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Home Forums Evidence for Biblical miracles The population of the Israelites during Exodus

  • Historical Faith Society

    December 18, 2020 at 4:44 am
  • Deborah Hurn

    December 30, 2020 at 5:27 am

    The number of Israelites participating in the exodus is derived from the two censuses conducted at either end of the wanderings period and recorded in the book of Numbers:

    Num 1:45-46 JPS And all those that were numbered of the children of Israel by their fathers’ houses, from twenty years old and upward, all that were able to go forth to war in Israel; (46) even all those that were numbered were six hundred thousand and three thousand and five hundred and fifty. [603,550 men of fighting age at Mount Sinai]

    Num 26:51 JPS These are they that were numbered of the children of Israel, six hundred thousand and a thousand and seven hundred and thirty. [601,730 men of fighting age at the Jordan River]

    The census of the tribe of Levi is not included in these totals:

    Num 1:47 JPS But the Levites after the tribe of their fathers were not numbered among them.

    When estimating the additional numbers of women, children, and elderly men, such figures amount to a population of over 2 million Israelites. Such a figure seems extraordinary for many reasons, chiefly: the birthrate required to reach this population within 4 generations (Gen 15:16); the impossible logistics of movement, function, and communication for such an enormous crowd; and the lack of resources in the Sinai and Negev to support such a population with their flocks and herds.

    • Ron Smith, MD

      January 23, 2021 at 9:47 am

      Small numbers coming out of Egypt seem unlikely from a purely mathematical calculation. The population growth formula is:

      x(t) = x0 × (1 + r) t where:

      t = time in years

      r = rate of growth in percent; I’ll assume 5% per year which would be one new child for them starting out with mostly fairly young individuals; my guess is there were about 30 reproductive couples so that 3 to 5 new babies would be born each year; that equals around 4 to 7%; the US which is a large, mature population (and has a significant population reduction from abortion) is 0.474 %/yr (percent per year) (world rank: 167th) (2019 estimate) according to

      x0 = initial population (66 not counting Joseph and his family of 4)

      x(t) = 70 × (1 + .05) 430

      x(t) = 90,468,343,864.19746

      Now this doesn’t take into account varying attrition rates and lifespan decreases, etc., along with other factors, of course, but the number is significantly larger than if “elef” is interpreted as units instead of thousands. From a purely mathematical perspective, I’m not sure that smaller numbers in the Exodus can be supported.

  • Thomas Donlon

    January 15, 2021 at 4:07 am

    These statements argue for a lot of people, a lot of people.

    NIV Numbers 22:1 Then the Israelites traveled to the plains of Moab and camped along the Jordan across from Jericho. 2 Now Balak son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites, 3 and Moab was terrified because there were so many people. Indeed, Moab was filled with dread because of the Israelites. 4 The Moabites said to the elders of Midian, “This horde is going to lick up everything around us, as an ox licks up the grass of the field.” So Balak son of Zippor, who was king of Moab at that time, 5 sent messengers to summon Balaam son of Beor, who was at Pethor, near the Euphrates River, in his native land. Balak said: “A people has come out of Egypt; they cover the face of the land and have settled next to me. (Num. 22:1-5 NIV)

    And Balaam when called upon to curse Israel included this observation:

    10 Who can count the dust of Jacob or number even a fourth of Israel? (Num. 23:10 NIV)

    In the extra features that were in the collectors edition of Red Sea Crossing I saw some Psalm. I think it was this one. It seems to support God’s supernatural provision during the journey.

    7 When you, God, went out before your people, when you marched through the wilderness,
    8 the earth shook, the heavens poured down rain, before God, the One of Sinai, before God, the God of Israel.
    9 You gave abundant showers, O God; you refreshed your weary inheritance.
    10 Your people settled in it, and from your bounty, God, you provided for the poor. (Ps. 68:7-10 NIV) And also other scriptures even talk about God being a cloud before them which would have been helpful in the wilderness.

    Now how organized was the Exodus? I’m reminded that when they ate the Passover they were to do so ready to instantly travel. Someone had to think about this and cover the necessary steps to allow a quick organized departure.

    “This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD’s Passover.” (Exod. 12:11 NIV)

    And when they finally left Exodus 13:18 draws comparison to them leaving like an army. Organized. It is not that I studied all this myself. I just remember what was in the Collectors Edition. The scripture about how the Israelites were to eat in haste… may not have been in that video. And the scripture about Balaam and Balak, that one I remembered but I don’t think it was covered in the film. I ought to get some sleep soon.

    • Michele Rousseau

      February 12, 2022 at 12:17 pm

      Today, I happen to be reading Numbers 22, and truly the descriptions of the king of the Moabites, as you shared in your scripture passage above, conveys more than just an army of Israelites but a population as large as an entire nation! My KJV says in Numbers 22:5 that the king of the Moabites described Israel by saying: “Look, a people has come from Egypt. See, they cover the face of the earth, and are settling next to me!”

      I do ponder about their fear and dread of the Israelites because he witnessed what the Lord had done to the Amorites through the Israelites. So the reputation of God and the Israelites had caused a great fear in addition to the population size of Israel. Numbers 22:2-3 records “Now Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. And Moab was exceedingly afraid of the people because they were many, and Moab was sick with dread because of the children of Israel.”

      So, in addition to the enormous population size that they had become over 400 years since Jacob and his sons settled in Goshen, Egypt, and back then those generations had large families, they feared the reputation of the Israelites and their God.

      I agree with you that the population accounts in the Bible about the Israelites are realistic as more than an army size because each tribe was an army size. It must have been a population size of a nation. Pharaoh was threatened by the number of them. The king of Moab was threatened by the number of them. That seems to be a pattern.

      • Thomas Donlon

        February 13, 2022 at 10:30 am

        Hi Michele,

        These are the scriptures I was using to argue for a large population of Israelites which the Biblical text indicates.

        Exodus 23:30 points out that the Israelites needed to increase in population to fully control the promised land.

        So sometimes in a complex situation, much depends on which data we look at. Often in science some data points are discounted as “outliers.”

        Unfortunately sometimes we don’t successfully integrate all the arguments in a correct way. There was also a tremendous amount of discussion on this website in regards to how long the Exodus was … when was the starting point? In any case we can be biased and favor one scripture over another. At times God has allowed certain textual manuscripts to become corrupted in some way or another. People then have to decide what to believe as they see different manuscripts offering different numbers or using different words.

        Typically these differences are not of theological consequence, but we can extrapolate the importance to be of immense importance. And so sometimes people “major in the minors” or overlook the weightier matters of the law. Jesus had to point out to those criticizing his disciples for various things that even David ate food that the scripture designated was for the priests. (Yes I jumped from the idea of a flexible understanding of the text to a flexible understanding of the purpose of Biblical laws etc. Joab used a wise woman to put forth a difficult scenario to David by having a woman complain that her two sons got in a fight and one killed the other. The law demanded that the other son would be killed. But one could see other issues at work. Relatives wanted to seize her inheritance. What if the son who killed the other was more fighting in self-defense? The scripture didn’t say that… just bringing that up.)

        Another Proverb points out that the first to plead his case seems right, and then the question gets more complicated when the other side of the story is heard.

