Numbers 16 and JEDP

The story of Numbers 16 is often cited by JEDP theorists like Friedman as a classical example of two tales that were conflated by different authors to form the Pentateuch. The reader will be surprised that I agree with them about it being a conflation of two stories about two separate events. The catch, though, is that this can be held without any reference to the JEDP hypothesis.

As we have noted many times before, one of the major problems with the JEDP hypothesis is that it reads the Pentateuch as though it were written by a modern writer who would presumably write in a way that makes sense to us.

Suffice to say here that conflation of separate stories into one story was in fact a common practice by ancient authors: There is no need to do as the JEDP theory wants and theorize that Numbers 16 was a composite mix of J, E and P, so that once again, JEDP's hypothesis of multiple authors but a single redactor becomes superfluous. One can just as easily begin with a single author. One also need not assign the writing of these materials to a date any later than traditionally supposed. (For more on this subject, see the article by Gordon, "Compositeness, Conflation and the Pentateuch" in the Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 51, 1991, pp. 57-65.)

The usual attempt is to assign all Korah material to P, while the rest concenring Dathan and Abiram is assigned to JE. Certain tensions in the chapter are usually pointed to as evidence of divisions.

Our conclusion is this: While the idea of conflation of two stories is correct, the JEDP theorists are incorrect to impress this into their service. It may well be that two different scribes in the time of Moses compiled these two stories, and that Moses himself (or under his authority) wove them together according to the ancient paradigm.

But to rip these stories out of their paradigm and offer psychological speculation apart from evidence (i.e., positing that P represents some sort of post-exilic power struggle within the priesthood) is to once again read the text through a modern lens.