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Numbers: Chapter 35

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1The LORD spoke to Moses in the steppes of Moab at the Jordan near Jericho, saying: 2Instruct the Israelite people to assign, out of the holdings apportioned to them, towns for the Levites to dwell in; you shall also assign to the Levites pasture land around their towns. 3The towns shall be theirs to dwell in, and the pasture shall be for the cattle they own and all their other beasts. 4Thetown pasture that you are to assign to the Levites shall extend a thousand cubits outside the town wall all around. 5You shall measure off two thousand cubits outside the town on the east side, two thousand on the south side, two thousand on the west side, and two thousand on the north side, with the town in the center. That shall be the pasture for their towns.

6The towns that you assign to the Levites shall comprise the six cities of refuge that you are to designate for a manslayer to flee to, to which you shall add forty‐two towns. 7Thus the total of the towns that you assign to the Levites shall be forty‐eight towns, with their pasture. 8In assigning towns from the holdings of the Israelites, take more from the larger groups and less from the smaller, so that each assigns towns to the Levites in proportion to the share it receives.

9The LORD spoke further to Moses: 10Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, 11you shall provide yourselves with places to serve you as cities of refuge to which a manslayer who has killed a person unintentionally may flee. 12The cities shall serve you as a refuge from the avenger, a Lit. “redeemer,” i.e., next of kin; cf. note at Lev. 25.25. so that the manslayer may not die unless he has stood trial before the assembly.

13The towns that you thus assign shall be six cities of refuge in all. 14Three cities shall be designated beyond the Jordan, and the other three shall be designated in the land of Canaan: they shall serve as cities of refuge. 15These six cities shall serve the Israelites and the resident aliens among them for refuge, so that anyone who kills a person unintentionally may flee there.

16Anyone, however, who strikes another with an iron object so that death results is a murderer; the murderer must be put to death. 17If he struck him with a stone tool b Lit. “of the hand.” that could cause death, and death resulted, he is a murderer; the murderer must be put to death. 18Similarly, if the object with which he struck him was a wooden tool b Lit. “of the hand.” that could cause death, and death resulted, he is a murderer; the murderer must be put to death. 19The blood‐avenger himself shall put the murderer to death; it is he who shall put him to death upon encounter. 20So, too, if he pushed him in hate or hurled something at him on purpose and death resulted, 21or if he struck him with his hand in enmity and death resulted, the assailant shall beput to death; he is a murderer. The blood‐avenger shall put the murderer to death upon encounter.

22But if he pushed him without malice aforethought or hurled any object at him unintentionally, 23or inadvertently a Lit. “without seeing.” dropped upon him any deadly object of stone, and death resulted—though he was not an enemy of his and did not seek his harm—24in such cases the assembly shall decide between the slayer and the blood‐avenger. 25The assembly shall protect the manslayer from the blood‐avenger, and the assembly shall restore him to the city of refuge to which he fled, and there he shall remain until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the sacred oil. 26But if the manslayer ever goes outside the limits of the city of refuge to which he has fled, 27and the blood‐avenger comes upon him outside the limits of his city of refuge, and the blood‐avenger kills the manslayer, there is no bloodguilt on his account. 28For he must remain inside his city of refuge until the death of the high priest; after the death of the high priest, the manslayer may return to his land holding.

29Such shall be your law of procedure throughout the ages in all your settlements.

30If anyone kills a person, the manslayer may be executed only on the evidence of witnesses; the testimony of a single witness against a person shall not suffice for a sentence of death. 31You may not accept a ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of a capital crime; he must be put to death. 32Nor may you accept ransom in lieu of flight to a city of refuge, enabling one to return to live on his land before the death of the priest. 33You shall not pollute the land in which you live; for blood pollutes the land, and the land can have no expiation for blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it. 34You shall not defile the land in which you live, in which I Myself abide, for I the LORD abide among the Israelite people.

Notes:

a Lit. “redeemer,” i.e., next of kin; cf. note at Lev. 25.25.

b Lit. “of the hand.”

a Lit. “without seeing.”

