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Jacob L. Wright

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2015

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The Backstory of the Spy Account

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Jacob L. Wright

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The Backstory of the Spy Account

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https://thetorah.com/article/the-backstory-of-the-spy-account

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The Backstory of the Spy Account

Early Judahite authors supplemented ancient Israelite traditions of conquest through the Transjordan with the spy story to explain why Israel entered Canaan from the east rather than from the south.

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The Backstory of the Spy Account

Journeys of the Israelites. Illustration from the 1897 Bible Pictures and What They Teach Us

The unusually lengthy Spy Account (Numbers 13-14) ascribes a major sin to Israel and describes Moses’s efforts to mitigate the resulting divine wrath. Moses succeeds in persuading Yhwh to pronounce a less severe punishment. Instead of being consigned to oblivion, Israel would eventually enter the land, but all the adults (with the exception of Caleb and Joshua) would have to live out the rest of their days wandering in the wilderness. In its final, redacted form, the story explains why Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years and why the exodus generation never entered the land. Nevertheless, when we peel back layers to expose the stories’ older core, we discover a different purpose altogether.

A Story with Two Strands or a Supplemented Fragment?

Most biblical scholars agree that the Spy Account can be divided into at least two layers, one deriving from the Priestly source (or from a priestly-influenced circle of authors) and another from a non-Priestly source.[1] Documentary scholars believe that the non-P story was part of an independent document—in this case J—that told the story of Israel’s history from creation to conquest.[2]

Here is where supplementarians, like me, differ from documentarians.[3] Supplementarians – scholars who invoke the supplementary hypothesis instead of, or in addition, to the documentary hypothesis—view the biblical text as a product of gradual accretions (or “supplements”) by successive generations of authors. These supplements were not necessarily written by the Torah’s final redactor. Some were intended to supplement the Torah text or a source, while others may have been free-standing, independent short accounts incorporated by the redactor into the main text. Scholarship refers to these independent accounts as “fragments.”[4]

In my view, the Spy Account is best explained by suggesting that one of these fragments was integrated into the P text. In addition, the account has gone through multiple layers of redaction. In this piece, I will isolate this once independent fragment, which appears to be the oldest version of the account, and will attempt to understand what this early form of the spy narrative was meant to convey.

Invasion from the South

Behind the two (or more) versions and numerous supplements, remnants of a much more basic substratum of the Spy Account can be uncovered. Its objective is to explain why Israel invades from the east rather than from the south. To explain this point better, let’s take a step back from the familiar biblical narrative and underscore the problem.

The Israelites leave Egypt and go to Canaan. The most direct route for this would be going up the coastal road, referred to as “The Way of Horus” in ancient Egypt. This would mean entering the land through what is now the Gaza Strip, where the Philistines lived during the monarchic period. The second most direct route would be to enter east of the Gaza Strip and the coast, and enter Canaan through the Negev in the south. This would take the Israelites through what would later be Judah.

According to the biblical narrative, however, Israel does not enter through either of these routes, but goes all the way across the Sinai to the Transjordan, the area east of the Jordan River, and goes north through the Transjordan until the Jordan River, and crosses of there. How did this story come about, if we cannot simply assume that it corresponds to historical events?

Israel and Judah as Independent Polities and the Joshua Tradition

I believe that the story depicting a conquest from the Transjordan was an old Israelite literary tradition, predating the connection between Judah and Israel (originally two distinct groups), and perhaps even predating the connection to the Exodus story itself.[5] This older tradition constrained the historians responsible for the account in Exodus-Joshua to depict Israel entering Canaan from the east.

In these early texts, found in the core of the Book of Joshua, Israel crosses the Jordan River and gradually establishes territorial sovereignty in the central hill country and in proximity to the Jordan.[6] These traditions must have originated in the north, in Israel, not Judah (the south). These two states, as I argue in my book on King David, were originally independent; only after the fall of the northern kingdom in 722 BCE did Judah lay claim to Israel’s legacy and identity.[7] (In other words, I agree with many contemporary biblical scholars that the description in Samuel and Kings of a United Monarchy is not historical.)

