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Why Was Moses Banned From the Promised Land? A Radical Retelling of the Rebellions of Moses (Num 20:2–13 and Exod 2:11–15)

Pages 111 - 159


Num. 20:2–13 has long been regarded as one of the most difficult sections of the Torah. This article shows how a structuralist approach enables us to make better sense of its problems. Although Moses is presented in both the ‘water-miracle’ text of Exod. 17:1–6 and Num. 20:2–13 as a conflicted subject, Num. 20 is unique in the Moses story in that Moses sends himself a message to rebel against YHWH. This runs counter to Moses' previous responses as subject. Far from being a technical offence, or no offence at all, the combined effect of Moses' words and actions in Num. 20:2–13 communicates an act of open rebellion against YHWH. This is confirmed by semiotic recognitions internal to the text. Moses' offence is structurally equivalent to Israel's rebellion against YHWH in Num. 14 and accordingly attracts the same penalty: death in the desert and exile from the Promised Land. In addition, there is a range of structural correspondences between Num. 20:2–13 (where Moses rebels against YHWH) and Exod. 2:11–15 (where Moses rebels against Pharaoh). When read as parallel texts, they amount to a radical retelling of the arc of the Moses story.


1 I am greatly indebted to Prof. Bernard S. Jackson (Liverpool Hope) for his help in working through the detailed application of his proposed method to the biblical texts. An earlier version of this article was presented at Westminster Seminary, Calif. and to a work-in-progress seminar at J. Reuben Clark Law School, Brigham Young University. I am deeply grateful to Prof. David VanDrunen (Westminster) and Prof. John (Jack) W. Welch (Brigham Young) for organising these events and to the participants for their lively responses. I also wish to record special thanks to Prof. Reinhard Achenbach (Münster), Dr. Stefan Kürle (Londrina) and Prof. Gordon Wenham for additional input and bibliographic support. Biblical texts quoted are from the English Standard Version (ESV), unless otherwise noted.

2 Yitzchak Arama. Akeydat Yitzchak: Commentary of Rabbi Yitzchak Arama on the Torah translated Eliyahu Munk. 2 vols. (Lambda, New York 2001), Parashat Chukat, ch. 80.

3 Rabbi Yehuda Nahshoni, Studies in the Weekly Parasha (ArtScroll Mesorah Publications, New York 1989), vol. 4, p. 1076. “It may well be that when the Torah said ‘No-one knew his burial place’ (Deut 32:24), the secret of Mei Meriva [“the waters of Merivah”] was included as well.”

4 Eugene Arden, ‘How Moses Failed God’ (1957) 76 JBL, 50, 50 describes it as “perhaps the most enigmatic incident of the Pentateuch.”

5 Num 20:2–13 presents Aaron as equally culpable. Limits upon space mean this deserves to be the subject of a separate study and so I do not discuss Aaron's liability in this article, except insofar as it affects my argument in relation to Moses. As it happens, the focus of Num 20:2–13 is on Moses, as the string of singular verb commands from YHWH to Moses in Num 20:8 suggests. Aaron's participation is not integral to determining the nature of Moses' own offence.

6 Philo of Alexandria, Philo with an English translation, translated F.H. Colson and G.H. Whitaker, Loeb classical library (London: Heinemann, 1939), vol. VI. 384. Richard A. Freund, “‘Thou shalt not go thither: Moses and Aaron's punishments and varying theodices in the MT, LXX and Hellenistic Literature’ (1994) 8 Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament, 105, 115 thinks Philo combines the watermiracles of Exod 17 and Num 20: “For they [the Israelites] filled all their water vessels as they had done on the former occasion from the springs that were naturally bitter…” (Book I, XXXVIII, lines 210–212). Freund assumes that “the former occasion” refers to Exod 17. However, the earlier event might more naturally be taken to refer to Exod 15:22–25, in which case Philo combines the miracles of Exod 15 and Exod 17, not Exod 17 and Num 20. In addition, Philo's reference to Moses striking the rock “under inspiration” (line 210) must refer to Exod 17:6, where Moses acts in obedience to a divine command, and not to Num 20:11.

7 Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, translation by H. St. J. Thackeray and Ralph Marcus, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998), 171.

8 The problem is not restricted to ancient biographers; even the Booker Prize-winning novelist Thomas Keneally ignores Num 20:2–13 in Moses the Lawgiver (Harper & Row 1975).

9 So Johnson Lim Teng Kok. The Sin of Moses and the Staff of God. 1997. Assen. Van Gorcum 165, though what does “partial obedience” really mean?

10 Martin Noth. Numbers (SCM, 1968) 147.

11 E.g. Robert C. Culley, ‘Five Tales of Punishment in the Book of Numbers’ in Susan Niditch (ed.) Text and Tradition: The Hebrew Bible and Folklore (Scholars Press 1990) 25, 30; Jeffrey M. Cohen, ‘The striking of the rock’ (1984) 12 Dor le Dor, 152, 162; Eryl W. Davies. Numbers (Eerdmans 1995), 205–206; George B. Gray. Numbers (T&T Clark 1903), 258; Stephen K. Sherwood. Berit Olam: Studies in Hebrew Narrative and Poetry. Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy (Liturgical Press 2002), 171; John Sturdy. Numbers: Cambridge Bible Commentary (CUP 1976), 139.

12 Julius H. Greenstone. Numbers (JPS, 1948), 213.

13 Pinchas Kahn, ‘Moses at the waters of Meribah: A case of transference’ (2007) 35 JBQ, 85, 89, 86. Baruch A. Levine. Numbers 1–20 (Doubleday 1993), 483 assumes that, by his actions, Moses “undoubtedly… [thought] he had thereby demonstrated God's providence.” He is then “startled” to learn, in verse 12, that Moses' behaviour showed “a serious lack of trust in God.” In saying “The reader is left with the sense that he is missing something”, Levine is typical of many who object to ‘problems’ in the text which are of their own devising.

14 Nachmanides Ramban (Nachmanides), Commentary on the Torah (Charles B. Chavel tr, Shilo Pub. House 1974), 218 thinks “the meaning of the phrase ‘and speak ye ‘el’ (unto) the rock’ [in verse 8] is like ‘al’ (concerning) the rock.” In other words, Moses mistakes YHWH's command l[(‘al’) to speak ‘on’, in effect ‘from’, the rock for la (‘el’), meaning to speak ‘to’ the rock.

