Fourth book of the Pentateuch. In the Septuagint version it bears the title 'ΑριΘμο in the Vulgate, "Numeri," from the command given by God, contained in the first chapter, to number the children of Israel. In Jewish literature it is known as "Be-Midbar"; the earlier rabbis called it "Sefer Wa-Yedabber"; in the Talmud its designation is "Ḥomesh ha-Peḳudim," "the one-fifth part, which is called 'Numbers'" (Soṭah 36b; comp. Rashi ad loc.).

—Biblical Data:

The Masoretic text contains 1,288 verses in 158 sections; of which 92 end at the end of a line ("petuḥot" = "open") and 66 in the middle of a line ("setumot" = "closed"). It is further divided into ten weekly lessons ("parashiyyot") for the annual cycle, and into thirty-two weekly lessons ("sedarim") for the triennial cycle.

The subject-matter of the book falls into three main groups. Ch. i.-x. 10 recount the things done and the laws given in the wilderness of Sinai; ch. x. 11-xxvii. (with the exception of ch. xv. and xix.) are historical, recording the events that occurred during the wanderings of the children of Israel in the desert; ch. xxviii.-xxxvi. contain laws and ordinances promulgated in the plains of Moab. The book covers a period of more than thirty-eight years, namely, from the first day of the second month of the second year after the Exodus (i. 1) to the latter part of the fortieth year (xxxiii. 38).

