Article

Book of Numbers

Reinhard Achenbach

in Biblical Studies

ISBN: 9780195393361
Published online December 2011 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0068
Book of Numbers

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The book of Numbers is the fourth part of the Torah (or, in Greek, the Pentateuch). In the Mishnah and in the Talmud it is named Homesh ha-Pequdîm (i.e., the Fifth of the Mustered) because of the censuses recorded at the beginning of the book and in chapter 26. The Septuagint names the part Arithmoi (Censuses or Numbers), while the Vulgate calls it Numeri (Numbers). Rashi (Rabbi Shelomo ben Yitzhak) referred to the book with its first words, “wa-yedabber” (i.e., “and he said”), but the traditional Hebrew name is Be-midbar (i.e., “in the wilderness” [of Sinai]). In Christian Bibles it is sometimes called the Fourth Book of Moses, presuming Moses’s authorship of the Pentateuch. As the first and last verses of the final composition of the book indicate, the content was thought to contain the revelations Moses received from God during the wandering of the Israelites from the wilderness of Sinai to the “plains of Moab” at the border of the promised land. The reports of these revelations are connected to a series of narratives from scribal epical and historical tradition on the wilderness wandering and the conquest of Transjordan. The book also contains material from the priestly tradition, such as narratives and regulations about proper procedures in the sanctuary, about the institutions of Israel, and about ritual obligations concerning purity and with regard to land conquest and land inheritance. The frequent change between the narratives and legal material from the priestly tradition is characteristic of the book’s final composition. The core of the book also contains parts from different narrative cycles on a confrontation with the Moabites in the Balaam story, which take up the preexilic epic tradition (9th–6th centuries bce) and were rewritten and expanded by priestly scribes in the postexilic period of the Second Temple in Jerusalem (5th–4th centuries bce). This was rewritten and expanded by Pentateuch redactors, who stressed the authority of Moses and Aaron as mediators of God’s will and the Torah. For general information, see the articles on Numbers in encyclopedias and lexicas about the Bible.

Article.  12355 words. 

Subjects: Biblical Studies

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