1 Chronicles 7: The Northern Tribes

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

Issachar

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

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

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

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

Issachar as a whole produced 87,000 mighty warriors.

Benjamin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Naphtali

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

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

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

Manasseh

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

Jacob Blessing His Sons, by Harry Anderson

Jacob Blessing His Sons, by Harry Anderson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ephraim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Beth-shean
  • Taanach
  • Megiddo
  • Dor

Asher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Kings 15-16: A House Divided

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The following chapters take us into the first few decades after the deaths of Rehoboam and Jeroboam. Important dates are given as references to the Xth year of the other half’s king’s reign – an interesting relational dating system that could only work in a divided monarchy. By necessity, this means that we skip around in the chronology a little. The story begins in Judah for Abijam and Asa, then moves up into Israel for Nadab, Baasha, Elah, Zimri, Omri, and Ahab.

Abijam

Abijam came to power in the 18th year of Jeroboam’s reign, and ruled a total of three years. His mother was Maacah, the daughter of Abishalom, who seems to be identified by some with Absalom, making Maacah David’s granddaughter.

Of Abijam’s reign, we’re told only that he failed to live up to David’s greatness – though at least here, for once, the narrator admits that David’s greatness was slightly complicated by that whole Uriah business (1 Kgs 15:5). We also learn that hostilities continued between Israel and Judah during his reign, with the rather out-of-place verse: “Now there was war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam all the days of his life” (1 Kgs 15:6). It may be possible to explain away by seeing Rehoboam as a reference to his family rather than to the individual, but this seems a stretch. Given that the wording is very similar to 1 Kgs 14:30 and that the verse is not found here in the Septuagint, it seems likely that it’s inclusion here was in error.

No information is given about the circumstances of Abijam’s death, but he only ruled for three years.

Asa

Asa gets the best assessment of anyone in these two chapters. He is crowned king in the 20th year of Jeroboam and ruled for a rather impressive forty-one years. Weirdly, though he is described as Abijam’s son, his mother is also Maacah, the daughter of Abishalom. Either this is an extraordinary coincidence, terribly incestuous, or there’s an error somewhere – it could be that Maacah’s name is duplicated, or that Asa and Abijam were brothers.

The narrator’s principal definition of an awesome king is that Asa cracked down a bit on non-approved cultic practices. Namely, he put away the male cultic prostitutes (no word on the female ones), and removed his mother from her position as Queen Mother because she had commissioned an Asherah – which Asa had cut down and burned. He also brought votive gifts to the Temple, both his own and some from his father. His only failing was that he didn’t take down the high places.

During Asa’s reign, the king of Israel – Baasha, whom we’ll learn about shortly – built Ramah, barring the border between the two nations and apparently serving a defensive function. Given its proximity to Jerusalem (about 8km, or 4 miles), this may have been an aggressive structure as well, or at least perceived as such. In response, Asa took all the silver and gold from both Temple and palace treasuries, and brought it to King Benhadad of Syria. It seems that Benhadad had been supporting Baasha, but he was successfully bribed to switch sides – conquering Ijon, Dan, Abelbethmaacah, all of Chinneroth, and all of Naphtali.

Defeated, Baasha stopped building Ramah. It’s also implied that, as a consequence of this defeat, he dwelt in Tirzah – suggesting that perhaps he was building Ramah with the intention of moving Israel’s capitol there and had to retreat back to Tirzah, which we know from 1 Kgs 14:17 was the current capitol. Once Baasha had retreated, Asa ordered all of Judah (“none was exempt” – 1 Kgs 15:22) to carry away the stones and timber of Ramah, using them instead to build Geba in Benjamin and Mizpah. It seems that few lessons were learned regarding the dangers of conscription.

In his old age, Asa suffered from diseased feet, which my New Bible Commentary speculates may have been dropsy (p.340). After his death, he was succeeded by his son, Jehoshaphat.

Israel

Nadab

Back in Israel, Jeroboam was succeeded by his son, Nadab, in the second year of Asa’s reign. The narrator found him unworthy, and so, apparently, did others. He only managed to rule for two years before Baasha, the son of Ahijah of Issachar, revolted and killed Nadab at Gibbethon. It’s not spelled out, but since we are told that Gibbethon belonged to Philistia, it seems probable that Baasha took advantage of the battle to turn on his king.

Baasha

Baasha was crowned in the third year of Asa’s reign, and his first act as king was to slaughter all the remaining members of Jeroboam’s house – not an uncommon practice when trying to found a new dynasty. He ruled a total of twenty-four years, with Tirzah as his capitol. Of course, our narrator was no fan.

During Baasha’s reign, there was a new prophet: Jehu, son of Hanani. He was no fan of Baasha either. He prophesies that God is displeased that Baasha is no better than his predecessors and, as punishment, will see his house utterly destroyed.

Elah

In the 26th year of Asa, Elah inherited the crown of Israel from his father. Unfortunately, his reign was troubled from the start. While he was getting plastered, Zimri – the commander of half of Elah’s chariots – murdered him. It seems significant that Zimri commanded only half of the chariots – I’m not sure if this would have been common practice, or if this is meant to signify that there were already divisions happening.

Either way, Elah was deposed in the 27th year of Asa.

Zimri

While clearly a go-getter, Zimri failed to get all his ducks in a row before taking the crown through murder. After only seven days, during which he just barely had time to murder every male kin and friend of Baasha’s dynasty, he fell.

Elah’s troops had been encamped at Gibbethon, perhaps continuing the conflict that saw Nadab’s death. When they heard of Elah’s murder, they made their commander, Omri, king. Omri brought the army back to Tirzah and besieged the city. Clearly seeing that he wasn’t going to hold on to the power he’d only just taken, Zimri set the citadel of the king’s house on fire, with himself inside.

