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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 12:34 pm

    And then there is this follow-up letter from Oct 2001. Again, this is 20 yrs ago before my tertiary study, so I would not frame my argument quite so confidently or ‘religiously’, but I think some of the points are still sound.

    The sojourn of Israel in Egypt

    Y [correspondent] makes a vigorous case for a 430-year sojourn of Israel in Egypt (Aug. 2001, p. 323), concerning which I would like to make the following comments.

    The proposal that the 430 years of Exodus 12:40,41 includes the patriarchal sojournings is difficult to avoid in the light of Galatians 3:16,17. The ‘age of promise’ [I since found out this term appears in Keefe, E. “The Duration of Israel’s Sojourn in Egypt.” M.Th, Grand Rapids Baptist Theological Seminary, 1980.] began with the promises to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3), and the ‘age of law’ began with Moses and the Exodus. By beginning the 430 years with the last promise to Jacob instead, Y [correspondent] implies that the years in Egypt are to be considered as some kind of unassigned hiatus between these ages. As the ‘age of law’ was succeeded by the ‘age of grace’ in Christ without any such interval, it makes better sense to reckon the 430 years from Abraham’s calling in Ur until his seed were put under law by Moses. By this means also, the remaining 400 years after the covenant was given to Abraham at age eighty-five can be seamlessly and accurately accounted for (15:13).1

    The additional words “and in Chanaan”, as they appear in the Septuagint translation and the Samaritan Pentateuch (Ex. 12:40), at the very least represent to us the understanding of the scholars at the time, and this position is not necessarily excluded by the majority rendition of the verse. In regard to the Jewish scholars who produced the Septuagint in Alexandria in about 300 B.C., theirs would have to be one of the earliest learned ‘opinions’ available.

    Only if missing links are supplied elsewhere in Scripture can we say that the case for an incomplete genealogy is proven. There can be no reasonable doubt that the Levi-Kohath-Amram-Moses genealogy is continuous and not selective. This direct sequence is provided in Exodus 6:16-20, Numbers 26:57-59 and twice in Chronicles with particular clarity (1 Chron. 6:1-3; 23:6, 12,13). In none of these is there an indication that Amram was a remote ancestor of Moses; indeed, with the naming of his wife, Jochebed, and the words “and she bare unto Amram Aaron and Moses, and Miriam their sister”, the conclusion on this matter is inescapable (Num. 26:59).

    In seeking to harmonise all passages of Scripture relevant to any issue, the preferred solution is that which does not minimise or deny a majority of texts…. In this case there is adequate justification in Galatians 3:16,17 to include the patriarchal era within the 430 years of Exodus 12:40,41, thereby doing no violence to the established genealogies.

    Over a period of many decades, the generations of various lines from Jacob did not, of course, remain synchronised, owing to early and late begettals.2 Hence, Gershom, the fifth from Jacob through Levi (Jacob-Levi-Kohath-Amram- Moses-Gershom), and Bezaleel, the seventh from Jacob through Judah (Jacob-Judah-Pharez- Hezron-Caleb-Hur-Uri-Bezaleel), were both in the generation of the Exodus. In regard to the number of generations since the nation entered Egypt, however, Gershom was only the third after Kohath, and Bezaleel but the fourth after Hezron, as one might expect from the four generations of Genesis 15:16, both Kohath and Hezron having entered Egypt as children (Gen. 46:11,12).

    The list of descendants of Ephraim in Chronicles is demonstrably damaged and cannot be used for the purpose of a generation tally (1 Chron. 7:20-27). Shuthelah, Bered, Tahath, Eladah and Zabad are introduced in the text as though they were successive generations from Ephraim, with the names Shuthelah and Tahath appearing twice.3 It soon becomes apparent that they could not have been, for Ezer and Elead, the last names in the sequence, were clearly original sons and not descendants in the seventh generation from Ephraim. They were slain by men of Gath,4 and Ephraim, having mourned them, promptly begot another son, Beriah, in their stead. There follows another list of names, most of them suffixed by the same word bno (‘his son’), terminating in Joshua, the leader of the conquest of Canaan. The passage is altogether confusing, and it takes some thought to decide what may be meant.5

    From the list of families (clans) of Israel at the Jordan, it is established that Shuthelah, Bered (or Becher) and Tahath (or Tahan) were brothers, original sons of Ephraim (Num. 26:35-37). As to the other names, it is very uncertain which generation(s) they belong to. The final sequence Ammihud-Elishama-Nun-Joshua is mostly verified elsewhere in Scripture (Num. 1:10; 13:8), and can be accepted as consecutive. The names between Beriah and Ammihud are, however, unattested elsewhere, and may be no more than brothers of Ammihud, as warranted by the use of the term ‘his son’ earlier in the same genealogy.

    Thus the sequence from Ephraim to Joshua may be reduced from nine generations to five: Ephraim – Beriah -Ammihud- Elishama -Nun – Joshua. Bearing in mind that it was known in these times to beget a first son at any age from fifteen to eighty, these generations are reasonably aligned with the sequence Kohath-Amram- Moses-Gershom. Elishama, Ephraim’s tribal chief at the time of the Exodus, was probably around Moses’ age. Both Nun and Joshua would fall between Moses’ and Gershom’s ages, Joshua being a young man at the Exodus and Gershom apparently still a child (Ex. 4:20).

    I have not here addressed the objections in regard to the numbers involved in the Exodus. This is a very large and complicated subject, which needs separate treatment (see p. 402). I find Y’s strongest point to be in the matter of definition, when he points out that the term ‘sons of Israel’, bene yisrael (Ex. 12:40), could not include the founders of the nation, Abraham, Isaac (and Jacob). I find this objection, though pertinent, not strong enough in itself to overthrow all the other indicators as outlined in earlier correspondence and above. I surmise that the term ‘sons of Israel’ was used of the ‘nation of promise’ in general, and distinguished them from the Arabian tribes in a way that the terms ‘sons of Abraham’, ‘sons of Isaac’ or even ‘Hebrews’ could not. In the same way, we often speak broadly of the history of ‘the Jews’, by which term, technically, all tribes but Judah should have been excluded.


    1. See letter and tables, June 2001.

    2. At the time of the Exodus, for example, Aaron (83) had at least one grandchild (Ex. 6:25), whereas Moses (80) had but a young family (4:20). The age of paternity seems to have been widely variable in ancient times, for Benjamin entered Egypt with his ten sons (or eight sons and two grandsons, cf. Num. 26:40) at about the age of thirty-three (Gen. 46:21; cf. 30:25; 31:41; 35:16-18). [not sure about that now!]

    3. “And the sons of Ephraim; Shuthelah, and Bered his son, and Tahath his son, and Eladah his son”, etc.

    4. It is a curiosity that sons of Ephraim, born and bred in Egypt, were killed by men of Gath when they went to Philistia to steal cattle. This indicates a time when the Hebrews in Goshen were still able to come and go, and must have been before the pharaoh arose “which knew not Joseph”.

    5. A daughter, Sherah, is also listed (v. 24), and to her is attributed the building of Beth-horon, a town in Ephraim’s inheritance. This, of course, could only have been after the conquest, and yet the genealogy is still leading up to Joshua, son of Nun.