OF NUMBERS, POOP, AND OTHER THINGS
Well, I guess it’s about time that I dealt with one of the housekeeping issues of this book – numbers. Although I have dealt with the Bible’s poor mathematical skills in the chapter The Numbers of the Book, up to this point I have only proven that in some cases, the Bible’s numbers are physically impossible. When it comes to the size and contents of the temple or and the length of the Egyptian bondage, the numbers just don’t add up. They must be wrong.
However, there are other cases where the Bible’s numbers cannot be proven to be internally inconsistent, yet they are likely wrong. For example, the Bible quotes population figures that seem reasonable to modern persons. It is not hard to imagine a city of a million persons. But, when one takes into consideration that ancient societies could not provide either the food or the infrastructure to support large urban populations, these census numbers seem inflated.
Another example is the extended life spans of some of the early Bible characters. Is it possible that humans lived to be hundreds of years old (in some cases nearly 1,000) back in early times? It has been suggested to me that people lived longer in ancient times because they were closer to perfection (fewer generations from creation). It has also been suggested that humans have a naturally long life span, but it was limited by God after the flood in order to minimize the damage that can be done by any one evil person.
Let’s take a look at the twin numerical issues of population and age.
What was the population of ancient Israel?
Now, this is not an easy question to answer. If we trace back to the beginning of the nation, we find that it originated with one single person. Abraham had a grandson, who was named Jacob. Because of his general goodness, Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, and he became the patriarch of the nation. He had twelve sons, each of whom headed a tribe in the nation (well, not exactly, but this is close enough).
When Jacob and his sons moved to Egypt to escape a famine in their land, the whole clan numbered 70 persons. (Ex 1:1,2,5) The Bible says they lived there for 430 years, however, if you add up the dates, you find that it could not have been more than 350. During this time, only about three generations passed. Levi was a son of Jacob. He and his son Kohath were among the 70 who entered Egypt. Moses was Kohath’s grandson. Moses left Egypt as an adult (actually a fairly old adult at 80 years of age).
By the time they left Egypt, the Bible tells us that this group had grown to 600,000 men, plus women and children – so around 1.8 million. (Ex 12:37). This group must have been reproducing like rabbits if they grew from 70 to 1.8 million in only three generations.
So, according to the Bible, the population at the time of the exodus was nearly two million. Under King David, the population had grown to approximately five million.
Those fluctuating numbers
Now, if there were 1.8 million Israelites who left Egypt to wander in the wilderness, you would think that the number should gradually increase over time, peaking under the reign of David. There may be some fluctuations due to hardship, but don’t forget that this group has been spectacularly reproductive. As they move into their new land, they should grow in number. After all, if a roving band of nomads can number into the millions, an agricultural paradise “flowing with milk and honey”, should be able to support an even larger group.
Yet, the numbers recorded in the Bible tell a very different story:
• Deborah led the Israelites during the period of the judges. This came after the time in the wilderness, but before the enthronement of the kings. She was only able to come up with 40,000 warriors. (Judges 4:6) That’s quite a drop from 600,000.
• Saul, Israel’s first King, faced a massive philistine army with only 3,000 of his own troops. Apparently, he had more, but he sent them home. (1 Sam 13:2)
• Saul’s census showed 210,000 warriors. (1 Sam 15:4)
• Not long after Saul, the army had expanded dramatically. David was Saul’s immediate successor. 2 Samuel 24:9 tells us that David had 1.3 million soldiers. On the other hand, 1 Chronicles 21:9 gives an alternate count from the same census – 1.57 million. The numbers are inconsistent, but either way, they are massive.
• Solomon’s army was also pretty large. He reigned one generation after David and had 40,000 stalls for horses for his chariots (1 Kings 4:26). Unfortunately, another account shows him to have only 1,400 chariots. That sounds a trifle inconsistent.
• Moving ahead a few generations, Rehoboam was only able to round up 180,000 warriors.
• But, only a few decades later, they were back to 1.16 million under Jehoshaphat, and that was only out of two tribes.
• That didn’t last long, either. Shortly afterward, the same two tribes could only muster 300,000.
• By the time Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Israel, the numbers were once again depleted. He carried off all of the men of valor, princes, craftsmen and smiths, and he only managed to pick up a mere 10,000.
• By the time they returned to Jerusalem from their captivity in Babylon, their total population was down to 42,360.
The numbers quoted in the Bible tend to change from one writer to the next. One scribe will attribute astronomical numbers to the nation and the army, numbers that would be large even for modern nations with sophisticated logistics and home populations that are orders of magnitude greater than that of ancient Israel.
