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.