Meribah (Hebrew: מְרִיבָה‎) is one of the locations which the Torah identifies as having been travelled through by the Israelites, during the Exodus[1][2], although the continuous list of visited stations in the Book of Numbers doesn't mention it[3]. In the Book of Exodus, Meribah is mentioned at the same time as Massah, in a context which suggests that Massah is the same location as Meribah, but other biblical mentions of Massah and Meribah, such as that in the Blessing of Moses[4][5], seem to imply that they are distinct[6][7].



The Biblical text mentions two very similar episodes that both occur at a place named Meribah. The episode recounted by the Book of Exodus features the Israelites quarreling with Moses about the lack of water, and Moses rebuking the Israelites for testing Yahweh[8]; the text states that it was on this account that the place gained the name Massah[9], meaning testing, and the name Meribah[10], meaning quarreling. The narrative in the Book of Exodus states that, on account of their thirst, the Israelites grumbled against Moses[11], so Moses, in fear for his life, appeals to Yahweh[12]; the narrative continues with Yahweh telling Moses to walk ahead of the others, and strike the rock at Horeb with his rod[13], and when Moses does this, it causes the rock to expel water[14].

The episode recounted by the Book of Numbers features the Israelites quarreling with Moses and Aaron about the lack of water and food crops[15]; the text states that Moses and Aaron responded by consulting Yahweh at the Tabernacle door, while prostrating themselves, and that Yahweh told them to take the rod, and speak to a particular rock while the people are gathered together in view of it[16]. The narrative continues with Moses following the instructions to take Aaron's staff and to gather the Israelites[17], but instead of speaking to the rock, which Yahweh had stated would result in water flowing from it[18], Moses speaks to the crowd and strikes the rock, doing so twice, resulting in a strong flow of water[19].

Some textual scholars regard the two accounts as different versions of the same events at Meribah, with the version in the Book of Exodus being from the JE source, and the version in the Book of Numbers being from the Priestly Source[20][21][22]; the latter account, like the Priestly Source in general, is considered to be an attempt to supplant the JE version of the narrative, which doesn't treat Aaron as being as important as the Aaronid writer of the Priestly Source would have liked[23].

According to these textual scholars, the JE account in Exodus of the events at Massah and Meribah is spliced together from two earlier source texts, namely the Jahwist and Elohist texts[24]. Textual scholars regard the Jahwist text and Elohist text as both having an account of the naming of Massah, and both having an account of provision of water, but with the accounts being spliced together in a non-straightforward manner; where the combined text reports events at Massah and Meribah[25][21], textual scholars believe that the mention of a quarrel, the testing of Yahweh, and the naming of Massah, are all part of the Jahwist text, while the extraction of water from a stone, and the naming of Meribah, are part of the Elohist text[26][21]. The Elohist account of water being provided at Meribah (מריבה) is seen by Biblical scholars as a parallel of the Jahwist's account of the provision of water at Marah (מרה)[27][21]; in the Marah narrative is mention of Yahweh testing the Israelites, which textual scholars attribute to the Elohist account[21], and regard as the parallel of the Jahwist's account of the naming of Massah after the testing of Yahweh by the Israelites[28].

The Death of Moses and Aaron

In the account in the Book of Numbers, but not the account in the Book of Exodus, after the water is produced, Yahweh tells Moses and Aaron that they did not trust him sufficiently to honour him, and as a consequence both Moses and Aaron would die before entering Canaan[29]. It's unclear exactly what it was for which they were being punished, though the text does make it evident that it was just Moses who spoke to the people and who struck the rock; biblical scholars regard this as an example of the Priestly Source's usual subtle denigration of Moses, the hero of the Shiloh priesthood (which rivaled the Aaronids). One possible reason for the punishment is that Moses had struck the rock twice, rather than just speaking to it as he had been asked to do[21]; another possibility is that he had rashly addressed the Israelites by the phrase you rebels[21]. Yet another reason may be that Moses attributes the miracle to his own power and fails to mention the Lord[30]. According to Deuteronomy, which textual scholars attribute to a writer who was pro-Moses and anti-Aaron[31], the punishment was due to the lack of trust in Yahweh that had been exhibited by the Israelites, rather than by Moses[32].


Some Biblical scholars see the narrative about Massah and Meribah as having originated as aetiological myths seeking to justify their names[21].


Psalm 95 references the incident, exhorting the Jews to trust and not turn away from God as at Meribah.


According to the Book of Exodus, Meribah was a location in Rephidim[33], while according to the Book of Numbers, Meribah was located at Kadesh-Barnea[34]. Textual scholars attribute the difference to the different sources from which these passages derive[35], and regard both mentions of Meribah as referring to the same place[21][22]. The Septuagint and Targums deal with the issue by regarding the Meribah in the Book of Numbers as simply being a common noun, rather than a place-name, rendering Me Meribath-Kadesh as the waters of strife in Kadesh rather than as the waters of Meribah in Kadesh[22].

The identification of Rephidim is heavily dependent on the identification of the Biblical Mount Sinai, which the biblical narrative portrays the Israelites as having reached shortly after they had left Rephidim. Traditionally, Sinai was equated with one of the mountains at the south of the Sinai Peninsula leading to the identification of Rephidim as the Wadi Refayid, a location roughly 8 miles south from Jebel Musa[21]; this would make it quite difficult to equate the Meribah in Rephidim with the Meribah near Kadesh-Barnea. However, the majority of both scholars and religious authorities believe that this traditional identification of Sinai is inaccurate, with the suggested alternatives being in the north and centre of the Sinai peninsula, in the Hejaz, and in the north eastern Arabah; these identifications would fit with the situation that both biblical narratives of Meribah referring to a place in the vicinity of Kedesh-Barnea.

See also

Citations and Notes

  1. ^ Exodus 17:7
  2. ^ Numbers 20:13
  3. ^ Numbers 33
  4. ^ Deuteronomy 33:8
  5. ^ Massah and Meribah are also referenced in Deuteronomy 32, Ezekiel 47, and Psalms 81, 95, and 106
  6. ^ Peake's commentary on the Bible
  7. ^ Cheyne and Black, Encyclopedia Biblica
  8. ^ Exodus 17:2
  9. ^ Exodus 17:7
  10. ^ Exodus 17:7
  11. ^ Exodus 17:3
  12. ^ Exodus 17:4
  13. ^ Exodus 17:5-6
  14. ^ Exodus 17:6
  15. ^ Numbers 20:2-5
  16. ^ Numbers 20:6-8
  17. ^ Numbers 20:9-10
  18. ^ Numbers 20:8
  19. ^ Numbers 20:11
  20. ^ Richard Elliott Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible?
  21. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Peake's commentary on the Bible
  22. ^ a b c Jewish Encyclopedia
  23. ^ Richard Elliott Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible?
  24. ^ Richard Elliott Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible?
  25. ^ Richard Elliott Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible?
  26. ^ Richard Elliott Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible?
  27. ^ Richard Elliott Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible?
  28. ^ Cheyne and Black, Encyclopedia Biblica
  29. ^ Numbers 20:12
  30. ^ Jacob Milgrom, The JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers, pp. 351-2. See Excursus 50 for a detailed discussion of the issue.
  31. ^ Richard Elliott Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible?
  32. ^ Deuteronomy 1:32-37
  33. ^ Exodus 17:1
  34. ^ Numbers 20:1
  35. ^ Richard Elliott Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible?

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