As a followup to Imagine Yourself in a Crowd, let’s explore the numbers of people (etc) involved in the Exodus. Torah states:
The children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand on foot, the men, besides the young children. And also, a great mixed multitude went up with them, and flocks and cattle, very much livestock. (Exodus 12:37-38)
If we take the Torah literally (and many do), that’s at least two million people (some sources say three million). This is approximately the entire population of Egypt during the New Kingdom (and even if we use higher estimates, it’s at least half the total population).
Rabbi Michael S. Bar-Ron, in The Good Torah Sense of the “Alpha-Eleph”: How the Torah Counts the Tribes and Why, delves into this issue in great detail, with references drawn both from Jewish scholarship and from history, archeology, and science.
Israel could well have left with as many as 40,000 human souls, including the `erev rav (mixed multitude). It might well be possible that the grand total of Israelites and foreigners mixed in reached 50,000…40,000 individuals… is truly the size of an epic exodus for any time period. Moreover, a military force of over 6,000 men was indeed a large, formidable army for the Middle Bronze Age.
Forty to fifty thousand people (men, women, and children, both Hebrews and the mixed multitudes) seems about right. It’s a huge number but not unmanageable. We can fit that number comfortably into a professional football stadium if they are just standing/sitting. For living, a Burning Man setup will work well.
Once we get into higher numbers, it becomes far more difficult, especially when you imagine this crowd walking together through the desert with thousands of livestock animals, all needing food and water.
I imagine the Hebrews divided into households; compounds with multiple huts that share a kitchen. These would generally go along family lines. For example, a couple with six children. Three marry out and three bring in spouses and then have their own children.
My story revolves around the most important household of all: Jochebed and her children. I have it at 55 people (almost 75 once the modern day kids arrive). I would guess that most households among the Hebrews would be in the 30-50 person range, with some smaller and some larger. Let’s assume an average of 40 people so there are about 1000 households total.
Jochebed’s household has three wagons (each pulled by two oxen) and a donkey for traveling through the wilderness. Assume two wagons in an average household. Or 2000 wagons total. Which is 4000 oxen or other draft animals. This does not include any wagons or animals the mixed multitudes bring.
We don’t know how many animals the Hebrews had, except that it was “very much.”
For details on domesticated animals, please see:
Domesticated Animals of Ancient Egypt