  • Ch. i.: God orders Moses, in the wilderness ofSinai, to take the number of those able to bear arms—of all the men "from twenty years old and upward," the tribe of Levi being excepted, and to appoint princes over each tribe. The result of the numbering is that 603,550 Israelites are found to be fit for military service. Moses is ordered to assign to the Levites exclusively the service of the Tabernacle.
  • Ch. ii.: God prescribes the formation of the camp around the Tabernacle, each tribe being distinguished by its chosen banner. Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun encamp to the east of the Tabernacle; Reuben, Simeon, and Gad to the south; Ephraim and Manasseh to the west; and Dan, Asher, and Naphtali to the north. The same order is to be preserved on the march.
  • Ch. iii.: Of Aaron's sons and of the death of Nadab and Abihu. Moses is ordered to consecrate the Levites for the service of the Tabernacle in the place of the first-born sons, who hitherto had performed that service. The Levites are divided into three families, the Gershonites, the Kohathites, and the Merarites, each under a chief, and all headed by one prince, Eleazar, son of Aaron. The Levites number 22,000, counting every male a month old or upward. The Gershonites are placed to the west of the Tabernacle, in charge of its woven articles; the Kohathites are placed to the south, in charge of the furniture and of the Ark of the Covenant; the Merarites, to the north, in charge of the heavier material; the number of the first-born males is 22,273, which number exceeds that of the Levites by 273; the excess are ransomed for five shekels each.
  • Ch. iv.: The numbering of those Levites who are suited for the service of the Tabernacle—those from thirty to fifty years of age—shows: Kohathites, 2,750; Gershonites, 2,630; Merarites, 3,200; altogether, 8,580. How the Levites shall dispose of the material of the Tabernacle when preparing for a journey.
  • Ch. v.-vi.: Ordinances and laws concerning lepers and other unclean persons who are excluded from the camp; concerning reparation for common sins; concerning an unfaithful wife, her trial by the priest, and her atonement; concerning the Nazarite, and the ceremony performed at the expiration of his vow; the formal blessing of the people.
  • Ch. vii.: The offerings of the princes of the twelve tribes at the dedication of the altar.
  • Ch. viii.: The lighting of the candlestick; the separation of the Levites and the ceremony of their consecration; their term of service—from twenty-five to fifty years of age.
  • Ch. ix.: Deferred Passover sacrifices; the cloud which directed the halts and journeys of the Israelites.
  • Ch. x.: Moses is ordered to make two silver trumpets for convoking the congregation and announcing the recommencement of a journey; the various occasions for the use of the trumpets; the first journey of the Israelites after the Tabernacle had been constructed; Moses requests Hobab to be their leader.
  • Ch. xi.: The people murmur against God and are punished by fire; Moses complains of the stubbornness of the Israelites and is ordered to choose seventy elders to assist him in the government of the people; account of Eldad and Medad, of the shower of quails, and of the epidemic at Kibroth-hattaavah.
  • Ch. xii.: Miriam and Aaron slander Moses at Hazeroth, and Miriam is punished with leprosy for seven days, at the end of which the Israelites proceed to the wilderness of Paran.
  • Ch. xiii.-xiv.: The spies and the outcome of their mission.
  • Ch. xv.-xvi.: Ordinances to be observed in Canaan; different kinds of offerings; "ḥallah," or the priest's share of the dough; the atonement for involuntary sins; concerning the man found gathering sticks on the Sabbath-day; the law of fringes (see Fringes); the rebellion and punishment of Korah and his 250 adherents.
  • Ch. xvii.: Moses ordered to make plates to cover the altar with the two hundred and fifty censers left after the destruction of Korah's band. The children of Israel murmur against Moses and Aaron on account of the death of Korah's men, and are stricken with the plague, 14,700 perishing; Aaron's rod.
  • Ch. xviii.-xix.: Aaron and his family are declared by God to be responsible for any iniquity committed in connection with the sanctuary. The Levites are again appointed to help him in the keeping of the Tabernacle. Concerning the priestly portions and the tithes given the Levites. The Levites are ordered to surrender to the priests a part of the tithes taken by them. The law of the red heifer.
  • Ch. xx.: After Miriam's death at Kadesh, the Israelites blame Moses for the lack of water. Moses, ordered by God to speak to the rock, disobeys by striking it, and is punished by the announcement that he shall not enter Canaan. The King of Edom refuses permission to the Israelites to pass through his land. Aaron's death on Mount Hor.
  • Ch. xxi.: Defeat of King Arad the Canaanite by the Israelites. The Israelites bitten by serpents for speaking against God and Moses. The brazen serpent. The wanderings of the Israelites prior to reaching the valley of Moab. Battles with and defeat of Sihon and Og.
  • Ch. xxii.-xxiv.: Episode of Balak and Balaam.
  • Ch. xxv.: The Israelites encamped at Shittim commit abominations with the daughters of Moab and join Baal-peor. A plague carries off 24,000 Israelites. Phinehas slays Zimri.
  • Ch. xxvi.: The new census, taken just before the entry into the land of Canaan, gives the total number of males from twenty years and upward as 601,730, the number of the Levites from a month old and upward as 23,000. The land shall be divided by lot.
  • Ch. xxvii.: The daughters of Zelophehad, their father having no sons, share in the allotment. Moses is ordered to appoint Joshua as his successor.
  • Ch. xxviii.-xxix.: Prescriptions for the observance of the feasts, and the offerings for different occasions: every day; the Sabbath; the first day of the month; the seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread; the day of first-fruits; the day of the trumpets; the Day of Atonement; the seven days of the Feast of Tabernacles; the day of solemn assembly.
  • Ch. xxx.: Laws concerning vows of men and of married and unmarried women.
  • Ch. xxxi.: The conquest of Midian by the Israelites.
  • Ch. xxxii.: The Reubenites and the Gadites request Moses to assign them the land east of the Jordan. After their promise to go before the army to help in the conquest of the land west of the Jordan, Moses grants their request. The land east of the Jordan is divided among the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. The cities built by these tribes.
  • Ch. xxxiii.: Enumeration of the stations at which the Israelites halted during their forty years' wanderings in the wilderness. While in the plains of Moab the Israelites are told that, after crossing the Jordan, they should expel the Canaanites and destroy their idols.
  • Ch. xxxiv.: The boundaries of the land of which the Israelites are about to take possession. The land is to be divided among the tribes under the superintendence of Eleazar, Joshua, and twelve princes, one of each tribe.
  • Ch. xxxv.-xxxvi.: The forty-eight cities assigned to the Levites, and the six cities of refuge. Laws concerning murder and the cities of refuge, and female inheritance.
E. G. H. M. Sel.—Critical View:

