Description: The book of Numbers may well be one of the least read and most neglected books in the entire Bible. Although its very title may appear off-putting to many, the book has considerable relevance for contemporary communities of faith, in the view of Eryl Davies. Some of the issues it raises–war, disease, survival, hunger, race relations–are among the perennial problems faced by nations across the centuries and across cultures. While individual passages within Numbers may reflect a questionable sense of morality, Davies demonstrates that the book, when viewed in its totality, encompasses a number of important theological themes which recur throughout the Old Testament: the interplay of forgiveness and judgment, and of sin and punishment, and the need to trust in the power of God rather than human might.
The volume also provides a lucid and readable account of the composition and date of Numbers, and the various attempts that have been made to establish a coherent and meaningful structure to its arrangement. Davies also considers how the application of reader-response criticism, feminist criticism and postcolonial criticism have contributed to our understanding of selected passages in the book. The volume contains a detailed consideration of three theological themes that occupy much of the content of Numbers, namely, land, purity and holiness, and rebellion; it also provides a balanced discussion of some of the book’s more problematic passages, including the census (chaps. 1 and 26), the Balaam story (chaps. 22–24), and the wilderness itinerary (chap. 33). The concluding chapter considers the contentious issue of the historicity of the book of Numbers in the light of recent discussions concerning the historical value of the Old Testament. Davies provides an informed, clearly written and thought-provoking account which will be a valuable addition to the Phoenix Guides to the Old Testament.
Subjects: Bible, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Pentateuch, Numbers, Literature, Methods, Historical Approaches, Ideological Critique, Theological Approaches
Review by David Frankel
Citation: David Frankel, review of Eryl Davies, Numbers: The Road to Freedom, Review of Biblical Literature [http://www.bookreviews.org] (2017).
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