1st Edition

A Commentary on Numbers Narrative, Ritual, and Colonialism

By Pekka Pitkänen Copyright 2018
    268 Pages
    by Routledge

    268 Pages
    by Routledge

    This book provides a new reading of the biblical book of Numbers in a commentary form. Mainstream readings have tended to see the book as a haphazard junkyard of material that connects Genesis–Leviticus with Deuteronomy (and Joshua), composed at a late stage in the history of ancient Israel. By contrast, this book reads Numbers as part of a wider work of Genesis–Joshua, a carefully crafted programmatic settler colonial document for a new society in Canaanite highlands in the late second millennium BCE that seeks to replace pre-existing indigenous societies. In the context of the tremendous influence that the biblical documents have had on the world in the last 2,000–3,000 years, the book also offers pointers towards reading these texts today. This volume is a fascinating study of this text, and will be of interest not only to biblical scholars, but to anyone with an interest in the history of the ancient Levant, and colonisation and colonialism in the ancient world more broadly.


    Abbreviations and glossary


    Place in the Canon and the Interpretative Context of Numbers

    History of scholarship

    Main problems with the current state of Pentateuchal and Numbers research

    Social processes and scholarship

    Towards a new interpretation

    The literary structures of Numbers as part of Genesis-Joshua

    Legal backgrounds and implementation

    Textual issues

    Date, provenance and historicity

    Message of the book and reading Numbers today


    1. Departure from Sinai (1:1-10:35)

    1.1. Preparations for departure (1:1-10:10)

    A. Census of the first (Exodus) generation (1:1-54)

    B. Arrangement of the camp (2:1-34)

    C. Priests and Levites (3:1-4:49)

    D. Exclusions from the camp (5:1-4)

    E. Interlude I: Miscellaneous laws/instruction (5:5-6:27)

    F. Cultic actions and regulations (7:1-9:14)

    G. Accoutrements during the march through the wilderness (9:15-10:10)

    1.2. Departure (10:11-36)

    A. Departure (10:11-28)

    B. Moses’s brother-in-law (10:29-32)

    C. The ark (10:33-36)

    2. Between Sinai and Moab (11:1-22:1)

    2.1. Rebellion and punishment (11-14)

    A. People’s rebellion, help for Moses, quail and plague (11)

    B. Miriam and Aaron’s rebellion and Miriam’s leprosy (12)

    C. Spies sent, with rebellion and punishment of the first generation at Kadesh (13-14)

    2.2. Interlude III: Miscellaneous laws (15)

    2.3 Further rebellion: Korah, Dathan and Abiram’s rebellion against Moses and Aaron, their punishment and the confirmation of Aaron’s primacy (16-17)

    2.4. Interlude IV: Priestly matters, purification (18-19)

    2.5. Generational shift and departure towards the promised land by the second generation (20-21)

    A. Kadesh, death of Miriam (20:1)

    B. Water from the rock, the punishment of Moses and Aaron (20:2-13)

    C. From Kadesh on, past Edom (20:14-21)

    D. Kadesh to Hor, death of Aaron (20:22-29)

    E. King of Arad (21:1-3)

    F. The bronze serpent (21:4-9)

    G. Northwards past Wadi Arnon, arrival at Moab (21:10-20)

    H. Defeat of Sihon and Og (21:21-35)

    3. At Moab (22:1-36:13)

    3.1. Balaam (22-24)

    3.2. Rebellion (via idolatry) at Baal Peor (25)

    3.3. Census of the second (conquest) generation (26)

    3.4. Land divisions I: Daughters of Zelophehad and female heirs I (27:1-11)

    3.5 Joshua to succeed Moses (27:12-23)

    3.6 Interlude V: Regular offerings and vows (28-30)

    A. Offerings on various calendar based occasions (28-29)

    B. Vows (30)

    3.7. Vengeance on Midian (31)

    3.8. Reuben and Gad settle in Gilead (32)

    3.9. Summary of journey from Sinai to Moab (33:1-49)

    3.10. Yahweh’s command to destroy the indigenous peoples of Canaan (33:50-56)

    3.11. Land divisions II (34-36)

    A. Boundaries of the land (34)

    B. Levitical towns and towns of refuge (35)

    C. Daughters of Zelophehad and female heirs II (36)


    Select Commentaries on Numbers

    Selection of Other Works



    Pekka Pitkänen is Senior Lecturer in the School of Liberal and Performing Arts at the University of Gloucestershire, UK. He is the author of Central Sanctuary and Centralization of Worship in Ancient Israel (2003) and Joshua (2010). His current interest remains in the study of Genesis–Joshua, together with the study of migration and colonialism in the ancient Near East, ritual studies and other sociological and anthropological approaches to the study of the ancient world.

    "Pekka Pitkänen provides an exciting new commentary to the book of Numbers which approaches the material with finely tuned interdisciplinary skill and close critical exegesis. The commentary is thoroughly-researched and the arguments are careful and clear. This book is a very helpful tool for anybody wishing to engage with the material in the book of Numbers."   

    - Katherine Southwood, St John's College, Oxford University, UK

    "This commentary is a substantial addition to the new Routledge Studies in the Biblical World series. Mostly free of overly-technical jargon, it is accessible to scholars, teachers and the informed lay person or preacher. Without discounting the historical value of Numbers, Pitkanen ably deals with the text (under the regular headings of Context, Comment and Meaning) and presents archaeological evidence and ANE references where necessary.

    - Andy S.J. Lie, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament

    "Pekka Pitkänen’s new commentary on the Book of Numbers analyses the Old Testament text from a decidedly interdisciplinary perspective. P. not only combines exegetic methods with approaches from post-colonial, migration and ritual studies, but also considers results from archaeological field research in the Levant."
    -Felix Hagemeyer, Leipzig University, AWE

    Pekka Pitkänen was interviewed for the New Books Network Biblical Studies podcast. You can listen here: http://newbooksnetwork.com/pekka-pitkanen-a-commentary-on-numbers-narrative-ritual-and-colonialism-routledge-2017/