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In the WildernessThe Doctrine of Defilement in the Book of Numbers$
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Mary Douglas

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780199245413

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199245413.001.0001

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Balaam and Balak: A Political Satire

Balaam and Balak: A Political Satire

(p.216) Chapter 12 Balaam and Balak: A Political Satire
In the Wilderness

Mary Douglas

Oxford University Press

The substance of the Book of Numbers is a major theological statement about the ancient promises, about the congregation included in them, about defilement and the role of intention in defining sin. This chapter discusses the story of Balaam, and King Balak, as a play within the play. It is a whole story nested within a whole story, the smaller referring to the larger, and the larger referring to the life of the day. That the story is a satire is generally agreed, but who is being satirized, and why, is not usually discussed. The interpretation the chapter offers continues the vein already started: the Book of Numbers is being edited in an enclave culture, a community rife with factions. Criticism of authority is all too likely, but a carnival of turning right-way-up into upside-down is unlikely, though possible in a hierarchy. The story of Balaam satirises the colonial governor, ruling with a big stick.

Keywords:   Book of Numbers, Balaam, Balak, satire, enclave culture, hierarchy

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