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Exodus 12:37-38

Context

12:37 The Israelites journeyed 1  from Rameses 2  to Sukkoth. There were about 600,000 men 3  on foot, plus their dependants. 4  12:38 A mixed multitude 5  also went up with them, and flocks and herds – a very large number of cattle. 6 

1 tn Heb “and the sons of Israel journeyed.”

2 sn The wilderness itinerary begins here. W. C. Kaiser records the identification of these two places as follows: The name Rameses probably refers to Qantir rather than Tanis, which is more remote, because Qantir was by the water; Sukkoth is identified as Tell el Maskhuta in the Wadi Tumilat near modern Ismailia – or the region around the city (“Exodus,” EBC 2:379). Of the extensive bibliography, see G. W. Coats, “The Wilderness Itinerary,” CBQ 34 (1972): 135-52; G. I. Davies, “The Wilderness Itineraries: A Comparative Study,” TynBul 25 (1974): 46-81; and J. T. Walsh, “From Egypt to Moab. A Source Critical Analysis of the Wilderness Itinerary,” CBQ 39 (1977): 20-33.

3 tn The word for “men” (הַגְּבָרִים, haggÿvarim) stresses their hardiness and capability – strong men, potential soldiers – in contrast with the word that follows and designates noncombatants.

sn There have been many attempts to calculate the population of the exodus group, but nothing in the text gives the exact number other than the 600,000 people on foot who were men. Estimates of two million people are very large, especially since the Bible says there were seven nations in the land of Canaan mightier than Israel. It is probably not two million people (note, the Bible never said it was – this is calculated by scholars). But attempts to reduce the number by redefining the word “thousand” to mean clan or tribe or family unit have not been convincing, primarily because of all the tabulations of the tribes in the different books of the Bible that have to be likewise reduced. B. Jacob (Exodus, 347) rejects the many arguments and calculations as the work of eighteenth century deists and rationalists, arguing that the numbers were taken seriously in the text. Some writers interpret the numbers as inflated due to a rhetorical use of numbers, arriving at a number of 60,000 or so for the men here listed (reducing it by a factor of ten), and insisting this is a literal interpretation of the text as opposed to a spiritual or allegorical approach (see R. Allen, “Numbers,” EBC 2:686-96; see also G. Mendenhall, “The Census Lists of Numbers 1 and 26,” JBL 77 [1958]: 52-66). This proposal removes the “embarrassingly” large number for the exodus, but like other suggestions, lacks completely compelling evidence. For a more extensive discussion of the large numbers used to describe the Israelites in their wilderness experience, see the note on “46,500” in Num 1:21.

4 tn For more on this word see 10:10 and 24.

5 tn The “mixed multitude” (עֵרֶב רַב, ’erev rav) refers to a great “swarm” (see a possible cognate in 8:21[17]) of folk who joined the Israelites, people who were impressed by the defeat of Egypt, who came to faith, or who just wanted to escape Egypt (maybe slaves or descendants of the Hyksos). The expression prepares for later references to riffraff who came along.

6 tn Heb “and very much cattle.”



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