Here is a rough translation of the Talmudic passage: It is written, “[In the eleventh year of Zedekiah, in the fourth month, on the ninth day of the month], a breach was made in the city“ (Jer.39.2). If the tribe of Reuben, for example, had 500 troops, it is unlikely that other tribes would have numbers far off from that – e.g.  It cannot be argued that the “edge” numbers are rounded to the closest thousand, since if that were the case, we would expect to see many more fully rounded “thousands.” But in reality, there actually isn’t even a single rounded thousand! This made it difficult to farm there. Instead of Pharaoh saying that the Hebrews have outnumbered the Egyptians, he is saying that they have become far too numerous and are at the stage of being a threat (and this translation fits with the next verse perhaps better than the first translation). 12:40 f.), making a total of 645 years before the Exodus.  The idea of a post-editor for Torah may seem radically unorthodox at first, but there’s actually much merit to that claim. I respect your literalist approach and we can agree to disagree. 38:25-26. Then thunder and hail and fire streamed down on the ground of Egypt. At this point we may be wondering how theologically kosher it is to interpret numbers non-literally, from an Orthodox theological perspective. Joseph was born in 2068 BC, and became governor of Lower (Northern) Egypt in 2038 BC, when the 7 years of plenty started. Too many people fail to do their homework concerning the years of bondage in Egypt.  This editor would have also added in verses like in Ex. 1:9). In the desert, the Israelites had run low on provisions (Numbers 11:5).It gets to the point where the Israelites pine after the “good ole days” of their slavery in Egypt, where they didn’t have to worry about starvation. 12. 83.). God promised that their exit would mean great abundance for Israel. There’s a rather shocking lack of archaeological evidence for a mass slavery in Egypt consisting of Israelite/Hebrew slaves. How many Israelites left Egypt and wandered the desert? Moreover, the verses throughout Torah that describe the genealogies of the Israelites never count remotely large households – yet alone 50. When the Israelites left Egypt following the tenth plague, they were told to ask the Egyptians for items of value for their journey. In the 24 numbers provided in Numbers Ch. Gematria is the equivalent value of every Hebrew letter in numerical value. For Israelites, the chapter describes a foretelling of slavery and servitude in the Americas: “The Lord will send you back in ships to Egypt on a journey I said you should never make again.” Identifying the Bantu as the descendants of the Israelites extremely important. How many Israelites left Egypt in the exodus? Many kings or scribes would inflate/exaggerate the numbers of their military populations. If we are to count the “families” or “units” of each tribe, the total in Numbers Ch. However, many rabbis believed the Israelites were there for only 210 years (see Rashi on Genesis 15:13 quoting from Talmud Bavli Megillah 9a) and explain the verses different than their literal meaning (see here). [v] This is a 4 times increase over the original number in a span of almost 2,000 years. More insights from your Bible study - Get Started with Logos Bible Software for Free! Well, that’s how the word is translated in many biblical verses. Men would often marry multiple women and would therefore have large families. The Israelites believed God would never deliver them out of the hands of the Pharaoh. This indicates that eleph does in fact mean thousand, which is why the hundreds were able to add to the eleph number in the sum-total.  The concept of Gematria has roots in ancient Mesopotamian culture. 0, 1 ,8, and 9) are the first two and last two in the ten-digit system.  Interestingly enough, the Gematria of Children of Israel (bnei yisroel in Heb.) [xiii] Point is, we cannot know how many Israelites left Egypt but it does seem highly unlikely that the 600,000 number was intended literally. Given this background, it becomes obvious how unrealistic it is for the Hebrews to have multiplied to 10,000 times its original number in just several hundred years. 1:5, Deut. 38:26. Currently among Muslims it is about 2.5%. On a similar note, Pharaoh speaks to his people he tells them that the Hebrews have outnumbered them (Ex. This page last updated: December 21, 2020. The captivity ended in 538 BCE, when the Persian conqueror of Babylonia, Cyrus the Great, gave Jews permission to return to Palestine. The Israelites had been slaves in Egypt for 400 years until God sent Moses to deliver His chosen people. Exodus 34:18 - The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep. Egypt’s Rebellion and Idol Worship. Even by a generous estimate, their population comes nowhere close to a million, yet alone several million. And finally, the literal number 600,000 fits the number of contributions for the Tabernacle mentioned in Ex. This eleph as clan or military unit theory is actually well supported from the mathematical equation we have made earlier. And one says that there were fifty thousand men, and each and every one was equivalent to the seventy men in the Sanhedrin.”