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