ABC:Ezra 2

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Verse 1[edit]

Infidels.org claims the Bible is wrong about the Ezra/Nehemiah census figures:[1] The ReasonProject also claims this is a contradiction with the headline "How many of Adin's offspring returned from Babylon?"[2] Wikipedia similarly asserts this is a contradiction.[3]

Ezra 2:1 Now these are the children of the province that went up out of the captivity, of those which had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away unto Babylon, and came again unto Jerusalem and Judah, every one unto his city;

Ezra 2:64 The whole congregation together was forty and two thousand three hundred and threescore,

Nehemiah 7:5 And my God put into mine heart to gather together the nobles, and the rulers, and the people, that they might be reckoned by genealogy. And I found a register of the genealogy of them which came up at the first, and found written therein,
6 These are the children of the province, that went up out of the captivity, of those that had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away, and came again to Jerusalem and to Judah, every one unto his city;

Nehemiah 7:66 The whole congregation together was forty and two thousand three hundred and threescore,

History[edit]

It's a little-known fact that the books of Ezra and Nehemiah were actually one book originally, just like the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles originally were, and just got subdivided.[4] Ezra-Nehemiah wasn't actually subdivided into separate books until many centuries after being authored.[5] Unfortunately Ezra-Nehemiah is the book least evidenced by the Dead Sea Scrolls, with the exception of Esther (the only book not found among the DSS), with only a few manuscripts preserving fragments from it, so it is tough to tell what the original genealogy looked like before the book was divided into halves. It seems quite possible that the two separate accounts were originally one account from the original scroll, and (rather poorly) transformed into two accounts when the book was divided (probably around 400 A.D. when the Catholic Church was created). At any rate, the book(s) of Ezra-Nehemiah involve some very unusual controversy.

According to the Scofield Reference Bible, a timeline of the Jewish exile in Babylon can be summarized as follows:[6]

  • 586 B.C.: Jerusalem conquered by Babylon, second/last deportation of Jews to Babylon.
  • 538 B.C.: First wave of returning Jews. Zerubbabel begins rebuilding the temple but Samaritans oppose them and construction is delayed. (Ezra 1-6)
  • 520 B.C.: Prophets Haggai and Zechariah urge the temple's rebuilding and construction renews. (Haggai and Zechariah 1-8)
  • 515 B.C.: Second temple is finished in March.
  • 458 B.C.: Ezra implements worship reforms. (The Scofield provides an alternate date of 398 B.C.)
  • 444-432 B.C.: Nehemiah appointed governor of Judah and rebuilds Jerusalem's walls. (Nehemiah 1-7 and 11-13)
  • 400 B.C.: End of Old Testament history.

Account Comparison[edit]

The following is a table comparing the accounts from Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7. While the accounts agree on the totals, specific numbers given for various families do indeed differ.

