[b-hebrew] The Confusion of Hebrew Numbers

Chavoux Luyt chavoux at gmail.com
Mon Jun 25 15:15:30 EDT 2012

Hi Sergio

On 25 June 2012 18:00, <b-hebrew-request at lists.ibiblio.org> wrote:

> From: Sesamo m. <sesamox at hotmail.com>
> Subject: [b-hebrew] The Confusion of Hebrew Numbers
> Hello,
> I've read an article by Damien Mackey some of whose conclusions seem very
> interesting at first sight, but I'd love to know your opinion.He quotes
> John Wenham, `The Large Numbers of the Old Testament', Tyndale Bulletin 18
> (1967): 19-23, and it tries to explain some perplexing numbers in the
> Hebrew Bible.The key paragraph is this:
> "In the modern Hebrew Bible all numbers are written out in full, but for a
> long time the text was written without vowels [which] made it possible to
> confuse two words which are crucial to this problem: 'eleph and 'alluph.
> Without vowel points these words look identical: 'lp. 'Eleph' is the
> ordinary word for 'thousand', but it can also be used in a variety of other
> senses: e.g. 'family' (Judges 6:15, Revised Version.) or 'clan' (Zechariah
> 9:7; 12:5,6, RSV) or perhaps a military unit. 'Alluph' is used for the
> 'chieftains' of Edom (Genesis 36:15-43); probably for a commander of a
> military 'thousand'; and almost certainly for the professional, fully-armed
> soldier."
>  <snip>

Do you think this is a plausible explanation?
> This is the link: http://www.specialtyinterests.net/hebrew_numbers.html

I should mention that K.A. Kitchen (2003 - On the reliability of the Old
Testament) also considers the confusion in meanings as probable for the
numbers of the Exodus. But he considered "eleph" in that context to mean
"clan" rather than as a military unit or "commander over thousand" as in
the Mackey article. It is plausible, although not convincingly enough to
exclude the possibility of it simply meaning "thousand" as most
translations have it.

I do not think it is as plausible for most of the examples that is used in
the article (I tend to think that it is more probable that the numbers are
correctly translated in most cases). E.g. a population of 5 million in
ancient Israel at the height of its power, even though "higher than most
modern European countries" is not inconceivable: Today there are more than
6 million Jews/Israelis in Israel, excluding Palestinians and others. And
if you visit some areas in the central highlands of Israel, there are much
evidence of terraces that were cultivated at some period(s) in the past,
but no longer (i.e. even more of the land was probably used for agriculture
than at present).

I do not think that there is enough evidence that alluph can actually refer
to "the professional, fully-armed soldier." It does make sense as
"commander over thousand" or a military unit, though. As far as his
revision of the historical dates are concerned, I am not convinced at all,
but that is a whole different subject.

Chavoux Luyt

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