Currently, I am in the middle of someone’s sick experiment to see how soon MDiv students will go insane under pressure. I just finished one 4 unit Hebrew Exegesis class in only 10 days and am now taking a Pentateuch and Historical Books 4 unit class—in 10 days. Even though I have had to pull three all nighters in a row working on exegetical papers, much of what I am learning in class almost makes up for the pain and suffering.
One of the topics discussed today by Dr. Younger are the inflated numbers in the Old Testament book of Numbers. Basically, the way the numbers are represented in many of our Bibles makes it seem as though there is an absorbent amount of people—way too many for how many there could reasonably be for even a large city in the ancient world. Just one tribe: Ruben is said to have 45, 500 people! There are some who are dedicated to taking a literalist interpretation, who claim this presents a problem for believing the Bible is without errors.
There is actually a very simple resolution to this problem though. The word used is “elef” which can certainly mean 1,000, but it can also mean “clan” (Judge 6 and Micah 5:2). What is the difference in result?
One example of the difference is 46,500 Rubenites vs 46 clans or families with some additional people perhaps not part of the clans.
The strength in this line of thinking is evident when we consider what other parts of Scripture have to say and do a little problem solving. Deuteronomy 7:7 tells us God did not choose Israel because they were the most numerous. This means, the Israelites did not stand as some radical exception to the norm in numbers for the ancient world. Also, when it came to the Israelites conquest of Jericho they are said to have went out with about 3,000 men, but lost and badly defeated on account of 36 men dying? This of course contextually makes no sense if 36/3000 died.
This is a case where understanding the original language the Bible was written in makes all the difference!
- Clear Meaning or Simplistic Interpretation? (allisonquient.wordpress.com)