Family Term Ezra 2 Neh. 7 Difference Verses Notes
Parosh Children 2172 2172 - Ezra 2:3, Neh. 7:8
Shephatiah Children 372 372 - Ezra 2:4, Neh. 7:9
Arah Children 775 652 117 Ezra 2:5, Neh. 7:10
Pahathmoab Children 2812 2818 6 Ezra 2:6, Neh. 7:11 Notable ancestors mentioned - Jeshua, Joab
Elam Children 1254 1254 - Ezra 2:7, Neh. 7:12
Zattu Children 945 845 100 Ezra 2:8, Neh. 7:13
Zaccai Children 760 760 - Ezra 2:9, Neh. 7:13
Bani Children 642 648 6 Ezra 2:10, Neh. 7:15 Called Binnui in Neh.
Bebai Children 623 628 5 Ezra 2:11, Neh. 7:16
Azgad Children 1222 2322 1100 Ezra 2:12, Neh. 7:17
Adonikam Children 666 667 1 Ezra 2:13, Neh. 7:18
Bigvai Children 256 2067 1811 Ezra 2:14, Neh. 7:19
Adin Children 454 655 201 Ezra 2:15, Neh. 7:20
Ater Children 98 98 - Ezra 2:16, Neh. 7:21 Notable ancestor mentioned - Hezekiah
Hashum Children 223 328 105 Ezra 2:19, Neh. 7:22 Different order
Bezai Children 323 324 1 Ezra 2:17, Neh. 7:23
Jorah Children 112 112 - Ezra 2:18, Neh. 7:24 Called Hariph in Neh.
Gibbar Children 95 95 - Ezra 2:20, Neh. 7:25 Called Gibeon in Neh.
Bethlehem, Netophah Men/Children 179 188 9 Ezra 2:21-22, Neh. 7:26 Separate accounts in Ezra but combined in Neh.
Anathoth Men 128 128 - Ezra 2:23, Neh. 7:27
Azmaveth Men/Children 42 42 - Ezra 2:24, Neh. 7:28 Called Bethazmaveth in Neh.
Kirjatharim, Chephirah, Beeroth Men/Children 743 743 - Ezra 2:25, Neh. 7:29
Rama, Gaba Men/Children 621 621 - Ezra 2:26, Neh. 7:30 Called Geba in Neh.
Michmas Men 122 122 - Ezra 2:27, Neh. 7:31
Bethel, Ai Men 223 123 100 Ezra 2:28, Neh. 7:32
Nebo Men/Children 52 52 - Ezra 2:29, Neh. 7:33 Called "other Nebo" in Neh.
Magbish Children 156 ? ? Ezra 2:30 Not listed in Neh.
other Elam Children 1254 1254 - Ezra 2:31, Neh. 7:34
Harim Children 320 320 - Ezra 2:32, Neh. 7:35
Lod, Hadid, Ono Children 725 721 4 Ezra 2:33, Neh. 7:37 Different order in Neh.
Jericho Children 345 345 - Ezra 2:34, Neh. 7:36
Senaah Children 3630 3930 300 Ezra 2:35, Neh. 7:38
Jedaiah Children 973 973 - Ezra 2:36, Neh. 7:39 Called Priests, notable ancestor mentioned - Jeshua
Immer Children 1052 1052 - Ezra 2:37, Neh. 7:40
Pashur Children 1247 1247 - Ezra 2:38, Neh. 7:41
Harim Children 1017 1017 - Ezra 2:39, Neh. 7:42
Jeshua, Kadmiel Children 74 74 - Ezra 2:40, Neh. 7:43 Called Levites, notable ancestor mentioned - Hodaviah
Asaph Children 128 148 20 Ezra 2:41, Neh. 7:44 Called Singers
Shallum, Ater, et. al. Children 139 138 1 Ezra 2:42, Neh. 7:45 Called Porters
Ziha, Hasupha, et. al. Children 392 392 - Ezra 2:43-58, Neh. 7:46-60 Called Nethinims and Solomon's servants
Delaiah, Tobiah, Nekoda Children 652 642 10 Ezra 2:59-60, Neh. 7:61-62 Couldn't prove ancestry
Habaiah, Koz, Barzillai Children ? ? ? Ezra 2:61-63, Neh. 7:63-65 No number given in Ezra or Neh., couldn't prove genealogy and removed from priesthood
Total Named 28018 31089 3071

The totals given at the end of both accounts agree as follows:

Total
Congregation 42360
Servants and Maids 7330
Horses 736
Mules 245
Camels 435
Donkeys 6720

Who's Being Counted?[edit]

Whereas Ezra 2 identifies 28,018 individuals, Nehemiah 7 identifies only 31,089, a difference of 3,071. Much of this consists of the huge discrepancies for Azgad (1100) and Bigvai (1811). So why are these numbers so much lower than the total congregation numbers mentioned in Ezra 2:64-67 and Nehemiah 7:66-69? The following possibilities exist:

'1. Only Men Counted

As Will Kinney points out, both accounts begin by clearly saying it's only men being counted:[7]

Ezra 2:2 Which came with Zerubbabel: Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum, Baanah. The number of the men of the people of Israel:

Nehemiah 7:7 Who came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Azariah, Raamiah, Nahamani, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispereth, Bigvai, Nehum, Baanah. The number, I say, of the men of the people of Israel was this;

If only the men were being counted it would hardly be unusual as the Bible typically only names men in genealogies, though there are rare exceptions. Another possibility is that some tribes were counting only men specifically, whereas others were counting all persons (those mentioning 'children', i.e. all descendants of the tribe). A number of tribes in the Ezra 2 account noticeably say men were being counted instead of the generic term 'children', see vv. 22-23 and 27-28. Since these were low-populated tribes, it's possible the real numbers were somewhat higher.

At any rate, it's possible as Will Kinney says that the additional amount of 14,342 in Ezra 2 were the male children of the tribes that had not been mentioned.

