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Ezra 1:9-11 (ESV):

And this was the number of them: 30 basins of gold, 1,000 basins of silver, 29 censers, 30 bowls of gold, 410 bowls of silver, and 1,000 other vessels; all the vessels of gold and of silver were 5,400. All these did Sheshbazzar bring up, when the exiles were brought up from Babylonia to Jerusalem.

So we have:

  • 30 basins of gold
  • 1,000 basins of silver
  • 29 censers
  • 30 bowls of gold
  • 410 bowls of silver
  • 1,000 other vessels

All these figures add up to 2,499. But then we read "all the vessels of gold and of silver were 5,400".

Where does the 5,400 figure come from? Is this a genuine mathematical contradiction?

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I do not believe we need to be distracted by such mathematical matters in the Bible. The OP's question is based on the assumption that the list of articles is exhaustive. It probably does not include things such as forks, scrapers, shovels and smaller items.

For example see 1 Chron 28:17, 2 Chron 4:16, Num 4:14, etc.

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The Greek text has thousand (xiλioi) in 1:9, and thousands (xiλiα) in 1:10; the Hebrew, on the other hand, found at the same link, has thousand (aleph) in both places; thousands would literally be alephim (as in Daniel 8:14). The surviving Dead Sea scrolls do not have this particular passage.

My impression, therefore, would be that, unless otherwise specified or qualified with the help of other numerals, standalone words such as hundred or thousand possess only a generic meaning.

The alternate text of 1 Esdras 2:9-11, adds an extra thousand golden cups, and reads 2,410 vials of silver, explicitly mentioning a total of 5,469 vessels.

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