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.