Our List of 300 Religious Subjects

Book of Numbers

In the Wilderness (Hebrew Title)

General Information

Numbers, fourth book in the Old Testament of the Bible, derives its name from the census lists at the beginning and middle of the book. Its Hebrew title, meaning "in the wilderness," better characterizes the work, however, because these lists as well as the book's otherwise unrelated narratives and scattered cultic legislation are all set in the wilderness. They continue the narrative, begun in the Book of Exodus, of Israel's journey from Egypt to Canaan, the Promised Land. Although Numbers contains elements of the early traditions called J and E concerning challenges to Moses' leadership, the reconnaissance and abortive assault on southern Canaan, and the conquest of Transjordan, in addition to several fragments of extremely ancient poetry (1250 - 1050 BC), the present shape of the work is due largely to the source called P (c. 450). P supplemented, edited, and occasionally altered the older sources to present his own view of the Mosaic period.

J J M Roberts

F M Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic (1973); M Noth, Numbers: A Commentary (1968); G E Wright and R H Fuller, The Book of the Acts of God (1957).

Book of Numbers

Brief Outline

  1. Additional legislation; organization of the host (1-10:11)
  2. March from Sinai to Kadesh-Barnea (10:12-12:16)
  3. Debacle at Kadesh (13-14)
  4. Wanderings in wilderness (15-21:11)
  5. Conquest of Trans-Jordan and preparations to enter Canaan (21:12-36:13)


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