The Israelites and Baal-Peor
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In his introduction to his translation of the Bible, George Lamsa states that the originality of the Peshitta text is strongly supported by early evidence, even to apostolic times. The Codex Ambrosianus, which he used for the Old Testament, has been identified as fifth century A.D. He notes that translations from Semitic languages have been subject to revision for centuries, resulting in many Bible versions which vary from each other. He gives a few examples of differences between the King James Version and the Aramaic. One is Numbers 25: 4 on which this comparison is based. He points out that, in regard to this verse, that some noted Greek scholars in recent translations have changed the word "hang" to "execute," but this is not what the original writer said. God could not have told Moses to behead or execute all Israelites.

I do not understand why he referred to Greek, not Hebrew, scholars. The Septuagint is the Greek Old Testament, which was revised from Hebrew texts by Origen, who lived in the second and third centuries A.D. Modern versions have used Hebrew texts. I also feel that George Lamsa has misinterpreted the use of the word "head" in the context of the King James Version. Admittedly, the wording can give that impression. Check carefully how the King James Version and the Lamsa Bible translate this verse. Then compare these with the other versions. Before actually examining the various translations, the reader should read verses 1 to 9 in his usual version in order to put the verses into proper context.

I am using twenty-eight versions in this comparison, in addition to the King James Version and the Lamsa Bible. As the immediate verses before and after are important in interpreting verse 4, I am including those with each version. My further observations will be presented after the verse comparisons.


Versions Compared

 

KJV King James Version
LBP Lamsa Bible
AAT An American Translation (Beck)
AB Amplified Bible
EBR The Emphasized Bible
GW God's Word
IB Interlinear Bible
IV Inspired Version
LB Living Bible
LXX The Septuagint
NAB New American Bible
NAS New American Standard Version
NBV New Berkeley Version
NCV New Century Version
NEB New English Bible
NIV New International Version
NJB New Jerusalem Bible
NJPS New JPS Version
NKJ New King James Version
NLV New Life Version
NRS New Revised Standard Version
NWT New World Translation
REB Revised English Bible
RSV Revised Standard Version
SGAT An American Translation (Smith-Goodspeed)
SNB Restoration of Original Sacred Name Bible
TDB The Dartmouth Bible
TEV Today's English Version
WMF The Word Made Fresh
YLR Young's Literal Translation, Revised Edition


Numbers 25: 4

 