        A lot has been written by scholars on the problem(s) of some big numbers in the Old Testament. To me it probably isn’t of huge theological importance. Occasionally, the simplest way to interpret something isn’t the correct one. Job and his friends struggled with the problem of evil. The simplest argument was that God would not do any wrong and God was behind Job’s suffering therefore Job was being punished for sins he committed. Job’s friends made that argument and Job got frustrated with God and so on.

        Job’s friends, though zealous for God, were not making the best argument and didn’t fully understand the situation. I don’t adequately understand exactly what happened to account for every number that we read in scripture. What is “realistic” gets complicated when miracles are inserted. And the Exodus account in scripture in replete with miracles. David in Psalms talks about the plenty of rain the Israelites got till they entered the promised land. And then the manna situation is also amazing and I don’t know how all that transpired.

        So the whole scriptural account amazes me and we can take it at face value on faith and benefit from that understanding. We can also try to reconcile all the scriptures with each other and with a larger historical context and this requires even more knowledge. This can when things are finally pieced together the right way lead to an even deeper understanding of how God works and this requires much more humility on our part and understanding. It eventually leads to a better understanding of ancient history.

        However, we are so limited in time that God isn’t requiring each of us to have perfect understanding in all areas that relate to every part of scripture. We might get zealous for God at times but then fail to follow His instructions to treat everyone with respect. This is in a sense “compromising” See 1st Peter 3:15 as just place we are commanded to act such.

        You are not in any way that I see Michele being disrespectful but I’m just bringing out a reminder that it is necessary to not hyperfocus on details of scripture and then end up doing as so many Christians often do, which is get judgmental towards those who don’t see everything as we do. Gotta run

      • Deborah Hurn

        February 13, 2022 at 5:06 pm

        Hi Michele. The passages you quote do not give any absolute or objective measure of the population, just relative or subjective assessments.

        What would seem like a lot of people to ancient Moabite pastoralists and agriculturalists who need a large amount of land for subsistence would seem like a light occupation for us late modern urbanites, where our food is all grown out of our sight on huge tracts of land or intensive feedlots with advanced mechanisation.

        Note Moab’s concern re the Israelite herds eating all the grass:

        Num 22:4  And Moab said to the elders of Midian, "This horde will now lick up all that is around us, as an ox licks up the grass of the field."

        Moreover, these regions are all small sections of a small land. The plains of Moab where the Israelites camped for some months before crossing the Jordan is only 8 km wide, and not particularly fertile without irrigation. The Israelites had many more head of sheep and cattle than people per family, and they all had to graze in that area.

  • Deborah Hurn

    January 18, 2021 at 11:16 am

    HFS has featured this thread The population of the Israelites during Exodus for the present week starting 18th Jan 2021. This question was debated in the academic journals (mostly Vetus Testamentum and the Tyndale Bulletin) throughout 1998-2000. I think the “last man standing” was @colin.humphreys (Hi Colin). I will start this discussion off by posting a few introductory paragraphs from my article on this topic in 2001 and an 8k-word undergrad OT project (undergrad) in 2014. I am aware I am posting a lot on many threads… just trying to get things going here.

    According to the biblical accounts of the Exodus, the nation of Israel led a nomadic life between Egypt and Canaan for forty years, halting here and there (Numbers 33) for a greater or lesser period of time (Num 9:22), and of necessity adapting their manner of life to their wilderness environment (Deut 23:10-13). They travelled for the most part afoot (Num 11:21), with tents (Deut 1:33), and with covered wagons, each drawn by two oxen (Num 7:3), to carry their household goods (Ex 12:34-36), arms (Deut 1:41), raw materials, tools and implements of industry (Ex 39:33-43), and for partial transport of children, the elderly, and infirm (cp. Gen. 46:5). On quitting Egypt after two centuries of sedentary civilisation, they bore away much of their stock-in-trade and valuables as shown in the chapters which treat of the Sanctuary and its accessories (Ex 35:4-29). The company also included a great number of large and small cattle (Ex 12:38; Num 32:1) and beasts of burden (Num 16:15).

  • Deborah Hurn

    January 18, 2021 at 11:21 am

    The fighting men of the newly instituted nation were numbered at Mount Sinai just one year into their journey, recorded in Numbers chapter 1, and again at the end of forty years just before invading Canaan, recorded in Numbers 26. Both census lists comprise strikingly large numbers, generally recognised to lie outside of what is historically acceptable.1 The total number of adult Israelite men is given in both instances to be around 600,000 (Ex 12:37; Num 1:46; 26:51) which translates to at least 2.5 million people in total, allowing just three family members to each man.2 Many diverting calculations have been made to demonstrate the impossibility of such a population living and moving in the wildernesses of the Sinai, Negev and Transjordan. Such calculations produce astounding figures for the width and length of the travelling column, dimensions of the camp, pasture required for flocks and herds, fuel required for cooking, and comparable numbers of contemporary Egyptians, Canaanites, and peoples of the desert.3

    1 “In no sense do they bear even a tolerable relationship to what we otherwise know of the strength of military conscription in the ancient East.” Martin Noth, Numbers: A Commentary, trans. James D. Martin, The Old Testament Library (London, UK: SCM, 1968), 21.
    2 This is probably too conservative a figure seeing as wives, children, mothers, elderly fathers and grandparents, underage siblings, unmarried sisters and Levites must all be statistically ‘shared’ between the adult Israelite males.
    3 Other texts acknowledge that initially there were too few Israelites to occupy the Promised Land all at once (Ex 23:29; Deut 7:7, 22).

    Anyone want to provide some of those “diverting calculations”? (I lost marks for not giving any).

    • Deborah Hurn

      January 22, 2021 at 4:34 am

      Here is an attempt at a calculation:

      The final camp on the east side of the Jordan River is perhaps the single confined and measurable site of all, limited as it is by the steep slopes of the valley on the east, the Jordan riverbed on the west and the Dead Sea on the south. The more or less circular patch of ground in the southern Jordan Valley (the Plains of Moab), the ככר הירדן kikar ha-yarden, the actual part which you could camp on (not the marl dunes or the ‘thicket’ along the riverbed), is about 35 sq. km. or 30 million sq. m. That’s 15 sq. m. for each of 2 million people (a conservative estimate from 600k adult men between 20 and 60 [or only 50] yrs old). That’s a patch of ground about 4×4 m per person. Be aware that many wadis cross these plains, breaking up the surface and reducing its area of level ground.

      Num 33:48-49 NRSV  They set out from the mountains of Abarim and camped in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho;  (49)  they camped by the Jordan from Beth-jeshimoth as far as Abel-shittim in the plains of Moab.

      Now the area between Beth-jeshimoth and Abel-shittim in the southernmost section of the valley opposite Jericho is about half that size, 2×2 m, but my calculations are generous. Into this space must also fit “livestock in great numbers, both flocks and herds.” (Ex 12:38). How many? Where did they all graze/browse? The Israelites were there for at least a month mourning Moses and for some time before that while waiting out the Midianite campaign and Moses’ writing and farewell speeches. In a study of the sizes of nomadic settlements and their associated animal pens in the Negev and Sinai, Haiman calculated that every nomadic family needs a minimum of 25 head of cattle (but more sheep and goats) to provide enough protein (milk and meat) to sustain life.

