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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.
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