by wrapping it in a complex (and very fashionable) arrangement of goatskins, blue clothes, and scarlet clothes (full details provided in excruciating detail). Once this is one, the Kohathites get to actually do the transporting.

Hopefully, Aaron&sons do a good job, because if any of the wrappings slip and a Kohathite accidentally touches one of the objects, he dies.

The Kohathites are supervised by Aaron’s son Eleazar who, in turn, is responsible for transporting the oil for the light, the incense, the “continual cereal offering,” and the annointing oil.

Gershonites:

There are 2,630 of these guys, and they are responsible for the main tent stuff. They are under the oversight of Aaron’s son Ithamar.

Descendants of Merari:

There are 3,200 descendants of Merari of the right age, and they are responsible for all the foundation. They are under the oversight of Ithamar as well.

Goatskin, badger skin, and dolphin skin

My Bible, the RSV, has things wrapped in cloth and goatskin, but the Hebrew text must be a bit less clear as to what animal’s skin is supposed to be used. Whatever the word is, the King James Bible translates it as “badger skin” and whatever Bible David Plotz is using as it as “dolphin skin” (the New American Standard Bible uses “porpoise skin”).

Apparently, we just don’t know the word being used. The word seems to refer to a badger, but these are considered unclean and therefore probably wouldn’t have been used to cover the holy relics. The word is close to an Arabic word meaning porpoise or dugong. The word is also similar to an Egyptian word meaning “fine leather” (the animal being unspecified).

So it seems that translators are pretty much just winging it.

As a side note, A Skeptic’s Journey finds it “suspicious” that the holy items are never to be witnessed by anyone other than Aaron and his descendants, and that the punishment for sneaking a peak is death. He asks, “what did the priests have to hide?”

I think that’s the wrong question.

It’s not about having something to hide, but rather about drawing a distinction between the sacred and the profane (“profane” doesn’t mean “bad,” by the way. It just means worldly or mundane). By keeping the sacred hidden, they are separating it from the experience of normal people. And, of course, by giving themselves permission to see/touch/experience the inner sanctuary, they are solidifying their association with the sacred – a very useful tool for anyone who wants to maintain power.

The actual objects in the inner sanctuary are mundane – a table, a lamp, a box… None of these have any inherent sacredness. They are made sacred by being separated from the mundane – by not using the sacred lamp to read the latest Dan Brown novel, you are removing it from the world of ordinary lamps. This sacredizing of purpose is amplified by keeping the objects hidden and surrounding them with mystery.

Am I making any sense?

Numbers 3: Numbering the Levites

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We jump straight in with some quick genealogizing.

We’re reminded that Aaron had four sons – Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar – but that the elder two died “when they offered unholy fire before the Lord” (v.4), and they left no children.

We’re also told that only Aaron and his sons are allowed to be near the tabernacle, and that anyone else who approaches “shall be put to death” (v.10) – which I imagine makes things rather awkward for Moses.

Caring for your tabernacle

In the next portion of the chapter, we see a repeat of the Levite portion of the Exodus 6 genealogy, with some specifications as to which branches of the family are responsible for what.

You’ll remember that Levi had three sons, Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.

Gershonites:

  • Gershon had two sons: Libni and Shimei (called Shimi in Exodus 6).
  • There are 7,500 Gershonites, and their camp is on the west side of the tent of meeting.
  • They are led by Eliasaph, son of Lael.
  • They are in charge of the tabernacle, the tent and its covering, the screen for the door of the tent of meeting, the hangings of the court, the screen for the door of the court, and its cords. Plus any services pertaining to any of these.

Kohathites:

  • Kohath had four sons: Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel.
  • There are 8,600 Kohathites, and their camp is on the south side of the tent of meeting.
  • They are led by Elizaphan, son of Uzziel.
  • They are in charge of the ark, the table, the lampstand, the alters, the vessels of the sanctuary, and the screen. And, of course, any services pertaining to these.