      Haiman, Mordechai. “Early Bronze Age IV Settlement Pattern of the Negev and Sinai Deserts: View from Small Marginal Temporary Sites.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 303 (August 1996): 1–32.
      17] The average size of the animal pens was 74 sq. m. The estimated ration of cattle per family is about 25:1.
      [17] In Middle Eastern pastoral societies that subsist from herding, the size of herds is at least 100 head per family, and usually much larger. [refs] In the Sinai region, a Bedouin family needs a herd of 110 head of cattle to subsist entirely from herding. Most of the Bedouins in the Negev and Sinai do not have large enough herds to live on. The potential for pastoralism in the area is 5 per km2 per year. [ref] Thus, to [18] raise enough cattle to support a family, an immense grazing area would be required.... The limited potential for herding, scarcity of water sourves, and shortage of manpower to care for the large herds in the Negev--the herds must be spread over vast areas.... lead to the conclusion that during EB IV, pastoralism could not have been the main economic component.
      • Deborah Hurn

        January 22, 2021 at 4:45 am

        oops that was supposed to be “about 35 sq. km, or 35 million sq. m.” But it doesn’t much change the calculation of area per person.

        • Deborah Hurn

          January 22, 2021 at 8:50 am

          Also this phrase was careless, “about half that size, 2×2 m”… I should have written, “about half that size, reducing each person’s area to about 2.5×2.5 m” (i.e. about 7.5 sq. m.)

          Conclusion: If we really believe that the exodus from Egypt is history, the logistics must be addressed and a solution sought which does the least violence to the history of the text.

          • Deborah Hurn

            January 22, 2021 at 10:07 am

            and again, that should be 2.7×2.7 m (about 7.5 sq. m.)… not being able to edit after 3 min is frustrating.

            • Thomas Donlon

              January 22, 2021 at 5:25 pm

              As I was at work today I pondered a question that could prove in favor of a smaller population. I’m not even going to attempt a calculation. The manna that the Israelites collected each day. It was rather thin. Scripture compares it to frost. But yet it is also a bit like flakes. I’m just wondering if you have several million people what distance would people have to walk to gather this?

      • Thomas Donlon

        January 24, 2021 at 7:24 am

        Good point. Yet considering the text indicates they were sprawled out across several settlements there on the East side of the Jordon can be understood to confirm a larger population scenario. Would this be required for the smaller totals you are considering? But also don’t forget that Moses gave the Gadites, Reubenites and half tribe of Mannasah plenty of land to stay. This had to have been built up earlier. It was already planned see chapter 32 (the chapter before).

        31 The Gadites and Reubenites answered, “Your servants will do what the LORD has said.
        32 We will cross over before the LORD into Canaan armed, but the property we inherit will be on this side of the Jordan.”
        33 Then Moses gave to the Gadites, the Reubenites and the half-tribe of Manasseh son of Joseph the kingdom of Sihon king of the Amorites and the kingdom of Og king of Bashan– the whole land with its cities and the territory around them.
        34 The Gadites built up Dibon, Ataroth, Aroer,
        35 Atroth Shophan, Jazer, Jogbehah,
        36 Beth Nimrah and Beth Haran
        as fortified cities, and built pens for their flocks.
        37 And the Reubenites rebuilt Heshbon, Elealeh and Kiriathaim,
        38 as well as Nebo and Baal Meon (these names were changed) and Sibmah. They gave names to the cities they rebuilt.
        39 The descendants of Makir son of Manasseh went to Gilead, captured it and drove out the Amorites who were there.
        40 So Moses gave Gilead to the Makirites, the descendants of Manasseh, and they settled there.
        41 Jair, a descendant of Manasseh, captured their settlements and called them Havvoth Jair.
        42 And Nobah captured Kenath and its surrounding settlements and called it Nobah after himself.
        (Num. 32:31-42 NIV)

        I haven’t gone through all your calculations nor did I try to measure out the settlements you described them as squeezed into. And there is no guarantee the Bible described every arrangement that was made for all flocks and herds of the rest of the Israelites. Perhaps they made some other arrangements for their flocks, or paid the Reubenites and Gadites and half tribe of Mannaseh to watch them for a little while. The Bible doesn’t always get into the fine details of events. Anyways maybe you can consider this at least a partial answer to the space problem you discussed.

        • Thomas Donlon

          January 24, 2021 at 7:28 am

          Consider too what size labor force would be needed to rebuild all these cities before crossing over. And when they crossed over their population was given.

           The men of Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh crossed over, ready for battle, in front of the Israelites, as Moses had directed them.
          13 About forty thousand armed for battle crossed over before the LORD to the plains of Jericho for war.
          (Jos. 4:12-13 NIV)
        • Deborah Hurn

          January 24, 2021 at 11:44 am

          Thomas, I chose to measure the available ground in the southern Jordan Valley because this is one campsite where the space is physically limited. The final campground, known to the biblical authors as the Plains of Moab, is a circular region confined by the Jordan River on the west, the Dead Sea on the south, and the steep barren slopes of the Rift Valley on the east. The valley stretches to the north, but the narrative specifically states that the Israelites camped between two towns, Beth-jeshimoth close to the Dead Sea coast and Abel-shittim directly opposite Jericho, both tels in the southernmost part of the Jordan Valley.

          Num 33:48-49 NRSV  They set out from the mountains of Abarim and camped in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho;  (49)  they camped by the Jordan from Beth-jeshimoth as far as Abel-shittim in the plains of Moab.

          So these physical restrictions place firm limits on the space available to the Israelites for their final campsite before crossing the Jordan. Their large numbers of livestock (I gave referenced estimates for how many per family) could not have been grazed up on the plateau for this part of the journey… it is about 1000 m above the campsite, and they had already left the Mountains of Abarim. A generous calculation for a conservative 2 million people from 600k men-at-arms gives a space of 2.7×2.7 m for each person, exclusive of livestock which probably numbered many more than the people. This scenario allows for no ground broken up by wadis (in fact there is a lot), no public space or walkways, and no animal pens. For this and many other considerations of pasture, water, ablutions, communications, movement, historical comparisons, and textual anomalies (see all these explained in the thread), it is absolutely out of the question that there were 600k men-at-arms in the exodus. We may rightly argue for historical scriptures, but *something* has happened to the numbers.

          • Thomas Donlon

            January 25, 2021 at 2:17 am

            Hi Deborah,

            Using an area measurement tool with QGIS (a GIS program) I can easily find 123,000,000 square meters in the Plains of Moab where the israelites camped.