The next writer will drop the numbers dramatically, then will be followed by another one who inflates them by 1,000% to 10,000%. Sometimes, conflicting accounts will give two different quantities for the same census.
Obviously, these numbers are unreliable. But, there’s more.
How big were armies during the iron age?
In very early times, armies were small. The logistics of transporting, arming, feeding, and organizing large groups of people simply didn’t exist. During the iron age, which began around 1200 BC, armies began to grow larger. Around the beginning of this time period, King David’s army supposedly grew to 1.57 million. Yet, the far greater empires of Rome and Greece, many years later, reached peaks that were much lower than this.
…the army of Alexander sometimes exceeded 60,000 men. Roman military forces, which at the end of the empire totaled 350,000 men, could routinely field armies upward of 40,000. - http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/gabrmetz/gabr0009.htm - A Short History of War, Gabriel & Metz, 1992
So, the Greek and Roman empires, as great as they were, did not exceed 350,000 warriors. Yet, we are expected to believe that the Hebrews, many years before the Greeks and Romans, managed nearly five times the army of Rome, and over twenty six times the army of Alexander.
If the Israelite armies were as large as the Bible claims, Israel should have been the undisputed master of the earth. Instead, although they dominated the neighboring tribes for a while, they never became influential outside of their immediate region.
The feasibility of huge armies, cities, and nomadic camps
The Bible makes some stupendous claims regarding the population of Israel. It claims that under King David, the size of the army was 1.57 million. This would extrapolate into a national population of at least five million persons. In order for this to be the case, the population of ancient Israelite cities must have been enormous. Jerusalem, and the other major cities must have been metropolises, or close to it. The Bible even claims that approximately two million persons lived in a temporary mobile camp for 40 years, roaming the Sinai Peninsula.
Is this possible? Well, to get a little perspective, I perused a Sociology textbook. Here is one of the interesting points that I uncovered:
“Between 50 and 90 farmers were required to produce sufficient food to sustain themselves and one person in the first cities.” - Sociology, Bibby et al, p525
Before the automation of agriculture, the primary pursuit of the human race was food production. Urban populations were limited by the amount of food that the rural population was able to produce, in excess of their own needs. As a result, a city of 10,000 persons would need to sit atop a rural population of 500,000 to 1,000,000. As time went on, agriculture became more efficient, allowing the size of cities to grow in proportion to total population.
But, in the early days, cities were necessarily small. How small were they? Well, take a look at this comment:
“Athens, the prima city of the ancient world peaked with a population of 120,000 to 180,000” - Sociology, Bibby et al, p522
So, logically, the population of Israel could not have been five million at any point in its Biblical history. Even Athens, which sat upon a world empire, and existed centuries after Israel reached its peak, was tiny by modern standards.
The Camp of Israel
As I mentioned earlier, approximately 600,000 Israelite warriors left Egypt during the exodus. If we assume one warrior for every three persons, that brings the population of the exodus to 1.8 million. For round figures, let’s assume there were two million of them. Some persons have estimated this ratio considerably higher, but as always, I give the Bible the benefit of the doubt.
This group lived in a temporary camp that wandered throughout the wilderness for forty years. Needless to say, a population, or should I say poopulation (a pun you will understand later) of two million, living in tents, creates tremendous logistical difficulties.
Let’s focus in on the logistical difficulties encountered in just one of the necessities of human life.
“You shall have a place outside the camp and you shall go out to it; and you shall have a stick with your weapons; and when you sit down outside, you shall dig a hole with it, and turn back and cover up your excrement. Because the LORD your God walks in the midst of your camp,” – Deut 23:11-14
I guess He didn’t want to step in anything.
Now, let’s calculate. If each person relieved himself only twice a day (an obviously low estimate), and each deposit used one square foot of land surface (also a pretty low estimate), that means that every day, the Israelites turned 93 acres of land into a sewage lagoon. If they stayed in the same spot for a month, around 4 ½ square miles would be consumed – a veritable poop farm. During their 40 years in the wilderness, 2,160 square miles would have been used (that’s 1,357,800 acres). No wonder it was wilderness.
When you consider that there were two million people living in tents, and every one of them had to leave the camp to go to the bathroom – a bathroom that moved farther away every day, they must have spent half their life walking.
If we assume that the camp had a population density equal to modern Hong Kong (which is totally ridiculous, but we’ll give the Bible the benefit of the doubt, again), it would have occupied at least 44 square miles. That means that if you lived in the center of the camp, you would need to walk 3.7 miles, each way, every time you went to the bathroom. You would need to plan your bathroom breaks hours in advance. And, by the time you returned, you would need to go again. You’d think that God could have come up with a better system.
