[b-hebrew] The Confusion of Hebrew Numbers

K Randolph kwrandolph at gmail.com
Tue Jun 26 21:31:04 EDT 2012


The text doesn’t say that 27,000 were killed when the wall fell on them,
rather that the wall fell on that many people.

How long a wall are we talking about? If the people were standing shoulder
to shoulder, eight rows deep, that makes up about 25,000 men in just one
mile. If two miles of wall fell, the people could be thinner, and still
reach 27,000. An army in flight can pile up against the wall because the
gates are too narrow for them to enter at once, then a wall about two miles
or more fell on the massed men pressing as closely as they could against
the walls. Possible.


On Tue, Jun 26, 2012 at 3:03 AM, Ratson Naharadama
<yahoo-arch at heplist.com>wrote:

> Disclaimer: speculation on my part follows.
>> 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
> slaughtered
> • (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.

What was the definition of a city at that time?

I remember when I lived in Germany many years ago, that a village had a
population about 3,000 while a nearby “city” had 500. The “city” had a
castle and a history of over 1500 years. So how big was Ai?

Militarily an attacking force is desired to be significantly larger than
the defending force, usually a few times larger. So 3000 men would be sent
to take care of 500–1000 defenders.

> 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.

It was not the number of men who killed that distressed the Israelites so
much, but the fact that they fled before the enemy. If they fled before a
small town, what hope did they have when facing the big, powerful cities?
This was a matter of morale, not numbers.

> 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

I find the numbers as referenced by George Athas as unbelievable. I have
nothing personal against George, just that the person he cited listed
numbers that are unbelievable, given the recorded fertility of the land in
the past.

Karl W. Randolph.

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