Numbers and Their Meaning
NUMBERS 1 According to Numbers 1 there were in the exodus, generation 603,550 combat-ready men aged twenty years and older.This figure suggests an enormous overall population, perhaps as large as two million. The obvious question is how this many people could have survived in the desert.
What other indications does the Bible offer concerning the Israelite population at the time of the exodus? +
When all the census figures of Numbers 1 are added up,the total is indeed 603,550, suggesting that the tally be taken at face value.
Exodus 1:7— 9 states that the Israelites had multiplied so steadily that the pharaoh complained that "the Israelites have become much too numerous for us." But the pharaoh may have been describing how he perceived the Israelites, based on his fear and hatred of foreigners.
In contrast, Deuteronomy 7:7 states that Israel was "the fewest of all peoples" (cf. Ex 23:29-30).
It is difficult to visualize an army of over 600,000 being panic-stricken at the prospect of being pursued by only 600 chariots (Ex 14:5-12).
It is curious that all Israel is purported to have used only two midwives (Ex 1:15). Some theorize that they were actually representative leaders of a large midwifery guild.
Numbers 3:43 reports 22,273 firstborn males in Israel.This would suggest that only 22,273 mothers had borne sons. Taking into account the many sons under age twenty, there would have to have been at least one million males in total. The implication, absurd as it may be, is that each mother had at least 44 sons!
Looking at the data another way, if there were 22,273 firstborn sons, each of whom had an average of five brothers, the total number of men would have been around 133,638, a figure still far too low to reconcile with the census results in Numbers 1.
If there were 603,550 men-at-arms, the majority of whom would likely have been married, how is it that there were only 22,273 firstborn sons?
We could attempt to adjust the estimated total number of births per mother by assuming that many households were polygamous, resulting in more mothers than firstborn sons. But polygamy was not widely practiced among commoners, and few slaves could afford more than one wife.
Scholars have argued that the word translated"thousand"(eleph) can also mean something like"squad"and that the data represent both the number of squads and the number of men in them. The figure for Reuben, using this hypothesis, would be reduced from 46,500 to"46 squads:500 men." If we add up all the numbers in this way, the final tally for men-at-arms in Numbers 1 is 5,550 (i.e., 5 eleph [here meaning "thousands"] plus 550).This could explain the 603,550 in Numbers 1:46:The final figure ("603 eleph 550") could equate to"598 eleph [squads]: 5 eleph [thousands] plus 550 men." If so, the total population would have been about 20,000,
But this theory, too, has difficulties:
The numbers for the Levites (ch. 3) seem to have been computed differently. For example, Gershon is numbered at 7,500 (3:22), which would mean"7 squads:500 men." But why would the number of men per "squad" (over 71) be so much higher here than in Numbers 1 (approximately 10)? It may be that the priestly groups had more men per "squad" because the organizational structure for priests and Levites was different from that used for soldiers.
If the total population of Israel was only about 20,000, what are we to make of the 22,273 firstborn males alleged in 3:43? We cannot take the total number of firstborn males to be only 273, since the text says that there were 273 more firstborn than there were Levites.
Whatever we make of all the difficulties described above, it is clear that the ancient Israelites had ways of dealing with numbers that are perplexing to us. The Bible is an ancient book from an ancient culture,and we cannot assume that it handles data in the same way a modern census-taker would. It is important to realize that the Biblical account is neither erroneous nor deliberately misleading. We simply do not understand how the Israelites conducted and reported either a military or a Levitical census.
The Ketef Hinnom Amulets
NUMBERS 6 In 1979 archaeologists unearthed a burial site at Ketef Hinnom, just south of Jerusalem, on the southwestern side of Gehenna, near the Biblical boundary between the tribes of Judah and Benjamin (Jos 18:16). Excavated from within a burial repository were two small, rolled plaques of thin, pliable silver, each about the size of a credit card. When unrolled, they revealed delicately etched inscriptions that included a shortened version of the priestly benediction recorded in Numbers 6:24-26. 0ne section has been translated as follows:
The LORD bless and keep you;
The LORD make his face shine upon you and give you peace.
