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    Balak & Bilam

    Bilam blessing the Israelites, from the 1728 Figures de la Bible

    The name Balak comes from a root that means to lick up or lay waste.

    King Balak was the son of Tzippor, king of the Moabites. Looking down at the Israelite camp he was apprehensive and said they were likely to lick up everything around, as an ox licks up the grass of the field.

    Bilam is from a root that means to swallow up; the name means “destroying the people”. As Bilam – a diviner – was regarded as a false prophet who misled others, his name appears in rabbinic literature as a symbol for Jesus though this was quite anachronistic.

    Christianity had a high opinion of Bilam (based on Num. 24:17). The rabbis were ambivalent about him. Though Pir’kei Avot calls him Bilam the Wicked (Avot 5:19) there was a view that he was as good a prophet for the gentiles as Moses was for the Jews (Numbers Rabbah 20:1).

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