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Population of Hebrews during the biblical exodus

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Decebal View Drop Down
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  Quote Decebal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: Population of Hebrews during the biblical exodus
    Posted: 24-Oct-2005 at 16:20

If one reads the Bible, specifically the book of Exodus and that of Numbers, it is specifically stated that upon their leaving Egypt, the Hebrews numbered 600,000 men of fighting age (over 20). Accounting for the women and children, this would mean a total population of about 3 million.

I've looked at population estimates of Ancient Egypt, and they range from 1.5 to 6 million. This would mean that the Hebrews would have comprised 50% or more of the total population of Egypt, which frankly, I find hard to believe. Another thing, and correct me if I'm wrong, is that the Exodus is not mentioned in any Egyptian sources. One would think that they would have recorded such a massive migration.

Also, when one thinks of the logistics involved in moving 3 million people across the desert for 40 years... it boggles the mind.

What do you think is a realistic estimate of the Hebrew population at the time?

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  Quote ok ge Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24-Oct-2005 at 23:49

Edited for correction  



Edited by ok ge
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  Quote Decebal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25-Oct-2005 at 09:42
I'm afraid I don't understand. How does an estimate of the Jewish population in Egypt in 300BC during the time of Ptolemy, help us with determining the Jewish population around the invasion of the Hyksos, that is about 1600BC?
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  Quote ok ge Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25-Oct-2005 at 12:37

Originally posted by Decebal

I'm afraid I don't understand. How does an estimate of the Jewish population in Egypt in 300BC during the time of Ptolemy, help us with determining the Jewish population around the invasion of the Hyksos, that is about 1600BC?

Well, there is a calculation method to estimate the growth of a population taking all factors around it.

Anyhow, ignore what I posted earlier because it doesn't really help us determining the hebrew population. My bad.

Instead, I found a better way of estimating. Here is a link first:

http://www.sweenytod.com/rno/modules.php?name=News&file= article&sid=1150

It talks about the estimation of the Jewish population in various eras as The Jewish Agency's education department recently published a new study program that tries to provide answers to various questions concerning Jewish demography. The pamphlet contains estimates of the number of Jews who lived in the world during various historic periods, from the era of the Patriarchs to the present.  A doctor named Della Pergola, a program's scientific consultant, collected the numeric data from known written sources, the credibility of which is in some cases in doubt, to say the least. One striking case concerns the 13th century B.C.E., for which the estimate of 600,000 refers to the biblical figure related in the account of the Exodus from Egypt, which many scholars say never took place. Della Pergola says that setting aside the question of its historic truth, the biblical text contains an internal statistical logic.

"The bible speaks of 70 men who went down to Egypt with Jacob and of 600,000 men who left it 430 years later," he says. "That estimate is certainly possible demographically, if you take as a given that the average life span was 40 years and the number of children per household was six."

So, he is saying that 70 men going down with Jacob to meet Joseph in Egypt during the Hyksos reign and stayed there for 430 years, have produced up to 600,000 men! He says it is possible with calculation, I myself cannot find away of verifying his claim. I took an excel program sheet, put 70 men and 70 women, and as he said, I let them produce 6 children per family or 3 children per person then. After 40 years (as he says) the original 70 men & 70 women have passed away and their 280 offsprings also go with the rate of 3 children per person and like that in a cycle of every 40 years. Now without diseases and massacres, here is what I get if I were going to continue this for 430 years as he claims:

Population cycle Years passed
140.00 0 0
280.00 1 40
560.00 2 80
1,120.00 3 120
2,240.00 4 160
4,480.00 5 200
8,960.00 6 240
17,920.00 7 280
35,840.00 8 320
71,680.00 9 360
143,360.00 10 400
286,720.00 11 440

So after 440 years (close to his 430 years), the Jewish population that produces 6 children per family every 40 years has only reached 286,720 only!  That is still a big number to wonder in the desert of Sanai, but at least it is more reasonable than the figure of 3 million!

Remember that the 286,720 population figure did not take in factors diseases and prosecution by the Egyptions at all.

Anyone knows how to calculate that better maybe?



Edited by ok ge
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  Quote Decebal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25-Oct-2005 at 13:15

Thanks ok ge, that helps. Your calculation also doesn't take into account infant mortality, so the number would be even lower.

By the way, why did you use 280 offspring. Shouldn't it be 420?

Anyway, I noticed that the bible contains another hidden clue for the number of Hebrews, in the book of Exodus. This is of course dependent upon the story of the crossing actually being true. It's all speculation, but I think it's reasonable.

When the Hebrews cross the Red Sea (or the Reed Sea, depending on the interpretation), the whole crossing takes less than one night (Exodus 14:21-14:24) . Now, depending on the distance they had to cross, we can make an estimate of the population. Let's say the night crossing took a total of 8 hours, and that the population moved at an average of 5 km/hour (women and children+ livestock wouldn't move faster). Of course, we don't know how wide that arm of the Red Sea was, but it certainly cannot be more than 40 km, or less than 2 km. A good guess therefore was 20 km, which is close to the width of the arm of The Red Sea which stretches to the Suez canal. Now, the Hebrews couldn't possibly have crossed the Red Sea at more than say 50 side by side (including livestock). Assuming at least 1 meter between people and livestock, we would have 20,000 x 50 in one continuing throng of people, all times 2, to account for the Hebrews who had to wait. So that gives 2 million people and cattle together. Now, the cattle would outnumber the people what, 10 to 1, 20 to 1? Giving a grand total of 100,000 - 200,000 people.

Still a high number, but certainly orders of magnitude smaller than the 3 million that the Bible claims.



Edited by Decebal
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  Quote ok ge Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25-Oct-2005 at 15:14
Originally posted by Decebal

By the way, why did you use 280 offspring. Shouldn't it be 420?

420 for the years? or you mean 420,000? I just did an excel sheet where every couple produces 6 children in 40 years (or 3/person) and die after 40 years. So, if year 1 you have 70 men with Jacob marrying 70 women to form 140 person, by 40 years, population will be 3*140 person minus the 140 person as they have passed away. Does it make sense now?

The figure 286,720 population after 440 years came out according to that calcuation. Notice that after 400 years it was 143,360 only. So, in the time of Exodus from Egypt, which is 430, probably they were closer to the figure of 286,720 more than the 143,360. 

You caculation rendered a close figure to my simple calcuation. You said 100,000 to 200,000. So, If I took both calculations we have, the Jewish population at the time of the exodus should be between 143,360  and 200,000. Personally, I think the idea of every couple producing 6 children for 430 yeras is obsured. I would prefer your calculation method or maybe give it a priority to Pergola's assumptions.



Edited by ok ge
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  Quote Miller Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25-Oct-2005 at 18:07

You have to remember that there is no archeological or otherwise proof that Exodus ever happened the way it is narrated in the old testament, so the number .5 million is probably not anymore of an exaggeration than parting of the red sea

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  Quote Maju Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25-Oct-2005 at 18:46
While I don't believe that 70 people were so succesful reproductively, specially considering their claim of being enslaved and abused, as to produce 6 effective reproductive offsprings each generation, you miss, one point: that they were fertile since maybe 12 y.o. (let's say 14, not to exaggerate for women, who are the limiting factor in demografics, as a given man can have an almost unlimited number of offsprings).

So a woman giving birth since the age 14 till 40 could potentially have as much as 26 kids. This is of course an extreme case but it's been known of actual women having more than 30 children, so it's not impossible. Let's say half of the half: 25% of the extreme case: that makes 7.5 kids per woman, a little over the figure you managed.

But the actual important factor is the following. When a woman reached the average lifespan of 40, her older daughters were already twenty something and were therefore producing new generations already. So there's no diference of 40 years between generations but rather one of maybe 20-25. You have 4-5 generations per century. That makes the reproduction proccess (assuming optimal conditions) a lot faster. Actually almost double of faster. This is an actual demographic standard data: 4-5 generations per century assumed for most periods. In the modern Western world it is surely closer to 3 generations per century but this is not a standard historical case but rather an exception.

Due to the potential nature of the equation involved, the figures could well reach those given by the Bible of 6 million - at least in theory.

Yet, in practice, I would not accept that those figures are real at all but actually inflated by human imagination. This has nothing to do with any abstract demographic maths but with the Malthusian laws that constrict unlimited demic expansion: lack of resources and competition for them. Such a quickly growing population would have exausted quickly their resources and would have met the hard limits of lack of food and all types of resources.