Just as a point of interest, the term used for the men associated with Baasha’s dynasty in 1 Kgs 16:11 in the King James Bible is “one that pisseth against a wall.” This is, apparently, how men are to be defined by people who clearly never met a woman who does a lot of hiking or camping.

Amri, by Guillaume Rouille, 1553

Amri, by Guillaume Rouille, 1553

Omri

Despite having the support of the soldiers under his command, Omri’s transition was not particularly smooth. Half of Israel followed Tibni, son of Ginath. While Omri defeated Tibni, the fact that Zimri’s rise and fall occured in the 27th year of Asa yet Omri’s reign is not said to have begun until the 31st year of Asa, it seems that the conflict between the two men lasted four years.

We’re told that Omri reigned a total of twelve years, six of which were in Tirzah. Yet to make the numbers of work, four of those years would have been the years of civil war, giving him only two solid years in Tirzah. After that, he bought land from a man named Shemer for two talents of silver, and built on it the city of Samaria. Not only was this the new capitol of Israel, Israel itself soon came to be known as Samaria.

Despite the text’s assessment of Omri as evil, he seems to have been quite important. From Micah 6:16, it seems that he was known for instituting some kind of legal reform, though no details are preserved. Omri is also the first Hebrew king for which we have direct non-biblical evidence:

The Moabite Stone, which was discovered in 1868, tells of the conflict between Mesha, king of Moab, and Omri, who humbled Moab for many years but was eventually defeated (ANET, 321). The inscription is remarkable for the similarty it shows between the religion of Moab and that of Israel. Mesha acts at the behest of his god, Chemosh, just as the Israelites act at the behest of YHWH. Most remarkable is that Mesha boasts of having slaughtered every man, woman, and child in Nebo, “for I had devoted them to destruction for (the god) Ashtar-Chemosh.” Omri’s son, Ahab, is mentioned in the Monolith Inscription of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser as having contributed two thousand chariots and ten thousand foot soldiers to an Aramean coalition that halted an Assyrian advance (ANET, 279). Assyrian records continued to refer to Israel as “the house of Omri” long after Omri’s descendants had ceased to rule. Omri and Ahab were kings to be reckoned with. There is much more evidence outside the Bible for their power and influence than was the case with Solomon. (Collins, A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.137,138)

Ahab

In the 38th year of Asa, Omri was succeeded by his son, Ahab. Though described by the text as just the absolute worst, Ahab seems to have been able to maintain a bit of stability in the unstable nation of Israel, ruling for an impressive twenty-two years. He was married to a woman named Jezebel, whose name should be familiar to any cultural Christian. She was the daughter of King Ethbaal of Sidonia and, through her, Ahab came to serve Baal. Not only does he make an Asherah, he also builds a temple for Baal in Samaria. As in the case of his father, we have an independent attestation of Ahab’s existence.

Somewhat out of place in this narrative, we get a note about a man named Hiel of Bethel who rebuilt Jericho. We’re told that the foundation of the city came at the cost of his first-born son, Abiram, and that the gates were built at the cost of his youngest son, Segub. This is all, says the narrative, a fulfilment of Joshua’s prophecy, given in Joshua 6:29. The most charitable reading has the two boys either having their deaths attributed to the construction (as we saw Bathsheba’s first son’s death attributed to David’s sin in 2 Samuel 12), or perhaps both sons assisted in the construction and died accidentally. There’s no reason to assume that Joshua’s prophecy predicted a future event, as opposed to Joshua’s prophecy, written after the events, describing events that it full well knew would come later when Jericho was rebuilt.

A third possibility, and perhaps the likeliest, was that these were ritual killings, human sacrifices intended to bless the construction. These sorts of sacrifices (both human and animal) have been found in much of the world, and knowledge of them survived in folk mythology even longer (as we see in this German legend). The Encyclopedia of Death and Dying quotes a book by Nigel Davies:

In the sanctuary in Gezer were found two burnt skeletons of six-year-old children and the skulls of two adolescents that had been sawn in two. At Meggido a girl of fifteen had been killed and buried in the foundations of a large structure. Excavations show that the practice of interring children under new buildings was widespread and some were evidently buried alive. (Davies, Nigel. Human Sacrifice in History and Today. New York: William Morrow and Co., 1981, p. 61)

Judges 1-2: Introduction to the judge cycle

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Judges opens up with a listing of tribal conquests in the Promised Land. There’s evidence of an editor’s hand in trying to place Judges as a continuation from the Book of Joshua (I assume that’s the Deuteronomist editor, given the way it’s done), but it’s sloppy. Even as a translation, it’s quite clear where the older portions are coming through.

For example, Judges begins with “after the death of Joshua” (Judges 1:1), but what follows is totally its own thing. The language is different, the tone is different. It’s abundantly clear that an editor, trying to upcycle old stories to make his theological point, simply glued that fraction of a sentence onto the beginning of the text to situate it in the broader historical narrative. You can still see the seams, however, as the sentence continues with the Israelites asking God “Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?” If this were really the work of a single historian taking down the narrative as it was, the people would have no cause to ask this as Joshua was the first to go up against the Canaanites. It’s done, that part of the story should be over.

Well, here, the answer is Judah. Which is another interesting detail – for a couple sentences, Judah is not a tribe but a person, as he was back in Genesis. It was a tremendous lightbulb moment for me as I saw these three separate layers shine, like looking at pysanki. You have the oldest portion of the story, where the tribes are personified as people who have personalities, deeds, familial relationships. Then you have the middling portion where tribes act independently, trying to carve little territories out for themselves. Finally, you have the newest portion, the portion from whatever region where Joshua is a folk hero, and you have his narrative made grander, his tribe’s history made into the history of all the tribes.

