Let’s turn our attention to a modern mythical story based on historical facts, “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
The connection to Numbers is initially shown in this fact: Balak and Belloq are names that differ essentially only in spelling. Belloq is pronounced “bell-ock” by Jones, while a French pronunciation would be “bell-o.” Balak is pronounced “ball-ock.” Hebrew words are fundamentally consonental, meaning that Balak and Balaam are from blk and blm. Jones’ pronunciation matches that of Balak, while the French pronunciation matches that of both Balak and Balaam. It seems that Balak evokes the story of him and Balaam, and the part of Balaam played in the movie is that of Belloq.
As you might recall, Balak the king called Balaam the magus to curse Israel. In Indiana Jones it is the Nazis who employ Belloq, the French archeologist. Like Balaam, Belloq is an expert and is a free agent, unconstrained by loyalties and ethics. Like Balaam, he wants power and fame. Like Balak, Hitler wants supernatural power to destroy his enemies (Israel and all “Jewish” ideas).
Belloq dresses as the Jewish high priest, and Balaam functions as the “high” priest that God speaks to. The communication with God, or rather all of the benefits that come with it, seems to be the motivation for Belloq’s actions. He, like Balaam, is a sinister but ambiguous figure. It is the king (Balak/Hitler) that is the real danger.
So it seems that Belloq is modeled after Balaam, and that his name derives from Balaam’s employer, Balak.
Here is a link to Belloq reciting prayers in Aramaic while dressed as the High Priest. He has the Ark opened, only to have it make his head explode.
Pro-American Rhetoric and Biblical Archeology
The movie was produced by an American from a Jewish background, and so modern (and ancient) Jewish traditions about Balaam and Balak are relevant, not to mention the setting of WWII, a time that has many ties to the dangers that Israel has faced throughout history.
The irony is that the real source of power in the movie is not God, nor the Ark, but the archeologists and America. The American archeologist (Jones) saves the day, as opposed to the evil French archeologist (Belloq). The Nazi’s lose the Ark and the Americans gain it. But the Americans treat it “appropriately”: as a relic from the past that has no place in their secular plans.
(correction: It was pointed out to me that Jones never “saves the day” in the movie, even though one might be left with that impression after watching it. The Nazis only gained the Ark through Jones, since they were digging in the wrong place before he intervened. Likewise, the Ark destroyed the Nazis when they opened it. Jones simply survived and cashed in on the find. The Ark was never really a power that the Nazis could manipulate. Yet it remains that the heroes are American and the villains German and French.)
Even though the archeologists affirm the reality of the Biblical stories (e.g. the Ark is real and has real power) there is no recognition that such stories are indeed true. The characters act as if what is really true is what they can affirm: the Ark exists, and for some reason it has power. The interpretation stops short of explaining the power of the Ark as stemming from the truth of the Biblical stories. Instead, the Biblical stories are awarded the status of having at least a shred of truth to them, since the Ark was found and it reflects the same Ark of the Bible. But the realm of truth is explicitly within the confines of archeology, not Scripture.
Belloq candidly tells Jones “You and I are very much alike: archeology is our religion.”
The Ark is of no real interest to the Americans, since the real power in the modern world cannot be from an ancient relic. The real power is the atomic bomb.
America stores the useless Ark and drops the atomic bombs to end WWII. The legends about the power of the Ark are indeed true, but irrelevant in the face of atomic power. WWII was, in reality, saved by atomic rather than divine power.
It is this same power that led to the reconquest of Canaan in the 20th century, the establishment of the State of Israel. It is this atomic power that keeps this country in existence, threatening the enemies of Israel like God used to threaten them in the Biblical stories. God is no longer needed, of course, now that we have real power to save ourselves.