Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Numbers Just Don’t Compute

 A guest post by david a.

One compelling reason most objective scholars of the Bible understand it to have developed as a composition of many authors is driven by the hundreds of contradictions, inconsistencies, and many outright contradictions found in the Chumash. Of course, Chazal and the classical meforshim were very cognizant of these problems and offered resolutions and explanations, some quite reasonable, but unfortunately, many were just plain lame or simply not very satisfying.

This week’s parsha (Pinchos) offers just one such example of an unexplained (at least to me) inconsistency.

The Parsha’s events takes place near the end of the 40 year desert trek and God instructs Moishe and Elazar to take a census of the nation, which yielded a count of 601,730. If you recall an earlier census in the second year of the desert trek yielded a count of 603,550.

Here’s my problem, and as my rebbe used to say before a difficult Tosfet “now, halt kop”.

To account for the fact that Jacob arrived in Egypt with 49 grandsons (I think I counted that right) that in 210 years grew to a nation of over 600,000 adults we must posit a substantive, but not unnatural growth rate. I used an average of 2.48 sons per generation. (I got that by working backwards from 600,000 to 49). Now census figures also depend on life expectancy and generational age (i.e. the average age when males begin to reproduce). For simplicity let’s use 60 years for the former and 20 years for the later. So 210 years represents 10 generations (and for simplicity lets say that the first generation was 30 years). The problem doesn’t go away even with varying parameters.

So the 49 grandchildren of Jacob grew roughly as follow:


Gen 1

Gen 2

Gen 3

Gen 4

Gen 5

Gen 6

Gen 7

Gen 8

Gen 9

Gen 10
Gen 11
 first 20 years in desert

Generations 9 and 10 represent the 20-60 year-olds that added up to about 600,000 males at the exodus. And at the exodus, the 10th generation of about 430,000 males that left Egypt and due to having an average of 2.48 sons had over a million male offspring. 

Now even allowing for some major attrition and assuming that NONE of these sons added ANY male children in the next 40 years (a supposition contradicted by the Book of Joshua, which clearly alludes to male offspring in these 40 years), how is it that the census in this week’s Parsha, 40 years later in the exile only had about 600,000 males?

What happened to the rest?

Something doesn’t compute.

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