How many people were involved in the Exodus?

How many people were involved in the Exodus?

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According to Numbers 1:20-46 (NJPS):

They totaled as follows:
The descendants of Reuben, Israel’s first-born, the registration of the clans of their ancestral house, as listed by name, head by head, all males aged twenty years and over, all who were able to bear arms—those enrolled from the tribe of Reuben: 46,500.


Those are the enrollments recorded by Moses and Aaron and by the chieftains of Israel, who were twelve in number, one man to each ancestral house. All the Israelites, aged twenty years and over, enrolled by ancestral houses, all those in Israel who were able to bear arms—all who were enrolled came to 603,550.

That is a remarkably large number for an ancient society and, since it only claims to count the men of fighting age, isn’t a complete count of the entire community of Israel. This has led some scholars to translate the Hebrew word eleph as some smaller number than “a thousand” and others to interpret the entire Exodus story as non-historical.

How should we understand these, apparently, huge numbers of people?

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