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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)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-160
Number of pages50
JournalZeitschrift für Altorientalische und Biblische Rechtsgeschichte (ZAR)
DateAccepted/In press - 13 Feb 2016
DatePublished (current) - 28 Mar 2017


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.

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