Now, the camp of Israel was approximately the same population as the greater Vancouver or Cincinatti area. Just imagine yourself living in one of those two cities. Now, imagine that every time you had to go to the bathroom, you had to walk outside the metropolitan area, find an unused spot, dig a hole with a stick, do your business, cover it up, and then walk home. This is the best system that the Almighty of the Universe could think of.
Not only that, if we assume that each of these persons spent only two minutes digging their hole and doing their business, that means that at any one time, there would be an average of 5,500 persons simultaneously squatting on their holes. It must have looked like a pooping convention.
There are a host of other problems with this story.
- Why were the Israelites (remember, 600,000 warriors strong) running from and afraid of a mere 600 Egyptian chariots? (Ex 14:7)
- Why were they afraid to go into a city that had the massive number of 5000 warriors? In fact, would it even have been possible for them to enter?
- The total population of Egypt prior to the exodus was actually less than the number of Israelites who left it. That doesn’t make any sense.
In other words, there weren’t nearly as many Israelites in the camp as the Bible claims. In fact, a more reasonable estimate for the number is around 7,000, ( http://beythakadosh.ancient-hebrew.org/sh_exodus.html) not two million. That is, assuming that the exodus even happened. Once again, the Bible exaggerates, this time overstating the number by at least 300 times. And, don’t forget that I have given the Bible the benefit of every doubt by underestimating the ratio of warriors to population, ignoring the presence of their animals, assuming impossibly high population densities, and attributing almost legendary bladder capacity to the Hebrews.
So, what really was the population of ancient Israel?
According to the Bible, Israel grew from around two million after the exodus to five million under King David, with bizarre fluctuations in between. Cities, and even temporary camps were metropolises, rivaling modern cities.
So, how many Israelites were there, really? Here is what a Jewish encyclopedia says:
The population of ancient Israel was probably about 300,000 at its maximum in the time of David. This is based on estimates of about 10,000 for capital cities like Jerusalem and Samaria, 2000-3000 for regional centres like Dan, Megiddo and Beersheba, and 500-1000 for small country towns or villages. - http://philtar.ucsm.ac.uk/encyclopedia/judaism/ancisr.html
This strikes me as pretty reasonable.
So, like many other numbers in the Bible, the population of Israel and the size of its army appear to have been exaggerated by at least an order of magnitude, sometimes by two orders of magnitude.
Those long life spans
In the early part of the Bible, life spans of up to 969 years are recorded. In fact, if a person died before age 300, it seemed like he was a virtual child. Noah didn’t even start his family until he was over 500.
These life spans seem incredible to modern people. There does not seem to be any corroborating evidence from archeology that would back up the Bible’s claims. However, absence of evidence does not constitute evidence of absence. So, let’s look at this from another perspective.
These long life spans create some strange overlaps. For example, in the days prior to the flood, God looked at the earth and saw that it was wicked. Only Noah was righteous, so God assigned him the job of building the ark. Noah worked on the ark for 100 years, before the flood came along. But, if you carefully add up the ages of his ancestors, you find that his father, Lamech, who was apparently righteous, died only five years prior to the flood. And his grandfather, Methuselah, who was also apparently righteous, died either in the flood, or immediately before it.
So, when God proclaimed that only Noah, in all the earth, was righteous, he had forgotten about Noah’s righteous father and grandfather.
Noah continued to live for another 350 years after the flood. But, shortly after the flood, things went bad. Noah’s great grandson, Nimrod, turned out to be a… well, a Nimrod. He turned against God and started to build a city. But, Noah himself was still alive while this happened. You would think that the presence of Noah, the patriarch of the human race at that time would have had a dampening effect on Nimrod’s badness.
Similarly, depending on how you calculate the birth date of Abraham, it appears that Noah and Abraham may have coexisted for a while.
These life span claims put a significant amount of pressure on world history. The Bible claims that prior to the days of Nimrod, everyone spoke the same language and lived in relatively close proximity. It was not until God confused the languages at Babel that humans divided into different language groups and began to form different cultures. By adding the dates of birth, we find that the flood occurred around 2370 BC. If we allow for a couple of generations for Nimrod to be born, another one for him to grow up and build a following, and a few more after the confusion of the languages for unique cultures to develop, we find that distinct cultures should not appear prior to 2200 BC. Even then, I am assuming some spectacular reproduction and mortality numbers.
Yet, we find considerable evidence exists that distinct cultures existed long before this date. The pyramids date back to 2600 BC. The Chinese calendar begins in our year 2696 BC – 326 years before the flood. The Egyptians, Mayans, and others trace their history back to dates that precede the flood.
