Monday, September 21, 2015

Logistical Improbabilities in the Wilderness-Wandering Tales-When Nature Called

By Farrell Till 
We have seen some of the logistical problems that would have been involved in setting up encampments for 2.5 to 3 million people and carrying out the sacrificial ceremonies that the Levitical law required. Probably few inerrantists have ever considered a wilderness problem that all densely populated areas must solve, and that is the problem of human-waste disposal. The following passage made some stipulations in this regard that would have posed some special hardships on the Israelites during their wilderness wanderings.
Deuteronomy 23:12 You shall have a designated area outside the camp to which you shall go. 13 With your utensils you shall have a trowel; when you relieve yourself outside, you shall dig a hole with it and then cover up your excrement. 14 Because Yahweh your God travels along with your camp, to save you and to hand over your enemies to you, therefore your camp must be holy, so that he may not see anything indecent among you and turn away from you.
This passage clearly indicates that latrines were not allowed inside the encampment, and so when nature called, one was required to go outside of the 9-square-mile camp to attend to it. He/she was to take along a "trowel" (paddle in some translations) to dig a hole in which to bury the excrement. It is hard to imagine how large this "designated" area would have had to have been to accommodate 2.5 million people digging their individual holes to attend to their business. If each hole were only 6 inches by 6 inches, a "designated area" of 625,000 square feet or 69,444 square yards would be needed to provide a hole for each person. Since there are 4,840 square yards in an acre, this "designated area" would have had to have been 14.35 acres in size to accommodate each person's going "outside the camp" with his/her trowel just once per day.

In Yahweh's inscrutable wisdom that led him to choose this method of waste disposal rather than ordering the construction of pit latrines, special problems would have necessarily ensued. In a time, for example, when there was no Imodium A-D, diarrhea would have seriously complicated the problems. It's hard to imagine how 2.5 million people trekking throughout the day to this "designated area" could have attended to their needs without at times uncovering the holes that others had used. This must have caused many unpleasant moments. Yahweh may, of course, have anticipated this problem and instructed Moses to make the designated area much larger than 14.35 acres. Indeed, this would surely have been necessary, since the 14.35 acres would have provided for only one 6-inch by 6-inch hole per person per day. Since the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years and since Numbers 33 listed only 41 encampments for them, they would have averaged spending almost a year at each camp site. Unless a big chunk of land outside these camps was set aside as the "designated area," there would have been a lot of unpleasant digging experiences.

Other than that is the problem that would have confronted those who felt nature calling during the night. Those in the middle of the encampments would have had to trek at least 1.5 miles just to reach the "designated area." Men with prostrate problems surely suffered from sleep deprivation but would have otherwise been in good physical condition from the exercise they got from walking back and forth to the "designated area." Inerrantists will no doubt pooh-pooh (pun intended) this posting, but I didn't put Deuteronomy 23:12-14 in the Bible; I have merely critically analyzed what it says and found that it presents another problem of logistics that biblicists need to explain if they expect rational people to believe that their Bible is the inspired, inerrant word of an omniscient, omnipotent deity.

Some inerrantists will claim that this requirement concerning waste disposal applied only to the Israelite army when it was engaged in campaigns against the enemy, because verses 9-11 say, "When you are encamped against your enemies you shall guard against any impropriety. If one of you becomes unclean because of a nocturnal emission, then he shall go outside the camp; he must not come within the camp. When evening comes, he shall wash himself with water, and when the sun has set, he may come back into the camp."

This is more of a quibble than an argument, because when the entire 23rd chapter is read, it should be apparent that the commandments it contains were intended to apply to all Israelites and not just to the soldiers. I'm sure that even inerrantists would not argue, for example, that a man with crushed testicles or an amputated penis (v:1) should be allowed into the assembly as long as he wasn't a soldier. Did the commandment against sodomites (v:17) apply only to soldiers? Could an Israelite lend money for interest as long as he wasn't a soldier (v:19)?

Leviticus 26:11-12 states that Yahweh had set his tabernacle among the Israelites and walked among them. The tabernacle was set up in the center of the general encampment of the Israelites (Num. 3), so if Yahweh walked among the Israelites where the tabernacle was, that would have to mean that he walked in the general encampment of the Israelites. If he didn't want to be repelled by the sight of excrement in an encampment of soldiers, why would he feel any differently about encountering it in the general encampment? The statement in Leviticus 26:11-12, by the way, is in a larger context that speaks of Yahweh's being with the Israelites to drive their enemies out of the land. In other words the language here is very similar to Deuteronomy 23:14, which speaks of Yahweh walking "in the midst of the camp."

At any rate, very little is solved by quibbling that the policy on waste disposal applied only to soldiers and not to the Israelites in general, because the Israelite army numbered 600,000, so if the calculations above are divided by four in order to limit this commandment just to the army, the logistical problems would still exist. Can you imagine an army of 600,000 that did not provide latrine facilities within its camp, but every soldier was required to trek without the camp?  Go to the last article in the series.

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