            <sup><font face=”Arial, serif”><font size=”2″>12</font></font></sup><font face=”Arial, serif”><font size=”2″> The men of Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh crossed over, ready for battle, in front of the Israelites, as Moses had directed them.</font></font>

            <sup><font face=”Arial, serif”><font size=”2″>13</font></font></sup><font face=”Arial, serif”><font size=”2″> About forty thousand armed for battle crossed over before the LORD to the plains of Jericho for war.</font></font>

            <font face=”Arial, serif”><font size=”2″>(Jos. 4:12-13 NIV)</font></font>

            <font face=”Arial, serif”><font size=”2″>The amount of them that crossed over though was less than the total amount of their fighting men listed in the census. (Perhaps they decided to serve in shifts.) </font></font>

            <font face=”Arial, serif”><font size=”2″>the clans of Reuben; those numbered were 43,730.</font></font><font face=”Arial, serif”><font size=”2″> </font></font><font face=”Arial, serif”><font size=”2″>(Num. 26:7 NIV)</font></font>

            <font face=”Arial, serif”><font size=”2″>the clans of Gad; those numbered were 40,500</font></font><font face=”Arial, serif”><font size=”2″> </font></font><font face=”Arial, serif”><font size=”2″>(Num. 26:18 NIV)</font></font>

            <font face=”Arial, serif”><font size=”2″>These were the clans of Manasseh; those numbered were 52,700.</font></font><font face=”Arial, serif”><font size=”2″> </font></font><font face=”Arial, serif”><font size=”2″>(Num. 26:34 NIV) </font></font><font face=”Arial, serif”><font size=”2″>(</font></font><font face=”Arial, serif”><font size=”2″>I estimate half of them lived East of the Jordon which would be</font></font><font face=”Arial, serif”><font size=”2″> 26,350. </font></font>

            <font face=”Arial, serif”><font size=”2″>Total of those on the far side of the Jordon. who could fi</font></font><font face=”Arial, serif”><font size=”2″>ght</font></font><font face=”Arial, serif”><font size=”2″> according to the census. Total number who could fight according to the census. 110,580. </font></font><font face=”Arial, serif”><font size=”2″>These people’s families </font></font><font face=”Arial, serif”><font size=”2″>and flocks needn’t have assembled to cross over.</font></font><font face=”Arial, serif”><font size=”2″> </font></font>

            Total amount of fighting men in Israel. <font face=”Arial, serif”><font size=”2″>601,730</font></font><font face=”Arial, serif”><font size=”2″> </font></font><font face=”Arial, serif”><font size=”2″>(Num. 26:51 NIV) subtract the </font></font><font face=”Arial, serif”><font size=”2″>far side soldiers who aren’t here listed as crossing over and we have an interim number of </font></font>491,150 men crossing over with their families. Using your formula to multiply the fighting men by 3 and 1/3 to get a total population we now have a subtotal of 1,637,167 people crossing over. . Add the Levites in this way. Now add Levite (male and females) who are over 1 month old. <font face=”Arial, serif”><font size=”2″>All the male Levites a month old or more numbered 23,000</font></font><font face=”Arial, serif”><font size=”2″> </font></font><font face=”Liberation Serif, serif”><font size=”3″>(Num. 26:62 NIV) and the female number is approximately similar. so a total of 46,000 Levites are also crossing over.</font></font>

            <font face=”Liberation Serif, serif”><font size=”3″>Add the Levites into the subtotal crossing over. and now we have 1,683,167. Now add in the males from Reuben, Gad and ½ of Mannaseh (who are traveling without their families).</font></font>

            <font face=”Arial, serif”><font size=”2″>The men of Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh crossed over, ready for battle, in front of the Israelites, as Moses had directed them.</font></font><sup><font face=”Arial, serif”><font size=”2″>13</font></font></sup><font face=”Arial, serif”><font size=”2″> About forty thousand armed for battle crossed over before the LORD to the plains of Jericho for war.</font></font>

            <font face=”Arial, serif”><font size=”2″>(Jos. 4:12-13 NIV)</font></font>

            Now we have a total using your ratios (as I understand them) of 1,723,167 by the Jordon getting ready to cross over.

            Now as far as calculating the amount of square meters on the Plain of Moab. It is a tough calculating because we are guessing. Is the Bible giving a general area, or is this a specific line? I didn’t have trouble calculating a hundred million square meters by using an area select tool in QGIS selecting the flat area of the plain. Is there some slight possibility I’m misusing a projection and the program is miscalculating meters? And if so would that yield more meters on the plain or less? Now I calculate 58 meters per person is available.

            I didn’t measure too close to the Jordon river, I figured it was at flood stage. I don’t know how far back that is though. On the other hand the wadis you mentioned, sheep and animal can graze in them. It might just be nice too because they might get to drink and if it was wetter and rain was plentiful there will be a lot to eat there. But I didn’t select the Wadis in the measurement. Now with Google Earth Pro I looked extensively for quite a while at the hills that slope up to the plateau pondering how steep it was. I think much of it is quite suitable for grazing, especially it it was wetter then. There still remains visible bushes. Some spots of grass. There are a lot of interesting looking features on the hills from terrain photos that I can see. I think I can see some tank embankments where Jordon might have erected earthworks to protect their tanks prior to the six day war or whatever wars Jordon fought Israel in. There might be remains of constructed animal pens. These could be just geological features. I’m probably looking at a variety of features that I don’t understand. I’m not saying they did graze animals up on the slopes. Now I wouldn’t want to go racing chariots around on those hills but there is nothing or very little that is excessively steep. But it seems suitable to a shepherd and sheep. Part of it is too steep for modern farming methods (and certianly too rocky). I compared the slope to the West side of the Dead Sea cliffs just to make sure I wasn’t misinterpreting cliffs as gentle hills. Tall al Hammam is being excavated and is linked by archaeologists to Abel Shittim. It is on a fairly steep slope probably chosen as being more defensible.

            It is possible that the area the Israelites camped in was a tiny area within this (if a lesser population model is correct), but the text seems to indicate they were spread out. In doing my measurements I could have selected a larger area on the flatland or larger areas in the sloping region that now have houses. But not wanting to go farther than the locations laid out in the Bible I constrained the measurements to just roughly pick out the available area for camping that is level enough to be under cultivation now. Still I guess when you add in all the flocks and herds along with the people that I suppose would be passing over, the area could be “cozy.” Now I’m not sure if families with flocks tended to keep the animals away from the camp. I suppose they would. In that case they could be camping and have some family members doing a rotating watch of the flocks that are just hanging out grazing in adjacent lands. How far they would want to be from the others—I don’t know. A lot might depend on the resources of the land. Sometimes the Bible notes quarreling between herdsmen arises. Isaac and Abimelich?. Abraham and Lot. Jacob and Esau stayed distant scripture citing grazing concerns. So with the vast amounts of herds and flocks they would have needed good rain conditions which the Bible says God provided.

            I’ll keep an open mind. Maybe I somehow messed up a calculation. I try not to set the bar too low before I start believing scribal errors have occurred. I know they have. Certain scriptures too in the New Testament are hard to follow and some parts I think are later additions. Usually you can see that in the manuscript evidence.

            So if there are errors and substantial rewriting of some events in the Pentateuch due to faded manuscripts I can’t vouch for that. I agree what you said about a missing age is extremely apparent. (Saul’s age?)

            One reason people have wanted to believe the Exodus total was smaller
            was because they couldn’t find a large population in Egypt. I now
            believe the land could have supported a large population. Still, there are indications settlements in the land of Goshen could have provided additional population centers for the Israelites. Internal scriptural evidence suggests fears about the Israelites being numerous. Efforts to kill the boys in Egypt and efforts to have Balaam bring God’s curse on them were undertaken because of that fear.

