[b-hebrew] Exodus Miracles and 'elep

Brian Roberts formoria at carolina.rr.com
Tue Aug 3 08:15:45 EDT 2004


Then, of course we have this analysis of Wenham regarding the 'lp issue.

 From http://www.specialtyinterests.net/hebrew_numbers.html

The size of the Israelite nation

The most interesting, most difficult and (from the historian's point of 
view) the most important question is the size of the Israelite 
population at the different stages of its history. The present texts 
indicate that the 70 souls of Joseph's day had risen to two or three 
million at the time of the Exodus (Numbers 1) and to at least five 
million in the time of David (2 Samuel 24:9; 1 Chronicles 21:5). With 
regard to the latter, R. de Vaux rightly says: '(2 Samuel) lists 800,000 
men liable for military service in Israel, and 500,000 in Judah ... The 
lower total, in 2 Samuel, is still far too high: 1,300,000 men of 
military age would imply at least five million inhabitants, which, for 
Palestine, would mean nearly twice as many people to the square mile as 
in the most thickly populated countries of modern Europe'.4) The 
solution to the problem of the Exodus numbers is a long story. Suffice 
it to say that there is good reason to believe that the original 
censuses in Numbers 1 and 26 set out the numbers of each tribe, somewhat 
in this form:

Simeon: 57 armed men; 23 'hundreds' (military units).
This came to be written: 57 'lp; 2'lp 3 'hundreds'.

Not realising that 'lp in one case meant 'armed man' and in the other 
'thousand', this was tidied up to read 59,300. When these figures are 
carefully decoded, a remarkably clear picture of the whole military 
organization emerges. The total fighting force [of the Exodus 
Israelites] is some 18,000 which would probably mean a figure of about 
72,000 for the whole migration".

With this important explanation by Wenham, we can now begin to query 
whether the number of Israelite men on the march during the Exodus, 
given as "about 600,000" (Exodus 12:37) - making an overall total of 
some 2-3 million people - may be a gross over-estimate. I am not saying 
that the inspired writer got it wrong; but only that a copyist's mistake 
with numbers may have crept in. It had previously occurred to me in fact 
that so many fighting men as 600,000 would unlikely have been scared of 
Egypt's royal force of 600 chariots; especially considering that in 
Exodus 13:18 we read: "The sons of Israel went out from Egypt fully 
armed". Though perhaps this last description may apply only to Israel's 
shock troops; for according to Yahuda, in both Exodus 13:18 & 14:8 (op. 
cit., 96-97): "... it is emphasized ... that the Hebrews in leaving 
Egypt went out proudly and triumphantly having troops armed with lances, 
a well disciplined host. That in Egypt there were troops armed with 
lances is shown on various Egyptian bas-reliefs ..., and such troops 
would have formed the advance section at the head of the army". 
(Emphasis added).5)

We read in II Chronicles about Zerah's invasion of southern Judæa: 
"Zerah the Ethiopian [Cushite] and an army of one million strong with 
three hundred chariots made an incursion, and penetrated to Maresha. 
[King] Asa [of Judah] marched out to intercept him and drew up his 
battle line in the Valley of Zephathah, at Maresha. He called on Yahweh, 
his God. 'Yahweh', he said, 'no one but you can stand up for the 
powerless against the powerful. Come to our help, Yahweh our God! We 
rely on you, and confront this horde in your name. Yahweh, you are our 
God. Let man leave everything to you!' Yahweh defeated the Ethiopians 
before Asa and the Judaeans, the Ethiopians fled, and Asa pursued them 
with his army as far as Gerar. So many of the Ethiopians fell that 
recovery was impossible, for they had been shattered before Yahweh and 
his army" (2.Chronicles 14:8-13).

Two chapters further on, we read that Zerah's Ethiopian army was also 
composed of Libyans (16:8).

Thanks to Wenham, we can now estimate that this foreign army was more 
likely 1,000 strong, rather than a most unlikely 1 million. The latter 
figure is made even more implausible considering that the main Egyptian 
army apparently did not take part, but only foreign mercenaries, 
Ethiopians & Libyans, from within the empire. A few years after 
Solomon's death (c.920 BC), the divided kingdom in Palestine was 
absorbed into the Egyptian empire by the mighty Pharaoh Thutmose III, 
and it generally remained so (though apparently the pious king Asa 
managed to shake off the Egyptian overlordship) until the Assyrians took 
control of that region in the C8th. That Egypt, during her supremacy, 
was wont to send into Palestine highly efficient squadrons, at the 
behest of beleaguered vassal kings (who, in turn, were under Egyptian 
governors), is attested by the el-Amarna [EA] letters of Pharaoh 
Akhnaton and his father (a few decades after Asa's time, according to 
Velikovsky). These government troops were most valued as support by the 
Syro-Palestinian vassal kings during their interminable conflicts.

