“Let’s Play The Bible: Numbers 1-36”
The book of numbers. The penultimate of the pentateuch entries in the Bible, which are shared with the jewish tome “the torah”, and another who’s penned by Moses. This plays a similar role to the former book in depicting the growth of the tribe and the growth of theological rigour alongside. Where that book was law being writ, here we see more action under the jurisdiction. As israel moves beyond Mt. Sinai to conquest across the land, they have some growing pains along the way in the form of faithlessness. The jewish translation of the title - “in the desert” - offers- take a rod? the twelve rods It’s been a short while since I finished this book, and I’m trying to catch up. I think I should be right through Deuteronomy by now, so I expect to maybe do a real-time post as I marathon the book in whole state, maybe this weekend. This is an exciting prospect, as until now I have been looking in retrospect and referring to the handful of notes I make - and this itself illuminates how much I miss each time, where I am often re-reading whole sections whose content has slipped back out through the apparently too-few sulci which form the slight topology of my brain surface. Looks like I will be doing that once again, right now. Let me go.
As ever I will regurgitate a birds-eye view of the book from more learned and oven-ready sources. In more concrete terms than above, the basic gestalt here is that, after the period at Mt. Sinai, israel is going to try and move on to bigger things, namely the “promised land” of Canaan. In the world of today, this is where we might find the modern state “Israel”. To do this, God gives orders for israel to take stock of their numbers, before sending them to conquest this land. On the way, an issue of faithlessness arises.
After some initial complaints and wrath journeying toward the land, making camp to rest and consult God along the way, Moses sends in, and relies on, twelve spies to scout out the land and its inhabitants. When they return with mostly concerned reports, people lose faith in God’s plan and major revolts happen, wrath accompanying. Forty years, issues with other groups in the lands they travel through and a talking donkey later, they are settled near Canaan. Presumably ready to make their final move into the land in the following book.
The rough sequence of events might be simplified as follows:
- Sinai: Census conducted, further commands.
- Departure: Trumpet manufacture guidelines, militaristic order and israelites depart Sinai.
- Travelling: The people complain. Aaron & Miriam complain.
- Kadesh: Spies deployed and revolt ensues.
- Wandering: Over 40 years, the faithless perish.
- On target: Near Canaan, conflict this time external.
- Moab Plains: Finally the people encamp beside Canaan.
The Promised Land
The promised land, that is “Canaan”, is an area of land near to and purportedly sometimes tied to Egypt that is provided or at least targeted by God as a space that the israelites should conquer, for the growth and prospering of them. In contrast with other specified locales in the Bible, this one is particularly well cited and remains culturally and politically significant today. Today the general area of ancient Canaan encompasses wholly or partly the modern states Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Syria.
There’s interesting overlap of Canaan with the ancient civilization of “Phoenicia”, which succeeded it. Phoenicia is known especially for trade and seafaring, naturally owing to the large segment of Mediterranean Sea coast that would have been under their jurisdiction. Pretty interestingly there’s a word for such a place: “Thalassocracy”, which might sound a little familiar to anyone with a fear of the sea. The term implies the political structure and eminent power of the society was majority derived from their seafaring ability, and their navy.
Building on this we can learn that, of those that formed the greater Phoenicia/Canaan, the city-state “Byblos” (“Papyrus”)/”Gubal” (“Source of the God”) is where the English translated name “Bible” comes from. The city’s named this way due to the quantity of papyrus passing through it and formerly due to their religiosity, perhaps even their leader. The gods of the polytheistic Canaanite religion, not the Jewish one that the OT is concerned with, are believed to have evolved into the broader and more well known Greek god-set.
Reading the KJV translation of Numbers (13) brings about reference to “Giants”. This is quite interesting and startling. The famous Bible story of David and Goliath will have a place in most peoples minds, but seeing plain reference to giants walking about is feeling a bit different. Thanks to computer-power we can switch instantly to the NIV translation and see these same individuals referred to as “Nephilim”. Giants are first referenced in Genesis, and not again before we reach Numbers. That explains why I felt the need to note this.
The idea that the Amorites were giants is supported by the report of the spies whom Moses sent through the land of Canaan. The Amorites were one of the people groups they saw (Numbers 13:29), and they claimed that “all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature”. It is telling that in their response, Joshua and Caleb did not challenge the size of the land’s inhabitants.
The existence of giants, amongst much of the old testament, cannot be verified by the archaeological record. Of course the term “giant” as noun and with assumed connotation is a feature of the language this article is typed in. As with many biblical text issues and attempting secular reconciliation we first turn to translation issues. The aforementioned terminology of “Nephilim” apparently interchanging with “giant” is made questionable by another phrase more accurately meaning “men of renown” also being transformed into “giant”.
Whatever the case may be, it is very enjoyable to picture these giants in a land of antiquity. The israelites even provide illustrative comparison, claiming “we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in there sight”. Giants, to be clear: monsters resembling humans but of greater scale, are very interesting, and there is much fervor about them around the world even today, especially in the american city of New York.
