Home| Letters| Links| RSS| About Us| Contact Us

On the Frontline

What's New

Table of Contents

Index of Authors

Index of Titles

Index of Letters

Mailing List

subscribe to our mailing list:


Critique of Intelligent Design

Evolution vs. Creationism

The Art of ID Stuntmen

Faith vs Reason

Anthropic Principle

Autopsy of the Bible code

Science and Religion

Historical Notes


Serious Notions with a Smile


Letter Serial Correlation

Mark Perakh's Web Site


[Write a Reply] [Letters Index]

Title Author Date
Exodus numbers... a question Crowl , Adam Nov 09, 2003

While I am a sceptic about affairs of religion I have an interest in ancient history and the potential historical nucleus of traditions. I think there is sufficient evidence to, firstly, doubt the blanket scepticism against the Exodus stories and, secondly, sufficient evidence to re-date much of circum-Mediterranean pre-600 BCE. Egyptian history seems to be inflated by 200 - 300 years and this has thrown the rest of Near Eastern history into disarray.

However I am not suggesting that the Torah and related Jewish tradition got all of the underlying history correct either. A gross error is the figure for the Exodus population - over 600,000 males. But a truer figure for the Exodus might be hidden in another part of the text. In Numbers 3:39-43 all the Levites and the numbers of Israelite First-born males are counted and found to be similar.

What male commentators neglect is the fact that a first-born male child is a proxy count for the number of mothers - in this case a mere 22,000. I suspect that this is a more accurate count of the number of Israelite males, and is more believeable figure for surviving the Sinai under the leadership of a desert-savvy leader like the Midianite-trained Moses.

Textual criticism has a number of sources contributing to the final story as we have it in Ezra's Torah, but there is plenty of evidence suggesting traditions that have survived from an originally non-sedentary population. Whether the miracles in the text occurred or not, or reflect striking natural events utilised by a sharp leadership, shouldn't cause the text to be cast into the scrap-heap of history.

Related Articles: A List of Some Problematic Issues

Title Author Date
Exodus numbers... a question Naftali Zeligman Nov 17, 2003
I agree with you that there is no reason for "blanket skepticism" concerning the Exodus traditions. However, your attempt to find a more reasonable number is, in my view, far from successful.
First of all, the number of 22,273 male firstborns (Numbers 3:40-43) does not stand on its own but is incorporated into a narrative framework where these firstborns are "exchanged" in the service of God for approximately the same number of male Levites. (The numbers of the Levites do not quite add up, but that is another issue.) How can one know that the number of the non-Levitical firstborns reflects the original tradition and the number of the Levites was based on it by some later author? Perhaps the opposite is the case? Now, about 22,000 male Levites over one month of age, plus the same number of female Levites, multiplied by 12 if we accept that the Levites were one of the twelve tribes of Israel, gives 528,000 Israelites on the move through the desert. While considerably less than the figure of c. 2 million indicated by the number of 600,000 adult males, this is still a very large population, which could not survive a desert trek unless sustained in some miraculous fashion. Even if we take the manna into account, so large a population should have left telltale signs of its presence in the area in the supposed time of the Exodus, yet there are none (at least none have been discovered after a number of quite extensive surveys in Sinai).
Even if we take the number of c. 22,000 male non-Levitical firstborns as authentic, we will arrive at c. 44,000 non-Levitical firstborns on the whole (including females). As this count excludes the Levites, it would be only approximately 11/12 of the total population of firstborns, which would render the total number of Israelite firstborns (and mothers) as about 48,000. Adding fathers, it will result in 96,000 Israelite parents. Dividing the whole Israelite population admittedly somewhat artificially, but as an approximation into three "generation layers" of grandparents, parents and children, we conclude that the total number of "children" (those who had not yet had children of their own) was about half the total number of "adults" (including the "parents" and the "grandparents"); that gives the number of "children" as about 48,000. On the whole, then, we get 144,000 Israelites traveling through the Sinai desert again an immensely large figure for this region, raising all the difficulties mentioned above.
I do not deny the possibility of an exodus of some thousand West Semites (Israelites if you wish) from Egypt in the 14th-13th centuries BCE, but that is a far cry from what the Torah describes.
Concerning your idea that there is "sufficient evidence to re-date much of circum-Mediterranean pre-600 BCE," I cannot say anything definite before I am given some details, but from what I know about the chronology of this period, I doubt that there is sufficient reason for any significant re-dating.
Related Articles: A List of Some Problematic Issues