The first prerequisite for receiving Torah is unity of the Jewish people. On the first day of Sivan, the Jews arrived at the mountain. The verse (Exodus 19:2) uses an unusual conjugation to describe their encampment. Rather than the plural form, here the entire camp is described in the singular. This emphasizes the need for unity at the giving of the Torah. (Rashi, Exodus 19:2)
-Rabbi Zave Rudman
“Chumash Themes #12: The Ten Commandments”
(Ex. 12:38), a class who accompanied the Israelites as they journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, the first stage of the Exodus. These were probably miscellaneous hangers-on to the Hebrews, whether Egyptians of the lower orders, or the remains of the Hyksos (see EGYPT ØT0001137; MOSES ØT0002602), as some think. The same thing happened on the return of the Jews from Babylon (Neh. 13:3), a “mixed multitude” accompanied them so far.
“Mixed multitude” definition
I don’t know what brought this to mind today, but the “mixed multitude” popped into my head. Probably because comments on several of my blog posts recently have mentioned conversion to Judaism, and that is the commonly held fate in religious Jewish opinion of this group of non-Jews who left Egypt with the Children of Israel (and possibly a similar group returned to Israel with the Hebrews at the end of the Babylonian exile).
But what happened to them? Where did they go?
I’ve been lamenting with Derek Leman lately over the loss of my “innocence” about the Bible. If scholars like Friedman are right, then the entire question may be moot because the Israelites and a group of Gentile “hangers on” may or may not have accompanied them on an exodus that may or may not be partly or completely fiction.
But setting that aside for the moment and assuming the events and people groups being described have some sort of basis in reality, I’ll go ahead and ask the question: what the heck happened to the “mixed multitude?”
The answer depends on your theology. I say that because how we interpret what the Bible is telling us is firmly rooted in what we believe about our religion.
Let’s look at Rabbi Rudman’s statement above. According to Jewish tradition, the group who accepted the Torah at Sinai were basically considered a single person; totally unified. But if that includes Hebrews and Gentiles, then their identities became fused into a single entity with no ability to differentiate. That can’t be literally true, because post-Sinai, individuals were identified as non-Jews.
Now an Israelite woman’s son, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the people of Israel. And the Israelite woman’s son and a man of Israel fought in the camp, and the Israelite woman’s son blasphemed the Name, and cursed.
–Leviticus 24:10-11 (ESV)
So national identity wasn’t obliterated after Sinai and it was recognized that the individual involved had an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father.
So were Hebrews and Gentiles fused in some other way? Midrash aside, is this even remotely likely?
Let’s take a look at some opinions:
In Exod 12:38, we read that when the Israelites left Egypt, a mixed multitude (עֵרֶב רַב) went up with them. Therefore, the question arises: Who were the mixed multitude? Interestingly, the word עֵרֶב is also attested to at the time of Nehemiah. In Neh 13:3 the term עֵרֶב is linked to Nehemiah’s reforms against intermarriages. In other texts, such as Jer 25:20; 50:37 and Ezek 30:5, the term עֵרֶב has the meaning “to take on a pledge” or “to give in pledge exchange.” In those instances, the term עֵרֶב appears in the context of war and those slain by the sword; thus, the term refers to mercenaries. A clue to the identity of the mixed multitude can also be found in Exod 13:18, where the text describes the Israelites at the time of the Exodus as חֲמֻשִׁים, a term which can have military implications. The existence of mercenaries in the ancient world is well known. They were part of David’s army and accepted as part of the Israelite nation. In this paper, we will show that the term עֵרֶב רַב in Exod 12:38 refers to mercenaries who intermarried with the Israelites and left armed with them at the time of the Exodus from Egypt.
“Who Were The ‘Mixed Multitude’?”
Hebrew Studies (taken from the Abstract)
Vol. 49, (2008), pp. 27-39
Published by National Association of Professors in Hebrew (NAPH)
Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27913875
That defines the “mixed multitude” as an extremely specific group of people, in this case, mercenaries. But that might not be to everyone’s taste.
In typical fulfilment of the promise in Genesis 12:3, and no doubt induced by the signs and wonders of the Lord in Egypt to seek their good among the Israelites, a great crowd of mixed people (רב ערב) attached themselves to them, whom Israel could not shake off, although they afterwards became a snare to them (Numbers 11:4). ערב: lit., a mixture, ἐπίμικτος sc., λαός (lxx), a swarm of foreigners; called אספסף in Numbers 11:4, a medley, or crowd of people of different nations. According to Deuteronomy 29:10, they seem to have occupied a very low position among the Israelites, and to have furnished the nation of God with hewers of wood and drawers of water. – On Exodus 12:29, see Exodus 12:34.
–Keil and Delitzsch Bible Commentary
referencing Exodus 12:38
That expands the identity of the “mixed multitude” from a single profession but still leaves us with a low view of this group of Gentiles who, according to this interpretation, would be nothing but trouble for the Israelites and ultimately provide the tribes with a “worker class” to perform menial labor.
Barnes’ Notes for the same verse say that they were “Probably remains of the old Semitic population, whether first brought into the district by the Hyksos or not is uncertain. As natural objects of suspicion and dislike to the Egyptians who had lately become masters of the country, they would be anxious to escape, the more especially after the calamities which preceded the Exodus.” Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible tells us “Some of these were Egyptians, and some of other nations that had resided in Egypt, and who, on various accounts, might choose to go along with the children of Israel; some through intermarriages with them, being loath to part with their relations, see Leviticus 20:10, others on account of religion, being proselytes of righteousness, and others through worldly interest, the land of Egypt being by the plagues a most desolate place; and such wonders being wrought for the children of Israel, they saw they were a people that were the favourites of heaven, and judged it safest and best and most for their interest to keep with them…”
We can’t be sure who this group of people were, but most (but not all) opinions I’ve found seem to believe they were the dregs of society, refugees who had no better place to go and nothing better to do. An uncertain future with the fleeing Israelites was better than remaining in slavery and suffering in Egypt.
