The Duration of the Israelite Sojourn In Egypt

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This article was published in a full-color format in the Summer 2007 issue of Bible and Spade.

Excerpt There has been a division among scholars as to whether the sojourn of the Israelites in Egypt was 215 (or 210) years long, or 430 years long. Although, along with Genesis 15:13-21, Exodus 12:40 is our primary source, evidences other than the variants of the ancient translations of the Scriptures are needed in order to reach a decision with respect to whether the long chronology or the short one for the Israelite sojourn in Egypt is to be preferred. Continue reading

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From possibly as early as the LXX (ca. 250–150 BC)[i], there has been a tradition that the 430 years in Exodus 12:40 (or apparently rounded to the 400 years of Genesis 15:13) represent only 215 actual years of Israelite sojourn in Egypt, with the other 215 years representing the sojourn in Canaan. The Hebrew MT of both of the above verses, however, appears to indicate that the total years constituted the full period of time of the sojourn in Egypt prior to the Exodus.

The Jewish historian Josephus (first century AD) provides a divided testimony—one time apparently following the LXX, and thus associating the rise of Joseph to power as vizier of Egypt with the Hyksos (Dynasties 15–16, ca. 1730–1575 BC)[ii], and another time following the MT.[iii] Rabbinic tradition as reflected in Seder ‘Ôlām (second century AD) (Frank 1956: 11, 19)[iv] and Rashi (11th century AD; Silbermann 1945, part 1: 61–62) allows but 210 years for the sojourn in Egypt. The Midrash is more vague (Freedman and Simon 1939: 373).


The NT also appears to be divided on the subject. In Acts 7:6–7, Stephen uses essentially the same wording as the Genesis passage, which appears to allocate a full and literal 400 years to the Israelite sojourn in Egypt. In Galatians 3:17, however, Paul seems to indicate that the 430 years extended from Abraham to the giving of the Law,[v] rather than representing the totality of the sojourn in Egypt. In this, he appears to be following the LXX of Exodus 12:40.[vi] Acts 13:17–20 is a further NT passage that is sometimes seen as having a bearing on this question, though its reference to “about 450 years till Samuel the prophet” pertains to a period of time subsequent to the Sojourn (Hoehner 1969: 313–14; Riggs 1971: 29–30; Battenfield 1972: 79).[vii]


Among the Early-Church Fathers there is also division of opinion on the interpretation of the chronology in these Biblical references. For instance, Tertullian supports the short chronology (An Answer to the Jews 2, Ante-Nicene Fathers 3: 153), whereas Hippolytus favors the long one (Expository Treatise Against the Jews 6, Ante-Nicene Fathers 5: 220).


Since different versions of the OT have carried these two traditions, and commentators have aligned themselves accordingly to one tradition or the other, it is necessary to examine the various ancient texts, in order to discover the preferable reading. It is also necessary to take a look at the history, archaeology, and other Biblical data which may have some bearing on the text, so as to ascertain the best setting for the events dealt with in Genesis 15:13–21 and Exodus 12:40.


Depending on the interpretation given to the 400 (430) years, the events of Genesis 15 happened either during Middle Bronze Age I (2200–1950 BC) or during Middle Bronze Age IIA (1950–1800 BC)—or more specifically, about 2095 BC or 1880 BC, respectively.


Therefore, Abraham came to Canaan either during the Ur III Dynasty (ca. 2112–2004 BC) or during the First Dynasty of Babylon (ca. 1894–1595 BC).[viii] (Through the years considerable attention has been devoted to the date of the Exodus, and I have obviously opted for an early dating.


It will be pertinent to begin our analysis with the two OT passages which are the most relevant to our discussion, Exodus 12:40 and Genesis 15:13–21, noted at the outset of this article. The former is given within a chronological statement in the context of the account of the Exodus itself, and the latter is in the setting of God’s ratification of His covenant with Abram, which included both the confirming of the promises of the seed (vss. 13–17) and the land grant (vss. 18–21) (Hasel 1981: 67–70; Weinfeld 1975: 259–60, 1970: 196–200).


Textual Evidence on Exodus 12:40


In Exodus 12:40, the extent of Israel’s sojourn in Egypt is given in the MT as 430 years (the more exact amount for the round number of Genesis 15:13).[ix] The major manuscript evidence for the LXX,[x] plus the Samaritan Pentateuch,[xi] supports the addition of “and their fathers” to the phrase “the children of Israel,” as do a number of other ancient versions.[xii]


As for the time period itself, the 430 years are divided between Canaan and Egypt in at least two manuscripts of the LXX (LXXBh) and in an obelus of the Syro-Hexapla, as well as in all known manuscripts of the Samaritan Pentateuch. The Vulgate, Peshitta, and the Targum follow the MT. Although when the Samaritan Pentateuch and the LXX coincide they are usually considered to be preferable to the MT, the manuscripts in this case do not reflect the exact same original. They are divided in terms of their order of elements, with LXXB reading “in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan,” whereas LXXh reads “in the land of Canaan and in Egypt.” It is the latter reading (but with a second “the land of”) which occurs in all known manuscripts of the Samaritan Pentateuch.


Interestingly, LXXB also originally added an extra five years to the sojourn, here and in vs. 41, whereas the other LXX manuscripts, as well as the other ancient versions, are agreed on 430 years. This deviation of LXXB and the afore-mentioned one suggest that LXXB is evidently not to be taken as the original and better reading of this verse. Table I gives an overview of the textual data on Exodus 12:40.


Table 1. Summary of Textual Data on Exodus 12:40







Other Ancient Versions

Egypt (only)

All known MSS

Ant. 2.9.1

AFM a-gi-tv-c2

Arm, Bo, Aeth, O. Latz, Tg, Pesh, Vulg

Canaan & Egypt

All known MSS


Egypt & Canaan

Ant. 2.15.2


Syro-Hexapla (obelus)


As can be seen from these data in Table 1, the majority of the ancient texts lend support to the long chronology (for the sojourn in Egypt alone). While this fact does not, of course, provide conclusive support for that chronology, it does indicate a direction of probability as to the original. The LXXBh and Samaritan Pentateuch readings seem, therefore, to be Midrashic exegesis, as is Rashi (Cassuto 1967: 85–86).[xiii]


Interpretational Problems in Genesis 15:13–21


With regard to Genesis 15:13–21, there are two interpretational matters that have a specific bearing on this investigation; namely, (1) the question of who is the oppressor of the descendants of Abraham for the “400 years” (vs. 13); and (2) the significance of the term “fourth generation” in designating the time of return from captivity (vs. 16).


Who Oppresses Whom?


Although Abraham and his descendants were sojourners (gēr) in both Canaan and Egypt (Gn 21:34; 26:3; Ps 105:23), there is no record of their being servants to the Canaanites, or being in any way oppressed by them. In fact, these patriarchs were treated well and were allowed to travel freely throughout the land.


It has been pointed out by those favoring the short chronology for the Egyptian sojourn (i.e., 215 years, with the previous 215 years in Canaan) that Isaac was “persecuted” by Ishmael, that Jacob fled from Esau, and that Joseph was sold as a slave by his brothers (Anstey 1913: 114, 117; Nichol 1953: 314). However, these events or situations were intra-family quarrels and hardly qualify for the expression “they will oppress them.” That expression requires an entirely different entity as the oppressor (cf. the inverted parallelism of vs. 13). The Egyptians are the only ones who would appear truly to qualify for this role.