So, as can be seen, the Bible’s long life spans create some internal inconsistencies. As well, secular history provides ample evidence that the time periods just don’t add up.
The Curious Case of Abraham
The events of Abraham’s life provide clear evidence of the Bible’s ad hoc approach to history. Consider the time-line of his later life.
In Genesis chapter 18, the Bible tells us that Abraham and Sarah have gotten old. Sarah is 90, and is no longer menstruating. Abraham is 100. God tells them that they will have a son. They consider this to be crazy. Sarah actually laughs at the prospect, because it seems so preposterous.
Why is this preposterous? Well, people who are 90 and 100 years old do not have children without miraculous intervention. In fact, most people do not even live to that age. Even in Biblical times, where ages of nearly a millennium were claimed, the maximum age had been tapering off. After the flood, God said that he had had enough of people’s wickedness, so he limited life spans to 120 years: “Then the LORD said, "My spirit shall not abide in man for ever, for he is flesh, but his days shall be a hundred and twenty years." – Genesis 6:3.
So, the story of Abraham continues. God blesses them with a son, whom we all know as Isaac. The story then branches off into other directions.
Well, a considerable amount of time passes. Eventually Sarah dies at the ripe old age of 127. Abraham is still alive, being 137 years old at the time.
Now, I don’t want to belabor the point, but Abraham and Sarah were very old. Genesis chapter 21 mentions, on at least two occasions, that Abraham had a child in his old age. It was obviously very unusual to have a child at the age of 100. So unusual that it could be considered evidence of divine intervention. In fact, after Sarah dies, Abraham commissions his servant to travel with his son to find a wife, ostensibly because Abraham is either too old to travel or doesn’t expect to live long enough to see him married.
What happens next? Well, Sarah is barely cold in the grave when Abraham gets remarried. He then proceeds to have six more children, and lives for another 38 years, dieing at the age of 175.
If it requires divine intervention to have a child at 100 years of age, then how can he have six children midway through his second century?
Actually, we learn from Exodus that Moses’ mother, Jochabed, was 260 years old when he was born. So, why was Abraham and Sarah’s conception of Isaac such a strange event, when women were giving birth at more that double their age? Actually, the writer of Exodus apparently messed up on this one. He probably just lost count when he was making up the begats.
The curious case of Abraham shows us very clearly that the tales in the Bible are just myths. The ages recorded in the Bible are exaggerated and internally inconsistent.
The Old Newlywed
When Isaac is an old man, he decides that it is time for his son, Jacob, to find a wife. So, he commissions one of his servants to take the boy on a journey to his relatives, in order to find a suitable wife.
After arriving, Jacob meets the perfect girl. All he has to do is work for seven years in order to win her father’s permission. As it turns out, he ends up working for fourteen years, and gets two wives out of the deal.
Now, how old would you say that Jacob is when this happens? The story seems to indicate that he is relatively young – too young to be entrusted with selecting his own wife, but old enough to be marraigable. Would you guess around 20, or perhaps 25 years of age?
Well, you would be wrong. If you add up the dates given in the Bible, you will find that Jacob was 76 years old. He received his two wives at age 83, and finished his servitude to Laban at age 90.
So, why is it necessary for Abraham to require divine intervention to have a child at 100 years of age, when his grandson waited until age 83 to have his first of 13 children?
The Liar’s Circle
Imagine a group of patriarchs, standing around trying to top each other. First up is Jair. He boasts to the group that he has thirty sons, and they ride thirty asses. (Judges 10:3,4). Well, not to be outdone, Judge Ibzan weighs in. Apparently he not only has thirty sons, but also thirty daughters. (Judges 12:8,9) Finally, after some solid calculation on his fingers and toes, Judge Abdon computes the biggest number imaginable, one that can never be topped - forty. And, he throws in another thirty to boot. He claims forty sons and thirty grandsons, and best of all, there are asses for everyone. (Judges 12:13,14)
Now, these numbers are not impossible. In those days, a powerful judge with multiple wives could have a pretty good litter. It just seems obviously contrived to me.
Let’s recap a bit:
• The Bible’s population and military census numbers are inconsistent. The figures change dramatically from one year to the next. Sometimes, different figures are reported for the same census in two different Bible books.
• The numbers are grossly exaggerated. Israelite national and city population could not have been even close to the numbers reported in the Bible.
• Secular history does not agree with the Bible’s timetable.
• Many stories, like the story of Abraham, do not make sense. Some of the characters are given life spans that overlap other stories, making them seem ridiculous.
• As I pointed out in another chapter, many of the numbers don’t even add up properly.
The point I’m trying to make with this chapter is that when it comes to numbers, whether they be population, age, money, or other, the Bible can’t be trusted.