Census in the Book of Numbers - Biblical inaccuracies?


#1

In the Book of Numbers two censuses are taken of the Israelites in the desert. Only the men over 20 years of age and fit to bear arms are counted, and the total comes to 603,550, which would put the total of Israelites in the desert, including women and children and somewhere between 1 and 2 million.

My question is this; Is this figure incorrect? Is it exaggerated? I keep hearing/reading that this figure and various other figures in the OT, for example the numbers killed in battles, is over-exaggerated.

The problem is, if something as simple as the number of people in a census is wrong in the Bible, doesn’t that shake the reliability of everything in the Bible?

I’m hoping that the answer is that the figures add up and there is no problem, but that may not be the case.

Anyway, all answers and help appreciated! Thanks.


#2

I can’t speak to the specific number you cited, but numbers in Scripture are very symbolic.

For a start…read this:
catholic-resources.org/Bible/Numbers.htm

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You’ll find the census reference here:*
catholic-resources.org/Bible/History-12Tribes.htm


#3

I don’t see why that number would be an issue. Sure, it’s a massive group, but not impossibly large. The Jews were in Egypt for 400 years, and they started there with an already-large society. Four hundred years of prolific reproduction (Jews viewed children as blessings, so the more the merrier. Remember, bareness was seen as the ultimate punishment from God.) with a base group of a couple thousand could easily result in marriages of that size. Also remember, at the time it was not forbidden for Jew to marry non-Jews, so you also have to factor in any Egyptian families which left with their Jewish heads of house.

When they got to the Holy Land, and were blessed by God with abundance, it makes sense that their reproduction would increase. Off the top of my head, I don’t know how much time passed from the Exodus to the Census in Numbers, but regardless, those numbers would not be at all difficult for a stable society to develop, even in ancient times.


#4

When was the Book of Numbers written? Who took the census and how did they compile the numbers?

Now consider today’s technology and ask yourself, “How many people are in the US today?” With all our technology and government focus on the population, you would think we’d know to the person, how many people there are, yes? Does anyone discount the government census as being inaccurate therefore the entire body of work by the government is invalid?? :slight_smile:


#5

Hi thanks for the replies to this. Still interested in other views if anyone can help. Thanks.


#6

Hi,

I’ve studied around 4 commentaries on the book of Numbers, and they all raise this issue. Basically, they’re looking at the book from a naturalistic perspective. From the point of view of naturalism it would be very difficult to visualize how so many people could survive for so long in the desert. The point is that it’s not about naturalism but about super-naturalism. God can sustain that many people for that long.

Incidentally, there are many passages in Scripture which indicate the magnitude of super-naturalism. A few examples would include Christ’s miraculous feeding of the 5,000, the enormous quantity of spices used during Christ’s burial, the miraculous catch of fish, etc.

Basically, you need to decide whether or not you want to come to Scripture from a naturalistic point of view or a super-naturalistic point of view. If your view is naturalistic, then the census in the book of Numbers will pose a problem. If it’s super-naturalistic, then it won’t.


closed #7

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