exodus from egypt

Who Were The Mixed Multitude of the Exodus?

Long-time reader ProclaimLiberty (PL) commented yesterday some of his thoughts on the ultimate fate of the so-called “mixed multitude” who left in the Exodus from Egypt with the Children of Israel as lead by Moses (and ultimately Hashem).

He’s made such statements before, but I’ve written so many blog posts (well over 1,500) and people have made so many comments (16,658 as of this writing), that it’s hard to keep track. So I thought I’d take PL’s statements and use them as my next “meditation” so I can keep track of what he said.

I’m also doing this for the edification of my readers and anyone who happens to “surf in”.

We are typically taught that the mixed multitude were a group of non-Israelites who left Egypt with the Children of Israel to escape slavery and/or because they witnessed the awesome plagues of Hashem and wanted to follow the God of the Hebrews.

However, according to PL, and I think he’s on the right track, it’s a little more complicated than that.

The following text in italics is what PL wrote. I did some very minor editing, but otherwise the words below are his.

Any of the Mixed Multitude who actually had survived the forty-year desert trek while remaining with the tribes of Israel would have to have assimilated over the course of generations via intermarriage into one tribe or another. However, a significant number of them were responsible for the murmuring to go back to Egypt and against the authority of Moshe and Aharon. Recall how many folks died when the earth opened up and when various plagues decimated the ranks of those at fault. That would certainly have reduced the numbers among that “mixed multitude”.

Further, that phrase in Hebrew is rather like the English phrase “motley crew”, so that it did not refer solely or even primarily to a non-Jewish rabble. It would have included a lot of Jewish rabble as well, who were perhaps not sure about their specific ancestral tribal affiliation due to conditions of Egyptian slavery that would have separated children from their families of origin.

Finally, non-Jews who used the Jewish departure from Egypt as an excuse to get out along with them did not necessarily remain among the Jews as they headed out into the desert. One would have to expect that they might have attached themselves to the next passing caravan as long as it was not headed toward Egypt, and thus set off for parts unknown to make a new life for themselves, or even tried to return to some remembered ancestral homeland in Midian, Moab, Syria, Chaldea, Babylon, Sumer, or elsewhere. Of course there is no specific hint in the Exodus account regarding this last possibility; and there is no reason to expect to see one because it would be meaningless to the primary story line of the trek toward Midian where Moshe had been following sheep and encountering a burning bush on Mount Sinai, whence HaShem had commanded him to return with the people.

All in all, upon close examination, there is very little in the notion of that ancient mixed multitude for modern non-Jews to identify with or use as an excuse to justify their desire to affiliate with modern Jews. They’re much better off identifying with the Isaiah 56 foreigner or the ten Zechariah 8:23 Gentiles who are envisioned by example as grasping a single Jew’s tzitzit to request permission to come along because HaShem is with the Jewish people. Note that grasping a Jew’s tzitzit is not any sort of authorization or encouragement for non-Jews to wear them or anything like them; and that there is a subtle distinction between how the Isaiah 56 foreigners honor the Shabbat by not profaning it and how Jews were commanded actually to sanctify it.

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10 thoughts on “Who Were The Mixed Multitude of the Exodus?”

  1. It would appear the PL enters into quite a bit of historical speculation.

    Fact: the mixed multitude is clearly assimilated by the time they get to Sinai as they are never mentioned again.

    Fact: There are no mentions of mixed multitude dashing off to grab caravans… Fanciful.

    Fact: All hearts are desperately wicked and contrary to Jewish thought, all of Israel was guilty of sin at various times. No mixed multitude necessary to blame it on. Just ask Korah.
    The
    Fact: God refers to those in the wilderness as ‘bnei Yisrael.’ Period.

    It is tradition that wrongly denigrates the mixed multitude as the ever errant ones. Want to see a sinner capable of total rebellion? Look in the mirror. Ethnicity matters not.

  2. I would like to respectfully disagree with PL. The primary reason for disagreeing is that as I read the Bible and moved away from replacement theology to a Israel centric theology, I had to tear down speculations and suppositions. I had to take the Bible at what it said. PL is offering additional speculations and suppositions, some of which I know come from the rabbinic writings (The part where the mixed multitude are the cause of all the troubles or part of the troubles). What we do know is that a mixed multitude went out with Israel when they left Egypt. We have no other biblical facts to draw upon. That they were non-Israelite and attach themselves to Israel is about the only fact we can draw from this. I will also, respectfully disagree, with the, “motley crew”. The resources I have at hand, do not suggest “motley crew”, but suggest a mixed group that attaches itself to Israel. PL may have other resources.

    Please note that I am using voice recognition technology and any errors or misused words are solely because I am a poor proofreader.

  3. I don’t think we can know for absolute certain the exact composition of individuals and groups that made up the “mixed multitude” since the Bible is silent on that matter. Also, since the ultimate fate of each individual in that group is also not recorded, then we have only speculation and some sweeping statements made about the “multitude” as a whole to go on.

