MemberJanuary 24, 2021 at 10:59 am
Levi and the Firstborn Sons (cont.)
One possible explanation is that the totals for Levi were incorrectly copied at some point and thereafter faithfully replicated despite not making sense.93 Another possibility is that the numbers were adjusted or invented by perplexed scribes trying to rescue the census figures from confusion and thinking they could guess what was intended. In either case, we need not make any further calculations involving Levi. A third possibility suggested by the round thousands is that the totals for Levi have been corrupted by powers of ten.94 Certain large numbers elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible are demonstrably out by one or more powers of ten, and these errors may date to the change from representing numbers in cipher to writing them in full.95
93 “That a passage which is apparently absurd or unintelligible has been so transmitted for century after century is a testimony to the scribes’ attempted faithfulness to their sacred texts.” Wenham, “Large Numbers,” 53.
94 Israel employed a decimal system, so it is not surprising to find the vast majority of the larger numbers of Scripture ending in one or more zeroes. Fouts, “The Incredible Numbers of the Hebrew Kings,” 295.
95 See examples of these in footnote 12 above. Wenham, “Large Numbers,” 21. In the Hebrew text of today, all numbers are written out in full but this was not the case for earlier manuscripts. John W. Wenham, “The Large Numbers in the Bible,” Jewish Bible Quarterly 21, no. 2 (April 1, 1993): 117.