Archaeological and paleographic evidence dates these plaques to the late seventh century B.C., thereby making them the earliest written citations of Scripture. They may relate to rituals of worship, during which priests would have recited this priestly benediction (cf. Lev 9:22). Perhaps worn as amulets (charms inscribed with incantations or symbols to aid the wearer or to protect him or her against evil), the plaques do reveal that this benediction was used in popular religious practice, perhaps to secure blessing for the owner. Since later Jewish traditions also quoted Numbers 6:24-26 in the context of funeral rites, the discovery of the plaques in the burial repository suggests that they served to bless the deceased person's journey to Sheol, the netherworld or abode of the dead.
Hittite Instructions for Priests
NUMBERS 8 Several copies of a Hittite text outlining the instructions for priests and temple personnel are currently housed in Turkish collections. Dating prior to the time of the Hittite King Suppiluliumas I (c.1350 — 1325 B.c), the text details these temple officials' proper appearance and conduct during the performance of their duties. A few instructions nearly parallel the Biblical rules for priests and Levites:
Hittite temple kitchen attendants were to trim their hair and fingernails and dress in clean garments. The house in which the sacred bread was baked was to be swept clean, and no pigs or dogs (animals considered filthy in antiquity) were allowed in that house. Similarly, the Biblical consecration ritual for the Levites required them to shave their entire bodies and wash their clothes to symbolize their absolute ritual purity before God (Nu 8:7).2 Further, the Israelite high priest was to maintain clean and well-coiffed hair and to refrain from tearing his clothes in mourning because he had been dedicated with the anointing oil of the Lord (Lev 21:10-12).
Although Hittite temple servants received a daily allowance of foodstuffs for themselves and their families, if a servant were to siphon extra wine or steal a portion of any item intended for sacrifice, he was to be put to death. Likewise, if such a servant were to pilfer a temple treasure or any other article designated for the gods' use, he and his entire family were to be killed.
In Israel, Levites too received daily allowances from their congregations' sacrifices (Lev 28-36; Nu 18:8-19; Dt 18:1-5).3 Yet Eli's wicked sons selected the choicest portions of meat before the sacrifice was properly divided, thereby incurring God's wrath (1Sa 2:12— 17,27-34). And, just as the Hittites were warned (under punishment of death) not to steal from the gods, Achan and his family were stoned to death because he retained some plunder that was to have been devoted to the Lord (Jos 7:1,16-26).
Hittite priests were to conduct designated feasts at their appointed times, using the requisite number of animals and/or other food supplies. Similarly, God instructed Moses regarding the observance of specific feasts at particular times throughout the year (Lev 23; Nu 9:1-14; Dt 16:1-17).
Hittite farmers and herdsmen were to bring the firstfruits of their crops and herds to the temple. If they attempted to cheat the gods by withholding the best produce or highest-quality fatted animals for themselves, they were severely punished, often by their own deaths and those of their entire families. Likewise, the Israelites were to donate the firstfruits of their harvests to the Lord: The firstborn of man and beast were to be redeemed—in a sense "purchased back" through sacrifices—in recognition that God had provided for and sustained them (Lev 23:9-14; Nu 18:13; Dt 18:4; Ne 10:35-36).
The fact that the priestly stipulations in effect during the times of Moses, Eli and Samuel had contemporary parallels among the Hittites is important because such commonality undermines the widely accepted theory that the Biblical priestly code is a very late work that could not have originated during the time of Moses.
NUMBERS 13 Sometimes referred to as Kadesh (Nu 13:26; 20:1) or Kedesh (Jos 15:23), the Biblical site of Kadesh Barnea is an important location in Israelite history. Miriam, Moses' sister, died there (Nu 20:1), and Moses, overcome by anger, disobediently struck the rock that brought forth water at this location (20:11). The 12 spies also returned there after their foray into the promised land (13:26). Although the name Kadesh is probably related to the Hebrew word qadesh, meaning"holiness,"the origin of"Barnea" is unknown.
Since 1905 modern Ain el-Qudeirat in the Wadi el-Ain of the northern Sinai has been widely accepted to be the location of the Biblical Kadesh Barnea ("Map 1"). Several Iron Age' fortresses have been excavated there. The oldest, a small, elliptical structure, dates to the tenth century B.C. but was evidently abandoned for some time after the first fort's destruction. A second fort constructed during the eighth century B.C. (probably during the reign of Uzziah) was destroyed during the seventh century B.C., most likely during Manasseh's reign. This fort was somewhat larger and rectangular in shape, and a good amount of pottery associated with this structure has been found. Most significantly, two ostraca (pottery fragments containing writing) engraved in Hebrew have been recovered there, suggesting that Israelites did indeed occupy this site.
