The Elohist Source - Balaam Cycle: A Mirror-Reading with the Mira Scriptura Methodology

The Balaam Cycle is primarily concerned with the inhabitants of the land just north of the Arnon river.  Were they Israelite or were they Moabite?  If you’d like a less technical overview, please check out my podcast episode on the Balaam Cycle.  If you’re not familiar with the Elohist Source and it’s cycles, be sure to check out all of the podcast episodes in that series.  I used Tzemah Yoreh's work as the basis for my Elohist Source.


Please note that the argumentation below is that of the opposing narrative that the Elohist was addressing and is opposed to the Elohist narrative itself.

Color Code:
Black: These statements are mirrors or echoes
Blue: These statements are an inferred cause/effect of a mirror/echo or connects two mirrors/echoes
Green: These statement have no corresponding mirrors or echoes but have supporting (e.g. alternates, denials) statements that imply them.
Orange: Words within a statement that could be variations of the opposing narrative

Italics are causal connectors (e.g. “because”)
[Brackets] are replacements for pronouns or changing tense for better flow.

For more information about mirrors, echoes, supporting categories and my methodology, please visit this post.

Aspect #1 Opposing Narrative

1. The inhabitants north of the Arnon were Moabites, not Israelites
2. because [Balak was] able to fight against [the Israelites] and [drive] them out.
3. because there is [an] enchantment against Jacob, [a] divination against Israel;
4. because [Balaam] curse[d] the [Israelites]
5. because Balaam was the prophet of a Moabite god
6. because Balaam was from Moab
7. because [those living north of the Arnon were not] out of Egypt;
8. because Elohim changed His mind

Aspect #1 Elohist Response With Commentary

1. The Elohist highlights the area of dispute by including landmarks in the narrative.  Balak is described as going to the northernmost boundary of Moab, which was the Arnon River. Other landmarks are likely areas of dispute or places where one could view areas of dispute.  Those that settled near Balak and those that Balaam looks upon are described as Israelites. If the inhabitants were Moabite and not Israelite, then the inhabitants of that area would be loyal to the Kingdom of Moab and not the Kingdom of Israel.

2. If the Moabites had fought the Israelites and had driven them out, then the inhabitants would likely be Moabite.  The Elohist tells how the Moabites were not stronger than the Israelites and were actually afraid of the Israelites because they were stronger than the Moabites.  This is used as the reason to bring Balaam to curse the Israelites. To keep the disputed inhabitants loyal to Israel, the Elohist not only describes Israel as stronger than Moab in the past but also stronger than them in the future.  Balaam prophecies that a strong king would arise in Israel and will conquer Moab.

3. If the Israelites were cursed, then this would provide a reason as to why the Israelites were driven out of the area of dispute. Balaam seems to have been a highly regarded prophet, so the Elohist’s strategy is not to disregard him, but to provide an alternative narrative on how it came to be thought that Balaam cursed Israel. The Elohist confirms that there was a prophet named Balaam and that he spoke an oracle regarding Israel, but that he did not curse Israel.

4. The Elohist will turn the tables on the opposing narrative by saying that Balaam not only refused curse Israel but blessed them.  Then he will pronounce that anyone who curses Israel will be cursed, and anyone who blesses Israel will be blessed.

5. Elohim and Balaam are in communication several times during the narrative, showing that Balaam is not a prophet of a Moabite god.  Elohim’s inquiry of who Balak’s messengers were, may be a signal that He is not familiar with the Moabites and is further evidence that Balaam did not server a Moabite god.

6. The Elohist makes it abundantly clear that Balaam was not from Moab.  He is described as being from “Pethor, which is on the Euphrates, in the land of Amaw”.  “Land of Amaw” can be literally translated “his native land”. In there conversations, Balak and Balaam say that they are from different lands: “Go to your own land”, “Go home!” and “Now, I am going to my people”.  In the end, they each go their separate ways.

However, this raises a problem for the Elohist.  If he writes that Balaam is not Moabite, then why was he prophesying for a Moabite king?  The Elohist provides an explanation by telling how Balak sent messengers to go get Balaam and entice him with honor. Balaam, of course, refuses initially at Elohim’s request but is eventually allowed to go, but not to curse the Israelites, only to bless them.

7. By marking them as people who Elohim brought out of Egypt, they would have been considered Israelites in the disputed area.  The Elohist does this in 4 instances in the narrative.

8.  During one of Balaam’s oracles, he says, “God is not a human being, that he should lie, or a mortal, that he should change his mind. Has he promised, and will he not do it? Has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” This could be countering the idea that Elohim had abandoned the Israelites, and that’s why they had been driven out of the disputed area.

Biblical References

The spreadsheet embedded below is a list of verses used to compose the argumentation above.  For further information about how these statements were categorized, please visit this post.