There is abundant evidence that the Book of Numbers was not written by Moses, and that it was not contemporary with the events which it describes. Throughout Moses is referred to in the third person, and in one passage (xii. 3) in terms which have long been felt to preclude Mosaic authorship. One passage only, namely, xxxiii. 2, lays claim to the authorship of Moses; but this is so closely related to others which are clearly later than Moses, and, indeed, the latest in the Pentateuch, that it is evident he did not write it. It has been abundantly demonstrated that the same great sources, J, E, and P, which furnished material for the other books of the Hexateuch, furnished the material for Numbers also. Even D appears in one passage.

There is no unity of thought or of material in Numbers. Its material may be most conveniently grouped geographically, under which arrangement the following three divisions are obtained: (1) ch. i.-x. 10, which treat of the camp at Sinai; (2) ch. x. 11-xix., which contain accounts of wanderings; and (3) ch. xx.-xxxvi., the scene of which is the plains of Moab.

  • Ch. i.-x. 10: The first section of the book covers the last nineteen days of the encampment at Sinai. The material all comes from P; but it is not all from one hand. Ch. i. 1, 16, 54 is from Pg, the author of the priestly "Grundschrift," who recorded the command to number Israel, and briefly told how it was accomplished. Verses 17 to 53 give the tribes in a different order from the preceding, and are from the hand of a priestly expander or supplementer, Ps. Ch. ii., which gives the plan of encampment, has still a different order for the tribes, so that Judah assumes the first place. It is generally agreed that this comes from the hand of a still later priestly supplementer. Ch. iii. contains the account of the choice of the tribe of Levi instead of all the first-born of the Israelites. This main narrative from Pg (verses 5-22, 27, 28, 33, 34, 39, 44, 45) has been supplemented by Ps (verses 1-4, 23-26, 29-32, 35-38, 40-43, 46-51), with the position of their encampment and some other matters. Ch. iv., a fresh census of adult Levites with a statement of their duties, contains (verse 11) a reference to the golden altar, of which there is an account in Ex. xxx., a supplementary chapter. This is, therefore, from Ps. In all these passages from Ps there are seen great elaboration of style and much repetition.
Amplification of Older Laws.

Ch. v., concerning the ordeal provided for a wife suspected of infidelity, comes from a priestly writer possibly older than Pg, whom Carpenter and Harford-Battersby, because he writes as a teacher, designate as Pt. The law in its present form combines two older laws, according to one of which the proof of the woman's guilt is presupposed, while the other regarded it as indeterminate and provided an ordeal to ascertain the truth. For details compare Stade in his "Zeitschrift," 1895, pp. 166 et seq.; Carpenter and Harford-Battersby, "Hexateuch," ii. 192; and Baentsch in Nowack's "Hand-Kommentar," ad loc. Ch. vi., on the law of vows, is from the same source as ch. v., namely, Pt. The benediction at the end (verses 22 to 27) is from a supplementary source. Ch. vii., relating to the gifts of the princes of the different tribes, is dated the day Moses finished setting up the Tabernacle, and accordingly follows immediately on Ex. xl. It is regarded as one of the latest amplifications of Ps. One verse (89) is from Pg. Ch. viii., the ceremonial cleansing of the Levites, is from Ps, but it consists of two strata, 1-15a and 15b-26. These cover much the same ground, 15b-26 being later than the other. Ch. ix., on the regulations of the delayed Passover, is likewise from Ps. Ch. x. 1-8 recounts the signals for journeying. It is from Pg. Verses 9 and 10 contain regulations concerning the blowing of trumpets in war and as a memorial. It bears the characteristic marks of the Holiness Code, Ph.

