Numbers 26: Census Do-Over

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Between the plagues, food poisoning, gaping chasms, spontaneous combustions, etc, the usefulness of the census taken in Numbers 1 is rather obsolete. As we near the end of our journey, God decides that it’s time to take another head count of eligible soldiers.

The other purpose for conducting the census is to help with dividing up the lands once they get into Canaan. This seems a little pre-emptive to me, but what do I know. There’s also some talk of lots. If I’m interpreting v.53-56 correctly, all the head of house names are to go in a big hat, and the lot will be used to decide which spot each should get.

We’re also reminded that none of the men counted were adults when they originally left Egypt with Moses and Aaron (those guys having all since died), with the exception of Caleb, son of Jephunneh, and Joshua, son of Nun.


Reuben, if you remember, was the eldest of Israel’s sons. Unfortunately for him, a little indiscretion lost him his primacy. He had four sons:

  • Hanoch, sire of the Hanochites
  • Pallu (or Phallu), sire of the Palluites
  • Hezron, sire of the Hezronites
  • Carmi, sire of the Carmites

Pallu’s son, Eliab, had three sons: Nemuel, Dathan, and Abiram. We’re reminded that these are the Dathan and Abiram who rebelled with Korah back in Numbers 16. We’re told here that Dathan and Abiram were killed along with Korah, though their deaths weren’t mentioned.

There’s also a little note telling us that “the children of Korah died not” (v.11). This seems to contradict what we were told in Numbers 16:31-32:

As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households, and all those associated with Korah, together with their possessions.

Granted, his children aren’t specifically mentioned, but it does seem implied.

The total number of Reubenites eligible for military service is 43,730.


Back in Genesis 46, the Simeon’s sons are named as: Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul. Here, however, the list is:

  • Nemuel, sire of the Nemuelites
  • Jamin, sire of the Jaminites
  • Jachin, sire of the Jachinites
  • Zerah, sire of the Zarhites
  • Shaul, sire of the Shaulites

For whatever reason, the lines of Jemuel, Ohad, and Zohar seem not to have survived, and Simeon apparently picked up Nemuel and Zerah somewhere.

I find it interesting that Jemuel and Nemuel, and Zohar and Zerah are quite similar. I wonder if these are equivalents from two different narrative traditions.

The total number of Simeonites eligible for military service is 22,200.


We get some more name funkiness with Gad. According to Genesis 46, his sons are: Ziphion, Haggi, Shuni, Ezbon, Eri, Arodi, and Areli. Here, however, they are:

  • Zephon, sire of the Zephonites
  • Haggi, sire of the Haggites
  • Shuni, sire of the Shunites
  • Ozni, sire of the Oznites
  • Eri, sire of the Erites
  • Arod, sire of the Arodites
  • Areli, sire of the Arelites

The lists seem to match, but quite a few spellings have changed.

The total number of Gad’s descendants eligible for military service is 40,500.


Judah’s story matches up with the genealogy in Genesis 46. I guess they kept better records, or something. His sons were:

  • Er (deceased, no kids)
  • Onan (deceased, no kids)
  • Shelah, sire of the Shelanites
  • Pharez, sire of the Pharzites
  • Zerah, sire of the Zarhites

We get some further subdivision with the sons of Pharez:

  • Hezron, sire of the Hezronites
  • Hamul, sire of the Hamulites

Total eligible soldiers from Judah: 76,500.


Issachar’s sons, according to Genesis 46, are Tola, Phuvah, Job, and Shimron. Once again, there’s quite substantial differences. His sons here are:

  • Tola, sire of the Tolaites
  • Pua, sire of the Punites
  • Jashub, sire of the Jashubites
  • Shimron, sire of the Shimronites

Again, the names are kinda similar, just enough to suggest that they come from different oral traditions.

Total descendants of Issachar eligible for military service: 64,300.


Zebulun’s family kept better records. In both versions, his sons are:

  • Sered, sire of the Sardites
  • Elon, sire of the Elonites
  • Jahleel, sire of the Jahleelites

There are 60,500 eligible soldiers among the Zebulunites.


Joseph, of course, had two sons: Manasseh and Ephraim. Both are kinda sorta heads of their own tribes, depending on how the count is made.

Manasseh’s sons are:

  • Machir, sire of the Machirites

Machir, in turn, fathered Gilead, sire of the Gileadites.

Gilead’s sons are:

  • Jeezer, sire of the Jeezerites
  • Helek, sire of the Helekites
  • Asriel, sire of the Asrielites
  • Shechem, sire of the Shechemites
  • Shemida, sire of the Shemidaites
  • Hepher, sire of the Hepherites

It’s unclear through which of these sons the Gileadites are counted.

