MemberFebruary 19, 2021 at 8:23 pm
Thomas this was Aharoni’s suggestion also. He continues:
 The major difficulties encountered in plotting the itinerary of the Exodus disappear as soon as we abandon the theory of all the twelve tribes moving in a single compact group all through the years of wanderings. The opposing theory of dispersion is hardly contradicted by the tradition of movement from one halting-place to another, from one oasis to another. Without any doubt the households, the tribes, moved according to season from one water-source to another. Only on specific occasions did they gather together for a popular assembly or great popular festivals…. the different directions taken by different groups of the ‘desert generation’ at different times were woven into a single whole.
Aharoni, Yohanan. “Kadesh-Barnea and Mount Sinai.” In God’s Wilderness: Discoveries in Sinai, by Beno Rothenberg, 115–82. London: Thames and Hudson, 1961.
He is mostly right—during the 37 years between the Goshen-Sinai and Sinai-Kadesh journeys in the first and second years and the Kadesh-Jordan journey in the fortieth year, the people did indeed disperse throughout the southern wildernesses and exploited waterholes and seasonal pasture wherever they could find them. But the Bible is clear that during the three stages of the itinerary they did travel together, and while waiting forty days for the spies (Num 13:25-26) and about another two weeks for the rebel army to return (14:39-45), the people all camped at Kadesh.
But even though he makes a sensible conclusion regarding Israel’s dispersion during the wanderings period, Aharoni also thinks they drifted to Sinai and into Canaan at the beginning and end of the forty years, mostly because of what he sees as the impossibility of a large group of people living and moving together through the Sinai, Negev, and eastern wilderness regions of the Transjordan. Thus he pretty much throws the data out, and treats the Numbers itinerary as just a list of places they visited in no particular order!
In his time, contemporary revisions of the large census numbers came up with population figures in the 10s or 100s of thousands (see summaries above), and Aharoni, from his familiarity with the regions involved, knew even these figures were not feasible. In fact, he is saying here that anything over a few thousands (<10) are far too many people. I agree. My solution is a radical revision of the census numbers in order to account for the scribal errors in a fairly consistent way, and also revise other large numbers of the OT using the same principle. I will publish it one day soon when I have finished my dissertation 🙂