John Collyer Knight.

The Pentateuchal narrative vindicated from the absurdities charged against it by the Bishop of Natal online

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BY y

john collyer Anight,






The following pages were originally intended for a Review. Hence the frequent
occurrence of the conventional " we." But, upon reconsideration, it was thought more
advisable to publish them in a separate form. The " we " is retained.

J. C. K.



That the narrative given in the book of Exodus is a " story,"
based upon the legends of the Jewish people, written not by
Moses, nor indeed by any one of his contemporaries, and that it
" cannot be regarded as historically true," — are the propositions of
the book before us.

Without further preface let us proceed at once to their con-

The Bishop's first difficulty is, we think, easily disposed of,
simply by supposing with Poole, that Hezron and Hamul, together,
perhaps, with Heber and Malchiel, are included in the list of the
seventy of the family of Jacob who went down into Egypt, not
as being strictly of the number of the original emigrants, but as
having been born in Egypt prior to the time of Jacob's death,
and as being, therefore, a portion of the original seventy from
whom sprang the thousands who, 215 years afterwards, left Egypt
at the Exodus. (Deut. x. 22.) It is in this way that Ephraim and
Manasseh, the sons of Joseph, are reckoned; for, as the text says
of Joseph, their father, who is also included among the seventy,
they were " in Egypt already." (Exod. i. 6.)

The solution based upon St. Paul's remark, that " Levi paid
tithes in Abraham, for he was yet in the loins o/his father when
Melchisedec met him," against which the Bishop brings forward
so many pages of objection, we, with him, regard as wholly
inadmissible: but to the foregoing very satisfactory solution, viz.,
that Hezron and the others are included in the seventy, for the


reasons already assigned, he vouchsafes no other answer than one
which is no answer at all, viz., that " these grandsons of Judah
and Asher were not reckoned as heads of tribes, as were Ephraim
and Manasseh" (p. 30). In refutation of the unsatisfactory
solution, we have no less than ten pages of objection; in refutation
of the more probable one, only the above irrelevant, cursory, in-
conclusive remark.

Since our first edition, the above reply to this solution has
been cancelled. But that copy of the Bishop's work which
belongs to the Museum by copyright, as well as that made use of
in the preparation of the present pamphlet — indeed, most of the
earlier copies of his first edition — have it.

The answer given in its place, in the second edition, is as
follows : —

" Since Jacob lived seventeen years in Egypt (Gen. xlvii. 28),
Judah was fifty-nine years old, according to the story (20), at the
time of his father's death. Hence, if he was only twenty years
old (20 i.), at his first marriage, he must have been about twenty-
four at the birth of his third son; and thirty-nine, at least, if we
suppose that son to have arrived at maturity at the early age of
fifteen. Thus, only twenty years of Judah's life would remain,
even on this supposition, (which, however, the texts quoted in (19)
will not allow), for Judah to marry again, and to have two grand-
sons born to him by this second marriage ;" — the upshot of which
is, that if Jacob's two grandsons, Hezron and Hamul, were born in
Egypt during the lifetime of Jacob (as supposed by Poole), and
if the chronology of the narrative is to be depended on, they
must have been born when their father, Pharez, was not more
than eighteen years old. Not seeing in what respect this can be
considered as being so incredible, as to invalidate Poole's sup-
position, we may, we think, safely admit that it must have been
even as the Bishop says, viz., that Hezron and Hamul (strange to
say !) were born when their father was only about eighteen years
of age.

The only expression in the Bishop's new reply that calls for
remark, are the words (thrown in with such seeming carelessness,
but evidently thrown in with a view to the undoing of all that
the supposition grants or asserts) — " which supposition, however,
the texts quoted in 19 [i. e. paragraph 19], will not allow." If,
however, we turn to the paragraph referred to, we shall find these
texts to be quite harmless — as harmless as Priam's dart — a"telum


imbelle sine ictu ;" the only texts there quoted as standing in the
way of the supposition, being those which, to the Bishop,
"appear "to imply, that Hezron and flaniul were born in Canaan,
but which, to Poole and others, "appear" to imply no such thing.
It is, therefore, only in the Bishop's opinion, that these texts will
not allow the supposition in question. Since, however, the very
point in dispute is whether they will or will not allow it—
to affirm roundly, and to maintain dogmatically, that they will
not, is a mere begging of the question.

