3. Concerning Numbers

We have previously, more than once, called attention to the marked resemblance of Hebrew letters to one another; 237 also, to the fact, generally conceded by scholars, that these letters were in ancient time employed to represent numbers.238 These two facts indicate at once the cause and the solution of the numerical discrepancies of scripture….. (AUTHOR gives Hebrew letters that look very similar - Keith Hunt)…..mistakes in numbers, especially when the numeral letters were blurred or unskillfully written, would be inevitable. But, as elsewhere intimated, these mistakes, which we find in considerable numbers, touch no vital point of scripture. No precept, promise, or doctrine is in the least degree impaired by them; nor do they militate against any well-balanced theory of inspiration. That the larger part of the following cases arose through the mistakes of copyists we have not a shadow of doubt; yet, since other solutions have been given in most cases, they will be adduced when it seems worth while.

Abraham's only son Isaac.

                                           Genesis 22:2; Heb. 11:17                  

Had several sons 


Isaac was Abraham's "only son" by Sarah, as well as the only one in the line of promise—the theocratic line. Or the term maybe equivalent to "beloved son." Josephus 239 employs the term "monogenes," only-begotten, in this latter sense.

Absalom had three sons

                                   2 Samuel 14:27

He had no sons.

                                                      2 Samuel 18:18

Previous to the time referred to in the latter text, his three sons had died.

Arab's sons seven hundred seventy-five

                                                                      Ezra 2:5

Six hundred and fifty-two

                                                             Nehemiah 7:10

Most probably the difference is due to copyists' blunders.

The other cases, some twenty in number, which appear from a comparison of Ezra 2:6-65, with Nehemiah 7:11-67, are to be explained in the same manner . 240 The "gifts" of the people, as set down by the two writers, vary as follows:


See pp. 20,312-313,


238 See pp. 21-24, infra.

239 See Antiq. i. 13, 1, and xx. 2, 1.

240See lists in Keil's Commentary; also, in De Wette, Introd. to Old Testament, ii. 331-332.

Compare Bib. Comment, in loc.

Ezra, 2:69.

Gold 61,000 drams (a copyist's mistake)

Silver 5,000 lbs. (a round number)

Garments 100 (a round number)

Nehemiah, 7:70-72. 

Gold, from Tirshatha  1,000 drams

Gold, from chief fathers 

20,000 drams

Gold, from people

20,000 drams

Total 41,000

Silver, from Tirshatha 

500 pounds

Silver, from chief fathers, 

2,200 pounds

Silver, from people

2,000 pounds

Garments, given by Tirshatha 


Garments, given by people


Total 97

Keil and Bertheau think that, in the seventieth verse from Nehemiah, the Hebrew for pounds of silver has dropped out, so that, as assumed in the above reckoning, the passage would stand, "five hundred pounds of silver and thirty priests' garments."

Alting points out the fact that Ezra's sum total is 29818; Nehemiah's, 31089, and that the latter mentions 1765 persons, and the former 494 persons, omitted in the parallel record. It is a curious coincidence that Ezra's sum total added to Nehemiah's surplus is just equal to the latter's sum total added to the former's surplus. That is, 29818 + 1765 = 31089 + 494 = 31583. If from the whole amount, 42360, given by both authors, we deduct 31583, the remainder will be 10777; "omitted," says Davidson, 241 following Alting, "because they did not belong to Judah and Benjamin, or to the priests, but to the other tribes."

Ambuscade, thirty thousand men.

                                                                  Joshua 8:3-9

Five thousand men.

                                                                   Joshua 8:12

The Jewish interpreters242 maintain that there were two ambuscades. The twelfth and thirteenth verses are not found in the Septuagint;243 hence, some

241 Sacred Hermenentics, p. 554.

242 Conciliator, ii. 11.

243 Davidson, on Hebrew Text, p. 44.

critics regard them as a marginal note which has crept into the text. The best explanation is, that the copyist wrote, by mistake, in the third verse, [Heb. given - Keith Hunt] 30000, for [Heb, given - Keith Hunt], 5000.

