[b-hebrew] Re: The Confusion of Hebrew Numbers

Ratson Naharadama yahoo-arch at heplist.com
Tue Jun 26 06:03:33 EDT 2012

Disclaimer: speculation on my part follows.

Many years ago (mid-'90s) I read a poetic text which had a sentence (as 
translated) that went something along the lines of

"twelve [men is the] strength [of a] bull"

Where "bull" was the translation of ˀalupu.

The bracketed text is not missing text, but words that were filled in by 
the translator (if I remember the above translation correctly, that is), 
the brackets, themselves, were not the translator's but mine.

I will try to locate the specific Ugaritic text in the morning (it is 
0330 here).

The sentence seemed odd and I thought of applying "12" to the 
"thousands" in the bible. One of the instances I looked at that I 
thought was most intriguing was Joshua 7, which begins basically as:

• Joshua sends spies to Ai
• They return saying there's barely any people there, so only send a 
small force
• Joshua sends 3000 to take Ai
• The 3000 are chased and slaughtered, with 36 individual men being 
• (because 36 of the 3000 men are slaughtered) the Israelites become scared

3000 men to take Ai seems like a large force for a city with *few* 
people (3000 is enough men to populate a decent sized city). It is also 
weird (to me, at  least) that the death of 36 out of 3000 men would put 
fear into the Israelites.

But, if ˀalapîm in these verses is a force of 12 people, then the force 
that was sent to take Ai was 36 men (that is, 3 times 12 men), which 
happens to be the same number of men slaughtered.

The part I don't like about this, though, is the rest of the same 
chapter has Joshua acting like the Israelites are going to be totally 
destroyed, and God replying that the Israelites have sinned. Neither 
choice in numbers makes sense here. 3000 men wasn't the whole of the 
Israelite army, but only a small fraction, which is explicitly made 
clear at the beginning. So why is Joshua thinking total destruction of 
the people is at his doorstep. This is even more odd of a reaction if it 
was only 36 men who were sent and killed, for the same reasons as would 
be for 3000.

A value of 12 for each ˀalapîm makes the number make a lot more sense, 
but there is still oddities (for example, as George Athas has pointed 
out, when stated totals are compared to our totaling the numbers given, 
they seem to add up as if it were 1000), and the odd behaviour of Joshua 
mentioned above.

Ratson Naharädama
Denver, Colorado

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