Hepher also had a son: Zelophehad. Unfortunately, Zelophehad only had daughters:

  • Mahlah
  • Noah
  • Hoglah
  • Milcah
  • Tirzah

So if the line of Hepher is getting named as a land recipient, that implies that there’s some way for these women to pass their father’s land to their own children.

Total soldier-able descendants of Manasseh: 52,700.

Ephraim’s sons are:

  • Shuthelah, sire of the Shuthalhites
  • Becher, sire of the Bachrites
  • Tahan, sire of the Tahanites

Shuthelah sired Eran, who sired the Eranites. Did Shuthelah have other sons, or are all Shuthalhites also Eranites and vice versa?

There are 32,500 eligible soldiers among the descendants of Ephraim.


With Benjamin, we get some genealogical issues. Benjamin’s sons are:

  • Bela, sire of the Belaites
  • Ashbel, sire of the Ashbelites
  • Ahiram, sire of the Ahiramites
  • Shupham, sire of the Shuphamites
  • Hupham, sire of the Huphamites

Only Bela (named Belah) and Ashbel are found in Genesis 46, listed along with their brothers: Becher, Gera, Naaman, Ehi, Rosh, Muppim, Huppim, and Ard.

Then, from Bela, we get his sons:

  • Ard, sire of the Ardites
  • Naaman, sire of the Naamites

Notice that both of these were listed as Benjamin’s sons, not his grandsons, in Genesis 46.

The total military contingent provided by the tribe of Benjamin is 45,600.


In Genesis 46, Dan’s only son is named Hushim. Here, of course, his son’s name is Shuham (sire of the Shuhamites).

Descendants of Dan, you only had one name to remember! Sheesh!

Total descendants of Dan eligible for military service: 64,400.


In Genesis 46, Asher’s children are named Jimnah, Ishuah, Ishni, Beriah, and a daughter named Serah. Here, his children are named:

  • Jimna, sire of the Jimnites
  • Jesui, sire of the Jesuites
  • Beriah, sire of the Beriites
  • Sarah

Back in Genesis 46, Beriah’s sons are Heber and Malchiel, which matches the names given here (sires of the Heberites and Malchielites, respectively).

Not that I’m complaining, but I find it interesting that Serah/Sarah is named in both genealogies, especially given that there’s no mention of anything special about her. She’s not sire to any sub-tribe, so there’s really no reason to mention her in this census.

I’m apparently not the only one to be confused. It seems that some early midrash composers felt that she wouldn’t be mentioned unless there was something pretty special about her, so there’s a fairly substantial collection of fanfic that’s been written about her.

The total number of Asher’s descendants who are eligible for military service is 53,400.


Naphtali’s sons are:

  • Jahzeel, sire of the Jahzeelites
  • Guni, sire of the Gunites
  • Jezer, sire of the Jezerites
  • Shillem, sire of the Shillemites

The total number of eligible soldiers among the descendants of Naphtali is 45,400.

Adding them up

That’s a total of 601,730, only 1,820 fewer people than counted in the last census. That’s a pretty amazing reproduction rate, considering the fact that God’s been killing these people by the thousands for a few years now.

What’s interesting to me is to compare the two censii and see how the various tribes made out. Reuben, Gad, Ephraim, and Naphtali all saw a reduction, mostly in the 2,000-8,000 range.

Some tribes actually grew, albeit modestly: Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, Dan, and Asher.

But the really surprising ones are Simeon and Joseph. Simeon, apparently, really ticked God off, because at 37,100, they took the heaviest losses. As for Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim appear to have traded places, with Manasseh going from 32,200 to 52,700, and Ephraim going from 40,500 to 32,500. A rather impressive feat from Manasseh!


The Levites, not being eligible for receiving land, are counted separately. They are divided into three groups, after Levi’s sons:

  • Gershon, sire of the Gershonites
  • Kohath, sire of the Kohathites
  • Merari, sire of the Merarites

We’re also given a list of “the families of the Levites” (v.58), though there’s not indication of how they are connected to the original three branches:

  • Libnites
  • Hebronites
  • Mahlites
  • Mushites
  • Korathites

We’re also told that Kohath had one son, Amram, who married his aunt, Jochebed. They are the parents of Aaron, Moses, and Miriam.

Aaron’s sons are Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. The first two, of course, were killed in Leviticus 10.

While the rest of the tribes are counted by how useful they’d be as soldiers, Levites are counted for that whole weird redemption business we heard about in Numbers 3. Because of this, all Levite males a month old or over are counted. Yet still, the total only comes to 23,000.