Judah asks “Simeon his brother” (Judges 1:3) to help him fight for the land he’s been allotted and, in return, he will help Simeon in his own lands. My study Bible notes that “the tribe of Simeon plays no significant role in the later history of Israel. Not mentioned in the Song of Deborah (5.2-31), it was probably entirely absorbed by Judah at an early day” (p.293). In other words, it seems likely that this story of the two brothers helping each other out likely came out of the memory of their intertwined history.

Together, the brothers defeat Adonibezek, who is apparently some sort of leader among the Canaanites and Perizzites. Having defeated him, the brothers then cut off his thumbs and big toes. This is apparently the thing to do with subject kings because Adonibezek, the very opposite of a sore loser, says that he used to have 70 thumbless and big toe-less kings eating his table scraps and that he is now, himself, brought as low. They bring him to Jerusalem and he dies.

Tribal Conquests (sort of)

The personification of the tribes ends, and the story continues by referring to “the men of Judah” (Judges 1:8). These men fight against Jerusalem (where they, curiously, had brought Adonibezek) and, taking it, set it on fire. They then go after the Canaanites living in Hebron. We start to see how this narrative was once independent of the Joshua account, rather than a continuation of it – Hebron was taken by Joshua in Josh. 10:36-37.

Judges 1 - Chariots of IronThen Judah goes off and conquers some other people in other places. One of them is the city of Ekron. This city was allotted to Judah in Josh. 13:3, but was also allotted to Dan in Josh. 19:43. Here, it seems to have reverted back to Judah.

The only place where Judah fails, according to the text, is in the plain. Unfortunately, they are not able to defeat them because “they had chariots of iron” (Judges 1:19). You’ll recall, of course, that Manasseh and Ephraim encountered chariots of iron in Josh. 17:16, and had concerns that they might not be able to beat such superweapons. In that story, Joshua reminds them that they have God on their side and therefore even chariots (though they may be of iron!) pose no threat. Clearly, that was a theological insert by our busy little editor rather than a testament to God’s actual power, because Judah is unable to stand against them though that very same Lord was with him (Judges 1:19).

Over at Daylight Atheism, Adam Lee tries to understand this passage’s significance in understanding the evolution of religious belief:

On the other hand, it may just be that this verse was written when Yahweh was regarded as a local deity, supernaturally powerful but not invincible. In this respect, the biblical authors might have conceived of him as similar to the ancient Greek gods, who according to the Iliad could be wounded by humans. Iron chariots, in the world of the the Ancient Near East, were the most technologically advanced weapon of war in existence. They seem to have played a decisive role in conflicts like the Battle of Qarqar in 850 BCE, when an alliance of smaller kingdoms (including King Ahab of Israel, whom the Bible’s authors reviled) fended off an invasion by the regional superpower of Assyria.

It’s possible that the Bible’s original authors imagined God as not powerful enough to overcome this technology, and that the dogma of his total omnipotence was a later innovation. (By Judges chapter 4, God seems to have acquired the ability to defeat chariots.) If so, this verse might be a fossil of that earlier belief, preserved in the text like a prehistoric insect in amber. As a part of modern Judeo-Christian theology it’s like a puzzle piece that doesn’t fit, but if we take a more rational view of the Bible as a collection of human-written and human-compiled documents, verses like this may provide valuable clues about its origin and evolution.

What follows is something of a change in tone. While Judah gets about half a chapter narrating its various successes (and one failure), the rest of the tribes are not quite so celebrated:

  • Benjamin fails to drive our the Jebusites in Jerusalem so that they must live together “to this day” (Judges 1:21) – apparently Judah’s conquest of the city in Judges 1:8 didn’t help.
  • Manasseh fails to conquer a bunch of places, but at least the Israelites are later able to enslave those natives (Judges 1:27-28).
  • Zebulun likewise fails a bunch, but enslaves the people later (Judges 1:30).
  • The same for Naphtali (Judges 1:33).
  • Ephraim fails, but has to live with the natives without getting to force them into labour (Judges 1:29).
  • Likewise for Asher (Judges 1:31-32).
  • Dan is pushed off the plain and into the hills by the Amorites, but Joseph (that would be the combined tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim) come along to harass and enslave them (Judges 1:34-36).

It’s implied that all the tribes had some successes and some failures, yet for some reason much is made of Judah’s successes while none are mentioned for the others. I found this strange, and it only got stranger when I read my study Bible notes and found out that Judah’s successes may actually be the work of our old friend the editor: “The account of their [Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ekron] capture is almost certainly unhistorical; the Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint) says specifically that Judah “did not” take them” (p.294).

In light of the theological point being set up by this chapter, it would make far more sense for Judah to receive the same treatment as the other tribes. And yet, they are given many successes (and, possibly, even some of their failures were alter edited into successes). It makes little sense, and it’s hard to imagine why the editor included it at all.

Itty Bitty Stories

The first chapter of Judges includes a few extra stories. The story of Caleb offering up his daughter, Achsah, to any man who takes Debir is taken almost verbatim from Josh. 15:13-19. If you remember, Caleb’s nephew, Othniel son of Kenaz, takes him up on the offer. Once he and Achsah are married, she tells him to petition her father for a field. The granting of the field is skipped over, but having gotten it, Achsah then asks for some springs to go along with it (which she does while dismounting a donkey in both versions, which is a rather random detail to be considered important enough to include in both versions!), and Caleb grants them.

We’re also told that the Kenites, which either includes Moses’s father-in-law or who are descended from Moses’s father-in-law (Judges 1:16 – I’m unclear on how to read the passage), went along with Judah into the Negeb and, there, they settled together. My study Bible notes that “the Kenites were a nomadic tribe closely allied to the Hebrews” (p.294). This is not the first time we’ve heard of them: In Genesis, God tells Abraham that his descendants will be given the land that currently belongs to the Kenites, among others (Gen. 15:18-21). The only other mention I can find of them is in Numbers, where Balak has a weird prophecy that involves a Kenite city being burned and the people taken captive (Num. 24:21-22). This is certainly the first time I’ve ever heard them mentioned in relation to Moses or his father-in-law.

