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Home Forums Existence of the Israelites in Egypt How long was the sojourn in Egypt? Reply To: How long was the sojourn in Egypt?

  • Deborah Hurn

    January 3, 2021 at 12:06 pm

    The text of my letter to the editor, June 2001. It looks like the tables will not copy over. If anyone has any tips for copying tables into forums like this let me know. I am now not so sure that the figures for the ages and number of children of the patriarchs are 100% reliable (the implausible population figures for the exodus and wanderings indicate that numbers are prone to corruption) but I think the idea for accommodating the two time-spans (400 and 430 years) for the sojourn as they appear in both OT and NT is sound.

    The 430 years of Galatians 3:17

    I recently completed a short article on the above subject, and am pleased to see that X [correspondent] has come to the same conclusion regarding the length of the Israelite captivity in Egypt [ref]. The following are a few extra thoughts to add to his conclusions.

    The 430 years are usually calculated from when Abraham was seventy-five years of age (Gen. 12:4), for it is argued that the promise of the land as a possession to his singular seed did not occur until Abraham was already in Canaan (Gal. 3:16,17; Gen. 12:7). Nevertheless, there is some disagreement about which of the promises Paul refers to when he cites the words, “And to thy seed” (Gal. 3:16). Some are confident that the first reference to a singular seed occurs in the promise given to Abraham after the sacrifice of Isaac: “and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 22:17,18). This promise, however, was given quite late in Abraham’s life, when he was nearly 120 years old. To begin the 430-year countdown to the giving of the Law at that point leaves insufficient time for the various stages set out in the tables below.

    The only recorded promise that contains the exact words, “and to thy seed”, was given after Lot separated from Abraham: “for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever. And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered” (13:15,16). However, this passage generally speaks of a plural seed, with emphasis on the great number of Abraham’s future descendants. From both Paul’s words in Galatians 3:16,17 and Stephen’s in Acts 7:2-7 it is reasonable to conclude that a promise of the singular seed was made very early in Abraham’s pilgrimage, indeed right at the first, even though this aspect is not so clearly detailed in the first recorded promise (Gen. 12:1-3).

    Table 1 gives the usual breakdown of the 430 years. However, the 115-year gap between the death of Jacob and the birth of Aaron seems a little too long when the overlapping generations within it are considered. Kohath, having entered Egypt with his grandfather Jacob (Gen. 46:11), must have been at the very least eighteen years old when Jacob died seventeen years later. Indeed, Kohath had a younger brother, Merari, who also entered Egypt with Jacob, so it is unlikely that Kohath was himself still a baby at the time. Kohath lived for 133 years (Ex. 6:18).

    This means, according to Table 1, that Kohath died the year that his grandson Aaron was born (1 + 17 + 115 = 133), or some years earlier if he was more than one year old when Jacob entered Egypt. In those days of longevity, it would be unusual for a grandson not to know his grandfather. Furthermore, in surmising how old Kohath was when Jacob went down into Egypt, we note that Kohath’s father Levi had eight younger brothers who all took children into Egypt, the youngest, Benjamin, having ten sons at the time. This confirms that Levi’s own three sons were probably not among the youngest of the fifty grandchildren of Jacob who entered Egypt, and that Kohath was almost certainly older than one year at the time.

    Table 2 resolves the above, and simultaneously accounts for both the 430 years of Galatians 3:17 and the 400 years of Genesis 15:13. The sojourn in Egypt is thereby reduced to 195 years.

    Levi would have gone down into Egypt at about the age of forty-nine, being about nine years older than Joseph, who, according to Genesis 41:46,47 and 45:6, was approaching forty at the time (30 + 7 + 2). This calculation is based upon the detail that the first eleven sons of Jacob were all born during the fourteen years from Jacob’s two marriages to his departure from Haran (30:25; 31:41). On the basis of the revised calculation that Israel was 195 years in Egypt, Kohath, the second child of Levi, could have been about eight years old when he entered Egypt. Since he lived to 133 (Ex. 6:18), it can then be calculated that he died about seventy years before the Exodus (195 + 8 = 203 – 133 = 70), at which point Aaron would thus have been about thirteen, since he was eighty-three at the Exodus (Ex. 7:7). Amram lived to 137 years (6:20), and, if Kohath begat Amram at about the age of forty, following on from the above calculation, Amram would have died about twenty-five years before the Exodus. Thus the known life-spans fit more comfortably into an Egyptian period of 195 years.