15 Nathaniel Helfgot “‘And Moses struck the rock”: Numbers 20 and the Leadership of Moses’ (1993) 27 Tradition, 51, 56.

16 E.g. Culley 30; Cohen 155 (“There were certainly no grounds for any punishment to be meted out…”).

17 Cohen, Freund.

18 Gray, 262.

19 Cohen, 165.

20 Davies 205–206; Gray 258; Arvid S. Kapelrud, ‘How tradition failed Moses’ (1957) 76 JBL 242, though if the intention was to whitewash Moses, the redactors made a very poor job of it. Propp, 25 goes to the other extreme, imagining that “The Priestly author removed the punishment of Moses from his spy story, also at Kadesh (Num 13:26), and created a new tale in which Moses is actually at fault.” I find this unconvincing.

21 M. Margaliot, ‘The Transgression of Moses and Aaron: Num 20:1–13’ (1983) 74 JQR, 196, 198. The multiplicity of explanations for what constitutes the sin of Moses may not be, as Sherwood 171 insists: “a clear indication of the ambiguity of the text” but, instead, evidence of a collective failure to pay proper attention to the text.

22 Stephen D. Moore, Literary Criticism and the Gospels: The Theoretical Challenge (Yale UP, 1989), xix.

23 A. J. Greimas, Sémantique structural: Recherche de méthode (Larousse 1966), 172–191.

24 T. Budniakiewicz. Fundamentals of Story Logic: Introduction to Greimassian Semiotics (Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Betjamins Publishing Company, 1992), especially chapter 7 and cf. Bernard S. Jackson. Making Sense in Law (Deborah Charles Publications, 1985), 145, n. 9.

25 Although a ‘Contract’ is always confined to the constitution of the subject of the performance, in any story there may be more than one subject, in which case this form of analysis is a way of highlighting their different perspectives.

26 Bernard S. Jackson. Semiotics and Legal Theory (Deborah Charles Publications, 1997), 59.

27 See the helpful summary in Jackson. Semiotics and Legal Theory, 69–73.

28 E.g. David Jobling, The Sense of Biblical Narrative: Structural Analyses in the Hebrew Bible (J Study of Old Testament Press 1986), 2 vols and cf. the overviews by Richard Jacobson, ‘The Structuralists and the Bible’ in Paul R. House (ed.) Beyond Form Criticism: Essays in Old Testament Literary Criticism (Eisenbrauns 1992), 101–117 and Vern S. Poythress, ‘Structuralism and Biblical Studies’ (1978) 21 JETS 221.

29 E.g. Barr's confession of a repentant structuralist: “… in the study of the Bible, in spite of a large body of theory and some often fearsome terminology, structuralist exegesis has thus far produced no large body of profound and convincing results.” James Barr, ‘Biblical Language and Exegesis: How Far Does Structuralism Help Us?’ in John Barton (ed.) Bible and Interpretation: The Collected Essays of James Barr. Vol. II. (Oxford University Press, 2013), 361–372, 367.

30 N. T. Wright. The New Testament and the People of God (SPCK, 1993), 69–77; N. T. Wright. Paul and the Faithfulness of God (SPCK, 2013), 108–114.

31 R. K. Harrison. Numbers (Baker, 1992) 257.

32 R. Dennis Cole. Numbers (Broadman, 2000) 327.

33 David L. Stubbs. Numbers (Brazos 2009) 161.

34 E.g. Sakenfeld, 147: “divergences from God's command is [sic] especially in view, but what or which divergences is not specified.” Cf. also Cohen 162 and Culley 30.

35 Cohen 157.

36 E.g. W. H. Bellinger, Jr. Leviticus and Numbers (Hendrickson 2001), 256–257; Philip J. Budd. Numbers (Word 1984), 218; Davies 205 and Katharine Doob Sakenfeld. Numbers (Eerdmans 1995) 114 think Moses' speech was the main offence, whilst others, including Kok, favour his striking the rock.

37 Kok, 5.

38 Kok, 136.

39 E.g. Cohen, 163 who, having decided Moses' offence is purely a matter of ‘speaking rashly’, then objects that this “hardly sounds a serious misdemeanour.” Similarly, Margaliot 206–27 rhetorically asks “whether the striking can really be regarded as a transgression.”

40 E.g. Cohen 1984: 154 claims Moses' sin “did not lie in the act of striking the rock [and that this] is implied… in the fact that that act is never referred to” in subsequent biblical texts.

41 Katherine Doob Sakenfeld, ‘Theological and Redactional Problems in Numbers 20:2–13’ in David J A Clines and Philip R Davies (eds) Understanding the Word JSOTSS 37 (JSOT Press, 1985) 133, 147. Similarly, Thomas W. Mann, ‘Theological reflections on the Denial of Moses’ (1979) 98 JBL, 481 tries to hold the different elements together but his conclusion offers no explanation (“Moses' fault lay in his striking the rock in lieu of speaking to it, perhaps coupled with his denunciation of the people as ‘rebels’”), 483.

42 Davies, 205.

43 Sakenfeld, 134. Cf. also Vince Sawyer, ‘The fall of a great leader as illustrated in the life of Moses’ (1989) 12 Calvary Baptist Theological Journal, 12, 14 who claims Moses only obeyed “with perfect obedience on two of the three commands.”

44 Kok, 165.

45 T. R. Ashley, Numbers (Eerdmans 1993) 379.

46 Gordon J. Wenham, Numbers: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Inter-Varsity Press 1981) 150. Cf. Sawyer (1989:20) who speaks of “Moses' failure to carry out the Lord's instructions precisely…” (italics added).

47 Summarised by Kok, 90–93. More recently, Hans-Christoph Schmitt, “Dtn 34 als Verbindungsstück zwischen Tetrateuch und Deuteronomistischem Geschichtswerk” in Eckart Otto and Reinhard Achenbach (eds.) Das Deuteronomium zwischen Pentateuch und Deuteronomistischem Geschichtswerk (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2004), 181–192 has argued (following Ludwig Schmidt, at n. 30, 187) that Num 20:1–13 is only modelled on Exod 17:1–7 from a late stage onwards. In particular, references to the staff (vv. 8–9) and Meribah (v. 13) belong to this secondary reworking. Horst Seebass, Numeri, Biblischer Kommentar Altes Testament. IV/2 (Neukirchener Verlag, 2002), 271 believes there is a link between Exod 17 and Num 20 but concludes that the underlying problem in both texts is very different. For Seebass (278) Exod 17 does not necessarily stand behind Num 20 because YHWH proves himself gracious at Kadesh towards the new generation, despite Moses' and Aaron's failings. Herbert Specht, “Die Verfehlung Moses und Aarons in Num 20:1–13*P” in Christian Frevel, Thomas Pola and Aaron Schart (eds.) Torah and the Book of Numbers (Mohr Siebeck, 2013), 273–313 concludes (308) that the genre of Num 20:1–13 is a narrative on the failure of Moses and Aaron and not a parallel ‘water miracle’ narrative. In contrast, Thomas Römer, “Egypt nostalgia in Exodus 14 – Numbers 21” in Christian Frevel, Thomas Pola and Aaron Schart (eds.) Torah and the Book of Numbers (Mohr Siebeck, 2013), 80 claims that Num 20 is “a rewritten version of Exod 17.”

