There were 70 Jews that entered Egypt. 430 years later, there were 3 million of them (600 thousand males of warrior age). A few thousand years since then, there are 13 million, only a fourfold increase.

The killing of the first-born son is awful. However, it didn't work anyways because the midwives didn't do it and there is no way the number of Israel children would jump 40,000 times to 3 million if it really worked.

Also infanticide in ancient times is probably equivalent with contemporary abortion. Evolutionary psychology predict that the amount of sadness is proportional to the amount of parental investment, which is small in either case.

Also lots of Jews wanted to go back to Egypt. This is just 2 weeks after seeing a sea split in front of their eyes.

So how messed up were the Egyptians anyway against the Jews? Any extra-biblical sources, etc?

Note: Killing sons are bad. However, the Chinese also have a one child policy that's pretty draconian for about the same reason. Looks like Chinese pharaoh thinks that the Chinese have become too numerous and is ordering the killing of all non-first children, usually daughters, even before that child is actually born.

In western civilization, prohibition of polygamy exists to prevent rich males from mating with too many women. That's effectively killing the spirit of all rich males' children even before they are conceived (I am using the term spirit in the non-spiritual sense of course).

In the Muslim world, Muslim women cannot marry non-Muslims, even though the non-Muslims may actually bid higher or richer. That also effectively exterminates the inter-religious child. Of course, 60 years ago we had Germans and Turks who slaughtered their richest minorities.

Then we have Europe and China where smart monks don't get married and stuff. It looks to me that Egypt is not the only country that try to exterminate those who are too successful and grow too numerous.

The book of Exodus says that 600k is the number of children of Israel that can carry swords. I'll look that up again. The estimate is actually 3 million if we take into account the women and children.


In the first place, when Israel left Egypt they had 603,550 armed men for war if all of those men were living at the time (Numbers 1:46). This number included all able bodied men from the age of twenty (Numbers 1:45) to the age of retirement at year fifty (Numbers 4:3;John 8:57) or sometimes sixty (Leviticus 27:7). But if all the women, children and older people over fifty (or sixty) are included, the number of Israelites who left Egypt must have numbered about two and a half million. This is a vast amount of people going into a desolate desert area east of Egypt. Let us assume for a moment that all the men of the census were indeed living at the time and were not a part of the pedigree records that were mentioned by Moses which also included (the dead and the living). Let us look at the difficulties if we reckon all the men as then living.

It's also interesting that Pharaoh ordered the killing of sons rather than daughters.

Any chicken farmers can tell that they can kill 90% of all male chicks without significantly damaging the population.

I got the impression that Jews in Egypt must be so prosperous and without anti polygamy laws, must have acquired tons of concubines, hence explaining their huge population explosion.

Money, rather than women, is the bottle neck of reproductive success in ancient time and that would explain why Pharaoh aimed at sons. But I may be wrong.

Would you kill your own child even if your government say so? Remember, it's only a crime if we get caught. Quite often the law, rather than the criminal is at fault anyway.

  • The Baal Haturim, says that there were infact 603,550 people total. And that this gematria means "bnei yisra'el kol rosh, "the children of Israel, every individual". This is also supported by many other statements in the Talmud which mention 600,000 being the number for the entirety of the Jewish people. As well as being used for some interpretations of halachot.
    – avi
    Commented Dec 17, 2011 at 15:59
  • Why do you think infanctide in ancient times is equivilant with contemparay abortion? Abortion outside of a hospital is said to be very dangerous and often leads to the death of the mother.
    – avi
    Commented Dec 17, 2011 at 16:05
  • What do you mean that lots of Jews went back to egypt just 2 weeks after seeing the see split?
    – avi
    Commented Dec 17, 2011 at 16:07
  • 3
    @Jim Thio, Firstly, I don't understand what the majority of your post has to do with your question. Secondly, the math works out fine when you consider people marrying at, say, 16, and having 5 or more kids who then multiply exponentially. You are also not considering multiple times throughout history when as many as 1/3 of the Jewish population was murdered (or did you not know that 75 years ago there were 18 million Jews), we lost track of the Israelite tribes, plus much assimilation.
    – YDK
    Commented Dec 18, 2011 at 23:37
  • @YDK, well, I have a bunch of interest. One is to know God. That's where I am mainly here. Second, I am interested in evolutionary psychology that explains how humans evolve. You can check freemarketforever.com . This question is somewhat on the latter. Jews have interesting reproductive history don't you think?
    – user4951
    Commented Dec 24, 2011 at 9:39

1 Answer 1


Many of the assumptions in your question are questionable, however the Midrashim are full of stories regarding the harshness of Egypt.

One Midrash states that things were so bad, the men and women refused to have children with eachother. (This is one reason why Moshe's birth is itself a miracle)

Slavery it'self was pretty horrid. The Midrashim state that the cities which the Jews built, would then fall into the swamps only to be required to be rebuild them. So not only was the labor harsh, it was also pointless.

The means to which the Jews were put into slavery, is through trickery, where the Midrashim state that the Jewish people thought they were going to be "helpful citizens of the empire" and paid good wages, only to have the labor slowly become horrendous.

Another Midrash states that Pharoah made the people of Israel use their children as mortar for the bricks when they ran out of mud.

Also, you seem to forget that after the midwives are found not to kill babies, it is required that all babies get drown into the Nile.

  • 1
    So not only was the labor harsh, it was also pointless. - reminds me of most typical government project.
    – user4951
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 3:39
  • Was this for sure universally the case? Were some Jews better off than others? Were Menashe and Ephraim better off in Egyptian society? Perhaps no one was as well-off as Moses but do we know there were no analogous situations?
    – הראל
    Commented Sep 26, 2016 at 0:37

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .