Official Blog of the Bishop of Durham

The Book of Numbers / במדבר: Nothing Helpful for the Soul

Posted by NT Wrong on September 23, 2008

I am enjoying reading through the book of Numbers at the moment. It has a rather unfortunate and boring name, though — which only goes to prove that you can’t judge a book by its cover. ‘Numbers’ goes back to the Latin Numeri and the earlier Greek arithmoi, and probably the earlier Hebrew title Chamesh haPekudim.

The modern Hebrew title, Bemidbar, named after the fifth word of Num 1.1, translates to “In the Wilderness”. Now, that’s a much more exciting title for the book. Wouldn’t that sex it up?

And just in case you’re thinking that this adverse reaction to Numbers is a recent problem, here’s Origen reporting on its reception:

“When the Gospels or the Apostle [Paul] or the Psalms are read, another person joyfully receives them, gladly embraces them. . . . But if the book of Numbers is read to him, and especially those passages we have now in hand, he will judge that there is nothing helpful, nothing as a remedy for his weakness or a benefit for the salvation of his soul. He will constantly spit them out as heavy and burdensome food.”
– Origen

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