A further indication that the oppression must relate to the Egyptian sojourn emerges from the fact of God’s promise to Abraham in vs. 15 that Abraham would not be involved in these tragedies, but would die in peace. Abraham lived for a century after the events described in Genesis 15, Jacob and Esau being 15 years old when he died (Gn 25:7, 26). Oppression to the patriarch’s descendants would have been oppression to the patriarch himself; and thus, whether oppression had come from his own family or from outsiders, Abraham would have had a difficult time dying in peace if, indeed, as the short chronology necessitates, there was already oppression to the patriarch’s descendants during his own lifetime.


Problem of the Four Generations


“In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here” (Gn 15:16). The time reference in vs. 13 is the “400 years”; therefore, the meaning in vs. 16 appears to be four generations of 100 years each. This length for a generation does not occur elsewhere in the OT, but this is possibly so because people in patriarchal times were recognized as living to be 100 years of age and older, as a general rule (Keil and Delitzsch 1952b: 216).


However, there is a more simple solution to this matter. The Hebrews, like other ancient peoples, dated long periods of time in terms of lifetimes (Freedman and Lundbom 1978: 170, 174; Albright 1961: 50–51; Girdlestone 1948: 315), or the circle of a person’s lifetime (Culver 1980: 186), the word dôr coming from a root meaning “to go in a circle” (Gesenius 1982: 193). This is to be contrasted with the word tôlēdôt, which is also translated as “generations,” but in the biological sense of descendants (Holladay 1971: 387). Therefore, dôr should be seen as a circle or cycle of time, rather than generation(s), as both etymology and context would suggest.[xiv]


Starting from at least the time of Rashi (1:61), and using the traditional definition of a generation to mean from the time of a man’s birth to the birth of his offspring, those who have favored the short chronology have pointed to Exodus 6:16–27, which would indicate four generations from Levi to Moses.[xv] Furthermore, a comparison with another four-generation genealogy in Numbers 26:57–62 would seem to strengthen their case. On the basis of these two apparently rather weighty pieces of evidence, it would seem that 400 (430) years would be far too long a period of time between Jacob’s descent into Egypt and the Exodus, or the time or number of generations between the leaving of Canaan (obviously into Egypt, by either interpretation) and the return into Canaan.


There are indications, on the other hand, that both of the above four-generation genealogies of Moses are stylized and incomplete. Exodus 6:14–27, which gives genealogies for Reuben, Simeon, and Levi, begins by saying, “These are the heads of their fathers’ houses,” a technical term for a collection of families (or more accurately, kin-groups) denominated by a common ancestor, i.e., a lineage (Keil and Delitzsch 1952b: 469). Also included are the names of such sons as were founders of families: mišpāhôt (i.e., lineage segments). Thus, stated in another way, the names included in this genealogy are “the heads [rā’ šē] of the father’s-houses of the Levites according to their families” (vs. 25b—not each individual. The heads of families, thus, are: Levi (actually the tribal or lineage founder), the first generation; Kohath (with his brothers Gershon and Merari), the second generation; and Amram (and his brothers Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel), the third generation. However, this is where the heads of families conclude.


The name Amram of vs. 20 may be a conflation of the name of the Amram who was the head of one of the third-generation families of Levi, with the name of a later Amram who was the father of Moses and Aaron.[xvi] There was a tendency among the Levites to name their sons after their forefathers (cf. 1 Chr 6:7–13; Lk 1:5, 59–61). Thus, several generations appear to have been telescoped here, with Amram, the father of Moses and Aaron, probably being at least the grandson of the original Amram, if not even a later descendant.[xvii] (See Table 2.) According to Numbers 3:27–28, after the numbering of the people in the wilderness in the second year after the Exodus, the Kohathites were divided into four families (mišpāhôt).


These families of the Amramites, Izharites, Hebronites, and Uzzielites consisted of 8600 men and boys (not including women and girls), of which about a fourth (or 2150) were Amramites. This would have given Moses and Aaron that incredibly large a number of brothers and brothers’ sons (brothers’ daughters, sisters, and their daughters not being reckoned), if the same Amram, the son of Kohath, were both the head of the family of the Amramites and their own father (Keil and Delitzsch 1952b: 470). Obviously, such could not have been the case.


The genealogy of Numbers 26:57–62 is also incomplete (possibly representing a harmonization with Ex 6). After the list of eight families (mišpāhôt), there is a break at vs. 58. Again Levi, Kohath, and Amram are first-through-third generations, respectively. Jochebed is not the daughter of Levi, but rather a daughter of Levi—that is, “Levitess” (cf. Ex 2:1; the Hebrew of the two verses is the same, bat Lēvî).


Further evidence pertinent to the Levi genealogies may be found in the fact that the genealogies of Judah (1 Chr 2:1–20) and Ephraim (Nm 26:35–36; 1 Chr 7:20–27) indicate seven and eight generations, respectively,[xviii] for the same or a slightly lesser time period than that encompassed in the four-generation genealogies of Levi in Exodus 6:16–27 and Numbers 26:57–62. At the very end of each of these other genealogies, we find reference to several contemporaneous individuals from the three tribes. Thus, these more-extended genealogies of Judah and Ephraim would seem to indicate incompleteness in the Levi genealogies.


My reconstruction of the genealogical data is summarized here in Table 2.



Table 2. Summary of Genealogical Data



Genesis, Numbers 26:35–36 and 1 Chronicles 7:20–27

Exodus 6:16–27

1 Chronicles 2:1–20



























Eran & Tahath











Amram =








Aaron† =





























Ezer & Elead & Beriah








Rephah & Resheph
















† Contemporaries during the Exodus and after. Italics indicate founders of families.





In Table 2, I have summarized my reconstruction of data from several genealogical lists: for Ephraim (beginning with his father, Joseph) in Numbers 26:35–36 and 1 Chronicles 7:20–27; for Levi in Exodus 6:16–27; and for Judah in 1 Chronicles 2:1–20. Although it is not my purpose to provide a detailed analysis, a few of the specifics deserve further elaboration.


Nahshon, the sixth generation from Judah, was still alive in the second year after the Exodus and was at that time the prince or leader (nāśî’; cf. Nm 2:3; 7:12) of the tribe of Judah. Aaron married Nahshon’s sister, Elisheba (Ex 6:23). Since Levi was Jacob’s third son (Gn 29:34) and at least presumably married before Judah[xix] (who took a long time to have a surviving male offspring in Perez [Gn 38]), it is unlikely that Aaron would be the fourth generation of Levi while taking a wife from the sixth generation of Judah. It would seem more probable that Aaron, too, was at least the sixth generation from the sons of Jacob. It may be noted also that Bezaleel (Ex 31:2), one of the builders of the Tabernacle and a contemporary of Moses and Aaron, was of the seventh generation of Judah.


Ephraim was the second son of Joseph (Gn 41:52). Taken together, Numbers 26:35–36 and 1 Chronicles 7:20–27 indicate four family lines for this tribe, two of which are treated in detail (Keil and Delitzsch 1952a: 139–42). The family of Shuthelah is carried down for 12 generations into the days of the Judges (1 Chr 7:2lb–24), whereas the family of Tahan is traced eight generations up through Joshua, who was also contemporary with Moses and Aaron. The sixth generation from Ephraim is indicated as Elishama (Nm 7:48), who was the leader (nāśî’) of the tribe of Ephraim at that time. Indeed, it is possible that the high number of generations for Ephraim might be explained by the population explosion toward the end of the 430 years, or that some of the names represent the sons of one and the same individual. In any case, however, the first generation of Ephraim himself and the last four generations are clearly continuous (Nm 7:48; 13:16), reducing Ephraim to six generations, at the most.[xx] This is consistent with what we have seen for the genealogy of Judah, and thus seems to be the case for Levi also.