The northern provenance of the oldest Joshua tales explains why they do not tell about military campaigns in the south: Judah is a different country, with a different people and different origin stories. The Joshua tradition reflects the reality that the northern state of Israel was found in the northern (not southern) Cisjordan (the area west of the Jordan River) and the Transjordan; it may even reflect the (perhaps correct) view that Israel originally dwelt in the Transjordan and crossed the Jordan to establish hegemony in the Samarian hill country.[8]

Judahite Recasting of Israelite Traditions

Everything changes after the destruction of the northern state of Israel in 722 BCE. During the centuries following this destruction, Judah begins to adopt the identity of its former northern neighbor Israel, believing itself to be the successor of that now defunct polity. Scholars debate why this is so. Some point to the similarity in material culture, and perhaps religious practice, that existed between the two groups. Others point to the possibility that Israelites escaping from the Assyrian destruction would have come down to Judah and begun to assimilate into that state, bringing with them their traditions and heritage. Yet a third group of scholars suggest that the Judahite fascination with Israel may have begun earlier on, when Judah was a vassal state to their powerful neighbor in the north.

Whatever factor or combination of factors explains the Judahite desire to see themselves as Israelite, their incorporation of Israelite foundation stories into their own cultural memory was bound to create problems. In this case, they had to deal with the problem that a conquest from the east bypassed Judah entirely. As long as Judah was not part of Israel, this was not a big problem—why describe an Israelite conquest of Judah if Israel doesn’t rule Judah and Israelites don’t live there? But once the story became part of Judah’s own heritage, the problem became acute.

History told from a Judahite perspective would have presented Israel leaving Egypt and immediately marching up to Hebron or Jerusalem (two important Judahite cities) in order establish it as the seat of Yhwh’s and Israel’s sovereignty. Fragments from Hellenistic authors leave no doubt that such histories were actually written.[9] The Judahite circles ultimately responsible for the contours of our Bible, however, preferred to keep Israel’s literary traditions and reshape them, rather than discarding them.

Thus, this early generation of Judahite authors was left with the task of explaining why their tradition insisted on conquest from the east and not the south. Their attempts at explaining this unusual route took two forms, which may represent a progression in thinking over time.[10]

Stage 1 - Rerouting Due to Fear of Battle

The earlier explanation for the strange wilderness route is that the Israelites were being directed away from enemies and battle. This contrasts with the predominant biblical image of Israel as a conquering army under Joshua, which pervades the book of Joshua, suggesting instead a more peaceful infiltration, where the enemies are avoided instead of confronted.

Joshua and the Trees

The clearest example of such a tradition comes from Josh 17,[11] in which he advises the frightened Josephite tribes to cut down trees on the hills and live there rather than confront the Canaanites and their iron chariots:

טז וַיֹּאמְרוּ בְּנֵי יוֹסֵף: לֹא יִמָּצֵא לָנוּ הָהָר וְרֶכֶב בַּרְזֶל בְּכָל הַכְּנַעֲנִי הַיֹּשֵׁב בְּאֶרֶץ הָעֵמֶק…
16 The Children of Joseph said: “The mountain is insufficient for us, and chariots can be found among all the Canaanites that dwell in the plains of the land….”
 יז וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוֹשֻׁעַ אֶל בֵּית יוֹסֵף לְאֶפְרַיִם וְלִמְנַשֶּׁה לֵאמֹר: עַם רַב אַתָּה וְכֹחַ גָּדוֹל לָךְ לֹא יִהְיֶה לְךָ גּוֹרָל אֶחָד. יח כִּי הַר יִהְיֶה לָּךְ כִּי יַעַר הוּא וּבֵרֵאתוֹ וְהָיָה לְךָ תֹּצְאֹתָיו כִּי תוֹרִישׁ אֶת הַכְּנַעֲנִי כִּי רֶכֶב בַּרְזֶל לוֹ כִּי חָזָק הוּא.
17 Joshua said to the House of Joseph, to Ephraim and Manasseh: “You are a big nation and have great power; you will not have only one lot. 18 You will have the mountain, for it is forest and you can clear it, plus you will have the surrounding area when you conquer the Canaanites, for they have iron chariots for they are strong.”

