Monday, June 12, 2006

A Second Reply in Defense of Reduced Census-Numbers

By Jim Snapp, Jr

[Note: At present Williams intends to append any further comments he has on the subject to this message - PJW]

Since Dr. Williams did not use a point-by-point format to respond to my first defense of the initial proposal, I will likewise adopt a more general and concise approach here, amounting to seven paragraphs.

1) About the Idea of Not Being Conservative With the Text

A reverent attitude toward the original text drives a desire to discern the original text. Where the extant text appears to be non-original, reverence propels a search for the original text via conjectural emendation. The failure of non-evangelicals to join that search may reveal their lack of theological concern about the original text. While their inaction conserves energy and thought, it is not theologically conservative.

2) About the Idea that Textual Grounds Should be the Impetus for Emendation

First, the fragility of Hebrew numerical notations, considered in light of obvious disparities and/or suggestively puzzling features in the extant text, combine to form textual evidence of corruption. But a more basic point should be emphasized: there is such a thing as good evidence that is not textual evidence, and there is no reason to pretend that such evidence has no voice.

3) About the Idea that Inerrancy Should Not Be A Factor in Cases Like This

One doesn’t need to adhere to inerrancy to possess a high level of confidence in the historical accuracy of the original text. As mentioned about, reverence for the original text fuels the search for the original text -- but another fuel is disciplined curiosity, the spirit of historical inquiry. Using a historian’s perspective, the narratives in the text and the text’s own transmission-history can be approached as a series of events to be investigated, without involving the concept of inerrancy at all. After logically weighing the historical possibilities, it is possible to state, as a non-theological statement, that it is more likely that the numbers were enlarged by copyists than that Moses led 2,400,000 Hebrews out of Egypt.

4) About the Idea that the Emendation Implies That It Would Have Been Hard for Anyone to Read the Real Story of the Exodus in the First Century

I grant this point, but the same thing can be said about numerous other passages involving numerical amounts. This seems to be a rhetorical objection, capable of being raised against any conjectural emendation.
5) About the Idea that Just Because a Hebrew Population of 2,400,000 is Historically Improbable Is No Reason To Say that It Didn’t Exist

I’m just saving us the trouble of riding a tangent in a loop. We have lists of army-sizes and refugees and such from ancient Egypt, and they tend to defy an interlock with the picture of 600,000 Hebrew males and their families ever being slaves in Egypt, or ever sojourning in Transjordan. There’s more than a mere absence of evidence to deal with. It may be difficult to say precisely what the Hebrew population was, but it is not difficult to say what it was not.

6) About the Idea that Four Different Totalling Mechanisms of the Census-Numbers Secure the Text

A copyist who received lists enumerating, tribe-by-tribe, "thousands" and "chieftains," and who thought that the sums for each tribe should be combined into a single thousands-unit, would be much more likely to make such an error thoroughly than selectively. Against such a scribe, a series of numbers would have no built-in defense against the natural effects of an innocent misreading of numbers in the consonantal text, regardless of whether those numbers were presented two, four, or eight times.

7) About the Idea that the Emendation Abandons the Classic Text of Scripture

Scribal error is scribal error, no matter how often rewritten or how frequently read, and evangelicals of all eras agree that we should not look to identifiable errors for spiritual guidance. However, I probably should have noted earlier that the entire emendation I have presented is not intended to replace the extant text, but to supplement it, somewhat like a qere-note. This is not due to a desire to guard an empty bank-safe, so to speak; it is because the main reconstructions of the tribal populations are too tentative, and possess too wide a non-decreasible margin of error, to press for their adoption above the extant text. Their main value is to indicate the transmission-history by which the extant numbers came into being and to convey a more accurate idea of what the author wrote and what he wrote about.


P J Williams said...

Thanks for this. I'd be interested to have details of the estimates of army size in Egypt that you feel are relevant. Of course armies are usually much smaller than populations. What I can say is that a whole range of people numbers from antiquity are treated with scepticism by scholars (e.g. that Sennacherib took 200,150 captive from Judaea in 701 BC). Fouts (
40-3-pp377-387_JETS.pdf, pp. 383-86) lists a number of Ancient Near Eastern numbers that he sees as hyperbolic, though I suspect that some of them are meant to be taken literally. What if more of the ancient numbers were taken seriously?

I am glad that you concede (4) above, since I think this is a particularly strong argument.

