W. M. Flinders Petrie's Researches in Sinai
Chapter XIV, The Conditions of the Exodus
(complete chapter, pages 194 - 223)

«p.194:» SOME considerations which bear on our understanding of the narrative of the Exodus have come before us in the course of the work in Sinai, and it would be neglecting some useful clues if we did not notice them. At the same time, it is with regret that I feel obliged to enter on a ground so full of thorny misunderstandings and controversies. The work of pure historical research cannot, however, bear fruit if the conclusions of it are not pointed out; especially as those conclusions, and the very frame of mind which leads to them, may be equally unacceptable to different parties. Yet, in dealing with the borders of subjects which are so very differently viewed by various schools of thought, it is necessary to occupy some definite position in order to avoid accepting incongruous views. My position here is not that of accepting either extreme, or of attempting to assume or enforce any general frame of views. And though I simply endeavour to ascertain a few historical facts which may serve to delimit the ground of controversies, yet it is needful first to clear my position by showing why I do not accept the assurances of the "certain results" of one school or another as binding axioms in advance of my researches. If it be possible to contract the borders of the wide range of historical probabilities or possibilities within narrower limits, there will follow a clearer view of what may and may not be; and we shall be able to grasp better the nature of the crucial questions that yet need to be solved.

«p.195:» There is nothing more perilous in research than building solely on one class of evidence or one method. Every scientific worker knows how results which are most perfect to all appearance, and which seem of flawless certainty, may yet have considerable unnoticed errors vitiating the very method of research. Such errors can only be detected by following an entirely different mode of approach; and even a far less perfect method has its great value in showing that no systematic errors vitiate the refined accuracy that has been attempted. To the historian this should be all the more obvious, as he has not the questioning of uniform nature to rely upon, which can be repeated indefinitely; but all his conclusions, even in archaeology, are based on such poor fragments of human work as we may possess, without the possibility of cross-questioning his sources; and in historical (or still more religious) documents he is at the mercy of the frauds, mistakes, and confusions caused by the many minds who have handed on his materials. In no subject is the converging of different lines of research more essential if we are to avoid creating mere fantasies. How perilous unchecked literary criticism may be is seen by the dominance of Jerahmeel in a large part of the modern critical literature; by the invention of a "double" to Egypt, a Musri which is really only Sinai, a part of the Egyptian kingdom (see Student's Hist. Egypt, iii, 282); and by the repudiation of a conquest of Judea by Shishak, and the invention of a reading of "Cushi," in the face of Shishak's own sculpture of his conquest (Student's Hist. Egypt, iii, 235). After such recent spectacles of the inability of unchecked literary criticism to deal with historical questions safely, we must receive the conclusions of such a method, or of such critics, as suggestions which may — or may not — be confirmed by other lines of investigation.

It is generally agreed that we have to deal with documents in the Pentateuch which are of various sources. «p.196:» But the more composite a work is, the less can the credit or age of one part reflect on that of another; no single verse can be accredited or discredited by what goes before or after it; there may be single late interpolations, or whole narratives constructed to embody one earlier fact. The question of the origin of every statement must stand entirely on its own basis: if it can be shown to be reasonable, it must be accepted until disproved; if it can be shown to be in accord with other evidence, it must carry weight, no matter with what it may be linked. Hence no archaeological evidence which agrees with any point of the documents can be discredited because it may not accord with other parts of the document. The archaeological fact becomes the touchstone for discriminating the composition of the document.

Much confusion of ideas has arisen in criticism, as well as in every other subject, by proving irrefragably one position, and then, in the satisfaction of that proof, gliding over very uncertain ground to a conclusion which is only one out of many possibilities. To take a fundamental instance, the first proposition of literary criticism is the composite origin of the Pentateuch; but on the strength of this it is too often tacitly assumed that large differences of age, of beliefs, and of character are thereby to be expected. To test this conclusion, let us look at a parallel case, where we can verify our results. Take a modern composite document — say a hymn-book — and see the effect of its composite origin. Just as in the Pentateuch we have Jehovistic, Elohistic, Deuteronomic, Priestly, and other sources, so in the hymn-book we have hymns which are addressed solely to one divine name or solely to another, without using any second name. To all appearances one hymn-writer has never heard of, or wilfully ignores, the names used by others. On counting over the usage in one collection we find that half the hymns are mononymous, and in this half no less than six divine names are used alone, and without any «p.197:» other, in addressing one of two Persons of the Trinity. Of course, the formal doxologies, which are often later additions, are not included, as they have generally no bearing on the hymn itself. After such a view of the variety to be found in writings of one nation, under one government, in one religious community, and composed within two or three centuries, we can only come to this conclusion:— that a composite body of religious documents, which belongs to a people of mixed origin with diverse ancestral tendencies, may show exclusive use of many different divine names in different compositions, at one period, in one communion, and even by one person. And was not the Jewish race one of the most mixed in its origin and influences?— Bedawyn, at first under Mesopotamian influence, then living among Syrians, then drilled by Egyptians, and lastly picking up various kindred peoples in the desert and in Palestine. As Defoe writes of the "true-born Englishman," so Ezekiel wrote of the Jew, "Your mother was an Hittite, and your father an Amorite, and thine elder sister is Samaria . . . and thy younger sister Sodom" (Ezek. xvi. 45). Among a people of such mixed culture we must expect to find at least as much contemporaneous diversity as we find among ourselves; and the study of the names in modern religious writings shows that not a particle of historical value can be attached to the usage of the various names in the Pentateuch. Other evidence for historical diversity there may be in language, in ideas, and in institutions; but names alone are of no historical value for discrimination of race, place, or period.