48 This might even include YHWH as the subject of a separate narrative syntagm whose vouloir-faire has actually failed. One limitation is that the ‘audience’ is only the ‘receiver’ of the ‘narrator's’ story. It would, in any case, be hard to reconstruct this pairing as we do not have any evidence of the Contract, or even Performance (other than the existence of the text) or the manner in which the audience recognised the narrator's story.

49 In an older style of Greimasian schema, the rod and the rock would have been presented as ‘helpers’ (cf. Fig. 1 above) but that is exactly the kind of personalisation which the move away from ‘helper’ and ‘opponent’ seeks to avoid.

50 In Exod 17:6, YHWH promises Moses that when he performs the miracle: “I will be standing there before you on the rock at Horeb.” This may, in part, be an answer to the Israelites' specified complaint in Exod 17:7.

51 In semiotics, this often corresponds to the distinction between the oratio directa of the actants and the voice of the narrator. For the possibility that the narrator here sends a recognition to the audience see note 47.

52 In this article I am using the word ‘agent’ in a legal sense; i.e. where the issue is acting autonomously or as the agent of God. I am not using it its Greimasian sense, where it is equivalent to ‘subject’.

53 George W. Coats. The Moses Tradition (JSOT Press, 1993), 75.

54 It has been suggested that my actantial analysis of Exod 17:1–6 could be supplemented by a study of Num 16 (the Korach rebellion). I have not done so, partly for reasons of space but also because there is clearly a very large number of potential texts which one could, potentially, include that would reinforce the same point.

55 The exception is the case involving the blasphemer (Lev 24:10–12).

56 Scholars who treat the text as a unity include George W. Coats, ‘Legendary motifs in the Moses death reports’ (1977) 39 CBQ, 34; Davies (1995); Kok and Levine. More recently Horst Seebass, “Numeri als eigene Komposition” in Christian Frevel, Thomas Pola and Aaron Schart (eds.) Torah and the Book of Numbers (Mohr Siebeck, 2013), 87–108 has defended the literary unity and purposeful conception of Numbers in its own right. Others (e.g. Gray, 262) assert that “the story is mutilated” whilst Margaliot 198 claims no two source critics can agree on how to divide Num 20:1–13 into three, or even two, originally independent accounts. More recently, Christian Frevel. Mit Blick auf das Land die Schöpfung erinnern. Zum Ende der Priestergrundschrift. HBS 23. (Herder, 2000) has eliminated 20:12 as a later gloss on the ground that the Priestly Narrative (Pg) exempts Moses and Aaron of all wrongs. Seebass (2002:275), in contrast, finds Frevel's approach unconvincing on the grounds it is too complicated and ignores the final form of the text. Seebass himself notes that v. 13 does not fit smoothly into the narrative (270) but argues it cannot be split off from verses 2–12 because of the play on variant words of “holy.” Indeed, for Seebass, existing tensions in the text are there on “synchronic purpose” (270).

57 Noth 146–147 suggests Exod 17:1–7 and Num 20:2–13 refer to the same event, told twice in different ways (by JE and P, supposedly) and this is followed, with some variations, by Budd, 216–217, Levine, 484 and Sturdy, 139. I do not find this convincing because such proposals ignore the structure of the two events, which are entirely different (and cf. Davies' disagreement with Noth, 202). George W. Coats. Rebellion in the Wilderness: The Murmuring Motif in the Wilderness Tradition of the Old Testament (Abingdon 1968), 71–82 suggests a complex literary history of the tradition and sources behind P.

58 “Speak” is plural because Aaron is Moses' interpreter (Propp, 23; Margaliot, 205). A literal translation of YHWH's command in verse 8 (“so that it may yield its water and you shall produce water”) seems to emphasise the message about the rock and its function as a pouvoir-faire.

59 So Margaliot, 205.

60 Note that there is no semiotic term for ‘taking a decision’ which may reflect the super-positivist Greimassian suspicion of psychology. A physical text placed on a desk in front of a reader can be examined; a human mind cannot. All we can say is that Moses has sent himself a message and he clearly acts on it.

61 Cohen 1984:155. Cf. Kahn's claim that Moses “[seems] to repeat events of 40 and 38 years in the past…” referring also to Exod 17 (91).

62 Thomas Römer, “Egypt nostalgia in Exodus 14 – Numbers 21” in Christian Frevel, Thomas Pola and Aaron Schart (eds.) Torah and the Book of Numbers (Mohr Siebeck, 2013), 66–86, 79.

63 The argument in this section that Moses' words were wrongful is consistent with the reference to “rash words” in Ps 106:32–33, contrary to the views of some modern scholars. Cohen 1984:163 complains that the reference to Num 20 in Ps 106:32–33 is “a model of… contrived abstrusity” whilst Freund (1994:121) avers that the Psalm “does not follow the contents or ideas of Numbers.” Freund further claims that the “he” of Ps 106:32–33 refers to YHWH, but what does YHWH say that is ‘rash’? The Palaea recounts how Moses “struck a staff on the rock with bitterness” (Bauckham et al, Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 646). But although the Psalmist only highlights Moses' words this should not be taken to imply a reductionist approach, as per modern commentators. Nor does it ‘prove’ that Moses' actions in Num 20:11 are innocent; the Psalms frequently offer truncated or reordered versions of events (cf. Pss. 78 and 105 regarding the Exodus) in common with ANE literary practice (e.g. K. A. Kitchen. On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans 2003). “When prose and poetry accounts coexist, it is prose that is the primary source and poetry that is the secondary celebration” (italics original), 252).

64 Margaliot (1983:212, at n. 51) thinks the reference to “rebels” is itself wrongful. Against this, the narrator seems to share Moses' view (cf. the closing summary where the Israelites are said to have “quarreled with the LORD”; Num 20:13). Devarim Rabbah II.8 has Moses querying the wrongfulness of the word, since God Himself had used it previously (p. 36).

