[b-hebrew] The Confusion of Hebrew Numbers

K Randolph kwrandolph at gmail.com
Mon Jun 25 17:30:03 EDT 2012


While I recognize that there are some typos, there should be no problem
with most numbers. Some of those numbers listed in the article to which you
linked are explainable from a careful reading of their contexts.

The term for heavily armed professional soldier was “hoplite” הפלתי.

I think some of the perplexity can also be traced back to presuppositions
that may not be accurate, such as Kitchen’s dating that hides the effect of
the Exodus on Egyptian society. Because he cannot find any evidence for the
Exodus as recorded in Exodus during the reigns of the pharaohs who he
thinks reigned during that time, therefore the Exodus must have been much
smaller than recorded. But if one admits that those dates are incorrect,
then the destruction of Egyptian society that occurred just before the
Hyksos invasion connected with sudden exit of “Asiatic” slaves from their
work places, then one finds external evidence for those numbers connected
with the Exodus.

There is a common modern belief that population and technology have had a
generally upward trend throughout history, but history seems to belie that,
indicating that there were times of population decrease and with it
technological decline (not enough population to maintain technology). The
large numbers listed in ancient records are possible.

“A thousand” was an administrative unit in ancient Israel, so a translation
of “family” or “clan” seems incorrect. Did such an administrative unit
count only men, or each member of a family, to reach 1000 members? That I
don’t know.

As I stated at the top, though there may have been a few typos, on the
whole it appears that the numbers as recorded are trustworthy.

Karl W. Randolph.

On Mon, Jun 25, 2012 at 1:06 AM, Sesamo m. <sesamox at hotmail.com> wrote:

> 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."
> I think the most obvious problem here is when we can conclude there has
> been a confusion by a copist. But in some cases this explanation makes a
> lot of sense. For instance:
> "David's feast in Hebron in 1 Chronicles 12 appears to be attended by
> enormous numbers, not of ordinary men, but of distinguished leaders - some
> 340,800 of them. In this case it looks as though in fact there were
> 'captains of thousands' and 'captains of hundreds', and that by metonomy or
> by abbrevation 'thousand' has been used for 'captains of thousands' and
> 'hundreds' for 'captains of hundreds'. 'Thousand' and 'hundred' have been
> treated as numerals and added together. When these figures are unscrambled,
> we get a total of roughly 2,000 'famous men', which seems eminently
> reasonable...."In 1 Kings 20:27-30, the little Israelite army killed 100
> (not 100,000) foot-soldiers, and the wall of Aphek [when it fell] killed 27
> (not 27,000) more."The Ethiopian invasion had a thousand, not a million,
> warriors (2 Chronicles 14: 9).
> "10 (not 10,000) were cast down from the top of the rock (2 Chronicles
> 25:12).""...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".
> Do you think this is a plausible explanation?
> This is the link: http://www.specialtyinterests.net/hebrew_numbers.html
> Best,Sergio Saavedra (Spain)

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