The final story involves the tribe of Joseph (which appears as a whole tribe, not divided into Ephraim and Manasseh) going after a city named Luz. They send out spies who hang around outside the city until they see a man coming out. They accost him, saying that if he shows them how to enter, they will spare him (apparently the gate is cleverly hidden, bear with me). The man agrees, Joseph’s army destroys the city, and somehow it gets renamed Bethel. The man leaves with his family and heads into Hittite territory, where he founds a new city and names it Luz, presumably for good luck. “That is its name to this day” (Judges 1:26).

The moral of the story

If you’re confused as to why we’ve just spent half a chapter hearing about Israelite failures, Judges 2 provides your answer. An “angel of the Lord” (Judges 2:2 – who is also the Lord himself?) appears to someone and says that he brought the Israelites out of Egypt on the condition that they “make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars” (Judges 2:2). Their failure to adequately perform is the reason that so many natives remain among them. Further, the punishment of this is that “their gods shall be a snare to you” (Judges 2:3).

It’s all rather silly. They are supposed to need God to destroy the natives, but they didn’t destroy the natives, so they’ll be punished by being unable to destroy the natives. Further, the punishment for fraternizing with the enemy is having lots of temptations to fraternize with the enemy. It reminds me of the Garden of Eden story. It’s clear that this passage is an editorial insert that seeks to a) explain the continued presence of non-Hebrews in Israel despite all the “promised land” rhetoric, b) provide a moral context for the stories that are to follow, and c) set up a pattern to explain any contemporary social ills, particularly in relation to foreign peoples.

So Joshua – who is suddenly alive again, praise the Lord! – dismisses the people and everything is okay until the generation that had seen God’s works died off. The next generation, however, started serving the Baals and the Ashtaroth (Judges 2:13). This begins a cycle in which God turns against the people, selling them into the hands of the enemy du jour, then cools off a bit and raises up a judge save them, then the judge dies and the people return to their wicked ways, so God throws a fit and sells them into the hands of the next enemy. This is, I am given to understand, the pattern we will see repeated throughout Judges.

The backstory out of the way, I believe we should be seeing our first judge on Monday!

Joshua 13-21: Land allotments, oh my!

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Always a bit of a Debbie Downer, God begins by telling Joshua that he’s getting old and that there is still much land to be conquered. He then proceeds to list these lands in Josh. 13:2-6.

The narrator follows up by describing the boundaries of the land under Israelite control on the east side of the Jordan, reminding us once more about how Moses defeated King Og and King Sihon (will he ever stop going on about that?). We are told that the Israelites had failed to drive out the Geshurites and Maacathites, who still live within Israel “to this day” (Josh. 13:13).

The actual allocation sections are a little scattered, so I’ll deal with the content out of order. In Josh. 18, Joshua tells the tribes who still require lands to each send out three men to scout the land and write descriptions of it. When they return, Joshua will use a lottery system to divide it among the tribes. This all takes place at Shiloh.

ChariotsBecause the place names are extremely boring, I will just list verse references plus any detail that happens to attract my interest. Here are the tribal allocations:

Judah: Josh. 15:1-12, 20-63. Though God had promised to Joshua that no one would be able to stand against him (Josh. 1:5), the people of Judah were not able to drive out the Jebusites, who were the people living in Jerusalem. Because of this, “the Jebusites live with the people of Judah in Jerusalem to this day” (Josh. 15:63).

Reuben: Josh. 13:15-23.  Amid the listing of territories, we are reminded that the Israelites killed Balaam, “who practiced divination” (Josh. 13:22). This was, if you remember, a totally awkward twist from Numbers 31

Gad: Josh. 13:24-28. In Josh. 13:27, we are told that Gad gets “the rest of the kingdom of King Sihon. This conflicts with Josh. 13:21, where we are told that Reuben is to receive “all the kingdom of King Sihon.” The biblical penchant for exaggeration is all well and good, but probably a terrible idea when relating tribal land allocations…

Manasseh (eastern half/Machir): Josh. 13:29-31, 17:3-6. In Josh. 17, we are reminded of Zelophehad’s daughters – Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah – who are to receive an inheritance in their own right. Here, the women are given their lands.

Manasseh (western half): Josh. 17:7-13. Once more, the Israelites are unable to kill off all the native inhabitants, so that the Manassites have to wait until they strong enough to enslave the Canaanites.

Ephraim: Josh. 16:1-10. Once again, we are told that they were unable to drive some people out – the Canaanites of Gezer remain and, we are told, have been enslaved.

Benjamin: Josh. 18:11-26.

Simeon: Josh. 19:1-9. Though the apportioning of land was supposed to have been fair, for some reason Joseph had given too much to Judah. So when he gets to Simeon, he doesn’t have enough territory to give and has to carve pieces out from Judah and give them over. Mastermind Joshua strikes again. You’d think he’d have planned ahead a little…

Zebulun: Josh. 19:10-16.

Issachar: Josh. 19:17-23. Excavations began on what is believed to be Anaharath, one of Issachar’s towns, somewhat recently!

Asher: Josh. 19:24-31.

Naphtali: Josh. 19:32-39.

Dan: Josh. 19:40-48. We are told that Dan took land from Leshem, renaming it “Dan” after their ancestor. Unfortunately, they are given Zorah and Eshtaol, which had already been given to Judah back in Josh. 15:33. Poor Joshua just cannot wrap his head around how this stuff works…

Levi: Josh. 21:1-45. Though they get no territory per se, the Levites do get cities, as well as a little pasture land. A portion of the Kohathites are given thirteen towns from Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin. The rest of the Kohathites get ten towns from Ephraim, Dan, and Manasseh. The Gershonites get thirteen towns from Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, and Manasseh. The Merarites get twelve towns from Reuben, Gad, and Zebulun. We are told that Caleb had been given the fields and villages of one of the towns now being given to the Levites.

