Hyperbolic number in 2 Chron. 17:14

Discussion in 'OT Historical Books' started by NaphtaliPress, Feb 11, 2019.

  1. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    Bringing this up again in its own thread (orig. comment was in another thread here) for maybe some more feedback. Fouts has an article arguing these numbers are hyperbolic as otherwise impossible. David M. Fouts, “A Defense of the Hyperbolic Interpretation of Large Numbers in the Old Testament,” The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 40 (1997): 377–388.
    The 19th century Pulpit commentary says on 2 Chronicles 17:14, "The numbers of this and following four verses are not only absolutely unreliable, but in themselves impossible." The current day population of modern Jerusalem is under 900,000. To regularly house 1 million troops in quarters in ancient Jerusalem would seem to stretch what would be physically possible. I'm looking for alternatives, support or critic, of/to Fout's position. It is online here.

    I'm trying to either expand a comment on David Dickson's statement from this number (that the city did house 1 million troops) or make a decision to omit it altogether as needlessly wading into the subject. Text and current note below.
    "In the first place, he laments for three things. 1. That Jerusalem, that fair city where God dwelt, where there were lodgings for the ten hundred thousands of men in one night,12 is now made solitary, ...."
    12. See 2 Chronicles 17:12–19. The number may be hyperbolic. See David M. Fouts, “A Defense of the Hyperbolic Interpretation of Large Numbers in the Old Testament,” The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 40 (1997): 377–388.
  2. iainduguid

    iainduguid Puritan Board Freshman

    Filling in the background a bit. Most scholars estimate the total population of Judah during this time as somewhere between 300,000 - 450,000 (http://www.cicred.org/Eng/Publications/pdf/c-c26.pdf; p.356). Those are guesses, to be sure, but to have an army of 1.1 million men, even if these include "reserves" and are not all stationed in Jerusalem at the same time (as 17:13 seems to suggest), you would need a total population closer to 3 million (including women, children and the elderly). It seems hard to imagine that the population estimates are off by a factor of 10. For comparison, Sennacherib boasted about an army of 120,000, which would have included conscripts from his conquered vassals. So you can see why people struggle to take the number literally.

    There are alternative solutions, most of which involve scaling down the number to something more "realistic" by positing alternative meanings for 'eleph, "thousand". But those boil down to saying Jehoshaphat didn't really have a very big army; we've misunderstood the text. In contrast, the literal reading and the hyperbolic reading both claim that God blessed Jehoshaphat with an enormous army, which it seems to me the main point the Chronicler is making. Most readers will get that message whether or not they realize that this is hyperbole.

    (By the way, I have no problem with God doing supernatural things in the Bible, but usually those are flagged for us: there's nothing in this text in 2 Chronicles that appears to be outside God's normal work of providence.)
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  3. Tom Hart

    Tom Hart Puritan Board Junior

    Rome is believed to have reached a population of one million inhabitants in about 130 B.C.

    We in modern times think a million souls an unremarkable thing, but in the ancient world the number was hardly conceivable (except perhaps when the locusts swarmed).

    In Dickson's own day, I expect there was no city (even in China) with a population of one million. (Some countries did have large populations, but societies have until recently been largely agrarian rather than urban.)

    All this is to say that an army of a million men is quite impossible in the ancient world; not only was there a lack of population from which to draw such a force, but, as it would dwarf even the largest cities of its day, the resources that would be required to sustain it would be impossible to procure, unless by some miracle.

    Even by modern standards an army of a million would be dauntingly large. (For reference, North Korea's army is about that size. The entire population of the country stands at around 20 million, which means that North Korea is, by proportion, the most heavily militarized state in the world.)
  4. arapahoepark

    arapahoepark Puritan Board Graduate

    Dr. Duguid,
    At the risk of a tangent, though related, what do you think of the exodus population? I have been leaning toward the 'eleph meaning something other than thousand but, I am not Hebrew scholar. Can you provide sources or resources digging into those sorts of numbers?
  5. Edward

    Edward Puritan Board Doctor

  6. Tom Hart

    Tom Hart Puritan Board Junior

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