    I’ve learned rather painfully, that the Bible cannot always be read like a newspaper or a legal document. That is, it doesn’t contain just factual details and events. There’s a difference between fact and truth, and while the Bible may tell us everything we need, it doesn’t tell us literally everything.

    I’m prepared to entertain some speculation about different events depicted in the Bible, including events involving the mixed multitude. This doesn’t mean that I accept speculation as fact, but I believe it’s important to ask questions, even about those things we have been taught are unequivocally true.

  4. “…and that there is a subtle distinction between how the Isaiah 56 foreigners honor the Shabbat by not profaning it and how Jews were commanded actually to sanctify it.”

    I have some problems with this.

    How can a gentile profane something he is not bound to? Can anyone give me an example of how such a profanation could actually be carried out? Or how can a gentile profane something he cannot sanctify? If you are saying that a gentile has no binding to Shabbat, how then can anyone call him to “honor” it, whatever that even means?

    This logic makes no sense. It’s like saying that gentiles must never keep or do or sanctify shabbat, but should “remain cognizant of it when it arrives.” What’s the point? To a gentile or his life? If G-d does not care what gentiles do on their weekends and never has, then that’s it. It’s done.

    “Guard” and “sanctify” is too small a variance to use as an example of distinctions in my humble opinion, as “guard” is also used in conjunction with Israel. “And the children of Israel shall keep the Shabbat…” And so what ensues is this tenuous, halfy territory of keep… sort of…thereby leaving gentiles once again to make up their observance.

    I’m not refuting this to suggest One Law, but I just think it’s bad reasoning and not much to stake one’s life on.

  5. Let me make a comparison that might put a little light on the matter. When I lived in a dorm for a state university, there were some girls who gave some food to my roommate… girls who my roommate thought were friends of hers. But my roommate was Jewish. She found out, after eating the food, that there was something not kosher in it (I don’t remember what, lard or pork or something). The girls had known this and found it funny to see my roommate’s reaction. It makes me cry right now to remember this. Granted, it’s not about Sabbath.

  6. PL’s insightful view is reasonable and logical and is the view I, too, hold to. As compassionate and heart-connected Gentiles, I very much agree with the view that we hold to the Isaiah 56 / Zechariah 8:23 descriptions. It is clarifying and concise. We are those who have come up alongside and acknowledge HaShem’s work through the Torah through to today. Thanks for posting this… an excellent reminder.

  7. @Drake: You ask a very good question relative to Isaiah 56 and I can only give you an educated guess at the answer. I found a short article at WikiNoah.org called Sabbath in Noahide Law that might serve to point to a proper response:

    There are those who say that every Ger Toshav (a non-Jew living in Eretz Yisrael in the time of the Jewish Temple, who has formally accepted the obligation to observe the Noahide laws in front of a Jewish court) has to uphold and keep the Sabbath (Rashi, Kritot 9, Yevamot 40). There is room to suggest that the Noahides, even nowadays, by accepting to fulfill the seven commandments, are in the same category as a Ger Toshav and should, according to Rashi, be required or at least allowed to keep the Shabbat. So I (Rav Schwartz) would like to suggest that this is the way that the Noahides could celebrate the Seventh Day, a day of refraining from his vocation.

    Rav Schwartz goes on to give some specifics of how the Noahide could observe a Shabbat and yet such observance would not be identical to a Jew’s observation.

    Isaiah 56 points to the Messianic Age, and although the vast majority of non-Jews will be living in their/our nations and not in Eretz Yisrael, we will all be under rule of the Jewish King, and thus part of the extended principality of Israel. I think that’s justification enough for us, in those days, to uphold and keep the Shabbat in the manner described above.

  8. In keeping with Yeshua’s words about taking the far seat at the banquet, if HaShem has not expressly called Man up to observe the Shabbos, why gear up for another round of disappointment?

    Gentiles can just be nice to people and pray. There all gentile religion ends. For Jews there is the enumerated and mystic path of the codified thoughts of G-d that infuse their rays into society, space, and time. For the gentiles there is John Piper. I fancy that Protestantism is the furthest end of the table, tucked behind Hellenism and Queequeg. You can never be sent further back from there unless it’s to some infernal vestibule completely without.

    I mean, can you imagine in the messianic eon the Moshiach himself admonishing Noahides to desist from the Shabbat in all forms? Millions would be absolutely immured in shame. What if he orders gentiles to eat pigs, so that they serve to define Jews more clearly through their commonness? Getting burned makes one skeptical, and then getting skeptical makes one burn. Heh.

  9. Drake, I can’t say how Jews and Gentiles will observe Shabbos in the Messianic Kingdom, and I’m not saying that non-Jews can’t presently observe the Shabbat in some way. Current Jewish halachah merely states that the non-Jew not observe Shabbat in a manner identical to the Jew.

    Toby Janicki recently wrote an article on this topic and seems to say as much (at least as I’m reading it).

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