On the basis of the above evidence, it would seem plausible that the genealogies of Levi in Exodus 6 and Numbers 26 are incomplete. As such, they are consistent with a view that the 400 (430) years could refer to the Israelite sojourn in Egypt alone. A period of only 215 years would be too small to accommodate the above data; however, 400 (430) years wou1d accommodate those data rather well. It would seem, then, that the expression “in the fourth generation [dôr]” should be understood as “in the fourth cycle of time,” as suggested above.


Historical Setting


In the previous two sections, we have dealt with the Biblical and textual data as well as the interpretational problems which accompany them in presenting a case for the long chronology. It was found that these data allow for such a reconstruction. In the present section we deal briefly with historical and archaeological data that have significant implications for the “long-chronology” view presented here. These relate to the historical setting for Abraham and for Joseph, and to the time of the oppression of the Israelites in Egypt prior to the Exodus.




The long chronology for the sojourn of the Israelites in Egypt would place the birth of Abraham ca. 2170 BC, and thus would locate the events of his first year in Canaan, his visit to Egypt, and the events of Genesis 15 ca. 2095 BC. The basic question to be asked here is this: Are the conditions in Canaan and Egypt at that time compatible with the narratives in Genesis? Indeed, the case seems to be such that we can answer in the affirmative.


Both Ur and Haran were flourishing at the time. Shechem and Bethel were uninhabited,[xxi] but the Jordan valley was well populated (Ibrahim, Sauer and Yassine 1976: 51–54). In the Negev, there was settlement from the 21st to the 19th centuries BC, but not before or afterwards (cf. Gn 20:1, 24:62; 28:20) (Glueck 1955: 6–9; 1959a: 4–5; 1959b: 60–101; Dever 1973: 37–63; Cohen and Dever 1979: 42, 57–58; 1981: 61). However, in the central hill country there was apparently a sparseness of population, reflected by the fact that Abraham could move freely between Shechem and Beersheba,[xxii] where he could pitch his tent and graze his flock as he pleased, as did Isaac and Jacob. Archaeological findings reveal the same condition, particularly in the interior of Canaan, and further indicate that during the 19th century the cities west of the Jordan were again occupied (Wright 1962: 47; Aharoni 1979: 144–47). It is interesting, moreover, that Asiatics during Egypt’s First Intermediate Period (ca. 2181–2022 BC) entered the Delta region with relative ease (Gardiner 1961: 109–10). Thus, it would not have been difficult for Abraham to enter the unguarded borders of Egypt at that time.




If the long chronology puts Abraham in Canaan ca. 2095 BC, then it also puts Joseph in Egypt during the 12th Dynasty (ca. 1991–1782 BC), instead of (as with Josephus and tradition) during the Hyksos Period. Likewise, it brings Jacob into Egypt ca. 1880 BC. Again, it is necessary to see if this period correlates with what we know from the narratives in Genesis and Exodus.


From this point of view, the Beni-Hasan Asiatics (depicted on a wall of the tomb of the nomarch Khnum-hotep III) reflect the time of Jacob and Joseph, rather than that of Abraham (Newberry 1893: 2–3). There is also mention of famine during the 12th Dynasty (Shea 1976: 69–71, 171–73; Gardiner 1961: 129). These circumstances correlate with the Biblical evidence.


According to Genesis 37:2, Joseph was sold into slavery and brought down into Egypt when he was 17 years old; this would be, according to my suggested reconstruction, in 1902 BC, or late in the reign of Amenemhat II (1929–1895 BC). There is concurrence with Egyptian history in that during the 12th Dynasty slavery of Syro-Palestinians was growing (Hayes 1972: 87, 92 and passim; Wilson 1969: 553–54). Joseph was purchased by an Egyptian official named Potiphar (Gn 37:36), and was made a domestic servant or steward, something which was quite common during the Middle Kingdom (Dynasties 11–12, ca. 2022–1782 BC) (Aling 1981: 30–31, 34–36).


When Joseph became vizier to Pharaoh (Vergote 1959: 102), he was given Pharaoh’s second chariot (Gn 41:43; cf. 46:29). This fact may seem to pose a problem in that the Hyksos brought the horse (cf. Gn 47:17) and chariot to Egypt for use in war (Thompson 1982: 44).[xxiii] However, a horse burial antedating the Hyksos Period has been found at Buhen in Nubia, from ca. 1875 BC (Emery 1965: 107). The wording “second chariot” in Genesis 41:43 may suggest, of course, that chariots were uncommon (Aling 1981: 45).[xxiv]


Joseph’s marriage to the daughter of a priest of On (Heliopolis), as arranged by the Pharaoh (Gn 41:45), is also significant. On was the center of worship of the sun-god Re, and Joseph’s father-in-law was no doubt a priest of Re. Although the Hyksos did not suppress the worship of Re, they venerated Seth, who was their primary deity. If Joseph had lived during the Hyksos Period, he probably would have received a wife from the family of a priest of Seth, rather than of Re (Aling 1981: 45–46; cf. also Wood 1970: 38, n. 45). It is also possible that Joseph’s land reforms during the famine (Gn 47:20–26) may be connected with the breaking of the dominance of the great nomarchs of the land by Pharaoh Sesostris III (ca. 1878–1843 BC) at this very time (Battenfield 1972: 82–84).


A further argument put forward for the view that Joseph was ruler of Egypt during the Hyksos Period is that the Hyksos capital Avaris was in the Delta, and this is coupled with the fact that Joseph told his father to dwell in the land of Goshen so that he could be near him (Gn 45:l0) (Nichol 1953: 462). However, the land of Goshen is spoken of as if it were in a part of Egypt other than where the Pharaoh and Joseph resided (see especially Gn 46:29, 31, telling of Joseph’s going to Goshen to meet his father, and then going elsewhere to Pharaoh). During the 12th Dynasty, the capital was at It-towy (Lisht), a site compatible with the conditions of the narrative, which require a capital neither too near to, nor too far from, Goshen (Battenfield 1972: 81). There was also a secondary capital, possibly at Tell el-Dab‘a (Battenfield 1972: 81–82; see also Bietak 1986: 228, 237–41; 1996: 9–10). (Both the “land of Rameses” [Gn 47:11] and the storage cities of Pithom [probably Tell el-Maskhuta; Holladay 1992: 588; 1997: 432; 2001: 50; Van Seters 2001: 256–64] and Per Ramses [probably Qantir; Bietak 1986: 230, 268–71, 273, 278–83], which were built well before the birth of Moses [Rea 1960: 62], are probably insertions of later names by a copyist to identify Goshen and the storage cities to readers who would not know the original locations [Nichol 1953: 473, 497–98; Aling 1981: 95]).


As can be seen from the above reconstruction, the Israelite Patriarchal period spans the transition between MBI and MBII. When MBI came to be recognized as a discrete historical period, it was suggested by Nelson Glueck (1955: 6–9; 1959b: 68) and W. F. Albright (1961: 36–54; 1971: 82–83) that this was the period of the Patriarchs. Since then, this conclusion has been disputed by Thomas L. Thompson (1974: 182–83) and J. Van Seters (1975: 104–12). A survey of the archaeological data (Bimson 1983: 53–89), however, supports the position of those initial conclusions for MBI as the period of settlement in the Negev by Abraham and Isaac, but it also suggests, further, that the Jacob narratives belong to MBIIA. It would seem, then, that these archaeological data support a Biblical chronological framework based on the long chronology.