65 Moshe Anisfeld, ‘Why was Moses barred from leading the people into the Promised Land?’ (2011) 39 JBQ, 211, 216 thinks the “we” cannot include Moses because Deut 34:10 lauds Moses as Israel's greatest prophet, though this is hardly an argument. Arden's view (1957:52), shared independently by Margaliot (1983:213–215) that it refers to Moses and YHWH has found little support. The Palaea Historica (a ninth century Christian retelling of Num 20) claims Moses should have said “God is blessed”; Richard Bauckham, James R. Davila and Alexander Panayotov, Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures (Eerdmans 2013), 646. I am grateful to Jack Welch for this reference.

66 Sakenfeld (1985:148) helpfully considers three nuances of the question: (1) an open-ended question, whereby the people must beg Moses and Aaron; (2) “can we bring forth water” or (3) an indignant refusal (“shall we indeed?”). Whichever is preferred the effect is the same: Moses and Aaron arrogate the divine power to bring forth water. Sakenfeld (1985:135) herself rather misses the point by suggesting that: “The content of the words could for some reason be regarded as inappropriate” (italics added).

67 Budd (1984:217) spots that Moses' speech was “in some measure a claim that they had the power to provide the water” but does not develop the insight (similarly Cole 2001:327–328). Similarly, Davies (1995:205) considers the possibility that Moses and Aaron were “effectively usurping Yahweh's prerogative” but does not consider how this relates to Moses' actions or to the rest of the text. Ashley (1993:385) hesitatingly starts on the right lines: “If …Moses thought he and Aaron were the miracle workers, he was diverting the people's attention from God…” but spoils things by claiming, lamely, (at 383) that “Moses forgot that he was only God's instrument….” Harsh punishment for a ‘senior moment.’ There is some overlap between the argument I am developing and that of Jacob Milgrom inasmuch as Milgrom is clear that “Moses ascribes the miracle to himself and to Aaron….”; Jacob Milgrom. Numbers (JPS 1990), 165. However, instead of seeing this squarely as an act of rebellion in which Moses rejects his calling before YHWH, Milgrom sees it as wrong on the narrow ground of “heresy.” For Milgrom, the particular issue is that, in speaking at all, Moses vitiated “all the pentateuchal passages which impose a uniform silence on Moses during his initiation of all the miracles”, lest the people think he was performing (foreign) magic (Jacob Milgrom, ‘Magic, Monotheism and the Sin of Moses’ in H. B. Huffmon et al (eds.) The Quest for the Kingdom of God (Eisenbrauns 1983) 251, 261; followed by Budd 1984:219. Since in verse YHWH explicitly commands Moses to “speak” to the rock, Milgrom follows Ramban in reading ‘el’ (“to”) the rock, in verse 8, as ‘al’ (concerning) the rock (see n.13, above). Moses is expected to inform the assembled Israelites of the imminent miracle). I do not see the justification for restricting our understanding of Moses' behaviour in this way. For a critique of Milgrom's position see Kok 124–125. Kok himself (1997:164) mistakenly puts all the weight of Moses' offence on just one element (his use of the staff) and glosses over Moses' words. Kok briefly recognises that, by his words, “Moses shows that it is not YHWH's actions that have been brought to the fore but his own actions…” but the point is not developed.

68 Kok, 151.

69 Kok, 149.

70 Even to the point where Moses' death in the desert is seen vicariously as atonement for the Golden Calf affair (Sotah 14a; R Hersh Goldwurm (ed.) Tractate Sotah (Vol 1, Mesorah 2000). Similarly, the location of Moses' burial outside the Promised Land is seen as expiation for “the Peor incident [in Num 25]” (Sotah 14a). Even where Moses' words are seen as problematic, as in Bamidbar Rabbah 19.10, they are seen as comparable to Moses' lack of faith in Num 11:22 (Bamidbar Rabbah, 760). But this twelfth-century midrash reduces the issue to ‘lack of faith in God's provision’ whereas, structurally, it is about something far more radical.

71 Ramban (Nachmanides), Commentary on the Torah (Charles B. Chavel tr, Shilo Pub. House 1974), 215–216.

72 Pinchas Kahn, drawing on the work of the nineteenth century Rabbi Moshe Sofer (in his Hatam Sofer) and Rabbi Meir Simhah ha-Cohen (in his Meshekh Hokhmah, on Deut 4.15) thinks Moses' behaviour played into a general tendency on the part of the people to attribute the miracles to Moses' superior abilities (though this hardly squares with the lack of deference shown to his leadership in the wilderness narratives). Kahn, 89 writes: “By using only a verbal command, the ensuing miracle… would have been correctly perceived as being the work of God….” But this does not follow at all: if there was, as on this argument, a tendency to deify Moses (which seems unlikely!), his performance of a yet greater miracle could just as well mean that Moses deserved to be worshipped to an even greater extent. Kahn himself puts Moses ‘sin’ in inverted commas, seeing it merely as an “error” that has its origins in “an intense emotional transference” from previous events in Num 16 and Exod 17. But whilst there are clearly resonances between these texts (and others), Kahn makes Exod 17 determine the meaning of Num 20 by claiming it is purely a reaction to previous events, with no independent meaning.

73 William Propp (23, n. 22) objects that if the author or editor of Num 20 “had wanted to make clear that Moses was sinfully claiming the power to work miracles,” then YHWH ought to have said: “Thus I shall produce [wehotseti]…” rather than: “Thus you shall produce [wehotseta]…” (italics added). But this semantic reading ignores the underlying structure. Either way, Moses is the agent who acts on behalf of YHWH to deliver Israel. As written, the reference to “you” (rather than “I”) affirms the underlying narrative: Moses is supposed to bring out water, as YHWH's agent, and so must be seen to be acting as such. Propp (23 n. 22) also claims that the writer or redactor should have had Moses claim that he will produce the water, rather than ask a question, but this, too, is a redundant suggestion. Moses is still required to act as agent and, either way, his words have the effect of opposing his role within the syntagm.

74 Cohen, 162 claims that procuring water from the rock “was achieved exactly as divinely ordained and intended….” Cf. Gray, 261 “it is not recorded either that they obeyed or disobeyed the command to speak to the rock, but they carried out the divine intention of procuring the people water.”

75 In any case, the syntagm (Fig. 6) makes it clear that water is not the Israelites' only need. Even if it was a simple case of ‘the end justifying the means’, Israel's unbelief in YHWH is not slaked by Moses' actions. Far from it, Moses' behaviour, left unaddressed, would give Israel a more powerful reason not to trust YHWH.