            If I’m wrong OK. It won’t be the first time. This can be a pear-reviewed Discussion comment. I submit this for considerations, critique and feedback.

            • Thomas Donlon

              January 25, 2021 at 2:30 am

              The fonts were normal in the compose field. Then when posted the html tags showed up and the varied fonts disappeared. I wasn’t trying to be fancy with the fonts. I just composed the post in another program and imported the scriptures from yet another program.

            • Thomas Donlon

              January 25, 2021 at 2:52 am

              And I just used the area measurement tool in Google Earth. I was pushing it going a bit North of Abel Shittim to get 75,000,000 square meters. And if I stuck within the confines I described in the earlier post (the one with the bad formatting, and I couldn’t complete my edit it time) I got in the 60,000,000 square meter range. Well the more confined measurement gives 35 square meters per person using Google Earth. I’m going to assume I messed up with QGIS since I recall hearing that you have to be careful to get the settings right. Oh well, my post above was such a mess I doubt many will read it, and it probably isn’t worth fixing it and duplicating it and taking up more space here.

            • Deborah Hurn

              January 25, 2021 at 6:48 am

              Thomas, you can ask the admin (Luke on live chat) to delete your post if you wish.

              Google Earth measurements of Tall as-Sultan (Jericho)

              perimeter: 855 m

              area: 4.2 ha (10.4 ac)

              I have a ref somewhere (can’t find it presently) that says the population of ancient Jericho was about 1200 people.

              The 31 city-states whose kings Joshua overcame (Josh 12:7-24) have tels of comparable size (some smaller, some larger): so the Canaanite population at the time of the Conquest was maybe 50k? I know some archaeologists say 150k. But on the scale we are debating (2 million Israelites), it doesn’t affect the disparity much.

              Deu_4:38  To drive out nations from before thee greater and mightier than thou art, to bring thee in, to give thee their land for an inheritance, as it is this day.
              Deu_7:1 When the LORD thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou;
              Deu_9:1 Hear, O Israel: Thou art to pass over Jordan this day, to go in to possess nations greater and mightier than thyself, cities great and fenced up to heaven,
              Deu_11:23 Then will the LORD drive out all these nations from before you, and ye shall possess greater nations and mightier than yourselves.
            • Deborah Hurn

              January 25, 2021 at 7:07 am

              I found some old notes, not properly formatted, but I will italicise the in-text refs :

              City sizes: Arad, at the time of its destruction, The lower (Canaanite) city of Arad was only destroyed once, during Early Bronze Age II. A series of small Iron Age fortresses were later built on the upper part of the tel. was a big city by Canaanite standards ca. 100 dunams or 25 acres. Early Arad II, Amiran R. and Ilan O., p. 1 (The Israel Exploration Society, 1996). and the only large city in the Negev at the time, Arad, The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, Stern E. ed., p. 80 (The Israel Exploration Society, 1993). with an estimated population of 2000-3000 people. Amiran, p. 1; or an estimate of 1800-2250 people, Living on the Fringe, Finkelstein I., p. 75 (Sheffield Academic Press, 1995). The king of Arad would not have marched his army (of only hundreds of men, not thousands) against the Israelites at Mount Hor if the forces were so hopelessly mismatched (21:1-3, 33:40). The pear-shaped tel of Old Testament Jericho is about 400 m. from N to S and 200 m. wide. Jericho, Illustrated Bible Dictionary, p. 748 (Inter-varsity Press, 1988). Covering an area of about 10 acres, its population also could not have exceeded 2000 people. NIV Atlas of the Bible, Rasmussen C. G., p. 93 (Zondervan, 1989). All the Israelite men of war had to march around the city (Josh 6:3-4). If about 600 000 men marched 10 abreast around a 2 km. route (out of bow shot), the column would stretch for at least 30 km, requiring the leading men to ring Jericho about 15 times before the last rows started marching. Alternatively, if 600 000 men assembled along a 2 km. ring-line, they would stand 150 abreast.

              I am aware there are issues of dating… Arad, for example, was destroyed only once at the end of the Early Bronze Age and was never rebuilt (except for a series of Iron Age forts on the ‘citadel’). Nonetheless, these city sizes are an indication of the population in biblical times.

            • Deborah Hurn

              January 25, 2021 at 2:50 am

              Thomas, just use the polygon function in Google Earth Pro and trace the ‘green’ area of the southern Jordan Valley. The Lisan marl dunes and the thicket in the Jordan riverbed are not habitable. The box that is visible as you trace the polygon will give you the area in various measures, sq. miles, sq. km, sq. m. Then halve it, because Abel-Shittim is only about halfway N in this region relative to the Dead Sea and Jericho. The modern-day agricultural fields more or less correspond to the level ground. Bear in mind this ‘green’ area is irrigated… the natural vegetation would be scrub, mostly sparse. The Arabah in Deut 1:1 and elsewhere is called “midbar” (wilderness).

              But besides all this, the people were required to exit the camp for ablutions. That is a 20 km walk W-E and or 15 km N-S. How can anyone walk twice a day or more to the edge of a camp of 2 million people no matter how tightly you pack them? Seriously.

    • Deborah Hurn

      January 25, 2021 at 7:19 pm

      This is a section out of my earlier 2001 article. I didn’t carry most of these calculations over to my 2014 OT project.

      <i style=”font-family: inherit; font-size: inherit;”>How many millions?

      The present text records that about 600 000 armed Israelite men left Egypt (Ex. 12:37). This has often been interpreted to project a total population of about 2 million people. Such a projection, however, is too conservative, for it allows only one wife and one child for each man over 20 years (and presumably less than 50 years).1 No provision is made in this figure for elderly parents, unmarried sisters, underage brothers,2 men unfit for battle, or Levites who were not numbered among the men-at-arms (Nu. 1:47). It is difficult to estimate the average number of dependents to each armed man, for the demography of Israel was unique even for the time. The rate of polygamy, the average number of children to each union and the life expectancy at the time of the Exodus is uncertain. It is clear, however, that two dependents are too few, and this can be demonstrated by some simple calculations on extended families.

      Elderly parents and underage siblings are statistically ‘shared’ by all the men of fighting age in the family, whereas married sisters and their children should be counted as dependents in their husbands’ families. Calculations on the author’s extended family at present give five ‘fighting men’ and twenty-three dependents, or one ‘soldier’ to every 4∙6 civilians. This sample ratio, when applied to about 600 000 men-at-arms, would raise the possible total of Israelites to 3 360 000. The tribe of Levi would further add to the size of the company, raising the total towards 4 million people.

      In the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel’s population of 2 million yielded just 264 000 soldiers,3 or one soldier to every 6·6 civilians. This nation requires most citizens between 17 and 20 years to serve in the army, and thereafter train in the reserves for one month every year to the age of 45, giving active service during war. Female soldiers carry out a large proportion of the essential non-combatant duties, training, and communications.

      1. The various orders of Levites served only from 20-50 years old (Num 8:24-25, cp. 4:3, 1 Chr 23:24). The men that were 20 years old at the time of the Exodus were dead by the age of 60, so the most likely age to cease serving in the army would have been the age of 50.

      2. Those over the age of 20 years who were engaged or recently married were also exempt from conscription (Deut 20:7, 24:5).