The Time of Oppression


We turn our attention next to the time of the Oppression of the Israelites after the death of Joseph, when there arose over Egypt a new king who “did not know about Joseph” (Ex 1:8). In Hebrew, the verb qwm plus the preposition ‘al often means “to rise against” (cf. Dt 19:11; 28:7; Jgs 9:18; et al.), and as such would not indicate a peaceable accession to the throne of a nation. This statement would, therefore, fit more precisely with a situation in which the Hyksos or other outsiders were taking over the Egyptian throne than it would with the rise of a native Egyptian Dynasty (Rea 1960: 60). Although possibly, as is sometimes suggested, it could refer to Ahmose I (ca. 1575–1553 BC), the first king of the 18th Dynasty (ca. 1575–1295 BC), in taking back a throne that was rightfully his, other considerations seem to go contrary to this. For instance, in Exodus 1:9–10, the new king says:


Look,…the Israelites have become much too numerous for us. Come we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.


This statement may well have been made long before Israel finished multiplying to the population peak which they reached just prior to the Exodus. The Israelites were, in fact, never more numerous and mighty than the native Egyptians; but they were indeed so, in comparison to the Hyksos, who were never very numerous in Egypt, and who ruled by holding key positions rather than by numbers. If the new Pharaoh “who did not know about Joseph” was a Hyksos ruler, he could expect war with the Egyptians at any time; and since Joseph and the Hebrews had been on friendly terms with the Egyptians, he could also expect the Hebrews to join themselves to the Egyptians (Rea 1960: 61).


There are other reasons that support the suggestion that the Hyksos oppressed Israel. For instance, if Ahmose was the Pharaoh of Exodus 1:8, it would seem illogical that the Egyptians would fear the Israelites after the Egyptians’ successful expulsion of the Hyksos, pushing them back into Palestine and even besieging them there. Moreover, if the Hyksos had enslaved the Hebrews, the latter would certainly have had no desire to leave with the Hyksos; and since the Jews were on friendly terms with the Egyptians, a clear distinction would be made (Rea 1960: 60–61).


It seems, therefore, that the Hyksos enslaved the Hebrews.[xxv] They forced them to build the storage cities Pithom and Per-Rameses (cf. Ex 1:11), the latter of which (at Tell el-Dab‘a) has finds from the Hyksos Period and earlier at nearby Tell el-Dab‘a (associating it with Avaris) and which also has finds from the 19th Dynasty (ca. 1295–1185 BC) (at Qantir), including bricks with the name “Rameses,” as well as ostraca which have the name “Per-Rameses.”


Indeed, an even earlier, but lesser period of oppression can be seen as existing at the beginning of the reign of Amenemhat III (1842–1797 BC), or during a possible coregency between him and his father Sesostris III (Goyon 1957: 22; Breasted 1908: 160; Simpson 1959: 20–37; Murnane 1977: 9–13, 228–29), since this was the approximate time that Asiatic slaves appeared in Egypt (Posener 1957: 146; Hayes 1972: 87 and passim; Wilson 1969: 553–54). This oppression may be dated to ca. 1850 BC, in fulfillment of the 400 years of Genesis 15:13 (Battenfield 1972: 84), with a more intense period of oppression during the Hyksos domination, as mentioned above.


Recently, an early 18th Dynasty royal citadel was discovered at Tell el-Dab‘a, south of Qantir (Bietak 1996: 67–83; 1997a: 115–24; 1997b: 100–101; 2001: 353; Bietak, Dorner and Jánosi 2001:36–101). This may have been the scene of events described in Exodus 1:13–2:15, and chapters 5–12. Most likely constructed by Ahmose following the expulsion of the Hyksos, it consisted of a fortress and palace, and remained in use until at least the reign of Amenhotep II (1452–1417 BC). These finds correlate well with the literary sources concerning Per-Rameses (Aling 1981: 66–69; cf. Shea 1982: 231–32).


Subsequent to the Hyksos domination, the Egyptian rulers of the 18th Dynasty, evidently after a brief period of relaxation from the Hyksos oppression, found it to their advantage to oppress the Hebrews (Rea 1960: 61). Thutmose I (ca. 1532–1518 BC), who acceded to the throne in 1532 BC, would be a likely candidate for the Pharaoh of the death decree (Shea 1982: 233), if we reckon an Exodus of ca. 1450 BC. According to Exodus 1:15–22 and 7:7, this decree was probably issued about half way between the birth of Aaron and the birth of Moses.


Summary and Conclusion


Ever since the appearance of LXXBh, with variant translations of Exodus 2:40, there has been a division among scholars as to whether the sojourn of the Israelites in Egypt was 215 (or 210) years long, as the variant reading claims, or 430 years long, as the Hebrew text gives the time period. Although, along with Genesis 15:13–21, Exodus 12:40 is our primary source, evidences other than the variants of the ancient translations of the Scriptures are needed in order to reach a decision with respect to whether the long chronology or the short one for the Israelite sojourn in Egypt is to be preferred.


A comparison of various genealogical data reveals that while on the surface, at least, the Levitical genealogy of Moses shows only four generations, other genealogies, such as those of Judah, and the two sons of Joseph, reveal six, seven, and eight generations for the same time period, evidencing that there are some missing generations in the genealogy of Moses. Thus, this genealogy in Exodus 6:16–27 should not be taken as support for the 215-year view. The genealogical data favor, instead, a longer time period.


The historical and archaeological evidence also seems to have a closer correlation with the Biblical data if the 430 years are taken to be the length of the Israelite sojourn in Egypt alone. Especially does the career of Joseph seem to fit well into the 12th-Dynasty circumstances in Egypt, with the sojourn and the oppressions of varying intensities bridging the reign of Amenemhat III, the Hyksos Period, and the 18th Dynasty. Also, Abraham appears to fit just as well, if not better, into the 21st century, than into the 19th century. Moreover, not only are the evidences from these various directions compatible with Palestinian and Egyptian history, but they also seem to provide preferable explanations for—or, at least, to avert—some of the problems that arise in connection with the short chronology (such as the reference in Numbers 3:27–28 to 8,600 brothers and cousins of Moses and Aaron).


In short, the various lines of evidence would seem to indicate that the 430 years should be taken at face value for the Israelite sojourn in Egypt. In any event, it seems to me that the case for this particular reconstruction is tenable and defensible, and that it deserves attention as an alternative to the “short-chronology” interpretation.



[i] I.e., if MSS B and h, which carry this tradition, reflect that early a form of the text.

[ii] Josephus, Antiquities 2.15.2; and Against Apion 1.14.

[iii] Josephus, Antiquities. 2.9.1.

[iv] For a list of those who hold this position in rabbinic tradition, cf. Rowley 1950: 67–69.

[v] Wood 1970: 88, points out that Galatians 3:16 says it was “not only to Abraham but to ‘his seed’” which the covenant promises were spoken; and indeed, just before Jacob went down into Egypt they were spoken to him for the last time (Gn 46:2–4)—exactly 430 years before the Law was given, if the long chronology is allowed.

[vi] This is disputed by Ridderbos (1953: 136, n. 8).

[vii] On the basis of MSS B, א, A, and C, the text should indicate, according to Westcott and Hort (1948: 276), a period of “about 450 years” (or more precisely 447 years)—i.e., 400 years of bondage in Egypt, 40 years in the wilderness, and 7 years of conquest of Canaan.

[viii] The foregoing dates are based on the Middle chronology for the beginning of Hammurabi’s reign (i.e., 1792 BC), and follow Brinkman 1977: 336–37.