76 Won W. Lee. Punishment and Forgiveness in Israel's Migratory Campaign (Eerdmans 2003), 154.

77 Jacob Neusner. ‘Religious authority in Judaism’ (1985), 39 Interpretation, 374–375.

78 What, then, of the presence within Deuteronomy of apparently autonomous commands of Moses (e.g. Deut 27:1–8; cf. Deut 4:2 and 12:32; see Jackson, Studies, ch. 9)? Although Moses' ability to offer supplementary legislation may be seen by some as asserting an autonomous identity it is far from clear that it should be bracketed with his rebellion of Num 20:10–11. In any case, if the effect of Moses' words is to stress obedience and fidelity to YHWH in Deuteronomy is he not, whilst speaking in his own voice, subsumed within Torah?

79 Kok spots the issue, at 137, and notes Moses' “defiance.” However, the point is not developed further, probably because Kok has a rather narrow and technical view of what constitutes Moses' ‘rebellion.’ At 165, Kok characterises Moses' ‘rebellion’ as “partial obedience” and a failure to obey instructions “to the letter.”

80 Othmar Keel. Tr. Timothy J. Hallett. 1972. The Symbolism of the Biblical World: Ancient Near Eastern Iconography and the Book of Psalms. London: SPCK, 291–297.

81 Of course, there are other examples of Moses doubting divine instructions, and questioning YHWH's power (e.g. Exod 3:11; 4:1, 10, 13; 5:22; 6:12, 30; Num 11:11–15). But they cannot be lumped together with Num 20:9–11, as some have tried to do (e.g. Stubbs who thinks Num 20 is similar to Num 11:13, 22). This is because, in each and every one of these other cases, the actantial sequence is entirely different. The fact that not every character flaw, or opposition, of Moses is reducible to the same actantial schema found in Fig. 8 strengthens my overall argument. For example, when Moses opposes YHWH in Exod 3:11, 4:10 and 4:13 (“send someone else”!) the opposition arises precisely because Moses doesn't want to be involved. It is a different problem to Num 20:9–11, where he actively presents himself as Israel's deliverer. Similarly, in Exod 5:22 Moses' complaint (“you have not rescued your people at all”) is a complaint that the ‘sender’ has not yet achieved the ‘object’ and benefited the ‘receivers’ (again, a different schema). Even Num 11:11–15, which Cohen, 153, identifies as an equivalent ‘rebellion’ to Num 20:2–13, is simply Moses confessing his inability to save the people (“I cannot carry all these people by myself”; Num 11:14). Num 20:9–11 is concerned with a unique problem in Moses' life and an actantial analysis helps us to be clear as to what, exactly, is at stake.

82 We can usefully compare this ambiguity to that noted in the Recognition section of Exod 17:1–6 (Fig. 5, above). The people get water to drink but this does not necessarily mean they regard Moses (or YHWH) as their legitimate leader(s).

83 So Propp 1988:21 and Budd 1984:218.

84 1985:134.

85 Gray, 261 takes a narrowly semantic approach in claiming “[since] the narrative does not record what directions Yahweh gave as to the use of the rod… it is impossible to say whether… Moses was guilty of disobedience or unbelief”.

86 Contra Cohen 153: “it is quite obvious… that the striking of the rock was, ab initio, the desired divine intention” (italics original), citing Exod 17 as though that settles the matter. Kok 147 misses the point, charging Moses with “modifying YHWH's instructions and showing no respect for the symbol of God's presence….” But there is far more going on here than mere ‘modification.’

87 Against Sakenfeld 139 and Margaliot who focus on Moses' words as the source of his wrong and exclude his actions. Helfgot, 56 n. 1 rhetorically asks: “how does this situation differ from Exodus 17 where the Almighty Himself commanded Moses to strike the rock?” But we have already seen in II C, above, that the situation in the ‘Exodus water-miracle’ is entirely different. There Moses wields the rod as agent; here, in Num 20:9–11, he publicly rejects that role. Kok, 164 says that Moses' use of the staff ‘crosses the line’ between the human and the divine, akin to the Garden of Eden. This broadly relates to my overall argument regarding Moses' rebellion and the rejection of his calling but, even so, Kok focuses on Moses' wrongful use of the staff and does not connect this to Moses' words at all.

88 For example, Rashi, following Bamidbar Rabbah 19.10, claims the first strike produced only “single drops” because God had not commanded him to strike it.

89 Helfgot, 56. But as we have seen, Moses' ‘speaking’ is problematic as well; there is no ‘either/or.’ Anyway, we need to be more precise than speaking of the ‘sin’ of ‘hitting.’

90 Propp, 24.

91 Sakenfeld, 147.

92 Cole, 319 completely misses the point in categorising Moses' striking the rock in terms of “leadership” (his label), akin to Moses' appeal for faith in Exod 14:13 and his intercession in Num 11:2 (at 319–320). But far from being the apotheosis of Moses' leadership (as in Exod 14 and Num 11), Num 20 is Moses' nadir. Sakenfeld also misses the mark by suggesting that Moses and Aaron merely ‘spoil’ the “sacred moment” (150).

93 If the rod “undoubtedly [refers to] the one he used in Egypt to perform the signs” (Levine, 489) it certainly adds a further dimension to my argument. Gray, 262 and Propp, 22 both claim the reference to Moses' rod is a textual error, consistent with their assumption that the rod is Aaron's. This is rather like assembling a jigsaw puzzle with the aid of a pair of scissors and cutting round the pieces that don't fit. Ashley, 382 claims the MT in verse 11 merely signifies Moses' possession of Aaron's rod (and cf. Cole, 326; Sawyer, 14 and Sturdy, 140) though Sakenfeld, 143 had earlier noted that “the Hebrew could quite easily have made this point by using the definite article as MT does in verse nine and as in fact the LXX does in both phrases.” She takes the view that verse 11 refers to the rod belonging to Moses, as does Milgrom 1990:165.

94 Cf. Kok, 160.

95 Kahn, 88.

96 My approach contrasts with modern scholars who take exactly the opposite line and downplay the rod's significance (e.g. Bellinger, Davies and Sakenfeld). Budd is typical of many who miss what is going on (“it is far from clear that the rod material really is intended to explain the sin of Moses and Aaron”, at 217). The point is also missed by Kok, despite making Moses' misuse of the staff the sole issue. For Kok, the striking is “an illegitimate use of the staff” (at 160) only because Moses did it without God's instruction. But the issue cannot be reduced to mere semantics: Moses' actions communicate far more, namely, his rebellion against YHWH.