. One says that there were seventy men, and each and every one of them was equivalent to fifty thousand men. The Israelites will have to remain in the wilderness for forty years,  and Yahweh kills the spies through a plague except for the righteous Joshua and Caleb , who will be allowed to enter the promised land. The Hebrew word eleph once had multiple meanings and depending on context it was translated differently.. The current world population growth rate is about 1%. [xiv] This view is championed by Dr. Joshua Berman in his work Ani Maamin p. 46-52. [viii] For a discussion on the methods used to estimate ancient populations, see A Demographic Analysis of Late Bronze Age Canaan: ancient population estimates and insights (can be downloaded here). Ultimately, we haven’t decided whether or not the number 600,000 is literal or not, but we demonstrated the high likelihood of it being a non-literal number and have presented possible explanations for the number. There is another instance in Joshua 7:5 when 36 men died in the battle of Ai where the Midrash in the Talmud[xviii] interprets these 36 men as just one man. It deals with the archaeological data of the Ancient Near East we have of that period in history and explores various verses that seem to contradict each other and that give us a glimpse of a fascinating element in biblical history. The Israelites’ population remained the same throughout the 40 years in the desert, suggesting that the birth rate wasn’t high in the Wilderness. The Torah: Divinely-Inspired or Man-Made? If you say that it was on the first of Ab, the city had not yet been burned. 1:10). Remember what the Amalekites did to you along your way from Egypt, 1 Samuel 15:2 This is what the LORD of Hosts says: 'I witnessed what the Amalekites did to the Israelites when they ambushed them on their way up from Egypt. Why did the Israelites need manna if they had flocks/herds of animals that they could eat? Also see The Number of People in the Exodus from Egypt: Decoding Mathematically the Very Large Numbers in Numbers I and XXVI page 208 for a comparison of similar military unit numbers in the Ancient Near East. However, various explanations have been put forward on the table. See here for verses that were clearly written well after Moses’ times and see here for the possibility for there to be errors in Torah (at least scribal errors over the generations). There’s also a mathematical equation that may support this theory. 18:21, Num. [iv] 1,800 years later, by the year 1800, the world population was estimated at almost 1 billion. , A very intriguing theory is the translation of eleph as “clan,” “family,” or “unit.”[xv] Traditionally, the Hebrew word eleph has been translated as “thousand.” But what if we change the meaning of eleph to mean clan, family, or unit. is 603. The Israelites entered Egypt with 70 men. 7:13, 28:4, 18, 51), “clans” (Joshua 22:14, Judges 6:15, 1 Sam. An animated clip narrating the Jewish story of Moses. We can also explain the verse in a different manner that fits with the Hebrew wording and is actually the translation by many famous bible translations (https://www.biblestudytools.com/exodus/1-9-compare.html). 1:16), “families” (Josh. When the waters went down, they left a layer of dark, rich mud. But since there is no theological mandate to take the figure literally, plus all the evidence to the contrary, I am inclined to believe in a miniature Exodus. 400 or 500) than those veering off to the more side numbers (i.e. For God said, “If the people face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” 18 So God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. We must therefore say that the description of the giants in Num. These instances don’t prove anything but it does show that its theologically kosher to interpret numbers non-literally – especially when the evidence is so compelling. We can explain that Pharaoh was speaking to the elite class in Egypt, perhaps the bulk of the population in the capital Memphis of whom the Hebrews based in Goshen could have outnumbered with just a population of several (tens of) thousands. We will give the evidence for both sides and ultimately leave it to the reader to judge on the matter. If the Egyptian population at the time was several million, wouldn’t this suggest that the Israelites were also several million? These number of years may have been a way of expressing spiritual/symbolic significance of