Caleb and Joshua

Caleb: Josh. 14:6-15, 15:13-19. You’ll remember Caleb has the scout who (with or without Joshua) stood against the other scouts in their position that the Israelites should not rush into the Promised Land. I can’t recall if Moses promised him his own land as a reward at the time, but the text here says that he did. And so, while Joshua is drawing all his lots, Caleb approaches and demands his reward. Though he is 85 years old now, he claims that he is still strong enough to fight and, therefore, would like to be granted the hill country where he had initially seen the Anakim (the giants he saw in Numbers 13). Joshua agrees, giving him Hebron – previously named Kiriatharba. The Arba in the name is the “greatest man among the Anakim” (Josh. 14:15). Incidentally, there’s a discussion over at Remnant of Giants about whether “Anakim” here should refer to a specific group of people, or whether it is used more broadly as a term for giants.

We have to wait until the next chapter and half of Judah’s allotment before we find out what happens next. Caleb heads up to Hebron and defeats Anak’s three sons, Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai. Having now a taste for blood, he heads off to fight Debir, offering his daughter, Achsah, as a wife for anyone who conquers it for him. Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s brother, takes him up on the offer and marries his niece. She tells her new husband to ask her father for a field and they are given some land in the Negeb. Later, while dismounting a donkey (presumably not an unflattering nickname for Othniel), she asks her father for water springs as well. Caleb gives her a few.

It’s a cute story, but we were told in Josh. 11:21 that it was Joshua who had defeated the Anakim in Hebron and Debir.

Joshua: Josh. 19:49-51. Now that all the lands are distributed, God tells the Israelites to give Joshua some land, too. I love this little detail – we are specifically told that the Israelites gave Joshua his land (on God’s command), just in case anyone dared to wonder if perhaps Joshua was skimming a little from the top for himself! Of course, we’re also told that he specifically asked for the town they gave him, so it still feels a little like a stacked deck. Either way, he receives Timnathserah, which is in his tribe’s – Ephraim – land.

The Remainder

In Josh. 20, the cities of refuge are appointed. You will remember these cities from Numbers 35. We had been told that there should be six of them in total, and they are:

  1. Kedesh in Naphtali’s territory
  2. Shechem in Ephraim’s territory
  3. Kiriatharba (Hebron) in Judah’s territory
  4. Bezer in Reuben’s territory
  5. Ramoth in Gad’s territory
  6. Golan in Manasseh’s territory

The latter three had already been appointed in Deuteronomy 4.

The tribe of Joseph (composed of Manasseh and Ephraim) complain to Joshua that they are too numerous for the amount of land they were given. Joshua, who sadly lacks a head for numbers, also managed to muck up Judah’s portion (giving them too much) in Josh. 19:9. To solve the problem, Joshua sends them into the forests belonging to the Perizzites and Rephaim to clear some space for themselves.

But, reply Manasseh and Ephraim, those guys have chariots of iron! (Josh. 17:16) Joshua reassures them that they will be fine, and that they will drive out the Canaanites even though they have chariots of iron and are very strong.

Joshua 1: The king is dead, long live the king!

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In this chapter, we have Joshua’s official commissioning, where God tells Joshua that he is to be Moses’s successor. Three separate times in this speech, God instructs Joshua to be strong and courageous (Josh. 1:6, Josh. 1:7, and Josh. 1:9). It’s an interesting configuration, clearly important enough to the author that he felt the need to repeat it so many times. I have no theories about the strength portion of the formula, but the courage portion reminds me of Deut. 20:8 where faint-hearted soldiers are instructed to just stay home. Holy war, urges God/Moses, is only for the brave.

Joshua, by Marc Chagall, 1931

Joshua, by Marc Chagall, 1931

In his speech, God says: “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you” (Josh. 1:5). Over and over again, it’s made clear that Joshua isn’t qualified for leadership because of any personal quality, but rather because he has been chosen by God. It’s tidbits like these that make me think that the people who wrote this book must have had political power – “It doesn’t matter if we’re unqualified for leadership,” the text argues. “We are your leaders and therefore have divine sanction on our side!”

I find it interesting that Joshua is, apparently, from the tribe of Ephraim (Num. 11:28 and Num. 13:8). He is not  from Judah, the secular leaders, nor from Levi, the ones we might expect to be those who commune with God. I feel like this has to have some sort of meaning, but I have no idea what.

God’s speech seems a little confused. In Josh. 1:5, he says that “no man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life.” Yet, a mere two verses later, he warns Joshua not to turn away from the law, “that you may have success wherever you go” (Josh. 1:7), implying that his blessing is in no way a promise – or at least not a promise without some mighty strings attached. And, of course, we’ll read later about one of Joshua’s attacks failing.

Finally, God says:

This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. (Josh. 1:8)

I’ve been mulling this verse over for a few days now, and the best interpretation I can come up with is that Joshua’s job is to follow the law (as representative and leader of the people), not to teach it. In other words, I think that this is a response to a church/state sort of debate, perhaps one in which the Levites were concerned about encroachment from the monarchy (like, say, a king *coughJoshiahcough* initiating fairly major cultic reforms).

Or, perhaps, it was Josiah’s own attempt to seal his reforms, warning future kings not to get into the pontification business and move the country away from the reforms he had intended for it.

The speech that launched a thousand ships

According to Collins, one of the traits of the Deuteronomistic History books is that “key points in this history are marked by speeches” (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.94). In this chapter, we see the speech that marks the beginning of the conquest.

In it, Joshua tells his officers to make ready to cross the Jordan, which he has planned to do in three days’ time.

He also reminds Reuben, Gad, and the settled half of Manasseh that Moses commanded them (not God, just Moses – Josh. 1:13) to send their fighters along with the Israelite army until the very end of the conquest. Though, of course, their families can get to business settling.

