One of the pitfalls of writing a book about large numbers of people, is you have to deal with the logistics of large numbers of people.
We have the family household that shares meals and we have larger groups working together on various tasks. Then we have the Exodus. Now that’s a crowd. But let’s start small.
In Egypt we have a single extended family household consisting of Jochebed, her three children (Miriam, Moses, and Aaron), and their families. 55 people of various ages present as our story begins in Egypt. This rises to nearly 75 people when the Barberry Lake children arrive.
I’ve divided this group up into 11 huts all sharing a large courtyard, an outdoor kitchen, a well, gardens, and poultry houses. There’s plenty of space for them all to gather in the courtyard and there’s no problem communicating to them as a group. A clear stage voice is more than enough.
When communicating with other household groups, they can invite some of the adults from them into their courtyard. Then send out messengers to spread the word, each to a small group of other households.
To communicate with all the households at once, each will need to send representatives, then go back home and give an accounting. When it’s time to go to the pastures and choose lambs in advance of Passover, I imagine a crowd of 5000-6000 people.
Moses and Aaron stand by a creek, with the flocks on the other side. People crowd around them in a tightly packed semi-circle. But how big would this be?
Dr. G. Keith Still’s website, Crowd Safety and Risk Analysis, helps us to imagine it. Using an area of 625 square meters (25 x 25 meters), which translates to 6727 square feet (82 x 82 feet), he shows standing crowds of various densities. I assume something between 4.5 and 5 people per square meter (the maximum density) when folks push in tight for a few minutes to listen to a speaker.
For our purposes, let’s say it’s 5 people per square meter and that we’ll need two of his example squares (each about the size of a tennis court). 6250 people in 1250 m2 (13,454 SF). This could be done with a crowd area of 200’ x 67’.
Or we could make a circle that is a 65’ radius (131’ diameter) and a circumference of 411’. If we use a half circle with some empty space in the middle, or perhaps a ¾ circle, it would still have a pretty workable radius. Maybe 90-130’ in those cases. (I’m using this Radius of circle given area Calculator.)
The total length of a football field is 120 yards (360’) long, with a playing field of 100 yards (300’). With a width of 53 1/3 yards (160’).
A football field (with total length) is 57,600 sf. Which is 4.28 times the size of my estimated crowd area. At this density, a football field could fit 26,750 people. The 6000+ people version could work with one very loud speaker. The football field crowd would require amplifiers.
The Lincoln Financial Stadium in the above picture has a seating capacity of 69,176, so we could cram in nearly 100,000 people into the stadium as a whole, though it would be crowded to the point of dangerous.
The question of how many people were present during the Exodus has its own post here. If you follow a strict literal interpretation of the Torah, there are 603,550 adult men who are a part of the 12 tribes. Double that to add in adult women. Add the erev rav (“mixed multitudes”) and children, and we’re looking at at least two million people.
My thought is that this census number either represents a census of Israel during the (much later) time when the Torah was written, or is a flight of fancy. It’s simply not possible.
I’m thinking more like 100,000. 200,000 as an absolute max. But probably something like 125,000 when you add the erev rav. That’s still logistical insanity, but possible. But 40,000-50,000 is a lot more reasonable.
In 2010, when the above picture was taken, Burning Man had 51,525 attendees. They are all in tents or structures, or in the open but spread out enough to sleep and live.
The developed part of the city is currently arranged as a series of concentric streets in an arc composing, since 1999, two-thirds of a 1.5-mile (2.4-km) diameter circle with the Man Sculpture and his supporting complex at the very center.
Imagine instead, 3/4 to 7/8 of a circle with a bit less open space in the center and another ring or two. Slightly more densely populated. Miriam’s well flows from the center down the open part of the circle. Livestock will be downstream, outside the camp. 100,000 people, within, say, a 2 mile diameter, is possible for an encampment, if there is food and water, but not so much for traveling.
Communication with the entire group at once is impossible without modern technology (and difficult even with it). Household and other small groups would need to send a representative to regular meetings then bring back the information. Or messengers could go to a few households and then each one would contact several more. Like the phone trees of past decades.