The Wilderness Wanderings

It is notoriously difficult to reconcile Numbers 33, Deuteronomy 1-2, and Numbers 13-21. People like Steve Rudd say there was no wilderness wandering, just a 38-year stay at Kadesh, while Kenneth Kitchen states that “The idea that the Hebrews spent forty years entirely at Kadesh is a modern error”. Also, the apparent contradiction between Deuteronomy 2:8 and Num 33:42 gives not a few commentators a great deal of trouble. However, it is still possible to write a coherent account of the 38-year period between the first stop at Kadesh and the crossing of the Zered.

Comparing Num 33 with Deuteronomy 10:6-7, Bene-Jaakan should be between Kadesh and Mount Hor, two stops away from Jotbathah, and be located at or around 30°56’3″N, 35°17’42″E, and Jotbathah should be a land of wadis between Mount Hor and Punon, located around 30°41’N, 35°21’E. This proves that Num 33:18-36 does not record stations from Sinai to Kadesh, but deals with the wilderness wanderings during the 40 years. The identification of Num 33’s Rithmah with Kadesh Barnea/Kadesh in Paran/1st Stop at Kadesh is supported by the fact that the plain NW of Meribah/Ain Qudeis is called Wadi Abu Retemat. Therefore it is concluded that after a 38 year period of wandering around unsettled Edomite territory in and west of the Aravah, going as far south as Ezion-Geber (NOT Tell el-Kheleifeh, 29°32’50″N, 34°58’50″E!), the Israelites came back in the 38th year to Kadesh in Zin (Wadi Qudeis), turned away from the king when he came to Kadesh with a strong hand after he refused to allow the Israelites to go through his land (but not about his land) and, going by the route through the Maktesh Ramon, came to Bene-Jaakan and then to Mount Hor, where Aaron died. They then went by the Way of the Re(e)d Sea/Way of the Aravah to reach Mount Seir at Punon, and then turned north (Deut 2:1-8), through the land of Edom, away from Eloth/Tell el-Kheleifeh and Ezion-Geber in the south, to reach the Zered.


The Location of Mount Hor

Mount Hor was the mountain of the tomb of Aaron, as recorded in Num 20:22-29. Its traditional location at least since Josephus is at Jebel Nebi Haroun, 30°19’2″N, 35°24’27″E, the highest mountain in the region of Petra. The biblical narrative, however, contradicts this tradition. The biblical narrative states that, after a month-long Israelite stay at Mount Hor, the king of Arad, hearing Israel was coming toward his kingdom, took some Israelites captive. Israel then went by the way of the Re(e)d Sea (Num 33:4) to Zalmonah, and then to Punon (Num 33:41-42). Since there is no mention of actual Israelite travel between the month-long stay at Mount Hor and the Aradite attack, it seems likely that Mount Hor was north of Meribah, and at the border, or at least within the reach of, the Aradite kingdom, blatantly contradicting the Graeco-Roman tradition. The possiblity that the Arabic name of Ain Salamanyeh, rendered by Musil as `Ajn es-Salamani, 30°49’29″N, 35°23’35″E, preserves the Septuagint’s Selmona and the Masoretic text’s Zalmonah, also militates against Jebel Nebi Haroun and argues for a Mount Hor just west of the southern tip of the Dead Sea. Selmona also fits with biblical Zalmonah in that it is both on the way to the Re(e)d Sea, which is concluded to be the same as Deut 2:8’s Aravah Road, and to Punon.  One also has to remember that the turning away from Edom in Num 20:21 was one from a king coming out with a strong hand toward the Quseima area, forcing the Israelites to take a route through the Maktesh Ramon to Mount Hor instead of one through Tamar/Ein Hatseva. After all, Kadesh was only at the edge of the political territory of the Edomite king while Mount Hor was near the border of the land of Edom (Num 20:16, 23). It is also a problem for Jebel Nebi Haroun that Mount Hor was at the border of the land of Edom, not of Mount Seir (the mountain ridge east of the Aravah). Mount Hor is therefore concluded to be just west of the southern tip of the Dead Sea, possibly at 31° 5’7″N, 35°19’43″E, as it is implied to be a prominent mount by its name and the fact it could be distinguished from other peaks in the same range.

The Border of Egypt in Assyrian Records

This list of mentions is entirely from Paul Hooker’s “The Location of the Brook of Egypt” and Nadav Na’aman’s “Ancient Israel and its Neighbors”.
734-Tiglath-Pileser conquers Gaza, sets up a stele at the Brook of Egypt, tells us the territory of Siruatti the Me’unite is below Egypt.
733/2-Tiglath-Pileser entrusts the sheikh (of)? Idibi’ilu (Adbe’el)? with “gatekeepership over Egypt”.
726-697-Simeonites under Hezekiah expel Me’unim from the east side of the entrance of Gerar.
720-Sargon put down a revolt of Hanun of Gaza, “at the city of Raphia he made havoc of the land of Egypt”, considered the Brook of Egypt/Nahal Besor to be the Egypto-Philistine border.
716/15-Sargon brings merchants to Egypt’s sealed off harbor and settles deportees on the border of the Brook of Egypt.
Last Years of Sargon-the range of my conquests has extended “from the land of Rashi near the Elamite border… as far as the Brook of Egypt”.
679-Esarhaddon plunders the town of Arza, which may be just short for Yurza (Tell Jemmeh, 31°23’14″N, 34°26’43″E), “situated at the border zone of the Brook of Egypt”, deports its king, his son, and all its inhabitants.
671-Esarhaddon advances southward “a distance of 30 half-days (also translated as “leagues”, “beru”, “double-hours”, and even “miles”) from the town of Aphek which is at the border of Samaria as far as the town of Raphia, to the border zone of the Brook of Egypt, a place without a flowing river.