The family of Merari:

  • Merari had two sons: Mahli (called Mahali in Exodus 6) and Mushi.
  • There are 6,200 in the clan of Merari, and their camp is on the north side.
  • They are led by Zuriel, son of Abihail.
  • They are in charge of the frames of the tabernacle, the bars, the pillars, the bases, and all their accessors. Also, the pillars of the court, their bases, and their pegs. And, as usual, any services pertaining to these.

Aaron’s sons:

  • Moses, Aaron, and Aaron’s sons camp on the east side – “toward the sunrise” (v.38).
  • Aaron’s eldest son, Eleazar (now that Nadab and Abihu are dead), is the overall chief of the Levites.
  • They are in charge of the rites within the sanctuary.

You can see what the camp locations look like in the handy map we used in our discussion of Numbers 1&2:

12TribesEncampment

If you’re wondering why we’re counting Levites after Numbers 1:28, 2:33 specifically said not to count Levites, it’s because this is actually a different census. The one we got in the last two chapters was to determine how many potential soldiers were available, whereas this one has a more religious focus – as we shall see in the next section:

Redemption

We’ve been hearing an awful lot about how all the first-borns belong to God. This is repeated in Numbers 3, with the explanation that God had claimed all of the first-born back in Egypt – Egyptian and Israelite alike. He had chosen to kill the Egyptian kids right away, but had saved the Israelite ones for later. He’s keeping them alive, but they were tagged as God’s on the night of the Passover.

Nadab and Abihu offer unholy fire and die, from the Nuremberg Bible (Biblia Sacra Germanaica), 15th cent.

Nadab and Abihu offer unholy fire and die, from the Nuremberg Bible (Biblia Sacra Germanaica), 15th cent.

In Leviticus 27, we saw that people could be given as offerings to God without killing them. Instead, they would be servants/slaves belonging to God, having to do servile work around the sanctuary. So in this chapter, God is saying that all the first-born Israelites should be committed in this way.

But, of course, that’s not very practical, and our friendly neighbourhood God knows this. So he offers a chance to “redeem” the children by offering a substitute in their place.

The default substitute is a Levite. Every time a first-born is born to an Israelite, they are matched up to a Levite child who will do the servile work in the sanctuary in the first-born’s place. But, of course, God hasn’t quite figured out a way to keep Levite reproduction rates at a pace that matches the first-born birth rates, so he offers up a contingency plan: If there’s no Levite to take your child’s place, you can offer 5 shekels instead (which goes straight to Aaron). Today, this practice is called Pidyon haBen. Since there’s no proper Levites these days, the money just goes straight to your local guy with the last name of Cohen.

(First-born among cattle are substituted for cattle belonging to the Levites, just in case you were concerned that domesticated animals were being left out.)

At which point the author of Numbers decides to dispel some stereotypes and does a little math – badly. It presents the total number of first-borns among the Israelites as 22,273, and the total of the Levite males as 22,000. The actual total, based on the numbers we’re given just a few short verses earlier, is actually 22,300. We might argue that they’re just rounding, but then they go on to calculate the difference – 273 too many first-borns at 5 shekels each means that Aaron and his sons get 1,365 shekels. If they’re rounding, this whole passage makes no sense.

There’s also no mention of what happens if the number disparity is reversed (as is actually the case). Do extra Levites get to go free? Or are they still tied to the sanctuary? And if they’re still tied to the sanctuary, does the redemption trade have any meaning?

As an added note, Moses is instructed only to count children who are over 1 month of age. While this likely has a practical purpose (given the possibility of infant mortality), it also provides an interesting perspective on the abortion debate – since our current laws consider humans to be persons starting at birth, whereas God is literally only counting them at one month after birth. To claim biblical justification for moving that line to a point prior to birth is clearly problematic.

(I think that it also speaks to gender issues. The Bible – at least what we’ve read of it so far – is very clearly a text written for men by men, mentioning women only infrequently and certainly not concerned with what we might call “women’s issues.” If I’m not mistaken, in the ancient Mediterranean world, abortion was very much considered a women’s issue – so even though it, and contraception, were common, they are not getting any page space. The only real exception to this is in the story of Onan, which is more a purity concern with the spilling of seed, rather than a concern with barrier contraceptive methods.)