Your suggestion that the corruption across four different totalling mechanisms can be explained by the consistency of a scribe is rather at odds with the frequent use in your original proposal of the word 'misunderstood'. The more totalling mechanisms there were that had to be misread the less plausible it is that the change in number totals you propose can be seen as anything other than deliberate change.

After all, you not only propose that they misread 4 different totalling mechanisms, and that such things have occurred in at least four books (Exodus, Numbers, Judges, 1 Samuel - I guess you'd probably include more if pressed), but you also conjecture 4 different means of multiplication in one book. You propose one textual mechanism in Numbers 1-2, another in 3 and 26:62 (the adding of a 'zero' to larger numbers), another in Numbers 4 (the adding of a 'zero' to numbers only in their hundreds), another in Numbers 31 (multiplication by 20).

And all of the totals produced are arbitrary in the sense that if another person were allowed the same number of textual conjectures they could equally come up with some quite different totals.

And now, to be provocative, I would like to suggest that it would be rather easier to conjecture that all of the texts in the Bible that appear to suggest that homosexual practice is wrong arose from scribal misunderstandings or corruptions than that the numbers at the exodus have been mistransmitted.

Has anyone any thoughts on the relative amount of corruption that would be involved in each case?

If anyone suggested that biblical texts against homosexual practice were the result of scribal corruption they could still surely claim to be adhering to a classic evangelical doctrine of scripture...oder?

Anonymous said...

While I think this discussion is quite appropriate for discussion it will only be rehashed here and elsewhere simply because of the stability of the Hebrew consonantal text and the unflinching demands that it's contents impose upon us to believe.

Doubtless the hermeneutical explanation which such passages cause us to address will in and of themselves impose a "healthy tension" in our faith and our own acceptance or rejection (or simple relaxing) of the full plenary inspiration and providental preservation of the text through the ages. Nonetheless the consonantal text is all that we have to discover and by which to know who God is and what he requires. This text is undertood as God's word revelation. His deed revelation is revealed by and in his own acts in history - even unto this day.

In order for Mr. Snapp to overturn and consequently slacken the scriptural doctrine of inspiration maintained by Mr. Williams and exhalt his own autonomous understanding to judge Mr. Snapp must begin not with his own subjective surmisings as to what is possible or even probable but must demonstrate through more vigorous historical research not only the untenable nature of such numbers a posteriori but also if found to be such then must demonstrate their proper use and intent within the historical genre wherein they are found as well as the authorial intent for placing them there.

I feel that Mr. Williams is more correct than Mr. Snapp (as far as method goes) based on two points: 1) the rigor which was imposed by the Jewish people to safeguard the consonantal text - demonstrated through the counting of letters, chapters, etc. and 2) the natural historical certainty of the procreative process being in line with the consonantal text.

Unless one is willing to listen to what the text is saying first and willing to explain the textual data on it's own merit first the proper hermeneutical process will be interrupted and the autonomy of the interpreter will be exalted to dismisser and arbiter - much like the psychological makeup of Lenin, Stahlin, or Hitler.

Daniel R. Buck said...

As a linguist, I choke on the idea that the original text of, say, Genesis 1-11 remains unchanged in the consonantal text of the Masoretes. There is internal evidence that in the mere 70 years of Babylonian exile the spoken language of the Judeans changed so much that Ezra needed to translate their own scriptures for them (Nehemiah 8:8). Just imagine, then, the change in the original Hebrew language, first learned by Abraham, during the centuries his descendants were in slavery in Egypt.

I have to believe that even at the time Ezra read the Pentateuch, it wasn't already, at least in part, a translation from the original. It's quite possible that Moses, scholar that he was, could have put the whole Pentateuch into the literary Hebrew that he himself may have developed. But before the period of the Judges was even over, the various tribes of Israel had already developed their own particular dialects (Judges 12:6).

And that doesn't even account for the transjordan tribes, nor the hundreds of years of the Divided Kingdom, when linguistic development must have continued apace. By the time the Book of the Law was read to King Josiah, it must have already been in a dead language, needing translating for people to understand it. This environment would have been very conducive to the sort of scribal altering, based on linguistic change, that Jim proposes.

P J Williams said...

By Ezra's time 'twas a tad more than 70 years. However, I think that we should keep an open mind about the history of Hebrew. Under certain circumstances languages change little (e.g. Icelandic through isolation). We do not know enough to write a history of Hebrew. Whether Hebrew ever died as a language depends on your definition of 'death'. It has, however, remained in constant use till the present, while at times the contexts in which it is used have become more restricted.