      3. The Illustrated Atlas of Jewish Civilisation, 3000 Years of History, Bacon J., Gilbert M., p. 203 (Houghton Mifflin, 1990).

  • Thomas Donlon

    January 18, 2021 at 5:42 pm

    I also wonder if there is anything to be learned from this text. The population of the Israelites leaving Egypt might have some bearing on the size of the army that would be thought necessary to recapture the Israelites prior to the crossing of the Yam Suph.

    5 When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds about them and said, "What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services!"
    6 So he had his chariot made ready and took his army with him.
    7 He took six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them.
    8 The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, so that he pursued the Israelites, (Exod. 14:5-8 NIV)

    I’m not sure what “six hundred of the best chariots” means. How many total of those chariots were there that were left behind? Are they an elite fighting unit? And why wasn’t a number given for “along with all the other chariots.” Were there too many to count? Did they just hastily put this force together and chase them in such an unorganized manner that they never counted those chariots? Or rather to keep the account brief and manageable the author just focused on the elite force?

    Anyways two thoughts. If a small group left Egypt the motivation to recapture their slaves would have been less. A huge workforce that was doing an incredible amount of labor leaving would be a great loss and worth fighting harder to retain. During the American Civil War the South fought very hard to keep their immense slave force. If the loss of slave labor during the Civil War would have been minimal it is unlikely the South would have fought so hard to succeed from the Union. Scripture indicates the people advising Pharaoh were already telling him “Egypt is ruined” during the plagues. In verse 5 above it indicates that it wasn’t just Pharaoh but also all his officials that were lamenting the loss of what was apparently a very sizable labor force. The text doesn’t say how many chariots were in Egypt “but all the other chariots” sounds like a substantial force was deployed to recapture a sizeable group of runaway slaves as they seen it. They weren’t angry with the slaves for leaving because they realized they had sent them out. “What have we done?” they asked. But, I used the term “runaway slaves” just to point out those fleeing were not experienced soldiers. I am sure they were still strong, but they weren’t skilled soldiers and even if they obtained some weapons as they left Egypt they probably weren’t skilled in using them. This is further bore out that when they later saw the Egyptian army, they were in a panic — they weren’t planning battle activity. “They were terrified.” Probably you want to put together the largest force you could muster if you wanted to recapture millions of people.

    I think Manfred Bietak stated in the original Patterns of Evidence film that Avaris had some 35,000 people or so as far as he could determine. And John B. thought there were 20 other sites throughout the region, not excavated. And then you got other things like a five thousand person slave camp further south which was suddenly abandoned with all the stuff left at the site. Did the Egyptians panic and just force them to leave immediately for fear they would all die? Scripture indicates that. I’m seeing some indications of great departures from Egypt. And some scripture and David Rohl’s new chronology suggests the destruction of Egypt lasted a long time and was followed by the Hyskos invasion.

    Scripture indicates me to me that the loss of an immense slave force would have been seen as a great loss to the Egyptians (a loss they would struggle to prevent) and subsequently Egypt would have been greatly weakened. How big of a slave loss would it have to have been to make the Egyptians forget they all just lost their first born sons?

  • Stuart Anderson

    January 18, 2021 at 9:53 pm

    What seems impossible to mere humans is not impossible for God. The Almighty God is more than able to ensure the Israelites left and traveled to Canaan, no matter how large or small the total population was. Since the Bible is inerrant and historically accurate you have to go with what the Bible says; not what human commentators who weren’t there say. What Thomas pointed out above (taking in account all that the scriptures say) an number of around 1,500,000 Israelites and mixed multitude is not unreasonable. The God that ensured their clothes and sandals did not wear out was well able to feed and ensure the correct traveling conditions for Israel, both the people and their flocks.

    • Deborah Hurn

      January 18, 2021 at 10:50 pm

      Hi Stuart. See below re the logistics of living, travelling, and communicating as a group. I fully recognise that all things are possible with God. Nonetheless, the people were not teleported through the wilderness… they walked every step, their livestock ate only the vegetation of the semi-arid Central Sinai, the people burned for fuel only the scanty wood that grows there also. This severely limits the exodus population, even under optimal conditions for the region.

      • Stuart Anderson

        January 29, 2021 at 9:42 am

        It is an assumption that the area about 3500 years ago was the same as conditions today. Look at the description of the present area of Sodom and Gomorrah at the time of Abraham and Lot. Sure isn’t like that today.


        • Deborah Hurn

          January 29, 2021 at 10:15 am

          Stuart, the ancient conditions of an area are reflected in the nature and distribution of archaeological remains. The walled cities of Canaan-Israel do not extend further south than the Beersheba Valley. This indicates that there was not enough rain for perennial agriculture beyond this point. There are scattered semi-nomadic remains in the Central and Southern Negev up until the Intermediate Bronze Age (incl.), but for some centuries after that (throughout the Middle and Late Bronze Ages and up to the Iron Age II) there is no evidence of human habitation in the southern wildernesses. For sure, if there was plenty of water and good vegetation, there would have been settlements with structures, as there are in the north.

          Take care that you do not forget the LORD your God.... who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. (Deu 8:11-16 NRSV)

  • Deborah Hurn

    January 18, 2021 at 10:41 pm

    The incidents and details of the Exodus, however, present quite a different picture: Israel in the wilderness is a compact and integrated camp, pitched on this spot or that (Ex 13:20), between this place and that (Ex 14:2), on this plain, or in that valley, or by that mountain (Num 33:37, 50; Deut 3:29). It is a gated camp (Ex 32:26) whose tents are pitched to be always within sight and hearing of a centrally situated Sanctuary (Ex 33:7-10; Num 10:3-7); a camp where every incident is at once noted (Lev. 24:10-14, Num 15:32-36, 25:6-8), and from which everyone must exit for daily ablutions (Deut 23:12-3).4 Far from extending over vast tracts of territory, the camp can be moved one, two, or more days’ journey (Num 9:17-22), every tribe marching in its pre-arranged place and order (Numbers 2). It is a camp where one magistrate can attend to its affairs (Ex 18:13-16), where the presence of seventy palm trees and twelve springs of water is worth noting (Ex 15:27) and where the issue of a battle with a local people can remain in doubt (Ex 17:8-13). Moreover, towards the end of the forty years, the people are sufficiently small in number to march along a highway and find adequate water supply in the wells (Num 20:17-19).

    4 In addition to the above logistical limitations, consider that Moses sets up a single bronze serpent on a pole, to which snake-bite victims throughout the camp can look for relief (Num 21:8,9).
  • Deborah Hurn

    January 18, 2021 at 11:09 pm

    And this is the last paragraph of my 2014 OT project intro:

    It is evident from such circumstantial details that the census figures, if they were intended to represent history, are no longer in their original form. As early as 1906, Petrie insisted that the Israelite population at Exodus could not have been much more than 5000 people, basing his estimate on the population of the Sinai Peninsula in his time, and the agricultural facility of the eastern margin of the Nile Delta where Israel resided before the Exodus.5 Nonetheless, many scholars have wrestled with the large figures in Numbers (and elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible), attempting to discover some remnant of historical record, and hypothesising as to how and why they became so impossible.