In 586 B.C. the Babylonians may have destroyed a final fortress, which appears to have been built during Josiah's rule. Some ostraca containing inventories of goods have also been unearthed; their texts are in Hebrew, but the numerals are hieratic (a cursive form of Egyptian hieroglyphics that became common during the late Judahite monarchy).
At Ain el-Qudeirat, not a single pottery sherd has been discovered dating to the Late Bronze or Iron I periods.This archaeological gap has troubled historians who have sought evidence for an Israelite presence there, as indicated in Numbers. Skeptics have suggested that this interruption_gigs reason to question the veracity of the Biblical accounts of the exodus and the subsequent conquest of Canaan.
Others have interpreted this pause differently, challenging the identification of Ain el-Qudeirat with the Biblical Kadesh Barnea and suggesting alternative sites at Ain Qedeis and Ain Qeseimeh. But problems exist with these sites,too.The Kadesh Barnea mentioned in Numbers (chs.20 and 33) was probably a region rather than a specific site (see 33:36), and the Bible does not imply that a significant settlement existed there when the Israelites passed through.
Since the archaeological work at Ain el-Qudeirat has not been completed, the possibility remains that Late Bronze or Iron Age I evidence will in fact surface. Future excavations there and elsewhere may help to answer lingering questions concerning this Biblical location.
Who Were the Nephilim?
NUMBERS 13 There are only two Biblical references to the Nephilim (Ge 6:4; Nu 13:33), people of "great size" (v. 32) from whom the Anakites were said to have descended. Upon glimpsing these imposing inhabitants of Canaan,' ten of the twelve spies became demoralized and terrified. The Nephilim may have been similar in appearance to the Rephaites, a race of strong, tall men with whom the Anakites are compared in Deuteronomy 2:21.
The Nephilim are described in Genesis 6:4 as having been mighty men who lived before the great flood. The author of Genesis linked them to"the sons of God"(other translations render this"sons of the gods"), either in terms of being identical to this group or of being their offspring.Three theories have been proposed regarding the parentage of these Nephilim (these hypotheses do not address the problem of how they might have survived the flood to appear in Canaan at the time of the spy expedition):
Some Biblical historians argue that the "sons of God" were righteous men (descendants of Seth) who married worldly, female descendants of Cain and thus became defiled. Their progeny increased in sinfulness until God rectified the worsening situation with the flood. However, this theory does not explain why the word translated "men" in Genesis 6:1 describes all of humanity, while the same word in verse 2 designates only Cain's line.
Other scholars argue that "the sons of God" (Ge 6:2) were kings who took multiple wives in order to build dynasties from their numerous descendants. In several instances ancient Near Eastern documents refer to kings as being the sons of particular gods. Also, Akkadian texts indicate that the Hebrew word translated"men" in Genesis 6:4 could alternatively mean "commoners" in some contexts.This would suggest that the Nephilim were kings who acquired harems, using the daughters of commoners,and sired large families through them. But no other Biblical passages refer to kings in general as "sons of God," and later kings (such as Solomon) who had many wives are not identified as being among the Nephilim.
Still other scholars believe that the"sons of God" were angels who impregnated human women and sired demigods (beings with more power than humans but less than gods) who were able to do whatever they pleased on Earth (much like the mythical Greek Titans), prompting God's determination to destroy humankind to root out the growing evil.
Jesus specified, however, that angels do not marry (Mt 22:30), and from this it can be argued that they do not procreate. Yet procreation by these particular angels could be regarded as aberrant behavior (see Jude 6). It may be helpful to note that the phrase "sons of God" as used elsewhere in the Old Testament and in other ancient Semitic languages always refers to divine beings (e.g., Job 1:6, where the same Hebrew word is translated "angels").
Ancient Jewish interpreters unanimously believed the "sons of God" to have been angelic beings, a view possibly reflected in 1 Peter 3:20 and 2 Peter 2:4-5. But if the "sons of God" mentioned in Genesis 6 were indeed angels, and the Nephilim were their offspring, how do these facts relate to the Nephilim mentioned in Numbers 13? Most likely the word "Nephilim" in this later context means something like "giants" or "Titans" (i.e.,the term was used literally in Ge 6 but metaphorically in Nu 13).
