MemberJanuary 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).