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

  • Thomas Donlon

    January 22, 2021 at 12:24 am

    Hi Deborah, you did a good job showing some examples of corrupted number transmissions in the Old Testament. And perplexities remain that won’t be ironed out to everyone’s satisfaction. Yet we still have non numerical passages that support very large numbers of Israelities. Here is another one. This one is the text from Exodus 1:7-14 NIV version.

     but the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them. Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. "Look," he said to his people, "the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country." So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites and worked them ruthlessly. They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly. 

    “exceedingly fruitful” “multiplied greatly” “increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them” “far too numerous for us” “but the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread” “the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites”

    Yet it turned out to be a love-hate relationship because they came to rely on their slave labor. Key words above though were “the land was filled with them” and then still they kept on growing “they multiplied and spread.” They apparently were so many they were being sent off to other slave camps around the country. It went from filling the land to spreading and multiplying into other areas. The lower population numbers espoused make no sense to me in light of all this.

    We might just be stuck with a certain amount of bewilderment about things that happened 3,000 years or so ago. (I’m picking a number to show the great time that elapsed… I’m not espousing this number to be accurate within any particular amount of hundreds of years.) People have a hard time reconstructing the past and we have the Bible to help us.

    The Bible itself relates that it is very hard to know the past. “

    Is there anything of which one can say, "Look! This is something new"? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.
    No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them. (Eccl. 1:10-11 NIV)

    Yet the Bible helps us greatly to understand the past. As we read the Bible from a Christian perspective we understand

    16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17 NIV)

    The Historical Faith Society presses up against the edge of what can be known when it comes to some elements of Bible History. Different people browse these forums with different objectives. As we discuss some complex issues and do so respectfully and with love and respect for each other and the years of diligent research that we as parts of the body of Christ have done in the areas he has gifted us we need to occasionally glance at the goalposts and the game plan laid out by the creator who made us.

    On the sidelines there are areas that the Apostle Paul warned us against crossing into.

    NIV Romans 14:1 Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. (Rom. 14:1 NIV)

    We aren’t quarreling and we aren’t anywhere near quarreling. Yet we are nicely discussing some matters than ARE in dispute. Some people are looking into the Historical Faith Society as a place to have “a nice ride” for their faith. ?They want to sit back and learn. We are engaging in and learning some complex things and it isn’t necessarily pretty. I, for example, don’t particularly like working on cars (and rarely do) have occasionally wrestled with bolts that won’t come loose, rusted parts etc with the dust falling on my face, occasionally in my eye. We are more like the mechanics under the car banging at way at rusted parts, wondering if a scripture has a hole in it and glancing at a variety of ancient manuscripts seeing some variations of some thousands or hundreds in some ancient genealogical census figure. Are “errors” like these impacting whether a scripture is “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”? We are engaging in finding out things like the route of the Exodus, Mount Sinai and we understand that finding out these things will be useful in some high level intellectual debates and discussions about the reliability of the Bible and whether it can be trusted. In warfare one guy once said, “Attack them where they ain’t.” There was apparently a big gap in the popularized history (or thought non-history) of the Bible that Tim Mahoney’s earlier films have dealt with. And Tim once explained that a Christian college/university student had to sit through a class with the teacher berating the Bible as having no evidence. The student who had seen Patterns of Evidence: Exodus showed the professor the film. The teacher then changed what he was teaching.

    Eventually, we might need to set up some “sub-group” (and I think it is possible, though I don’t fully understand how such things operate within the context of HFS). I’m very new with social media. We could have a group that gets more into the “weeds” of some subject matters that are mostly of interest to scholars. Not yet, of course.

    Let me though try and summarize some positions as I understand them and their strengths and weaknesses. Low numbers of Israelites leaving Egypt and wandering in the desert has some advantages.

    • We can better explain absences of archaeological evidences for them roaming around.
    • It is easier to understand how they and their flocks could have survived in the wildernesses which often lack a lot of resources.
    • It also is easier to explain the confusion in the archaeological record of pinpointing invasion dates of Canaan.



    • Lots of second guessing scriptures.
    • High census numbers need to be retooled.
    • Scriptures talking about huge numbers of Israelites need to be either thought of as later additions or hyperbole.


    I’m not discounting the continuing difficulty of living in the wilderness, but in the Patterns of Evidence Collectors Edition 1, in the extra material, you talked about the changing climate over the years and that it was wetter back then. And even in Psalm 68:7-9 abundant rains are mentioned.

    I’m not absolutely certain that I’m not off by some order of magnitude in understanding this.

    One person recently wrote to me about proving the Bible. There is some wild stuff in the Bible that doesn’t fit well with our concepts of “proof.” Moses threw down his rod and it turned into a snake and it ate the snakes that were previously the rods of the magicians. I can understand why people might want to not believe the whole thing.

    Yet there are other things about the Bible that continue to make sense and may even make more sense in the modern age. Some things that would have seemed absurd generations ago. The nature of time is one such thing. Scripture has God as beyond time. God knew David before he was born and all his days were already written down. Only recently have we understood how time is relativistic. The Bible had God outside of space as well. Solomon said to God, “The highest heavens cannot contain you.” David said “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me.”

    Someone said to Tim Mahoney (I forget who) that understanding the route of the Exodus is not going to be accomplished in our life time.

    We got opinions that perhaps differ on the population of the Israelites by two orders of magnitude. The way you have shared knowledge is brilliant.

    My comments wandered a bit off the precise topic we were discussing to give some background to new people who might read this. There is a context of what precisely they may gain from reading about “disputes” of genealogical numbers. There is a context of the power of God to operate outside of our normal experiences and do miracles and some want to be prepared to give easy answers about what they believe. There is a context about what constitutes a good and edifying discussion that might benefit readers. (I think this is important because so many people have experienced a very corrupt online environment and haven’t learned to converse, disagree and learn in a respectful manner.) Another context is that scripture often indicates people are “wildly off” in different matters. Having been in that camp, I tread humbly realizing I don’t understand a number of things. Even from some things that I learned from you or investigations you started me on, I find that things I thought were real simple or people or opinions that I thought were rather simple to understand, that a lot of what we know is “a work in progress.”

    Deborah, I highly value your contributions on the discussion forums and on the site.