Text Commentary view alone
Commentary spanning earlier chapters

33.50–35.8 :

Instructions on the conquest and division of Canaan. The final task before crossing into Canaan is to delineate the boundaries of the land so that it can be divided among the nine‐and‐a‐half tribes that will inhabit it. The Levites, who are not allotted tribal territory, are provided with towns and pastureland within the holdings of the other tribes. A repetition of the method by which the land will be apportioned ( 26.52–56 ) and, more importantly, the command to utterly destroy the indigenous Canaanite population together with its religious objects and shrines ( 33.50–56 ) precede instructions relating to the division of Canaan.

33.50–56 :

The eradication of the Canaanites and their cult is a divine command. Failure to do so will result in the demise of Israel (cf. Deut. 7.16; Josh. 23.13 ).

52 :

Figured objects may refer to stone images in relief (cf. Lev. 26.1 ). Such objects have been uncovered in archeological exca‐vations from Syria to Israel. Their cult places, Heb “bamah,” high place, is difficult to define but probably refers to a shrine smaller than a full‐scale temple with an elevated cult platform, like those uncovered in archeological excavations at Megiddo and Tel Dan.

34.1–15 :

The exact boundaries of the promised land are delineated from south to north, the direction corresponding to the scouting account ( 13.21 ). Scholars have observed a correlation between the Levantine territory under Egyptian control at the end of the 13th century and the borders as defined in vv. 3–12 (cf. Josh. 15.1–12; Ezek. 47.13–20 ). The large size of Israel's domain is clearly idealized.

3–5 :

Israel's territory begins at the southern tip of the Dead Sea, extending in a southern arc through Kadesh‐barnea and west to the Mediterranean Sea at the Brook of Egypt, Wadi El‐‘Arish (see map on p. 469 ).

6–9 :

From the west it extends northward. The northernmost border, at Hazar‐enan, is tentatively identified with the oasis of Qayatein 70 miles northeast of Damascus.

7–8 :

Mount Hor is not the site in the region of Edom where Aaron died ( 20.22; 33.38 ).

10–12 :

The border then extends south around the eastern banks of the Sea of Galilee and further southward along the Jordan River to the Dead Sea.

14–15 :

These vv. serve as a reminder that Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh received land in Transjordan.

16–29 :

New tribal chieftains, with the exception of Caleb ( 13.6 ), are appointed to assist Eleazar the priest and Joshua in allotting portions of land to the nine‐and‐a‐half remaining tribes. The tribal chieftains are listed here more or less in an order corresponding to the geographical tribal distribution in Canaan, from south to north. For the delineation of each tribe's territory, see Josh. chs 15–19 .

35.1–8 :

Each tribe must allocate land from its holdings for the Levites. The towns and pastureland apportioned to the Levites by each tribe is proportional to the size of its tribal territory. These instructions diverge from the division of the 48 Levitical towns among the tribes in Joshua ( 21.1–40 ), where nine of the tribes allocate four towns each, Judah gives eight, Simeon one, and Naphtali three.

4–5 :

Pastureland extends from the town 1000 cubits (1 cubit = approximately .5 meter [18 in]) in all directions, thereby forming a square of at least 2000 3 2000 cubits, depending on the town size.

6 :

The mention of cities of refuge serves as a bridge to the following unit.

36.1–13 :

Marriage of Zelophehad's daughters. Previously, the case of Zelophehad's daughters elicited divine permission for females to inherit in the absence of male heirs ( 27.1–11 ). This ch, which completes the third unit of Numbers as well as of the entire book, addresses practical issues arising from female inheritance of land. It balances two important, but potentially conflicting principles: the right of women to inherit land in certain special circumstances and the idea of not alienating land from its original tribe or clan. The narrative provides legal instruction for heiresses so that their marriage will not result in the transfer of ancestral tribal lands from one tribe to another. Some scholars, citing the marriage of Zelophehad's daughters to their first cousins, maintain that originally the real concern centered on the preservation of clan holdings, rather than those of the larger tribal unit. The discussion of the distribution of permanent tribal holdings in chs 32 and 34 may account for the placement of this explanatory text to 27.1–11 following ch 34 .