And a view of the hymn-book may also teach us somewhat of the varied views and ideas which actually find place in the standard expressions of one body. Many different ancestral beliefs not only tint the writings, but even antagonistic views find place side by side. While half the hymns are trinitarian, there are yet many of rigid monotheism, with scarcely a «p.198:» trace of dogma. Yet we should be entirely wrong if we credited the writers with intentional antagonism, and certainly the compilers of these contemporary products accept them all as equally suitable. In looking at this variety we have no need to touch on the widely-different views of Calvinism and Arminianism, and the many exaggerations that are to be found within the corners of Protestant usages; we may find all the diversity above described within the best-accepted hymn-book of the most organized communion.

That such diversity is no peculiarity of recent times we may see by the varied parties of the early Church, and the opposite statements about faith and works. That such diversities are by no means restricted to Christianity is seen in the deadly dissensions of the four great sects of Islam. And that modern ages have not introduced such contradictions we see in the Egyptian pneumatology, where there are four entirely separate and contradictory theories of the future state; all of these are mutually destructive, and yet all were combined in popular belief, so that religious manuals and customs of a single age unite for the use of one person two or three irreconcilable dogmas.

It is often assumed that peoples were less mixed in ancient than in modern times, and that purer stocks existed in earlier history. But this assumption is baseless, and all the evidence we have is rather in favour of greater mixture. Certainly five different races can be seen living contemporaneously before 5000 B.C. in Egypt itself.

Now from these practical studies of the religious literature of mixed peoples, we see that inconsistencies of usage in doctrine and in language are to be expected in a body of contemporaneous writings of such a people; and therefore, such diversities cannot in any given case be taken as a canon of criticism of relative age. The cumulative force of a long document differing widely in «p.199:» style from another long document, and one being a repetition of the other in substance, gives a reasonable basis for historic discrimination. But the attribution of different ages to passages in a document on grounds of differences in tendencies, usages, or language is a very risky proceeding, in view of the known diversity of the Jewish race and culture, which a priori is likely to produce contemporary variation, such as we have seen among ourselves.

Let us look at another line of literary hypothesis. The conclusion drawn from literary criticism is that the first attempt at written history in Jewish hands was in the 9th century B.C.  Compare this with what we know of surrounding peoples. It is agreed now by those Egyptologists who have most recently worked on the subject — Spiegelberg and Steindorff — that the Israelites sojourned in Egypt, and that an Exodus from there to Palestine took place. Now any people under the control of the Egyptians must have been acquainted with the elements of Egyptian administration. Of that administration as far east as the border of Egypt, beyond Goshen, we have fortunately two views in the reign of Merenptah, probably a few years before the Exodus. One report of a frontier official states each day the number of people and official despatches passing to and from Syria; the other report gives details of some Bedawyn (Shasu) coming to pasture in the Wady Tumilat. Thus the smallest details were being reported in true Egyptian fashion, in accord with that system of minute registration which characterized all their administration. The upper class of the Israelites were incorporated in this administration, according to Exod. v. 14-9, where the taskmasters are Egyptians, who drive on the officers of the children of Israel, and these officers address Pharaoh, "Wherefore dealest thou thus with thy servants? . . . and thy servants are beaten; but the fault is in thine own people." The appointment of the persons responsible «p.200:» for the work from among the race who worked, is in accord with the Egyptian system. And can it be supposed that these officers who were responsible for the amount of work were left without any of the training in writing and registering which was essential to every responsible Egyptian? The probability clearly is that the principal Israelites were educated for their office.

Again, the figure of the leader, Moses, is accepted as historical by Steindorff; and his name is taken as obviously the Egyptian Mesu, "the child," of which a different etymology was constructed in Hebrew. If any value is to be given to the account of his education in Egypt, he must have been well accustomed to writing.

When we look to Syria we have the examples of writing for all kinds of common messages in the tablets of Tell el Amarna and Lachish. Moreover, in the age of the Judges we have in the papyrus of Unuamen (Student's History of Egypt, iii, 97) a picture of a petty Syrian chief having annals of his ancestors, recording many transactions, which were brought up at once as evidence in a dispute. To go to lower stages, we see by the frontier report, in the age of the Exodus, there were seven despatches sent into Palestine within ten days (Hist. Eg., iii, 107), so constant was the Syrian correspondence. To descend lower in society, we find most valuable evidence in our work at Serabít. There the Syrian or Arabian miners, who were employed by the Egyptians, put up their own statuettes and tablets on the rocks, engraved with a writing of their own; this system of writing was thus in common use among Semitic workmen at about three centuries before the Exodus. That these were not solely the works of the upper class is seen by their rudeness and irregularity, which shows that the makers could not command the abilities of an ordinary Egyptian craftsman.

In the face of such facts as these the presumption is that Hebrew officials, who had been ordered to render «p.201:» an account of work to their Egyptian masters, would certainly have the familiarity with writing which those masters required in every trivial transaction. That they would prepare no registers of their own people is quite unlikely. No doubt such papyri might be damaged; many might be lost in the confusion of the barbaric age of the Judges: but it is at least probable that some such documents would have been copied and handed down, and would serve as the material for the general editing of their history under the early monarchy. That there was an editing of material then is likely enough; but all the external probability shows that it was an editing of actual documents, and not merely of oral tradition. There is, indeed, also strong internal evidence that written documents were used; for if only oral material was available, could we expect any editor of such to refrain from unifying the usage of names and the varieties of style? Could we expect such an editor to insert so frequently two versions of the same statements only slightly varied? The very duplications and variations of the text in Genesis and Exodus are the strongest proof that written documents were before the editors, and that they were so ancient and revered that no unification was to be tolerated.