God Avoids the Philistines

Just as Joshua advises avoiding confrontation with the powerful Canaanites and their chariots, God directs the Israelites away from the coastal road for the same purpose. Upon leaving Egypt, the book of Exodus records the following (13:17-18):

וְלֹא נָחָ֣ם אֱ-לֹהִ֗ים דֶּ֚רֶךְ אֶ֣רֶץ פְּלִשְׁתִּ֔ים כִּ֥י קָר֖וֹב ה֑וּא כִּ֣י אָמַ֣ר אֱלֹהִ֗ים פֶּֽן יִנָּחֵ֥ם הָעָ֛ם בִּרְאֹתָ֥ם מִלְחָמָ֖ה וְשָׁ֥בוּ מִצְרָֽיְמָה. וַיַּסֵּ֨ב אֱ-לֹהִ֧ים אֶת־הָעָ֛ם דֶּ֥רֶךְ הַמִּדְבָּ֖ר יַם־ס֑וּף.
God did not lead them by way of the land of the Phillistines, although it was nearer; for God said, “The people may have a change of heart when they see war, and return to Egypt.” So God led the people roundabout, by way of the wilderness at the Red Sea.

The implication of this passage is that the Israelites should avoid armed conflict, perhaps because they were not yet ready for battle themselves.

The Avoidance of Amalekites and Canaanites at the End of the Spy Account

A similar explanation is found in a strange verse in the Spy Account. At one point, Yhwh commands the nation to go towards the Red Sea in order to avoid confrontation with enemies (Num 14:25):

וְהָֽעֲמָלֵקִ֥י וְהַֽכְּנַעֲנִ֖י יוֹשֵׁ֣ב בָּעֵ֑מֶק מָחָ֗ר פְּנ֨וּ וּסְע֥וּ לָכֶ֛ם הַמִּדְבָּ֖ר דֶּ֥רֶךְ יַם־סֽוּף:
Now, since the Amalekites and the Canaanites live in the valleys, tomorrow turn and set out for the wilderness by the way of Red Sea.

This verse about God keeping the Israelites away from fearsome enemies (here Amalekites and Canaanites and not Philistines) is easy to miss within its larger context that focuses on Israel’s sin and punishment. The isolated position of this statement has flummoxed scholars since the mid-nineteenth century. Nevertheless, it is hard to miss the resemblance between this passage and Exodus 13:17-18:

Exod 13:17-18

וְלֹא־נָחָ֣ם אֱלֹהִ֗ים דֶּ֚רֶךְ אֶ֣רֶץ פְּלִשְׁתִּ֔ים כִּ֥י קָר֖וֹב ה֑וּא כִּ֣י׀ אָמַ֣ר אֱלֹהִ֗ים פֶּֽן־יִנָּחֵ֥ם הָעָ֛ם בִּרְאֹתָ֥ם מִלְחָמָ֖ה וְשָׁ֥בוּ מִצְרָֽיְמָה: וַיַּסֵּ֨ב אֱלֹהִ֧ים׀ אֶת־הָעָ֛ם דֶּ֥רֶךְ הַמִּדְבָּ֖ר יַם־ס֑וּף
God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although it was nearer; for God said, “The people may have a change of heart when they see war, and return to Egypt.” So God turned the people by the way of the wilderness to the Red Sea.

Numbers 14:25

וְהָֽעֲמָלֵקִ֥י וְהַֽכְּנַעֲנִ֖י יוֹשֵׁ֣ב בָּעֵ֑מֶק מָחָ֗ר פְּנ֨וּ וּסְע֥וּ לָכֶ֛ם הַמִּדְבָּ֖ר דֶּ֥רֶךְ יַם־סֽוּף:
Now, since the Amalekites and the Canaanites live in the valleys, tomorrow turn and set out for the wilderness by the way of Red Sea.

Both passages explain why the Israelites bypass more obvious entry points into the land of Canaan: they could not go on the coastal road because of the Philistines, and they could not go through the Negev because of the Amalekites and Canaanites. Thus, they had no choice but to continue east towards the Red Sea, and from there, move up the Transjordan.

Perhaps a brief version of the story that tells of a failed conquest attempt, found in Numbers 14:39-45, was once part of this early stratum. This story, like v. 25, describes the enemies as Amalekites and Canaanites.

(// = a break in the text where a supplement now appears.)