The names of the patriarchs suggest that they spoke something not dissimilar to biblical Hebrew. Dialects may have been in the (vast!) host of Israel before the time of the exodus.

We also need to note the linguistic similarity between Hebrew and Edomite, Ammonite and Moabite and to a lesser extent Phoenician (Canaanite). NW Semitic was used throughout the area, including by the early Philistines (Abimelech; as well as in Ekron in the C7 BC).

Daniel R. Buck said...

Thanks for this discussion, Peter.
I'm especially interested in how Hebrew changes since coming into posession of a mideaval Seder plate from the liquidation of a Berber museum in Fez. I've perused the extensive embossed writing that covers the face of the plate, and while the square Hebrew letters (with the exception of the qoph--which most nearly resembles a capital S) are clearly identifiable, I can't identify a single word as being Hebrew--or Semetic for that matter.

Your Old Norse-Icelandic comparison is interesting. ON survived precisely because it was the written language of the Norse scriptures (as it were), and unlike in Norway where it split into so many dialects that they defy characterization under the heading of a single language called Norwegian, the spoken language of Iceland was kept in line by the written language of the Eddas.

I suppose the case could be made that the same occurred in Israel: that while spoken dialects varied from one tribe to another, the written form was kept to the standard of the Pentateuch. Exile reduced the level of literacy, but didn't extinguish it.

For proof that spoken language continutes to change, take a look at the colloquial Icelandic phrase, "vídeóspólu í vídeóið" which is no doubt considerably shorter than the orthodox way of saying "pop a tape in the VCR" (which in orthodox English would be 'insert a videocassette into the video cassette player').

P J Williams said...

Daniel, thanks for the useful Icelandic phrase. I will be sure to use it next time I'm near someone from Iceland and a video player.

Do the letters on your plate correspond at all to the Rashi script?

Daniel Buck said...

Do the letters on your plate correspond at all to the Rashi script?

Absolutely not. They're all pretty close to the standard script, actually. The waw and especially resh are sometimes a bit ambiguous with the nun, and the samekh and teth are hard to distinguish. I couldn't find gimel at all, and only one cheth. A few taus but no distinctive terminal forms.

There are 3 lines of text encircling a central star of David with a menorah inside it. The outside line, interspersed with grape clusters and fish, reads something like:


upon closer inspection the 'qophs' are clearly lameds. I havent' seen any distinguishable qophs so far.

I was able to identify the word "Pitza" which may indicate a secondary use of the plate.

P J Williams said...

Sorry, I can make nothing out of this transcription. I'm not sure what conventions you are using. Best thing is to provide a link to a photo. Then we'll all have a shottie at decyphering.

Daniel R. Buck said...

"Then we'll all have a shottie at decyphering."

Not unless you know Judeo-Berber. I did a bit of research and sure enough, the Berber Jews used Hebrew letters (as they learnt them from their MT mss) to write liturgically (but not, apparently, in continuous-text form, so it's not of interest to this forum).

But back to the subject of archaic Hebrew, what about the word in Genesis 36:24? My copy of the MT has it as HaYiMiM, if I read the pointing correctly. I know just enough Hebrew to be dangerous here, so I'll not go into the likelihood of the H being a definite article or not, but the point is that Hebraists of ages past could not seem to identify the word. Of interest to TC'ers is that the Old Greek transliteration 'iamein' appears in Georgian as 'iamini'--indicating a Greek OT vorlage.

But those who attempted to translate rather than transliterate the word have had to wrestle with its obsolecence, as far back as Syriac ('the water', by transposition to HaMaYim)') and a Targum ('mighty men'). Wycliffe ('hoote watris') followed the Vulgate ('aquas calidas'), whilst the KJV (following Luther?) has 'mules'--the Talmudic interpretation. Modern Jewish Bibles, as well as English ones, seem to have settled on the Vulgate reading--but who really knows? The point is that the word seems to have belonged to a language that preceded the Hebrew in which the OT is now written.

P J Williams said...

We're digressing a long way from the topic, but the hapax hayyemim is difficult. Alongside the Vulgate a possible cognate suggesting heat might be Arabic maumaah (pl. mawaamin) 'desert'. I suspect that the Georgian word derives from the Greek term 'Ionian'.

