Frederick Moriarty writes: "Like the other books of the Pentateuch, which both Jewish and Christian traditions attach to the name of Moses, Nm is a compilation of several sources embodying material from different stages of Israel's history. It is even misleading and anachronistic to call Nm a 'book' as we understand the term today; we should rather speak of a very complex assemblage of historical, legal, and liturgical traditions spanning a period of approximately 1000 years. Analysis of Nm reveals that the J, E, and P traditions predominate, the last impressing on Nm its own peculiar spirit and character. The J and E traditions in Nm cannot be separated easily; they were probably drawn together, or conflated, shortly after the destruction of Samaria in 721. Both traditions were subject to the editorial control of P, and it is generally agreed that the P tradition has given Nm its final form." (The Jerome Biblical Commentary, p. 86)
Dennis T. Olson writes: "The first census list in Numbers 1 introduces the first half of the book, which includes chaps. 1-25. The first half of Numbers recounts the eventual death of the old generation of God's people out of Egypt as they march in the wilderness toward the promised land. The death of this old generation who had experienced the Exodus and Sinai events is precipitated by the people's continued rebellion against God, coming to a climax in the spy story in chaps. 13-14.
"The second census list in Numbers 26 introduces the second half of the book, which includes chaps. 26-36. This second half of the book recounts the emergence of a new generation of God's people as they prepare to enter the promised land. The theme of this part of Numbers is not rebellion and death, but new life and hope. This overarching structure of the death of the old generation and the birth of a new generation of hope provides the interpretive framework for the other varied contents of the book of Numbers." (Harper's Bible Commentary, p. 183)
Samuel Sandmel writes: "Genesis through Numbers, as we have been saying, is basically a Priestly creation. The narratives, especially the older ones, were mostly assembled by P rather than originally written by him. Most of the legislation, however, was written by Por, rather, rewritten, for much of it is inherited from ancient times. P's accomplishment was to set the complex, almost codified legislation into the framework of a reconstruction of Hebrew history. Without the history, the legislation would hang in mid-air. The question, 'What shall a man do?' would not have been merged with the question, 'What shall a man think?'" (The Hebrew Scriptures, p. 401)
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