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Part 4 Judges - Summation

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Published on Feb 7, 2011

This Biblical Literature Class was recorded 01/22/11 and is the 4th and last of a study on the book of Judges. Mark Lanier, a lawyer, has an interesting approach in his teaching which takes many twists and turns. I submit these classes for your consideration. I find them quite interesting and informative. I do not suggest they are a complete end all on the matter, but Mark does make one think through some important aspects that one may, or may not, have known.

The original of this video had been recommended by Edward Fudge to his gracEmail recipients and a question arose as follows: We recently highly recommended a video by attorney/Bible teacher Mark Lanier summing up the archaeological evidence about Israel's origins, as if he were giving a summation final argument to a jury. A gracEmail subscriber asked why Mark estimated that 25,000-35,000 Hebrews exited Egypt, since Exodus 12:37 gives the number of 600,000 grown males on foot, suggesting a total population of two-to-three million. Mark generously took time from his busy schedule to answer, and we are pleased to share his answer with you as follows. -- Edward Fudge

HOW MANY ISRAELITES?
by Mark Lanier

Scholars hotly debate the number of Hebrews in the Exodus. Skeptics who question the Exodus prefer your three million number, which makes it an archaeological impossibility (absent daily divine miracles, which are certainly possible). There is no evidence from that era of anyone wandering in the Sinai wilderness--no broken pots, no campfire residue, nothing. That high number is also logically unlikely. To take but one example, when nature called, the Jews were required to relieve themselves "outside the camp." Given their camping arrangements, a population of three million would require people in the center of the camp to make a two-hour trek to go outside the camp and another two-hour trek back.

Perhaps the most difficult evidence comes from the numbers themselves in comparison with other relevant populations. The entire Egyptian population at that time is reasonably estimated to be one million. If there were three million Israelites, one can't help but wonder why they didn't stay home themselves and send out the Egyptians! Pharaoh's army numbered only 20,000-25,000 at the time--little cause for three million Israelites to fear before crossing the Red Sea. When the Israelites lost 36 people at Ai, they went into full mourning, thinking it was the end of things. If there were three million Israelites, 36 casualties would barely represent a rounding error.

I am of the opinion that the figure of 600,000+ fighting men is a wrong translation. As it happens, "aleph," the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, is also a Hebrew word--which at times means "thousand," and at other times means "clan" or "group." The Hebrew biblical text gives the number of Israelite fighting men who exited Egypt as slightly more than "600 alephs," plus wives, children, and those too old to fight. That could mean 600,000 warriors, and an estimated total population of three million Israelites. But it could as easily mean 600 clans or groups of fighting men--and a total population of fewer than 50,000. The latter numbers are fully consistent with the archaeological record.

This opinion is shared by some of the best conservative scholars in international circles. Kenneth Kitchen explains it splendidly in his book, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 2003), as does James K. Hoffmeier in his book, Ancient Israel in Sinai (Oxford, 2005). I strongly recommend both of these books. In my "jury summation" of all the evidence, I stated that this is "one way to interpret the Bible, consistent with the archaeological record." It is certainly not the only way to interpret the Bible, but it is a fair way. You can find earlier lessons on this subject at our class website (www.Biblical-Literacy.com). Look under the tab for "Lessons" and go to the current series, "Old Testament Survey." If you look at lesson 15 on "The Exodus and Archaeology," for example, you will find a footnoted lesson of 16 single-spaced pages, setting out these ideas in great detail.
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Permission hereby given to forward, copy, reproduce, and republish this gracEmail in any quantity and by any lawful means, but only in its entirety, without change, and not for financial profit.

For more information about this biblical literacy class: http://www.biblical-literacy.com/

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