Daniel Buck said...

BTW how do you do italics here?

Sorry I don't know anything about 'maumaah', but I can see where Jerome my have gotten 'hot springs' if he knew Arabic.

The Van Dyck Arabic Bible reads: WaJaDa uLHaMA'iM FILBaRiYyaTi.
'uLHaMA'iM' means 'the pigeons,' although I suppose it could also be an archaic irregular plural of 'HaMmah' which is 'a hot spring,' akin to HaMAM, which is a spa. FILBaRiYyaTi simply means 'in the wilderness'. WaJaDa can be interpreted as "found" or, less likely, "invented."

The speculation is even more widespread than I thought. Clarke:
St. Jerome says there are as many opinions concerning it as there are commentators.

The Septuagint has 'ton iamein', which seems to be the name of a man [an Ionian?]; but this is expressed in a great variety of ways in different MSS. of that version.

Onkelos translates the word 'gibbaraiya', giants, or strong or powerful men.

The Samaritan text has 'haaimim', and the Samaritan version 'am aimai', the Emim, a warlike people, bordering upon the Horites.

The Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel paraphrases the place thus: "This is the Anah who united the onager with the tame ass, and in process of time he found mules produced by them."

R. D. Kimchi says, that "Zibeon was both the father and brother of Anah; and this Anah, intent on heterogeneous mixtures, caused asses and horses to copulate, and so produced mules." R. S. Jarchi is of the same opinion.
The problem with the 'mules' theory is that mares need to be involved, and they don't play into the text at all. Maybe they were hinnies out of the original Black Stallion.

P J Williams said...

Daniel, to get italics you use [i] before the word and [/i] immediately after the word (except that [ should be replaced by < and ] by >). Thus [i]italics[/i] should appear thus. Any intro to HTML will give you a few basic 'tags' that you can put round words.

We're rather rambling about the waters. If you want to offer a note on this to the blog on this then please send it to me and we'll review it. At the moment it is not clear what the difference between 'Samaritan Text' and 'Samaritan Version' is. Moreover, Samaritan biblical texts are basically unpointed, which means that you mainly know their vocalisation through studies of their tradition (e.g. Schorch), and studies show that Samaritan and Masoretic vowels are not equivalent and therefore it is pointless giving a transliteration unless you explain the historical relationship between this and the Masoretic pointing.

A Septuagintal transliteration need not have any meaning.

In my book Targums never paraphrase.

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

Back to the numbers. What about a deliberate corruption of smaller numbers throughout the texts representing earlier ages, as suggested on my part here? I suggest that, between the authoring of the book(s) of Chronicles and prior to the translation of the LXX (strictly the Pentateuch), so roughly circa 300 BC, while the texts still existed solely in a textual chokepoint solely in Hebrew and likely solely in Jerusalem, were edited by someone motivated, for whatever reason, to deliberately and quite literally calculatedly inflate the numbers. Traces of this editing are seen in a couple of "missed" numbers in parallel texts, one of which displays multiplication by a value of 10, one of which doesn't. I've nicknamed this editor the Multiplier, for the obvious reason that he multiplied nearly all the original numbers throughout the historical books by either 100 (in the case of Pentateuchal texts), or 10 in the case of the other historical books. These were no accidents, but a deliberate alteration of the text for an ulterior motive.

What would you all make of such a deliberate alteration? We do have evidence of similar alterations a few hundred years before in Assyrian texts, as noted in the de Odorico volume I mention on that page. And I have never found persuasive the multiple layers of suppositional alterations required of the approach of Mendenhall and others (which share the thousand/chief/troop mixup meme).

One interesting item is that the number ended up with by the majority of methods used to provide corrected numbers is generally less than 10,000. And the presence of indicators of a counter-tradition to this number reflecting only troops, as in Ex 12.37 where the number is explicitly said to reflect all Israelites except infants, and Num 11.21 (about the meat) shows that this is all a whole lot more complicated than it is at surface.

But I do think that deliberate alteration of the text took place.

Daniel R. Buck said...

This is a bit too much, considering that the 'extra numbers' of 30 and 50 also had to be added to every extant copy. Surely the Samaritans already had their own scribes by then, who, even if they also fell for the multiplication idea, would have been highly unlikely to carry over the same precise remainders.

Daniel Buck said...

it worked! Thanks.
The last computer class I took was in 1981, and I don't think HTML tags had yet been developed then.