Fringe (Tassels) on Garments
NUMBERS 15 God's command to affix tassels to the hems of Israelite garments carried rich symbolism in the ancient world. People perceived the hem of a garment to be an extension of the wearer's person and status (cf. Ru 3:9; 1Sa 24:11,20; Mt 9:21; 23:5; note that the connection in most of these references would have been understood by ancient Hebrews/Jews, although it may not be explicitly stated).So strongly did the hem represent the wearer's identity that legally binding agreements were sealed by impressing the hem as a "signature" onto the wet clay tablet of a recorded contract.
In Israel, fringed hems with twisted cords of blue marked the wearers' community as being consecrated to the Lord (Nu 15:37-40).The prescribed blue color of the tassels was reminiscent of the"sacred" blue textiles used to make tabernacle coverings and high priestly garments (Ex 26:31; 28:31). Israelites affixed these tassels to their garments to jog their memories in terms of the commandments the keeping of which would make them holy. God's people were to be set apart by dress and observance of the law as "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Ex 19:6).
The Red Heifer
NUMBERS 19 The ritual of the red heifer was a purification rite intended to cleanse Israelites defiled by contact with the dead.' Anyone who had touched a corpse became ritually impure for seven days with a contagious impurity that could defile other persons, vessels and, at worst, the Lord's sanctuary (Nu 19:20).The young red cow selected was to be without defect or blemish and never to have borne a yoke (i.e., never to have been used for secular service; see v. 2). As the heifer was being completely incinerated, the priest was to add cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet wool to the pyre (v.6). These materials were also associated with other purification rituals (cf. Lev 14:4-7; Ps 51:7).
The priest then mixed the heifer's ashes with spring water to produce a cleansing solution, with which the impure person was
sprinkled on the third and seventh days, after which he or she was considered to be ritually clean (Nu 19:12).3
The ritual of the red heifer was unique among Israel's ceremonial traditions for the following reasons:
The animal was burned outside the camp rather than being sacrificed on the altar (v. 3).The heifer's blood and dung were burned alongside the carcass, a procedure otherwise forbidden in sacrificial law (v.5; see Lev 4:11-12). Blood was not drained from the sacrifice because it constituted a necessary cleansing ingredient, along with the ashes.
The officiants themselves contracted impurity while making this sacrifice and themselves had to be purified, though not using the same procedure (Nu 19:7-10).
The efficacy of this ritual lay in the transfer of impurity from the defiled person to the heifer. The corrupted animal was burned outside the camp lest it pollute the congregation in the same way it had tainted those with whom it had already come into contact. Ironically, as the heifer and its associated impurity were completely destroyed, the resulting ashes were able to purify those who had become ritually defiled.
The New Testament reinforces the significance of the red heifer in relation to the sacrificial work of Christ. Just as the heifer was slaughtered outside the camp to attain purification for the defiled, so Jesus—who bore the sins and impurities of all humanity—was crucified outside Jerusalem in order to achieve redemption through his blood for all sinners (Heb 13:11-12; cf. Heb 9:13-14).
A timeline for the wilderness wanderings
NUMBERS 20 Because they failed to trust God after having heard the ten spies' negative majority report about Canaan (Nu 13), God required the Israelites to wander for 40 years until every disbelieving person aged twenty or older had passed away (14:26 —35). This forty-year period began retroactively on the day Israel had left Egypt—the fifteenth day of the first month of the first year, according to the Hebrew calendar (33:3), as well as the day after the first Passover —and lasted until the first Passover in the promised land, the fourteenth day of the first month of the forty-first year (Jos 5:10).
The wilderness record preserved in Scripture covers approximately the first year and eight months of this protracted period (Ex 12:31-40:38; all of the book of Lev; Nu 1:1-19:22; 33:1— 36; Dt 1:6-46), as well as the final year (Nu 20:1-32:42; 33:37-36:13; Dt 2 —34;Jos 1:1-5:10;Jdg 11:14-22) of their sojourn.The intervening 37 years and four months constitutes a
period of silence (between Nu 19 and 20; 33:36 and 37; and Dt 1 and 2). Dates are included for key events, so a fairly complete timeline for the beginning and the end of the wilderness wandering period has been calculated.
