Interpellation, not Interpolation: Reconsidering Textual Disunity in Numbers 13–14 as Variant Articu-lations of a Single Ideology

Deane Galbraith


This article examines the numerous tensions in Numbers 13–14 concerning the identity of those who are exempted from Yahweh’s death sentence against Israel. It does so in light of Louis Althusser’s theory that ideology is typically articulated in different and even inconsistent ways by the subjects of different ideological state apparatuses. Source– and redaction–critical approaches have tended to treat the spy narrative’s inconsistent exemptions of Caleb, Joshua, the younger generation of Israelites, and/or Moses (and possibly others) as indicative of multiple sources, redactional layers, supplements, or interpolations within the text, and of the development of the text over many centuries. Most of these signs of disunity, however, may be more productively viewed as the result of different subject positions and their corresponding ideological inflections, derived from different sectors of the Judean and Samarian populace yet coalescing in their support of the text’s ideology of a righteous remnant. The article also identifies the Hellenistic socio–economic transition from a dominant agricultural to a dominant tributary mode of production as the most likely relevant authorial context for understanding the composition of Numbers 13–14 and its literary tensions. Yet authorship in the late Persian period remains a distinct possibility. The major line of tension in the spy narrative between priestly and military leaders mirrors the underlying socio–economic circumstances which prevailed during the period of composition, wherein both priestly and military–administrative families competed for power and ideological legitimation. The article thus develops Roland Boer’s recognition of the potential of Althusser’s view of ideology to challenge the assumptions and conclusions of the historical–critical problematic.


Numbers 13-14; ideology; Louis Althusser

Full Text:


Bible and Critical Theory: ISSN 1832-3391