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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

Wilderness, Wanderings in the

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Stages of Wanderings.

—Biblical Data:

Next to the Exodus, the remembrance of the wanderings in the desert for a period corresponding to the life of a generation (see see Forty) is central to the historic consciousness of Israel. Hence the scene of these migrations is often called "the" wilderness ("ha-midbar") par excellence (Exodus 3:18, 14:11; Numbers 32:13; Deuteronomy 1:31; comp. Judges 11:16,18; Amos 2:10; et al.). This wildernesscorresponds to that designated as Arabia Petræa by the Greco-Roman geographers. The story of the Hebrews' wanderings is related in: (1) Exodus 14-19:24,32, comprising the stations from the time Israel left Egypt to the promulgation of the Law on Sinai; and Numbers 10:11-22:1, giving those from the revelation to the arrival of the people opposite Jericho; (2) Deuteronomy 1:2,19 et seq.;; 3:6 et seq. (comp. ), which are without chronological order, but begin with the desert of Sinai (Horeb) and extend to the incursion into the land of the Amorites; (3) Numbers 33:5-50, cataloguing the camping stations on the march from Rameses to Jericho. The last-mentioned list differs from the data in Exodus and Numbers in so far as it inserts eighteen stations between Hazeroth (Numbers 11:35) and Kadesh or Sin (Numbers 12:16; 13:2,21; 20:1) that are not mentioned in the historical narratives, while the stations enumerated in Numbers 11:1 et seq.; 21:16,19 are omitted. Other, smaller divergences appear between Numbers 33:30 et seq. and Deuteronomy 10:6, and between Numbers 20:22 et seq. and the same passage of Deuteronomy.

Forty Stations in Forty Years.

—Critical View:

The discrepancies just referred to have been noticed by all commentators, and various theories have been advanced to account for them. The favorite explanation of the precritical scholars was that the historical narratives contain only the names of the localities at which something occurred worth chronicling, while the fuller list includes all the points touched on the march. But this assumption was recognized as insufficient, especially by Goethe ("Westoestl. Divan"), who urged the opinion that the eighteen stations were fictitious and were inserted merely to carry out the theory that Israel wandered about in the wilderness forty years and had one station for every year. Most of the names of the stations can not be located topographically, and comparison of the data shows that the order of the stations varies as well as the events connected with them.

In P a clearly chronological scheme is carried out, the duration of the wanderings being calculated accurately by days, months, and years. On the fifteenth of the first month the Israelites started out from Rameses (Numbers 33:3); on the fifteenth of the second month they reached the wilderness of Sin (Exodus 16:1); in the third month they arrived at that of Sinai (Exodus 19:1), the exact day having been expunged by a later hand (see Dillmann, Commentary, ed. Ryssel, p. 209); on the first of the first month of the second year the Tabernacle was erected (Ex. 1, 17); etc. But these chronological data conflict with Numbers 14:34 (comp. Numbers 1:1, 10:11, 13:25, 20:1, 33:38; and PARAN; SIN (3)). The forty years correspond to the forty days of the spies, and they are reckoned at one time from the Exodus, and again from the return of the spies. Still, P did not invent the number forty; it must have been based on an old tradition that the generation of the Exodus perished in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 1:3; 2:7; 8:2,4; 29:4; Joshua 14:7,10; Amos 2:10, 5:25; Nehemiah 9:21; Psalms 95:10).

Historical Foundation.

But at the back of this tradition lies the historical fact that before and after the exodus from Egypt many of the tribes and clans of Israel moved about as nomads in this region, and were only gradually welded together into a union sufficiently close to give support to the effort of some of their number to gain a foothold across the Jordan. Many of the names are those of stations in which even in historic days the nomadic tribes would encamp, being connected with oases (e.g., ELIM). Other names gave rise to legends, e.g., MARAH (Exodus 15:23) and Taberah (Numbers 11:3); and a few are explained variously, e.g., Massah and MERIBAH (Exodus 17:2,7; Numbers 20:13; Deuteronomy 33:8; PARAN and see KADESH; comp. Numbers 13:3,26a and ib. 13:26b; Deuteronomy 1:19, Joshua 14:6, and Numbers 20:1; Deuteronomy 1:46, Numbers 14:25, and Deuteronomy 2:14, for the difficulties in the way of harmonizing the divergent statements of the sources [Wellhausen, "Prolegomena," 4:349]). The religious or, to be more exact, irreligious anti-Moses and anti-Yhwh attitude of Israel in the wilderness (Exodus 32; Numbers 11, , , ) reflects the conditions of a later historical period. Many of the occurrences are outgrowths of the natural tendency to impute greatness and miracles to the heroic generations (Exodus 16, 17:5, 23:20; Numbers 9:15 et seq., 20:8; Deuteronomy 8:4; also Manna; QUAIL; comp. Hosea 2:16,17; 9:10; Deuteronomy 32:10; Ezekiel 16:8; Jeremiah 2:2; Amos V. 25).

E. G. H.

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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Wilderness, Wanderings in the'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901.

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