But having said this much regarding the assumption made in literary criticism, we should note also the assumptions too often made in the conservative view. Great confusion of thought has resulted from the use of two words, miracle and supernatural; and the meanings of these words have been so twisted that false standards of thought have arisen. We must remember that a miracle is a thing wondered at, without any reference necessarily to non-natural action; everything we admire is literally a miracle. In the good old words, anything unusual was taken to be "a sign and a wonder," a thing which was viewed as a token of interposition in human affairs, and therefore a matter of astonishment. «p.202:» But the notion of such a phrase implying non-natural action has only grown up with the modern view of natural law. To most ages of mankind there was no dividing line between natural and non-natural; so much is inexplicable to the untrained mind that no trouble was taken to define whether an event would happen in the natural course or not. And events which were well known to be purely in the natural course were viewed as occurring at a special time in order to influence human affairs. As a Rumanian Jew said to me, "I come from a land where miracles happen every day; there is no difficulty about miracles." His countrymen have still the antique mind, which views events as wonders fitted to their daily life. To transfer the statements and views of people in that frame of mind into the precise phraseology of the present age — when the infinitesimal variations of natural laws are the passion of men's lives — is completely hopeless and absurd. To take a parallel case, unless we renounce volition and proclaim ourselves helpless automata, we must recognise the forces of our wills which control nature. Yet these are beyond the grasp of modern phraseology, and we can no more translate all our mental processes into automatic formulae than we can translate the records of the Old Testament into purely modern views.

The other word which has done so much harm is supernatural, because it is used for two ideas which we have learned in modern times to carefully keep apart. When the extent of natural law was but little understood, the difference between co-natural action and non-natural action was dimly seen and little regarded. To those who have learned to see in so much of nature the systems of definite cause and effect, this difference is vital; and to continue to use one word with two entirely different meanings is an incessant obstacle to thought. The larger question of non-natural action is outside the scope of these inquiries; all of the events in the «p.203:» records which we touch on here are expressly referred by their writers to co-natural action. A strong east wind drives the Red Sea back; another wind blows up a flock of quails; cutting a rock brings a water supply to view; and the writers of these accounts record such matters as wondrous benefits of the timely action of natural causes. If we trace here some of the details of these natural causes, we shall only be following the statements of the records with which we deal.

We have now shown why we cannot accept all the conclusions drawn from the diversities of documents on one hand, or the introduction of non-natural causes on the other hand, as setting a priori bounds to archaeological argument. And we may now note some matters which may help us to understand better the documents that we have.

The repeated request to be allowed to go three days' journey into the wilderness in order to sacrifice is apparently unmeaning to one who does not know Sinai (Exod. iii, 18, viii, 127). But the waterless journey of three days to Wady Gharándel impresses itself on any one who has to arrange for travelling. It is so essential a feature of the road that this may well have been known as the "three days in the wilderness," in contrast to the road to 'Aqabah, which is six or seven days in the wilderness. To desire to go the "three days' journey in the wilderness" was probably really an expression for going down to Sinai.

The whole question of the direction of the journey and the position of Sinai has been much disputed of late years. The first step is to see what the direct narrative shows, and then to examine if any other indications are discordant with that. The position of the Israelites is said to have been in Goshen (Gen. xlvii. 27), identified with the western end of the Wady Tumilat, where it begins to branch from the Delta. Next, they were employed in building forts in the Wady Tumilat «p.204:» at Pithom and Raamses (Exod. i. 11). The latter of these towns was their rallying point for departure (Exod. xii. 37), whence they travelled to Succoth, which is the Egyptian Thuku, a district near Pithom, presumably east of that place, which is now known as Tell el Maskhuta. Thence they camped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness, and this is therefore somewhere near the east end of the Wady Tumilat. It seems that this is the district of Aduma, as the Bedawyn of this land in the time of Merenptah asked to pass the Egyptian frontier at the fort of Thuku to go to the lakes of Pithom for pasture. The attempt to connect this with the Adim of the tale of Sanehat is impossible, as after reaching the Sati Bedawyn Sanehat passed on from tribe to tribe, and at last reached the land of Adim, where the prince of the Retennu Syrians dwelt. This implies that Adim was in Southern Palestine.

The Israelites were ordered next to "turn and encamp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baal-zephon: before it shall ye encamp by the sea" (Exod. xiv. 2). Of these names only Pi-hahiroth has been found anciently, in Paqaheret, of which Osiris was god (NAVILLE, Pithom, pl. 8). The sea we know to have extended up through the Bitter Lakes to near Ismailiyeh, for as late as Roman time this was known as the gulf of Heroöpolis, which is Pithom. Now the only Serapeum or shrine of Osiris in this region is that about 10 miles south of Ismailiyeh, described as 18 miles from Pithom-Ero in the Antonine itinerary. And thus the "turn" which the Israelites took would be a turn southwards, down the west side of the Heroöpolite Gulf. There must have been a Migdol-tower on the hills behind them, and Baal-zephon on the opposite side of the gulf. Here they were "entangled in the land, the wilderness had shut them in," not having rounded the head of the gulf, as would have been expected. This part of the gulf was probably the shallowest, as it is now dry land «p.205:» between the Bitter Lakes and Lake Timsah. Here, therefore, was the most likely place for the "strong east wind" (Exod. xiv. 21) to blow the waters back and leave a dry crossing. Hence the "wilderness of Shur" was the east side of the gulf between the present Bitter Lakes and Lake Timsah (Exod. xv. 22). The name of Shur occurs in two other passages; it is "Shur which is before Egypt" (Gen. xxv. 18), and Hagar is said to flee to Beer-lahai-roi, between Kadesh and Bered, in the way to Shur (Gen. xvi. 7, 14). These show merely that Shur was a district somewhere on the east border of Egypt.