these individuals. But here the new king of Egypt sensed in their numbers a threat to his national security and thus decided to deal “shrewdly” with them (Exod. By the year 2000, there were almost 7 billion people alive. This was a common practice at the time in the Ancient Near East. The Torah says, “A mixed multitude (erev rav) went up with them [out of Egypt].”12 The commentators explain that these were converts who were awestruck by G‑d’s miracles and desired to place their lot with the Israelites. The Holy Temple was destroyed millenia ago, but Conservative and Orthodox Jews still acknowledge the three-fold division of ancient Israel into Kohanim, Leviim and Yisraelim. Said R. Tanhum bar Hanilai, “There is an error in calculation here.“. 12:38). To put this into perspective, each tree would have had to have fed 30,000 had there been 2 million mouths to feed. Take a look at our FREE Plagues of Egypt Sunday School Lesson! So how many Israelites did leave Egypt if we don’t take the 600,000 number literally? They would have vastly outnumbered the Canaanites had the number 600,000 been intended literally. The numbers range from as few as a fighting force of 5,000 (which is a total population of about 20,000) to as high as a fighting force of 140,000 (which is a total population of about 500,000). [xv] For an in-depth thesis on this theory see https://www.thetorah.com/article/recounting-the-census-a-military-force-of-5500. Teach kids that our God is powerful. Answer: It is notable that no doctrinal or theological points rely on the precise population of Israel at the time of the exodus.Whether God freed 3 million or 30 thousand from Egypt, Scripture is clear He … A very natural explanation is that the numbers represent a spiritual significance. Question: "How many Israelites left Egypt in the exodus?" In 1 Samuel 6:19 it’s written, “And He smote of the people seventy men, fifty thousand men.”, “Rabbi Abbahu and Rabbi Elazar disagree over the interpretation of the verse. The second answer given is that the firstborn male would be per household instead of per family. Water came to the Nile from rain and melted snow. So, when the Torah says that the tribe of Reuben had 46 eleph (formerly translated as “thousand”) and 500 – it actually means that their tribe had 46 families or units – that each consisted of about 11 to equal in total – 500. [xvi] Talmud Yerushalmi Taanis 4:5 (23a). The Canaanite population during its height at the early Bronze Age is estimated at 150,000 and by the time of the late Bronze Age – the time of the Israelite invasion – their population has decreased. 10:22). The children under the age of 20 likely doubles that number, giving us a total of about two and half million. The Israelites could have inflated their census numbers by ten or so in order keep up with the high numbers presented by other nations.  There were probably many sacrifices as there were many livestock brought along with the Israelites into the desert (see Ex. On a similar note, the Israelites are described as being outnumbered by the Canaanites and needed divine assurance to gain morale to fight the superior armies of the Canaanites. This is just an example of Gematria while the significance of the other Gematrias may not be known to us and why each tribe was assigned a certain number. Ultimately, with the minimal data we have, we cannot decide conclusively on the matter.  Eleph is translated in a variety of ways in the Torah: “thousand” (Ex. It doesn’t limit the census to only those born after the Exodus. spoiled the Egyptians--The accumulated earnings of many years being paid them at this moment, the Israelites were suddenly enriched, according to the promise made to Abraham ( Genesis 15:14), and they left the country like a victorious army laden with spoil ( Psalms 105:37, Ezekiel 39:10). The courtiers who feared God brought their livestock inside and those who did not fear God left them out in the open. 12:37, Num. Overview: Challenging the literal interpretation of 600,000 leaving Egypt. Giving scriptural-friendly and archaeological-friendly alternatives to the common notion of the mass exodus from Egypt.  And of course there is the issue of the actual 550 in “change” that follows the 603 thousand. 13:25-33. It cannot adequately explain the total number given in Numbers 26 – 601,730. Anywhere between 0 to 10,000, 10,000 to 20,000, 80,000 to 90,000, and 90,000 to 99,000. 1 and 26, not once do the following numbers appear. After going through the evidence for both sides we will give possible explanations for a non-literal interpretation and also see if this approach fits with conventional Orthodox theology. Adding to this confusion, is the lack of a coherent answer to this question. Required fields are marked *. Many other kings-lists of that time and era also give an insanely long number of years to various early kings. Yet the sum-total is 603 eleph (plus 550 change). This additional 5 eleph only comes if we take the number after the elephs to be hundreds.  