As a follow-up to yesterday's post, here are some thoughts about the term "ten thousand" as used in Mormon 6.
The Hebrew word eleph means "thousand" (BDB 48, KB 59 II). It is used in several senses in the OT.
1. a family unit, Jos. 22:14; Jdgs. 6:15; 1 Sam. 23:23; Zech. 9:7; 12:6
2. a military unit, Exod. 18:21,25; Deut. 1:15
3. a literal thousand, Gen. 20:16; Exod. 32:28
4. a symbolic number, Gen. 24:60; Exod. 20:6; 34:7; Deut. 7:9; Jer. 32:18
5. the Ugaritic cognate alluph means "chieftain," Gen. 36:15
These different connotations cause modern interpreters to question the literalness of the numbers
1. of the exodus
2. of Israeli tribal military units
It is also possible that “ten thousand” represents a military unit and not an exact number of soldiers. In Hebrew, the word eleph can mean the literal number 1,000, but it can also mean a military squad. (Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, 264; Hoffmeier, Ancient Israel in Sinai, 153–159.) If this is the case, each military commander could simply have been in charge of 10 “squads” of unknown numbers, putting the number of casualties much lower than they might seem at first. (Other ancient cultures used terms like this as well. The Roman military unit “century” was also the word for 100, but these units often did not have 100 people in them. See Smith, “How Many Nephites?” 286.)