MemberJanuary 23, 2021 at 7:48 am
Interpretation History (cont.): Last para.
Colin Humphreys (1998) has attempted to support, by mathematical computations, Mendenhall’s suggestion that אֶלֶף should have been translated ‘troops’ (in the sense of ‘fighting unit’ not ‘single warrior’) in about forty instances throughout the wilderness narratives.35 Whilst Mendenhall believes the figures derive from an Israelite population many years later, Humphreys firmly holds that they refer to the wilderness period after the Exodus.36 Taking as “entirely reasonable” the surplus number of 273 firstborn sons to Levite males (Num 3:39, 43, 46), he makes this figure foundational to his calculations confirming a total population of around 22,000 people.37 Issues concerning the round hundreds and significant tribal variations in ‘troop’ size, however, are unsatisfactorily explained,38 and those familiar with the region and its resources (archaeologists such as Petrie and Albright) realise that a long-term semi-nomadic population of even this reduction in size is unsupportable.39
35 Colin J. Humphreys, “How Many People Were in the Exodus from Egypt,” Science and Christian Belief 12, no. 1 (April 1, 2000): 33; “The Number of People in the Exodus from Egypt : Decoding Mathematically the Very Large Numbers in Numbers I and XXVI,” Vetus Testamentum 48, no. 2 (April 1, 1998): 209. That אֶלֶף is never translated as ‘troop’ or similar anywhere in the Hebrew Bible, however, weighs against such a proposal. Davies, “Mathematical Conundrum,” 463.
36 Humphreys, “Number of People in Exodus,” 206.
37 Ibid., 196–213. Humphrey’s calculations are critiqued by John Byl, “On Numbers in Numbers,” Science and Christian Belief 13, no. 1 (April 1, 2001): 60–2.
38 See Humphreys, “Number of People in Exodus,” 208.
39 Albright, “Administrative Divisions,” 20, 24. Also James K. Hoffmeier, Ancient Israel in Sinai; The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Wilderness Tradition (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2005), 153–9.
So this brings the forum up to date on the issue of the large census numbers of Numbers 1 and 26. Nothing new has been published on this topic in the last 20 yrs or so. Like so many aspects of the wilderness era, discoveries and insights have stalled.