Exodus 6: Moses gets a pep talk

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At the end of the last chapter, everyone was upset with Moses for being a poop-disturber, and Moses was upset with God for not delivering the Hebrews like he said he would. The chapter break was right in the middle of the exchange, so now we get to pick up with God’s response.

God sends Aaron to meet Moses in the desert by Marc Chagall, 1966

God sends Aaron to meet Moses in the desert by Marc Chagall, 1966

God says to Moses: “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand he will send them out, yea, with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land” (Exod. 6:1). Now, I haven’t gotten to that part yet, so I fully accept the possibility that I might be wrong, but doesn’t Pharaoh chase the Israelites to get them back? That’s not exactly the same thing as driving them out.

God, worried that Moses may have forgotten who he was, repeats (again) that he’s  the god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and then tells Moses that, when he appeared to the patriarchs, it was by the name El Shaddai, and that they didn’t know his new name of YHWH. But is that true?

In Genesis 22:14, when Abraham has just been stopped from murdering his son, he calls the altar Jehovahjireh (rendered as “the Lord will provide” in my RSV). How could this be unless Abraham know the name YHWH?

Back to the story, God tells Moses again that he’s here to free all the Hebrews and that Moses should go to them and tell them, again, that God is totally good for that whole freedom thing he promised. You know, ’cause that worked right well the first time.

So Moses goes again to the Hebrews and tells them all these things and, surprisingly, they aren’t nearly as excited as they were the first time. “Fool me once…” and all that. Or, you know, they just didn’t listen “because of their broken spirit and their cruel bondage” (Exod. 6:9).

Not to be deterred, God tells Moses to go back to Pharaoh and tell him to let the Hebrews out of Egypt. Moses refuses again, protesting that Pharaoh would never listen to him because of his “uncircumcised lips.” No, I’m not joking. It’s right there in Exodus 6:12. Now, to be fair, this is apparently an expression that would translate to our “sealed lips.” Still, though, the imagery is hilarious. I’m going to start using this whenever I’m feeling tongue-tied. “Oops, sorry, I guess my lips are really uncircumcised tonight!”

Moses’ uncircumcised lips aside, God puts him and Aaron in charge of bringing the Hebrews out of Egypt.

And now for something completely different…

Thought that genealogies were a Genesis thing? Sorry to disappoint you!

The sons of Reuben: Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi.

The sons of Simeon: Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul (the son of a Canaanite woman).

The sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. (Additional note, Levi died at 137.)

  • The sons of Gershon: Libni and Shimi.
  • The sons of Kohath: Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel. (Additional note, Kohath died at 133.)
  • The sons of Merari: Mahali and Mushi.
  • Kohath’s son Amram married his father’s sister (eeeew), named Jochebed, and they had Aaron and Moses. The incestuous Amram died at 137.
  • The sons of Izhar: Korah, Nepheg, and Zichri.
  • The sons of Uzziel: Mishael, Elzaphan, and Zithri.
  • Aaron married Elisheba, daughter of Amminadab, sister of Naashon. Their children are Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar.
  • The sons of Korah: Assir, Elkanah, and Abiasaph.
  • Aaron’s son Eleazar married one of the daughters of Putiel, and they had Phinehas.

Where applicable, this does all seem to match the genealogy given in Genesis 46. It does bear mentioning, however, that a few of these guys live longer than the 120 years God had supposedly allotted them way back in Genesis 6:3.

Back to the story

Now that we’ve established which Aaron and Moses we’re talking about, we get to hear about Moses’s uncircumcised lips (Exod. 6:30) one last time before the chapter comes to a close.

Genesis 46: Hebrew moving day!

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The meeting of Jacob and Joseph in Egypt by William Brassey Hole

The meeting of Jacob and Joseph in Egypt by William Brassey Hole

Before heading into Egypt, Jacob/Israel makes a quick pit stop in Beersheba to chat with God. “Jacob, Jacob,” begins God, apparently forgetting all about Genesis 35:10 and 32:28.