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

Daniel, current work places the separation of the Samaritan Text from the prot-Masoretic at only around 100 BC, certainly not early enough to affect my thesis.

P J Williams said...

Thanks for the reference to your recalculations. As you note, the ancients did not use decimals and in that sense a decimally based system of number multiplication is not the most natural thing to postulate. The model that you propose involves several independent assumptions including:

-decimal multiplication
-multiplication by 10 or 100
-extra numbers added for verisimilitude
-a point in the text of two books where ‘the Multipliers’ give up

Beyond this it requires a common transmission history for all the affected books of the Bible (our books are all descended from copies that were in a single location in the fourth century).

The agreement of MT, SP, LXX and Qumran in the issue of large numbers requires your assumption that "The work of alteration would need to have had the approval of those responsible for manuscript transmission to other Jewish communities."

But once you have postulated that, you have basically said that what is the official, authorised, Jewish Bible resulted from centralised tampering. If you postulate this in order to support the authority of the text of the Bible (by rescuing its historicity), it seems a strange apologetic tactic to rescue biblical historicity by positing centralised tampering with the text. After all, what else besides numbers might have been affected? If it is not an attempt to rescue the historicity of the Bible, wouldn’t it just be simpler to postulate that a number of authors independently wrote large numbers.

The multiplication is put in the fourth century, which, due to our lack of knowledge of it, is the small window during which such editing cannot be disproven.

But, if, as I’ve posited, the large numbers in the OT are connected to the theme of ‘be fruitful and multiply’, was ‘the Multiplier’ also responsible for introducing that theme. If so, you might as well say that ‘the Multiplier’ was the author.

You said, "Note Herodotus' number of 1,700,000 for Xerxes' army (7.60), and the fabulous
wealth of Susa which went to Alexander (Diodorus Siculus, 17.71.1: 120,000 talents of gold and silver)."

Now are you really sure that these numbers are so ridiculous? I was taught at school, aged about 16, that Herodotus exaggerated the numbers, but is this really true? There is actually rather a consistent pattern that scholars are rejecting a large number of ancient large numbers. Could it not be that our models of history and population estimates are in fact more of a problem? Herodotus was not that far in time from the events.

People tend to be rather sceptical of large numbers in other texts, e.g. 2 Maccabees (in which the large numbers cannot be attributed to Kevin’s ‘Multiplier’), but I think that we could probably do more to defend the historicity of parts of the Apocrypha (not Judith).

Now on the date of the schism between the Jews and Samaritans, I’m not up-to-date with the latest literature. I remember being unconvinced by Purvis’ argument on the basis of the shape of the Samaritan letters that the Samaritan text had only separated from that of the Jews in the second century (sociologically problematic). I think that Waltke puts separation between the Jewish and Samaritan strands a lot earlier.

Anonymous said...


First let me commend you for your enthusiasm for Biblical studies and your application to varied and multifarious topics on your Blog site.

I would however like to make a few observations that I think will be helpful in future research - not just for you but us all.

1) There is a point when it is OK to say we don't know. The intertestamental period produced a vast amount of literary activity, but with the knowledge that the Spirit of prophecy was silent (cf. Malachi). Nonetheless the messianic expectation of Messias' coming was oft spoken of and the end times motif addressed through the apocalytic genre. This fact in and of itself evidences the awareness of the Jewish people to the prophetic nature of their sacred writings and their demarcation from the others. If memory serves me correctly it was at Jamnia that the Jewish OT canon was finally officially recognized.

2. In your essay on your site you yourself raise a question mark amid the fragments for the Book of Numbers in Cave 4. I took this as a red flag raised by yourself because the extant evidence at Qumran among the LXX fragments does not support a text contrary to the numbers found in the MT. Cf. this listing for examples.

3. I also would like to point out that the the translations of Aquila, Symmachus and Theodotian do not evidence numbers at variance with the MT. These translations differ one from the other much like 'The Message' differs from the ESV. It refects more translation philosopy than anything else.

4. While this discussion in fact has as its focalpoint the inerrancy and full truthfulness of Scripture one can not limit this doctrine (drawn from Scripture itself) only to certain parts or motifs and still remain scripturally based as to the nature and character of this doctrinal fact. For if one slackens one point then how can any point be believed from the Trinity to the bodily resurrection to our own hope that "in this flesh I shall see God?"