2. Servants and Maids Included

If including servants and maids, the count would increase to 35,348 in Ezra 2 and to 38,419 in Nehemiah 7. If including the livestock as well, the count would actually be too high, 43,484 and 46,555 respectively (which seems unlikely anyway). At any rate, the inclusion of servants and maids raises the count, but still leaves one thousands short, too much even if including the last group (descendants of Habaiah, Koz, and Barzillai) whose number was unmentioned.

List Differences[edit]

What is also difficult to explain is why so many clear differences exist in the individual records mentioned, particularly in numbering. As also pointed out by Kinney, the Nehemiah 7 account appears to rely on a later discovery of a registry based on the Ezra 2 account.[7]

Nehemiah 7:5 And my God put into mine heart to gather together the nobles, and the rulers, and the people, that they might be reckoned by genealogy. And I found a register of the genealogy of them which came up at the first, and found written therein,
6 These are the children of the province, that went up out of the captivity, of those that had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away, and came again to Jerusalem and to Judah, every one unto his city;

Whereas the Ezra 2 account presents the information as recorded firsthand, the Nehemiah 7 account speaks of finding an earlier registry. Perhaps the early chapters of Ezra (which again were one book with Nehemiah) were part of this early registry the book's author discovered, and he presented the account first before providing his own.

Solution: Two Censuses[edit]

Thus it appears there were two censuses taken, with the author trying to perform his own census similar to the original census by re-counting the tribes once again. The first census appears to have been taken in the empire of Babylon, the most powerful in the world at the time, for the children of Israel leaving captivity, around 538 B.C. The second, on the other hand, appears to be an account years later by the Jewish immigrants attempting to rebuild their destroyed homeland, around 444 B.C., nearly a century later.

Ezra 2:1 Now these are the children of the province that went up out of the captivity, of those which had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away unto Babylon, and came again unto Jerusalem and Judah, every one unto his city;

Nehemiah 7:1 Now it came to pass, when the wall was built, and I had set up the doors, and the porters and the singers and the Levites were appointed,
2 That I gave my brother Hanani, and Hananiah the ruler of the palace, charge over Jerusalem: for he was a faithful man, and feared God above many.

However, without the resources now of Babylon to aid in the counting like the original census-taker, the new attempt appears to have been more shabby, as evidenced by:

  • The combining of the Bethlehem and Netopha accounts. (Neh. 7:26)
  • Drastic inflation of the Azgad and Bigvai counts, possibly lumping in other families with them. (Neh. 7:17,19)
  • Complete absence of Magbish.

My guess would be this was a poor attempt by a later scribe at retaking the earlier census by following the registry recovered. That would explain why the families are similar but numbers differ like they do. The scribe probably just kept some of the numbers including the totals, realizing the task could not be completed. Despite his original zeal to retake the early census conducted by the Babylonian empire, he realized without the resources of Babylon's educated scribes it was impracticable. Thus he just repeated the earlier counts and perhaps went with approximations.

Perhaps he knew he would die soon and the census was taking too long to complete, so he just adopted some of the earlier family counts instead of attempting to update them, including the final tally of the original census. At any rate, it would explain why there appears to be a slight increase in many of the Nehemiah 7 counts relative to the Ezra 2 ones (Pahathmoab, Bani, Bebai, Adonikam, Bezai, Bethlehem/Netophah, and Senaah). It would be explained by population increase during the time required to return to their homeland and rebuild Jerusalem's wall.

Ultimately, since these were part of the same book, it makes no sense for there to be two accounts at all unless such a scenario had happened. Why recount the same census in the same book, unless there were really two censuses being attempted?

Sources[edit]

  1. Meritt, Jim (1992). A list of Biblical contradictions. Retrieved from http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/jim_meritt/bible-contradictions.html.
  2. Marlow, Andy (2009). Contradictions in the Bible. Project Reason.
  3. Wikipedia Editors (2019, August 22). "Internal Consistency of the Bible." Wikipedia.
  4. Marcus, David (2008). Encyclopaedia Judaeica. The Gale Group. Retrieved from http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0006_0_06217.html.
  5. Ezra. Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Zondervan. Retrieved from http://www.biblica.com/niv/study-bible/ezra/.
  6. The Scofield Study Bible: English Standard Version (2006). Chronology of the PostExilic Era. p. 611. Oxford University Press. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=fpu-Pl7W_UIC&pg=PA611.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Kinney, Will. Is the Bible inerrant? The census of Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7. Another King James Bible Believer. Retrieved from http://brandplucked.webs.com/ezra2neh7.htm.