Damien Mackey

References and Notes

1) John Wenham, `The Large Numbers of the Old Testament', Tyndale 
Bulletin 18 (1967): 19-23.
2) One Hebrew manuscript, some Septuagint manuscripts and Syriac; most 
Hebrew manuscripts use `8'.
3) A few late manuscripts of the Septuagint; Hebrew does not have 
`thirty'. KJV does not mention 30 years, NIV does mention 30 years.
4) Figuring population density naturally depends on how many square 
miles the writer credits Israel to have inhabited at the time. We show 
in our paper on Jeroboam that the Israel of the time of Solomon may have 
been quite a bit larger than most historians seem to visualize it.
5) As to the size of the Israelite nation, the figure of 600,000 is not 
impossible considering that it was not so much the lances of the 
Egyptians they feared but rather the arrows of their bowmen against 
which they had little defense. Egyptian bowmen were always the most 
feared military units of the ancient literature. The estimate of the 
number of Israelites also should take into account the vast construction 
projects they took part in during their years of slavery down to the 
last day of servitude.

On Tuesday, August 3, 2004, at 07:27  AM, Walter R. Mattfeld wrote:

> Uri wrote :
> "It needs hardly be pointed out that the ancient authors and redactors 
> of
> these narratives would have been mortified by the possibility of natural
> exlanations that detract in any way Yahweh's ability to perform 
> miracles."
> I would have to agree with Uri's observation about an ancient 
> Israelite's
> reaction. Yet I do believe that this methodology, for modern scholars, 
> is
> "on target."
> It is quite evident that a number of physical phenomena associated with 
> the
> Exodus wanderings are attested in Nature. Seas do periodically dry up 
> and
> then refill. For example the Nile delta is called the tongue of the 
> Egyptian
> "sea" which God will dry up. In antiquity this delta became a sea every 
> year
> upon the flooding of the Nile. An ancient Greek visitor remarked that 
> the
> villages in the delta were built on high landforms that became islands 
> at
> the time of the flood, reminding him of islands in the Aegean sea. Then
> Nature (God ?) would _dry up_ this sea with the abatement of the 
> flooding.
> Another location is the head of the Gulf of Suez, where tides vary by 
> ten
> feet, low tides exposing shoals east of the modern port of Suez.
> A wind from God blows over the sea, making a path. Powerful winds are
> attested in the Spring (when the Exodus is understood to have occured). 
> They
> are called Khamasine winds (howling dust storms) and can reach wind 
> gusts of
> 55 miles per hour ! These winds occur in the Isthmus of Suez area, the 
> very
> area associated by some with the route of the Exodus. A recent book
> exploring the miracles of the Exodus and relating them to natural 
> phenomena
> of Egypt and the Sinai is  by Professor Colin J. Humphreys. _The 
> Miracles of
> Exodus, A Scientist's Discovery of the Extraordinary Natural Causes of 
> the
> Biblical Stories_. HarperSanFrancisco. 2003. pp.362).
> Humphreys also explores the notion of Mount Sinai possibly being a 
> volcano,
> as noted by Peter Kirk in an earlier post. He suggests it might be Mount
> Bedr in Midian, just north of Medina in modern day Saudi Arabia. He
> attempted to argue that the Pillar of Cloud which led Israel to the 
> sacred
> mount was an erupting Mt. Bedr.
> I was fortunate to recently be able to purchase a used copy of Baruch
> Halpern's book _The Emergence of Israel in Canaan_. Chico, California.
> Scholar's Press. 1983, and was intrigued by his critique of Professor
> Mendenhall's earlier proposal that Hebrew _'elep_ meant "clan" instead 
> of
> the traditional reading of "thousand" in regards to tribal lists 
> associated
> with the Exodus event. I found his arguments convincing that the 
> traditional
> reading of 'elep as "thousand" is correct and that Mendenhall was wrong 
> in
> arguing it meant "clan."
> Halpern noted that a number of scholars have accepted Mendenhall's 
> proposal
> because it solved for them the fantastically large numbers involved in 
> the
> Exodus, 600,000+ Hebrew armed warriors leaving Egypt, extrapolated with
> wives, children, and grandparents to a horde approaching 2 million 
> souls !
> By reading "clan" much smaller numbers could be envisioned for the 
> Exodus
> trek. By the way, Humpreys has accepted Mendenhall's reading.
> Having concluded that the traditional reading of 'elep meaning 
> "thousand" is
> correct, Halpern then argued that these huge numbers meant for him that 
> the
> tribal numbers were a creation of the Priestly redactor of the Exile, 
> and
> not to be trusted as reflecting the real numbers involved in the Exodus.
> Regards, Walter
> Walter Reinhold Warttig Mattfeld y de la Torre, M.A. Ed.
> mattfeld12 at charter.net
> www.bibleorigins.net
>  Below is an excerpt of Halpern's argument on 'elep :
> The 'elep problem, "thousand" or "clan" ?
> Reference : Baruch Halpern. _The Emergence of Israel in Canaan_. 1983.
> Chico, California. Scholar's Press. pp. 334.
