The Book of Numbers seems to have no readily discernible structure. On the surface at least, it looks like a collection of narratives, legal regulations, and assorted lists that are arranged in somewhat random fashion. In this volume Lee, an associate professor of Old Testament at Calvin College, seeks to bring order out of the apparent literary chaos. Employing a method he labels conceptual analysis, Lee examines the macrostructure of Numbers 10:11–36:13 and attempts to demonstrate that the material in this literary unit is strategically arranged. Conceptual analysis, he says, “views the nature of texts as conceptualized linguistic-semantic entities” and “pays attention to the information gained from both the surface of a text and the subsurface textual level.” This method “stands alongside text-centered methodologies, such as text linguistics, rhetorical criticism, literary criticism, and structuralism” (p. 47).
In the first three chapters (“Organization of the Book of Numbers”) Lee interacts with other major studies of the structure of Numbers (Gray, Noth, Budd, Olson, Milgrom, and Ashley). In chapter 2 (“Conceptual Analysis”) he defines and describes his method. The bulk of the volume (210 pages) is then devoted to “The Macrostructure of Numbers 10:11–36:13” (the title of chapter 3).
Lee concludes that Numbers 10:11—36:13 is “the second literary block of the book of Numbers at the highest level” (p. 283). He explains that “10:11–12 contains chronological and geographical references indicating the radical transition” between the book’s two major literary units. Within this literary block he finds “thirty-six units that are not situated on compositionally equivalent levels but are organized at different hierarchical levels within the totality of the text” (p. 284). He says, “The final and constitutive conceptual basis responsible for the extant existence and placement of these units . . . is the conceptuality of Israel’s failure to conquer the promised land from the south” (ibid.).
This book is important for readers interested in the interpretation and theological message of the Book of Numbers. Lee’s approach is another sign that a new era has dawned in biblical studies as more and more scholars focus on the biblical text in its extant form and leave behind shopworn diachronic approaches that do nothing more than carve the text into supposed sources. Hopefully others will follow Lee’s lead and engage in conceptual analysis of the biblical text.