The Book of Numbers: A Critique of Genesis

The Book of Numbers: A Critique of Genesis

Calum Carmichael
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    The Book of Numbers: A Critique of Genesis
    Book Description:

    In this work Calum Carmichael-a legal scholar who applies a literary approach to the study of the Bible-shows how each law and each narrative in Numbers, the least researched book in the Pentateuch, responds to problems arising in narrative incidents in Genesis. The book continues Carmichael's process of demonstrating how every law in the Pentateuch is a response to a problem arising in a biblical narrative, not to an inferred societal situation.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18332-0
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 Genesis Extended
    (pp. 1-14)

    The Book of Numbers is an integral part of a narrative that runs from Genesis through 2 Kings: the Primary History, as it has come to be called.¹ Numbers might be viewed as a study in secular and sacred leadership—with a twist. Moses represents more the secular side and Aaron the sacred. The twist is that their decisions and actions often oppose the ways of the ancestors in the Book of Genesis, particularly the conduct of Jacob, Judah, and Joseph. Before proceeding to an analysis of Numbers (in chapter 2), some comments are in order to introduce the role...

  5. 2 Pharaoh and Yahweh as God-Kings (Numbers 1–4)
    (pp. 15-25)

    I begin the analysis of Numbers by emphasizing and extending the recognition that as Numbers is part of the larger body of material Genesis through 2 Kings, its contents continue where the Book of Leviticus leaves off. Num 3:4 refers to the incident in Leviticus 10 about the deaths of Aaron’s two sons, Nadab and Abihu, so plainly here is evidence that Numbers is a continuation of Leviticus. In keeping with the character of biblical history writing, the past is constantly reworked (and future events in Joshua through 2 Kings anticipated too).¹ Before concentrating on Numbers, I will comment about...

  6. 3 The Suspected Adulteress and the Nazirite (Numbers 5 and 6)
    (pp. 26-43)

    The two laws about the suspected adulteress and the nazirite—one follows the other but only minor links in language and structure between them have been observed—have long proved notoriously difficult to interpret. The Near Eastern parallels that critics have produced for proceedings against the suspected adulteress are rather thin, one expert bluntly stating, “This ordeal of bitter waters has no analogy in the ancient East.”¹ As for the vocation of the nazirite, we are equally lacking much illumination from Near Eastern sources. It points to “a fascinating, albeit elusive, aspect of Israelite religion.”² In any event, Near Eastern...

  7. 4 A Test Case for the Study of Biblical Law (Lev 6:2–7 [5:20–26] and Num 5:6–10)
    (pp. 44-53)

    I have reserved a detailed discussion of the rule about a breach of trust in Num 5:6–10 until now because scholars invariably relate it back to the rule in Lev 6:2–7 (5:20–26) about dissembling in a transaction. They view the Numbers rule as an addition or supplement to the Leviticus rule. The treatment of the two rules serves to demonstrate the irreconcilable difference between my understanding of biblical law and that of scholars committed to the long-standing historical-critical approach. Aside from contesting their views, I particularly wish to demonstrate that the distinction scholars make between the two...

  8. 5 Joseph and Moses as Sources of Discord (Numbers 7–14)
    (pp. 54-67)

    The focus on the establishment of the Israelite sanctuary in Numbers 7 is an example of the biblical narrator’s consistent interest in beginnings. Significantly, in light of the previous focus on Judah in the rules in Numbers 5 and 6, he is cited first in the list of the twelve Genesis patriarchs in Numbers 7: “And Yahweh said unto Moses, They shall offer their offering, each prince on his day, for the dedicating of the altar. And he that offered his offering the first day was Nahshon the son of Amminadab, of the tribe of Judah” (Num 7:11, 12).


  9. 6 Joseph’s Dreams and the Laws of Numbers 15
    (pp. 68-89)

    Just before the five rules in Numbers 15, we have the narrative about the Israelite spies. These spies, we saw, dismay their fellow Israelites with a report about the daunting nature of the people Israel has to displace in order to take over Canaan. The people are godlike, semidivine. They are called the Anakim-Nephilim. The name evokes the semidivine Nephilim of Gen 6:4. The Israelites attempt to defeat them but fail because their deity, Yahweh, withdraws his leadership. Why, then, do we move from those events to a rule in Numbers 15 about the grain offerings to be presented at...

  10. 7 The Status of Firstborn (Numbers 16–18)
    (pp. 90-102)

    The rules in Numbers 15 took up issues arising from problems among Jacob and his sons, the first generation of Israelites. Under special scrutiny was the idolatrous aspect of Joseph’s role as a superior being in his family and later as second only to Pharaoh in Egypt. His brothers expressed hostility to Joseph because of the divine status he communicated about himself in his dreams. Numbers 16, in turn, recounts the hostility of Korah and others to Moses because Moses is seen to enjoy divine status in his time. The Numbers 16 narrative hangs together well because of the concentrated...

  11. 8 The Ritual of the Red Heifer (Numbers 19)
    (pp. 103-119)

    David Daube began his bookStudies in Biblical Lawby quoting a line from John Bunyan’sPilgrim’s Progress: “Would’st thou read Riddles, and their Explanation?” In what follows I attempt an explanation for a riddle, the ritual of the Red Heifer, which has baffled interpreters down the ages. Crucial to the solution, I will contend, is Daube’s explanation of one of the key events he addressed in his book: how Jacob acquired the birthright from Esau. The incident is recounted in Gen 25:20–34 and is so written as to anticipate later developments concerning Jacob and Esau and their descendants,...

  12. 9 Speech Acts (Numbers 20–24)
    (pp. 120-134)

    From this point on, in Numbers 20–36, the narrator evokes the history of Jacob: from the point when, acquiring the birthright through trickery, Jacob aroused Esau’s antagonism to his ending up in Joseph’s Egypt. A succession of events in Genesis comes under scrutiny: Jacob’s need of divine protection because of his fear of meeting a hostile Esau after he flees with his two wives from his father-in-law Laban (Genesis 28–31); his deliverance from Esau’s enmity (Genesis 32 and 33); the problem of sexual seduction by a Canaanite that causes consternation in Jacob’s family at the Hivite city Shechem...

  13. 10 Sexual and Religious Seduction (Numbers 25–31)
    (pp. 135-158)

    Israel’s dealings with foreign groups dominated the previous accounts of events in Numbers 20–24. The king of Edom refused Israel passage through Edomite territory, and the king of Moab employed the Mesopotamian diviner Balaam to curse the migrating Israelites. In Numbers 25–31 Arameans, Canaanites (Hivites, for example), Edomites, Moabites, and Midianites, explicitly or implicitly, all come into reckoning. The following outline suggests how certain Genesis narratives continue to exert their influence on Numbers 25–31. The Genesis narratives recount the history of the first Israelite family, Jacob’s, when they were migrating and encountering foreign groups (or the ancestors...

  14. 11 Reuben’s Legacy (Numbers 32–36)
    (pp. 159-178)

    Throughout Numbers there is allusion to events in Genesis because the later era links up with the earlier, legendary time of the nations’ founding fathers. Numbers 32–36 look back to significant events in the lives of Reuben and Joseph as described in Genesis 35–50. There is a negative view of Reuben’s loss of firstborn status (revealed in the allotment of Reuben’s tribal inheritance in Numbers 32–34) and a positive view of Reuben saving Joseph’s life from the threat of his murderous brothers (revealed in the establishment of the cities of asylum and the homicide laws in Numbers...

  15. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 179-180)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 181-194)
  17. Index of References
    (pp. 195-204)
  18. Subject Index
    (pp. 205-208)