Conquering Morality

The Israelites in this book are, unquestionably, presented as foreign conquerors. Yes, they had already lived in the vicinity for a few generations several hundred years ago, but the land was never theirs. Even if it had been, Jacob was not compelled to move his family into Egypt. He determined that conditions would be better for his family in Egypt, so he packed up and moved.

The idea that the Israelites might have claim to Palestine is hinged entirely on God’s say so – a deity who belongs to the Israelites and not, notably, to those currently occupying Palestine. In other words, the situation feels a bit like if I were to walk into my neighbour’s house and say “My cat told me that she wanted me living here, so it’s time for you to leave.” (And my cat’s name is Kali, so the cat/god distinction is even flimsier than it is ordinarily.)

It’s all very dubious.

But it becomes all the more dubiouserer when we see that God doesn’t just demand an occupation, but an actual genocide.

This is certainly one of those examples that makes me nervous when people talk about the value of “biblical morality.”

The whole discussion is further complicated by the archeological evidence, which seems to be telling us that there isn’t actually a distinction between Israelite and Canaanite. The two appear to have been a single culture, divided at some point by  a theological schism cemented in place by a narrative of separate provenance.

This becomes rather important when people defend the conquest by saying that it was as much a punishment of the Canaanites for their sins as it was a reward for the faith of the Israelites. As James McGrath puts it: “The practices that are so strongly condemned as “Canaanite” in the Bible were traditional Israelite ones, whoever else may also have had these traditions.”

Deuteronomy 32: God’s chart topper

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At the end of the last chapter, Moses gathered together all the elders and officers of Israel to teach them God’s new song. This, finally, is that song.

It begins in the usual way: With a description of how awesome and totally cool God is, but everything goes wrong and it’s always someone else’s fault. The people didn’t respect him enough, so “they are no longer his children because of their blemish” (Deut. 32:5). While the sentiment is reversed within a couple lines, where Moses rhetorically asks: “Is he not your father, who created you, who made you and established you?” (Deut. 32:6) – which is it’s own little parental mindfuck – I find it rather horrifying that God would go there. I mean, a god turning away from a people who aren’t worshipping him properly is all well and good, but if he’s to use the parental imagery, he loses the right to keep pulling this “I turn away from you, you are no longer my children” stuff.

Moses and the Promised Land, by Joni Ware, 2009

Moses and the Promised Land, by Joni Ware, 2009

In his description of how God created the people, Moses sings about the sons of men, and how God “fixed the bounds of the peoples according tot he number of the sons of God” (Deut. 32:8). According to my study Bible, this line is supposed to mean that God allows other members of the heavenly court to govern the other nations, while God sees to Israel personally. Given that other parts of this very song come off very monotheistic, I really wish we had a more explicit cosmology to look at.

Moses then goes on to talk about how God took care of Jacob, making him “suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock” (Deut. 32:13) – a miracle, obviously, but also some very maternal imagery. Given that God is later conflated with a Rock (my study Bible capitalizes the word), it certainly makes it seem like God is playing the part of a Mother Goddess figure, nursing Jacob at the breast of the land. All of this is doubly interesting because I can’t recall anything in Genesis that would give an indication of this sort of relationship – except that it is Jacob’s descendent who are the tribal founders, making Jacob the founder of the whole nation.

Moses then goes on to talk about a Jeshurun, which from the context appears to be a anthropomorphism of Israel, who grows fat and complacent, eventually forsaking God. Ironically, Jeshurun apparently means “the Upright One,” according to my study Bible.

Then, he “stirred him [God] to jealousy with strange gods” (Deut. 32:16). I find all the references to God’s jealousy quite interesting. I have a friend in a poly relationship who once explained to me that jealousy comes from a lack of self-confidence, from feeling insecure in your position in a relationship. In other words, if you feel (consciously or subconsciously) that you are not worthy enough for your partner, you react with jealousy when you see your partner in a situation where they might encounter someone better. So take of that what you will.

With Jeshurun being such a meanie, God decides that he will provoke him back by sending a “foolish nation” (Deut. 32:21) after the Israelites, to heap evils on them and kill them – even “the suckling child” (Deut. 32:25). So there’s that mercy and ‘slow to anger’ stuff he’s been talking about. In fact, it seems that the only thing preventing him from destroying the people entirely is that the nations he sends in to do his dirty work might come to think that they achieved their victories for themselves, rather than crediting God with being so totally awesome.

God will also rub it all in a bit. When the people have been conquered, he will ask them Where are your gods now? “Let them rise up and help you, let them be your protection!” (Deut. 32:38).

Then God goes on for a bit about what a gross, vindictive jerk he is.

Go up the mountain

With the song finished, God sends Moses up to Abarim, Mount Nebo, to look down on the Promised Land. Once there, he will die, as Aaron died, because they “broke faith with me [God] at the waters of Meribath-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin; because you did not revere me as holy in the midst of the people of Israel” (Deut. 32:51).

Meribath-kadesh seems to be yet another name for Massah and Meribah from the stories we saw in Exodus 17 and Numbers 20.

Deuteronomy 31: Passing the baton

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At 120 years old, Moses is told that he will not be going over the Jordan River with the rest of the people, so a replacement must be named. God chooses Joshua son of Nun. So Moses dutifully summons Joshua to him in front of everyone and tells him to be strong and courageous, and to remember that God is with him. That seems to be taking it rather well, considering what Moses has been. If he feels any resentment at having to pass the baton, he doesn’t seem to show it.

Moses Receiving the Law, by William Blake, c.1780

Moses Receiving the Law, by William Blake, c.1780

Moses then “wrote the law” (Deut. 31:9), supposedly the book of Deuteronomy, but that’s an assumption. It could just refer to the ordinances. Once it is written, Moses hands it over to the Levites to carry along with the ark, and also to the elders of Israel – which could mean that he either wrote multiple copies, or that both groups are responsible for the book.