Was this “rabble” raised up spiritually with the Hebrews at Sinai and became one with the covenant people of God?
We read famously in Exodus 12:38 about a mixed multitude which left Egypt with Israel. This probably reflects the idea that non-Israelite peoples left Egypt with Israel (other ideas have been suggested, but I am reading it this way). Many in the Gentile Back-to-Torah movements today (Hebrew Roots, One Law, Two House) refer often to this passage as a paradigm for their own relationship to the Jewish people. The assumption is: when Torah was given there were Gentiles present, they were included within the Torah commandments as non-Israelites, and this is a parallel to Gentile in our time who are in Messiah and who thus feel they too have been commanded to keep Torah. I wish to show in this article, referring to another aspect of the Jewish halakhah (rules of practice) for conversion, that the mixed multitude cannot be used in this manner. This mixed multitude should be regarded as joining Israel (going through conversion).
“Conversion 2: The Mixed Multitude”
Messianic Jewish Musings
This is really the crux of my curiosity about this group, since they are often used, in certain minority Christian circles, as the justification for “Gentile/Christian obligation to Torah.” Leman’s opinion should be obvious to those who know his work or the general opinion of Messianic Judaism (as opposed to the various Hebrew Roots groups), so I don’t think you’ll have to guess about his conclusions.
I don’t believe the mixed multitude converted as such during the days of Moses, since the Children of Israel were tribal-based and one doesn’t convert to a tribe. Even after the Babylonian exile (see Cohen), the Israelites returned to their land as clan-based groups and as yet did not have a well-defined (or defined at all) concept of conversion (Conversion is a recognized process by the time we reach the Second Temple period). The closest I think we can come is that anyone who wanted to stay with the Israelites had to live like the Israelites, but they were still not members of a tribe or later, a clan. They were a group of “gerim” who lived alongside the Israelites but who didn’t become Israelites.
So, let’s consider the mixed multitude which left Egypt with Israel. What happened to them? We do not hear about their continuing existence as a group of people. They did not remain Gentiles within Israel. They became Israelites (like Caleb did). They were absorbed into the people of Israel (exactly like modern converts are absorbed into the people of Israel). And they submitted to the same covenant ceremony as the Israelites (and as converts do today).
I suppose to a degree it seems as if I’m disagreeing with Leman, since he says the “mixed multitude” did, in a sense, convert and disappear into the tribes. Yes, they disappeared, but having no tribal identity, how did they manage it? Assuming the Gentiles living among Israel intermarried with various members of the tribes, their children, and grandchildren, and later descendants would have taken on tribal identity and then the Gentiles would have vanished. Presumably if a later group of Gentiles left Babylon with the Jewish clans, they too would have intermarried (or been subsequently evicted, see Ezra 10) and then their descendants would have adopted clan identification and their history as Gentiles would have been lost to history and time.
Can we use their example, Gentiles living alongside Jews and performing the same mitzvot, as a model for Christianity and Christian obligation to Torah today? I seriously doubt it. The social and organizational conditions that required the mixed multitude to take on a status very similar to widows and orphans who had to tribal inheritance to lands in Israel no longer exists. Jews have long since ceased to be a tribal people and Judaism no longer recognizes that process as a valid method of accepting non-Jews within their community. Instead, a formal conversion process is now in place.
Also, what about Jesus?
Oh yeah, remember him?
Yes, that was a tad snarky, but to deny that Jesus gives all people among the nations a covenant relationship with God (the process is complicated and frankly, not well-defined theologically), is to deny Jesus entirely.
The story of the mixed multitude, in any meaningful theological sense, is no longer relevant. This process is one that passed away because it is no longer necessary. That’s not the same as saying that Jewish obligation to the mitzvot has passed away, nor is it a supersessionistic pronouncement. The Messianic reality of Jesus just makes the status of the ancient gerim completely anachronistic for the modern Christian, and it has been so for at least 2,000 years, and probably for a good deal longer.
I know I’ve been writing a lot about all this lately, and I will continue to do so (at least for tomorrow and the next day), but in elevating the status of the ancient ger as a role model and template for the modern Christian is to say we must strip ourselves of the blood of Jesus, so to speak, and undo everything that he has done for us. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul strongly discouraged the Gentile believers from converting formally to Judaism as a means of attaining righteousness before God. It was completely unnecessary for that purpose.
Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
–Galatians 5:2-6 (ESV)
This is not to say that conversion to Judaism was forbidden in Paul’s eyes and it’s likely that some believers did convert. But in those days, there was no dissonance between being Jewish (born or converted) and discipleship under Yeshua (Jesus) as Messiah. Today, it’s problematic, since virtually any legitimate conversion process to Judaism requires the individual involved to renounce all other religious allegiances (specifically Christianity).
In many of my other blog posts, I say that remaining Gentile Christians and being drawn to the Torah is not a problem. We can indeed go beyond our obligations and voluntarily take on many of the mitzvot. It doesn’t make us Jews. It doesn’t make us Israelites. It makes us Christians who have solidarity with the Jewish people and who, alongside them, strive to encourage and support the return of the Jews to the Torah, to the Land, and to summon the Moshiach, may he come soon and in our days.
As for the mixed multitude…I hate to say it, but they’re old news. That dinosaurs once existed and were a necessary presence in their time and place doesn’t mean that they have relevancy in our modern world. A lot has changed since then.
Final note: This is my 700th blog post for Morning Meditations. If God is willing, they will continue for another 700 and beyond.