Wandering in the wilderness for 40 years? What was the Sinai, a garden maze? Really, how stupid is this? (Warning: you need to be familiar with the Jewish Torah’s story of the Hebrews’ escape from Egypt to understand this blog.)
We all know the religious don’t think about the texts that they read, and rarely apply logic, let alone arithmetic, to their cherished stories. But here is my take on a story I find even more humorous than Noah’s Ark or the Garden of Eden – the wandering in the wilderness.
The story, in brief, is this. Moses finds out that he is a Hebrew and not, as he had always believed, an Egyptian. Other Hebrews are slaves in Egypt, so he finds his Hebrew god YHWH and then carries out YHWH’s instructions to punish the Egyptians and gain the release of the Hebrews from slavery. He then leads them into the desert (usually called the “wilderness”) on their way to someone else’s land whom YHWH has given to them because YHWH couldn’t be bothered to create any new land, or find a place for the Hebrews that wasn’t already densely inhabited.
Now, the distance from Cairo to Jerusalem is 427 kilometers (“kms”), so about a 10-20 day walk for a reasonably healthy human being. But because the Hebrews pissed YHWH off, for a variety of infractions – YHWH is an easily annoyed deity - YHWH decided to punish them by making them wander for 40 years (Number 14:33-34) before arriving at their promised land which was owned by other people, with families, children and friendly animals – all of which were to be killed by the Hebrews, upon the instruction of YHWH, except for virgin women who got to be kept as booty by the Hebrew soldiers and priests (lots of examples of this, but Numbers 31:17 is but one example). If this sounds like ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State today, well it’s no coincidence since it’s supposed to be on the instructions of the same genocidal, virginity-obsessed god. You would think that if virginity was such a big deal then YHWH, as the supreme creating deity, would have made human women capable of re-growing their hymen.
We are told (no less than 4 times – Exodus 12:37, Numbers 1:45-46, 11:21, and 26:51) that about 600,000 men left Egypt with Moses. Assuming a 1:1 sex ratio, that means 600,000 women of similar ages. Assuming 2 children per couple (a conservative reckoning for the time period), that gives us 1,200,000 children, for a total population of 2,400,000 people.
How much space do 2.4 mn people take up? We are told that they take animals and carts with them as well. Today, the most densely populated areas (by country, as cities are largely high rise affairs nowadays) are Macau (about 18,000/sq km), Monaco (about 19,000/sq km) and Singapore (about 8,000/sq km). All three are areas with substantial high rise developments and little or no space for livestock. A better example is probably Gaza with about 5,000/sq km. Using these density figures for the Hebrew population gives us a value of 126 sq km at Monaco’s density, and 480 sq km at Gaza’s density level. (Gaza today has a total population of about 2 million in an area of about 365 sq km.) But look, say the believers, the Hebrew people were not settled, they were wandering, walking and herding their animals and sleeping in temporary housing, and children don’t take up much room, so they didn’t need so much space. So in the interests of compromise, let’s assume that everyone was ok with limited personal space and all the animals were well behaved, and everyone was ok with walking in the dung left on the ground by the people walking ahead of them. Let’s assume 12.5 sq meters per person, which gives us a wandering mass of 2.4 million people and very small well behaved animals covering 30 sq kms.
The area of their wandering is generally taken to be the Sinai, as there is no other minimally inhabited area between Egypt and the well populated Canaanite lands of the Levant. Unless they were all walking on water, or went into the Sahara desert by going west out of Egypt instead of east, the Sinai is the only “wilderness” that fits the description and would be possible without a large number of boats. The largest Egyptian ocean barges around 1200 BCE only carried about 200 people.
So, let’s agree that the traditional explanation is correct, and the Hebrews were wandering in the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula, a land area of 60,000 sq kms.
Next, we need to calculate how much area they traversed. A normal person can cover from 30-50 km in an eight hour day. With kids, animals, carts, and all the Egyptian gold and silver they stole, we should assume a somewhat slower pace, so let’s say 20 km a day. This means that if they moved in a column formation 1 km wide (so 30 km long), the people at the back of the column would be camping in the filth left by the people in the front of the column every evening at the end of the march. Yuck. So let’s assume that they were in a formation such that at the end of each day, they occupied an area completely different from the area they occupied at the start of the day (so maybe the formation was a 5x6 km mass).
But they probably were not moving every day, and certainly not on the “day of rest” when even picking up sticks for a fire could get you stoned to death. So let’s arbitrarily assume that they moved 4 days out of 7. They did this for 40 years, so accounting for leap years that means 14,610 days, and 8,349 (rounded up) days of movement.
Now assuming that they did not traverse any land that they did not occupy at the end of the day, this means they covered a minimum of 30 sq kms of new territory every day, on a very conservative basis. This would then total 250,470 sq kms of land area traversed during their wanderings. Since Sinai is only 60,000 total sq kms in area, this means that they went over every single sq m at least 4.1745x.
How do you account for this?
Maybe the manna that YHWH gave the Hebrews to eat in the wilderness (Numbers 11:1-9) was really opium or magic mushrooms? Then they just spent the next 40 years wandering in a circle until they sobered up? Didn’t anyone ever speak up and say “isn’t that the same mountain we’ve seen before?” Maybe YHWH really gave Moses a defective GPS, which kept sending him back to the beginning like a 40 year game of “snakes and ladders.” It’s no surprise the Hebrews were in a murderous rage when they finally reached Canaan. I am just surprised that they didn’t lynch their clueless leader. What sort of a society would follow an old man around in a desert for 40 years trying to find the exit? A highly deluded one, at best. What sort of a religion would take pride in being unable to find their way out of an unlocked fully lighted closet?
Another thing to think about is that the average human today excretes about 128 grams (“gms”) of fecal matter a day. It is more when there is less meat and more vegetable matter in the diet. Let’s assume that the Hebrews were smaller folks, and ate a lot of sheep and goats and divine manna, so they only pooped 110 gms a day on average. That is still 264,000 kgs of human poop a day on the trail – assuming that they burned the animal poop for fuel. So there should be some evidence of 3,857,040,000 kgs of Hebrew shit all over the Sinai. Which sort of summarizes this blog; namely, that the whole story is full of shit.