As I pointed out in my previous post, the “purity” of Israel was seen as massively important to most of the writers of the Hebrew Scriptures, including the various sources that eventually came to make up the Pentateuch and the other books (Joshua – 2 Kings) that describe the history of ancient Israel.  Nowhere can that be seen more clearly than in narratives about the children of Israel as they journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, after God delivered them from their slavery at the Exodus under their leader Moses.

Once Israel escapes (Exodus 1-15), Moses leads them to Mount Sinai, where he is given the Law — starting with the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20 all the way through Leviticus).  Much of this law is about how Israel is to worship and live, now that they have been chosen by God to be his people.  Once they receive the law, the Israelites journey to the promised land, but they sin en route, and God judges them by forcing them to remain in the wilderness for forty years, until the entire generation that had escaped from Egypt had died off.  He will then give the next generation the Promised Land.

Their time in the wilderness is described in the book of Numbers.  The book is called that in English Bibles because a census of the people is taken at the beginning of the book and at the end.  A census in antiquity was normally taken to determine the number of soldier-aged men.  You have to know what kind of army you have before you can plan a military operation; according to Numbers 1:46, at the time of the Exodus there were 630,550 military aged men.  That would mean there were two or three million Israelites wandering around the wilderness for forty years. (To forestall the inevitable question: no, there is no archaeological or material reference to 2-3 million people spending decades in the Sinai – let alone escaping Egypt — and no reference to these events in any other source outside the Bible).

After the forty-year hiatus, the people are commanded to march to Palestine, to the west of the Arabah and Dead Sea; they will take over the land after crossing the Jordan River from the east.  The book of Numbers describes the journey and initial battles in the Transjordan area and then in the land of Moab (on the Eastern side of the Dead Sea).

These battles prefigure the two problems that the children of Israel will face throughout their biblically-recounted history. The first is the most obvious: the Promised Land is already someone else’s land.  There are

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