How Many Israelites Left Egypt in the Exodus?

NumbersWhen we read Numbers in the Old Testament, most English translations will suggest that over two million Israelites left Egypt during the exodus. That is pretty good for a group of people that basically began with twelve brothers.

While I completely agree that God can (and does) perform miracles and that there could have been that many people, some may have concerns about those numbers. Archaeological evidence of the numbers of people who dwelt in Canaan after the invasion do not fit well with the number of Israelites often thought to have invaded.

Now I can already hear accusations of an attack on inerrancy. If the Bible says two million, then it is two million, no matter what problems that may arise. The Bible is always correct.

Well, I don’t believe that the Bible made a mistake. It may have been two million people. But there may be another explanation.

In some of my reading in Old Testament studies, I have come across an interesting theory. Research has revealed that the Hebrew word ‘lp, often translated as ‘thousand,’ can have other meanings. One of those meanings is a military unit such as a troop, company or division. This means that if a passage says there were 100,000 men, it may actually mean that there were 100 groups (of some size) of soldiers. This brings the numbers down to more where we would expect them.

I have found this theory in a number of places. It is presented in the IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, which I recommend for more than just this. But it is also found in this journal article by Colin Humphreys. Humphreys suggests that the number involved in the exodus was more like 20,000 (which is still pretty good for twelve brothers). I recommend you read the article.

Please hear me when I say that I am not suggesting the Bible is in error. I am not saying that at all. But it is possible that a greater understanding of the Hebrew language may make some difficult passages easier to understand.

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