According to Exodus 12:37-38 NIV, the Israelites numbered "about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children," plus many non-Israelites and livestock. Numbers 1:46 gives a more precise total of 603,550. The 600,000, plus wives, children, the elderly, and the "mixed multitude" of non-Israelites would have numbered some 2 million people, compared with an entire estimated Egyptian population of around 3 million. Marching ten abreast, and without accounting for livestock, they would have formed a line 150 miles long. No evidence exists that Egypt ever suffered such a demographic and economic catastrophe, nor is there evidence that the Sinai desert ever hosted (or could have hosted) these millions of people and their herds, nor of a massive population increase in Canaan, which is estimated to have had a population of only 50,000 to 100,000 at the time. Some scholars have interpreted these numbers as a mistranslation - reading the Hebrew word eleph as "600 families" rather than 600,000 men, reduces the Hebrew population involved to roughly 20,000 individuals,—but the view of mainstream modern biblical scholarship is that the Exodus story was written not as history, but to demonstrate God's purpose and deeds with his Chosen People, Israel; the essentially theological motivation of the story explains the improbability of the scenario described above.
It has also been suggested that the 603,550 people delivered from Egypt (according to Numbers 1:46) is not simply a number, but contains a secret message, a gematria for bene yisra'el kol ros, "the children of Israel, every individual;" while the number 600,000 symbolises the total destruction of the generation of Israel which left Egypt, none of whom lived to see the Promised Land.
The archaeological evidence of the largely indigenous origins of Israel is "overwhelming," and leaves "no room for an Exodus from Egypt or a 40-year pilgrimage through the Sinai wilderness."[
21] For this reason, most archaeologists have abandoned the archaeological investigation of Moses and the Exodus as "a fruitless pursuit." A century of research by archaeologists and Egyptologists has found no evidence which can be directly related to the Exodus narrative of an Egyptian captivity and the escape and travels through the wilderness, and it has become increasingly clear that Iron Age Israel - the kingdoms of Judah and Israel - has its origins in Canaan, not Egypt: the culture of the earliest Israelite settlements is Canaanite, their cult-objects are those of the Canaanite god El, the pottery remains in the local Canaanite tradition, and the alphabet used is early Canaanite.
Almost the sole marker distinguishing the "Israelite" villages from Canaanite sites is an absence of pig bones, although whether this can be taken as an ethnic marker or is due to other factors remains a matter of dispute.