From here they travelled into the desert until they reached a stage of three days without water. Now there is nothing to prove the limits of the desert of Shur, or that they continued in that region, so we can only look round for a stretch of desert road of three days' journey without water. This is the feature of the road from Suez to Wady Gharándel; moreover, they reached bitter water at Marah, next before Elim, where there was abundance. This exactly agrees with the bitter spring in the Wady Hawára, two hours before reaching Gharándel. Neither the narration of Exodus nor Numbers gives all that is found in the other; and in Num. xxxiii. 10 we have the next stage of removing from Elim and encamping by the Red Sea; from this point there were five stages to Sinai. It seems clear that the writer of these itineraries knew the road to the present Sinai well. The description exactly fits that road, and it will not fit any other. One theory has been proposed, that the journey was eastward to the gulf of 'Aqabah, in order to accord with the fact of Midianites being east of that gulf. But the account of the journey cannot agree with that, while there is nothing to prove that the Midianites may not have occupied both sides of the gulf of 'Aqabah. There is further a presumption that the writer did not regard Midian as being inaccessible to asses, as Moses returned thence with an ass (Exod. iv 20). This is possible «p.206:» up the Gharándel road, but could scarcely be done on the longer, waterless route of the Derb el Hagg. There is no reason to doubt, then, the general truth of the traditional position of Sinai, though the precise mountain may not be certain. The argument that the Israelites would not have travelled down to the region of the Egyptian mines has no force whatever. The Egyptians never occupied that mining district with a garrison, but only sent expeditions; at the most these were in alternate years, and in the times of Merenptah only once in many years. Hence, unless an expedition were actually there in that year, no reason existed for avoiding the Sinai district. Beyond this road to Gharándel-Elim and the passage from Wady Tayibeh to encamp by the Red Sea, we do not here discuss the further route, as I did not visit that district. We should note that a month was occupied by the Israelites in the journey to the Red Sea at the plain of El Márkha (Exod. xvi. 1). We see, then, that the traditional identification of the region of Sinai is what we must accept.

The next point is whether there has been any noticeable difference in the rainfall and water-supply of the peninsula. The extraordinary preservation of the sandstone sculptures seems to show that there has never been a much greater rainfall since 5000 B.C. In many cases there does not seem to have been a single layer of sand-grains removed from the face of the rock in the historic period. Another evidence is that of the Egyptian well at Magháreh, where the water-supply is two miles distant, in a pit sunk about 8 ft. deep in the granite, at the foot of the mountain. No one since early Egyptian days would have been likely to do such a serious work as cutting this well. Yet the wide Wady lqneh has much underground water at present, as shown by the quantity of acacia trees (fig. 35); and if there had been much more water there would have been a good supply close to the mines, without going two miles distant to sink a well in the granite. Again, had «p.207:» there been much more rainfall they would not have been three days without water on the road, as in that case other springs or streams would have existed in the valleys between Ayûn Mûsa and Gharándel. Furthermore, as Elim is the principal water station on the road, we can hardly refuse to identify it with Wady Gharándel; and the account of Elim states that the water there was in twelve wells. Yet now there is a running stream down the valley of Gharándel, where the road crosses it, and there is no need to make any wells. There does not seem, then, to be any evidence of a perceptible change of climate in Sinai, any more than in Egypt; if there be a change, it is rather that of increase than of decrease in rainfall.

If, then, the climate is unaltered, the maximum population must be unaltered. The present population of the whole peninsula is put by Baedeker at 4,000 to 5,000; inquiries made by Mr. Currelly from the officials, and natives discussing the question, gave estimates Of 5,000 to 7,000. If we say that about 5,000 is the present population, we may then expect that the ancient population was about this number. Now we read that in Rephidim there was but scanty water (Exod. xvii. 1; Num. xxxiii 14),and Amalek fought with the invading Israelites. This battle was doubtless to defend the good water-supply of Wady Feirán, the most fertile oasis of all the peninsula. The general belief of Christian and Arab writers was that Pharan was Rephidim; and this is certainly the position which the natives would choose to repel an invading tribe. The battle is expressly said to have been very nearly equal (Exod. xvii. 11); and this implies that the Israelites were not in greater force than the great rally of the Sinaites to defend their homes.

We see, then, that by the general condition of the small water-supply on the road and at the wells, and by this crucial case of an almost drawn battle against some 5,000 people — we cannot suppose that the Israelites were «p.208:» much more than this number. As bearing on this, observe the size of the region from which they came. The land of Goshen was at the mouth of the Wady Tumilat, a district of about 60 or 80 square miles, as it did not include the great city of Bubastis. This is about a hundredth of the whole Delta; and this, on the basis of the population before the present European organization, would hold about 20,000 people. This estimate is reckoned on an agricultural basis, whereas the Israelites were a pastoral people — "Thy servants are shepherds, both we, and our fathers" (Gen. xlvii. 3) and, therefore, a much smaller population than 20,000 would be all that the land could support. Thus we may put the case in brief by saying that not more than about 5,000 people could be taken out of Goshen or into Sinai. If the number of the population stated in Exodus and Numbers were correct, the 600,000 men would imply at least 3,000,000 people, which would equal the whole population of the Delta on an agricultural basis; and there is no trace of a depopulation of the Delta at this period.

We should, then, inquire what might have led to so large an overstatement of the numbers of the Israelites. To assert that this is merely a fanciful exaggeration is to cut the knot by an arbitrary hypothesis. To assert that nothing was written down till the 9th century B.C., and so there was no authority for the facts of the 13th century, is directly in the teeth of the Egyptian training of the Israelites, and of the common use of a Semitic writing in Sinai as early as the 16th century, which we have found at Serabít. The utmost that literary criticism can prove is the composite nature of a collection of documents edited in the 9th century B.C., or, as is asserted for this portion, as late as a priestly writer in the post-exilic age.