During the first month the Israelites traveled from Rameses to the Desert of Sin (Ex 12:31-16:1).2 They spent one additional month trekking to Mount Sinai, where they stayed put for eleven months (Ex 16:2—Nu 10:11).3 From there they journeyed for a little more than a month until they reached Kadesh Barnea, where they spent about six months (10:12-19:22).4 After their departure from Kadesh Barnea (Dt 2:14),the Israelites' precise whereabouts during the next 37 years and four months is unknown. After this period of silence they returned to Kadesh Barnea and during the following year forged ahead to Canaan by way of the Transjordan.
Ugaritic Liturgy Against Venomous Snakes
NUMBERS 21 Poisonous snakes posed a serious and ever-present threat to people in the ancient world.Three texts from Ugarit, all of which address this problem, suggest that the typical pagan solution was to search for a magic formula to counter the results of the venom. One of these texts is but a fragment, another a mythical narrative and the third a magical incantation.
In the myth (second text), twelve different deities are asked for a cure for snakebite. Eleven respond with an ability to charm the serpent, but only one, Horanu, successfully neutralizes the venom. He counteracts the poison by casting trees into the Tigris River,1 ritually enacting the manner by which he will weaken the venom as if diluting it in water.
The third text, written for the benefit of a high official, is an incantation employing a ritual similar to Horanu's to protect both against serpents and the sorcerers who used them.
The Israelites, like the inhabitants of Ugarit, feared the lethal snakes so abundant both in the wilderness and in the land of Canaan. God's snake-related punishment recorded in Numbers 21:6-9 demonstrated that only the Lord has ultimate power over serpents (and, indeed, over all evil). Not only did he send venomous snakes to punish the Israelites because of their ingratitude, but he also provided the means of cure (i.e., the bronze snake) when his people repented and sought his mercy. It is noteworthy that, although the Israelites were required to gaze up at the bronze serpent in order to receive restoration,the Biblical text mentions no magical ritual or incantation. To learn more about the role of the snake in the Ancient Near East.
Balaam, the Son of Beor
NUMBERS 22 "The misfortunes of the Book of Balaam, son of Beor. A divine seer was he." These are the first words of a remarkable fragmentary inscription discovered in 1967 at Deir Alla, Jordan, about 25 miles (40 km) north of the plains of Moab, where the Israelites camped. Written in black and red ink on a plaster wall, this fragmentary inscription dates to between 800 and 700 B.C.
The prophet Balaam was active on the eastern side of the Jordan River at the time the Israelites entered Canaan. He was referred to hundreds of years later not only by the author of the Deir Alla inscription but also over a wide range of time by various Biblical writers (see Ne 13:2; Mic 6:5; 2Pe 2:15; Rev 2:14).
There is no doubt that this is the same Balaam mentioned in Numbers.The distinctive name"Balaam son of Beor" is rendered identically in both contexts. in addition, the inscription was found in the same general area as the events described in Numbers 22-24. Reflecting the activities of the Biblical Balaam and using language similar to that found in the Numbers account,the Deir Alla inscription speaks of divine visitations and visions, signs, admonitions, destruction and death.
Yet, except for including the name Balaam and describing him as a "seer,"the Deir Alla inscription does not mention any details found in the account in Numbers 22 — 24. Nor does it speak of Yahweh, although it does refer to gods as shaddayyin, a word similar to the Hebrew el shaddai, usually translated "God Almighty.", So it is unlikely that either author borrowed from the other. Both seem to have gone back to independent traditions.
NUMBERS 25 Shittim, abbreviated from Abel Shittim ("brook of acacias"), was the Israelites' final wilderness encampment before they crossed the Jordan River. From this location in the plains of Moab' (see Abel Shittim on "Map 3"), Moses ascended Mount Nebo to view the promised land and Joshua sent spies to Jericho.2 At Shittim, Israel also fell into the immorality associated with the worship of Baal of Peor,3 suffering severe casualties as a result of God's anger (Nu 25:1-9).
