Friday, July 14, 2017

Tall Tales Of Wilderness Wanderings (Part 3 of 13): Logistical Improbabilities in the Wilderness-Wandering Tales Sacrifices in the Hebrew Camps

by Farrell Till
In "The Size of the Hebrew Camps", I showed that an encampment of 2.5 to 3 million people would surely have required an area of at least 9 square miles and probably even more. Even the layout of the camp was divinely commanded, and the tabernacle was the center of the camp (Num. 2:2). The rest of Numbers 2 gave detailed instructions on where each tribe was to pitch its tents. These instructions are too detailed to quote, but for now we want to notice that the tabernacle was to be the center of the encampments. Sacrifices were offered on an altar that was located at the door of the tabernacle (Lev. 1:5), the fire of which was kept permanently burning (Lev. 6:12-13). Hence, the daily sacrifices were offered in the center of the Israelite encampment.

The book of Leviticus is mainly a catalog of sacrifices that had to be offered on the tabernacle altar. One of the more interesting ones was the purification sacrifice that a woman had to offer after giving birth. For giving birth to a male, a woman was unclean for 40 days, but for giving birth to a female, she was unclean for 80 days (Lev. 12:1-5). After this period, she was to offer a year-old lamb for her purification and a pigeon or a turtledove (v:6). If she couldn't afford this sacrifice, she could substitute two pigeons or two turtledoves (v:8). Who said that Yahweh wasn't a considerate god? Why, look at the concern he showed for the poor.

Now let's imagine how many births would have happened in a population of three million people. All of the adult Israelites who came out of Egypt were cursed to die in the wilderness for heeding the report of the spies who came back from Canaan with reports of giants in the land.
Numbers 14:26 And Yahweh spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying: 27 How long shall this wicked congregation complain against me? I have heard the complaints of the Israelites, which they complain against me. 28 Say to them, "As I live," says Yahweh, "I will do to you the very things I heard you say: 29 your dead bodies shall fall in this very wilderness; and of all your number, included in the census, from twenty years old and upward, who have complained against me, 30 not one of you shall come into the land in which I swore to settle you, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. 31 But your little ones, who you said would become booty, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have despised. 32 But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. 33 And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness for forty years, and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness. 34 According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for every day a year, you shall bear your iniquity, forty years, and you shall know my displeasure."
Now if we imagine that about half of the three million Israelites at this time were adults, then since census figures at the end of the 40 years of wandering (Numbers 26) indicated that approximately the same number (3 million) went into Canaan, that would have required at least 1.5 million births during those years, not even allowing for infant mortality rates or for deaths of those who were children at the time of the adult rebellion at the report of the spies. Since we could expect a high mortality rate under the conditions the Israelites lived in, it would not be at all unreasonable to assume that at least 2 million births occurred during the wilderness wanderings. If these births were evenly distributed over the 40 years, this would mean that about 50 thousand births had occurred each year. This would have been an average of 137 births per day, which would have required the offering of 137 lambs and 137 pigeons or turtledoves per day. If 50% of the women had been too poor to afford a lamb, this would have reduced the average number of lambs offered per day to about 69 but would have increased the daily number of turtledoves or pigeons to about 206. Over a year's time, 25,185 lambs and 75,190 pigeons or turtledoves would have been killed in homage to the inscrutable Yahweh. Over the 40-year period, there would have been 1,007,400 lambs incinerated to Yahweh and 3,007,600 pigeons or turtledoves. I suppose that inerrantists would not see any problem if I asked how the Israelites had been able to maintain such large flocks in a land where they were constantly bellyaching about the lack of food and water. If I asked how the Israelites had managed to obtain over 3 million pigeons and turtledoves for these sacrifices, inerrantists would say that I am just manufacturing a problem, but if pigeons and turtledoves were in such abundance in the wilderness, why did the Israelites need Yahweh to send a wind to bring quails from the sea? Why didn't they just satisfy their appetite for meat by just hunting pigeons and turtledoves? After all, when their wives needed pigeons and turtledoves in order to obtain purification from childbirth, they didn't seem to have any trouble meeting the requirement.

So let's consider another problem. Aaron and his sons, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar were appointed to be priests (Num. 3:1-4), but this passage, along with Leviticus 10:1-2, report that Yahweh killed Nadab and Abihu for using "strange fire" to offer incense, so this left only three priests (Aaron, Eleazar, and Ithamar) to officiate at sacrificial ceremonies. As we noted above, 137 births per day would be just a conservative estimate for a horde of 3 million people, so this would have required 137 purification sacrifices per day. If we assume that these were evenly divided among the three priests, each priest would have had to officiate at about 45 purification sacrifices per day, but since they all had to be offered on the tabernacle altar (v:6), it's hard to imagine how three sacrificial ceremonies could have been conducted simultaneously. If we grant this concession, however, and suppose that each purification sacrifice would have taken no longer than 5 minutes, about 4 hours of each day the priests would have been occupied with only purification sacrifices, and if they worked in consecutive shifts, the altar would have been tied up 12 hours of each day just for purification sacrifices. This raises the question of when the priests found time to officiate at the many other daily sacrifices that were required.

The sacrifice for an "unwitting sin" was another ceremony that the priests had to attend to. (Leviticus 4:1-4 states that this sin required the sacrifice of a bullock, which was to be brought before the door of the tabernacle and killed before Yahweh (as if killing it anywhere else would not have been killing it before the omnipresent Yahweh). The blood of the bullock was then sacrificed on the altar, along with the fat, kidneys, and liver, but the skin, all the flesh, the head, the legs, the intestines, and their dung (vs:11-12), even the whole bullock, were to be carried forth without the camp and burned where the ashes are poured out. (It's hard to understand how the whole bullock could have been "carried forth without the camp" if its fat, kidneys, liver, and blood were offered on the altar, but I suppose this is just another case of Yahweh's ways being higher than our ways. If we were omniscient too, I'm sure we would see no problem here.) Let's keep in mind that the tabernacle was in the center of the camp, so a sacrifice for an unwitting sin required the priests to kill the bullock before the altar, sacrifice its blood, fat, kidneys, and liver, and then carry the "whole" bullock out of the camp and burn it. On our previous assumption that the camps were only an incredibly unlikely three square miles in size, the priests would have had to carry these parts of the bullock a distance of about 1.5 miles. How many sacrifices like this per day could a staff of only 3 priests have conducted? Not very many, I would think.

Inerrantists, of course, will think that this isn't any problem at all. That is probably because they have never taken the time to analyze biblical scenarios and try to visualize what would have been involved if they had actually happened. They just assume that if the Bible says it, then it had to have happened.  

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