Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Afflicted 400 years

I have been revisiting the Egyptian sojourn in some recent correspondence. It raised the possibility of another option I had not previously considered.
Then the LORD said to Abram, "Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for 400 years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete." (Genesis 15)
I wondered if the "for 400 years" could be read "until 400 years" giving the translation:
Then the LORD said to Abram, "Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted until 400 years (from now).
I would appreciate thoughts from anyone who can read Hebrew.

4 comments:

  1. The essential problem with the question is that there is no preposition there in the Hebrew. Thus, the preposition is implied. Therefore either option makes some sense, though I would translate it with 'for' or 'about'.

    However, I'm not quite sure what the difference is that you are looking for. What would be the difference, in your opinion, between translating it 'for' vs. 'until'?

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  2. People commonly see the time for the Israelites in Egypt as ~400 years from Jacob's shift. Meaning the Israelites spent 400 years in Egypt, some of it as slaves. Due to various considerations I think it about half that time in Egypt. The link in the post explains my reasons.

    Is God saying to Abraham that his descendants will go to Egypt for 400 years? or is he saying they will go to Egypt and not be returning to Canaan until 400 years from now. While I prefer the latter for chronological reasons, it also seems to make more sense of the comment "for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete." If the Amorites were now sinning yet God was delaying their punishment, Abraham would consider the ~400 years from now.

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  3. And thanks, the information about the preposition is helpful.

    While I am not a fan of the KJV, your comment here makes me wonder whether the translators (and Tyndale) were quite astute in their word choice. Occasionally I see differing translations in different versions, yet the KJV translation is consistent with both concepts. They have chosen a word choice that leaves the ambiguity open.

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  4. I agree with your conclusion about the KJV. I felt that their word choice was the best as far as formal translation is concerned.

    I would say that since the text itself is ambiguous, the best interpretation would be ~400, meaning less or more. Additionally, I would say that the ~400 years is in Egypt, rather than splitting that time between Egypt and the Joshua invasion of Canaan. However, I also would not be overly strict to the number 400. I would take it to essentially mean >300 and <500, rather than 400 +/- 50.

    But I am basing this simply on this one text, not factoring in context, historical data, or assessing the reference to generations only a couple of verses later, which if i were to really look into this, I would take quite seriously.

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