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.