  • Ch. x. 11-xix.: In the second division of Numbers the sources are more complex, J, E, and P being each represented. It is by no means possible to separate the three strands with certainty. Ch. x. 11-26, describing the departure from Sinai, contains first (verses 11-12) Pg's statement of the departure. This has been amplified (verses 13-28, 34) by Ps. In verses 29-33, 35, and 36 the J narrative, which was interrupted at Ex. xxxiv. 28, is resumed. As in the J narratives elsewhere, Moses' father-in-law, who accompanies the Israelites on their way, is called Hobab. Ch. xi. 1-3, narrating the Taberah incident, is plausibly attributed to E because marks of J are wanting and because E elsewhere ascribes a similar function to prayer (xxi. 7 and Gen. xx. 7, 17). The story of the quails (xi. 4-15, 18-24a, 31-35; xii. 16) is clearly from J: the style, language, and point of view are his. On the other hand, xi. 16, 17, 24b-30, and xii. 1-15 are, by their conception of the tent of meeting as apart from the camp, shown to be from E.
Complexity of Sources.

Ch. xiii-xiv., describing the sending out of thespies, is very complex. J, E, and P are all represented in the story. The following analysis is tentative only: To P belong xiii. 1-17a, 21b, 25, 26a, 32; xiv. 1a, 2, 5-7, 9a, 10, 26-30, 32-39a. According to P, Caleb, Joshua, and ten others went through the land to Rehob in the neighborhood of Lebanon; they reported the people to be of great stature; the congregation murmured; and forty years of wandering were announced. From J come xiii. 17b, 18b, 19, 22, 27a, 28, 30, 31; xiv. 1c, 3, 8, 9b, 11-17, 19-24, 31, 41-45. According to J, Caleb and other spies go up to the "negeb" (A. V. "south"), and reach Hebron; they report that the children of Anak are there; the people weep with fear; only Caleb and the little ones are, accordingly, to see the promised land; the presumptuous attempt of the people to go up is defeated. To E belong xiii. 17c, 18a, 18c, 20, 21a, 23, 24, 26b, 27b, 29, 33; xiv. 1b, 4, 25, 39b, 40. The beginning of E's account may be found underlying Deut. i. 22-25. He describes the despatch of twelve men, who reach the valley of Eshcol, cut down some fruit, and take it back to Kadesh, with a report that numerous Nephilim are in the country; the people cry unto the Lord and are directed to march by way of the Red Sea, but they propose to enter the land direct instead.

Ch. xv., on the general law of oblation and on a law concerning fringes on garments, is from Pt, though Ps has interpolated verses 32 to 36, which refer to the man found gathering sticks on the Sabbath. Ch. xvi. is composite: an account by J of how a Judean headed a rebellion against Moses, an E account of the rebellion of two sons of Reuben, and a Pg account of how a number of Israelites murmured against Moses and Aaron have been combined and transformed by Ps into the attempt of Levites headed by Korah to obtain the priesthood. To J belong verses 1d, 13, 14a, 15, 26b, 27c-31, 33a; to E, 1c, 12, 14b, 25, 27b, 32a, 33b, 34; to Pg, 1a, 2b-7, 18-24, 26a, 27a, 35, 41-50; and to Ps, 1b, 8-11, 16, 17, 32b, 33c, and 36-40. Ch. xvii., on the budding of Aaron's rod, and ch. xviii., on the responsibilities and perquisites of the priests, are from the main priestly narrative, Pg. Ch. xix. contains regulations for the purification of those who have touched the dead. Verses 1 to 13, on the ceremonial of the red heifer, is tentatively assigned to Ps; the parallel law in verses 14 to 22 is connected by its title with Pt.