Having attempted upon grounds so slight as these, to bring
discredit upon the account of the numbers that migrated into
Egypt, almost the whole of the remainder of the book consists
of an attempt to prove, that, at the period of the Exodus, the
Israelites were not and could not be so numerous as they are re-
presented to have been: — viz., 603,550 males of twenty years old
and upward, besides women and children.

The Bishop's first objection is, that the dimensions of the Court
of the Tabernacle were too small to admit the whole of the
people upon one and the same occasion; as when, for instance,
they were all of them commanded to gather " unto," or before,
" the door of the Tabernacle of the Congregation," " to witness
the ceremony of the consecration of Aaron." He calculates that
the Court, in the midst of which the Tabernacle stood, could not,
even when thronged, have held 5000 at a time ; leaving us
to infer therefrom, he does not say what, but it must be either
that the command was not given, or that the Court in question
was not so small, or that the people were not so many.

We cannot say, however, that we see much force in the
objection, and we believe none but a sceptical mind can. The
ceremony, or service rather, which they were summoned to
attend, or, as the Bishop says, witness, was not the brief service
of an hour or two's duration, but one that extended over a
period of seve*" vhole days. Nor was it, as the Bishop intimates,
a service c .ed to that portion of the tabernacle to which the
priests only had access, for the altar on which the various offerings
were offered stood in the Court of the People themselves; nor was
the " door" before which the people were commanded to assemble
the small opening which our use of the word " door" wo^ld seem
to imply, (allowing that part of the ceremonial wl ' k place

within the Court of the Priests to be seen " only by those
standing at the door)," but the entire width of one end of the
Tabernacle itself.


Of a similar smallness is the objection based upon those portions
of the narrative which represent Moses as addressing the whole of
assembled Israel; or Joshua, as reading to all Israel " the words
of the law, the blessings and cursings, according to all that is
written in the book of the law" (Josh. viii. 34); " for surely," he
says (p. 37), " no human voice, unless strengthened by a miracle,
of which the Scripture tells us nothing, could have reached the
ears of a crowded mass of people, as large as the whole popu-
lation of London."

Now is it to be endured that a man should be called upon by a
Bishop of the English Church, to give up his faith in these books
upon grounds such as these? Could any but a sceptical mind
perceive in the fact (if it be one) that not one half of those
assembled could hear the words addressed to them, an objection
to the truth of the narrative ? The exhortation of Moses, and the
reading of Joshua, may have been addressed to the people in
sections, and upon successive days. The narrative will allow of
such a supposition ; and to entertain some such supposition
(should necessity require it) is, we think, more reasonable than to
give up the truth of a well-attested narrative upon grounds so
futile, so flimsy.

The next objection is based upon the opinion, that if the
people were as numerous as is represented in the narrative, the
dimensions of the camp would be so great, as to render it
" absurd" to suppose that priests and people should be required
to do daily certain commanded duties, (which the Bishop specifies,)
outside the camp.

" We have seen," says the Bishop, " that the whole population
of Israel may be reckoned at 2,000.000. Let us allow for each
person thirty-six square feet. Then it follows that for 2,000,000
of people, the camp must have covered, the people being crowded
as thickly as possible, [Query, How so, if, standing apart, each
man would stand in the centre of six and thirty square feet?] an
area of 8,000,000 square yards.

" Now upon this very moderate (?) estimate (which in truth is
far within the mark ( ?) ) we must imagine a vast encampment,
more than a mile and a half across, in each direction, with the
Tabernacle in the centre. The refuse of the various sacrifices
[which were to be burned without the camp,] would have had to
be carried by the priest himself [or deputy (?)] a distance of
three-quarters of a mile. From the outside of this great camp


wood and water would Have had to be fetched for all purposes"
[of course they would, whatever the extent of the carnp], "and the
ashes of the whole camp, with the rubbish and filth of every kind,
of a population like that of London, would have had to be carried
out in like manner through the midst of the crowded mass of
people. They could not surely all have gone outside the camp
for the necessities of nature, as commanded in Deut. xxiii. 12."*

Xow the more numerous the camp, the greater, of course, would
be the necessity of some such regulations as these. We do not
know whether it is three-quarters of a mile from St. Paul's school
to the water-side, or not; but with reference to the latter of the
above-named requirements, something very similar is by the
statutes of that school demanded of its scholars: " To theyr urine
they shall go to a place appointed : for other causes, yf nede be,
they shall go to the watersyde." (Carlisle's Endowed Gram-
mar Schools: II. p. 76.)