[ix] The ancient versions follow the MT for the most part in Genesis 15:13–21. However, the LXX (all MSS except 82*) adds the phrase “and humble them,” to the list of things that will happen to Abram’s seed during the 400 years (300 years, MS 79*). There are a few other minor variations that also affect the meaning of this passage very little, if at all. In essence, it is only Exodus 12:40 that has a bearing textually on the problem under consideration.

[x] MSS AFM a-tv-c2. The fact that the various manuscripts place this phrase in two different locations in this verse would seem to indicate its secondary character.


[xii] Armenian, Bohairic, Ethiopic, Syro-Hexapla, Eusebius—Chronicon.

[xiii] Indeed, Rashi is somewhat dependent on the LXX (cf. Rashi, 2:61). It is also interesting to note that it is an anachronism to call Abraham, Isaac, and even Jacob himself “children of Israel and their fathers” (as in the LXX and Samaritan Pentateuch) before Jacob had sons at Haran or had received his new name on his way back to Canaan. This could, however, have added only about 33 years (1913–1880 BC )—or the time of Jacob’s return to Canaan until the time when he went down to Egypt—if their sojourn was also “in Canaan.” (The writer is indebted to William H. Shea for this observation.)

[xiv] Cognates in Akkadian (dārû) and Arabic dāra) also bear this out (cf. Freedman and Lundbom, 1978: 170, 172).

[xv] This assumes the validity of basing the fulfillment of this verse on Levi’s genealogy.

[xvi] Those listed as sons of Izhar and Uzziel, vss. 21–22, are possibly several generations later, the term “son” thus indicating a later descendant, with the most important names listed first in that they appear in current events surrounding the Exodus (cf. Lv 10:4; Nm 3:30; 16:1). For examples of this phenomenon elsewhere, cf. Genesis 11:26, 32; 12:4; 46:16–18, 24–25.

[xvii] An alternative view is that there is only one Amram, thus leaving the parents of Moses and Aaron unnamed; cf. Green 1890: 293.

[xviii] The genealogical comparisons of this section of the paper (including Table 2) reflect only the data given in the Biblical text. I am not attempting here to do a thorough historical reconstruction of these genealogies, which would of necessity include all instances of genealogical fluidity; cf. Wilson 1977: 27–36.

[xix] Levi and Judah were probably only about one year apart in age. In fact, it would seem that all 11 sons born to Jacob in his exile, exclusive of Benjamin, were born within a seven-year period (Gn 29:28–30:28; 31:38).

[xx] Before he died Jacob prophesied that Joseph’s descendants would be fruitful (Gn 49:22). There are also six generations from Joseph to Zelophehad for the tribe of Manasseh (cf. Nm 26:28–33, 27:1, and Jos 17:3).

[xxi] On Shechem, see Wright 1965: 110–12; and Shea 1976: 151–52. On Bethel, see Albright and Kelso 1968: 10, 21, 45. The conclusion is valid if indeed Bethel is Beitin: cf. Livingston 1970, 1971, 1994, 1998.

[xxii] Both Genesis 12:6 and 21:31 use the term māqôm (“place”) rather than ‘îr (“city”) for these sites, as does Genesis 28:19 for Bethel at the time Jacob went through on his way to Haran. This terminology indicates that there was no inhabited city at these sites at those particular times (i.e., MBI for the former, and MBIIA for the latter).

[xxiii] For doubts concerning this longstanding argument, cf. Van Seters 1966: 185 and Säve-Söderbergh 1951: 59–60.

[xxiv] However, a viable alternative is “second” in the order of procession.

[xxv] If the tradition in Josephus is correct, the Hyksos did make some people slaves; cf. Against Apion 1.14.



Glossary of Technical Terms


Hyksos. Egyptian word meaning “foreign rulers.” It is applied to Canaanites who settled in the eastern delta of Egypt in the Middle Kingdom period and eventually ruled the country for about a century during the succeeding “Second Intermediate Period.”

LXX. Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament between the third and first centuries BC. The term comes from the tradition that 70 (or 72) Jewish scholars translated the Pentateuch into Greek.

Midrash. Jewish commentary on the Old Testament.

MT. Masoretic Text, the standard Hebrew text of the Old Testament from which our modern translations have been made.

obelus. Mark used in ancient manuscripts to point out spurious, corrupt, or doubtful words.

Pentateuch. First five books of the Old Testament.

Peshitta. Principal Syriac version of the Bible.

Samaritan Pentateuch. Samarian version of the Pentateuch, which constitute the entire canon of the Samaritan Community, probably originating ca. 100 BC.

Syro-Hexapla. Early seventh century AD translation of the Old Testament into Syriac.

Targum. Aramaic translations of the Old Testament.

Vulgate. Latin version of the Bible, prepared chiefly by Jerome at the end of the fourth century AD, and used as the authorized version of the Roman Catholic Church.




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   1961       Abram the Hebrew: A New Archaeological Interpretation. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 163: 36–54.

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  1981       Egypt and Bible History. Grand Rapids MI: Baker.

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  1972       A Consideration of the Identity of the Pharaoh of Genesis 47. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 15: 77–85.

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  1996       Avaris: The Capital of the Hyksos. London: British Museum.

  1997a     The Center of Hyksos Rule: Avaris (Tell el-Dab’a). Pp. 87–139 in The Hyksos: New Historical and Archaeological Perspectives, ed. Eliezer D. Oren. Philadelphia: The University Museum.

  1997b     Dab‘a, Tell ed-. Pp. 99–101 in The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Ancient Near East, ed. Eric M. Meyers. New York: Oxford University Press.

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  2001       Ausgrabungen in dem Palastbezirk von Avaris. Vorbericht Tell el-Dab‘a/‘Ezbet Helmi 1993–2000. Egypt and the Levant 11: 27–119.

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  1981       Redating the Exodus and Conquest, second ed. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 5. Sheffield, England: Almond.

  1983       Archaeological Data and the Dating of the Patriarchs. Pp. 53–89 in Essays on the Patriarchal Narratives, ed. Alan R. Millard and Donald J. Wiseman. Winona Lake IN: Eisenbrauns.

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  1908       A History of the Ancient Egyptians. London: John Murray.

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  1977       Mesopotamian Chronology of the Historical Period. Pp. 335–48 in Ancient Mesopotamia, rev. ed., ed. Leo Oppenheim. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Cassuto, Umberto

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  1979       Preliminary Report of the Second Season of the “Central Negev Highlands Project.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 236: 41–60.

  1981       Preliminary Report of the Third and Final Season of the “Central Negev Highlands Project.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 243: 57–77.

Culver, Robert D.

  1980       Dôr. Pp. 186–87 in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament 1, ed. R. Laird Harris; Gleason L. Archer, Jr.; and Bruce K. Waltke. Chicago: Moody.

Dever, William G.

  1973       The EB IV-MB I Horizon in Transjordan and Southern Palestine. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 210: 37–63.

Emery, Walter B.

  1965       Egypt in Nubia. London: Hutchinson.

Frank, Edgar

  1956       Talmudic and Rabbinical Chronology. New York: P. Feldheim.

Freedman, David N., and Lundbom, J.

  1978       Dôr. Pp. 169–70, 173–74, 174–81 in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament 3, ed. G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren. Grand Rapids: MI: Eerdmans.

Freedman, Harry, and Simon, Maurice, translators

  1939       Midrash Rabbah 1. London: Soncino.

Gardiner, Alan

  1961       Egypt of the Pharaohs. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gesenius, William

  1982       Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament, trans. Samuel P. Tregelles. Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans.

