Solving The Ezra Nehemiah Controversy

Q. I was browsing through the Bible and I came across 2 chapters. Ezra and Nehemiah. Since I am an engineer and scientficly oriented, I was looking at some explanation about number of Israelites.

I read from Ezra 2:64 that there were a total of 42360 in number. So I counted all the numbers given starting in Ezra 2:3. Surprisingly, I found it’s only 29818.

I could not believe that there is a mathematical contradiction. I opened up Nehemiah Chap. 7. And the same thing is mentioned in 7:66 that there were 42360 in number. I hoped that this chapter will have no issues. So I counted the number starting from Nehemiah 7:8 onwards. I was surprised to see that it adds up to only 31089. Another contradiction.

So how can this book, which has obvious simple math contradictions, be followed. This book is of course NOT inspired by GOD (unless you believe that God can do mistakes!!!!).

A. Both Ezra and Nehemiah agree that the total was 42,360. Yet, as you say, totaling up their two lists gives you 29,818 for Ezra, and 31,089 for Nehemiah. Further investigation shows that Nehemiah lists 1765 persons who are not in Ezra, and Ezra has 494 not mentioned in Nehemiah.

At first glance, this would seem to make reconciling the two lists impossible, but it turns out to be just the opposite. By adding Ezra’s 494 to Nehemiah’s total, and Nehemiah’s 1765 to Ezra’s, you find that they will both add up to 31,583, with every name being on both lists.

Subtracting this from 42,360 leaves a difference of 10,777. Scholars believe this additional number was not broken down by name or town because they did not belong to either Judah, Benjamin, or the priests, like all the others, but to various other tribes of Israel not normally associated with the former Southern Kingdom. Both Ezra 2:1 and Nehemiah 1:3 hint that the list’s purpose was to name those of the Southern Kingdom who returned from Babylon.

If you’ll permit me, this illustrates a larger issue. Skeptics look at apparent discrepancies like this and immediately conclude that the Bible is not the inspired Word of God but a flawed work of man.

But those who believe in the inspiration of Scripture assume that the discrepancy is caused by a lack of understanding on their part and dig deeper for the solution. Their reward is another confirmation of the inspiration of God’s Word.

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