5. While the Patristic fathers were well aware of this teaching in scripture they hardly developed a extensive elucidation of its tenets and full purport of its reality. Rather their own writings presuppose and rely upon this reality as a given proven by its demonstration in history itself. I bring this point up because I noticed that you are Eastern Orthodox. I am of Russian descent and my mother tongue is Russian. I too like to think that I am Orthodox, but not perhaps as one might think.

6. Even in this day and age exact numbers are not always at hand. In the First World War Russia lost between 7 and 9 million men. Under Stahlin the figures for Russian deaths are as high as 55 million (this figure includes more than just the war dead). For WWII there are no figures for Russian wounded or prisoners and missing. Most numbers are rounded numbers and not exact - although this is not true with American war dead and wounded.

7. Lesser numbers are in fact able to inflict heavy casualties. One thinks of the battle at Thermopylae where the Greeks were more spirited and hell bent than the Persians; or the battle for Stahlingrad were the Germans sufffered the lost of @ 330,000 - thanks in part to Generals January and February. In the Nam era hit and run tactics were common (guerrilla warefare) not unlike Gideon or the Maccabees.

8. I noticed that your bibliography reflects what I would consider liberal opinions - those whose interest in the Scriptural doctrine of Inspiration and infallibility is of little or no consequence. Such are more interested in hearing themselves talk and positing their own historical reconstructions - irrespective of circumspection or truth. I would challenge you to delve deeper into the believing perspective writers and scholars who understand and accept their own finiteness and recognize God's infiniteness. The next time you don't know say "I'm waiting for more light." Remember the words of W. Cowper "God is his own interpreter and he will make it plain." And rightly so for our faith is not in men but God.

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

Thanks for the input, guys. I’ll try to cover your objections, several of which seem due to my too cursory explanations, in a bunch.

Decimal multiplication existed anciently, but a decimal-based system notation such as we have did not. This would make multiplication by factors of ten not as obvious to ancient readers as to us, who see a series of zeroes at the end of numbers so adjusted. I refer again to de Odorico, The Use of Numbers and Quantifications in the Assyrian Royal Inscriptions, where such multiplication is documented in a sexagesimal-based system of numeric annotation. We know that Judahites pre- and post-Exile used a variant of Egyptian numeric annotation. Transposition of figures of hundreds to thousands and figures of tens to hundreds, and so on, would be a matter of replacing one character for another, approximately as in Akkadian. The issue of numbers left behind in this process particularly for verisimilitude (or simply by error) is explicable by stopping at a certain point in this process of transposition, leaving a number only partially transposed, for whatever reason. Regardless, I suggest only a handful of cases requiring this, with remarkably all of the occurring in Numbers, and only 50 and 30 being used.

The versional evidence clearly indicates that these numbers were already established in broad outline before there were any versions to speak of. There is a small constellation of reasons that I’ve placed the process at circa 300 BC: 1.) It had to occur after Chronicles was finished; 2.) it had to occur before all other versions existed, including the LXX (c. 275 BC) and Sam (c. 100 BC; most agree on this date); 3.) the late Persian/early Hellenistic period is known for the huge numbers attached to the vast wealth and armies of the Persians and Macedonians, as referenced in Herodotus (my use of “fabulous” being in the sense of “amazing” and “fabled,” not “unbelievable”); 4.) it had to occur at a point in the history of Judea in which they were relatively isolated, in order to have the transmission history under the centralized control necessary for this to have occurred; 5.) articles on population in the various Israelite/Judahite territories in various periods suggest different, lesser totals for the population which more closely approximate the corrections I suggest (namely, Rivka Gonen, “Urban Canaan in the Late Bronze Period,” BASOR 253: 61-73; Eveline J. van der Steen, “The Central East Jordan Valley in the Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages,” BASOR 302: 51-74; Yigal Shiloh, “The Population of Iron Age Palestine in the Light of a Sample Analysis of Urban Plains, Areas, and Population Density;” BASOR 239, 25-35; Magen Broshi and Israel Finkelstein, “The Population of Palestine in Iron Age II,” BASOR 287, 47-60); 6.) the presence of the already multiplied numbers in Qumran scrolls shows the change took place earlier than the earliest Pentateuchal texts found there, so before c. 200 BC.