Upon the same hypothesis, that of the confounding of similar numeral letters, may be explained all such cases as the following: Chapiter's length, 5 cubits, 1 Kings 7:16; 3 cubits, 2 Kings 25:17. Deaths by plague, 24000, Numbers 25:9; 23000, 1 Corinthians 10:8 (Paul 244 may have intended to include only those who fell "in one day"). Edomites slain, 18000, 2 Samuel 8:13 and 1 Chronicles 18:12; 12000, [245] Psalm 60 title (the slaughter is attributed to king David, to his general-in-chief, and to a subordinate, according to a common figure of speech). Foreskins, 200, 1 Samuel 18:25, 27; 100, 2 Samuel 3:14. Horsemen, 700, 2 Samuel 8:4; 7000, 1 Chronicles 18:4 (Nun final, [Heb. given - Keith Hunt], mistaken for dotted Zayin, ). [246] Horsemen, 40000, and chariots, 700, 2 Samuel 10:18; footmen, 40000, and chariots, 7000, 1 Chronicles 19:18 (Keil: It is very evident that there are copyist's errors in both texts). House and porch—height, 30 cubits, 1 Kings 6:2; 120 cubits, 2 Chronicles 3:4. Levites—number, 22000, Numbers 3:39; 23000, Numbers 26:62 (the 1000 excess may have been the increase during the interval). Molten sea held 2000 baths, 1 Kings 7:26; 3000 baths, 2 Chronicles 4:5 (the Hebrew verb rendered "contained" and "held" is different from that translated "received"; and the meaning may be that the sea ordinarily contained 2000, but when filled to its utmost capacity received and held 3000 baths. [247] Or, with Bahr and Keil, we may say that [Heb. given - Keith Hunt] 2000, has been confounded with [Heb. given - Keith Hunt] 3000). Officers—chief, 550, 1 Kings 9:23; 250, 2 Chronicles 8:10. Overseers, 3300, 1 Kings 5:16; 3600, 2 Chronicles 2:18 (the sum of the officers and overseers is the same, 3850, in each case. In Kings authority, in Chronicles nationality, seems the principle of division). [248] Pillars' length, 18 cubits, 1 Kings 7:15; 35 cubits, 2 Chronicles 3:15 (possibly the two were cast in one piece 35 cubits long, which, cut in two, made two pillars, in round numbers 18 cubits long). [249] Pomegranates, 200, 1 Kings 7:20; 400, 1 Kings 7:42 and 2 Chronicles 4:13; 100, Jeremiah 52:23; 96 on a side, Jeremiah 52:23 (if the two pillars had each two rows, with 100 pomegranates in a row, the first three numbers are accounted for. Bahr and Rawlinson think that 96 faced the cardinal points, while the other four were placed at the angles). Persons slain,

244Ewald (ii. 181, note) deems it "a slight slip" of Paul's pen.

245Ewald says (iii. 157, note) "a clerical error."

246Davidson, Sacred Hermeneutics, p. 544.

247 So Rawlinson; also, Taylor's Calmet.

248See Bib. Com. on 1 Kings 5:16.

249Davidson, Sacred Hermeneutics, pp. 548-549.

800,2 Samuel 23:8; 300,1 Chronicles 11:11 (Heb. given - Keith Hunt], the initial letter of the Hebrew words for three and eight, being used as an abbreviation, a mistake arose). [250] Persons slain, 5, 2 Kings, 25:19; 7, Jeremiah 52:25 (Heb given - Keith Hunt], 5, confounded with [Heb. given - Keith Hunt], 7). Stalls, 40000,1 Kings 4:26; 4000, 2 Chronicles 9:25 (Ewald: [251] Hebrew terms for four and forty confounded). Talents, 420, 1 Kings 9:28; 450, Chronicles 8:18 (Heb given - Keith Hunt], 20, confounded with {Heb. given - Keith Hunt], 50). Temple's length, 40 cubits, 1 Kings 6:17; 60 cubits, 1 Kings 6:2 (the whole temple, exclusive of the porch, was 60 cubits long, verse 2; the sanctuary 20 cubits, verse 16; hence the temple par excellence was 40 cubits in length). Temple vessels, 2499, Ezra 1:9, 10; 5400, Ezra 1:11 (ancient interpreters maintain that, in the first two verses, only the larger and more valuable articles are specified; while the sum total, in verse 11, includes the greater and the less together). [252] In all these cases the hypothesis of copyist's errors affords a very facile and reasonable explanation.

Animals employedone.