God tells Jacob/Israel not to worry about going into Egypt, for “I will also bring you up again” (Gen. 46:4). Spoiler alert: He doesn’t. My study bible tries to explain away the lie by saying that Jacob/Israel technically lives on in his descendants, who are then brought out of Egypt. But let’s get real – would an old man concerned about a big move really interpret God’s statement in that way?

The sons of Jacob/Israel

And now we get another genealogy. At least this time, they did try to make it fit with the story by positioning it as a list of dudes who are entering Egypt (making me feel something like a border guard, honestly).

Jacob/Israel’s descendants by Leah:

  • Reuben’s sons: Hanoch, Phallu, Hezron, and Carmi.
  • Simeon’s sons: Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul (this later being the son of a Canaanite woman).
  • Levi’s sons: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.
  • Judah’s sons: Shelah, Pharez, and Zerah (plus Er and Onan, who have died). The sons of Pharez are: Hezron and Hamul.
  • Issachar’s sons: Tola, Phuvah, Job, and Shimron.
  • Zebulun’s sons: Sered, Elon, and Jahleel.

Zebulun, by the way, always makes me think of Zabulon, the leader of the Day Watch in Sergei Lukyanenko’s Night Watch series. Just sayin’.

Jacob/Israel’s sons by Zilpah:

  • Gad’s sons: Ziphion, Haggi, Shuni, Ezbon, Eri, Arodi, and Areli.
  • Asher’s kids: Jimnah, Ishuah, Ishni, Beriah, and a daughter named Serah. Beriah’s sons: Heber and Malchiel.

Jacob/Israel’s sons by Rachel:

  • Joseph’s sons: Manasseh and Ephraim.
  • Benjamin’s sons: Belah, Becher, Ashbel, Gera, Naaman, Ehi, Rosh, Muppim, Huppim, and Ard.

Jacob/Israel’s sons by Bilhah:

  • Dan’s son: Hushim.
  • Naphtali’s sons: Jahzeel, Guni, Jezer, and Shillem.

We’re also given a bit of math. We’re told how many people are in each of Jacob/Israel’s wives’ parties, so of course I had to double check!

  • Leah’s party: Bible says 33 (including Dinah). My count is also 33. So far so good!
  • Zilpah’s party: Bible says 16, but I count 17. The only way I get the same number as the Bible is if I discount Serah, who is female. But then, shouldn’t we have discounted Dinah as well?
  • Rachel’s party: Bible says 14. The only way I get the right number is if I discount Rachel (for being dead), but then I would have to ignore Genesis 46:27 that says that we’re to tack Joseph and his sons on to the very end.
  • Bilhah’s party: Bible says 7. I get 8.

At the end of this, we’re told that we should come out with 66 people. We add to this Jacob/Israel himself, and then Joseph&Sons who will be met with in Egypt, and we should come out to a nice auspicious 70.

Unfortunately, both the Bible’s numbers and mine add up to 70 before I ever add the four additional people! So what we end up with is a decidedly inauspicious 74.

Abominations

Judah rides out ahead to fetch Joseph so that he can meet them on the road. When Joseph and Jacob/Israel see each other, they embrace and weep. Jacob/Israel announces that he can die now that he’s seen his son.

This next bit is a bit confusing, even with the study bible’s help. Joseph tells his family to say that they are shepherds, “for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians” (Gen. 46:34). Now, when I am relying on someone’s hospitality, I try to avoid making them think that I’m an abomination…

The study bible explanation is that Joseph wants them to settle in Goshen, which would put them near him. Convincing the Egyptians that they are abominations would make them more likely to settle the Hebrews “apart in the land of Goshen.” I can’t figure out if that means that the land of Goshen is otherwise uninhabited and that settling them there would make them apart, or if this is a trick to get them a spot of land all to themselves within Goshen.

Now, granted, the Hebrews are shepherds, and I’m sure that the Egyptians would have found out about it eventually. So it makes good sense to state it right up front. But the way it’s phrased is really awkward for this interpretation.