97 The verb here takes the plural form as it refers to both Moses and Aaron.

98 Kok (1997:165) claims that “failing to do exactly what YHWH had commanded is [here] interpreted as rebellion” (emphasis supplied). But we do not need to rely on semantic arguments to make the case: it really is a rebellion, and as blatant as they come.

99 Contrary to those who claim the description of Moses' sin in verse 12 is “rather generalised” (Budd, 220) and reflects the redactional circumstances of the text in exile more than “a close elucidation of the tradition.” From a structural perspective the description is, in fact, highly specific. Davies, 205 considers the possibility that Moses and Aaron were “effectively usurping Yahweh's prerogative” but denies this stacks up with the charges in Num 20:12, 24. “Unless a great deal is read between the lines… the narrative as it now stands does not properly bear out either charge” of ‘unbelief’ or ‘rebellion’ (italics added, 205; cf. also Gray, 261). But no eisegesis is required: we just need to pay closer attention to the text, ‘as it now stands’ in fact.

100 Acts such as ‘cleaving rocks in the wilderness’ are classically ‘God-like’ within biblical tradition (e.g. Ps. 78:15–16 and Ps. 114:8). They typify YHWH's role as the great Shepherd of Israel who provides water for his flock (Ps. 78:15–16). Although there is no specific reference to ‘shepherding’ the narrative image of providing water is present. Again, when Moses performs such an act, as though he alone is Israel's deliverer, it can only be understood as usurping YHWH.

101 Kok, 163–4.

102 Specht highlights the importance of the motif of knowing (“Erkenntnismotif”) in Num 20 (280f). He rightly points out that the focus of the chapter is on ‘knowing God’, which is exactly where Moses and Aaron fail. The people drink without any word of recognition or thanks that the water comes from YHWH, thereby showing that Moses and Aaron have failed to contribute to the knowledge of the people regarding God. Similarly, Suzanne Boorer, “The place of Numbers 13–14 and Numbers 20:2–12 in the Priestly Narrative (Pg)” (2012) 131 JBL, 45 argues that Moses' and Aaron's behaviour in Num 20:2–12 negates their behaviour in Exod 16 inasmuch as they “block the knowledge of YHWH from the people” (60). Neither Specht nor Boorer connect the motif of ‘knowledge’ to the staff, however.

103 Seebass (2013:94) rightly notes that Moses' and Aaron's failure is in “hiding” (verborgen) YHWH's decision to perform a first miracle for the new generation; however, he does not draw out the full implications. Indeed, Seebass characterises the failures of Moses and Aaron as “a missed chance to crown their leadership role…” (2002:282), claiming: “One gets the impression that 20:1–13 very discreetly seeks a form of ‘minimal guilt’ in order to be able to justify the narrative fact that neither Moses nor Aaron can enter the Promised Land within the framework of a theology of individual guilt.” However, there is far more going on in Num 20 than a ‘missed chance.’ Nor are we talking about ‘minimal guilt’ but, rather, an overt act of rebellion.

104 The first water-miracle takes place before “some of the elders” (Exod 17:5) acting as representatives of the people. In Num 20:8 and 10 the miracle is performed ‘before the very eyes’ of the “congregation” (ערה) which may refer to a group of elders, again acting in a representative capacity. In both cases there is the sense of the whole people being involved.

105 This change of perspective may explain why the wilderness generation, in Num 20:5, addresses the dual aspect of deliverance noted in the call of Moses (viz. deliverance from Egypt and deliverance to the Promised Land, here characterised by grain, figs, vines and pomegranates; cf. Num 13:23).

106 Although this form of Recognition, like that of verse 12, is also internal to the narrative there is a distinction to be made between what the narrator is claiming YHWH recognises in verse 12 and where the narrator is offering his own recognition (i.e. that ‘YHWH shows himself holy’) in verse 13. It is the difference between the narrator speaking about the actant and the narrator giving his own evaluation directly to the audience of the text (and not speaking about the actant). The latter is still a form of recognition internal to the text, because it is the narrator speaking, but it is an evaluation that is not attributed to any particular participant within the narrative.

107 Rashi thinks YHWH's sanctification is achieved through the punishment of Moses and Aaron; Noth, 147 thinks verse 13 refers only to the provision of water, whilst Ashley, 386; Cole, 330 and Stubbs, 159 see it as referring to both.

108 Freund (1994:122) also states that Deut 32:51 records “a different crime” from that described in Num 20:9–11. This is extremely unlikely especially when Deut 32:51 specifies exactly the same geographic location and both texts make the same point regarding the failure to uphold YHWH's “sanctity.”

109 Helmer Ringgren. l[m in G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren (eds.) Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, tr. David E. Green (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 1986), vol. VIII, pp. 460–463 claims that “from a different perspective the verb could be circumscribed by the expression ‘to deprive someone of something to which he is entitled’”; in the context of Num 20, YHWH is deprived of the glory and honour due to His Name.

110 E.g. Culley, 30: “What [Moses] did wrong, and even this is not clear, does not seem to merit the punishment.” Sherwood, 171, breathtakingly, has Moses “going about his duties as if nothing had happened.” Dan Ben-Amos, ‘Comments on Robert C. Culley's “Five Tales of Punishment in the Book of Numbers”’ in Susan Niditch (ed.) Text and Tradition: The Hebrew Bible and Folklore (Scholars Press, Atlanta 1990) 35, 37 bizarrely includes Num 20:1–13 in support of his claim that the ‘punishment narratives’ of Numbers “[vindicate] the actions of Moses….” Coats (1977) sees Moses's premature death as a characteristic of ‘hero stories’ but does not address its punitive aspect, whilst Sotah 13b denies Moses' actual death.

111 There is some resonance here with my work on the subject of seriousness of offence in biblical law; see Jonathan P. Burnside, The Signs of Sin: Seriousness of Offence in Biblical Law. JSOTSS 364 (London, Continuum 2003).

112 These connections are ignored by commentators. Mann 484 thinks it surprising that the root hrm relates to “Moses' transgression, not the people's” (italics original) but does not see how this is consistent with the seriousness of Moses' own conduct in Num 20. Margaliot, 224 rightly notes that the punishment of Moses and Aaron is exactly the same as that of the people; however, he overlooks Deut 9:23 and cites a parallel, but different, expression in Num 14:11. Ashley, 385 says that “Moses and Aaron succumb to the same sin” as the people in Num 14 of ‘refusing to rely on YHWH's promises’ although Moses' own offence is characterised rather broadly as “modelling an illegitimate type of leadership”; in both cases the points can be sharpened up considerably. Cole, 321 recognises that Moses was punished “like the rebellious first generation” but does not pursue it.