Shittim can probably be identified with the present archaeological site of Tell el-Hammam, 8.5 miles (13.7 km) east of the Jordan River, opposite the ancient city of Jericho. This excavation site is covered with the ruins of houses, as well as of an Iron I-period fortress with towers at both ends. The fortress wails were 4 feet (1.2 m) thick and surrounded by a massive glacis (slope running downward from a fortification). This site was strategically located 100 feet (30.5 m) above the plains of Moab, no doubt enabling its ancient inhabitants to control access from the mountains. A perennial stream nearby, the Wadi el-Kefrein, could have provided an adequate water supply for the encamped Israelites.
The meaning of the name Shittim suggests that acacia trees grew there, watered by the nearby stream—although the acacia is known to survive in arid regions. Its wood, light but hard and moisture resistant, had been used to construct both the tabernacle and its furnishings (Ex 25-38).
The Itinerary in Numbers
NUMBERS 27 The Israelites' journey from Egypt to the Red Sea and then on to Mount Sinai, Kadesh Barnea and Moab is recorded in the book of Numbers in two forms. First, isolated references from chapters 1 to 32 form a part of the narrative (e.g., 27:14). Second, an explicit itinerary of this journey is spelled out in 33:1-49.
Numbers 33 identifies 42 sites, 16 of which appear in no other Biblical text. Many of these locations can no longer be identified, probably because they were undeveloped caravan stops, significant only based upon the availability of water.' Yet collaborating texts from Egypt, Moab and Mesopotamia shed light on both the form of the list and its interpretation, helping to confirm the Biblical account's credibility and antiquity and suggesting that the itinerary recorded in Numbers 33 should be interpreted as the account of a protracted military campaign. Such records would have been retained as a continuing reminder of the protection God had provided his people as he led them through the wilderness.
Extrabiblical texts shedding light on this itinerary are as follows:
Three lists from Egypt mention sites that also appear in the Numbers 33 register. One is an inscription of Thutmose III at the temple of Amon at Karnak. The other two are from Amenhotep III; both are inscribed on a temple at Soleb. Comparison of the three texts provides the series of place-names in the identical order in which they are found in the Biblical text (33:44-49): lyyin equates to lyim, Dibon corresponds with Gad, and Abel is a reference to both Abel-Shittim and the Jordan.
The annals of Egypt's Thutmose Ill reveal that his campaigns were recorded on a leather scroll deposited in the temple of Amon, an attestation that military record-keeping was practiced prior to the Mosaic period (see 33:2).
Although no evidence of Late Bronze Age, occupation has been discovered at Dibon (modern Dhiban), the appearance of this name in these Egyptian texts confirms its existence during this early period. The Moabite Stone, a ninth-century B.C. inscription of Mesha, king of Moab, mentions Dibon and Almon Diblathaim, both of which are also listed in the Biblical itinerary (33:46).
Mesopotamian texts demonstrate that the genre of the Israelite itinerary (the type of literature, not the itinerary itself) was widely attested in the ancient world. Other examples have been found in two military texts dating to the Assyrian kingsTukulti-Ninurta II and Ashurnasirpal II (ninth century B.c.).
Such texts follow a recurring pattern: "From [city A] i departed; in [city B] I passed the night." In this formula the name of each site is mentioned twice: first as a destination ("B") and next as a departure point ("A").This follows closely the general format seen in Numbers 33.
The extrabiblical itineraries briefly comment on water crossings, encampment sites, military encounters, problems associated with the water supply and other events,such as those remarks we find scattered throughout Numbers 33.
The Jewish Calendar
NUMBERS 29 Most people groups of the ancient world calculated months by the cycles of the moon; each new moon marked the beginning of a new month. However, the moon completes one revolution around the earth in only about 29.5 days. So the lunar year of 12 lunar months is only 354 days long—somewhat shorter than the solar year of 365.25 days. During a period of a few years the months would begin to misalign with their associated seasons on a lunar calendar. This phenomenon no doubt caused great confusion and consternation in matters such as setting a schedule of annual festivals or creating an agricultural calendar.
The Babylonians periodically added intercalary days (days inserted into a calendar) to the year in order to realign the solar and lunar years.The Assyrians, however, allowed the lunar months to fall behind the solar year until finally adopting the Babylonian system during the reign of Tiglath-Pileser 111.1 The Egyptians did not follow a lunar year but divided the year into 12 equal months, each with 30 days, and added 5 extra days at the end of each year. The Jewish calendar, which was similar to its Babylonian counterpart, derived the names of the months from the Babylonian names.
