book of the Bible, fourth of the five books of the Law (the Pentateuch or Torah) ascribed by tradition to Moses. Numbers begins at Sinai and ends in Moab on the eve of the Hebrews' entry into Palestine. It continues Exodus' narrative of the journey of the Jews from Egypt to the Promised Land. (Leviticus does not advance the story.) Kadesh is the scene of a number of revolts against Moses' authority. Nevertheless, out of dissension comes a greater sense of solidarity and unity. The geographical detail of the journey is bare, and only the main lines can be discerned. The book contains incidental legislation. Its events include two censuses, whence the title; the sending of spies to reconnoiter the Promised Land; the emergence of Joshua and Caleb as leaders; the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram; the curse of Balaam turned into a blessing; and the apostasy at Shittim in which Phinehas played an exemplary role.
See G. W. Coats, Rebellion in the Wilderness (1968); P. Budd, Numbers (1984). See also bibliography under Old Testament.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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