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I noticed two strange things about the the listing of the tribes in Numbers 13:4-15. Firstly, the order of the tribes is as follows:

Reuben, Simon, Judah, Issachar, Ephraim, Benjamin, Zebulun, Manasseh, Dan, Asher, Naphtali, Gad

This order does not seem to follow any other tribal order that we have seen elsewhere in the Bible. Commentaries have suggested various possibilities, such as that they were ordered by age, ordered by stature or that the tribes approached Moses in a disorderly fashion, and he appointed them one by one as they approached him. However, none are particularly compelling.

Additionally, Josheph is mentioned with the tribe of Manasseh, rather than with the tribe of Ephraim, who appears first, and with whom Joseph is usually associated. (There are some nice suggestions to explain this discrepancy as well, see Hizkuni and others.)

I was also struck by the strangeness of the name of Issachar's representative, Igal, the son of Joseph. Some other interesting points relate to the similarity of names between Zebulun and Manasseh's representatives.

This all made me wonder - is it possible that there was an early scribal error or other corruption in which lines were copied out of order or modified somehow, and that the "Joseph" appearing in the tribe of Issachar was originally part of mentioning the tribe of Joseph prior to Ephraim? Does anyone discuss this? I personally was unable to come up with any single (or even double) modification that could resolve this satisfactorily, but I would like to hear what others think.

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  • Is there a reason why you would expect there to be an order? – Alex Jun 10 '18 at 21:01
  • @alex because other similar lists do have orders, as noted by all those commentaries that are bothered by this question (as well as the others). – user22655 Jun 10 '18 at 22:45
  • But maybe that's because other lists are reflecting an actual order that occurred. E.g. the list of the tribal leaders' offerings in Numbers Chapter 7 is simply reflecting the order in which the events actually occurred. But if the events had followed a different order, the Scriptural account would have also. – Alex Jun 10 '18 at 22:57
  • Welcome back רבות מחשבות! – Bach Jun 10 '18 at 23:51
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    It's kind of funny how we Mi Yodeya people tend to stick together. I ask a question, Bach and Alex comment, and b a answers it... – user22655 Jun 11 '18 at 1:57
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There are no textual witnesses for a different order in the beginning that doesn't separate Ephraim from Manasseh (I checked all the ancient translations as well as 4Q27).

That said, if there was a different original order as you (and Biblia Hebraica) propose, there is an easy explanation: The copyist wrote Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, and Issachar. Then, seeing the word "Joseph" in the name of Issachar's spy (verse 7), he accidentally skipped to the next "Joseph" in the words "for the tribe of Joseph" and continued the verse with the next words, "for the tribe of Ephraim," continuing with Benjamin and Zebulun; then, realizing he skipped Manasseh, inserted Manasseh, and continued the rest in order: Dan, Asher, Naphtali, and Gad. This would assume a source text with the same order as the list in Exodus 1:4, with the exception of Asher who should have been last.

According to this book, the 4Q365 text has verse 13 after verse 15 (I couldn't find a transcription of the scroll itself), i.e. it has the last four tribes in the order Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, which is the same as the order in Genesis 30 and Exodus 1:3. (Of course it's hard to determine whether this was an original reading, or if the scribe corrected it to match the other texts.) If this reading is correct, the text may have originally had the normal order we know from the other texts.

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