by Richard W. Coffen  |  30 January 2020  |  

“Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time”
“A Psalm of Life,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

It was my first day in the seminary class titled “New Testament Backgrounds.” The teacher, world-famous archaeologist Siegfried Horn, had achieved renown for his excavations at Tell Hesban (biblical Heshbon) and Tell Balahtah (biblical Shechem). Dr. Horn spoke with a strong guttural accent, having been born and raised in Germany. That day in class he kept mentioning “peaches” flying around in Jerusalem.

Peaches? I’m rather slow, but I finally caught on. He meant pigeons! Interestingly, archaeologists have discovered ancient “columbaria” or dovecotes in Jerusalem as well as elsewhere in the ancient Near East. Some of these can be seen in the Archaeological Park on Kibbutz Ramat Rachel and date to Jesus’ lifetime.

Seminarians, who’d taken classwork interpreting Daniel 7:8 and 8:9, delighted in nicknaming Dr. Horn “The Little Horn.” I never thought that he was especially small, but the nickname elicited chuckles from seminarians. So, now you’ve received initiation into decoding the mystifying identity of “The Little Horn.”

A Memorable Adventist Character

Siegfried Herbert Horn was born 112 years ago on March 17, 1908, in Wurzen, Germany and in this issue of Adventist Today we honor this legendary scholar of Adventist archaeology and biblical languages. For several years, he served as a missionary in the Dutch East Indies, but, during World War II, he was interned as a POW because of his German citizenship. From 1940 to 1946, he endured loss of freedom in camps situated in both Java and India. While detained, he had access to numerous books and set about teaching himself the particulars of both biblical Hebrew and koine Greek. He even conducted classes for some of his fellow POWs.

The story has it that upon returning to Germany at the end of his incarceration, he headed for his old home to be reunited with his wife (or was it his fiancée?). What he didn’t know was she’d received “official” word that the ship he’d sailed on had been torpedoed. It had sunk; all passengers had drowned. After recovering from shock and grief, she had married another. You can only imagine the astonishment of all individuals when Siegfried showed up at the door! She continued her new married life, and, ultimately, he found another wife.

After his retirement, and while I filled the roles of both acquisitions and book editor, we met occasionally. Dr. Horn insisted that we be on a first-name basis, although it took me awhile to allow myself to call him “Siegfried.” As with many of us who’ve left denominational employ, after retirement Siegfried became more “liberal,” feeling more open to share his opinions. Rumor has it that his road to progressiveness actually began years earlier when the biblical city of Shechem failed to show up where Scripture said it was situated!

Dr. Horn on the Exodus

On one occasion, Siegfried and I were sitting at the back of a bus that was transporting us to some significant spot in America, which I’ve now forgotten. As we chatted, he brought up the matter of the exodus from Egypt. He indicated there was no way the number of Israelite escapees from slavery in Egypt during the exodus as reported in Scripture reflected reality. He explained that the Hebrew word translated “thousand” (’elep) can also have other denotations, such as a round number, a clan (larger than a “father’s house”), and even a “handful of men” (Willem A. VanGemeren, New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, vol. 1, pp. 416, 418).

He then confided something quite radical for the time. Lowering his voice, he explained two things: (1) There’s no evidence throughout the entire Sinai Peninsula of any group of people, especially a large group, crossing the area and (2) the logistics for such a human migration made no sense.

As to the first problem, under normal circumstances, any large group would leave behind traces of material objects (broken pottery, flint tools, and even bone fragments of the dead). Nothing like that can be found, belying the biblical account that 600,000+ men as well as women, children, and the “mixed multitude” (Exodus 12:37, 38) marched to Canaan. Oh, and the escapees also wrangled flocks and herds, presumably both sheep and cattle. Again, no hint of such!

As to the logistical problems that ensue, awhile back I did some calculations, even though math is not my strong suit. In this essay, though, I’ll stick with calculations proffered on the Internet.

According to one assessment, about 6,000,000 individuals (arguably the maximum number of evacuees) followed Moses into the Sinai Peninsula. How could 600 Egyptian chariots (Exodus 14:7) manned with one or even two charioteers pose a threat when outnumbered 10,000 to 1 or even a mere 5,000 to 1 (if only 2,400,000 [arguably the minimum number of ‘exodusees’] of Israelites who had fled Egypt [(])?

Additionally, how could such a mass of people (let alone livestock) have adequate food and drink? By one estimate, it would have required 1,500 tons of food, 4,000 tons of firewood, and 11,000,000 gallons of water per day to care for such a mass of humanity!

And where and how did such a mass of escapees, even if only the lower number of 2,400,000 individuals, care for their excretory needs? Latrines were supposed to be located outside the boundaries of campsites (Deuteronomy 23:12,13). An estimate reckons that the camp would have had to occupy an area covering at least five by five miles. Therefore, anyone encamped toward the center would have to trek more than 2.5 miles whenever they had to evacuate their bowels. Let’s hope no one had a case of diarrhea!

Additionally, the estimated population of Egypt at the time was somewhere between 2,000,000 and 5,000,000. Did the biblical exodus turn the entire nation of Egypt into a ghost town? (See

The Family Bible Story

During the 1980s, the R&D department of the Review and Herald Publishing Association did some groundwork (for instance, a dozen focus groups nationwide) for a new series of books called Family Bible Story. The publishing house tested various competent authors to write the new stories, which were to have a verisimilitude that Arthur Maxwell’s Bible Story set lacked. Ultimately, we asked Ruth Redding Brand to compose the stories.

We felt pleased with the quality of her writing but thought that the narratives needed a sense of more authenticity, even though Dr. Larry Geraty had made his library available to her for research. Therefore, we commissioned Siegfried to lead a private tour of the Holy Land. The only travelers with him were Ruth Brand, author; Gail Hunt, R&D director; and Gerald Wheeler, associate book editor. After the trip, Ruth’s stories gained much local color.

(Unfortunately, the publishing house could see its way to publish only four books of the proposed multi-volume set. These are now on special at Adventist Book Centers—all four for only $9.97.)

Biblical archaeologists, seminarians, church leaders, editors, parents, children, and others have all profited from Siegfried’s dedication and appreciation of God’s Word. Siegfried Horn’s footprints remain “on the sands of time.”

Richard W. Coffen is a retired vice president of editorial services at Review and Herald Publishing Association, and writes from Green Valley, Arizona.

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