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Reading the Old Testament, there a many instances where tens of thousands of people are killed at a time in battles, worshiping other Gods, etc. How many people in total were killed in the Old Testament?

The bible often has very round numbers for the number of people that died; 100,000 or 300,000 for example. What is achieved by not having more realistic numbers?

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closed as unclear what you're asking by Dan Jun 20 '14 at 15:40

Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Hi Paul and welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics! I think this question needs some work before it can be an interesting and useful question for our site. For one thing, it seems like you aren't so much interested in understanding the Bible as condemning it. (Obviously, I don't know why you ask, but that's the impressing this short question leaves me with.) Also, it might help if you shared what your research so far has turned up. Thanks! – Jon Ericson Jul 2 '12 at 17:22
The answer is: 42. – Jas 3.1 Jul 2 '12 at 20:46
This is a question that we need to answer, together with the meta-questions that it raises. I think that there are a number of good answers. – Eli Rosencruft Jul 3 '12 at 3:39
Paul, starting from a curiosity about the Bible is a good place to start! I think the problem is the question is very terse and not well defined. Since you probably don't mean everyone but Elijah and Enoch, do you mean: a) killed by God, b) killed by order of God, c) killed by Israel, d) killed in battle, etc.? Second, I suspect the thing that troubles you isn't accurate statistics, but something like what @Eli Rosencruft hinted at in his answer. I encourage you to edit the question to clarify some of these issues. – Jon Ericson Jul 3 '12 at 16:08
Are you including the people who were killed by God? Are you including those killed by the effects of sin (Adam's, etc.)? Are you including those killed by angels? Demons? Are you only looking for those killed by the people of God, or do you want us to include the people of God who were killed by heathens? What about suicides? Infighting? These are all important questions to answer before a number can be given. – Jas 3.1 Jul 13 '12 at 19:29

Here are some possible methods of arriving at a body count:

  1. Everyone mentioned except Enoch and Elijah, as per Bob Jones's note
  2. Only those mentioned of meeting an untimely end
  3. Those mentioned as meeting an untimely end, plus reasonable assumptions about casualties on all sides in battles, famines or other events mentioned

Since the OT is not history in the modern sense, the count would only be a rough estimate and the margin of error would be inestimable. From a scholarly viewpoint, the number would not be useful, as there is no other number with which to compare it. It's not like asking "how many people were killed in WWII", an historical event for which we have some reliable records.

We would then have to ask what the purpose of arriving at this number is. Here are some possibilities:

  1. Proof that the OT outlook on life is essentially violent and retributive
  2. Proof that despite the violent surroundings, the OT produced prophecy of high moral vision
  3. Proof that the OT is inferior (or superior) to some other body of scripture or literature
  4. Elucidate the similarities or differences with other collections of literature, such as Greek or Hindu epic literature, and arrive at some conclusion
  5. Support speculation regarding the spiritual or moral meaning of the number or the fate of the people involved

Only the fourth purpose could be called hermeneutic.

In any event, the wars and plagues mentioned on the OT were in no way unusual for the ancient world. There is a good summary of ancient warfare on Wikipedia. It looks like the major players in our area of interest were the Egyptians, Assyrians and later the Persian and Greeks. The People of the Book were minor actors on this stage, along with the Edomites, Amelikites and Philistines.

It was indeed a nasty period of human history, but was to get much worse with technological improvements and population growth after the end of the OT. The Roman conquests, Islamic conquests, crusades, and well, you know the Vikings weren't known for their merciful acts.

Yet out of this global mayhem there arose a culture of prophecy that held that men should hammer swords into plows, spears into pruning hooks, stop conspiring to war, look out for widows, orphans and the displaced, forgive bad debts, and see themselves as stewards of the land rather than its owners. The record of that culture is found on the OT.

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About People of the Book... ;-) – Jon Ericson Jul 2 '12 at 22:14
The question behind the question – swasheck Jul 3 '12 at 4:17

There were certainly many people killed in the Old Testament:

  • Cain slew Abel

  • The people of God killed heathens

  • Heathens killed the people of God

  • At one point David (God's anointed) killed the people of Israel (when they rebelled against God)

  • Heathens killed one another

  • God killed people, and used His angels to kill people

  • The devil's mission is to "steal and kill and destroy", and he has been successful in doing this, even from the beginning. This killing spree has reached everyone.

So the answer to your question (as it stands) is: everyone (except, of course, Enoch and Elijah.) To get any more specific than that would require a narrower scope in the question.

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I'll try to add more references when I get time. (If anyone else wants to add some, feel free.) – Jas 3.1 Jul 2 '12 at 17:30
I'm not sure why this was down-voted... the answer is correct given the wording of the question. If the question were re-worded to something of the form, "how many ____ people were killed by ____", perhaps a number could be given. – Jas 3.1 Jul 2 '12 at 20:45
The list categorizes some of the obvious types of mortality that every reader already knows, but does not add any perspective. It answers neither the numerical question of the OP nor the meta question of why there were so many killed. – Eli Rosencruft Jul 3 '12 at 3:14
Everyone who was alive in the OT, except Enoch and Elijah, died. They were all killed by Adam's transgression. – Bob Jones Jul 3 '12 at 5:11

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