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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 25, 2021 at 7:19 pm

    This is a section out of my earlier 2001 article. I didn’t carry most of these calculations over to my 2014 OT project.

    <i style=”font-family: inherit; font-size: inherit;”>How many millions?

    The present text records that about 600 000 armed Israelite men left Egypt (Ex. 12:37). This has often been interpreted to project a total population of about 2 million people. Such a projection, however, is too conservative, for it allows only one wife and one child for each man over 20 years (and presumably less than 50 years).1 No provision is made in this figure for elderly parents, unmarried sisters, underage brothers,2 men unfit for battle, or Levites who were not numbered among the men-at-arms (Nu. 1:47). It is difficult to estimate the average number of dependents to each armed man, for the demography of Israel was unique even for the time. The rate of polygamy, the average number of children to each union and the life expectancy at the time of the Exodus is uncertain. It is clear, however, that two dependents are too few, and this can be demonstrated by some simple calculations on extended families.

    Elderly parents and underage siblings are statistically ‘shared’ by all the men of fighting age in the family, whereas married sisters and their children should be counted as dependents in their husbands’ families. Calculations on the author’s extended family at present give five ‘fighting men’ and twenty-three dependents, or one ‘soldier’ to every 4∙6 civilians. This sample ratio, when applied to about 600 000 men-at-arms, would raise the possible total of Israelites to 3 360 000. The tribe of Levi would further add to the size of the company, raising the total towards 4 million people.

    In the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel’s population of 2 million yielded just 264 000 soldiers,3 or one soldier to every 6·6 civilians. This nation requires most citizens between 17 and 20 years to serve in the army, and thereafter train in the reserves for one month every year to the age of 45, giving active service during war. Female soldiers carry out a large proportion of the essential non-combatant duties, training, and communications.

    1. The various orders of Levites served only from 20-50 years old (Num 8:24-25, cp. 4:3, 1 Chr 23:24). The men that were 20 years old at the time of the Exodus were dead by the age of 60, so the most likely age to cease serving in the army would have been the age of 50.

    2. Those over the age of 20 years who were engaged or recently married were also exempt from conscription (Deut 20:7, 24:5).

    3. The Illustrated Atlas of Jewish Civilisation, 3000 Years of History, Bacon J., Gilbert M., p. 203 (Houghton Mifflin, 1990).