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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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The Question of Literary Form

The Question of Literary Form

(p.83) Chapter 4 The Question of Literary Form
In the Wilderness

Mary Douglas

Oxford University Press

There is a general scholarly consensus that the Book of Numbers received its final form during the exile in Babylon and shortly after the return. It is also well understood that the materials from which it was compiled are very ancient, some coming from oral traditions, some written, some laws, some stories. This view is compatible with finding parts of the text disjointed. It comes very close to charging the editor with incompetence, or at least with carelessness. The opposite view is proposed here in this chapter: that the book has been very carefully constructed and that the many repetitions and jumps of context are not accidental. However, Numbers reads as a story crudely interrupted by bits of laws, and laws interrupted by story. The severest critic of the redactor's editorial skills is the esteemed biblical scholar, Martin Noth. The literary traditions of the place and period are taken into account in the chapter.

Keywords:   Book of Numbers, Babylon, oral traditions, laws, story, Martin Noth, literary traditions

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