There are two possible answers to this but both seem unlikely. There needs to be a strong case for a non-literal interpretation in order to consider it. This view is that the Torah was edited at some point well after the census was written. 1:1). 1. Numbers 3:43 records the census taken of the first-born male children of each family/household (. [xi] However, with a force of 600,000 adult men, the Israelites would have fallen upon the Canaanites as locusts swarming a crop field. [vi] See for example Midrash Tanchuma Shemot 5. 10:22. Throughout the 400 years of bondage, the Israelites lost all their hope and faith in God. As intriguing as this theory is, it does bump into a major obstacle: the sum-total number. Your email address will not be published. There is also a Midrash in the Talmud[xvii] that says Abraham’s 318 men (mentioned in Gen. 14:14) were actually just his one servant Eliezer. What first may appear as a trivial question, the issue of how many Israelites left Egypt and wandered in the desert is a complex topic that sheds light on biblical history and the veracity of the Torah as a whole. Like many cities of the bible, the people who lived there rebelled against God worshiping false gods and idols created by man. [xvi] . But the evidence for a non-literal number are staggering. The problem with this theory is that this number is far too high for a two-year span. The reason why the numbers all cluster around 400 and 500 is because that was the reality of how many troops there were. Naturally, the first impression of a number is that it is literal unless there is strong evidence suggesting otherwise. In books and articles it is often claimed that the Israelites were only in Egypt for 215 years. Your email address will not be published. (Exodus 13:21-22). The Children of Israel (bnei Yisroel) were counted to be 603,550 in the census taken in Numbers Ch. Even the Talmud suggests that Jeremiah the Prophet made a miscalculation and documented his error in his Book of Jeremiah! Also see Ex. Moreover, the several-million population of the Jews during the Second Temple era could have fulfilled this promise (but see Deut. The ”hundreds” follow the same pattern as the “thousands.” There are no 0 to 100 figures, no 100 to 200, no 800 to 900, and no 900 to 999. In the 1800’s in the US it was about 3%. Your comment “This growth is unfathomable from a historical perspective” concerning the Hebrew growth rate of roughly 200 to 2M in 430 year is in itself unfathomably ignorant! We don’t know if the Torah intended a literal number (in which case the question would be if the Torah was accurate) or if intended a non-literal number and what the number represents if not for literal numbers. (A note on the Hyskos and Joseph’s Marriage, p.1) . Many Jews flee to Egypt and a possible fourth deportation to Babylon 562 BCE Release of Jehoiachin after 37 years in a Babylonian prison. [xiv] The veracity of this theory is untested since it enters the realm of spirituality unknown to us. Take the patriarch Jacob for example, who had four women with him and yet only 12 children. [vi] But there is no indication in the verse for this. 1 and 26. It is also more likely that more tribes would be clustered around that middle number (i.e. How long were the Israelites in Egypt | … The first is that the census only counted the firstborn males born since the Exodus that happened just two years earlier (Num. What is the importance of the parting of the Red Sea? First of all, even men with multiple women don’t tend to have 50 children. There are reasons to take this number literally and many more reasons to take it non-literally. Same goes with Ezekiel in his Book of Ezekiel. When the Lord Jesus came as Israel’s Messiah, He informed the nation Israel that many who thought themselves to be the “people of God” were mistaken: Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. These families could have had 50 or so children each – only one of which would be considered a male firstborn. [iv] https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/international-programs/historical-est-worldpop.html, [v] https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/international-programs/historical-est-worldpop.html. <100, 100, 800, or >900. 10:4). What was the date of the exodus from Egypt? Anything in the open was struck down, as well as all the grasses and trees.  Ex. Archaeology as well only supports a low number. 200, 300, 600, and 700). If you say it was on the first of Elul, could a courier [who carries letters] go in a day and a night [i.e., in just a short time] from Jerusalem to Tyre? 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