From then on, Moses charges them to read out the book to the whole congregation every seven years, at the feast of booths, so that they can all hear it and learn it. This includes the men, the women, the children, and even the sojourners.

God then makes another seven days” call, and calls Moses and Joshua to the door of the tent of meeting, appearing to them as a pillar of cloud. There, he tells Moses that the people will betray him, so he’ll turn away from them so that “they will be devoured” (Deut. 31:16-17). To prepare his “I told you so” moment, he asks Moses to write down a song. Moses does so, and then God commissions Joshua, a repetition of the story from Numbers 27.

To close off, Moses gives his own warning to the people, saying: “Behold, while I am yet alive with you, today you have been rebellious against the Lord; how much more after my death!” (Deut. 31:27). A point that might have been better made if Moses himself were not about to die for his own rebelliousness.

The whole chapter bounces all over the place and was rather hard to follow. I think Brant Clements of Both Saint and Cynic sums it up well:

Verses 14-18 “predict” God’s rejection of Israel. In verses 19-22 YHWH instructs Moses to write “this song” (What song?). Verse 23 focuses on Joshua again. Verses 24-29 hark back to 9-13. Here Moses is instructed to place the book he has written beside the ark of the Covenant. And then in verse 30, we are given an introduction to Moses song which begins in chapter 32 (Oh, that song!).

Deuteronomy 1-3: Recapping with a slightly faulty memory

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Deuteronomy picks up the story from the end of Numbers. The Israelites are hanging out in Moab, on the wrong side of the Jordan, getting some last minute instructions from Moses. Before getting into the ordinances, however, Moses decides to make sure that everyone is up to speed on what’s happened so far.

Moses recalls feeling rather overwhelmed with the duties of being the leader, and he tells the story of selecting tribal leaders (and sub-leaders) to help him. He does not mention the involvement of his father-in-law (then called Jethro) – as told in Exodus 18 – where he notices that Moses seems a little tightly-wound and recommends that he do some delegating. We also don’t get the details from Numbers 11, with the prophesying and the involvement of Joshua.

But where this narrative does flesh things out a bit is with the instructions that Moses gave to his new judges during the delegation. In particular, he instructs them to judge “righteously,” whether between two Israelites or an Israelite and a non, whether when judging a “small” man or a “great” one, etc. They are also not to “be afraid of the face of man, for the judgement is God’s” (Deut. 1:17), which I take to mean that they shouldn’t allow fear repercussions (social, political, physical, etc) to influence the judgement rendered. Overall, these are great ideas in principle, though, of course, nearly impossible to enforce.

He also tells them that they are to come to him if the cases are too hard, and Moses will consult with God on their behalf. It’s not specified whether that means that they are to come to Moses specifically, or whether they are to come to whomever happens to be the leader or prophet at the time. The implications of either interpretation are rather important.

The Scouts

When Moses retells the story of the scouts, he gets a rather important detail wrong, and then it cascades from there.

He tells the Israelites about how “all of you came near me, and said, ‘Let us send men before us, that they may explore the land for us'” (Deut. 1:22). But if you’ll remember, back in Numbers 13, it was God who told Moses to send the scouts, saying: “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan” (Num. 13:1-2).

Why the difference?

Stained glass found in the Mt. Nebo Presbyterian Church

Stained glass found in the Mt. Nebo Presbyterian Church

One clue may be in Moses’ response. In Deuteronomy, he agreed to send the scouts, for “the thing seemed good to me” (Deut. 1:23).

The sin that condemns all the people to spend 40 years in the wilderness is still that they were scared by the scout’s report. In Numbers 13, we read about the “evil report” that the scouts brought back, but I noted then that it was unclear whether the “evil” part of the report was that it was untrue or whether it was just bad news.

The two books agree that Canaan is wonderful and has some nice fruit, but the Israelites say: “The people are greater and taller than we; the cities are great and fortified up to heaven; and moreover we have seen the sons of the Anakim there” (Deut. 1:28).

Granted, they could simply be repeating what the lying scouts told them, but it seems to me now as it seemed to me in Numbers – that the scouts are punished for telling the truth because doing so makes the people falter. By warning them of what’s to come, they are guilty of introducing doubt where there should only be blind faith in God’s ability to win any war he pleases. So it matters whether it was the Israelites who had sent the scouts or God (because if God sent the scouts and then punished them for doing as instructed, it’d create a really tough situation for his PR team).

What’s really interesting here, though, is how the passage seems to be a continuation of Numbers 14. I had noticed then that when God lists the people who will be spared, he only lists Caleb and Joshua. He doesn’t mention either Moses or Aaron who, at that point in the narrative, were still goodies in God’s books.

We had to wait until much later, Numbers 20, for Moses to commit the sin that is explicit said to be the reason why he will be barred from entering Canaan. Yet here, Moses agrees with the Numbers 14 narrative that he is not an exception to the punishment:

The Lord was angry with me also on your account, and said, ‘You also shall not go in there’ (Deut. 1:37)

Moses plays the Blame Game in Deut. 3:26, as well:

But the Lord was angry with me on your account, and would not hearken to me.

Though, of course, it was entirely his own actions that damned him in Numbers 20.

I also find it interesting that, as in Numbers 14, Caleb’s exception to the punishment is mentioned first, and Joshua’s comes later, almost as an afterthought. In every instance where Joshua has appeared so far (except, tellingly, in Numbers 13 where he is listed as being among the scouts but his name is spelled quite differently), he feels added in – like a later editor had the book of Joshua and wanted to legitimize his leadership by giving him a history of associations with Moses. (I discuss this at greater lengths in this post about Joshua.)