  • Ch. xx.-xxxvi.: In the third section of the book, ch. xx. 1-13, narrating the strife at Meribah, is mainly derived from Pg, but the reference to Miriam (1b) seems to be taken from E, while 3a, 5, and 8b are fragments of a J account in which Aaron was not mentioned. Verses 14 to 22a, the refusal of Edom to allow Israel to pass through his territory, is combined from J and E. E furnished verses 14-18, 21a, and 22a; J, 19, 20, and 21b. Verses 22b to 29, describing the death of Aaron, is clearly from Pg.Ch. xxi. is a JE narrative. J supplied verses 1-3 (the devotion of Hormah), 16-20 (the journey from Hormah to Pisgah), and 24b-32 (the conquest of Heshbon and Jazer); E supplied 4b-9 (the origin of the brazen serpent), 11b-15 (the journey to the Arnon), 21-24a (the conquest of Heshbon). Verses 4a, 10, and 11a are a part of P's itinerary, as is xxii. 1.
Antiquity of Poems in Ch. xxiii., xxiv.

The story of Balaam (xxii.2-xxiv.) has been woven together from J and E. The J sections are xxii. 3b-5a, 5c-7, 11, 17, 18, 22-36a, 37b, 39; xxiii. 28; xxiv. 1-25. These sections describe Moab's distress, and the sending of elders of Midian to Balaam, apparently in the land of Ammon (emended text instead of in xxii. 5c). Yhwh appears to him by the way, and the ass speaks; Balaam does not practise enchantment, but speaks under the influence of the spirit of God. To E belong xxii. 2, 5b, 8-10, 12-16, 19-21, 36b. 37a, 38, 40, 41; xxiii. 1-27, 29. This narrative describes Moab's fear, and the sending of her princes to Pethor in the east to summon Balaam. Elohim bids Balaam go with them, and he speaks the word that Elohim puts in his mouth. The poems in xxiii. and xxiv. are probably still older than J and E.

In ch. xxv. it is thought that 1b, 2, 3b, and 4, which narrate whoredom with the daughters of Moab, are from J; verses 1a, 3a, and 5 are an E account of Israel's worship of Baal-peor and its punishment; verses, 6 to 15 preserve a kindred account by Pg of a Hebrew's marriage with a Midianitish woman and its punishment. Ps has supplemented this (verses 16, 17) by a command to vex the Midianites. Ch. xxvi., a second census of the Hebrews, is so repetitious that it is clearly from a priestly supplementer. Ch. xxvii. 1-11, concerning the inheritance of daughters when male issue is wanting, is from a similar source. This is also true of verses 12 to 14, which once introduced at this point the P account of the death of Moses that is now found at Deut. xxxiv. 1. Ch. xxvii. 15-23, on the selection of Joshua to lead Israel, is a part of the original priestly narrative of Pg, Ch. xxviii.-xxxvi. are, with the exception of xxxii. 39-42 (a part of J's itinerary), from the various priestly supplementers, Ps. Ch. xxviii. and xxix. contain late regulations for the feasts, differing materially from the P regulations in Lev. xxiii. The reasons which lead critics to assign the treatment of vows in ch. xxx., the itinerary in xxxiii. 1 et seq., and other parts of this material to Ps are the elaborate and repetitious style, and various modifications of earlier priestly material. For details the reader is referred to such works as those mentioned in the bibliography below.

It is clear from a careful examination of the material, when it is grouped as in the above analysis, that the Book of Numbers is a part of the same literary process which produced the Pentateuch. A trace of D (Rd) appears in ch. xiv. 18; so that all four strata of the Pentateuch are present.

  • Kuenen, The Hexateuch, 1886;
  • Bacon, The Triple Tradition of the Exodus, 1894;
  • Carpenter and G. Harford-Battersby, The Hexateuch, 1900;
  • Baentsch, Exodus-Leviticus-Numeri, in Nowack's Handkommentar, 1903;
  • G. Buchanan Gray, Numbers, in the International Critical Commentary, 1903.
E. C. G. A. B.