                                        Mark 11:7

More than one.

                                Matthew 21:5, 7

To this objection of Strauss, Davidson [253] replies that "kai," in the last clause of the fifth verse, is exegetical, and should be rendered even. Hence the passage would read, "upon an ass, even a colt," etc.

As to the fact that the seventh verse seems to represent Christ as riding upon both animals, Wiser [254] notes that by a vague idiom the "plural of class" is often put for the singular; as when we say, He sprang from the horses though only one of the team, the saddled horse, is meant. Upon this idiomatic use of the plural instead of the singular may be explained the following cases: Jacob's daughters, Genesis 46:7 and 15. Reviling malefactors, Matthew 27:44 and Luke 23:39-41 (Chrysostom, Jerome, Theophylact, and others say that at first both malefactors reviled our Lord, but that later one repented). [255] Tables of shew-bread, 1 Kings 7:48 and 2 Chronicles 4:19.

Animals sacrificed, thirteen.

                                     Leviticus 23:18-19

Eleven only.

                                     Numbers 28:27, 30

250Kennicott, Dissertations, i. 95-96.


251 History of Israel, iii. 170, note. See another solution, Davidson's Sacred Hermeneutics,p. 548.  


252 Keil, Commentary in loc.

253Introd. to New Testament, i. 86.

254 Grammar of New Testament Idiom, p. 175. 

255Davidson's Sacred Hermenentics, p. 562.

Jewish interpreters in the Mishna and Gemara [256] as well as Josephus, Keil, Kurtz, and others, [257] maintain that the offerings mentioned in Numbers are additional to those prescribed in Leviticus. The former were to be offered before the latter, and subsequent to the daily morning sacrifice. As the passages refer respectively to different points of time, there is no collision. Upon the same theory of reference to different occasions or times, we may readily solve cases like the following: Benjamins sons, Genesis 46:21, and Numbers 26:38, 40; 1 Chronicles 7:6 (the same individual may have borne different names; and, during the interval between the epochs referred to, some of the sons may have died). [258] Captives, 2 Kings 24:14, 16 and Jeremiah 52:28-30 (here may be a numerical error, or the 10000 in Kings may have included not only the 4600 of Jeremiah, but also those captured on certain other occasions). Cities of refuge, Numbers 35:13; Joshua 20:7-8 and Deuteronomy 4:41 (Moses himself appointed three cities, and Joshua subsequently confirmed this appointment, and added three more cities). Heads of people, Ezra 2:3-35 and Nehemiah 10:14-27 (Davidson: [259] "The number had increased in the interval between Zerubbabel and Nehemiah,,). Jair's cities, Judges 10:4 and Joshua 13:30; 1 Chronicles 2:22-23 (these passages refer to different times. Rawlinson suggests that, as the "Havoth" were properly "villages" or "small hamlets," it might be difficult to fix their number exactly. According to Keil and Bertheau, [260] Kenath and her daughter towns, thirty-seven in number, are included by the chronicler among Jair's cities, thus making the number "sixty"). Jeduthun's sons, 1 Chronicles 25:3. Jesse's sons, 1 Samuel 16:6-11; and 1 Chronicles 2:13-15 (the later writer omits the sons who died early). Michal's sons, 2 Samuel 21:8 and 6:23 ("Had no child unto the day of her death" may mean simply "had no child henceforward." Ewald [261] and De Wette [262] say, with the greatest probability, that Michal, in the first passage, is a copyist's mistake for Merab). Ransom, Exodus 30:13 and Nehemiah 10:32 (the first was a census tax; the latter, an annual tax). Shemaiah's sons, 1 Chronicles 3:22 (Jewish critics say that one son died in infancy). Simeonites, Numbers 1:23 and Numbers 26:14 (here may be a numerical error; or, since Zimri, one of the ringleaders, was a Simeonite, the 24000 who died in the matter of Baal-Peor [263]

256Conciliator, i. 233.

257 See Bible Commentary on Leviticus 23.

258 Davidson, Introd. to Old Testament, ii. 50, says these accounts must "relate to different
periods of time, and different branches of the same line."

259 Introd. to Old Testament, ii. 139.

260Die Biicher der Chronik, pp. 16-17.

261 Vol. iii. 74, note; also p. 136.

262Introd. to Old Testament, ii. 219.