The first month of the Jewish calendar, Nisan, corresponds to the Canaanite Abib. These names sometimes appear in the Bible (e.g., Ne 2:1; Est 8:9; Zec 1:7), although most months mentioned there are simply designated by number (e.g., the "eleventh month").
Some confusion exists about whether the Israelites began their calendar year in the spring or in the fall. The first day of the seventh month (Tishri) is designated for the Feast of Trumpets (Nu 29:1),2 and that same date eventually became fixed as the day of the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah). This suggests an autumnal new year. However, most evidence points to the spring being the season of the new year. Most significantly, Nisan, which begins in March and ends in April, is routinely called the"first month" in the Bible. Thus it appears that the Israelites began their calendar year in the spring but followed an agricultural year that went from autumn to autumn. The Gezer Calendar, for example, reflects the agricultural year., To explain this difference using a modern analogy, our calendar year begins on January 1, but many institutions and nations run on a fiscal-year calendar that begins and ends on different dates.
Scholars also have differing opinions about whether the Israelites regarded evening or morning as the beginning of a new day. Most evidence implies that their day began in the evening (cf. Lev 23:32). The Israelites observed a seven-day week (Ex
34:21; cf. the creation account in Ge 1:1 — 2:3), and the Roman Empire officially adopted the seven-day week during the reign of Constantine in A.D. 321.4
The matter of enumerating years during ancient times sometimes caused great confusion because there was no universally accepted, fixed point for the beginning of "Year One." The Romans counted their years from the commonly accepted date of the founding of Rome, but ancient Israel, like most other Near Eastern nations, numbered years according to the reigns of kings (e.g.,"in the second year of king X"), which, of course, overlapped and varied in terms of duration. The difficulties with such a system were aggravated by the fact that a king's "first year" could be either the year during which he became king or the first full year of his reign after "New Year's Day."
Theophoric Names and Their Significance
NUMBERS 31 In the ancient world people and sometimes places often were given "theophoric" names—proper names that included the name of a deity. This practice occurred in pagan lands as well as in Israel, and such names can convey significant information to scholars today. For example, the name Sennacherib (a well-known Assyrian king) means "(the god) Sin [the moon god] has substituted (for) the dead brothers."This suggests that Sennacherib was born into a family that worshiped the moon god Sin and that at least two brothers born before him died before reaching adulthood.
The God of Israel, as we know, was called by the name Yahweh. Not surprisingly, after God had established his covenant with Israel at Sinai, many Israelites gave their children names that included some element of Yahweh.2 Sometimes the Yahweh part of the name came first in the form of yeho or yo; sometimes it came at the end of the name in the form of yahu or ya. For example, Jonathan may be rendered yehonathan, which means "Yahweh has given." Micah stems from mi-k-ya or mi-k-yahu, meaning "Who is like Yahweh?"
Israelite proper names given prior to the Sinai covenant typically did not contain an element of Yahweh. For example, the name Eleazar is derived from el-czar,meaning"God [the more generic el, not Yahweh] has helped."
The Kingdoms of Sihon and Og
NUMBERS 32 Moses gave the Gadites,Reubenites and the half-tribe of Manasseh the territories of Sihon and Og, two kings whom the Israelites had defeated prior to crossing the Jordan into the promised land (Nu 32:33). Because there is no extrabiblical reference to either of these two names, all that is known of them comes from the Old Testament.
Og is usually referenced in the Bible as "Og [king] of Bashan," the geographical region east of the Sea of Galilee. Og was also a member of the Rephaites (Dt 3:11), an unexplained designation that appears as well in Ugaritic texts and has often been associated with giants. According to this same verse, Og had an iron bed or couch of legendary proportions (more than 13 feet [4 m] long and 6 feet [1.8 m] wide. Joshua 12:4 also links Og with the Rephaites and further connects him to two specific cities, Edrei and Ashtaroth.