Criticism cannot disprove the existence of earlier documents, and we are at least free to inquire whether «p.209:» any part of the web of documents of the 9th or 6th centuries may not descend directly from earlier writings.

Our question may, then, be put to these documents. Can they show us why such an exaggeration of numbers should have arisen? Is there any emendation of a likely error which could yield a probable form for the original record? The total number stated in Exodus is the result of the census of separate tribes stated in Num. i; and a later census given in Num. xxvi is stated to belong to the close of the wanderings. These two census lists are, then, the real crux. They stand as follows:

Num. i Num. xxvi
Reuben 46,500 43,730
Simeon 59,300 22,200
Gad 45,650 40,500
Judah 74,600 76,500
Issachar 54,400 64,300
Zebulun 57,400 60,500
Ephraim 40,500 M. 52,700
Manasseh 32,200 E. 32,500
Benjamin 35,400 45,600
Dan 62,700 64,400
Asher 41,500 53,400
Naphtali 53,400 45,400

The only difference in order is that Manasseh and Ephraim are interchanged, as marked M. and E.; but probably the names only are reversed and not the numbers, as they agree more nearly with the earlier census as they stand. The difference between the two lists is only what might be expected in one or two generations of fighting and intermarrying. Simeon is largely reduced; but if that tribe had much fighting, for every man killed, a woman and her children might be absorbed by remarriage into some other tribe. At least, there is no obvious falsification shown by the comparison of the lists.

But is there any cause for the real exaggeration common to both lists? Look closely, and the hundreds «p.210:» are seen to be very peculiar in each list. There is not a single round thousand, there is not a singIe 100, 800 or 900; and the greater part of the numbers fall on 400 or 500. Let us put them in the order of the digits in the hundreds; we then have:

Manasseh 32,200  22,200 Simeon
Simeon 59,300  64,300 Issachar
Benjamin 35,400  45,400 Naphtali
Naphtali53,400  53,400 Asher
Issachar 54,400  64,400 Dan
Zebulun 57,400  32,500 Ephraim
Ephraim 40,500  40,500 Gad
Asher 41,500  60,500 Zebulun
Reuben 46,500  76,500 Judah
Judah 74,600  45,600 Benjamin
Gad45,650  52,700 Manassch
Dan 62,700  43,730 Reuben

It is evident that the same cause, whatever it may be, equally affects the hundreds in each list; there is almost exactly the same distribution of the digits. Let us take both lists together and arrange the digits to see their distribution more clearly; here is their total:

4 5
4 5
4 5
4 5
4 5 6 7
2 3 4 5 6 7
none 2 3 4 5 6 7 none

digits 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

To any one accustomed to physical questions of numbers, this is overwhelming evidence that the hundreds have here an origin entirely independent of the thousands. The probability of such a distribution occurring by chance has more than a thousand to one against it.

If the hundreds are independent, what then are the «p.211:» thousands? The word alâf has two meanings, "a thousand" and "a group" or "family." Hence the statement in words of 32 alâf, 200 people, might be read as 32,200, or as 32 families, 200 people. The statement is ambiguous, and is one which is, therefore, peculiarly liable to corruption of the original meaning in editing an earlier document. We have at least a working hypothesis that the "thousands" are "families" or tents, and the "hundreds" are the total inhabitants of those tents.

Let us test this hypothetical emendation. If it were not true, the thousands then need have no connection with the hundreds, and so the hypothesis would fall through by the absurd results reached for the number of people per tent. For instance, if the numbers had no relation in their original meaning, we might find 22 tents for 700 people, or 32 per tent; or, on the other hand, there'might be 76 tents for 200 people, or 3 per tent. What we do find, however, is a much closer relation between them as follows:

Census 1. Census 2.
Tents. Nos. Per tent. Tents. Nos. Per tent.
Reuben 46 500 9 43 730 7
Simeon 59 300 5 22 200 9
Gad 45 650 14 40 500 12
Judah 74 600 8 76 500 7
Issachar 54 400 7 64 300 5
Zebulun 57 400 7 60 500 8
Ephraim 40 500 12 32 500 16
Manasseh 32 200 6 52 700 13
Benjamin 35 400 11 45 600 13
Dan 62 700 11 64 400 6
Asher 41 500 12 53 400 8
Naphtali 53 400 8 45 400 9

598 5,550 9.3 596 5,730 9.6

Now the poorest and most short-lived tribe must have averaged five to a tent — two parents, two children to succeed them, and one grandparent, or a child to allow for juvenile mortality. The richest tribes may «p.212:» have had two parents, four or five children, both grandparents, making eight or nine, and herdsmen and servants of the Hebrews and of the mixed multitude who went up with them. Thus the largest numbers here per tent are not at all more than might be found in a rich tribe, while the smallest numbers here are just the minimum possible. The test, then, of the practicability of this view of tents and hundreds is quite satisfactory.

