Fall 2004 • Vol. XXVI No. 4 NonfictionOctober 1, 2004 |

Balaam and the Ass: An Excerpt from a New Translation of the “Five Books of Moses”

An Excerpt from a New Translation of the Five Books of Moses Introduction   These three chapters from the Book of Numbers reflect a moment in the narrative when the Israelites, after forty years of wandering in the wilderness, are approaching the land of Canaan and facing imminent conflict with the various nations east of the Jordan who bar their way to the land. A highly miscellaneous text, or assemblage of texts, the book begins with several lengthy chapters recording a census taken of the wilderness generation. It is to this beginning, not altogether auspicious for the modern reader, that the book owes the name it bears in most Western lanes. The prevalent Hebrew title, In the Wilderness, is simply the first word in the text, bemidbar, but it also fortuitously signals the peregrinations and mishaps in the great liminal zone of uninhabited country that become the subject once the narrative proper, after census and legal passages, is launched in chapter 11. The

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