The Framing Function Of The Narratives About Zelophehad’s Daughters -- By: Dean R. Ulrich

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 41:4 (Dec 1998)
Article: The Framing Function Of The Narratives About Zelophehad’s Daughters
Author: Dean R. Ulrich

The Framing Function Of The Narratives
About Zelophehad’s Daughters

Dean R. Ulrich*

* Dean Ulrich is pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Wexford, PA, and lives at 1264 Norberry Court, Cranberry Township, PA 16066.

In Numbers 27 Moses and the leaders of Israel encountered a situation that no law addressed. The daughters of a deceased man named Zelophehad wanted to know how their father’s name would continue without any son to inherit the family property. If the patrimony passed to one of Zelophehad’s tribesmen, his attachment to it would disappear. Not knowing how to respond, Moses consulted God for a judgment on the matter. God’s ruling in this special case gave possession of the land to the daughters.

In Numbers 36 the men of Manasseh had a related concern. If the daughters married outside the tribe, the land would legally be transferred by way of inheritance to the tribes of the husbands. Even the Year of Jubilee could not reverse such a disinheritance. In order to protect the even distribution of land, God again ruled in favor of the people who stood to lose their land. Zelophehad’s daughters had to marry within the tribe of Manasseh. The writer of Numbers then closed the narrative and the book with the record of the daughters’ obedience.

Two questions arise about the significance of these two events in the book of Numbers. First, why did the author separate them when they were obviously related? Second, why did the author end the book with such a provincial ruling? Although many Israelites would in all likelihood never appeal to this legislation, it brings the fourth book of the hallowed Pentateuch to a rather inauspicious close.

Previous scholarship has frequently raised the problem but rarely resolved it with respect to the book’s overall message. Philip J. Budd calls Numbers 36 “a supplement or appendix to the completed book of Numbers” and “an extended gloss on Numbers 27:1–11.”1 With regard to the purpose of Numbers 27 he points to the difficulties of the postexilic community in trying to reestablish property rights.2 Jacob Milgrom similarly considers Numbers 36 “an editorial afterthought that could not be inserted in its logical place, sequential with chapter 27 … because the Book of Numbers had been completed and was now closed.”You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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