Whom to kill, whom to spare

Moses retells the story of why the Israelites had to go around – rather than through – Edom. In Numbers 20:14-21, the Israelites sent messengers to Edom asking for passage. When Edom refused, they were forced to go around. In Deuteronomy 2:4-5, God was worried that the Israelites might spook Edom, and asked them to go around as a courtesy.

There’s a speech in there about how the Israelites are related to the Edomites (Jacob, patriarch of the Israelites, and Esau, grandsire of the Edomites, were brothers), so they should not harm them. Likewise, the Moabites and Ammonites are descended from Lot and should also be left alone.

In both cases, we are also told that they are living in lands that God has given them, so those lands are rightfully theirs.

David Plotz sees this as an explanation for why the Moabites were not punished – but the Midianites were – in Numbers 25, though women of both groups were caught trying to tempt the Israelites into the worship of other gods.

But not to worry, there were plenty of people that the Israelites were allowed to harass.

We get a repeat of the story from Numbers 20:14-21, where the Israelites are refused passage by the Edomites. Except that in Deuteronomy 2:26-31, the one doing the refusing is Sihon, king of the Amorites in Heshbon. This makes them fair game for harassment (and is presumably the reason why the Edomite refusal is conveniently unmentioned).

Of course, the reason given for King Sihon’s refusal is that God made him refuse:

But Sihon the king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him; for the Lord your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, that he might give him into your hand, as at this day. (Deut. 2:30)

So it’s not really Sihon’s refusal that dooms his people, but rather all part of God’s original plan. But, I guess not to appear the jerk, he orchestrates things so that it looks like Sihon deserved his fate. Or, more likely, God is like a cat that just tripped – he wants to make sure that everything knows that he totally meant to do that.

The Israelites also fight with King Of of Bashan. His and Sihon’s lands are divided between the Reubenites, Gadites, and half of Manasseh.

The multitudes

When addressing the Israelites, Moses says: “The Lord your God has multiplied you, and behold, you are this day as the stars of heaven for multitude” (Deut. 1:10). Does that mean that the multitudes part of the promise to Abraham has been fulfilled?

The reference certainly seems to suggest it, yet Moses is not yet satisfied:

May the Lord, the God of your fathers, make you a thousand times as many as you are, and bless you, as he has promised you. (Deut. 1:11)

Closing business

Commenter Abbie from The King and I went through much of these chapters and found which parts of what stories were selected for retelling – and, most importantly, which sources those passages came from. Her analysis deals with the Documentary Hypothesis, which you can read more about on Wikipedia.

Her whole comment is quite interesting, so do go have a read. But in summary, she found that material is derived strictly from Exodus and Numbers, and that it seems to be “mostly drawn from chapters that have a mix of JE and P, but only containing JE references… except in ONE case… which is basically fossil rabbits in the precambrian.”

Deuteronomy 3 ends with the appointing of Joshua as Moses’ successor.

Numbers 34: Redistribution of wealth

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

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

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

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

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

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

Numbers 32: The eager beavers

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While hanging out in Gilead, along the east bank of the Jordan river, representatives of the tribes of Gad and Reuben come to Moses, Eleazar, and the other tribal leaders. They point out that the lands they’re in now are actually kinda nice, and they’d really be rather quite content to just stay here.

Moses shames Gad and Reuben for letting “your brethren go to the war while you sit here” (v.6). He asks them if they would discourage the rest by bailing now, and reminds them of how their forefathers had discouraged the people after the scouting episode in Numbers 13. Remember, he says, God sentenced us to 40 years in the wilderness after that!

“Behold,” says Moses. “You have risen in your fathers’ stead, a brood of sinful men, to increase still more the fierce anger of the Lord against Israel! For if you turn away from following him, he will again abandon them in the wilderness; and you will destroy all this people” (v.14-15).

Bit much? Sure. Bad enough that David Plotz is left rather uncomfortable with the Moses character arc:

Moses’ indignation comes from nowhere and seems entirely undeserved. […] Again, it’s hard not to feel that the brilliant and humane prophet who has dominated the Torah is slipping away, and that he has suddenly become an old, angry, vindictive tyrant.

I don’t think that Plotz is being fair here. An army can’t function if soldiers keep dropping out, en masse, along the way. If all the tribes are going to get their own land, all the tribes have to fight for it. Otherwise, the first couple get to settle down, and the remaining tribes will be too few in number to continue the campaign.

Moses has, absolutely, been acting like a tyrant. But I don’t think that’s the case in this particular chapter. Rather, Moses is telling Gad and Reuben that they don’t just get to take theirs and run. They have to stick it through until everyone gets their share.

I may not agree with the whole holy war / take the land through slaughter thing, but if you’re going to do it, at least do it as a team.

The Compromise

Gad and Reuben respond with a compromise. They propose that they build fortified cities “for our little ones” (v.16) and sheepfolds for their flocks, then march out with the Israelite army. That way, at least their animals, wives, and children would be safe while they fight. “We will not return to our homes until the people of Israel have inherited each his inheritance” (v.18).

Proving that Moses is not nearly as unreasonable in this chapter as Plotz made him out to be, he agrees to this compromise. Since he won’t be crossing the Jordan personally, he conveys the deal to Eleazar and Joshua.

The punishment if Gad and Reuben fail to uphold their part of the bargain is, by the way, incredibly light as far as biblical threats go. Moses says to Eleazar and Joshua that if Reuben and Gad don’t pull through, “they shall have possessions among you in the land of Canaan” (v.30). That’s right, if they fulfil their end of the bargain, they get the nice lands that they want. If they don’t, they get the perfectly fine lands that were originally planned for them. This is “old, angry, vindictive tyrant” Plotz is so concerned about?

As you can see from the map, Manasseh also has a little patch of land over on the east side of the river. They get stuck in here, totally as if they’d been in the deal from the beginning, as Moses dedicates the lands to the three tribes. Verses 34-42 just list all the various towns that the three tribes build.

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