יד:לט וַיְדַבֵּ֤ר מֹשֶׁה֙ אֶת־הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֔לֶּה אֶֽל כָּל בְּנֵ֖י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וַיִּֽתְאַבְּל֥וּ הָעָ֖ם מְאֹֽד: יד:מ וַיַּשְׁכִּ֣מוּ בַבֹּ֔קֶר וַיַּֽעֲל֥וּ אֶל רֹאשׁ הָהָ֖ר לֵאמֹ֑ר הִנֶּ֗נּוּ וְעָלִ֛ינוּ אֶל הַמָּק֛וֹם אֲשֶׁר אָמַ֥ר יְ-הֹוָ֖ה // יד:מאוַיֹּ֣אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֔ה // (וְ)הִ֖וא לֹ֥א תִצְלָֽח:יד:מב אַֽל תַּעֲל֔וּ כִּ֛י אֵ֥ין יְ-הֹוָ֖ה בְּקִרְבְּכֶ֑ם וְלֹא֙ תִּנָּ֣גְפ֔וּ לִפְנֵ֖י אֹיְבֵיכֶֽם: יד:מג כִּי֩הָעֲמָלֵקִ֨י וְהַכְּנַעֲנִ֥י שָׁם֙ לִפְנֵיכֶ֔ם וּנְפַלְתֶּ֖ם בֶּחָ֑רֶב // יד:מד וַיַּעְפִּ֕לוּ לַעֲל֖וֹת אֶל רֹ֣אשׁ הָהָ֑ר //יד:מה וַיֵּ֤רֶד הָעֲמָלֵקִי֙ וְהַֽכְּנַעֲנִ֔י הַיֹּשֵׁ֖ב בָּהָ֣ר הַה֑וּא וַיַּכּ֥וּם וַֽיַּכְּת֖וּם עַד הַֽחָרְמָֽה:
14:39 When Moses told these words to all the Israelites, the people mourned greatly.  14:40 They rose early in the morning and went up to the heights of the hill country, saying, “Here we are. We will go up to the place that Yhwh has promised.” // 14:41 But Moses said, // “That will not succeed.  14:42 Do not go up, for Yhwh is not with you; do not let yourselves be struck down before your enemies. 14:43For the Amalekites and the Canaanites will confront you there, and you shall fall by the sword.” // 14:44 But they presumed to go up to the heights of the hill country // 14:45Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and defeated them, pursuing them as far as Hormah.  

This passage may originally have had no connection to the story of the spies, but was instead connected to the source that depicted God as leading them into Canaan peacefully through a back entrance, rather than via conquest. This would explain the bizarre behavior of the Israelites in the larger transmitted account: When God tells Israel to fight, they refuse. Yet when God tells them not to fight, they are eager to attack. The answer to this conundrum is that in the original version of this story, God never wanted them to fight; it was always Israel’s idea to do so.

Stage 2 - Rerouting Due to Sin

At one point, the traditions of peaceful infiltration and military conquest probably lived side by side among the Israelites. However, as biblical historiography developed, the tradition of peaceful infiltration began to lose its place to the more dominant model. But this created problems for the Judahite editors/authors of the Torah as they tried to create the wilderness itinerary. Since the Israelites conquered both northern and southern territories, why did they not simply enter from the Negev and go up into Judah and then on into the north? If God was behind the conquest, saying that Amalekites and Canaanites lived there would not be a sufficient answer. Thus, the tradition of the panic of the Israelites, reflected in Parashat Shelach, was born.

The early Spy Account suggests that the Israelites were going to conquer from the south. The spies go up from the south—as we would have expected—into the Negev, reaching Hebron and the Wadi Eshcol:

יג:יז וַיִּשְׁלַ֤ח אֹתָם֙ מֹשֶׁ֔ה לָת֖וּר אֶת־אֶ֣רֶץ כְּנָ֑עַן וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֲלֵהֶ֗ם עֲל֥וּ זֶה֙ בַּנֶּ֔גֶב וַעֲלִיתֶ֖ם אֶת הָהָֽר: יג:יח וּרְאִיתֶ֥ם אֶת הָאָ֖רֶץ מַה הִ֑וא וְאֶת הָעָם֙ הַיֹּשֵׁ֣ב עָלֶ֔יהָ הֶחָזָ֥ק הוּא֙ הֲרָפֶ֔ה הַמְעַ֥ט ה֖וּא אִם רָֽב:
13:17 Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, and said to them, “Go up there into the Negev, and go up into the hill country, 13:18 and see what the land is like, and whether the people who live in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many….” 
יג:כב וַיַּעֲל֣וּ בַנֶּגֶב֘…
13:22 They went up into the Negev…

The problem was that, after hearing the spies’ colorful report about how dangerous the natives are, the people panic. Moreover, to make the story of the panic more believable, giants and Nephilim are depicted as living there.   

