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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

  • 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.