Genesis 34: On the use of circumcision as an instrument of war


This is the story of what happens to Jacob and family during their stay in Shechem, which is both a city in the land of Canaan and the name of a prince of that area.

Strange Love

Dinah avenged by Gérard Jollain 1670

Dinah avenged by Gérard Jollain 1670

Dinah, the daughter of Leah and Jacob’s only female child, goes out to visit with some Canaanite women. While she’s out, Shechem sees her and “he seized her, and lay with her and humbled her” (Gen. 34:2). But, we’re told, he totally loves her and “spoke tenderly to her” (Gen. 34:3), which is just ridiculously creepy.

But not unheard of. Matthews writes that “a schoolboy’s exercise tablet, written inexpertly in Sumerian and dating to the period of the eighteenth century B.C., provides a parallel to this case. According to this set of legal statements, an unbetrothed virgin could be obtained as a wife through forcible sexual relations” (Manners & Customs, p.31).

So he and his father, Hamor the Hivite, go to Jacob and beg to be able to keep Dinah as a wife. Now, I didn’t realize this when I first read the chapter, but she’s still a prisoner. In other words, Shechem is trying to do this legitly, while at the same time keeping her chained up in the basement, so to speak. Sooo creepy…

Now, I will say this for Genesis 34, it does come down on the right side of a moral question for once. We’re told, plainly, that “lying with Jacob’s daughter” is a thing that “ought not to be done” (Gen. 34:7). Now, if we want to get picky, we might say that lying with anyone’s daughter against her will ought not to be done, and kidnapping isn’t so great either, but I’ll take what I can get.

Not content with just one daughter, Hamor & Sons want a full exchange of daughters, a sort of “I’ll marry yours if you’ll marry mine” kind of deal. This, according to my study bible, would make them “a kindred-group in which the Shechemites would have the leadership.”

To sweeten the deal, Hamor & Sons offer to give Jacob anything he asks for as a “marriage present” (which the King James perhaps more accurately calls a “dowry”) (Gen. 34:12).


Jacob’s sons answer “deceitfully” (Gen. 34:13) that they agree to the marriage and, for a bride price, that all the Shechemites must circumcise themselves – because they cannot “give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us” (Gen. 34:14). Shechem is overjoyed because he gets to marry Dinah (a woman he loves enough to rape…), and he circumcises himself right away.

All goes according to plan when Shechem and his father go back to the city and convince all the other men to get themselves circumcised. It’s a small price to pay, they say, to form a kindred-group which will allow the Shechemites to own “their cattle, their property and all their beasts” (Gen. 34:23).

Now that all the Shechemite men’s crotches are sore, Levi and Simeon (Jacob’s sons by Leah) pull a surprise attack on the helpless men and slaughter all the males. I’m assuming that either Levi and Simeon had some help or the Shechemite were really penis-sore, because it’s hard to imagine two men being able to kill a whole city fully of men, “unawares” (Gen. 34:25) as they may be. Heck, even with a sore penis, you’d think that after the first couple are killed, the rest would tough it out long enough to fight back…


With all the Shechemites dead, Levi and Simeon rescue Dinah and, just to make the whole adventure worthwhile, plunder the city. They do this “because their sister had been defiled” (Gen. 34:27), and not because, say, they want the stuff.

In any case, they make off with the flocks, the herds, the asses, and “whatever was in the city and in the field” (Gen. 34:28).

In addition to Levi’s daisies, they also took all the Shechemite women and children, who I am sure were most happy that their fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons had all just been slaughtered and that they were now going to be forced to live with the killers.

Jacob is angry with his sons. In typical Biblical fashion, he isn’t angry because slaughtering an entire city of men after causing them to mutilate their own penises is a bad thing to do, but because now the Canaanites (and the Perizzites, whoever they are) might not be too happy with them.

A different reading?

Before moving on, I just want to bring up a possibility brought to my attention by the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible. We never actually hear from Dinah. All we’re told is that she left home, there was some kind of sexual act between her and Shechem, and that Shechem loved her so much that he was willing to cut off a piece of his penis, without hesitation, so that he could marry her.

Is it possible that he and Dinah were actually in love? Is it possible that they eloped, but that Shechem decided to do the “honourable thing” and petition her family?

There doesn’t seem to be anything in the story that contradicts this reading. And since the authors didn’t feel that giving Dinah’s perspective was a worthy use of time, we may never know. But re-reading the story as a sort of Romeo & Juliet tale of star-crossed lovers makes Levi and Simeon’s actions so very sad. Especially since now, Dinah can never get her life back together. She can never marry, and has been condemned to be a dependant in her father’s household for the rest of her life.