We think, moreover, that the space assigned to the encamp-
ment is greater than the necessities of the case required. But
upon this point we speak of course doubtfully. A military man
might be able to speak more confidently upon it. But even if
it be not greater, we cannot see that the requirement of these
things, or that their discharge, is so manifestly " absurd," as to
throw discredit upon the narrative : the grounds for believing it
to be the authentic narrative of an honest and truthful writer of
contemporary times are so many and so great. We refer more
especially to the arguments of Leslie and Graves. But this is
a point upon which we cannot of course dilate.

Scott, indeed, computes the encampment at twelve miles square ;
and the Bishop, proceeding upon the supposition of the superior
correctness of this estimate, observes that " in that case the offal of
the sacrifices would have had to be carried by Aaron himself ( ?)
or one of his sons (?) a distance of six miles." Of course it
would : but if we doubt the correctness of the Bishop's own
estimate, much more must we doubt that adopted by Scott ; and
notwithstanding the inconvenience that these requirements might
entail, it is, at least, obvious that they were beneficial in a sanitary
respect. The inconvenience attending their observance therefore
is no proof that they were not given.

* In reference to this command we are very muck inclined to adopt tlie
suggestion of certain commentators that it was intended to apply only to
warriors in the field, and not to the community in general. See Deut.
xxiii. verses 9 to 14, read consecutively.


Upon this chapter we have only this further remark to make :
viz., that whatever may have been the distance between the
centre of the camp and its limit, there is no reason to infer from
the narrative that the bullock (Le. iv. 11.) and his offal were not
conveyed to the outskirts in carts, by deputies.* Certainly there
is none for supposing, if the priest himself alone might carry
them, that, as stated by the Bishop, he was required to carry
them " on his back," and " on foot." Neither is there any reason
for the supposition that, in a camp so organised as was that
of the Israelites, the people did not bring in their daily supplies
of water and of fuel also by deputies, whose vocation it was
to furnish those supplies ; just as in London we are furnished with
wood by deputies, and with water, and with many other things.

The next objection is, that the people having been numbered,
and their numbers found to be 603,550, six months elapse, when
being again numbered, their numbers are represented as being
exactly the same. Such, at least, is the statement of the book.
Hence, a doubt is thrown out, as to the reality of these numberings.
There is, however, no intimation in the text that there was this
interval of six months between the two events referred to ; nor
even that there was this twofold numbering. We read merely
that whilst the tabernacle was in course of erection, " the silver
of them that were numbered of the congregation! was a hundred
talents ;" that " of these hundred talents of silver, were cast the
sockets of the sanctuary ;" that " in the first month of the second
year, on the first day of the month, the tabernacle was reared up"
or finished; that, " on the first day of the second month," (one
month after,) they were actually " numbered," and that " all they
that were numbered were 603,550." (Ex. xxxviii. 25; xl. 17.
Nu. i. 1, 46.) The real facts of the case, therefore, seem to be
that the poll-tax was paid by anticipation with a view to the
more speedy erection of the tabernacle ; and that the tabernacle
having been reared, their numbers were officially taken and
registered, and their " pedigrees declared." (Nu. i. 18.)

Various difficulties follow ; but they are for the most part
of a purely Eesthetical kind, and can trouble only a mind pre-
disposed to scepticism: as the difficulty, or supposed difficulty,
that Pharaoh allowed the Israelites to possess arms ; difficulties in
reference to the institution of the passover, and the march out

* The Hebrew text both of Levit. iv. 11, and of Levit. vi. 11, will admit
of the supposition, though it does not, we think, actually demand it.

t They had not yet been numbered, but were numbered shortly after-
wards. See Num. i. 2.


of Egypt, based upon the improbable assumption that there was
no organisation, no method, which these transactions respectively
demanded : difficulties in reference to the sustenance of the Is-
raelites in the wilderness previous to the supply of manna, and
in reference to their cattle; which vanish, if we can but believe
that, if miracle was needed, miracle was granted, though not per-
haps always recorded. Repeatedly, in the course of the book,
we find such expressions in reference to any supposed miracle,
as that " on this point, however, the narrative is altogether silent;"
as though nothing, however presumable, may be supposed, that
is not expressly recorded.

