All Those People Can’t Be Wrong

Question from J:

I have a question I can’t seem to be able to answer:

The old testament says (I’m paraphrasing) 300000 people were present when the book/tablets was given to them. It goes on about other events that happened to that group of people.

My question is: how would you convince an entire population of something (that didn’t happen to said population)?

e.g If I was one of those 300000, and these events didn’t happen to me, why would I believe that they did; just because Moses said so?

P.S I hope I managed to get my question across and that you can understand what I’m trying to ask.

Answer by SmartLX:
It was closer to three million people with Moses in total, according to Exodus, but who’s counting? The real problem is that you’re making (or allowing an apologist to make) the enormous assumption that there really were hundreds of thousands of people in the desert with Moses.

The story as a whole hasn’t got a leg to stand on; there is no evidence that the Sinai peninsula ever hosted anything like that many nomads, manna or no manna. They could probably have spanned the peninsula lengthwise if they’d all walked ten abreast in a straight line.

Moses himself hardly serves as an anchor for the historicity of the story. I argue with people about Jesus a lot, but at least there’s a certain amount of material to argue about; Moses doesn’t even have that level of support. The idea that Exodus was written by Moses himself or any of his contemporaries has long been abandoned by most scholars, which means it’s anything but a first-hand account, and that leaves a lot of room for exaggeration. That exaggeration can include not only the events themselves but the number of people who witnessed them.

There’s a line in 1 Corinthians that says 500 “brethren” saw the risen Jesus at once, and a similar point can be made regarding both that and this: an account of witnesses is not the same as accounts by those witnesses. Making the number larger, even arbitrarily, is an easy way to make the story sound authoritative, which means everyone who relayed the story to its eventual chronicler was sorely tempted to do just that. We’re lucky because in the case of the Exodus, the number was made so large it outgrew the land that supposedly contained it.

P.S. Considering my title out of context, any number of people can be wrong. There are two billion Christians and 1.5 billion Muslims and both groups can’t be right, so at least 1,500,000,000 people are agreed on something which is dead wrong.

One thought on “All Those People Can’t Be Wrong”

  1. If the old testament is a work of fiction (as most religious books certainly are) then the number can be fictitious too (and probably is).
    Plus, as SmartLX’s pointed out – numbers do not mean that you are right. A lot of people believe a lot of things about a lot of things and many don’t bother about factual verification. And some even write best-selling books about what they believe.

    Also, its pretty easy to fool a big enough or smart enough population too, especially if you speak from a position of authority – that’s how propaganda has always worked.

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