Balaam Delivers God's Blessings on All Israel

Mary Douglas

in Jacob's Tears

Published in print November 2004 | ISBN: 9780199265237
Published online January 2005 | e-ISBN: 9780191602054 | DOI:
Balaam Delivers God's Blessings on All Israel

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Balaam's story in Numbers is here viewed as a burlesque, in fact a political satire, about the foreign prophet (or magician), Balaam, whom God chooses as his mouthpiece. The author's thesis is that the priestly editors kept the story in the Book of Numbers because it served their purpose in being aimed against policies of which they disapproved in post‐exilic Judah, and supported their interests in conveying the essential priestly message to Judah and Samaria: that they are destined to be one great people, that Israel should be united. Its other objective may have been to poke fun at the King of Persia (King Balak in the Balaam story) – and his henchman, the Governor of Samaria (Balaam himself); the concluding part of the chapter portrays the patient she‐ass of the Balaam story as the people of Israel themselves. The story is first outlined and then analysed in detail. Various interpretations are offered, but the major issue addressed is the story of Balaam as ‘the story within the story’ (or synecdoche) in the context of the literary genre of the Book of Numbers; the words of Balaam are studied very carefully to support this idea.

Keywords: Balaam's story; Balak; interpretation; Israel; Judah; Numbers; post‐exilic Judah; priestly editors; Samaria; story within the story; synecdoche

Chapter.  8966 words. 

Subjects: Biblical Studies

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