This is what the spies report to Moses and the people upon their return (my reconstruction):

יג:כוαa וַיֵּלְכ֡וּ וַיָּבֹאוּ֩ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֨ה // יג:כזוַיְסַפְּרוּ לוֹ֙ וַיֹּ֣אמְר֔וּ בָּ֕אנוּ אֶל הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֣ר שְׁלַחְתָּ֑נוּ וְ֠גַם זָבַ֨ת חָלָ֥ב וּדְבַ֛שׁ הִ֖וא וְזֶה פִּרְיָֽהּ: יג:כח אֶ֚פֶס כִּֽי עַ֣ז הָעָ֔ם הַיֹּשֵׁ֖ב בָּאָ֑רֶץ וְהֶֽעָרִ֗ים בְּצֻר֤וֹת גְּדֹלֹת֙ מְאֹ֔ד וְגַם־יְלִדֵ֥י הָֽעֲנָ֖ק רָאִ֥ינוּ שָֽׁם: // יג:לאβaלֹ֥א נוּכַ֖ל לַעֲל֣וֹת אֶל־הָעָ֑ם כִּֽי־חָזָ֥ק ה֖וּא מִמֶּֽנּוּ: // יג:לג וְשָׁ֣ם רָאִ֗ינוּ אֶת־הַנְּפִילִ֛ים בְּנֵ֥י עֲנָ֖ק מִן־הַנְּפִלִ֑ים וַנְּהִ֤י בְעֵינֵ֙ינוּ֙ כַּֽחֲגָבִ֔ים וְכֵ֥ן הָיִ֖ינוּ בְּעֵינֵיהֶֽם:
13:26aα And they came to Moses // 13:27 And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us; it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.  13:28 Yet the people who live in the land are strong, and the towns are fortified and very large; and besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. // 13:31aβ We are not able to go up against this people, for they are stronger than we. // 13:33 There we saw the Nephilim (the Anakites come from the Nephilim); and to ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”

Their report demoralizes Israel, who refuse to begin the conquest. In his anger, Yhwh wipes out the spies with a plague and commands Israel to march eastward towards the Red Sea. Since they are too afraid to conquer the natives, God will not lead them into the land.

The author of this early version of the Spy Account makes use of the even more ancient verse about Amalekites and Canaanites (14:25), which was once part of the alternative peaceful infiltration model. The fit is imperfect—the artificial seam is easy to discern—since Anakites and Nephilim are not Amalekites and Canaanites.[12] Moreover, since God has already decided that they are not permitted to enter the land, why even mention the natives? This problem is especially poignant when we remember that the sin was that the Israelites were afraid of the natives, making it strange for God to appear to support the reasonable nature of this fear.

The early Spy Account ends with an expanded version of the failed conquest story (the redactional supplements are in indented italics):

