Minor Thoughts from me to you

Bible Study: Exodus 1:1-7, continued

Oy; the good folks at the Bridge-Linguatec School just sent me a packet on information concerning the CELTA certification course (Cambridge English Language Teaching Association), which - God willing - I'm taking this June. And here's an excerpt:

"...The course is very intensive. Trainees need a great deal of energy and stamina to work through the course. You will be at school every day from approximately 9 "“ 6, and your evenings will be taken up with reading, research, lesson planning, and written assignments. It is advisable not to have a part-time job or other outside distractions during this month, as it will take your focus away from the course and you will not receive as much benefit from your time here. The course is very intense and requires a great deal of time and energy. Past trainees have commented that homework takes from 3-5 hours every evening."

The failure rate among students, it goes on to say, is roughly 6-7%, and so is the class drop-out rate, for a total of round-abouts 12-14% who are accepted and find they can't hack it. As for those students who pass the course: "C" students account for 65% of the typical class, the "B" students 20-25%. "A" students: 3-4% ("These Candidates usually have a number of years of teaching experience").

I admit to slight concern.

But!: We're not here to worry about my future, now are we? No, we're here to discuss Exodus 1:1-7 some more. So, let's.

We return to the somewhat troublesome question of how seventy-five Jews become 2-3 million Jews within the seemingly absurd span of a little over four hundred years.

  • Exodus 1:5: "The total number of persons that were of Jacob's issue came to seventy, Joseph being already in Egypt [and not counting Joseph's grandchildren and great-grandchildren]."

According to Plaut, this group of seventy consists of Jacob, sixty-seven male offspring, and two wives. Adding in Joseph's grandchildren and great-grandchildren, the total number of men comes to seventy-two.

  • Exodus 12:40: "The length of time that the Israelites lived in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years..." [if you believe this verse and not Genesis 15:16, in which God says Israel shall dwell in Egypt for four hundred flat. Gen. 15:16 also says "the fourth generation" shall leave Egypt, whereas 1 Chron. 7:20-27 records ten. We won't be getting into this seeming contradiction today.]

Is it possible that a family of seventy men became a nation of two to three million, or even more? Well, mathematically-speaking, the answer is like every other answer in Judaism: "Yes, but it depends." Several questions have a great impact on the issue.

Question 1: Were the Jews still polygamists? If Jewish men can take more than one wife, the birth rate of Israel increases. Simple.

Question 2: Did Israel's children take foreign wives? Joseph's wife was an Egyptian. If Joseph's kin followed suit (at least until their enslavement), and especially if they were polygamists, then the potential for a powerful birth rate was more strong. On the other hand, Abraham clearly hated the idea of his son Isaac marrying anyone who was not of his own kind. Was this attitude passed down to Abraham's descendants as virtual law, or was it not until Mount Sinai that such rules were enshrined?

Question 3: Did Israel's children take wives of their own kin? We often think of the Hebrew race as simply beginning with "Father Abraham", but of course this isn't true; Abraham himself belonged to a people populating the Fertile Crescent.

Who were these people? A popular theory among today's scholars is that the word "Hebrew" (Ivri) shares the same roots of, or is derived from, the word "Habiru" - the name given to a people populating (you guessed it) the Fertile Crescent.

From Plaut:

"[The Habiru] may have been related by family ties; they became prominent in Mesopotamia and later spread out all the way to Egypt... Although at first they were nomads or semi-nomads, they later settled in the countries of their choice. They were, however, usually considered foreigners, which means that they succeeded in maintaining their group identity..."

This especially clicks when you consider that the word Ivri "was used only when the members of the Israelite tribes spoke of themselves to outsiders and when outsiders referred to them. Thus, Abraham is called ivri (Gen. 14:13)..." Otherwise the people referred to themselves by their tribes (e.g., Judah, Ephraim) or by their more immediate common ancestor, Israel."

Interestingly, despite the seemingly perfect fit, Plaut stops short of saying in his Commentary that the Habiru and Israelites were kin, even though others don't. He only suggests that the Israelites were identified with and/or shared familial ties with the Habiru.

If Jacob and his children were Habiru, however, then the likelihood of their having met other Habiru in Egypt - and intermarried with them - is far from remote. The Israel that left Egypt may even have absorbed some of these Habiru into its body.

The rate of procreation necessary in order, for example, for thirteen men to become three million within four hundred years isn't actually so tough to swallow when you crunch the numbers. Within the first generation, forty children would have to be born (a modest rate of less than four children per man); by the second, there would have to be one hundred and fifty-three. But if the answers to any or all of the three questions I've raised today are "yes", we find the Bible's account all the easier to accept.

That is to say, IF you were having any_ trouble_ accepting the Bible's account. I, of course, never doubted. I'm just doing this for all you faithless people.