KJV And Israel joined himself unto Baal-peor: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel. And the LORD said unto Moses, Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the LORD against the sun, that the fierce anger of the LORD may be turned away from Israel. And Moses said unto the judges of Israel, Slay ye every one of his men that were joined unto Baal-peor.
LBP And Israel joined himself to Baal-peor; and the anger of the LORD was kindled against the children of Israel. And the LORD said to Moses, Take all the chiefs of the people and expose them before the LORD in the daylight that the fierce anger of the LORD may be turned away from the children of Israel. And Moses said to the judges of Israel, Slay every one of you his men who have joined themselves to Baal-peor.
AAT As the Israelites paired off for the worship of Baal at Peor, the LORD got very angry with Israel. "Take all the leaders of the people," the LORD told Moses, "and hang them up in the light of the sun for the LORD, to turn the LORD's fierce anger away from Israel." So Moses told the judges of Israel, "Each of you, kill those of your men who have paired themselves off for the Baal at Peor."
AB So Israel joined himself to [the god] Baal of Peor. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel. And the Lord said to Moses, Take all the leaders or chiefs of the people, and hang them before the Lord in the sun [after killing them], that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel. And Moses said to the judges of Israel, Every one of you slay his men who joined themselves to Baal of Peor.
EBR Thus Israel let himself be bowed unto Baal-peor -- and the anger of Yahweh kindled upon Israel. And Yahweh said unto Moses -- Take all the heads of the people, and crucify them unto Yahweh, in the face of the sun, -- that the heat of the anger of Yahweh may turn away ' from Israel. And Moses said unto the judges of Israel, -- Slay ye each one his men, who have let themselves be bound unto Baal-peor.
Footnote: Baal-peor: "Master of the generative organ; a Moabitish idol in whose worship females prostituted themselves."
Footnote:
Crucify: "To fasten, to a stake, to impale, to nail to -- i.e. to crucify as the Vulgate rightly translates." "Some solemn form of execution, but meaning uncertain."
GW Since the Israelites joined in worshiping the god Baal of Peor, the Lord became angry with Israel. The LORD said to Moses, "Take all the leaders of the people, and execute them in broad daylight in the LORD's presence. This will turn the LORD's anger from Israel." So Moses said to the judges of Israel, "Each of you must kill the men who have joined in worshiping the god Baal of Peor."
IB And Israel was joined to Baal-peor, and the anger of Jehovah burned against Israel. And Jehovah said to Moses, Take all the leaders of the people and hang them up to Jehovah before the sun, that the fierce anger of Jehovah may be turned away from Israel. And Moses said to the judges of Israel, Each one of you kill his men, those who joined to Baal-peor.
IV And Israel joined himself unto Baal-peor; and the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel. And the Lord said unto Moses, Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the Lord against the sun, that the fierce anger of the Lord may be turned away from Israel. And Moses said unto the judges of Israel, Slay ye every one his men that were joined unto Baal-peor.
LB Before long all Israel was joining freely in the worship of Baal, the god of Moab; and the anger of the Lord was hot against his people. He issued the following command to Moses: "Execute all the tribal leaders of Israel. Hang them up before the Lord in broad daylight, so that his fierce anger will turn away from the people." So Moses ordered the judges to execute all who had worshiped Baal.
LXX And Israel consecrated themselves to Beel-pheger; and the Lord was very angry with Israel. And the Lord said to Moses, Take all the princes of the people, and make them examples of judgment for the Lord in the face of the sun, and the anger of the Lord shall be turned away from Israel. And Moses said to the tribes of Israel, Slay ye every one his friend that is consecrated to Beel-phegor.
Footnote: Make them examples: Or put them to shame. See Hebrews 6:6.
NAB When Israel thus submitted to the rites of Baal of Peor, the LORD's anger flared up against Israel, and he said to Moses, "Gather all the leaders of the people, and hold a public execution of the guilty ones before the LORD, that his blazing wrath may be turned away from Israel." So Moses told the Israelite judges, "Each of you shall kill those of his men who have submitted to the rites of Baal of Peor."
Footnote: Hold a public execution: The same phrase occurs in 2 Samuel 21:6-14, where the context shows that at least a part of the penalty consisted in being denied honorable burial. In both passages, dismemberment as a punishment for the breaking of covenant pledges is a current understanding of the phrase.
NAS So Israel joined themselves to Baal of Peor, and the LORD was angry against Israel. And the LORD said to Moses, "Take all the leaders of the people and execute them in broad daylight before the LORD, so that the fierce anger of the LORD may turn away from Israel." So Moses said to the judges of Israel, "Each of you slay his men who have joined themselves to Baal of Peor."
NBV ..., and before long Israel was uniting freely with Baal-peor. The LORD's anger burned against Israel, and He commanded Moses: Summon all the leaders of the people and hang them up in broad daylight before the LORD, so that the LORD's burning anger may be diverted from Israel. Therefore Moses ordered the judges of Israel, "Each of you execute those of his men who have fraternized with Baal-peor."
Footnote: Hang them: As leaders they had failed the people. See Luke 12:48.
NCV So the Israelites began to worship Baal of Peor, and the LORD was very angry with them. The LORD said to Moses, "Get all the leaders of the people and kill them in open daylight in the presence of the Lord. Then the LORD will not be angry with the people of Israel." So Moses said to Israel's judges, "Each of you must put to death your people who have become worshipers of Baal of Peor.