Giants are known to have made industrious headway in ireland, a remnant of which is a site of often human visit. I wonder if they will like a share of the revenues brought in by this attraction, though its abandonment probably leaves little legal leg to stand on, or if they would be glad by our respect and protection of it. Move on.
The number twelve (12) figures into things in the Bible a lot. There’s the twelve tribes, which are descended from the twelve sons of jacob, as well as the twelve apostles of Jesus, his special chosen disciples, which comes a lot later. In the chapter numbers I made note of some instances of twelve.
- Twelve oxen, for twelve anointed princes.
- Further gift sets and offerings of twelve: chargers of silver, bowls, gold spoons and various cattle.
- A cool bespoke rod for each prince, with name inscribed. Which will have made them feel at ease around the established rod-bearing Moses and Aaron.
- Our gang of israelites stumbles upon twelve fountains of water as they make their stop in Elim.
To get a raw look at the prominence of the number twelve in the bible, we could pretend to consult with “Strong’s Concordance”. This is an “exhaustive” indexing of every word in the (KJV) bible, conducted at the end of the 19th century by biblical scholar James Strong. This endeavour provided some easy backwards compatibility with the Greek and Hebrew of original scripts, connecting the root with the english translation, but today we can just use a Bible search engine. Anyway, apparently the word twelve (after translation to english) either manifesting from hebrew in the OT comes in at 164 times. As a bonus, it looks like “twelfth” (it took me a few tries to spell that correctly, for some reason) comes with an additional 20 entires.
The number 12 symbolizes perfection, completeness and is purportedly God’s favourite. If we look to the world God made, we can see it everywhere, whether the twelve pairs of ribs providing carriage to our organs or in the transpiration of the system of twelves which provides clean and welcoming measuring of time at multiple scales, providing order and guide in levels beyond a hormonal shifting light and dark cycle - fit for our minds, impressive.
In some searching around to enjoy factoids about the number twelve and its context in the bible, I have discovered there is a band called “12 Rods”. That’s quite interesting. This is not the kind of thing to interest me, but pretty inoffensive or even pleasant. Apparently they do indeed take their name from a Bible passage. Some of this stuff sounds a bit loungey and boring, I do not like drums sounding brushy like this. Not really my thing, whatever. Listening to this on my phone and pulling up a link with accidentally in-sync video - crazy… this one is not too bad, the guy looks like a certain music reviewer with a certain sexually transmitted disease though - or moby. Actually I am enjoying many tracks from this split personality album. Nerdy vocalist music with interesting rhythm/pace and nice synth and guitar embellishment - pretty cool.
One of the most impressive sequences in Numbers (Numbers 35) is when God tells moses about killing in revenge and a kind of antique capital punishment and bloodline justice, shortly after discussing zoning and city planning for Canaan. First and foremost a simple declaration that murderers ought to be put to death, an eye for an eye. While not making light of these situations, it is a very lucid confrontation.
There is a stipulation here however, it is up to the “revenger of blood” to resolve these cases. When “he meeteth him,” he “shall slay him” - you could use the phrase “it’s on sight” to similar effect today. That’s not to say one can be judge, jury and executioner and abuse this law of the land, as we’re promptly told of more nuances where the congregation must keep an eye on the enmity and priori involved in these situations, as well as the jurisdiction where cases occur.
In the Bible, an avenger of blood is a person legally responsible for carrying out vengeance when a family member has been unlawfully killed or murdered. The avenger of blood is usually the nearest male relative of the murdered person. This family executioner seeks justice by killing the individual responsible for the death of his relative.
While there’s much ado about advocacy of capital punishment here, and perhaps the differences between old and new testament on the topic, it’s the idea of being an “avenger of blood” that is most interesting. While today we’ll see a designated executioner (or perhaps multiple with distributed benefit of doubt to responsibility) if any punishment of the kind is to be done, under Mosaic law the specificity of revenge being permitted might be an acknowledgement that, while killing is wrong and defiling, on an individual level, relatives might be offered lenience if they were to act on desires of revenge.
Closing the Book
I took a number(!) of even more dimwitted micro-notes for this book. Some I did not cover that stand out as moderately intriguing include:
- Ramesses the Pharaoh is named and/or reappears? No, just the location Rameses appearing again
- Aaron passes away at 123 years of age.
- Repeated use of the word “Peradventure”.
- God splits the earth to swallow up Korrah, one of the rebellion leaders.
- “Shall we be consumed with dying?” (Num 17:13) is a pretty phrase and sounds existential when removed from context.
Alright, that’s it for Numbers, really. My analysis frivolous and dumb as ever we can move now onto the next books and I can get this monkey off of my back, this page deficit that is haunt me right now. Once up to speed the Pentateuch will be long gone, I need to begin probably right now - rip off the bandaid fast like. Once again the images in this article are mainly collected from the book’s wikimedia repository.
We are learning, slowly but surely. There’s no room to doubt this, the point of these articles isn’t so much to flex some expert knowledge which doesn’t exist or to slice out insights no one else could divine, I am having fun with it and becoming candidly aquatinted with the most powerful book of alltime. There’s nothing more to say with it - I am hoping for a future where I can look back across a full list of thought-articles for each book, that will be a happy moment. Thanks.