Relatedly, I suggest that it’s the contemporary numbers that the Multiplier knows in his own day as reality which he applies as his guide to “correcting” the numbers of the text to reflect something more believable to his own day, whether this process was intended to simply correct numbers that he understood as erroneously low (which I think more likely) or he intentionally altered the numbers in order to impress (which I think less likely as he roughly maintains throughout by his correction the same approximated total of a population of probably about 2 million for the combined Israel and Judah. It’s this strict adherence to such a control that required two things of the Multiplier: 1.) the very small numbers of the Pentateuch needed to be multiplied by more to bring them up to matching the population growth of 500 or more years later, obviously; 2.) the numbers in other periods were also adjusted except where they reflected a similar population/economic situation as that known to the Multiplier. The lack of population growth indicated by the numbers as they presently are needs to be otherwise explained if one takes them at face value. That’s not very fruitful of the people if they can’t even increase their population very much over the course of nearly a thousand years. But, going from a group of roughly 6,000 total to a population of about 2 million over the course of that time is entirely believable, and is supported by actual reality.

The issue of Biblical numbers is a complicated one. Which ones are right? The Masoretic? The Septuagint? The Samaritan? Any? None? There has obviously been editing of all these different numbers, ages of patriarchs and so on. The text of the MT itself indicates that something along the lines of what I suggest has occurred. Note especially in comparison 1 Kings 4.26 (Solomon had 40,000 stalls) and 2 Chronicles 9.25 (Solomon had 4,000 stalls), which make the pair of verses that first suggested this solution to me, nearly twenty years ago. Are these differences essentially a theological issue? No. No creed of the Christian Church focuses on or even utilizes these numbers, nor is there any reliance upon them in the establishment of any doctrine. Patristic authors were as well aware of textual issues as we are. No theologian, to my knowledge, has ever asserted that the Biblical texts have been transmitted throughout the ages without any altertation. And indeed, some alteration which may have been deliberate as opposed to accidental has certainly been recognized. How else does on account for text types? I simply suggest a relatively early and systematic, though not entirely perfectly executed, series of deliberate alterations in the Hebrew text which are, thankfully, in nearly every case easily retroverted. The solution is that someone deliberately altered the text, which we are able to discern, but which others were not concerned enough with to bother to address. Patristic writers were focused on theology, and these numbers had nothing to say to the subject of theology.

Anonymous, I find my suggestion much more plausible than that found in almost every work in my bibliography. The bibliography includes those works which are the sources for the majority of Biblical scholarship’s approach to those numbers, as liberal or whatever as they are. They are listed as background, and are not related to my own approach any more than mine is in reaction to their often bizarre and far too complicated solutions.

P J Williams said...


Thanks for your reply. I think that Broshi and Finkelstein and the other bibliographical items require thorough investigation. As I understand it, ancient population estimates are based partly on estimates of water supplies and partly on estimates of the quantity of material remains for any time. Obviously population estimates are therefore intimately connected to chronology and the question of what remains are assigned to what period. I do not have the expertise to carry out the critical investigation that I think needs to be carried out (anyone looking for a PhD topic?).

KE: “The lack of population growth indicated by the numbers as they presently are needs to be otherwise explained if one takes them at face value. That’s not very fruitful of the people if they can’t even increase their population very much over the course of nearly a thousand years. But, going from a group of roughly 6,000 total to a population of about 2 million over the course of that time is entirely believable, and is supported by actual reality.”

The narrative which reports the lack of growth for Israel after the conquest is a theological one that may provide its own explanation. What people call the Deuteronomistic History (don’t much care for the name myself) relates political decline in Israel/Judah alongside spiritual decline.

KE: “The issue of Biblical numbers is a complicated one. Which ones are right? The Masoretic? The Septuagint? The Samaritan? Any? None? There has obviously been editing of all these different numbers, ages of patriarchs and so on.”

While many numbers may have been changed in some texts, it is not clear that they have been changed in all texts.

“The text of the MT itself indicates that something along the lines of what I suggest has occurred. Note especially in comparison 1 Kings 4.26 (Solomon had 40,000 stalls) and 2 Chronicles 9.25 (Solomon had 4,000 stalls), which make the pair of verses that first suggested this solution to me, nearly twenty years ago.”

However, if anything this example suggests ‘division’ rather than multiplication. Chronicles, which is (pace Auld) generally judged to be later than Kings has the smaller number. Moreover, big claims require big evidence. This case provides a rather slender evidential basis for positing your very elaborate theory of ‘the Multiplier’.

