Ezra 2:1ff—Why are many of the numbers in Ezra’s list of those who returned to Jerusalem different from those in Nehemiah 7?

Problem: In the record of those who returned to Jerusalem under the leadership of Zerubbabel as recorded in Ezra, there are 32 family units identified and numbered. In 18 of these instances, the numbers in Ezra are exactly the same as those found in Nehemiah 7. However, in 14 instances, the numbers differ. The difference ranges from as little as one to as much as 1,100. Why are these numbers different?

Solution: First, it is possible that each of these is a copyist error. One of the most problematic areas of transcription for the Jewish scribe was copying numbers. It is certainly conceivable that out of these rather large lists of names and numbers there would be a number of copyist errors (see Appendix 2).

Second, it is also possible that Ezra and Nehemiah compiled their lists at different times. Ezra may have compiled a list of those who left Babylon with Zerubbabel, while Nehemiah compiled his list of those who actually made it to Jerusalem. In some cases, people who left Babylon with the intention of going back to rebuild Jerusalem may have turned back or died along the way. In other cases, a family may have enlisted recruits to bolster their numbers. Perhaps family members in other lands got word of the migration and rendezvoused with their relatives along the way from Babylon to Jerusalem.

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.