The next test is how far this gives a reasonable view of the changes between the two lists. The diminution of a tribe may be due either to the men being killed in fighting, or to a greater proportion of females being born; in either case, the daughters marrying into other tribes diminished their parental tribe. The only tribes in which there is a difference beyond what is likely to take place by ordinary variation are Simeon, Manasseh, and Dan. Simeon, who was concerned in the plague of Baal Peor (Num. xxv. 14), fell off from 300 to 200, but their tents diminished from 59 to 22. This implies just the consequence of the small families shown by the average of only 5 per tent in the first census; in such small families they often had only a single child, and so the number of tents rapidly diminished, even more so than the total number of people. In Manasseh there is a rapid rise from 200 to 700, and in Dan a fall of 700 to 400. An interchange between these would account, then, for the only discordance between the two lists; if there were a large proportion of daughters in Dan married into Manasseh the only serious difference would be explained. But we should remember that this general agreement depends on the hundreds, which have not hitherto been supposed to have any meaning. If the numbers were those of a late census, or were a mere invention, there would be no reason against finding tribes of 100 or 200 having 800 or 900 in the later census, or vice versa. The fact that the hundreds of the two lists are so generally in agreement (the average «p.213:» variation of a tribe being only 150), shows again that the hundreds have an independent meaning, and are connected.

The third test is to see how far this will agree with the conditions of the country which we have stated. The present population is 5,000 or 6,000, the ancient population was about the same, and the Israelites who fought on equal terms with them must have been also of about the same number. This estimate of 5,000 or 6,000 just agrees with the totals we here reach, 5,550 and 5,730 in the two census lists. The result, then, is exactly in accord with the known historical conditions, both of the number that could leave Goshen and the number that could live in Sinai.

To recapitulate the evidence for this view:— (1) The hundreds group in so improbable a manner that they are proved to be independent of the alâf. If, then, the alâf are families or tents, and not thousands, (2) the number per tent is within reasonable limits, when it might easily have proved absurd. (3) The variations between the census lists are reasonable, when they might have been wholly absurd in the hundreds without being noticeable in the present text. (4) The totals of the hundreds give a population in exact accord with the physical circumstances. Until some other causes can be proposed which shall be likely to produce such grouping of hundreds, and such correlation between hundreds and thousands, as we here see, this reading of alâf must stand as the original text, with a probability of a thousand to one in its favour.

The only argument against such a conclusion that I have yet heard is that, if certain high numbers are explained by a likely corruption here, then we are bound to explain all other impossible numbers. This is an entirely illogical requirement. There may be many causes for high numbers appearing, and one cause must not be expected to explain all instances. Moreover, by the very principle of freely proposing interpolations and «p.214:» changes in a composite document, every part of it stands independent as regards its credibility. This corruption of a perfectly rational text may have been the cause of the introduction of other corruptions of numbers in order to agree with it. If a man makes a mistake and writes yards for feet in a survey, he may try to make things agree by other alterations, but it would be quite absurd to require that every error which resulted from this should also be yards for feet. The literary hypothesis of a web of documents woven together in the 9th or 6th century B.C., or any other time that any one chooses, cannot in the least invalidate the internal evidence of any one document being far older than that age. And the internal evidence of perfectly rational and harmonious documents having by a trivial misunderstanding, resulted in producing the present text, is overwhelmingly probable.

Though we must repudiate any liability when it is demanded that one form of corruption must also be required to explain all other difficulties, yet we may see how far this double meaning of alâf will be applicable to rendering families for thousands elsewhere, and how far the original form of the census is in accord with other statements.

The account that at first Moses judged all disputes might be possible with about 5,000 people, but would be very improbable with a much larger number. The appointment of 70 elders is also well in accord with our results. The Egyptian system (in the mining camps) was to name each tenth man as a chief, who looked after the other nine. Now, allowing that 5 tents and under were not represented by a separate elder, there would be 58 elders, each with 10 tents, and the 12 sheykhs of the tribes would make up 70. The account of the rebellion of Korah is insoluble as regards the numbers of the party, and (as we shall see) there is good ground from our present conclusion to regard that as a late account. But the statement about the plague which followed is easily in «p.215:» accord with the original census, the dead being 14 alâf and 700. This. would mean that 14 families entirely perished out of 598, involving about 130 people, and 570 more died singly in other families (Num. xvi. 49). The next plague that occurred was on the mixture with the Midianites, when 24 alâf died (Num. xxv. 9), or 24 tents were swept off. Now Simeon was concerned in this (xxv. 14), and we find that Simeon's tents are stated to have diminished from 59 to 22 between the first and second census. So far we have dealt with all the numbers of the period between the two census lists, and we see that the use of alâf for families gives a reasonable explanation of the high numbers in this period. The numbers in later accounts are not in our present view, though some general notice will be taken of them farther on.

Now let us turn back and see some other conclusions which follow from this view. The census of the Levites is not included in that of the twelve tribes. Their numbers of males are given as:

Num. 30 to 50 yrs. Num.
Gershonites 7,500iii. 222,630iv. 40
Kohathites 8,600282,75036
Merarites 6,200343,20044

Total stated 22,000398,58048
First-born of all Israel 22,27343

Now it is obvious that these figures of the Levites cannot be treated by supposing the alâf to be families. Nor is it possible to take them in accord with the larger numbers of the received census lists; as 22,273 first-born males to 603,500 men would imply that only one man in 13 had any children, even if the eldest being a girl excused counting any boy in the family. On neither the received nor the original form of the census can these figures be accepted as possible. But though this statement is impossible at the time of the wandering, it was certainly possible somewhere between that and the «p.216:» monarchy, when numbers were much larger. To have 22,000 first-born implies that number of families and of men, and so a whole population of about 100,000, or half that if an eldest girl prevented a boy being counted as first-born in a family. The most reasonable view would be that this is a document of the age when there were about this number of Israelites, probably soon after entering Palestine. If so, this would date the establishment of the Levites; and they would be the result of a dedication of first-born, perhaps copied from the sacrifice of the first-born of the Canaanites, among whom the Israelites were then mingling. Whatever date must be assigned to the Levites, it is clear that their census precludes their belonging to the age of the Exodus. There was, then, no tribe of Levi at the time of the census, but it was created as a priestly caste at a later age. This agrees with the narrative of Korah's rebellion being a later passage, as is suggested by its numbers being insoluble. The introduction of it here may have been due to the supposition that it was connected with the plague (Num. xvi. 49), which might well be an original fact of the desert life, as we have noticed.

