02 May, 2007


Friday, being now left to his liberty, pursued the flying wretches, with no weapon in his hand but his hatchet: and with that he despatched those three who as I said before, were wounded at first, and fallen, and all the rest he could come up with: and the Spaniard coming to me for a gun, I gave him one of the fowling-pieces, with which he pursued two of the savages, and wounded them both; but as he was not able to run, they both got from him into the wood, where Friday pursued them, and killed one of them, but the other was too nimble for him; and though he was wounded, yet had plunged himself into the sea, and swam with all his might off to those two who were left in the canoe; which three in the canoe, with one wounded, that we knew not whether he died or no, were all that escaped our hands of one-and-twenty. The account of the whole is as follows:

3 killed at our first shot from the tree;
2 killed at the next shot;
2 killed by Friday in the boat;
2 killed by Friday of those at first wounded;
1 killed by Friday in the wood;
3 killed by the Spaniard;
4 killed, being found dropped here and there, of the wounds, or killed by Friday in his chase of them;
4 escaped in the boat, whereof one wounded, if not dead—

21 in all.

Robinson Crusoe (1719), ch. 16.


Let us stop a moment to observe, how many Jews were exterminated by their own brothers, or by the order of God himself, from the time that they wandered in the desert, till the time that they had a king elected by drawing lots.

The Levites, after the adoration of the golden calf, cast in a mould by Moses' brother, massacred 23,000 Jews.

Destroyed by fire, at Korah's revolt: 250

Put to death for the same revolt: 14,700

Put to death for having correspondence with Midianite girls: 24,000

Slain at the ford of the Jordan, for not being able to pronounce the word Shibboleth: 42,000

Killed by the tribe of Benjamin, who were attacked: 40,000

Of the tribe of Benjamin, killed by the other tribes: 45,000

When the ark was taken by the Philistines, and God to punish them, having afflicted them with the hemorrhoids, they brought back the ark to Bethsames, they offered the Lord five golden anuses*, and five golden rats. The number of Bethsamites that were struck dead for looking at the ark was: 50,070

Total number: 239,020

Here are two hundred thirty-nine thousand and twenty Jews exterminated by the order of God himself, or by their civil wars, without reckoning those who perished in the Desert, or who died in the battles against the Canaanites, etc. If we were to judge of the Jews as of other nations, we could not conceive how the children of Jacob could have produced a race sufficiently numerous to sustain such a loss.

— Voltaire, Philosophy of History (1765, tr. 1766), ch. 41.

* Voltaire, a Catholic, was evidently using either the Vulgate or a French translation thereof, for that text (Regum I, 6:5) has 'quinque anos aureos'. (His source is also indicated by the Latinised form 'Bethsames'.) The KJV (1 Samuel 6:5) has 'five golden emerods', ie. haemorrhoids. It is difficult to imagine golden images of piles, which are rather shapeless objects—but this is the Bible, after all.


SFH said...

Unless I'm mistaken, I have a feeling that three of those numbers there should actually be conflated into one. The Benjaminites who were attacked ("40,000") by the other tribes ("45,000") at the fords of Jordan ("42,000") should all be one number. Not sure what Voltaire is doing there, other than exaggerating.

Of course, somebody is probably now going to find the relevant passages and put me to shame. Serves me right for not checking before I comment.

Conrad H. Roth said...

1. Those slain for not being able to pronounce 'Shibboleth' were Ephraimites, not Benjaminites; this passage is Judges 12:6, "Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan, and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand." There's your 42,000.

2. The war of Benjamin against Israel (the Battle at Gibeah) is a bit more complicated. Judges 20:21 gives 22,000 Israelites slain by Benjamin, and 20:25 gives another 18,000. That's 40,000 in total.

3. I'm not sure exactly how Voltaire gets his third number (45,000). The numbers are a bit confusing in Judges 20:35-47. 20:35 gives 25,100 Benjaminites slain by Israel, 20:44 gives 18,000, and 20:46 gives 25,000, with some other verses giving smaller amounts here and there. Maybe Voltaire added 25,000 and 18,000 (= 43,000), and then added the 2,000 mentioned in 20:45?

SFH said...

Well done. Did I not say that I should have checked before I commented? Pride blogs before a fall, you see.

Monica said...

Now, I'm no Voltaire scholar, so forgive me if my comment smells of ignorance, but isn't there a subtext here? Is Voltaire not commenting on the unfeasibility of these numbers? I read this (perhaps dangerously outside of its intended context) as a statement against literalist interpretations of Scripture.

Conrad H. Roth said...

No need for the disclaimer; you are quite right. Voltaire, like his Deist predecessors (eg. Toland) loves pointing out the absurdity of literalist Scripture readings; this passage is particularly interesting to me for its use of numbers. (and I find the juxtaposition to Defoe suggestive; one might also bring in Adorno: "number became the canon of the Enlightenment. The same equations dominate bourgeois justice and commodity exchange.")

As an accountancy of death, Voltaire shows the Bible to be completely implausible. Adam Clarke's Bible commentary of the same century also notes the unrealistic accounting, especially of the last number given here (50,070): he attributes it to scribal error.

That's probably more than you wanted to know--or more likely, far less than you actually do know--but if not, you may find it interesting.

Incidentally, if you don't know Simon (above), you should check out his blog, which would be right up your alley.

Monica said...

Thanks for the tip about Simon's blog -- will check it out. And, glad to know I was not too far off with my Voltaire reading!