Date of Award

Spring 2021

Degree Type

Restricted to Claremont Colleges Dissertation

Degree Name

Religion, PhD

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Marvin A Sweeney

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Tammi J Schneider

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Kristin De Troyer

Terms of Use & License Information

Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.


Form-Criticism, Hebrew Bible, Levites, Numbers, Pentateuch, Priests


The book of Numbers presents numerous problems for interpreters who attempt to garner a sense of meaning from the disparate texts and genres found interspersed throughout the work. This dissertation is a methodological study that incorporates features of form-critical theory, which developed over the course of the 20th century and continues to evolve in the 21st century, alongside literary approaches to the biblical text, specifically the analysis of characterization, to present a new reading of the book of Numbers. After surveying recent research on the book of Numbers, new developments in form-critical method, and approaches to characterization in biblical studies, the work offers a methodological proposal for reading Numbers along synchronic lines, according to the rubrics of structure, characterization, and literary setting. The approach analyzes the form rather than the formation of the text, and, by highlighting the role of characterization within the form-critical enterprise, provides a reading that considers the structure and flow of the book of Numbers as well as, through intertextual readings, the significance of Numbers in the broader structure of the Torah. The remainder of the work analyzes four texts from the book of Numbers: The Commission of the Levites (3:5-51); The Purification of the Levites (8:5-22); The Three-Day Journey from Sinai (10:33-11:34); and The Complaint of Miriam and Aaron (11:35-12:15). Each text is read in relation to the dominant structural marker of the Torah, the toledoth formula, and, particularly, the final formulaic marker in 3:1. Each of the four texts presents a model of Judean leadership set in a narrative that sequentially builds by using the Levites as characters that are assigned roles and appear as illustrations for additional roles necessary to maintain holiness in the camp. As the Torah is structured as a creation text (Gen 1-2; Exod 40:17), the dissertation finds that material in Numbers, which follows the completion of the creation narrative in Exod 40:17 by resetting the narrative chronologically to the same time (Num 3:1; 7:1; 9:15; cf. 1:1), is designed to illustrate the levitical task to maintain creation through attending to holiness. Now that creation has reached completion with the dangerous presence of the holy deity residing within Israel, proper management under proper leadership will result in blessing, but inattentiveness to holiness by the leadership or others is liable to incite danger. The new reading attends to discussions of structure, plot, and coherence in Numbers as well as theological concerns related to leadership, holiness, and divine violence.