I’m continuing my series on Jacob Milgrom’s Excursus 70 in his Jewish Publication Society commentary on the Book of Numbers, “The Settlement of Transjordan (chap. 32)”. Yesterday, we saw the problem that Milgrom is addressing: Why does the Hebrew Bible say in some places that Reuben possessed certain land in the Transjordan, but it says elsewhere that Gad had that land? R. de Vaux’s solution was that Reuben held it, until Reuben was absorbed into Gad by the time of the Israelite United Monarchy.
But Y. Kaufmann disagrees with de Vaux on this. Kaufmann argues that there are references to Reuben even after the time of the United Monarchy. II Kings 10:33 mentions Reuben within the setting of the time of Jehu (the ninth century). I Chronicles 5:6, 26 says that Reuben dwelt in its territory until the Assyrian king Tiglath-pilesar III defeated and exiled the Reubenites.
B. Oded adds other arguments. First, whereas Simeon no longer had a single clan chieftain after it was absorbed into Judah, but rather had many clan chieftains (I Chronicles 4:38), Reuben had one nasi until its exile (I Chronicles 5:6).
Second, I Chronicles 5:9-10 presents a Reubenite as a migrant—one who was not sedentary but who pastured his flock “over the entire desert fringe of Transjordan as far north as the Euphrates” (page 495). Because the Reubenites were migrants and were vulnerable to neighboring tribes, Deuteronomy 33:6 prays that Reuben might live and not die. Reuben preferred the “eastern, desert fringe” and allowed Gad “to occupy the southern Mishor, as indicated in [Numbers 32:3, 34] and supported by the Moabite stone” (page 495). In I Chronicles 6:63-64, the Levitical cities of Reuben are on the desert fringe, and Milgrom (and I think Oded) contends that this “scheme of Levitical cities is of Solomonic origin” (page 495). But the Reubenites gradually entered the Mishor. Whereas Joshua 21:37 assigns Heshbon to Gad, for example, Numbers 32 presents “Reubenite concentration around” it (page 494). After the Moabites whipped Gad in the ninth century, however, Reuben’s take-over of Mishor was accelerated. Numbers 32 presents a situation in which Reuben held territory in the south, while Gadites dwelt below and above it. For Oded, this reflects a situation between the time of Solomon and the Moabite stone: Reuben is in Mishor, but Gad still has territory around that area—territory that elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible is said to be Reuben’s. That territory was said to be Reuben’s after the time that the Moabite stone depicts: when the Moabites whipped the Gadites.
For Oded, the absence of Reuben from David’s census, Solomon’s districts, and the Moabite stone is not due to Reuben disappearing as a tribe on account of its assimilation into Gad. Rather, Reuben is not recorded for the reason that it was pastoral and moved around. But Reuben infiltrated Mishor and occupied that land until it was exiled in 733 B.C.E.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at the half-tribe of Manasseh, which settled in the Transjordan.