יד:לט וַיְדַבֵּ֤ר מֹשֶׁה֙ אֶת־הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֔לֶּה אֶֽל כָּל בְּנֵ֖י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וַיִּֽתְאַבְּל֥וּ הָעָ֖ם מְאֹֽד:יד:מ וַיַּשְׁכִּ֣מוּ בַבֹּ֔קֶר וַיַּֽעֲל֥וּ אֶל־רֹאשׁ־הָהָ֖ר לֵאמֹ֑ר הִנֶּ֗נּוּ וְעָלִ֛ינוּ אֶל־הַמָּק֛וֹם אֲשֶׁר אָמַ֥ר יְ-הֹוָ֖ה
14:39 When Moses told these words to all the Israelites, the people mourned greatly.  14:40 They rose early in the morning and went up to the heights of the hill country, saying, “Here we are. We will go up to the place that Yhwh has promised, 
כִּ֥י חָטָֽאנוּ:
for we have sinned.”
יד:מא וַיֹּ֣אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֔ה
14:41 But Moses said,
לָ֥מָּה זֶּ֛ה אַתֶּ֥ם עֹבְרִ֖יםאֶת־פִּ֣י יְ-הֹוָ֑ה
Why do you continue to transgress the command of Yhwh?
(וְ)הִ֖וא לֹ֥א תִצְלָֽח: יד:מב אַֽל־תַּעֲל֔וּ כִּ֛י אֵ֥ין יְ-הֹוָ֖ה בְּקִרְבְּכֶ֑ם וְלֹא֙ תִּנָּ֣גְפ֔וּ לִפְנֵ֖י אֹיְבֵיכֶֽם: יד:מג כִּי֩ הָעֲמָלֵקִ֨י וְהַכְּנַעֲנִ֥י שָׁם֙ לִפְנֵיכֶ֔ם וּנְפַלְתֶּ֖ם בֶּחָ֑רֶב
That will not succeed.  14:42 Do not go up, for Yhwh is not with you; do not let yourselves be struck down before your enemies.  14:43 For the Amalekites and the Canaanites will confront you there, and you shall fall by the sword;
כִּֽי־עַל־כֵּ֤ן שַׁבְתֶּם֙ מֵאַחֲרֵ֣י יְ-הֹוָ֔ה וְלֹא יִהְיֶ֥ה יְ-הֹוָ֖ה עִמָּכֶֽם:
because you have turned back from following Yhwh, Yhwh will not be with you.” 
יד:מד וַיַּעְפִּ֕לוּ לַעֲל֖וֹת אֶל־רֹ֣אשׁ הָהָ֑ר
14:44 But they presumed to go up to the heights of the hill country,
וַאֲר֤וֹן בְּרִית־יְ-הֹוָה֙ וּמֹשֶׁ֔ה לֹא־מָ֖שׁוּ מִקֶּ֥רֶב הַֽמַּחֲנֶֽה:
even though the ark of the covenant of Yhwh, and Moses, had not left the camp
יד:מה וַיֵּ֤רֶד הָעֲמָלֵקִי֙ וְהַֽכְּנַעֲנִ֔י הַיֹּשֵׁ֖ב בָּהָ֣ר הַה֑וּא וַיַּכּ֥וּם וַֽיַּכְּת֖וּם עַד־הַֽחָרְמָֽה:
14:45 Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and defeated them, pursuing them as far as Hormah.  

To fit the story into its new context, the redactor added references (indented italics) to the sin of the Israelites in listening to the spies and refusing to conquer the land when commanded to.

Conclusion – The Beginnings of the Spy Story as We Now Have It

By noticing textual anomalies that allow us to peel back the layers of the Spy Account, we can uncover the development of the biblical tradition of wandering and conquest. As long as the story was purely Israelite (and not Judahite), an account that told of the conquest of the northern Cisjordan from the Transjordan was not problematic. However, once the story became part of Judah’s heritage, an explanation for this strange itinerary became necessary.

The first step was imagining a peaceful infiltration into the land, with God maneuvering Israel around its enemies, and sneaking them in through a miraculous crossing of the Jordan River, and settlement on hilltops away from the heavily fortified and populated valleys. Once the conquest model became dominant, however, the story changed from God making the Israelites avoid their enemies, to the Israelites panicking and refusing to confront their enemies. With that, the Spy Account was born. But that’s not where it ended. Once the story was written, it took on a life of its own, becoming firmly embedded in the national saga of Israel and the many stories about Israel’s wilderness wandering. Over time, the troublesome nature of the conquest from the east was forgotten, and the emphasis moved to the nature of the sin itself, Moses’ intercession, and the death of the wilderness generation.

Published

June 10, 2015

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Last Updated

September 23, 2019

Footnotes

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Dr. Jacob L. Wright is Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology and the Director of Graduate Studies in Emory’s Tam Institute of Jewish Studies. His doctorate is from Georg-August-Universität, Göttingen. He is the author of Rebuilding Identity: The Nehemiah Memoir and its Earliest Readers (which won a Templeton prize) and David, King of Israel, and Caleb in Biblical Memory