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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Source and Tradition.

1.

The origin of Numbers is also complex. Most scholars consider the book to be a composite of sources (both oral and written) from various historical periods. The book itself speaks of sources, the Book of the Wars of the Lord ( 21:14 ) and popular songs ( 21:17–18, 27–30 ). The tradition most identifiable is the Priestly writing (in several redactions), with its interest in matters of worship and priesthood; it is most attested in chs. 1–10; 26–36 , and provides continuity with Ex 25–40 and Leviticus. Other sources, such as J and E (esp. in chs. 11–25 ), are more difficult to distinguish; it is common to speak simply of an older epic tradition. The association of blocks of texts with three primary locales (Sinai, 1:1–10:10 ; Kadesh, chs. 13–20 ; Moab, chs. 22–36 ) could reflect a way in which traditions were gathered over time. Beyond this, editorial activity seems unusually common (for detail, see Milgrom 1990: pp. xvii–xxi).

2.

Also of scholarly import has been the study of individual traditions and their development, e.g. the Balaam cycle, the murmuring stories, the censuses, the wilderness encampment, the Transjordan conquest, the cities of refuge, land apportionment, and the priesthood. It is clear from such work that various Israelite interests from different times and places inform the present redaction. These traditions have in time (perhaps during and after the Exile) been brought together to form a unified composition, but the character of that unity has been difficult to discern.

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