    5 Citing Baedeker’s handbook for travellers, and agricultural and Egyptian population records “before the present European organisation”. W. M. Flinders Petrie, Researches in Sinai (New York: Dutton, 1906), 207–9,; Egypt and Israel (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1911), 45,
  • Kelvin Smith

    January 19, 2021 at 11:54 am

    A crucial question is whether the word translated as “thousand” really means 1000. There’s a strong case to make that it doesn’t. “The New Bible Commentary: Revised,” an evangelical commentary, notes that the same term means “family” in Judges 6:15 and elsewhere, and that with different vowels (remember, the original Hebrew was consonants only) can mean “captain.” So Numbers 1:20 might then mean 46 captains, 500 men in its original form. The total in 1:46 would be an incorrect summation by the compiler, working off lists he misunderstood, and the total might more accurately be 5550 men led by 598 captains, giving a total community size of perhaps 20-40,000. (I don’t know Hebrew, so it’s possible that the numbers divide up between captains and men a bit differently, but this would be in the ballpark.)

    That would seem to fit better with the chariots Pharaoh musters, with the available water, space, and other logistics issues in the wilderness, with the fact that they couldn’t just overwhelm Jericho or the other cities of Canaan, and with the undoubtedly sub-million size of the nation in the ensuing years when they settle in the land and are often under the subjugation of other nations. It wouldn’t seem likely that the nation would suffer a massive population collapse just after arriving in the land of milk and honey.

    • Thomas Donlon

      January 24, 2021 at 9:23 am

      Hi Kelvin. I’m looking into some of these questions too. Right now I’m pondering Numbers 31 where God told Moses to send out 1,000 men from each of the twelve tribes of Israel to get vengeance on the Midianites for getting the Israelities into idolatry. The tribes of course would send out their best, most eager fighters. And the leaders were surprised and grateful that all their soldiers returned. There is multiple uses of the word thousands in that chapter.

      I’m not sure we know how many chariots Pharaoh sent out. You felt the number he sent out was low.

      So he had his chariot made ready and took his army with him. He took six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them. (Exod. 14:6-7 NIV)

      I don’t believe Pharaoh thought he was going to need All his best chariots. Since he was just overtaking escaped slaves (not a trained army) the intimidation factor was all he needed. “all the other chariots of Egypt” doesn’t sound like he was skimping in numbers though.

      As for Jericho, walls are real problems. The film Patterns of Evidence: Exodus explains the defenses of the city. Also the book by the same name PATTERNS OF EVIDENCE EXODUS by Timothy P Mahoney with Steven Law has this to say about the defenses of Jericho p 237.

      Excavators found that Jericho was protected by a brilliant defensive system. At is base, there was a stone retaining wall more than 15 feet high with a defensive extension wall of mudbricks rising still higher. Beyond this, there was the rampart, a steep slope covered with a slick surface of white plaster, where attackers would have been exposed to arrows and slings and stones from above. At the top of this rampart was the main city wall, also made of mudbricks. The main city wall was more than 25 feet high and 10 feet thick.

      And then there is the problem you saw dealing with populations being subjected by other populations. The British at one time controlled India. Alexander the Great had a much smaller army than Darius of Persia and yet he defeated them. The Bible relates a reason for Israel being made subject to oppressors. God’s will. War is a strange thing. Even people who don’t believe in God probably realize the truth of Ecclesiastes 9:11. The battle is truly not always to the strong.

      We can keep trying to understand scripture and certainly numbers aren’t always precise or easy to understand. Some numbers at times, I don’t feel are always meant to be taken literally. For example a frequent manner of expression in the Bible is the phrase “ten times” which was used by Job, Jacob, God and Nehemiah. And sometimes when a phrase is used like “for x (number) or (x +1)” whether dealing with sins or things God hates the phrase indicates an open ended number of problems. It doesn’t mean God only hates six no seven things. It indicates that this is all I’m going to mention now, and that the person could go on. David conducted a census. One scripture says 470,000 (men who could fight) in Judah another scripture mentioning the same census said there were 500,000 in Judah. The number for Israel given in the same census varied even more. The number 40 is often used in the Bible. I’m not going to say that every time a judge is said to have reigned 40 years, that the number is ultra precise. Sometimes it might be. I just approach some of these questions with caution and humility.

  • Thomas Donlon

    January 20, 2021 at 7:36 pm

    I came across a few more scriptures that argue for a large number of Israelites during the Exodus and a scripture or two that might suggest a moderate number.

    Just so I can direct the reader into the word of God, I’ll just relay the incidents from memory and let the reader look up scriptures as led by God. Also, people can add their own thoughts as appropriate.

    Moses was given advice my Jethro to get other people to help him solve the numerous disputes the children of Israel had. He advised they get people to decide or judge issues by appointing people over smaller groups to solve their disputes and Moses could just handle the difficult cases. At yet another time Moses complained about dealing with all the people and God took some of the spirit that was on Moses and gave it to 70 other men so they could share his load. As the size of the population is larger this is needed.

    Another time the people cried out meat and God promised that he would give them meat for a whole month. Moses was bewildered and stated there were some 600,000 men and asked if flocks and herds or all the fish in the ocean were caught if they would yet have enough. God sent a bunch of tired quail who covered the camp and also flocked above ground in other directions for the distance of a day’s walk. I might suggest this indicates a lot of food for a lot of people.

    God sent spies into the promised land. From what I am reading they were concerned about the people there being stronger, saying they felt like grasshoppers compared to the inhabitants of the land. I didn’t see a concern about being outnumbered. The tall walls also caused them concern.

    Yet, there seemed to be a potential problem with a high number. In addition to some census’s being taken for the fighting men, different census’s were taken of the Levites and the firstborn of Israel. These numbers were somewhere around 20,000. The problem is the ratio for all fighting men is about 30 times higher.

    One way to account for it is to think of the Egyptian genocide policy against males being born. A woman who just gave birth to her first male, might not have extensive resources to hide her son. She is exhausted from giving birth, the Egyptians come and kill the newborn. The woman later though gives birth to more children and soon she has a daughter or two or three. Now the woman gives birth to a son. The daughters though and her friends might keep an eye out for Egyptians. They see the Egyptians coming and do a quick temporary switch with some other girl baby that was recently born smear a bit of blood on it and show the Egyptians a girl baby. Remember it was Moses’s sister that was keeping an eye on Moses when he was floating among the reeds. Most adults probably aren’t going to stick their neck out for someone else’s kid. But a girl will look out for a baby brother as did Miriam. The answer I gave is likely weird. But I think girls will go through some effort to confuse the Egyptians and keep their younger baby brothers alive. I’m not pretending to know all the answers, but it appears that over time the efforts to keep the Israelite males alive would have become very well planned out. We have Biblical evidence of midwives explaining to Pharaoh why they couldn’t get there in time to kill the baby boys. The story of Moses birth shows the Egyptians were serious about carrying out Pharaoh’s orders to kill the baby boys. Evidence of more females being buried later in life shows that the Egyptian policy was partly successful. Moses sister watching over Moses and asking Pharaoh’s daughter if she should get a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby boy shows the strong family preservation instinct that will only increase as the number of daughters in a family increase.