Girdlestone, Robert B.

  1948       Synonyms of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans.

Glueck, Nelson

  1955 The Age of Abraham in the Negeb. Biblical Archaeologist 18: 2–9.

  1959a     Exploring Southern Palestine (The Negev). Pp. 1–11 in The Biblical Archaeologist Reader 1, eds. G. Ernest Wright and David N. Freedman. Missoula MT: American Schools of Oriental Research and Scholars Press.

  1959b     Rivers in the Desert. New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy.

Goyon, G.

  1957       Nouvelles Inscriptions rupestres du Wadi Hammamat. Paris: Adrien-Maisonneuve.

Green, William H.

  1890       Primeval Chronology. Bibliotheca Sacra 47: 285–303.

Hasel, Gerhard F.

   1981       The Meaning of the Animal Rite in Genesis 15. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 19: 61–78.

Hayes, William C., ed.

  1972       A Papyrus of the Late Middle Kingdom in the Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn: The Brooklyn Museum.

Hoehner, Harold W.

  1969       The Duration of the Egyptian Bondage. Bibliotheca Sacra 126: 306–16.

Holladay, John S., Jr.

  1992       Maskhuta, Tell el-. Pp. 588–92 in The Anchor Bible Dictionary 4, ed. David N. Freedman. New York: Doubleday.

  1997       Maskhuta, Tell el-. Pp. 432–37 in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East, ed. Eric M. Myers. New York: Oxford University Press.

  2001       Pithom. Pp. 50–53 in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt 3, ed. Donald B. Redford. New York: Oxford University Press.

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  1971       A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans.

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  1976       The East Jordan Valley Survey, 1975. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 222: 41–66.

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  1925       The Date of the Exodus. Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark.

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   1952a     The Books of Chronicles, trans. Andrew Harper. Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans.

  1952b     The Pentateuch 1, trans. James Martin. Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans.

Livingston, David P.

  1970       Location of Biblical Bethel and Ai Reconsidered. Westminster Theological Journal 33: 20–44.

  1971       Traditional Site of Bethel Questioned. Westminster Theological Journal 34: 39–50.

  1994       Further Considerations on the Location of Bethel at El-Bireh. Palestine Exploration Quarterly 126: 154–59.

  1998       Locating Biblical Bethel. Bible and Spade 11: 77–84.

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  1977       Ancient Egyptian Coregencies. Chicago: Oriental Institute.

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  1893       Beni Hasan, Part 1. London: K. Paul, Trench, Trübner.

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Petrie, William M.F.

  1911       Egypt and Israel. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

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  1957       Les Asiatiques in Egypte sous les XIIe et XIIIe dynasties. Syria 34: 145–63.

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  1953       The Epistle of Paul to the Churches of Galatia. Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans.

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  1971       The Length of Israel’s Sojourn in Egypt. Grace Journal 12.1: 18–35.

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  1951       The Hyksos Rule in Egypt. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 37: 53–71.

Shea, William H.

  1976       Famines in the Early History of Egypt and Syro-Palestine (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Michigan).

  1982       Exodus, Date of the. Pp. 230–38 in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia 2, ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans.

Silbermann, Abraham M.

  1945       Pentateuch with Rashi’s Commentary, vol. 1, trans. M. Rosenbaum and Abraham M. Silbermann. London: Shapiro.

Simpson, William K.

  1959       Historical and Lexical Notes on the New Series of Hammamat Inscriptions. Journal of Near Eastern Studies 18: 20–37.

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  1982       The Bible and Archaeology, 3d ed. Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans.

Thompson, Thomas L.

  1974       The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives. New York: W. de Gruyter.

Van Seters, John

  1966       The Hyksos: A New Investigation. New Haven: Yale University Press.

  2001       The Geography of the Exodus. Pp. 255–76 in The Land that I Will Show You: Essays on the History and Archaeology of the Ancient Near East in Honour of J. Maxwell Miller, ed. J. Andrew Dearman and Patrick Graham. JSOT Supplement Series 343. Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic.

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  1959       Joseph en Égypte. Louvain: Publications Universitaires.

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  1970       The Covenant of Grant in the Old Testament in the Ancient Near East. Journal of the American Oriental Society 90: 184–203.

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  1969       Egyptian Historical Texts. Pp. 553–55 in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, ed. James B. Pritchard. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press.

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  1965       Shechem: The Biography of a Biblical City. New York: McGraw Hill.


Comments Comment RSS

7/9/2008 8:30 PM #

The DSS (Dead Sea Scrolls) match the Masoretic Text with the shorter reading of the variant (Egypt only). Further, the Vulgate, which was translated from an early Hebrew text, also contains the shorter reading of only Egypt. The Samaritan Torah contains the longer reading, adding Canaan, but this text is known to be of lower quality and have several errors due to theological difference and inferior textual transmission.
"Egypt" : DSS, MT, LXX (certain texts), Vulgate
"Egypt and Canaan" : LXX (certain texts), Samaritan Torah

The better transmitted, more reliable, and older texts favor the shorter variant of "Egypt." Additionally, in textual criticism, the shorter readings are usually favored. Thus, based only on textual criticism, the shorter variant supporting 430 years in Egypt is highly favored.

MT - 7/9/2008 8:30:22 PM

7/9/2008 10:43 PM #

I know the Exodus Code is [wrong], but Simcha is right in placing the arrival of the Isrealites around 200 years before the Exodus. -- I did the research myself.

In my blog I show that to place the arrival of the Isrealites to Egypt 430 before the Exodus in the 19th century would be a historical blunder.

That is, Genesis 41: 41-43 says Pharaoh put Joseph in a charriot. -- But the Hyksos that arrived later and took over the capital of Egypt in the 17th century BC were the ones that introduced the charriot!!! Hence the belief that Joseph entered Egypt in the 19th century BC is wrong!!

The more accurate date for Jacob's arrival to Egypt is in the 17th century B.C. in the time of the Hyksos, 215 years after God made a covenant with Abraham, and another 215 years before the Exodus.

Even the very math of the timeline of the Patriarchs supports this:

"Genesis 12: 4-5 says that Abram (later called Abraham) migrated from Haran to Canaan when he was seventy-five years old. He was one-hundred years old when his son Issac was born (Genesis 21: 1). — Then when Issac was sixty when Jacob was born (Genesis 25: 24-26). Abraham would have been 160 at the time. And when Jacob arrived in Egypt on Joseph’s invitation and was presented to the King he was 130 years old (Genesis 47: 9).

"So this means that there was a gap of 215 years from the time Abraham first went to Canaan to when Jacob arrived in Egypt. So, by subtracting that number from 1867 we find that Jacob arrived in Egypt in 1652 B.C., durring the rule of the Hyksos kings, and another 215 years before the Exodus of Moses in 1437 B.C. Add it up and it comes to 430 years. So, it appears that the writter of the Exodus intended the reading to be “in Canaan and Egypt.”

Also, this is supported by Josephus' account:

They left Egypt in the month Xanthicus, on the fifteenth day of the lunar month; four hundred and thirty years after our forefather Abraham came into Canaan, but two hundred and fifteen years only after Jacob removed into Egypt. (Antiquities of the Jews 2, 15, 2)

I know several people already know this, but I myself found this out independently and I was surprised when I did.

Ed. note: Website address removed per ABR comment rules.

