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Ex. 17:2-7 -- The people quarreled with Moses, and said, "Give us water to drink." Moses said to them, "Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?" But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, "Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?" So Moses cried out to the LORD, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me." The LORD said to Moses, "Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink." Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, "Is the LORD among us or not?"
Num. 20:2-13 Now there was no water for the congregation; so they gathered together against Moses and against Aaron. The people quarreled with Moses and said, "Would that we had died when our kindred died before the LORD! Why have you brought the assembly of the LORD into this wilderness for us and our livestock to die here? Why have you brought us up out of Egypt, to bring us to this wretched place? It is no place for grain, or figs, or vines, or pomegranates; and there is no water to drink." Then Moses and Aaron went away from the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting; they fell on their faces, and the glory of the LORD appeared to them. The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and your brother Aaron, and command the rock before their eyes to yield its water. Thus you shall bring water out of the rock for them; thus you shall provide drink for the congregation and their livestock. So Moses took the staff from before the LORD, as he had commanded him.
Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, "Listen, you rebels, shall we bring water for you out of this rock?" Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff; water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their livestock drank. But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not trust in me, to show my holiness before the eyes of the Israelites, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them." These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the LORD, and by which he showed his holiness.
As an example of a doublet supposedly evidencing the JEDP
theory, this seems at first glance like a tough nut to crack -- or
not. Friedman, a recent popular purveyor of JEDP, regards it as a
"most impressive example" [Frei.WWB, 198] of the outworking of the
theory, although the most common division criteria -- that of
divine names -- is not in evidence here.
(Both passages are
attributed by Friedman to writers who used "Elohim" originally, but
now use "Yahweh" -- the Exodus passage to E, and the Numbers
passage to P.)
The upshot of the division, according to Friedman, evidences two
strands, one which liked Moses (E), and another which didn't (P).
Now we are not in the least interested in Friedman's or anyone
else's psychological reconstructions of parties in ancient Israel
who were ideological enemies and yet had absolutely no objection to
some later redactor splicing their stories together in an infinite
variety of ways; it is clear enough that
such theorizing is strictly wishes fathering thoughts.
The question is, is there any internal, non-hypothetical,
hard-data reason to see a JEDP division in these two stories?
A simple reading of the stories rings out a definitive no
-- and what criteria Friedman uses to suggest the division are
revealed rather simply as arbitrary. Let's break this up:
- These passages describe two different events -- not the same
One of the key assumptions of JEDP is that ancient
writers are like modern writers -- they would never repeat
themselves in any way, for any reason. But the contrary is true in
an oral-based culture where access to one's folklore was for the
most part by oral means.
For these passages, critics note that the line of events is
basically the same, and that both conclude with the naming of a
place with the name Meribah. But two basic questions should
give us pause. First, simply under the constraints of common sense,
one would expect that events would have to go in a certain
This is similar to the point we have brought up against
Werner Kelber regarding healing miracles here. Thirst usually
precedes a demand for water, so that we hardly expect Moses to get
the water first and then have the people complain of thirst.
Likewise it is only after some event is over that we expect
a naming to take place, for the sake of memorial.
But what of the similarities? They are to be expected in an
oral/aural based culture, for the purpose of the similarities in
the later story is to bring to mind the first story. Far
from indicating two original authors, these stories evidence
A regular theme is the Pentateuch might be
summarized thusly: "Israel -- A Bunch of Complainers!" And by
writing the second story in a way reminiscent of the first, the
author (whether Moses or one of his scribes) clearly hearkens back
and emphasizes that theme in a way that a listening audience will
It is also significant that these similar stories
-- along with connected stories about manna and quail and a text
concerned with the 40 years [Ex. 16:4-35; Num. 11:4-34, 14:21-2] --
are placed at the very beginning of the Exodus and at the
very end -- thus perhaps signifying, "Israel -- A Bunch of
Complainers, From the Beginning to the End.")
This is enough to debunk any JEDP division, but let's look at
some other ways Friedman divides the text:
- Vocabulary. Friedman argues that whereas P uses terms
like congregation and community, E uses the
But there's a bit of a problem involved here by
starting E's story at 17:2 -- congregation is used in 17:1.
This would no doubt be attributed to P or (as Friedman indicates)
some P-minded redactor as a way of saving the theory, but to do so
would be to beg the question.
We have noted that such variation in wording may be the result
of theological or stylistic considerations. The latter is unlikely
here, although the fact that "congregation" is used
throughout Numbers (nearly the whole book is attributed to
P) suggests that it was an affectation of whoever composed the book
in the first place.
Perhaps the P thesis is half-right, and the
book was inscribed by a priest -- with Moses' authorization. But
there is no reason at all to endorse the JEDP version of events,
much less a psychological history the likes of Friedman's.
Another vocabulary issue focusses on the variance in the word
used to express the people's death wish: "kill" (muwth) in E (Ex. 17:3)
and "expire" (gava') in P (20:3-4). It is difficult to see why this minor variation should be an issue. Gava' is used only 11 times in the Pentateuch; muwth is used literally hundreds of times, sometimes within the same verse as gava'.
A short study of the use of gava' finds that is used primarily in regard to
deaths that are either at the end of one's natural life or due to God's judgment -- one
suggests that gava' has a cerain nuance to it that the critics are missing.
- Theology. It is also argued that P represents a more
dignified theology (as it refers, for example, to the "glory of the
Lord") whereas E engages in anthropomorphisms (like having God
standing on the rock, 17:6).
But there is a very simple reason for
the difference in presentation: At the time of Exodus 17, there
wasn't any Tabernacle yet. The Tabernacle represented a copy of
things of heaven, and thus was a suitable place for the "glory of
the Lord" to appear; but out in the wilderness, all there was, was
a rock. The "glory of the Lord" would by no means appear
in such a mundane place for such mundane reasons.
Here is the last factor:
- Double Meribah. It is asserted that since both stories
end with the naming of the place as Meribah, someone is duplicating
an account. But compare verses:
He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, "Is the LORD among us or not?"
These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the LORD, and by which he showed his holiness.
Notice that in this first verse, there is indeed a specific
process of naming going on -- but the second verse does not follow
the same pattern; it is not using the standard naming formula!
Rather, what we see here is a specific case of the aural cluemaking
we have indicated above: We are told, "this is Meribah" -- and
immediately, that first story will come to mind.
It is like saying
of Iraq, "It is another Vietnam" -- for we see many parallels
between the two situations. And thus is that theme of Israel's
continuing and repetitive stubbornness once again brought to the
We do not have the same story twice here, but a case of
supreme literary craftsmanship, specially designed for an aural-based culture.
- Frei.WWB - Friedman, Richard E. Who Wrote the Bible? Summit
- Why.MP - Whybray, R. N. The Making of the Pentateuch: A
Methodological Study. Sheffield Academic Press, 1987.