    When the cloud settled over the tabernacle Moses said to the Lord, literally “Return oh Lord to the ten thousand thousands of Israel. Now there are other translations of the words. So hyperbole or other translations are possible. But so are the numbers which may literally be ten millions.

    I’ve only given this some thought today. Other people who are familiar with the scriptures might have some thoughts to share too.

    Some explanations are given for Manna. What though if it is supernaturally produced or produced in some way that hasn’t been duplicated in history? Again, I’m not arguing for a shut and closed case. God’s word might make it so, but still it would be good to be able to explain some things to those who have doubts about God’s word.

  • Deborah Hurn

    January 21, 2021 at 12:10 am

    Just copy-pasting some other paragraphs (this was part of an abstract):

    The census figures of Numbers 1 and 26 appear in totals of אֶלֶף ‘thousands’ and מֵאוֹת ‘hundreds’ for each of twelve tribes, and combine these into national totals for the population at either end of the wilderness era. The tribe of Levi is numbered separately for the cultic service of the Sanctuary and for the redemption of the firstborn sons of Israel. Some commentators dismiss the historical value of the texts on account of the exorbitant numbers, whilst others examine and interpret the figures in order to arrive at more credible totals ranging from 140,000 downwards. These theories usually involve translating אֶלֶף ‘thousand’ to mean ‘captain’, ‘troop’, or ‘family’, and taking the מֵאוֹת ‘hundreds’ figures to indicate ‘fighting units’ or ‘men-at-arms’. Nearly all the theorists are perplexed by the disproportion in size between Levi and the other twelve tribes, and the ratio of firstborn sons to the national population. Any revision of the census figures must allege that the national and firstborn totals have been amended by copyists.

  • Deborah Hurn

    January 21, 2021 at 12:15 am


    The First Census

    By the time of the Exodus, the twelve tribes of Israel, named for the twelve sons of Jacob, had become thirteen tribes with the dividing of Joseph’s tribe into two, named for his sons Ephraim and Manasseh. The number of males over twenty years in each of twelve tribes are added together to produce national totals of 603,550 in the first census (Num 1:46) and 601,730 in the second (Num 26:51). Levi as the priestly tribe exempt from army duty is not listed with the other tribes in chapter 1 but is numbered for the purpose of ‘redeeming’ all the firstborn Israelite males (Num 3:12, 41). The allocation of priestly duties by ‘clan’, the number of males over one month old in each clan, and a tribal total of the clan subtotals, all appear in chapters 3-4.

  • Deborah Hurn

    January 21, 2021 at 12:18 am

    The Second Census

    The second census after the forty years’ Wanderings, recorded in Numbers 26, is not for military purposes but with a view to inheritance; the soon-to-be-conquered land of Canaan will be divided amongst the tribes according to the number of their “names” (Num 26:52-4). This time, therefore, the clans of each of the twelve tribes are named, some to the third generation, and these closely correspond to the names of those who entered Egypt in Genesis 46. 6 The Levite clans in the second census are listed after the national total of the other tribes “because there was no inheritance given them among the sons of Israel.” (Num 26:57-62 MKJV). Later clarification states that the Levites would be given cities in the territories of other tribes but no land of their own (Num 35:1-8). As before, all Levite males over one month old are “enrolled” (NRSV).

    6 Seven of the thirteen tribes are traced for three generations, but not comprehensively. Francis I. Andersen, “Israelite Kinship Terminology and Social Structure,” Bible Translator (Ja, Jl Technical Papers) 20, no. 1 (January 1, 1969): 35. Dathan’s and Abiram’s line (to the fourth generation of Levi) and Zelophehad’s line (to the fifth generation of Manasseh) are most likely included to make examples of those who lost or gained inheritance.
  • Deborah Hurn

    January 21, 2021 at 12:21 am


    Despite an orderly progression, both census accounts have some mathematical oddities: most obviously that all tribal totals and clan subtotals appear in round hundreds even though supposedly accounting for every male over a certain age.7 Flinders Petrie was the first modern commentator to note that the distribution of the ‘hundreds’ digits appears contrived. “There is not a single round thousand, there is not a single 100, 800, or 900; and the greater part of the numbers fall on 400 or 500”.8 These round hundreds and their unexpected concentration between 200 and 700 suggests the totals are not random as might be expected for a thorough census.

    7 Only the totals for Gad in Numbers 1, Reuben in Numbers 26, and two Levite clans in Numbers 4 are rounded not to hundreds but tens.

    8 Researches in Sinai, 210. The figures of 22,000 Levite males in the first census and 23,000 in the second are the only tribal totals given in round thousands (Num 3:39; 26:62).

    • Thomas Donlon

      January 21, 2021 at 1:44 am

      Hi Deborah. [This comment I’m making might be way to long and unedited and redundant, repetitive etc… so most people might just want to skip reading all this.] If these numbers have another meaning, God intended for us to find it out. I believe there was a reason that Jesus’ genealogy (which had its oddities too) was expressly said to be in groups of 14 generations. Critics have run roughshod over Jesus’s two genealogies but because Matthew was explicitly pointing out the groups of 14 generations I understand the author was pointing something out. With Jesus genealogies either Matthew was pointing out that God likes 14’s or that there is some genre meaning. I’m going with the second option there because of how seven’s have been used throughout scripture.

      Perhaps God saw through time that we wouldn’t believe the numbers and staggered them in such a way that we could rationalize around them so it wouldn’t be a stumbling block for our faith (Like in Adam’s genealogical line). Maybe some rounding was going on. Maybe it was an artifact of the way the census was conducted and some rounding and estimating was going on as the people were being gathered in groups and counted. I’m probably wrong in all these guesses. I’ll give it more thought but I’m not expecting to fully understand it, though I hope I will. But even if I do end up understanding it who will believe my correct interpretation? As for now, I’ll just assume the numbers are in the ballpark. How many Israelites can live off the land if they do cooking with wood? Scripture says some Israelites boiled manna for example. How much wood was available and how fast could it grow back?

      How do we read what you pointed out? Is God’s purpose for us to focus on the message of the story rather than using specific numbers to draw conclusions? Do people just have more favorable impression to these numbers rather than numbers such as 666? or 192,129? The rounded numbers makes for easier reading. I know I don’t “get it” but I remember what Paul said. “The foolishness of God is wiser by far than man is.” At this point I know certain numbers aren’t precise. If the Israelites were being taxed as they took the census, some might have skipped out for that reason. Some may have been sick and not assembled. Maybe the numbers were the way the counter wanted to convey “this is a round number.”

      So certainly there was a reason the numbers were counted the way they were. I’m not prepared at this time to think the population was substantially less. Doing so would require me shifting my understanding of the exchange Balaam and Barak had. Would require some other explanation of the total tax collected from each person. If you can locate any other parallel uses of number genre that utilize some aspect of the same pattern to convey a specific message I’ll look at it. I’m familiar with certain patterns of ages of Adam’s line through Noah and then afterward. But this seems different than that.

      I appreciate you bringing it up. Now it is on my radar and as I come across other scriptures I’ll try look for parallels that might shed some light on the matter. Or maybe it is nothing other than a stylistic way of rounding numbers with a particular meaning or internal pointer showing this to be a rough number. Or again this is just an artifact of the counting method that I don’t understand.

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