The Society of Biblical Literature International Meeting is less than a month away! For those who might be interested, my paper on Numbers 31 will be presented in one of the Pentateuch sections on Wednesday the 25th (Section 25-46). And if any fellow bloggers will be attending and would like to get together for a meal or whatever, I’ll be in Amsterdam from Saturday evening through Thursday morning. Here’s my abstract:
Revenge and Redemption in Numbers 31
The slaughter of the Midianites in Numbers 31 has received surprisingly little attention outside of the commentaries, yet it is a fascinating text that takes up many earlier traditions in new and creative ways, with a literary sensitivity not often recognized. Picking up its story from Numbers 25 (in 31:2a and 16) and Numbers 20:1-13 (in 31:2b), it depends upon and in various ways adapts regulations found not only in the Priestly literature (esp. Exod 30:11-16; Num 19), but also in Deuteronomy (esp. 20:10-15), and elsewhere. Further strong literary connections are also to be seen with Joshua 22 and Judges 21:1-14.
Thus, Numbers 31 appears to be a late attempt to draw together diverse traditions concerning YHWH-war, as German scholarship especially has emphasized (e.g. Achenbach, Vollendung der Tora, Fistill, Israel und das Ostjordanland; Seebass, Numeri 22,2-36,13). How these traditions are reconciled and adapted, however, warrants further study. In particular, in will be argued that Numbers 31 not only attempts to coordinate YHWH-war traditions related to נקם and חרם with Priestly traditions of purification and the cult, it also uses a variety of literary means to contrast Moses’ command to slaughter the young boys and sexually active women in 31:14-18, with the כפר of “the officers” in 31:48-54. Both actions can be viewed as enactments of YHWH’s נקם and attempts to avert the “plague” (Num 31:16; cf. 25:7-9, 18; and Exod 30:12), but each offers a very different solution to that threat. In the end, it is not Moses’ call for slaughter that is afforded lasting significance, but the officers’ generous gift to the sanctuary.