Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Conquest of Canaan: Did It Happen?, P.4

4) The Exodus in the OT

There were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. (Exodus 12.37)

According to the OT, the God of the Israelites decided to rescue his people from the torturous bondage under the Egyptian Pharaoh. The Israelite’s God commissioned Moses for this rescue mission. Few stories in the Bible are as widely known as this massive migration of the ancient Israelites from Egypt to Canaan. Besides the miraculous plagues and the parting of the sea of Reed, one other interesting data noticed by archaeologists is the population involved in the Exodus.

The book of Exodus records that there were six hundred thousand men took part in the voyage. That makes up a total number of about two to four million individuals travelling out of Egypt into Canaan in the 13th century BC.

That OT data alone is problematic. On one hand, with our current comprehensive knowledge of the middle-eastern geography, the ancient landscape does not allow for such massive amount of migrants to travel all at once. As Niels Peter Lemche (right picture) pointed out in his book ‘The Israelites in History and Tradition’:
“Six hundred thousand males with families – that would say above three million people – would, as it was remarked a long time ago, have filled up the whole peninsula, and even if the Israelites marched in broad columns would have meant that the advance guard was well into Syria before the rear guard had left Egypt.”(p.151)
On the other hand, as pointed out by a sociologist of the antiquity Norman K. Gottwald, the recorded population of the ancient Israelites in the book of Exodus is ridiculously too large:
“The total of more than 600,000 arms-bearing males is ridiculously excessive, since that would yield a total population of at least 2, 500, 000, a figure far larger than the highest estimates for the most populous periods of ancient Israel under the late monarchy.” (1979:51).
In view of such doubtful figures of the Exodus, some scholars try to salvage the Bible’s historical reliability by suggesting that the population of the ‘Exodus’ was much fewer than a single journey involved a few million people. Others, like John Bright, suggest that there was no one enormous resettlement but, rather, many tiny ‘exoduses’ occurring through out a span of time. But all these attempts to change the figure of the Exodus in order to salvage the Biblical data does not promote the Bible’s historical reliability. In fact such attempt implies that the OT is inaccurate. Such attempt to salvage the historical reliability of this data undercuts itself.

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