Moses loved numbers

Many traditions hold that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. If we assume this is true, then there is one thing I think is clear about Moses, based on the things he wrote: he loved numbers. I’m pretty sure he was a mathematician at heart, or at the very least an accountant, because his books are littered with numbers which are not entirely necessary to get his overall point across.

Just look at this passage from Genesis (NIV):

When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son and he named him Seth. Afer Seth was born, Adam lived 800 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether Adam lived 930 years, and then he died.

When Seth had lived 105 years, he became the father of Enosh. And after he became the father of Enosh, Seth lived 807 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether Enosh lived 912 years, and then he died.

When Enosh had lived 90 years, he became the father of Kenan. And after he became the father of Kenan, Enosh lived 815 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enosh lived 905 years, and then he died.

When Kenan had lived 70 years, he became the father of Mahalalel. And after he became the father of Mahalalel, Kenan lived 840 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Kenan lived 910 years, and then he died.

When Mahalalel had lived 65 years…

And this one:

He spent the night there, and from what he had with him he selected a gift for his brother Esau: two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys.

The emphasis on numbers is striking.

Now I’m pretty sure Moses didn’t mean to place such an emphasis on numbers in his writing. Presumably his main aim was to let his readers know about the history of Israel, and  the nature of God and his relationship with humankind in general and Israel in particular. But still, the numbers are there. Why?

I argue that the reason the numbers are there is because Moses himself loved numbers. I think he couldn’t help the numbers appearing in his writing because he wasn’t even aware he was doing it. He liked numbers, so he thought about them a lot, and so they just turned up in his head when he was writing his books.

And if it can happen to Moses, then it can happen to anyone. I know myself that I can’t help references to childrens literature turning up in my lectures, and I can’t help maths turning up in my everyday conversation, just because I love those things. And I can’t help turning every discussion about maths into a discussion about problem-solving, because I think about the process of problem-solving a lot and it just happens.

But the danger is when the things we are interested in distract from the message we want to get across. For example, what if a teacher absolutely loved sport to such an extent that every example in class was about sport, and some of the students who disliked sport were turned off because of the association? And what if the thing a teacher most loved in the solution to a problem was the fancy trick? Then when they presented the solution they couldn’t help getting excited about the trick and it would seem to their students that fancy tricks were what problem-solving was all about.

But what can these teachers do, since they can’t help the things they love coming through in their communication? Well I think they can simply be aware of it. Then at least they can make sure that even though the things they love are there, the overall message isn’t obscured by them. (Of course the ultimate would be to love the thing you are trying to teach!)

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