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“Bread of the Dungheap”: Light on Num. 21:5 from the Tell Fekherye Inscription

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image of Vetus Testamentum

The discrete narrative unit in Numbers 21:4-9 contains two interpretive problems. One of these has long been recognized: the phrase in v. 5 contains the hapax form . The various interpretations proposed for this phrase are surveyed, and the interpretation “with this dungheap bread” is suggested, based on a curse formula found in the Tell Fekherye inscription. A second problem, related to the first, is the unclear nature of the rhetorical goals of the narrative unit. The specific complaint of the people in v. 5 is unclear, as is the connection between it and the divine punishment in vv. 6-9. Interpreting as “with this dungheap bread” shows that YHWH’s reliability to protect and provide for Israel in the wilderness is the key issue in question in Num. 21:4-9. This passage is closely related to Num. 20:1-13 and to Deut. 8:15-16a.

Affiliations: 1: Yeshiva College New York


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