> Professor Halpern has critiqued Mendenhall's proposal that the tribal 
> lists
> appearing in the various Exodus accounts are historical and of that 
> period.
> He argues that they are unhistorical and most likely arise from the 
> Priestly
> Source (rendered P in the below excerpts) in the Exilic period or later.
> Halpern finds fault with Mendenhall's notion that 'elep in the tribal 
> list
> means "clan" rather than the traditional reading of "thousand."
> Halpern (Emphasis mine) :
> "From this brief survey, it should be plain that the P lists represent a
> late monarchic or an exilic retrospective view of early Israel"
> ...Mendenhall maintains that the P lists of Numbers 1 and 26 are
> nevertheless pre-monarchic. He bases his claim on the observation that 
> the
> term 'elep, usually a "thousands," can also denote "the muster of a
> mishpaha, or clan." As a result, he continues, it is legitimate to 
> read a
> text such as Numbers 26:18 -"these are the mishpehot of the children of 
> Gad
> according to their musters: forty 'elep and five hundreds"- as stating 
> that
> Gad consisted of 40 clans: together these fielded 500 warriors. The
> attraction of this scheme is immediately apparent: it disposes of 
> population
> claims that correlate with no reality in ancient Israelite history, 
> claims
> so exhorbitant as in fact to defy the agricultural and industrial 
> realities
> of Israel in the pre-Mandatory period. Having thus simultaneously 
> explained
> why any author would make such substantial claims (the author did not) 
> and
> disembarrassed himself of the claims themselves, Mendenhall finds that 
> the
> drastically smaller population figures he has produced are consonant 
> with an
> early date for the lists.
> The first element of Mendenhall's argument is indisputable. 'elep does 
> have
> the meaning "clan," "clan muster" in such passages as Judges 6:15; 1 
> Samuel
> 10:19-21. Moreover, the advantages of Mendenhall's reading generally are
> manifest. However, there are problems that beset the hypothesis. The 
> first
> two of these have to do with the totals of the muster in Numbers 1:46;
> 26:51.
> Numbers 1:46 states that Israel could field 603,550 warriors. Even if 
> one
> reads the foregoing list with Mendenhall, it is impossible to regard 
> this as
> a statement that Israel's 603 clans produced 550 warriors. First, the
> numbers do not tally (Mendenhall's reading produces 5,550 warriors in 
> the
> Numbers 1 list). Second, it would tax our imagination to suppose that 
> the
> avarage Israelite "clan" could field only .91663 warriors. The only 
> response
> to make is that the verse is in error. So, one reads Numbers 1:46 to say
> that Israel had 603 clans, which together fielded 5,550 warriors. 
> Similarly,
> rather than 730 warriors (the figure there being 601,730).
> This is the first weakness of the hypothesis: there is no reason to 
> supply
> any figure before the 730 of Numbers 26:51 or the 550 of Numbers 1:46, 
> let
> alone the specific figures that must be chosen. Moreover, there is no 
> reason
> to suppose that the Israelite reader to whom these texts were directed 
> would
> divine that he was expected to supply these figures -how could the 
> Israelite
> be expected to understand that the notation 601,730 or 601 thousands 
> and 730
> really meant 601 clans and 5,730 people ? But this first difficulty is
> compounded by a more serious one. Read with Mendenhall, the lists and 
> the
> summations do not tally. Numbers 1, read with Mendenhall mentions 598
> "clans" and 5,550 warriors. Numbers 1:46 has the same number of 
> warriors if
> we supply the figure 5,000; but it thinks there were 603 "thousands" or
> "clans". Numbers 26 has 596 clans and 5,730 warriors. But Numbers 26:51
> (601,730), even read with Mendenhall to imply 5,730 warriors, has 601
> "clans." (pp. 113-115. Halpern)
> ...If one reads Numbers 1 and 26 as they have traditionally been read- 
> Gad's
> 40,500 meaning 40,500- then the totals reported in Numbers 1:46, 26:51 
> are
> accurate...If the traditionalist who arrived at the sums in Numbers 
> 1:46,
> 26:51 treated the tribal census figures not as encipherments, but as 
> simple
> figures, earlier traditionalists may well have done the same. That is, 
> not
> only is there no evidence that the Israelite expected to understand
> "thousand" = "clan" code as Mendenhall understands it; there is 
> evidence the
> Israelite did not understand it so.
> (p. 115. Halpern)
> Overall the P lists hold out little hope for the recovery of 
> pre-monarchic
> traditions. Quite the reverse, the census lists show every sign of
> artificiality in their recollection of early eras. The transmissional
> process has created an Israel so amply bestowed in its muster that only
> technological backwardness could possibly account for its failures on 
> the
> field -against enemies numbering in the tens and hundreds. It follows
> logically that the P reports are not likely to be fruitful for the 
> study of
> pre-monarch Israel." (p. 116. Halpern)
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