THE EXODUS FROM EGYPT, in perspective
Extract by Coen van Wyk
The version of the Bible under discussion in this article is the New English Bible. It is alleged that in an attempt to get Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, to allow the Israelites to leave Egypt, God exposed the king and his people to some considerable unpleasantness, which inter alia included, frogs, gnats, and flies. When none of that persuaded the king to allow the Israelites to leave, God killed all the “horses, asses, donkeys, camels, cattle, and sheep (some Bibles even add other animal to the list of departed animals - Exodus. 9:6). The following appears from Exodus 9:6:
All the herds of Egypt died but from the herds of the Israelites not one single beast died.
So, after this last ordeal the Egyptians had no horses.
But when even that did not cause the king of Egypt to allow the Israelites to leave Egypt, God decreed the following (Exodus 11:4):
At midnight I will go out among the Egyptians. Every first-born creature in the land of Egypt shall die.”
God’s reference to, every first-born creature, is rather puzzling because he had previously eradicated all the Egyptian livestock. So what animals (first-borne, or not) were there for God to kill?
Nevertheless, the king, Pharaoh, then allowed the Israelites to leave. But soon after they had left, Pharaoh decided that he made a mistake to let his slaves go and according to Ex. 14:6, put horses to his chariot and took six hundred picked chariots and pursued the Israelites. However, the question is: Where did he get the horses to draw his chariot and 600 other chariots? After all, all his horses had already been killed. Some of them, the first-borne horses were killed twice.
The Bible states (Exodus 12:37) that when the Israelites set out from Egypt about six hundred thousand men not counting dependants left Egypt. An Afrikaans Bible based on the Codex Leningradensis, which is the oldest complete extant manuscript of the Bible, describes the 600 000 men as “weerbare” men. “Weerbaar” translates into “capable of bearing arms” or “able-bodied”. So, it could be that there were 600 000 soldiers among the people who left Egypt.
If each of the 600 000 soldiers had a mother, a sister, one wife (or one girlfriend - some may have had a number of wifes, and a number of girlfriends), two minor children, two grandmothers, one aunt, a female cousin, and female niece, then each of the 600 000 men would have been associated with ten females. The people associated with the men would then have been 6 million.
If, as an exercise in conservatism, we limit the females associated with each able-bodied man to a mother, a wife (or girlfriend, but not both), one female child, one grandmother, and an aunt, then the number of people who left Egypt calculates to at least 3.6 million
Now if this procession of people that were trekking through the desert walked in rows, each consisting of ten people and if they kept a distance of one metre between rows then the length of the column of people that made their way through the desert would have been 360 kilometres. If the column consisted of rows of 5 people each then the column’s length would have been 720 kilometres.
Now it is clear from the Bible that there were times when Moses addressed an assembly of the people that he led out of Egypt. If they stood before him in rows of 100 people then the last row of people would have been 36 kilometres away from him. He must therefore have had a thundering voice, or a mighty powerful public address system to get his message to the people in the back row.