Pseudepigrapha Saturday: Eldad and Modad

UPDATE: 8/2/2016

I should clarify that the Book of Eldad and Modad is only cited by title at one point, namely in The Shepherd of Hermas. In this post, I am not focused on the traditions surrounding the text as much as how the quote expands upon Numbers. Being made aware of my lack of clarity, I will work more diligently to provide more thorough introductions for my Pseudepigrapha Saturday posts.

Special thanks to Jim Davila at PaleoJudaica for his comment.

Introduction to the Text:

Unlike texts for which an entire document or multiple fragments exists (i.e. Jubilees, Maccabees, Pseudo-Phocylides, Theodotus, etc.), the Book of Eldad and Modad is only cited one time within a second century Christian work called the Shepherd of Hermas. The text says the following:

“The LORD is near to those who turn (to him),” as it is written in the (book of) Eldad and Modad, who prophesied in the desert to the people.

– Hermas, Vision, 2.3.4

This brief citation from the Book of Eldad and Modad expands upon an occurrence in Numbers 11:26. In Numbers 11:25, Eldad, Modad, and the rest of the elders prophesied, altogether 70 elders. While 68 of the elders stopped, Eldad and Modad continued prophesying. A person reported to Moses that they were still prophesying. Moses responded: “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them” (NIV, Numbers 11:29).The Book of Eldad and Modad, therefore, expands upon the ambiguity of what these two men prophesied.

The Book of Eldad and Modad as an Expansion for Literary Structure

Although we lack a full version of the Book of Eldad and Modad, we can conjecture as to how the book, and the citation in particular, changes the structure and overall aim of Numbers 11:26-29. As previously noted, it provides more color for characters by revealing previously unknown and ambiguous prophecy. Concurrently, inclusion of this prophecy by Eldad and Modad helps to shape the text as a whole. Consider Numbers 11 with and without inclusion of the prophecy (possible location for the prophecy is italicized and bolded):

26 Now two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the Spirit rested on them. They were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp, saying “the LORD is near to those who turn (to him)”. 

27 And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

28 And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, “My lord Moses, stop them.”

29 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!

Numbers 11:26-29 (ESV)

As a literary expansion, elucidation of the particular prophecy of Eldad and Modad serves as a foil to both Joshua and the young man. It effectively makes them both look silly because they choose want to silence prophecy that is of the LORD. It also strengthens Moses’ claim because by highlighting that prophecy for all is a good thing. The opposition between Joshua’s and young man’s reaction and Moses’ reaction suggests that the expansion was intended to justify and make more pointed Moses’ statement.


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