1–4 :

These vv. outline the potential problem surrounding female inheritance of property.

1 :

The opening of the narrative parallels that of 27.1–11 .

3–4 :

The property still passes through the male line, the daughter's possession being interim. As a result of Israel's patrilineal and patrilocal system, a consequence of the daughter's marriage is that the property permanently passes to the husband's tribe via the inheritance of her sons.

4 :

Jubilee: According to the Priestly system, every fiftieth year all sold land reverts to its original owner (see Lev. 25.8–16; 27.16–24 ). The jubilee law does not apply in this case since the land is inherited, not sold.

5–9 :

These vv. contain broader stipulations for heiress marriages that preserve tribal holdings. The redundancy in vv. 7 and 9 pertaining to the inviolability of tribal estates prompted Ramban to view v. 9 as a separate commandment. In cases where a woman is already married to a man from a different tribe, any property she stands to inherit from her father subsequently must go to another relative.

5 :

The validity of the clan elders' case evokes divine justice, as did the case of Zelophehad's daughters ( 27.6 ).

10–12 :

The narrative concludes with the marriage of Zelophehad's daughters according to the conditions of the law.

13 :

This v. is a postscript to the preceding laws, those commanded by God while Israel was encamped in Moab ( 22.1 ), and is not a concluding formula encompassing the book as a whole. Its form is typical of Priestly literature (e.g., Lev. 26.46; 27.34 ).

35.9–34 :

Cities of refuge and laws governing intentional and unintentional homicide. Different traditions concerning accidental homicide and the cities of refuge are found in Exod. 21.12–14; Deut. 4.41–43; 19.1–13, and Josh. ch 20 .

9–15 :

Levitical towns also serve another purpose. Six (of the 48) designated towns, three in Transjordan and three in Canaan, function as places of asylum for perpetrators of involuntary manslaughter.

12 :

The avenger, lit. “redeemer,” is a kinsman of the victim who is obligated (vv. 19–27 ) to avenge (or restore) the lost blood of the slain family member with the blood of the murderer.

15 :

Aliens are offered asylum like Israelites. These laws, while protecting persons from unjustified vengeance, clearly reflect the Priestly concern over bloodshed as a source of defilement of the land (vv. 33–34 ).

16–23 :

Listed are concrete examples that distinguish intentional from unintentional homicide; as is typical of the Bible and ancient Near Eastern law, specific cases rather than general principles are adduced.

24 :

The assembly probably refers to the court of elders (cf. 11.16–25 ).

25 :

Apparently, court is not held in cities of refuge. The death of the high priest seems to atone accidental homicide. Cf. other purgings of impurity and sin by the high priest in his lifetime (Lev. 16.16–22 ). For the ritual of anointing the high priest, see Lev. 21.10 .

26–28 :

The perpetrator of involuntary manslaughter is only protected from the blood avenger inside the city of refuge.

30–34 :

These vv., only loosely connected to the preceding, outline the procedure for convicting and punishing persons guilty of intentional homicide.

30 :

At least two witnesses are required in capital cases (cf. Deut. 17.6 ).

31 :

In cases of intentional homicide monetary compensation is explicitly prohibited. It does not compensate for the victim's lost blood as does the death of the killer (cf. Deut. 21.1–9 ). Biblical law differs in this respect from practices among other ancient Near Eastern societies, especially the Hittites, where monetary restitution to the family of the victim was an option. Thus, murder in the Bible was seen as a crime beyond an offense against the family of the deceased.

33–34 :

The notion that bloodshed and other transgressions pollute the land, thereby endangering its inhabitants with divine wrath, is common in the Bible (see Gen. 4.10–12; Lev. 18.28; 2 Sam. 21.1–14; Ezek. 36.17–19; Hos. 4.2–3 ).

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