As for their encampments, who shall justly estimate their size and extent, for a host of two and a half million people, with all their slaves and camp-followers, and with more than that number of sheep and cattle? The question would be of no concern if it did not involve some further strains on faith. Every one of the forty-two times the camp was pitched (Num. xxxiii), there must be suitable space found for some 250,000 tents, laid out (Num. ii) regularly four-square around the holy tabernacle, after that was constructed, and with the necessary streets and passages, and proper spaces between the tents. A man in a coffin occupies about twelve square feet, six feet by two. Living people would not be packed in their tents like corpses or sardines; they must have at least, say, three times that space, thirty-six square feet or four square yards each. A tent to house ten persons with minimum decency must occupy therefore an average of forty square yards.

If the 241,420 such tents were set one against another, with no intervening space or separating streets, they would occupy 9,656,800 square yards, or over 1995 acres of ground; a little more than three square miles. But the desert was vast, there was no need for such impossible crowding; ample room was available for seemly spacing of tents, for streets and areas, for the great central tabernacle and its court, and for the 22,000 Levites, not counted in the soldier-census, who must "pitch round about the tabernacle," as well as space for the rounding up of the millions of cattle. These allowances for order, decency, and comfort would much extend the circuit of the camp, and make more reasonable the accepted estimate that "this encampment is computed to have formed a movable city of twelve miles square," or an area of 144 square miles, which is certainly modest for a population equal to that of Chicago, which covers 198 square miles. The tabernacle stood in the center, thus six miles from the outskirts of the camp in either direction.


So much for the lay-out of the sacred encampment. What is the point of faith involved? Whenever a sacrifice of sin-offering was made by the priest, a daily and constant service, "the skin of the bullock, and all his flesh, ... even the whole bullock shall he carry forth without the camp unto a clean place, where the ashes are poured out, and burn him on the wood with fire" (Lev. iv, 11, 12). This was the personal chore of the priest himself, of whom there were oddly three, Aaron and his sons Eleazar and Ithamar. And there were thousands upon thousands of sacrifices, for every imaginable thing and occasion; and the carcasses and offal of the slaughtered cattle must always be taken "without the camp" and burned, by these three poor priests, and Father Aaron was over 80 years old. So these chores would keep them going, time after time, six miles out and six miles back, lugging heavy and bloody carcasses and offal through the main streets of the camp, incessantly, and leave them no time for their holy, bloody sacrifices of myriads of animals, as described in Exodus xxix, and all through Leviticus. Moreover, the entire garbage, refuse, ashes, and filth of every kind of two and a half million people and millions of cattle must be constantly and with extreme care carried outside the camp, practically under the awful threat of annihilation; for "Yahveh. thy God walketh in the midst of thy camp, to deliver thee, and to give up thine enemies before thee; therefor shall thy camp be holy: that he see no unclean thing in thee, and turn away from thee" (Deut. xxiii, 12-14); and everybody who reads the Bible knows what the Chosen's enemies used to do to them whenever their Yahveh wasn't looking closely after them.

These inspired verses enshrine, too, for our admiration, material details: even the ordinary personal necessities of nature must be relieved "without the camp," and covered up by digging with a paddle (Deut. xxiii, 13); the 603,500-odd valiant soldiers of Yahveh were commanded by Yahveh: "Thou shalt have a paddle upon thy weapon" for this digging operation! There must have been an advance revelation of the peculiar pattern of these funny weapons, with a spear-point on one end and a scavenger-paddle on the other, for the Chosen to have got them manufactured to special order by the arinourers of Egypt. And it is to be wondered how the non-combatants, women-folk and little children, did their digging on these occasions, unless they borrowed some warrior-paddle not then in use, or had a paddle-armed soldier for an escort when they went perforce "without the camp." Just think for a moment, and then admire the strange providence of Yahveh: two and a half millions of his Chosen People, old and young, sick and infirm, men, women, and children, trotting at all hours of day and night, from the more central parts of the encampment some twelve miles out and back, to find a suitable spot "without the camp" to respond to their several calls; and often even before they got back home, having to turn and trek all over again! And every mother's son and daughter of the "hosts of Yahveh" must make an average of six miles, both ways, several times daily.

Moreover, as Yahveh got angry with his Chosen, whom he had repeatedly promised to bring into Canaan, and as he caused every one of them, except Joshua and Caleb, to die in the wilderness, there were on the average 1700 deaths and funerals per day for forty years, at the rate of 72 per hour, more than one for very minute of every day and all the corpses must also be carried "without the camp" for burial, an average of six miles going and returning. And as the census taken at the end of the forty years shows but a slight decrease in numbers from that taken at the beginning, the entire host was renewed by a birth-rate of over one a minute for forty years; and all the debris must be lugged without the camp and disposed of. Verily the Chosen had their troubles.


There is also the question of fires and fuel. The myriads of sacrifices and burnt offerings at the tabernacle, besides the wasteful burning "without the camp" of practically entire animals, and that too when the children of Israel were straying and rioting for "flesh to eat," required many fires and hence much firewood. Where, there in the "waste howling wilderness," did they get so much fuel? -- a burning question nowhere answered by revelation. In the Arabian wilderness at certain seasons, and always at night, when the fiery sun had set, the cold was fearfully intense; the Chosen must have been grievously beset to find firewood to keep themselves from freezing, and it is never once recorded that stove- wood was miraculously provided either to keep them warm or to cook manna, to say nothing of the big quail feast. The inspired Word tells us much of the fires and of the ashes, but vouchsafes nothing about the immense forests which must have been required to supply a population like that of modern Chicago with firewood for heating, cooking, and burning hecatombs every day for forty years.






Joseph Wheless


Revealing the Spiritual duality of the Bible, for it serves neither God nor truth to try and rationalize irrational things the Bible has said of God.