Then comes an objection based upon the words (Ex. xxiii. 29),
" I will not drive them out from before thee in one year, lest the
land become desolate, and the beast of the field multiply against
thee ;" it being supposed, that if the people were so many as they
are represented to have been, they would have been perfectly well
able to maintain their ground against the beasts of the field.
English Saxons had done so in somewhat similar circumstances,
and why should not they ? The lions of Natal, which once
abounded, have long since disappeared. There is no proof that
Canaan was more infested with beasts of prey than Natal; none
that it was less infested : and, assuming that they were on a par,
the Bishop builds up an argument upon the assumption; — which
they may reply to who list.

Chapter xiv. (pp. 84-90), is occupied in establishing data, in
reference to the number of the firstborn, which, if correct, are
supposed to lead to the conclusion, that the Israelitish families
must have averaged as many as thirty children to a family — a
number which is regarded as incredible. We do not care much
to discuss this chapter, believing, as we do, upon independent
grounds, that the increase of the Israelites during their residence
in Egypt was enormous. Thirty may or may not be an over-
estimation: but, for reasons about to be stated in our remarks
upon the chapters that follow, we believe that the rate of increase
could not have averaged under twenty.

The first and second of these following chapters (pp. 91-101),
are taken up in proving that the Exodus from Egypt took place
" in the fourth generation from the time when they left the land
of Canaan and went down into Egypt ;" and upon this point we
entirely concur with his lordship.

He then proceeds as follows: — " The twelve sons of Jacob had


between them fifty-three sons, that is, on the average, four and a
half each. Let us suppose that they increased in this way from
generation to generation. Then in the first generation, that of
Kohath, there would be fifty-four males, (or, according to the
story, fifty-three), or rather only fifty-one, since Er and Onan
died in the land of Canaan without issue; in the second, 243;
in the third 1094; and in the fourth 4923 ; that is to say, instead
of 600,000 warriors in the prime of life, there could not have been

Now we object to this, his conclusion, on various grounds.
In the first place he speaks of Kohath, who was alive at the time
of the migration, and who formed a part and portion of the
emigrants, as belonging to the "first" generation. But, as he
himself remarks, (p. 96), "when it is said (Gen. xv. 16,) 'in the
fourth generation they shall come hither again,' the expression
1 the fourth generation ' can only mean the fourth generation
reckoning from the time when they should leave the land of
Canaan, and go down into Egypt." Now, if this interpretation of
the expression " the fourth generation from," be legitimate, it
follows, as a matter of course, that the expression " the first gene-
ration from," must be similarly interpreted, and cannot possibly
be regarded as including any of the original emigrants. The real
"first" generation then, were not Kohath and Kohath's contem-
poraries, but Kohath's sons and their contemporaries.

Nor can we see, and this is our second objection, that the fact
that Jacob's sons averaged only four and a half, is any reason for
supposing that his grandsons did not average a greater number.
And on scriptural grounds we believe that they did so. To make
the males in the fourth generation 600,000, they must indeed
have averaged as many as ten sons each, or, in other words,
females being included, each man must have had as many as
twenty children. Let us not forget that a very extraordinary
increase had been promised. The posterity of Abraham were to
be as the stars of heaven, and as the sand that is on the sea-shore
for multitude. In anticipation of this promise it was that Ke-
bekah was blessed, as to be, if not in her own person, yet in that
of her descendants "the mother of thousands of millions;" (Gen.
xxiv. 60,) and in reference to its fulfilment, Moses, addressing the
people in the wilderness, says, " Your fathers went down into
Egypt with threescore and ten persons, and now the Lord thy
God hath made thee as the stars of heaven for multitude."
(Deut. x. 22.)


Its fulfilment indeed seemed long to linger; Abraham had
not many sons, Isaac only two, Jacob had twelve ; but his sons
averaged, as the Bishop remarks, only four and a half. " But,"
as Stephen says, Acts vii. 17, " when the time of the promise
[i. e., of the fulfilment of the promise,] drew nigh, which God
had sworn to Abraham, they grew and multiplied."

They are oppressed. Pharaoh seeks even to exterminate them.
He directs that all the male children shall be put to death as soon
as they are born, for they were " fruitful, and increased abund-
antly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty ; and the
land was filled with them." (Exod. i. 7.) But " the more they
afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew;" (ver. 12.)
they " increased greatly and were made stronger than their ene-
mies." (Ps. cv. 24.)

Is it then extravagant to suppose that they increased at the
rate above named? Nay, is it not extravagant, (God's promise
being pledged) to suppose that they did not? Which is the wiser

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Online LibraryJohn Collyer KnightThe Pentateuchal narrative vindicated from the absurdities charged against it by the Bishop of Natal → online text (page 1 of 3)