263Numbers 25:6-14.

may have belonged chiefly to the tribe of Simeon; hence its remarkable diminution). Solomons gifts to Hiram, 1 Kings 5:11 and 2 Chronicles 2:10 (Davidson: [264] The first passage specifies the articles intended for Hiram's household; the second, those for his workmen).

Angels seen, one seated.

                                                           Matthew 28:2, 5;

                                                                   Mark 16:5

Two standing.

                                                            Luke 24:4

Two seated.

                                                                     John 20:12

Ebrard, [265] with other critics, has made it clear that these passages relate to different persons and times. This point will be considered hereafter. One angel appeared at a given time; two appeared at another time. The position assumed, also, may have varied at different times. Yet the Greek word in Luke, rendered "stood by," also means to come near, to appear to. In Luke 2:9; Acts 12:7, it is translated, "came upon"; hence, in the text in question, the sense may be, "suddenly appeared to them."

Appearances of Christ—one number.

                                                                       John 20-21

Different numbers.

                                                                          Luke 24;

                                                          1 Corinthians 15:5-8

No one of the sacred writers claims to have mentioned all the appearances of our Lord. Certain cases are mentioned by one writer, other cases by another writer—each laying stress upon those instances which seemed to him most important, yet not denying the existence of other instances.

In a similar manner may be resolved the subjoined cases: Blind men, Matthew 20:30 and Mark 10:46; Luke 18:35, 38 (some think there were three [266] blind men healed—one when Jesus entered the city, the other two when he left it; others suppose that two were healed—one in the approach to Jericho, the other in the departure from it—and that Matthew, greatly condensing the narrative, speaks of both events as if occurring during the departure from the city. [267] Others give to the Greek verb in Luke the sense to be nigh or near [268] and take the passage as meaning simply that Jesus was still near the city; Mark and Luke mentioning only the better known of the two blind men). Convocations and feasts, Leviticus 23; Numbers 28-29 and Exodus 23:14-16; 34:18-23; Deuteronomy 16:1-16 (in the latter passages only the three feasts are mentioned in which all the males were required to present themselves at the sanctuary).

264 Sacred Hermeneutics, p. 548.

265Gospel History, pp. 447-448, 452.

266 So Davidson, Sacred Hermeneutics, pp. 558-559.

267See Ebrard, pp. 362-366.


See [Hebrew given - Keith Hunt] in Liddell and Scott; also in Robinson's New Testament Lexicon.

Demoniacs, Luke 8:27 and Matthew 8:28 (only the more prominent one mentioned by Luke). Levites—classes, Nehemiah 10:9-13 and Nehemiah 12:8-9 (in the latter case only the more noticeable are specified). Tribes loyal, 1 Kings 11:32, 36 and 12:21 (of the two contiguous tribes, Judah and Benjamin, the former was vastly more powerful, and virtually absorbed the latter, hence the two were spoken of as one tribe).

Beasts in ark, two of each kind.

                                      Genesis 6:19-20

Seven of a kind.

                                                        Genesis 7:2-3

The second injunction may be simply an amplification of the former given some hundred and twenty years previously. At first, it was said that a pair of every kind of beasts should be preserved; afterwards, that, in the case of the few clean beasts, there should be preserved not one pair only, but seven pairs. [269] Abarbanel [270] takes the first passage as simply asserting that the beasts should come paired, male and female; the second as specifying the number of the pairs—seven of the clean, two of the unclean, animals.

Benjamites slain, 26,100.

                                      Judges 20:15, 47

The number, 25,000.

                                                          Judges 20:46-47

The Jewish interpreters say that 25000 were slain on the last day—"that day" (verses 35, 46); while the other 1100 were slain on the preceding days. Or, if verse 46 gives in "round numbers" the exact statement of verse 35 (25000 for 25100). we have still 1000 slain previous to the last day of the contest.

Cities and villages, twenty-nine.

                                        Joshua 15:32

Thirty-eight in number.

                                                        Joshua 15:21-32

Rashi, Kimchi, and Menasseh ben Israel [271] call attention to the fact that in Joshua 19:1-6 we find nine of these cities (if Chesil and Bethul are identical, as is probable) set off to Simeon. As nine from thirty-eight leaves twenty-nine, the first passage gives the remainder after the cession, the second sets forth the original number. Or, with Keil, we may suppose a slight numerical error in the case.

