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Course on the Pentateuch – Exegesis of Numbers 1 and 2 – Analysis of the text

4And with you there shall be a man of every tribe; every one head of the house of his fathers. And these are the names of the men that shall stand with you: of the tribe of Reuben; Elizur the son of Shedeur. Of Simeon; Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai. 7Of Judah; Nahshon the son of Amminadab.Of Issachar; Nethaneel the son of Zuar. 9Of Zebulun; Eliab the son of Helon. 10Of the children of Joseph: of Ephraim; Elishama the son of Ammihud: of Manasseh; Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur. 11Of Benjamin; Abidan the son of Gideoni.12 Of Dan; Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai. 13 Of Asher; Pagiel the son of Ocran.14 Of Gad; Eliasaph the son of Deuel.15 Of Naphtali; Ahira the son of Enan. 16 These were the renowned of the congregation, princes of the tribes of their fathers, heads of thousands in Israel.

The verses contain the list of those who will assist Moses and Aaron in the census of the Israelites who came out of Egypt. It is the first generation to come out of Egypt, which – according to the Book of Numbers – will never see the Promised Land, because it had rebelled against God’s commands and therefore He had them die in the desert (see Numbers 26:65).

The Moses’ assistants are named in different ways: head of the house (in Hebr. rosh), while at v. 16 we find princes of the tribes (in Hebr. nasi’ – “prince”). The hebrew term rosh indicates absolute authority, while nasi ‘ indicates instead a higher authority to refer to, usually a king. It could be a subtlety deriving from the purely theological interest of the priestly authors, for which only YHWH is the king of Israel, especially after the experience of the exile that had decreed the failure and the end of the monarchy.

In many cases the names of the collaborators contain the name of God (i.e. El). In general, this list is also a clear indication of the authors’ style and of the composition of the book of Numbers. Priests assumed an increasingly important role in post-exilic society. Those who had important roles in the society of the time had to establish an important and influent lineage. After the exile, it was very important to recover the roots, to establish the origins, to define (or rather to re-define) the identity of the people of YHWH, gathered around the Law (i.e. the Torah) and the Temple, whose desert sanctuary was a figure.

Simone Venturini


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