Kris Smith - 7/9/2008 10:43:03 PM

7/11/2008 5:48 PM #

Your argument is a logical fallacy. You used circular reasoning to arrive at your conclusion. You affirmed 1867 B.C. as the date Abraham arrives in Canaan, but your evidence for this is 215 years in Canaan + 215 years in Egypt, to arrive at the conclusion that the Israelites dwelt 215 years in Canaan and 215 years in Egypt. Where do you derive your date of 1867 B.C. for Abraham's 75th year?
Further, the Israelites/sons of Israel were not sons of Israel before Jacob/Israel, thus it would be incorrect to say that Abraham, who was an ancestor of Jacob, was one of the "sons of Israel" and his dwelling time in Canaan counts as the dwelling time of the Israelites. Additionally, Joseph is an Israelite, and his dwelling in Egypt counts towards the total. You do not factor this into your equation. Instead, you only count from the time that Jacob, now a very old man, first arrives in Egypt, when one of his sons (Joseph) had been living there previously.

The remark about chariots should not be used as basis for your argument of Joseph living in Egypt during the 17th century B.C. That chariots were not used there prior to the Hyksos is an argument from silence. Although they may have not been used in war, they could have been used for transportation, as it is know that chariots were used in Mesopotamia as early as 3000 B.C.

Josephus was obviously using an LXX translation that read "Egypt and Canaan."

The main problem is that you do not deal with the textual support in favor of the reading "Egypt" as opposed to "Egypt and Canaan." The fact remains that the older, the superior, and the majority of the texts contain the reading "Egypt."

MT - 7/11/2008 5:48:23 PM

7/13/2008 4:58 AM #

I'm not sure if anything i put here will help, i'm trying to work out if the sojourn was 215 years or 430 years. All versions give gods covenant with abraham after he left Ur(?), so it is logical to assume that the period of sojourn should start at this point, not having the math at hand, by calculating through to the date of the exodus, it would favour a time span of 430 years, the problem arises if the sojourn represents time actual time spent in egypt( obviously ignoring the possibility that canaan is considered part of egypt. As to the genealogy issue, i'm still pulling my hair out trying to work out how four generations pass from levi to moses, but ten pass from joseph to joshua.

michael - 7/13/2008 4:58:16 AM

8/11/2008 2:51 PM #

To MT,

You said, "The remark about chariots should not be used as basis for your argument of Joseph living in Egypt during the 17th century B.C. That chariots were not used there prior to the Hyksos is an argument from silence. Although they may have not been used in war, they could have been used for transportation, as it is know that chariots were used in Mesopotamia as early as 3000 B.C. "

No, it isn't an argument from silence, but from fact! -- History says that the most fundamental weapon for the Hyksos during their invasion of Egypt was the chariot! -- If the Egyptians indeed had the chariot as well then this would not have been the case.

Also, your argument that the Egyptians could have at least had the chariot for transportation intead for war is an insult to the intelligence of the ancient Egyptians. -- The Egyptians were not stupid. If they had the chariot at all, whether the original intention were just for transportation or not, they would have been able to even the odds and reduce the effctiveness of the Hyksos invasion. They would have been able to use them for war. But history shows they didn't. Logic also dictates the same.

And as for your argument that since the Mesepatamians had the charriot so therefore the Egyptians may have had them to, that is just wishfull thinking. You'll have to produce more evidence than that. -- That isn't even evidence.

Also, the New Testament itself supports that the 430 began with Abraham and not with Jacob or Joseph.

Galatians 3: 17 says that 430 passed FROM THE TIME God made his covenant with Abraham TO THE TIME Moses received the law!! This justifies the fact that the proper reading of Exodus 12: 40 should say "Egypt and Cannan" instead of just Egypt.

You also said, "Josephus was obviously using an LXX translation that read "Egypt and Canaan.""

Maybe so. But as mentioned, Paul (in Galatans 3: 17) agrees with the reading. Are you then going to say that Paul is wrong? Remember, to say so is the same as saying the Bible is fallable. And As a Bible believing Chistian I cannot accept that.  

It is easier to accept that the original reading of Exodus 12:40 said "Egypt and Cannan" and that the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Massoret texts made an oversight.

And to answer your question about my justification of placing Abraham's 75th year in 1867 B.C., I used 1 Kings 6: 1 which says the temple of Solomon was built in the 4th year of Solomon as king and 480 years after the Exodus. -- The "Encyclopedia of the Orient" places his first year in 961 BC, therefore take away 4 years and we end up with 957 BC. I then add 480 and end up with 1437 BC as the year of the Exodus. Then I add another 430 (the time Israel spent in Cannan and Egypt before the Exodus) and come up with 1867.

Finally, you say,"Joseph is an Israelite, and his dwelling in Egypt counts towards the total. You do not factor this into your equation. Instead, you only count from the time that Jacob, now a very old man, first arrives in Egypt, when one of his sons (Joseph) had been living there previously."

You are missing the fact that Joseph's arrival would have been during the last few years of the first 215 years. Jacob's arrival began the second 215 years. So, actually, I made sure to factor everything.

Kris Smith - 8/11/2008 2:51:49 PM

12/3/2008 5:40 AM #

"If Abraham is understood to have departed “Ur of the Chaldeans” for Canaan, this logically tells me that any dates pertaining to Abraham, and subsequently the entire lineage he is affiliated with either has to move to a much earlier time period"

I meant to say "move to a much later time period". My apologies.

Johnny O'Coileain - 12/3/2008 5:40:36 AM

12/3/2008 6:37 AM #

I think any true arguments of this nature are futile, and by this I am referring to any sort of lineage numbers (or dates) that are linked to Abraham. Since we’re all in the business of attempting to use biblical numbers as “evidence”, try out my argument for a moment.

“Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there.”
--Gen 11:31

The bible makes numerous mentions of this place known as “Ur of the Chaldeans”, and this is where the fatal blow is struck. The Chaldeans were only known as early as the 9th century BCE, and culminated with the reign of its most popular king, Nebuchadnezzar II. The Chaldean conquer assault was consistently thwarted by the Assyrian empire until around 614BCE, and it is around this time period that the city could logically be called “Ur of the Chaldeans”.  

If Abraham is understood to have departed “Ur of the Chaldeans” for Canaan, this logically tells me that any dates pertaining to Abraham, and subsequently the entire lineage he is affiliated with either has to move to a much earlier time period (which isn’t possible given there is no historical context to place him), or simply not exist at all.

The Chaldean period of Ur is much too later in history for a biblical patriarch who supposedly lived in the 1700’s BCE. If “Ur” was “of the Chaldeans” that Abraham departed from, then we can all see there is a big problem with the accuracy of the bible, let alone people who argue specific biblical numbers.

Johnny O'Coileain - 12/3/2008 6:37:26 AM

1/6/2009 12:46 AM #

1. According to Kenneth Kitchen (On the Reliability of the OT: 316) Chaldeans could be a later addition to distinguish the southern Ur from a northern Ur.  Or, it could have been an earlier term that hasn’t yet turned up in inscriptions (absence of evidence…).  With our knowledge of the time of Abraham so limited, I don’t think we can go so far as to say this is “a big problem with the accuracy of the Bible.”  Kitchen also provided additional arguments in his Biblical Archaeological Review article (March-April 1995).---Bryant Wood

2. There are a few cities named Ur in Mesopotamia, but only one of them was associated with the Chaldeans (Neo-Babylonians, of which Nebuchadnezzar was king) -- the one in the south.

The fact that someone wrote "of the Chaldees" is a dead giveaway that he was trying to distinguish the Ur down south from the 1 or 2 Urs up north, exactly the way I'd say "Springfield, Illinois" to distinguish it from "Springfield, Massachusetts."

