A Defense Of The Hyperbolic Interpretation Of Large Numbers In The Old Testament -- By: David M. Fouts

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 40:3 (Sep 1997)
Article: A Defense Of The Hyperbolic Interpretation Of Large Numbers In The Old Testament
Author: David M. Fouts


A Defense Of The Hyperbolic Interpretation
Of Large Numbers In The Old Testament

David M. Fouts*

For some scholars the use of large numbers in the OT is an interpretive issue. For others it involves the theological issues of inerrancy and the historical veracity of Scripture. It is the purpose of this paper to demonstrate and defend the premise that the issue is hermeneutical rather than theological, involving interpretation rather than inerrancy. To develop this, the major points of my doctoral dissertation 1 will be presented in summary form.

I. Selected Difficulties In Scripture

1. The population of Israel at the exodus. The size of the population of Israel at the exodus has been traditionally estimated at between 2,000,000 and 3,000,000, figures based on the number of fighting men enumerated at the censuses of Numbers 1 and 26. 2 Though this is not an impossible figure for a nation as numerous “as the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted due to abundance” (Gen 32:13), it does present some demographic and archeological conundrums. Such an estimate of population size for Israel may or may not be appropriate for the land of Palestine in antiquity. 3 But if indeed there were seven nations more numerous than Israel already in the land and if indeed Israel was the least of all nations as the Scriptures indicate (Deut 7:1, 7), the demographic problems increase exponentially. The land of Canaan would have been crushed under the weight of up to

*David Fouts is associate professor of Bible at Bryan College, Dayton, TN 37321–7000.

21,000,000 people (more than the present population of the entire state of Texas) prior to the conquest of Joshua. 4 There is little archeological support to testify concerning such a large population at any time in the past.

If the largest numbers are accepted at their actual value or even as rounded-off approximations in Numbers 1 and 26 (and related passages), either Deut 7:1 and 7:7 (and related passages) or the conclusions of archeologists are in error. One is reticent to deny either the validity o...

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