City's dimensions, 1000 cubits.

                                     Numbers 35:4

Two thousand cubits.

                                                          Numbers 35:5

269 Bible Commentary, in loc.

270 Conciliator, i. 37.


        Conciliator, ii. 22-23.

There are various explanations of this case. [272] The Jewish interpreters say that the city and lands thereto belonging were arranged in three concentric circles. Of these the city occupied the inner one; the next larger, with a radius 1000 cubits greater, formed the suburb proper; while the outmost, with a radius still increased by 1000 cubits, was devoted to fields and vineyards.

Davidson, J. D. Michaelis, and Keil suppose the city to be 1000 cubits square. Around this square another is formed, with its corresponding sides parallel to, and 1000 cubits distant from, those of the first. The outer square or suburb will therefore be 3000 cubits on a side. Measuring from any corner of the city along its wall and across the suburb to the side of the external square, we have a line of 2000 cubits, in conformity with the dimensions given above.

Mr. Espin [273] thinks that, whatever the shape of the city, the suburbs were to extend a thousand cubits outward from any point in the city wall; while on the four sides, north, south, east, and west, the frontage was to be not less than 2000 cubits in length.

Generations, forty-two.

                                       Matthew 1:17

A different number.

                                                        Matthew 1:2-16

The first "fourteen" extends from Abraham to David; the second, from David to the deportation; the third, from Jechonias to Christ, inclusive in each case. So Alford, Robinson, Gardiner, and others. Ebrard [274] makes the first series begin with Abraham and end with David, the second begin with Solomon and end with Jechonias, the third begin with Salathiel and end with Christ, inclusive. He maintains, with Spanheim and Lightfoot, that certain kings are omitted by Matthew because of their great wickedness, and their intermarriage with, or descent from, heathen women. [275] Dr. Mill [276] shows that it was a common practice among the Jews to distribute their genealogies into divisions according to some favorite or mystical number; and that, in order to do this, generations were repeated or left out.

Many critics think that, since Jehoiakim and Jehoiachin differ in Greek only by a single letter, "Jechonias" in Matthew 1:11 denotes the former, in verse 12 the latter, individual. On this hypothesis, the second "fourteen" ends with "Jechonias" (Jehoiakim), and the third begins with "Jechonias" (Jehoiachin); and there is no deficiency.

272 See some eight solutions in Kitto, ii. 823-825.

273 Bible Commentary, in loc.

274 Gospel History, pp. 149-150. As the pedigree is "juridical, and not strictly genealogical," he
reckons Mary herself as one of the third series.

275 See Deuteronomy 7:2-4; Ezra 9:1-2.

276 On Mythical Interpretation of Gospels, pp. 150-161.

Jacob's family, seventy persons.

                                        Genesis 46:27

Seventy-five persons.

                                                                Acts 7:14

Jacob's children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren amounted to sixty-six.[277] Adding Jacob himself, and Joseph with his two sons, we have seventy. If to the sixty-six we add the nine wives of Jacob's sons (Judah's and Simeon's wives were dead; Joseph could not be said to call himself, his own wife, or his two sons into Egypt; and Jacob is specified separately by Stephen), we have seventy-five persons, as in Acts. [278]


                                 2 Samuel 24:9

                                              800,000 men of Israel

                                              500,000 men of Judah        

 A different statement.

                                                      1 Chronicles  21:5

  1,100,000 men of Israel

    470,000 men of Judah

The difference may arise from the fact that the statements are founded upon oral tradition, and not upon public records.

Or there may be copyist's errors in one or both cases. An elaborate explanation based upon the supposition that the difference is due to the inclusion or exclusion of the standing army may be seen in Davidson's Sacred Hermeneutics.[279]

Priestsclasses, four.

                                       Ezra 2:36-39

Twenty-two classes.

                                                      Nehemiah 12:1-7

The number in Ezra is that which was fixed upon at the outset. It was immediately enlarged, in the attempt to conform to the pre-exile arrangement.

Shekels paid by David.

So David bought the threshingfloor

and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver

                                                        2 Samuel 24:24

A different statement.