KE: “Patristic authors were as well aware of textual issues as we are. No theologian, to my knowledge, has ever asserted that the Biblical texts have been transmitted throughout the ages without any alteration.”

It may be true that no theologian has ever asserted that alterations did not occur in some copies of the text. However, there are many who have held or asserted that all of the biblical text is in an uncorrupted form somewhere.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your willingness to respond further. This discussion doubtless is not a end but a prelude to further more advanced research and problem solving.

I would however caution you as to the weight you give to the example you allude to and its suggestive powers re:

"Note especially in comparison 1 Kings 4.26 (Solomon had 40,000 stalls) and 2 Chronicles 9.25 (Solomon had 4,000 stalls), which make the pair of verses that first suggested this solution to me, nearly twenty years ago. Are these differences essentially a theological issue? No..."

Which figure is correct? The fact of the matter is that the Chronicler is normally the one and is the one who portrays the events from a completely different - not contradictory and certainly not inimical perspective. Why? In fact if there is a problem area I would first be concerned with the text of 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings (a OT synoptic problem in and of itself for the lack of a better word). Although the issue of literacy hardly had it's origins during the Intertestamental period I certainly would not start with the text of the Chronicler as redactor and culprit i.e. if one must find a bad guy?!

I also found it quite interesting that the Egytian number symbols are able to account for such large quanities whether they be peoples or other "extra linguistic referents."

But I will make a halt here and simply refer you to others whom I have been profoundly helped by in OT text and theological issues. The works of the late Raymond Dillard and now Californian Tremper Longman III.

Below is a site listing some of Dillard's works. In addition to those listed there his commentary on 2 Chronicles is a true gem.

Finally let me beg to differ with you on one further issue and I don't mean this in simply a redactional-historical way as most nowadays understand it. All facts are theologically tendentious (German: Tendenz). This is an inescapable fact of reality which one can not evade though one may try to deny and suppress it. It raises it's head -sometimes as an ugly head - just like truth does simply because God is a reality and the supreme ruler yet. The theological motivation, intent, and purpose of the Biblical authors cannot nor should be divorced from any historical accounting of the data whether that data be an event, a text-critical issue or whatever. Also, Beware of the trend to place one's focus on the scribes activity and away from the author of the text and his meaning.

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

Thanks, guys, for the responses. I'd like to clear up a couple of points there.

First, the 4000/40000 difference was only one of a constellation of peculiarities, which, in toto, lead to better support than just this one obvious example. Even so, the rest of Chronicles' numbers are the same as those in Samuel/Kings. That this one particular number is different is telling, and it needs to be explained. I have provided an explanation.

P. J., stability of a population over the course of roughtly 1000 years is certainly not a sign of decline. Similarly, had such been intended by the author of any of the texts, it would have been made explicit at some point, we can expiect. Indeed, to claim that such numbers are theologically significant, such would be required.

Anonymous, perhaps you could restate your last paragraph? I'm afraid I can't grasp what you were trying to say.

P J Williams said...

A lower population at the time of the Babylonian captivity might be suggested by the small numbers deported.

Daniel Buck said...

In Psalm 105:8 we read:
"He has remembered his covenant for ever, the word which he commanded to a thousand generations." --MT, LXX

If the Pentateuch suffered tenfold number expansion in Deuteronomy 7:9, this verse shows that the Multiplier was very thorough in his work, even bringing the Poetic Books into line.

Because indeed, the number here seems clearly too large by an order of magnitude; there have only been about 100 identifiable generations since Moses received this promise, and no one supposes that we at this point are only now 10-20% of the way to a point in history when God's covenant with His people will finally expire.

Could God realistically keep His covenant with those who love him for 1,000 generations? That would require the continuation of this present world for another 30,000 years or so! Some one hundred generations, on the other hand, have already transpired since God gave this promise, thus confirming (if the Multiplier existed) that we are indeed in the Last Days.

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

P.J., yes, of course, that occurs after the major deportations in both Israel and Judah by the Assyrians and one or more deportations by the Babylonians. Thus those numbers are not particularly useful for population growth/decrease estimates. It is, however, interesting that this period reflects one which in my scheme shows no multiplication, indicating that the situation of the editor who did such work was in Jerusalem at a time when the population was roughly similar, a time after the city was re-established, re-walled and had time to grow a bit. Between 350 and 275 fits perfectly.