113 There is some resonance between the structuralist argument made here and Boorer's identification of thematic correspondences between Num 13–14 and 20:2–12, in particular the parallel between the people's “negation [in Num 13–14] of the Abrahamic covenant promise of the land of Canaan” (55) and Moses and Aaron's negation of their behaviour in Exod 16 by failing to obey YHWH's commands. Both represent the ‘uncreation’ of the nation of Israel.

114 762. Cf. also Devarim Rabbah 2.9 (37–38).

115 Contrast too Sotah 13b: Moses “cannot enter Eretz Yisrael, for then Joshua's reign as leader would have to be delayed.” Modern scholarship has essayed similar views. E.g. Eckart Otto, “The Pentateuch in Synchronical and Diachronical Perspectives: Protorabbinic Scribal Erudition Mediating Between Deuteronomy and the Priestly Code” in Eckart Otto and Reinhard Achenbach (eds.) Das Deuteronomium zwischen Pentateuch und Deuteronomistischem Geschichtswerk (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2004), 14–35 claims that: “With Moses' death ended the time of the torah's revelation. From then on the torah, that Moses wrote down the day he died, took over his function of mediating between God's will and his people's ethos. Thus Moses had to die the day before the people crossed the Jordan, so that the written torah could cross the river and enter the land together with God's people” (33; emphasis added). This deflects attention from the proportionality of Moses' punishment. Instead, Moses is fated to die outside the land almost as a matter of theological convenience.

116 E.g. Cohen 155, Freund, 111 and Helfgot 51.

117 Freund, 105, seeking at 113 to explain away textual challenges on the basis of source criticism; the P strand “appears to think that God's justice in [sic] unintelligible to human beings and therefore any attempt to understand it is fraught with hubris.”

118 Contra Cohen: “There were certainly no grounds for any punishment to be meted out….” (155).

119 Contra Adriane Leveen, Memory and Tradition in the Book of Numbers (Cambridge, 2008), 150 who claims, without justification, that her death “is not associated with divine punishment.”

120 Do we have, perhaps, a replay of Moses' emotional state in the life of the ‘prophet-like-Moses’, Elijah? (cf. 1 Kgs. 19:4)?

121 Here we note the limits of structural analysis. Members of the Paris School of semiotics sought to distance themselves from making psychological claims regarding characters in texts not least because, in their view, many of the narratives with which they were concerned did not involve ‘real people’ anyway. Their focus is on what characters do in a text, not their actual motives and this creates tension between the formal interests of semiotics and psychology. From a semiotic perspective, characters make sense in a story to the extent that we as readers attribute sense to them on the basis of information that is provided for us in the story by the narrator. In other words, what makes sense is our comprehension of characters' behaviour and actions, as presented by the text; we cannot meaningfully speculate on their actual motives. Instead, we ask whether there is any information in the text which might suggest why Moses acted as he did. It is nevertheless important to ask this question since otherwise Moses' motive is inexplicable.

122 2013, 68–69.

123 Of course Moses was hoping YHWH might relent and still allow him to enter the land (Deut 3:23–27).

124 Seebass (2002:284) thinks there is a conflict between the portrayal of Moses in Num 20 as a fallible human being and Moses' presentation in Deut 34:10. For Seebass, Num 20 emphasises YHWH's leadership of Israel and restrains the over-elevation of Moses. More recently, Schmitt has argued that Deut 32 and 34 belong to Pg's Moses-tradition and not to a redactional layer which attempted to join priestly and Deuteronomistic material (190f). I suggest that we do not have to approach the matter as a conflict between texts and sources. We can resolve the tension in narrative terms: Moses does rebel against YHWH (and this is reflected in the seriousness of his punishment) but his rebellion takes place under mitigating circumstances (and this is reflected in the manner of its execution). Within the broader biblical tradition Moses' behaviour is not altogether surprising: there is a patterning in a number of biblical narratives of Israel's heroes and leaders going ‘off the rails’ toward the end of their lives (including, inter alia, Noah, Gideon and Asa, King of Judah).

125 I owe this point to Bernard Jackson. Cf. prophetic uses of the adultery metaphor (e.g. Hos. 4:13). Any infidelity (for example, between YHWH and Israel and, conceivably, also between YHWH and Moses as Israel's leader and representative) can be regarded metaphorically as adultery but only in the sense that it is seen as the violation of a relationship of hierarchical loyalty which, in the biblical patriarchal mindset, is essential to marriage. Note that Exod 15:23–24 concerns an instance of the people ‘murmuring’ against Moses in respect of the “bitter waters” (mayim mimmarah) of Marah.

126 The outcome for the guilty woman, in Num 5:27, appears to be a miscarriage which suggests that the issue is her pregnancy. This in turn suggests that the reason for the husband's jealousy (Num 5:14) is doubt regarding his paternity of the child.

127 Wenham 16–18.

128 Cf. also Budd, 219.

129 See n. 63 above.

130 E.g. Mary Douglas. Thinking in Circles: An Essay in Ring Composition. (Yale University Press, 2007), 51 sees the whole of Num 20–27 as parallel to Num 10:11–14. Although juxtaposing a large block of material with a couple of verses is rather unrefined, it does make some loose connection between the people's rebellion in Num 14 and Moses' rebellion in Num 20. Except that, in Douglas' analysis the relevant connection between Num 14 and Num 20 is the people's complaint; Douglas does not recognise Moses' rebellion at all.

131 Freund, 114–118.

132 See Cornelius Houtman, Exodus (3 vols., Kampen: Kok Publishing House, 1993), 296. William H. C. Propp, Exodus 1–18 (AB; New York: Doubleday, 1998), 162–163. Contra Brevard S. Childs, The Book of Exodus (Louisville: Westminster, 1974), 28 who claims general agreement that vv. 11–22 hail from the same source, bar “a few secondary glosses.”

133 This conflict mirrors that of Moses' own ethnic and personal identity as an Israelite, subject to Pharaoh's murderous decree, who is brought up in the ‘house of Pharaoh.’