Also, such a giant nation inside Egypt would have been, as you mention above, at least equal to that of Egyptians, if not even larger, and not just a small opressed minority. This fact would have not caused an exodus but a civil war and we would know about that from Egyptian sources. Yet there's no mention on any comparable problem.

The only things that can possibly relate to the developement of a Jewish nation inside Egypt are the Hycsos domination and the atempted monotheism of Akhenaton. Both have been often mentioned to explain better or worse the origin of the Hebrew nation or religion and/or the legend of the exodus.

If there's anything of truth on the "opening" of the Red Sea, it should mean that the Hebrews, as a Semitic nation with contacts in the eastern side of the sea, had access to some flotilla of ships that the Egyptians didn't have. The period at the desert must mean a rather harsh period of nomadism in the fringes of the desert, maybe supported by some local power that provisioned them (mana myth) in exchange of border defense.  Such a powerful and well organized sect (even if they were only a few tens of thousands warriors) should be a valuable asset (and a fearful foe) for any local power. Their temporary dificult situation only made them more dangerous, so paying a tribute or salary in exchange for military services would be probably a reasonable option.

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  Quote Decebal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25-Oct-2005 at 20:55

Your explanation sounds reasonable. Frankly I do not believe in the whole story, but I do think that there must have been some sort of basis for the myth.

 

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  Quote Sharrukin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25-Oct-2005 at 22:12

Another problem in determining the population of the Exodus:  true slavery "seems to have been rare in Egypt before the Ptolemaic Period".

(source:  The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, by Shaw/Nicholson, article "slaves", page 272)

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  Quote MathGMih Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27-Nov-2012 at 09:28
     Some say that the Hebrew word translated “thousand”, could be “clans” instead, so they say it was not 600,000, but 600 clans, troops or households. When the King of Egypt said, “the children of Israel are more and mightier than we:” (Exodus 1:7-9) he obviously was not talking about 600 “households”. If one does not believe what the Bible has said, he is building his beliefs upon the shifting sand of man’s opinions that change constantly. It is a question of whom we are going to trust. Do you trust God or some man, who will be judged by God? Please have a look at this site = http://www.sinai-horeb.com/
     We are told it would have been very difficult for such a multitude wandering around out on the desert to have lived for more than a few weeks. Yes, and the same could be said about one person out on the desert. They are forgetting God, Who supplied water, meat (quail) and daily bread (Nehemiah 9:20). They believe that encampments of such a multitude would have left some sort of “trash” for them to follow, but they are still trying to figure out which route the children of Israel were on. “Yea, forty years didst thou sustain them in the wilderness, so that they lacked nothing; their clothes waxed not old, and their feet swelled not.” (Nehemiah 9:21) There was no thrown away, worn-out clothing, no piles of leftover manna as it melted (Exodus 16:21), and they left no “soda bottles or gum wrappers” for them to follow. As others have brought out, the Israelites the critics are looking for never existed, because they do not believe God provided for them, but the truth is Israel “lacked nothing”! Their inability to find something is what they offer as proof! They only recently found (2002) the “workers’ village” for the pyramids of the Giza Plateau. It is estimated this town housed 20,000 people and was built out of bricks, whereas the children of Israel lived in tents. And this discovery only came after they had searched every inch of the Giza Plateau for the last two hundred years of archaeology.

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  Quote medenaywe Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27-Nov-2012 at 12:34
Let us find man's original script that had written this inside the Bible!Than could be discussed all about it clear&short!SmileRegards MGM!
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  Quote Nick1986 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05-Dec-2012 at 10:50
Polygamy was legal at this time, meaning the men could take the women from conquered towns as booty. The average Israelite could have four wives plus many concubiines, each one capable of having at least six children (possibly as many as 10)
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  Quote medenaywe Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05-Dec-2012 at 11:08
I asked once foreign student from Iraq:How many wifes do you have?He answer me:How many you can support.Nick they have many wifes in case other had died or first one could not give the children!SmileMany wifes in same time was for Rulers maybe.Why?It was suicidal idea:Wifes kill competition's children.Olimpia ordered murder of Alexander's half-brother as his competition on Throne!That's a war at home.
My grandma(Mother's mom) lost her man(Grandpa died after the war) and she grew up her kids very hard.In ancient times,brother&relative of dead one married the widow.Than family grows up also.Kids in house were:natives&foreigners!Half brothers&sisters!Smile 


Edited by medenaywe - 05-Dec-2012 at 11:10
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