How could the Jews grow so fast.

A common question about the exodus is how could the Jews have grown so fast. To look at just how fast it is I’m going to look at how fast their growth rate was compared to the fastest period of growth in the world, the Baby Boom. From 1950 to 2000 the world population rose from approximately 2.5 billion to 6 billion. This is a growth rate of approximately 2%.  The Jews grew from 65 to 600000 in 210 years. This is a growth rate of around 4.5%. If you take the various midrashic accounts of the growth rate you get figures of 5.2% if 1/5 survived 6.4% if 1/50 survived and 7.6% if 1/500 survived.  The non-midrashic growth rate is perhaps possible but not over that length of time. However it seems unlikely that these were the only people going down to Egypt. Jacob was rich and surely had some servants. It is entirely plausible that they had many servants who later were counted among the Jewish people. If they only had a Baby Boom growth rate they would have required 9300 servants a highly dubious number. However a 3% growth rate would have meant 1100 servants unlikely, but not impossible.  Another strong possibility is that the Eiruv Rav made up a large number of that 600,000 for instance if there wer 530 servants and a 2.5% growth rate then the Eiruv Rav makes up around 5/6 of the population. The other problem is that around 1 in 20 males was a first born at the time of the census in the desert this strongly suggests 40 children in a family (Thanks Rachel for pointing this out to me) however if the Eiruv Rav made up 500,000 of the 600,000 and assuming that the Eiruv Rav had no firstborn sons you get closer to ten children a family with that method.

This whole approach is dubious at best and definitely a dochek, but it seems to be less of a dochek then the idea that women were popping out 6 kids at a time, the Jews were growing around 3 times the rate of the fastest documented growth in human history, and that each family had fourty children.

I would ne very interested in hearing any other approach which gets around these problems.

7 Responses to How could the Jews grow so fast.

  1. Rachel says:

    You’re stuck with the 40 kids per family. Numbers makes it very clear that only Jacob’s descendents were counted. The Eiruv Rav might be lots of people – but they were never counted.

    In fact, it’s not at all impossible for a population to increase 10,000 fold in 200 years. Suppose there are 8 generations(25 years each). Then average family size need only be 6-7 (square root of 10*2). Slightly larger family sizes are needed for a more reasonable generation of 30. In the developing world maximum fertility for a population is about 7 per woman, and maximum fertility for the developed world is about 10 (Hutterites, Amish, Meah Shearim). The higher fertility in the developed world occurs because women are in better health, less likely to be widowed during childbearing years and generally nurse less.

    Of course, none of that works for the Jews in Egypt – the Torah is very clear about 3 generations.

  2. Tobie says:

    First of all, the pshat gives you 430 years, however you want to interpret that one. Also interesting, although I’m not sure how it impacts your point, is the Rashi idea that there were 300 out of 22300 Levites were firstborn, which gives even crazier numbers. However, I think that the numbers are somewhat deflated by noting that halachicly, a firstborn only counts if there have been no earlier miscarriages, which must have been somewhat common in a slave population, and firstborns may well have died more than younger siblings if their parents were busy being slaves without older siblings to care for them, which would mess up the ratios quite a bit. Of course, this doesn’t answer the larger problems of the vastly overinflated number of the Jews, but you do what you can.

  3. mike529 says:

    Rachel it could mean that there were survivors from the third generation.
    Tobie- Levites are slightly lower because all of them were counted and also if you go with Rashis idea of their small population (Levites killed for not carrying the Aron properly) you get even fewer first born children.

  4. Rachel says:

    You’re still stuck with three generations. If you actually look at ancestries Moses and Aaron are second generation (their paternal grandfather was born before they came to Egypt). Joshua and the tribal leaders are mostly third generation.

  5. Tobie says:

    Mike- why wouldn’t firstborns die by carrying the Aron at the same rate as non-firstborns, thus keeping the ratio stable? And I agree that the counting from birth will affect things slightly but 3 out of 500? That’s more than twice as rare as everyone else, which is especially surprising since the levi’im, not working, didn’t get the 6 in 1 thing, according to the midrash.

  6. Rachel says:

    The 300 isn’t the number of the Levite firstborn. It’s the number of firstborn Israelites – total Leviim. Most firstborn were redeemed for free by substituting a Levi for each firstborn. Only the extra firstborn needed to pay a redemption price. The Torah doesn’t specify where Levi firstborn were used to redeem Israelite firstborn – but they shouldn’t be theoretically. Therefore the number of Levites is probably undercounted slightly.

  7. mike529 says:

    Tobie I’m assuming that carrying the Aron was an honor which would be heavily bestowed on the firstborns .

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