More Numbers with Curious Echoes
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Categories: Ancient

More Numbers with Curious Echoes

Its a strange fact that the kind of hyperbolic numbers which Greek writers use for barbarian armies sometimes occur in the Old Testament, but rarely in other texts in Semitic languages. But if you look at numbers as part of a broad west Eurasian world, you sometimes still notice echoes.

There is an inscription written over these men, who were buried where they fell, and over those who died before the others went away, dismissed by Leonidas. It reads as follows: “Here four thousand from the Peloponnese once fought three hundred ten-thousands (3,000,000).”

– Simonides in Herodotus 7.228.1

Let a multitude be provisioned,and let it go out.
Let the mightiest army be provisioned.
Yea, let a multitude go out.
Let your strong army be numerous,
three hundred ten-thousands, conscripts without number,
soldiers beyond counting.

– Ugaritic epic of King Keret, KRT 2.85–91 translated in David M. Foults, “A Defense of the Hyperbolic Interpretation of Large Numbers in the Old Testament.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 40/3 (September 1997) pp. 377-387 (download)

Edit 2019-09-09: If you want another translation, you can find one in André Caquot, Maurice Sznycerm and André Herdner, Textes Ougaritiques Tome I: Mythes et Legendes. Literatures Anciennes du Proche-Orient. Les Éditions du Cerf: Paris, 1974 pages 516, 517

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