The Case Against Moses Reopened -- By: Martin Emmrich

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 46:1 (Mar 2003)
Article: The Case Against Moses Reopened
Author: Martin Emmrich


The Case Against Moses Reopened

Martin Emmrich

[Martin Emmrich is adjunct professor of Old and New Testament at Eastern University, 1300 Eagle Road, St. Davids, PA 19087–3696, and adjunct professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, 5500 River Road, Bethesda, MD 20816–3399.]

Numbers 20:1–13 has been rated as “perhaps the most enigmatic incident of the Pentateuch.”1 Throughout the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures Moses has been portrayed as the model theocrat, most humble (Num 12:3) and superior as a prophetic leader (Deut 34:10), only in order to receive a startling death sentence and be denied entrance into the promised land on account of-yes, on account of what? Whatever the reader may think of the above assessment, the fact remains that the sheer number of different conjectures as to what constituted Moses’ (and Aaron’s) sin is in itself indicative of the level of ambiguity characteristic of this account.2 The present study attempts to shed new light on this puzzling text by not only (briefly) discussing the nature of Moses’ transgression, but also by accentuating the typological significance of both the sin and the miracle involved in the story. It is my contention that only a synopsis of these concerns accounts for the at times bewildering language of Numbers 20.

I. Moses’ Sin

Source analysis traditionally assigns Num 20:1–13 to P, whereas the “parallel” in Exod 17:1–7 is believed to have originated from strands of the much earlier J(E).3 P, so it has been assumed, utilized the earlier tradition and rewrote it in an effort to explain why Moses and Aaron could not lead Israel into Canaan.4 It is not at all my intention to engage these speculations at this point. May it suffice to mention that the differences between the said accounts clearly indicate that the author of Numbers wanted his readership to consider 20:1–13 as a separate incident and not as a “derivative” of the story in Exodus.5 When thus viewed in its own right, what does

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