So David gave to Oman for the place

six hundred shekels of gold by weight.
                                                      1 Chronicles 21:25

Of a variety of explanations, three may be adduced: (1) That we have here a copyist's mistake, which could very easily happen. (2) That the first passage gives the price of the oxen simply, thus: "So David bought the threshing floor, and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver." The phraseology of the second passage, "So David gave to Oman for the place" etc., seems to favor this view. (3) That David purchased, first, the threshing floor—a plat of ground "probably not 100 feet in diameter," with the oxen; then, afterwards, bethought himself to buy

277Genesis 46:8-26.

278Davidson's Sacred Hermeneutics, pp. 582-583.

279Pp. 546-547. Also, Bib. Com. on 1 Chronicles 21:5.

the place, "maqom"—the whole hill of Moriah—for which latter he paid "600 shekels of gold."

Solomons wives, one thousand.

                                        1 Kings 11:3

One hundred and forty.

                                                            Canticles 6:8

Perhaps the "virgins without number"—who may have been, as Newman [280] thinks, held merely as hostages—made up the one thousand. Ginsburg, Kleuker, Magnus, and Rosenmiiller take the expression in Canticles as a poetical one, denoting simply a large number. Zockler thinks it refers to an earlier period in the reign of Solomon, before he fell into idolatry and other sins.

Things in ark, three.

                                        Hebrews 9:4

The tables of stone only.

                                                            Exodus 40:20;

                                                             Deuteronomy 10:5; 

                                                                       1 Kings 8:9

We have previously seen that the "book of the law" was not put into, but by the side of, the ark. [281] The text from Hebrews, which asserts that the "pot of manna" and "Aaron's rod" were in the ark, probably refers to the original arrangement. Later the two were removed.

Unclean birds, twenty.

                                     Leviticus 11:13-19

Twenty-one mentioned.

                                                Deuteronomy 14:12-18

The Hebrew terms "daah" and "raah," translated, in the first and second passages, respectively, vulture and glede, differ only in their initial letters, and Critics generally assume a slight error of transcription in the case. On this hypothesis, if we drop the superfluous word "dayyah" (omitted in the Samaritan version, the Septuagint, and several mss. [282]) rendered vulture in the second passage, the discrepancy vanishes. Or, with Aben Ezra and Keil, we may take the term "raah," in the second passage, as the name of the genus which includes the several species, some of which are subsequently named. [283]

Visitors at the sepulchre. 

One woman.

John 20:1

Two women.

                                                                  Matthew 28:1

Different statements. 

Three women.

Mark 16:1

Five or more women.

                                                                       Luke 24:10

280Seep.296 infra.

281 Deuteronomy 31:26.

282Davidson, on Hebrew Text, p. 37.

283 Ben Gershon thinks that keen-sighted, and another form of the same word swift-flying, both denote the same bird. See Conciliator, i. 225. Also, compare Wood's Bible Animals, p. 360.

Observe (1) that no one of the evangelists denies that more women were present than those he mentions by name. John does not assert that Mary Magdalene only was present; in fact, he intimates the contrary, for he represents her as saying, in verse 2, "We know not where they have laid him." Each writer seems, while not denying the presence of other persons, to single out one or more whom, for some reason, he mentions with particularity. This explanation of the case is perfectly reasonable, as the following illustration will evince. In the year 1824 Lafayette visited the United States, and was everywhere welcomed with honors and pageants. Historians will describe these as a noble incident in his life. Other writers will relate the same visit as made, and the same honors as enjoyed, by two persons, Lafayette and his son. [284] Yet there will be no contradiction between these two classes of writers. No more is there between the evangelists relative to the number of women who visited the sepulchre.

Or (2) we may take the sacred writers as referring to different points of time, each specifying the number present at the time to which he refers. There were two distinct parties [285] of women—the Marys and their friends, and the Galilean women—who followed our Lord. Probably the women, having lodged among their friends in different parts of the city, and to avoid suspicion on the part of the Jews, would come by different paths to the sepulchre, and would not arrive at the same moment. We may, therefore, suppose that Mary Magdalene arrived first (so John); soon the other Mary arrives (so Matthew); then Salome comes (so Mark); finally, the "other women" make their appearance (so Luke). As we shall see hereafter, a hypothesis of this kind removes the difficulty as to the time of the visit to the tomb. [286]