MemberJanuary 22, 2021 at 1:01 am
Census Anomalies (cont.)
The chief anomaly arising from the first census is the proportion of firstborn sons within the congregation. The men-at-arms over 20 years old who left Egypt are numbered at 603,550 (Num 1:46) and the firstborn sons of all ages are numbered at 22,273 (3:40-43). Allowing that in any natural population there are usually about as many people below the age of twenty years as above13 and as many females as males, then only one son in fifty-four is a firstborn, and there are approximately 108 children per father!14 Also, in comparing the number of Levite males with the projected number of Israelite males, the population of Levi is only about one fifth the average size of the other tribes, which again seems unlikely.15 Thus the population figures for Levi seem to have an entirely different origin to the population figures for the other tribes.16 These peculiarities and anomalies, together with the existence of variations between manuscripts and between versions, provide inescapable evidence of textual change.17
13 “Statistics show that out of 10,000 inhabitants in any country, about 5580 are over twenty years of age” (citing European statistics of 1841). Carl F. Keil and Franz Delitzsch, “Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament: Volume III, The Pentateuch,” in Commentary on the Old Testament in Ten Volumes, trans. James Martin, vol. I: The Pentateuch (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1952), 5, n. 1.
14 David Merling, “Large Numbers at the Time of the Exodus,” Near East Archaeological Society Bulletin 44 (January 1, 1999): 17. Keil and Delitzsch attempt to resolve the dilemma by suggesting that the 22,273 firstborns were those born after the Exodus. “Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament,” 9–15. This, however, seems a strained interpretation of the instructions to Moses (Num 3:40, 43).
15 A tribal average of 54,850 men over 20 years of age would represent about twice that number of males of all ages per tribe — 109,700. The 22,000 Levite males of all ages are about one fifth of this amount
16 Dennis T. Olson, The Death of the Old and the Birth of the New : The Framework of the Book of Numbers and the Pentateuch, ed. Jacob Neusner, Brown Judaic Series 71 (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1985), 76.
17 Wenham, “Large Numbers,” 20.