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Critique of Intelligent Design

Evolution vs. Creationism

The Art of ID Stuntmen

Faith vs Reason

Anthropic Principle

Autopsy of the Bible code

Science and Religion

Historical Notes


Serious Notions with a Smile


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Mark Perakh's Web Site


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Title Author Date
Biblical Israelite population sizes in Egypt and Israel Goldstein, David Oct 25, 2006

Calculating the size of the population in Egypt in ancient times is much more difficult. First of all, the topography and the mode of settlement in Egypt – settlement in the alluvial Nile valley, where practically every location (outside the Delta) is suitable for agriculture and there is no tendency for towns and villages to stick to a given spot (so there are very few tells) – makes it difficult to estimate the area of an ancient settlement even if it is known to have existed at a given location. Further, intensive tilling of the Nile valley in all periods has resulted in the fact that pottery finds on the ground level are rare – so that archaeological surveys are of limited value in discovering ancient settlements (although important settlements can often be identified by finding ancient monuments, or pieces thereof). Even the maximum carrying capacity of Egypt had changed in ancient times, since agriculture in Egypt is dependent for irrigation on the Nile, and the amount of land available for cultivation depends on the distance to which one is able to carry water from the Nile (by digging irrigation ditches, where the most problematic aspect is raising water from the Nile to the higher altitude of its banks). Hence, technical innovations in irrigation in ancient times – e.g., the employment of Archimedes’ screw – had greatly increased the amount of land available for cultivation.
Fortunately, due to Egypt’s arid climate, its soil has preserved many documents from ancient times written on papyrus, from which it is possible to gather information on irrigation techniques employed in different periods. For example, it is known that the shaduf – a rather primitive tool for drawing river water to a higher altitude – appeared in Egypt only c. 1500 BCE, and Archimedes’ screw – a more advanced device serving the same purpose – was introduced in the 2nd century BCE. Textual sources also can shed light on the relation between amount of land allotted for crop-raising and for other purposes, such as herding (which was especially important in the Nile Delta). And of course, textual sources can give an indication of the number of settlements in a certain area at a certain period, which can be important for understanding the dynamics of demographical development through history.

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Title Author Date
Biblical Israelite population sizes in Egypt and Israel Goldstein, David Oct 25, 2006

Based on considerations of this kind, the population of the whole Nile Delta in the second half of the second millennium BCE has been estimated at c. 1.2 million persons, living from c. 13,000 square km of cultivable land (see K. W. Butzer, Early Hydraulic Civilization of Egypt: A Study in Cultural Ecology [Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1976]: 83, 93-96). Now, the Pentateuch indicates that the Israelites resided in Egypt not in the whole Delta but in the vicinity of the royal city of Ra‘amses (Pi-Ramesse) – i.e., the easternmost part of the Delta. Thus, even though the figure of c. 1.2 million inhabitants in the Delta is approximate, it would be very difficult to imagine an Israelite population of over 2 million persons residing at that time in the easternmost part of the Delta alone.


David Goldstein

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