This will now react further on another question. That the original census was of the Exodus period as stated is the only view possible, as at any time in Palestine the numbers must have been much larger, growing (by accretion more than generation) up to the census of the monarchy, which is none too large for its position. We come, then, to the point that at the Exodus there was no such tribe as Levi; and in the blessing of Jacob (Gen. xlix) each tribe is blessed separately except Simeon and Levi, which are conjoined, pointing to Levi having been only thrust in later by coupling him with his brother Simeon. Moreover, the "blessing" is the worst curse in the whole, and is certainly not that to be allotted to the important priestly tribe. Levi has only been put in here from the recognised association of «p.217:» Simeon and Levi (Gen. xxix. 33-4). This stamps the blessing of Jacob as being not later than the establishment of Levi as a caste, early in the Palestine period. And we can take this blessing back still earlier, as in it Joseph is one tribe, and not yet separated, whereas Ephraim and Manasseh are both present in the Exodus census. This points to the blessings belonging to the Egyptian period. It may be objected that the house of Joseph is mentioned in the conquest of Palestine (Judg. i. 22, 35); but both Manasseh and Ephraim are distinct in the same passage, and the natural reading would be that the whole of their contiguous territory was occasionally regarded as that of Joseph. We have a similar case in England, when we speak of the Saxons in contrast to Angles, Jutes, Mercians, and Northumbrians, all parties of the same invasion; yet when dealing with detail we distinguish Wessex, Sussex, and Essex. So Joseph might be collectively used for Manasseh and Ephraim when acting together, long after the two tribes were recognised as separate.

Now that we have reviewed the earlier statements of the numbers up to the later census, and seen that nearly all of them may be due to the same misunderstanding, we may turn to the great question of how the later high numbers are to be regarded. We are by no means bound to account for them because we can account for the earlier detailed census lists. But the important difficulty faces us, in any case, as to how a body of 5,000 people could conquer their way into Canaan, and how they could become a large people under the monarchy. The royal census lists are by no means in agreement. That of David gives 800,000 for Israel and 500,000 for Judah as the number of fighting men. But under Rehoboam, Judah and Benjamin together were 180,000 men. It seems probable that the former census was really that of the people, and the latter census of the men only. If so, 180,000 men out of 250,000 males implies that a «p.218:» man was in the levy for 18/25 of his life — that is to say, was enrolled at 14 and struck off at 50, which is quite reasonable. If, then, the whole population of the early monarchy was 1,300,000, this would imply 130 to the square mile, which we may well compare with 200 per square mile in Switzerland. The present population is just about half of this amount, but the land is notoriously under-manned in modern times. The census of David, then, as referring to the whole population, would be in accord with that of Rehoboam, and with the conditions of the actual country.

What about the growth in the intermediate times? And how did 5,000 people force their way into Palestine? The Egyptians had been raiding Palestine severely and frequently, and their last clearance of it before this was in 1194 B.C. This accounts for no gold having been found by the Israelites except at Jericho, farthest from Egyptian plundering. Also, it shows that all powers of resistance had been broken down, and Palestine was ready to be a prey to the desert tribes, just as Italy was a prey to the Lombards after Justinian had harassed the Goths to destruction. That 5,000 people, or say 1,800 fighters, should effect a lodgment in a wrecked land like Palestine is not more astonishing than 8,000 desert fighters of 'Amr forcing their way to the heart of Egypt, inhabited by 5,000,000 men and garrisoned by a Roman army. There probably was, however, some joining of desert tribes from the Jethroites and others, which increased the numbers. In Palestine, therefore, within 8 or 10 generations at the most, we have to look for an increase of apparently 1 to 200. Even apart from accretion, they may be supposed to have increased rapidly in a land far more favourable than that which they had been trained to live in. In England the population has been known to grow at the rate of 5 times the number in a century; the shorter generations among the Jews might increase this to 7 or even 10 «p.219:» times the number in a century, for an average marriage age of 20 instead of 25 would make this increase. So in two centuries we might find a natural growth from 1 to 50 or even 100, without exceeding conditions actually known. It seems, then, that, roughly speaking, the formation of the population of the early monarchy was one-third or perhaps half due to natural increase, and the rest was caused by accretion and conquest. The absorption of the Gibeonites, the placing of the ark with a Gittite, the presence of a Hittite among the captains of David, who also had a bodyguard of Cherethites, Pelethites, and Gittites, all show how much the numbers of Israel were enlarged by accretion.