Sihom is said to have been one of the Amorites, a western Semitic group that was well documented throughout the Near East during the Bronze Age. He is often associated with Heshbon, a kingdom whose borders extended north to the Jabbok River, west to the Jordan River and south to the Amon River (Jdg 11:22)
These kingdoms of the Transjordan stood between the Israelites and the Jordan River, which constituted Israel's gateway into the land of Canaan. The defeat of Transjordan's inhabitants at the hands of Israel precipitated the resettlement of the area by the tribes of Reuben, Gad and half of Manasseh. So foundational were these formidable victories that their memory was attested in Israel as late as the days of Nehemiah (Ne 9:22)
NUMBERS 33 The ancient Israelite city of Arad was located at modern Tell Arad, in the Negev south of Jerusalem (see "Map 7"). Archaeological excavation there has uncovered a large, well-preserved, Early Bronze Age city that served as an important post on key trade routes. HebreW ostraca (pottery fragments containing writing) bearing the name Arad have been found there, as have a large quantity of ostraca bearing other Hebrew or Aramaic inscriptions.
A series of fortified occupations dating from the reign of Solomon to that of Zedekiah also have been found at Tell Arad.The site appears to have been more or less deserted during the Middle and Late Bronze Ages, but during the Iron Age Israelites built a fortress on the summit of Tell Arad to guard the eastern Negev basin from nomadic peoples and Transjordanian enemies—especially Edom. The structures belonging to the final level of Israelite occupation at Arad were destroyed during the Babylonian conquest of Judah in 586 B.c.
An impressive Israelite temple has also been unearthed at Arad. The only Israelite temple recovered by archaeologists to date, it may have been modeled after Solomon's temple; like Solomon's it was oriented toward the east.6 This structure had a sacrificial altar in the courtyard, as well as two incense altars and two standing stones in its "Most Holy Place."
Archaeologists have determined that this particular temple was deliberately put out of use. This probably happened during the reforms of either Hezekiah or Josiah, when local temples situated outside of the control of the king and the Jerusalem priesthood were dismantled because they tended to become focal points for the growth of pagan and/or aberrant religious movements.
The location of Arad, however, poses a problem related to the conquest narrative. The king of Arad attacked the Israelites,who were traveling near the southern border of Canaan. After suffering an initial loss, Israel defeated this king and destroyed his cities (Nu 21:1-3).Yet Tell Arad lacks any remains dating to the time of Moses. A possible solution exists in the campaign account of Pharaoh Shishak, whose tenth-century B.C. list mentions the conquests of two Arads: Arad the Great and Arad of Yrhm.9 The Israelites could have destroyed the second Arad, the location of which remains uncertain. Another possibility is that the Arad mentioned in Numbers 21 actually refers to the general region and that the king of Arad (21:1) lived in the city of Hormah (21:3).
Inheritance in the Ancient Near East
NUMBERS 36 Inheritance laws in the ancient Near East played a critical role in preserving a family line and perpetuating its land holdings. Wealth and social standing were tied to landed property, and rules of kinship regulated the land's division. Customary law held that only sons had the right to inherit, and the firstborn son received a double share of the family estate (Dt 21:15-17).
In the absence of male heirs, however, daughters could inherit. The early Sumerian law code of Lipit-Ishtar (c. 1930 B.c.) explicitly stated that if a man died without leaving male offspring, his unmarried daughter would be his heir. In addition,family archives at Nuzi show that when a man had no sons he could deed his estate to his daughter as his principal heir or, more typically, as joint heir with her husband, who was said to be "adopted" into the family.
Hammurabi's law code (c. 1750 B.c.) recorded cases in which daughters were treated as coheirs with their brothers. A daughter's dowry, consisting primarily of moveable property (personal servants, household vessels, jewelry and the like), was said to be her inheritance portion.
Special inheritance privileges also were granted to temple priestesses who had no children. They were awarded a certain portion of their fathers' estates to ensure their financial security, although after their deaths the inheritance share was to revert back to their brothers.
The case of Zelophehad's five daughters explores the implications of Israelite daughters inheriting their fathers' lands. The empowerment of these particular daughters as principal heirs was an accommodation to unusual circumstances. The concern was that once they married there would be nothing to prevent their passing along their land holdings in the usual manner to their children and thus into the patrimony of another tribe (Nu 27:1-11).
The solution was straightforward: These women would be obligated to marry within their own clan so as not to disturb the balance of the tribal allotments (36:1-9; cf.lCh 23:22). These daughters' inheritance rights ultimately existed for the purpose of retaining the estate for their future sons. This was similar to the institution of levirate marriage that sought to produce an heir to whom a deceased husband's property could be bequeathed (Dt 25:5-6).