Friday, May 18, 2018

Tens and Ones

In Biblical Hebrew, numbers containing both tens and ones are usually written with the ones first, followed by the tens. To cite one of many examples in Bemidbar, the census figure for Reuven is 46,500, written in pasuk 1:21 as "ששה וארבעים אלף וחמש מאות", literally "six and forty thousand and five hundred", in contrast to the usual English way of speaking, which would be "forty-six thousand".

The first question is, why is this the case.

Furthermore, I noticed something this week that I don't recall ever noticing before: In one instance in the parasha, this style is violated. Pasuk 2:9 gives the total of the Eastern Camp, including the tribes of Yehuda, Yissachar, and Zevulun. The number is 186,400, written as follows:

כָּל-הַפְּקֻדִים לְמַחֲנֵה יְהוּדָה, מְאַת אֶלֶף וּשְׁמֹנִים אֶלֶף
וְאַרְבַּע-מֵאוֹת--לְצִבְאֹתָם; רִאשֹׁנָה, יִסָּעוּ.

"... a hundred thousand and eighty thousand and six thousand and four hundred ..."

This is a clear departure from the usual style, which would have been "ששה ושמנים אלף", "six and eighty thousand". I am not aware of any other such departure from the usual style. Any ideas why this is?


  1. Try asking on mi.yodeya! We've had some discussion (see comments on question) of this issue before.

  2. I dont want to get involved in a long discussion here. All I will say is that Cassutto deals with this in one of his lectures on the Documentary Hypothesis.

  3. What about שרה's age?
    ״ויהיו חיי שרה *מאה שנה ועשרים שנה ושבע שנים* שני חיי שרה״--בראשית כג:א
    For that matter, the Torah seems to use both types interchangeably, especially in respect to recording years.