Short Study Why Did Moses Strike Out? The Narrative-Geographical Shaping Of Moses’ Disqualification In Numbers 20:1-13 -- By: John A. Beck

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 65:1 (Spring 2003)
Article: Short Study Why Did Moses Strike Out? The Narrative-Geographical Shaping Of Moses’ Disqualification In Numbers 20:1-13
Author: John A. Beck


Short Study
Why Did Moses Strike Out? The Narrative-Geographical Shaping Of Moses’ Disqualification In Numbers 20:1-13

John A. Beck

[John A. Beck is Associate Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at Concordia University Wisconsin.]

I. Introduction

Moses is the man whom God used to bring the Israelites out of their captivity in Egypt. He leads them into freedom through the sea, and we fully expect him to lead the Israelites through the Jordan River into the Promised Land. But suddenly and dramatically that hope is extinguished. Moses strikes a rock and is immediately disqualified from leading the Israelites to their geographical goal. The story of Moses’ disqualification raises many difficult questions. Whose staff was used to strike the rock, that of Moses or that of Aaron? Why did Moses strike the rock twice? What was Aaron’s role in this spiritual fiasco? But the most arresting question is the one raised here. Why did Moses strike out? What did this hero of Israel do that disqualified him from entering the Promised Land? Scholars old and new have wrestled with this question. Yet the passage of time has done little to overcome the enigma associated with this disqualification. In his day, Rambam called this matter one of the most difficult problems of the Torah.1 Seven hundred and fifty years later, Arden calls it “the most enigmatic incident of the Torah.”2

This article will investigate Numbers 20 through the lens of narrative geography to determine what this approach may contribute to the conversation about this story. Narrative geography is distinct from both physical geography and historical geography. Physical geography investigates the topography, geology, hydrology, climate, forestation, land use, urbanization, and transportation associated with a place.3 Historical geography examines the role such physical geography plays in the shaping of history and culture.4 Narrative geography,

however, analyzes the literary function of geographical references within a story. It acknowledges that the author may strategically use, reuse, and nuance geography in order to influence the reading experience. Of course, as Longman acknowledges, the choice of setting was restricted to where events actually occurred. Nevertheless, “these authors controlled the selectivity of detail in the description of settings, requiring the reader to pay close attention to these textual signals.”

visitor : : uid: ()