NEB The Israelites joined in the worship of the Baal of Peor, and the LORD was angry with them. He said to Moses, "Take all the leaders of the people and hurl them down to their death before the LORD in the full light of day, that the fury of his anger may turn away from Israel. So Moses said to the judges of Israel, "Put to death, each one of you, those of his tribe who have joined in the worship of the Baal of Peor."
NIV So Israel joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor. And the LORD's anger burned against them. The LORD said to Moses, "Take all the leaders of these people, kill them and expose them in broad daylight before the LORD, so that the LORD's fierce anger may turn away from Israel." So Moses said to Israel's judges, "Each of you must put to death those of your men who have joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor."
NJB With Israel thus committed to the Baal of Peor, Yahweh's anger was roused against them. Yahweh said to Moses, "Take all the leaders of the people. Impale them facing the sun, for Yahweh, to deflect his burning anger from Israel." Moses said to the judges of Israel, "Each of you will put to death those of his people who have committed themselves to the Baal of Peor."
NJPS Thus Israel attached itself to Baal-peor, and the LORD was incensed with Israel. The LORD said to Moses, "Take all the ringleaders and have them publicly impaled before the LORD, so that the LORD's wrath may turn away from Israel." So Moses said to Israel's officials, "Each of you slay those of his men who attached themselves to Baal-peor."
Footnote: Ringleaders: Lit. "heads of the people."
Footnote:
Publicly: Others "in face of the sun."
NKJ So Israel was joined to Baal of Peor, and the anger of the LORD was aroused against Israel. Then the LORD said to Moses, "Take all the leaders of the people and hang the offenders before the LORD, out in the sun, that the fierce anger of the LORD may turn away from Israel." So Moses said to the judges of Israel, "Every one of you kill his men who are joined to Baal of Peor.
NLV So Israel joined themselves to Baal of Peor, and the Lord was angry with Israel. The Lord said to Moses, "Take all the leaders of the people, kill them, and put their bodies in the bright daylight before the Lord. Then the strong anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel." So Moses said to the judges of Israel, "Each of you kill his men who have joined themselves to Baal of Peor.
NRS Thus Israel yoked itself to the Baal of Peor, and the LORD's anger was kindled against Israel. The LORD said to Moses, "Take all the chiefs of the people, and impale them in the sun before the LORD, in order that the fierce anger of the LORD may turn away from Israel." And Moses said to the judges of Israel, "Each of you shall kill any of your people who have yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor.
NWT So Israel attached itself to the Baal of Peor; and the anger of Jehovah began to blaze against Israel. Hence Jehovah said to Moses: "Take all the head ones of the people and expose them to Jehovah toward the sun, that the burning anger of Jehovah may turn back from Israel." Then Moses said to the judges of Israel: "Each one of YOU kill his men who have an attachment with the Baal of Peor."
REB ...; they joined in the worship of the Baal of Peor. This aroused the anger of the LORD, who said to Moses, "Take all the leaders of the people and hurl them down to their death before the LORD in the full light of day, that the fury of my anger may turn away from Israel." Moses gave this order to the judges of Israel: "Each of you put to death those of his tribe who have joined in the worship of the Baal of Peor."
RSV So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel; and the LORD said to Moses, "Take all the chiefs of the people, and hang them in the sun before the LORD, that the fierce anger of the LORD may turn away from Israel. And Moses said to the judges of Israel, "Every one of you slay his men who have yoked themselves to Baal of Peor."
SGAT Israel paired themselves off in honor of the Baal of Peor, so that the anger of the LORD blazed against Israel. "Take all the ringleaders of the people," said the LORD to Moses, "and execute them for the LORD in broad daylight, so that the fierce anger of the LORD may be averted from Israel." So Moses said to the tribes of Israel, "Slay each one of you those of your members who paired themselves off in honor of the Baal of Peor."
SNB Thus Israel let itself be bound unto Baal-peor, and the anger of YAHVAH kindled upon Israel. And YAHVAH said unto Moses, Take all the heads of the people and crucify them unto YAHVAH in the face of the sun, that the heat of the anger of YAHVAH may turn away from Israel. And Moses said unto the judges of Israel, Slay ye each one his men, who have let themselves be bound unto Baal-peor.
Footnote: Crucify: Hang.
TDB [Omitted.]
TEV ... . The Israelites ate the food and worshiped the god Baal of Peor. So the Lord was angry with them and said to Moses, "Take all the leaders of Israel and, in obedience to me, execute them in broad daylight, and then I will no longer be angry with the people." Moses said to the officials, "Each of you is to kill every man in your tribe who has become a worshiper of Baal of Peor."
WMF The men also began to attend the pagan rites with Mississippi women and follow the permissive plan of the god known as "little Baal." And the Lord spoke to Moses as the wrath of God was great, and told Moses to eliminate all the men who had turned to Baal. Moses passed the word down to the tribes.
YLR ..., and Israel joined to Baal-Peor, and the anger of Jehovah burneth against Israel. And Jehovah saith unto Moses, "Take all the chiefs of the people, and hang them before Jehovah -- over-against the sun; and the fierceness of the anger of Jehovah doth turn back from Israel." And Moses saith unto the judges of Israel, "Slay ye each his men who are joined to Baal-Peor."


