My Father’s Article on the Exodus Population Numbers

I think this issue has serious ramifications for the exegesis of the numbers of the Exodus. Many if not most commentators simply assume exaggerated numbers. They have not crunched any numbers. My father shows that exaggeration is surely not necessary in order to understand the census numbers literally in the Exodus and Numbers account. What follows here is an abbreviated summary that my father wrote, and the article itself is available here (see attachment near the bottom).

The purpose of this paper was to demonstrate (with a mathematical model) how the population of the Israelites could have increased during their captivity in Egypt consistent with the specific census numbers noted in the book of Numbers. In particular, it was shown that a family size of 6-8 children throughout the time of captivity could easily account for the census numbers without resorting to metaphorical and/or hyperbolic interpretations of those numbers.

The mathematical model was characterized by the relaxing of any implicit extra Biblical requirement that the number of generations of all lines of all the patriarchs had to be limited to five during the entire time of captivity. The model was designed to include such parameters as the average number of children per family, the rate at which the first born and subsequent male children were killed by the Egyptians, the number of live births per family before and after the Egyptian edict, and a variable associated with multiple births, all of which resulted in a range of the total Israelite population being ~1.4 million to ~1.8 million, with the most likely number being around 1.5 million at the time of the Exodus from Egypt. In all cases, the census numbers in the book of Numbers were forced to be satisfied exactly by the calculational mechanism of the model.

The results showed the following:
1. A typical exponential growth pattern of the Israeli population, similar to that of the population of the United States from 1790 to 1870. This without the unreasonable number of children per family of about 30, as a number of commentators would have us believe would have been necessary. In this case, the model (while being considerably simpler than the actual scenario) was able to account for all the numbers noted in Scripture dealing with the Exodus population. This implies that a more complete and accurate descriptive model would strain neither our understanding of Scripture nor common sense in terms of what the Scriptural numbers mean.
2. That the proportion of first born male children killed would have been considerably greater than that of subsequent male children, thus further illustrating the justice of the passover executing of the firstborn of Egyptian people. The model predicts male baby deaths by the Egyptians to be in the order of hundreds of thousands.

In general, future exegeses of Scriptural passages which contain perplexing numbers should be conducted by including questions about one’s implicit assumptions about such numbers rather than about the actual numbers themselves (In this particular case, for example, an implicit assumption made by many commentators is that the number of generations going from Judah to the Exodus was five for all descendants of Jacob). In this regard, it is hoped that this paper will stimulate further analysis of various numerical information contained in Scripture to help clarify any seeming paradoxes centered around such numbers. The results of such analyses likely may well have sermon applications beyond the details of the specific passages in question. For example, consideration of the abortion statistics in the United States as compared to the the number of deaths of Israelite baby boys suggests that a similar judgment of God upon the United States would not be out of line and that repentance as a nation for the crimes of abortion is urgent.

3 Comments

  1. Roy Kerns said,

    January 23, 2015 at 1:18 pm

    Numbers records the male population over 20 years of age and able to fight. Seems reasonable that this number represents about half the males. ie, boys under 20 plus men too old to fight make up the other half. Then, by extension, reasonable that female population about same as male. Thus total Israelite population about 4 times the sum of soldiers plus Levites. This makes a reasonable approximation of about 2.5 million Israelites at the Exodus.

    Nu 3:40-42 tell that the number of first born males was 22,273. If one assumes that would indicate the number of families and then does the division (600,000 males Nu 1:46 divided by 20K = 30 boys per family) one gets large families with 60 plus members. Makes no sense. But if one recognizes the devastation by the murder of small boys per Ex 2, then the correlation is *surviving* first born (appreciate that observationj!), meaning the number of families would be much larger and the size of families much smaller than that first guestimate. Put conversely, if one assumes a family size not unusual in lots of agrarian societies, say 12, one can calculate the other direction and guesstimate how massive was the Ex 2 murder.

    When one calculates the rate of population growth (from 70 to 2.5 million in 430 years), one gets a doubling every 28.5 years. Even if one did not observe that God may have blessed by preventing lots of miscarriages, that is a reasonable timespan.

  2. roberty bob said,

    January 23, 2015 at 7:54 pm

    In the year 1620 — nearly 400 years ago — the Mayflower’s 102 passengers sailed to Plymouth, Massachusetts. It is estimated that more that 25 million people are descendants of that boatload.

    So, Jacob’s family of 70 sojourned in Egypt for 400 years. 2.5 million leaving at the Exodus? Well, they were fruitful and multiplied!

  3. January 25, 2015 at 12:01 am

    […] Read More […]


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