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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 23, 2021 at 7:34 am

    Seeing as this week’s focus on the population of the exodus is nearly over, I will post more paragraphs.

    History of Interpretation (cont.)

    The common element in historical interpretations is the idea that the word אֶלֶף elef, commonly translated ‘thousand’, originally had a second meaning unknown to later scribes who struggled to make sense of texts containing both usages. This idea was pioneered by Petrie (1906), who suggested that the first אֶלֶף figure in each tribal listing indicates ‘family’ or ‘tent-group’ while the following מֵאוֹת ‘hundreds’ figure indicates the total number of people in the tribe.26 Mendenhall (1958), holding to the military nature of the census, proposed that אֶלֶף refers to ‘fighting unit’ and מֵאוֹת to hundreds of ‘troops’ (men) and not the entire population of the tribe.27 John Wenham (1967) following R. E. D. Clark (1955) preferred the alternative meaning of ‘leader’ or ‘captain’ for אֶלֶף elef.28 Supposing that original sequential instances of אֶלֶף as both ‘captain’ and ‘thousand’ had been conflated by scribes, Clark and Wenham attempted to redistribute the numbers of ‘leaders’ and ’contingents’ for each tribe.29 Their complex systems aimed for מֵאוֹת : אֶלֶף ratios that would make captains of fifties, hundreds, and thousands, but they arrived at different population totals.

    26 Researches in Sinai, 211. The word אֶלֶף is translated as ‘family’ in Judg 6:15, and may arguably refer to a subdivision within a tribe in Num 1:16; 10:4, 36; Josh 22:14, 21, 30; 1 Sam 10:19; 23:23; Mic 5:1, and perhaps Isa 60:22.
    27 Mendenhall attempted to trace the use of tribal subsections in Ugarit, Mari, and biblical sources. “The Census Lists of Numbers 1 and 26,” 55–61.
    28 Clark, “Large Numbers OT,” 82–92; Wenham, “Large Numbers,” 19–53.
    29 e.g. Wenham suggests that Reuben’s total of 46,500 men was orginally 45 leaders and 1500 men, which may have read something like “forty and five אַלּוּף and אֶלֶף and five מֵאוֹת ”. The copyist(s), perplexed by the floating אֶלֶף in each listing, consolidated them both into the one total, to produce “forty and six אֶלֶף and five מֵאוֹת ”. John W. Wenham, “The Large Numbers of the Old Testament,” ed. David Alexander and Patricia Alexander, The Lion Handbook to the Bible (Oxford, UK: Lion, 1985), 191–2.