 

Consensus on Verses 1 to 9

The various versions use different vocabulary to tell of this episode. Some are more specific than others in their detail. Following is a verse by verse general interpretation of this passage.

  1. The Israelites became involved with heterogeneous, and possibly lesbian, sexual relations with Moabite women.
  2. The Israelites accepted the invitation to sacrifice to the Moabite gods, to eat food offered to the gods, and to worship the gods.
  3. When the Israelites became involved with Baal-peor, the Lord became very angry with them.
  4. The Lord commanded Moses what to do. This is the verse that has different implications, depending on the version of the Bible used.
  5. The order that Moses passed on to the judges of Israel in regard to punishment.
  6. An Israelite man brought a Midianite prostitute into the camp and took her into a tent.
  7. Phineas, a grandson of Aaron, heeded the directions of Moses and followed the man and the woman.
  8. Phineas thrust a spear through the man and the woman as they were performing the sexual act, pinning them together. The plague that had been afflicting the people stopped.
  9. Twenty-four thousand people died of the plague.

In examining all the versions, the average Christian can come to various conclusions in regard to verses 3-5. This is what those verses appear to say. All the Israelites turned to Baal-Peor, thus angering God. God told Moses to take all the leaders of the people and kill them, facing the sun, as an example to the people so that God's anger would cease. Then Moses told the judges to kill all men who had become involved with Baal-Peor.

As this appears to be contradictory, I suggest a different interpretation. A large number of Israelites (more men than women), but not a large per cent of the people, had been sinning with the Moabite women and their god. This angered God. Thus God commanded Moses to call together the leaders of the people and to direct them to locate the offenders. These would be executed before God and the rest of the people as an example of the results of sinning. By eliminating the offenders, the spread of the plague would be checked.


The Variations of Verse 4

There are some differences in what is to be done and to whom it is to be done. It is the heads, chiefs, or leaders who are the ones to be recipients. One version says princes. Two versions say ringleaders. This broad selection could also mean the judges in some versions. All but three versions give the direction to have people put to death.

However, four of them point out that this applies only to those who are guilty of the sin while the rest of the versions give the death penalty to the leaders. The three versions that do not speak of death in this verse imply that the leaders are to be publicly shamed for allowing the sin to occur.

When verse 5 is considered, it is indicated that the judges are not the ones to be executed but are given the task of doing the executing. All the versions state clearly that it is only those who have sinned by worshiping Baal-peor who are to be put to death. This is consistent with verse 4 in NJPS, WMF, and SGAT only. The others imply that Moses is not passing on only the command that God gave him, but is issuing a further order.

Chapter 31 describes the follow-up, in which Moses gives the order that an army of Israelites kill the Midianites. Thus, the leaders of the Israelites had not been killed as verse 4 of chapter 25 in most versions imply. Deuteronomy 4: 3, 4 makes it clear that only the ones who were involved in the rituals of Baal-peor are destroyed. The faithful remain alive. However, they were shown what can happen when people defiantly sin against the commandments of God. Maybe this is why the executions are performed where everyone can see them.


The Plague

When the killing of the Israelites who have been involved in the worship of Baal-Peor begins, the plague stops. In chapter 31, verses 16-18, Moses is angry that the army has brought back the Midianite women because these have been responsible for the plague. He orders that all the women who have participated in sexual activity be killed. The plague is a sexually transmitted disease (STD), which has spread rapidly and killed many people. By putting to death those who have been transmitting it, the disease is stemmed.

There is an application for society today. In order to stop our STD plague, the answer is not in the seeking of a medical cure for it after it is established. Society must discontinue its sinning, return to God, and seek forgiveness. Mankind has not learned from history. Must God use the same method that He used with the Israelites?


Baal-Peor

The Bible Almanac:
The Canaanites worshiped "the Baal" (the local fertility deity) but the people of each community had their own baal, as we can tell by place names like Baal-zephon, Baal-peor, and Baal-hermon (all mentioned in the Old Testament).

Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words:
The word ba'al may denote any deity other than the God of Israel. Baal was a common name given to the god of fertility in Canaan. The Old Testament records that Baal was "the god" of the Canaanites. The Israelites worshiped Baal during the time of the judges.

Smith's Bible Dictionary:
Baal was the supreme male divinity of the Phoenician and Canaanitish nations. It prevailed in the time of Moses among the Moabites and Midianites and through them spread to the Israelites. The attractiveness of this worship to the Jews undoubtedly grew out of its licentious character.

Hebrew and Chaldee Dictionary:
Peor is a mountain east of the Jordan River. Baal-Peor was a god worshiped there.

The Bible and Recent Archaeology:
Baal's worship and that of his sister and spouse Anat is centred on a purely fertility rite, connected with the dying down and rebirth of vegetation.


Commentary

 

George Lamsa is right in that there have been errors in translating verse 4. However, whether or not his translation is correct is a matter of conjecture. He is also right in stating that the continual revisions have created versions which vary from each other. Since only three versions imply in the verse that it is the guilty ones who are to be killed, while all of them state this in verse 5, the translators of the versions or of the texts or the copyists may not have completely understood what should have been written in verse 4. One word seems to be the cause of the confusion. It is the pronoun "them." What is its antecedent? Most of the versions have the sentence structure in verse 4 in such a way that "the leaders" (or equivalent) is the antecedent. Actually, it should refer back to a preceding noun meaning "the people who were sinning." Since such a noun is missing, the translators should have reworded verse 4 to avoid the pronoun referring to the wrong noun.

This is another example which shows the problem of translating from copies and not from autographs, regardless of the sincerity of the efforts. Thus, it is important that the Christian, when he reads the Bible, be careful to avoid taking a statement out of context and obtaining the wrong meaning. He needs to check similar passages elsewhere in the Bible. Even educated translators can make mistakes.