The basis for considering the numbers in the accounts between the Exodus and the monarchy is, then, a nucleus of 5,000, rapidly increasing and accreting during two centuries until it became 1,300,000. This growth probably began during the residence in the fertile plains of Moab; in that land all the tribes who were against those whom the Israelites fought would naturally ally themselves with Israel. Thus there is no impossibility in 40,000 entering Palestine as stated (Josh. iv. 13). The 3,000 attacking Ai, of whom 36 were slain, is very probable; so also is 5,000 in the second attack. And 12,000 for the whole population of Ai and Bethel — men and women — is very likely (Josh. viii. 17, 25). Nor, again, is any number less than 10,000 likely to be slain in a crushing defeat of populous Moab, when it was subdued under the hand of Israel (Judg. iii. 29), in a great reversal of their positions. By this time we may well expect that the Israelites numbered a quarter of a million. The mention of 10,000 men with Barak (Judg. iv. 6) can be no exaggeration in so great a battle. One of the largest numbers is the 120,000 slain out of 135,000 (Judg. viii). This was a great panic rout by night, when the enemy was trapped in his flight at the fords of Jordan, and under such conditions in any history of great tribal «p.220:» wars, extermination is to be expected. The attack on the Israelites, who numbered several hundred thousand, would hardly be by fewer than 100,000, and the extermination which follows on defeated tribal movements is well known to us in Caesarian times, and the wars of the Goths, Huns, and Lombards. There is nothing impossible, or even improbable, in the numbers involved, though the account of the fight may leave out of view much of the decisive conditions which were prearranged, and pin our attention to the incident of Gideon. The last great fight before the monarchy, the civil war with Benjamin, demands a roll-call Of 426,000 of all Israel (Judg. xx. 15, 17), which is rather less than under David and Rehoboam. One in ten of Israel are said to have been levied, or 40,000, to fight 26,000 of Benjamin. The extermination of a defeated tribe under these conditions is not astonishing. The only figures that we need set aside are those of the 22,000 and 18,000 Israelites who were slain. They seem to be due to a confusion between the numbers engaged (40,000) and the number slain. But the totals of men involved, and the catastrophe which befell the tribe, are not surprising.

Now we have seen how much there is in the general cry about the great exaggerations of the numbers of the priestly writer in Judges. So far as what may be called national documents go, there is nothing impossible. The large amounts of all of them fall well into place in the history of a people who rapidly expanded their political growth up to the time of the monarchy, when we find a total stated which accords with the conditions of their position. The question of the setting of the history, of the editing of it, and the introduction of collateral records and traditions, is quite outside of our scope here. But we see that the supposed discredit of it as being radically encumbered with exaggeration is quite untrue, and that there are no large numbers which disagree with the known conditions of the history.

«p.221:» We thus come to the same position as we did in the examination of the census lists. The internal construction of those lists bears witness to an original form which is consonant with the known conditions. And such an original form could not be invented in later ages, nor would the present form, if invented, bear the peculiar relations of numbers from which we can discriminate the original document. That original form must, then, have been transmitted in writing from the age of the Exodus. The accounts of the numbers involved in the later history are also consonant with it, and therefore have probably also been transmitted. We are led thus to the view of a body of historical written documents having descended to the times when they were incorporated with the traditional material. At what time that was done our numerical and archaeological evidence does not at present show; and we may leave critics to suit their own inclinations regarding this, without their conclusions in the least affecting the results which we have here reached.

Finally, let us sketch out what a cultivated Egyptian would have said of the Israelites' history, so far as we can at present understand it. "A Bedawy tribe had wandered down from Mesopotamia to Southern Palestine. There they had connections with various neighbouring peoples, Moabites and Ammonites, whom they looked on as akin to themselves. A dearth in Syria made them emigrate into Egypt, where a part of them stayed on as settlers in the eastern border of the Delta. These were employed by Ramessu II on his public works. The attack on their kindred Israelites in Palestine by Merenptah made them restless, and this was encouraged by other Bedawyn coming into the same district. One of them who had been well educated by us had run away into the desert, and settled in Sinai. Seeing that the land there was sufficient to support his kindred, he came back and tried to get permission for them to go on a «p.222:» pilgrimage to a sacred mountain. This was refused; but many troubles of bad seasons, and a plague at last, so disheartened us that, in the confusion, some thousands of these tribes escaped into the wilderness. They safely crossed the shallows of the gulf, but a detachment of troops following them was caught and swept away. After settling beyond the reach of our government, and living in the desert for many years, they took advantage of the victories of Ramessu III in Palestine. After he had completely crushed the Amorites and other inhabitants, these Israelites (with many of their kindred tribes) pressed in to occupy the bare places of the land, and succeeded in taking many of the towns. In the half-empty land they quickly increased, and took into their alliance many others of the kindred peoples, so that in a couple of hundred years they became as many as half of our own Delta people. So soon as we had recovered from our divisions in Egypt we resumed our place in Palestine, and took a large quantity of gold from the king of these Israelites, as we had done before from all the Syrians; but since those times the Assyrians have hindered our former suzerainty." Such an account may be only one side of the truth, but it is somewhat the way in which the old-established kingdom of Egypt would look on this episode.

We have now seen how far some fresh information from Sinai, and some new examination of our documents, may lead us in understanding the history of Israel. Probably no party will be content with such results; but such seem to be the data for future dealing with this question. Only a few more points have been cleared of the many which are yet in darkness. But if we can at least gain some clearer view of the limits of uncertainty, of the problems yet to be solved, and of the checks from other sources which limit the bounds of speculation, we shall not have made this review of the subject in vain.

«p.223:» In conclusion, it only remains for me to add that the work of this last season in Sinai has served to put in order the Egyptian inscriptions previously known there, and to fix their places and connections which were uncertain before. It has also uncovered many new inscriptions, and the whole of these two or three hundred inscriptions have been drawn full-size in facsimile, and many of them photographed. The publication of these will form the largest body of texts from any year's work. The plan of the Temple of Serabít was but vaguely known before. Many more walls have been found, and also the Shrine of the Kings; and the whole is now fully planned and modelled, and the architectural details restored as far as possible. The district of Serabít has been planned for the first time, and the positions and character of the mines recorded. The considerable mass of offerings found in the Temple includes the finest portrait known of Queen Thyi. The fuller records now obtained have enabled us to reconstruct the old Egyptian organization of the expeditions. And the views that result from these studies regarding the early Semitic ritual, restore what has hitherto been only a matter of conjecture. Never has a working party been more closely occupied with copying, and seldom have the resulting conclusions been of greater interest.

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