Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Joshua (and Caleb) in the Priestly Spies Story and Joshua's Initial Appearance in the Priestly Source: A Contribution to an Assessment of the Pentateuchal Priestly Material

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Joshua (and Caleb) in the Priestly Spies Story and Joshua's Initial Appearance in the Priestly Source: A Contribution to an Assessment of the Pentateuchal Priestly Material

Article excerpt

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According to the scholarly consensus, the story of the spies in Num 13-14 is a composite text that contains Priestly and non-Priestly elements. Consideration of its Priestly component, especially the appearances of Joshua and Caleb there, not only sheds light on its compositional history but also has ramifications for our understanding of the character of P

Recent decades have seen the renewal of a scholarly debate regarding the nature of the Priestly writings. Some scholars view them as a reworking of earlier, non-Priestly texts rather than an independent source. Others maintain that a continuous, originally independent source can be identified in the Priestly writings.1 Among those who argue for a continuous, independent source, some propose a more limited scope of the original P narrative than previously assumed, and several scholars suggest that P ends at some point in Exodus or Leviticus- rather than in Joshua, as was once thought.2 For the latter, the P-like sections in the remainder of the Pentateuch constitute very late redactional strata, not forming part of Pg, the core of the Priestly source.3 This debate raises questions regarding the nature of the Priestly parts in the story of the spies in Num 13-14 that render it a disputed matter.

The main question at hand is whether these Priestly elements form an independent story. In the traditional scholarly treatment of Num 13-14, a distinction is made between at least two independent narrative threads, one of them Priestly.4 Another approach considers the Priestly (or P-like) material as supplementing the non-Priestly narrative.5

I.The Character of the Composition of Numbers 13-14

The significant contradictions that make it difficult to read Num 13-14 as a literary unity also help to differentiate between the materials of which the unit is constructed and to characterize its Priestly component. I briefly note four of these discrepancies. One relates to the starting point of the spies' journey: ... ("the wilderness of Paran") according to Num 13:3 and 26, whereas ... ("Kadesh") appears as well in verse 26.6 A second contradiction concerns the territory scouted: according to Num 13:2, 17a, this was ... ("the land of Canaan"). In contrast,

the area to which Moses dispatches the spies in verse 17b is more restricted: the Negev and the hill country. In the actual tour of the spies as described in verse 21, we find the comprehensive borders of the entire land of Canaan, but the account in verses 22-24 mentions only the Negev, Hebron, and Wadi Eshcol, namely, just southern Canaan.7

A third contradiction relates to the identity of the spy who was excluded from the penalty not to enter the land. According to Num 13:30, Caleb alone opposed the spies' report; consequently, Caleb alone was exempted from the fate of his generation and entered the land (14:24). But, according to 14:6-9, Joshua joined Caleb in opposing the people and in 14:30, 38 both were exempted from the harsh decree.8

Whereas there is general scholarly agreement regarding the existence of the three contradictions mentioned above, the following one is disputed. This fourth contradiction relates to the spies' report on the agricultural quality of the land. Numbers 13:27 clearly states that their report included an evaluation of the land as flowing with milk and honey, whereas in verse 32 the land is described as ..., one that "devours its inhabitants." The connotation of the phrase ... as the manifestation of ..., the discrediting report spread by the spies, is debated. Literally, it means that numerous human beings are dying there. Many scholars interpret this phrase as referring to the fertility of the land; others relate it to different features, the military aspect in particular.9 I point out that, syntactically, the expression ..., which describes the land, must refer to the quality of the land itself. Its interpretation as possessing a military element relates not to the land itself but to its inhabitants; this, therefore, cannot be the meaning of . …

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