Saturday, 17 February 2007

How long were the Hebrews in Egypt?

Biblically there are 2 options. A duration of about 200 years or a duration of about 400 years. I contend that a 430 year period leads to contradictions within scripture whereas a 200 year period does justice to all the biblical data.

Starting with Abram's call to Canaan thru to Jacob's descent into Egypt.
So Abram went, as the LORD had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was 75 years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring I will give this land." So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. (Gen 12:4-7 ESV)
Abraham was 100 years old when his son Isaac was born to him. (Gen 21:5 ESV)
Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau's heel, so his name was called Jacob. Isaac was 60 years old when she bore them. (Gen 25:26 ESV)
And Jacob said to Pharaoh, "The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning." (Gen 47:9 ESV)
From these passages it is relatively simple to get a duration of 25 years from the Haran departure to the birth of Isaac; 60 years to the birth of Jacob; 130 years to Jacob's arrival in Egypt; a total of 215 years from the time from when Abram left Haran and came to Canaan until Jacob went to Egypt and met Pharaoh. From the birth of Isaac the duration is 190 years. Jacob entered Egypt during (or at the end) of the 2nd year of the famine. As Joseph came into the service of Pharaoh at the age of 30 Joseph would have been about 39 when he saw his father again. Levi was older than Joseph.

The duration until the Exodus including the time in Egypt is alluded to in several passages:
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." (Gen 15:13-16 ESV)
And God spoke to this effect—that his offspring would be sojourners in a land belonging to others, who would enslave them and afflict them 400 years. (Act 7:6 ESV)
The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years. At the end of 430 years, on that very day, all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt. (Exo 12:40-41 ESV)
Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, "And to offsprings," referring to many, but referring to one, "And to your offspring," who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. (Gal 3:16-17 ESV)
The first 2 passages give a timeframe of 400 years. While this could be the time spent in Egypt, the starting point is not clearly defined. This is a prophecy and several pieces of information are given. Reviewing the prophecy of Genesis 15: Know for certain that:
  1. your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs
  2. and will be servants there
  3. and they will be afflicted for 400 years
  4. I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve
  5. afterward they shall come out with great possessions
  6. As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace you shall be buried in a good old age.
  7. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.
Item 2 probably goes with item 1, but there are at least 6 aspects to this prophesy and not all have the same timescale. While item 3 could imply the time in Egypt, item 7 links the return in 4 generations which would seem too few if the 400 years starts following a prior 190 years from the birth of Isaac (given the mention of descendants).

Squaring the 430 years of Exodus 12 with Galatians 3 is difficult. Paul states that the giving of the law (at Mount Sinai which corresponds to the Exodus) was 430 years after an event. Is Paul talking about the promise he just referred to, and if so, which promise? Or is he talking about the covenant ratification that he is about to refer to?
Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring I will give this land." So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. (Gen 12:7 ESV)
The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, "...all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. (Gen 13:14-16 ESV)
And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: "This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir." And he brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be."
He [God] said to him, "Bring me a heifer 3 years old, a female goat 3 years old, a ram 3 years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon." And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. 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. (Gen 15:4-5, 9-13 ESV)
Chapter 12 is at the time Abram leaves Canaan. Chapter 13 is difficult to date precisely but is after Abram returns from Egypt. Chapter 15 refers to both a promise and the covenant of Galatians 3. It occurred at an unspecified time prior to the birth of Ishmael. Abram was 86 when Ishmael was born. If we do not know which promise is the one specified it is not unreasonable to focus on the first pronouncement of it. If this is the case there is 430 years between Abram leaving Haran to come to Canaan and the Exodus. That would give 405 years from the birth of Isaac until the Exodus which corresponds to the 400 years of Genesis 15 and Acts 7.

Where does that leave us with Exodus 12:40? Here are several translations:
The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years. (ESV)
Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was 430 years. (KJV)
The sojourning of sons of Israel (who lived in Egypt) was 430 years. (my translation)
Now the time the children of Israel dwelt in Egypt and Canaan was 430 years. (Septuagint and Samaritan Pentateuch)
The question is does the dwelt in Egypt refer to the children of Israel or the sojourning. Do we translate
The sojourning (of the children of Israel) which they dwelt in Egypt was 430 years.
The sojourning of the children of Israel (who dwelt in Egypt) was 430 years.
The word for "which" or "who" both being acceptable translations of the Hebrew asher. Charles Taylor in Rewriting Bible History (According to Scripture) suggests that the first interpretation is strained in Hebrew and the second would be a more natural reading.

And if the Septuagint retains the original reading the point is moot.

There is further information which makes a 400 year Egyptian sojourn untenable. This is the genealogical data. Genesis alluded to 4 generations and the only complete transition is Levi, Kohath, Amram, Moses. Here is Moses' family tree:
These are the names of the sons of Levi according to their generations: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari, the years of the life of Levi being 137 years. The sons of Gershon: Libni and Shimei, by their clans. The sons of Kohath: Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel, the years of the life of Kohath being 133 years. The sons of Merari: Mahli and Mushi. These are the clans of the Levites according to their generations. Amram took as his wife Jochebed his father's sister, and she bore him Aaron and Moses, the years of the life of Amram being 137 years. (Exo 6:16-20 ESV)
The name of Amram's wife was Jochebed the daughter of Levi, who was born to Levi in Egypt. And she bore to Amram Aaron and Moses and Miriam their sister. (Num 26:59 ESV)
It is not uncommon for people to argue that biblical genealogical data is incomplete; that some of the persons are missing—compare Jesus' ancestry in Matthew 1. In this case however the context demands that Jochebed is Moses mother. It is also clear that she was a daughter of Levi not just a female descendant of Levi, so the genealogies cannot be missing generations. If there was a gap between Kohath and Amram then the age that Jochebed marries is getting along. The timeframe for this family is limited. Levi lived 137 years, Kohath 133 and Amram 137. Moses was 80 at the time of the Exodus. That totals 487 years and we must subtract the overlap due to the age of fatherhood and the age of Levi when Jacob came to Egypt (~42). This is less than 430 years but sits comfortably with a 200 year sojourn in Egypt.

Considering all data suggests the 430 year duration commences with Abram leaving Haran for Canaan and ends with the Israelite exodus from Egypt. The 400 years of oppression in Genesis and Acts are dated from the birth of Isaac to the Exodus (actually 405 years but the context implies an approximate timeframe). Jacob entered Egypt 215 years after Abram left Haran and the duration of time the Israelites were in Egypt was 215 years.

The Exodus occurred at c.1450 BC and Jacob entered Egypt c.1660 BC.

1 comment:

  1. Bible Chronology check: (&)

    Interesting reading!



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