134 Note there is no semiotic term for ‘taking a decision’ (see n. 59, above). Consequently, all we can say is that Moses has sent himself a message and he clearly acts on it. It may be queried whether Moses knows he is Israelite when he leaves the palace to visit Goshen (impliedly for the first time). On the other hand, the narrator's description of Moses' going ‘out’ emphasises his blood ties: viz. “his people… a Hebrew… one of his people” (v.11). Moreover this emphasis follows immediately upon the observation wayyigdal Moshe (“when Moses had grown up”, contrasting with the reference in verse 10 to wayyigdal hayyeled (“When the child grew up”; JPS)). This presentation strongly implies that Moses is aware of his personal history which was, of course, known among the Israelites. The question of who ‘sends’ Moses ‘out’ to visit his people is left unanswered by the text. Leaving the ‘sender’ unidentified is a common enough feature of narrative sequences (who sends the woodcutter to aid Little Red Riding Hood?). Its effect, as here, is to create mystery and raise questions. The ambiguity is preserved in the Jewish tradition to which the apostle Stephen appeals in his summary of Moses' life, at his trial before the Sanhedrin: “When [Moses] was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel” (Acts 7:23, emphasis added). Was Moses' behaviour self-directed (e.g. natural curiosity)? Or was he prompted, in some sense, by YHWH? Was he, even, sent by Pharaoh in some official capacity (whether Pharaoh knew Moses' identity and accepted it, despite his decree)? This in turn begs the question of what was intended by Moses leaving the palace on that occasion and his goals in visiting the labour camp. Propp, Exodus, 166 suggests that his visit in verse 11 was already an indicator of his desire to foment change: “If one day [Moses] precipitously goes to see his brothers' labours, we know his disquiet and commiseration have been growing.” Philo Mos. 1, 8 l. 40–44 presents Moses as regularly going out to alleviate his people's distress, in various ways (n., 297–299). From this we might infer the possibility that Moses saw himself as initiating some kind of ‘mercy mission’ in Exod 2:11–13. Acts 7:25 goes so far as to supply Moses' motivation: (“He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand…”). The latter sources, interestingly, presuppose Moses already understood he was an Israelite.

135 So Terence E. Fretheim, Exodus (Int.; Louisville: John Knox Press, 1991), 42 and Martin Noth, Exodus (OTL; Philadelphia: Westminster; London: SCM, 1962), 35–36. Childs, Exodus, 29 claims the latter “overlooks the writer's subtlety in leaving its meaning [i.e. the verb hkn] indefinite.”

136 It could be questioned whether we can be sure that rebellion against Pharaoh was Moses' (primary?) intention. Perhaps Moses thought he could be allowed to act in this way towards a minor functionary, or maybe even justify it? But if so, why does Moses take care to ensure he is not seen? The implication of his behaviour is that his actions will be understood by Pharaoh and his court as rebellion, as indeed they are.

137 In an older style of Greimasian schema, the rod would have been presented as ‘helpers’ (cf. Fig. 1 above) but that is exactly the kind of personalisation which the move away from ‘helper’ and ‘opponent’ seeks to avoid.

138 And not YHWH (Exod 9:25; Num 11:33).

139 Most likely a fairly long, plain, strong staff. Many officials carried staves.

140 From Pharaoh's perspective, the message that Moses has rebelled and that this is known publicly amounts to the same thing, whereas for Moses they are two separate messages.

141 Keel, Symbolism, 292 claims pictorial representations of the Egyptian ‘smiting motif’ may be traced to the pre-dynastic period, appearing in a tomb at Hierakonpolis in Upper Egypt.

142 Propp, Exodus, 166.

143 Nahum M. Sarna, Exodus (JPS; Philadelphia: JPS, 1991), 11 describes Moses' act as “mutinous” whilst Houtman, Exodus, 293 sees it as a potential “uprising”.

144 Although as Fretheim, Exodus, 42 points out, in becoming the subject of Pharaoh's “murderous edict,” the prior edict of Exod 1:22 catches up with Moses.

145 As George W. Coats, The Moses Tradition (JSOTSS 161; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993), 108 notes: “Whatever Moses did to the Egyptian was the same act that the Egyptian was doing to the Hebrews.”

146 As F.V. Greifenhagen, Egypt on the Pentateuch's Ideological Map (JSOTSS 361; London: Continuum, 2002), 64; puts it: “…the murder of the Egyptian…was not an act of solidarity or liberation… it only confirmed for them the image of the oppressor… Moses was exactly what he appeared to be, a member of an oppressive Egyptian royal house”

147 Acts 7:25 implies that Moses thinks he is so acting. Greifenhagen, Egypt on the Pentateuch's Ideological Map, 65 n. 75 claims that “On a theological level, the narrative has Moses' efforts fail… because the deity has not yet properly commissioned him” whilst Coats, Moses Tradition, 108 asserts that Moses' act “is the beginning of God's response.”

148 Childs, Exodus, 31 states it bluntly: “Moses does not succeed in his attempted deliverance.”

149 As Houtman, Exodus, 294 says: “the writer intimates that redemption is not going to be a human achievement but solely the work of God.” For the distinction between the oratio directa of the actants and the voice of the narrator see n. 50, above.

150 For arguments independent of this section for characterising Moses' behaviour in Num 20:9–11 as rebellion against YHWH, see Burnside forthcoming.

151 In saying this, I am not claiming that Moses' behaviour in Num 20:9–11 is problematic because it evokes a particular episode from Moses' personal history. I am claiming it is problematic because it is an act of rebellion against YHWH, and this can be seen more clearly by its standing in parallel with a similar act of rebellion against Pharaoh.

152 The art historian Lawrence Silver has an interesting discussion on van Leyden's 1527 painting Moses after Striking the Rock, noting that the artist chooses to dwell upon the aftermath of the striking. Van Leyden portrays Moses and Aaron gazing at the rod in shock, as if it were a lethal instrument, or murder weapon. Silver even describes it as “the fatal rod” (403); Lawrence A. Silver, “The Sin of Moses: Comments on the Early Reformation in a Late Painting by Lucas van Leyden” Art Bulletin 55 (1973): 401–409, here 401. We pause to note that Moses' rod (unlike, say, the bronze serpent of Num 21:4–9) is never heard of again. Was it a tainted object, not unlike a murder weapon?

153 Coats, Moses Tradition, 108 n. 1.

154 See Yehuda Radday, “Chiasmus in Hebrew Biblical Narrative,” in Chiasmus in Antiquity (ed. John Welch; Hildesheim: Gerstenberg, 1981).

155 At 66.

156 At 84.

157 Propp, Exodus, 165.


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