Now, this would seem to indicate that the author of the Patriarchal narratives lived in Nebuchadnezzar's time (or after), since the Chaldeans/Neo-Babylonians did not control the southern Ur & the land around it (what is now Kuwait & southern Iraq) until Nebuchadnezzar's father, King Nabopolassar, conquered it in the 7th century BC.

However, the phrase "of the Chaldees" was clearly added in later by what is called a redactor -- a divinely inspired author/editor who updated the Book of Genesis into the language of a later time, because the original language (possibly Akkadian or Paleo-Hebrew) would be as mysterious to the Israelites as Middle English would be to us today.

This redactor was most likely Ezra. He probably added "of the Chaldees" after the word "Ur" because, by his time, the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian occupation of southern Ur was already past history, while the 2 other Urs of the north were still in existence. But when the original Patriarchal narratives were written, there was only one Ur (the one down South), so no further description was needed.---Steve Caesar

abr - 1/6/2009 12:46:11 AM

2/22/2012 8:45 PM #

Thanks for a very interesting article. I notice that you didn't refer to Eugene Merrill's Kingdom of Priests, which also supports the view you have taken.

Don Walls - 2/22/2012 8:45:14 PM

2/23/2012 5:20 AM #

An interesting article, and it's been a while since I covered this issue.

I liked the idea that the Hyksos might have been the incoming enemies of Israel, rather than the outgoing friends.  I also liked the charts.

The term 'Jews' grated: in this context it is an anachronism for the twelve tribes of Israel.  Was Moses a Jew, were Judah’s brothers?  As 'Judah', 'Jews' represented one tribe, later the Southern Kingdom of Israel, later it held in custody the greater name 'Israel', praying for reunification.

Though the population figures might be better redrawn along the lines of , I don’t see that this undermines the essence of the argument for a long Egyptian sojourn, although it does impact with some archaeological data, taken by Kitchen to support a late rather than early Exodus, and if Joshua entered in say 1200 BC, adding 430 for Joseph's entrance would yield a date of 1630 and into Hyksos domain. 1200 + 430 + 40 = 1670 as a rough estimate.

I would have liked interaction with Kitchen, at least to see him listed under bibliography.

Dr Steve H Hakes - 2/23/2012 5:20:42 AM

2/29/2012 3:00 AM #

The Amorite kings at Babylon were powerful for 300 years. The Amorites were powerful in Syria, Lebanon and Canaan for another 100 years.
(1895-1495 B.C.) Thutmose III died in 1495 B.C. not 1434 B.C. (Genesis 15:13-16) Amenhotep II,Thutmose IV,Amenhotep III & Akenaton all collected tribute from the Amorites proving their power had been broken.

The 430 years is from when Abraham's older brother Haran had died to the Exodus 1925-1495 B.C.

Lujack Skylark - 2/29/2012 3:00:13 AM

2/29/2012 3:18 AM #

Abraham lived 1992-1817 B.C. Isaac 1892-1712 B.C. Jacob 1832-1685 B.C. Jacob enters Egypt at age 130 in 1702 B.C. Joseph lives 1741-1631 B.C.

4 generations in Egypt:

Levi 1747-1610 B.C.  (Spent 6 years in Haran then 39 years in Canaan)
Kohath 1714-1581 B.C. (Spent 12 years in Canaan and 121 years in Egpyt.
Amram  1674-1537 B.C. (Spent his whole life in Egypt)
Moses   1575-1495 B.C. (Moses was 80 years old at time of the Exodus.)

Levi..............92 years in Egypt.
Kohath.......121 years in Egypt.
Amram........137 years in Egypt.
Moses...........80 years at time of the Exodus.
=................430 accumulative years not actual years.

Tom - 2/29/2012 3:18:14 AM

3/1/2012 1:04 AM #

Good that this has been reposted after four years - lots of new readers to be able to see it.  I appreciate the amount of research and effort it took to write this article.  I know how hard it is because I have also extensively researched the timeframe and its timings.  However, I come down firmly on 430 years in Canaan AND Egypt - just like the earliest OT manuscripts (the LXX) say.  

One challenge I get when quoting the Septuagint is about how sure we can be that the document we have today lines up with the original ones written 200 years before Jesus was born.  I have now overcome this with my research discovering the very earliest Biblical chronographer - Demetrius.  His research into the years between Biblical events looks to be written in 210 BC from Alexandria - using the Alexandrian LXX.  He was Jewish and it could be that he was also the head librarian at the Alexandrian library and even pushed to have the Hebrew OT translated into Greek.

Demetrius says it was 215 years from the time Abraham was chosen until Jacob into Egypt.  I see that as 25 years for Abraham (to Issac's birth), then 60 for Issac (to Jacob's birth) and 130 for Jacob (year he moved into Egypt)- so he right on the button.

Demetrius then gives lots of details.  One that Joseph was kidnapped into Egypt at age 17.  Two -  that Levi had Kohath at age 60 - in the same year that Jacob died.  Three - that Kohath had Amram at age 40.  Amram was then 14 when Joseph died at age 110.  Levi then dies at age 137.  Amram begot Aaron at 78 and Moses at 75.  Kohath dies at age 133.  He then has Amram dying at age 136.  Those details strongly support a 215 year Egyptian period.

Additionally overall Demetrius says there was 3,839 years from Creation to Exodus.  He says there was 1,360 years from the flood until Jacob entered Egypt.  I agree with both of these numbers when I pull all of the data from our present day version of the Alexandrinus LXX.  So our modern text is the ancient text (at least with respect to an awful lot of numbers) and those writing closest to the event with the most accurate manuscript support the 215 Canaan and 215 Egypt combo.

By the way I also get a 1446 BC Exodus date - so with Demetrius I show that Adam showed up in 5285 BC.

Galatians 3:17 also seems to agree with the 430 years from the promise to Abraham to the law (1876 BC to 1446 BC).

Now to the 400 years issue - that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs where they will be enslaved and oppressed 400 years (Genesis 15:12).  This was given when Abraham was 75 and he was in a land that was not his (he just got there).  This would have been 1876 BC.  It was another 25 years before the child of the promise - Issac born in 1851 BC.  I believe the BIble speaks of that oppression in Gen 21:22-34 where the local King and his army commander cut a peace deal AFTER Abraham's wells were seized.  People don't usually do peace treaties unless there has been unrest and/or oppression.  I date this problem contemporaneously with a 19 year old Ishmael being expelled from the household and residing in Beersheba (exactly where the wells were location).  This was the first oppression towards Issac - and if we put that when he was 5 years old - we then have 400 years of opression in a land that wasn't your descendents.  (430 - 25 to be born - 5 when it started)

As you say, it is difficult to be dogmatic about any of this - but I do prefer to use as much Bible as possible in confirming that the Bible is true.  My timeframe as supported has no conflcts with any Biblically given timelines.  Looking forward to the comments!

Fount Freeman - 3/1/2012 1:04:25 AM

3/1/2012 6:48 PM #

Joseph lived 1741-1631 B.C. Joseph rode the second chariot (Genesis 41:43) in 1711 B.C. when Joseph age 30 became governor of Egypt. (Genesis 41:46) Note: Horse driven chariots first appeared when the Kassites attacked Amorite Babylonian king Samsu-luna 1749-1711 B.C. in 1741 B.C. the year Joseph was born. Egyptian horsemen escorted Jacob's body to Canaan (Genesis 50:7-9) in 1685 B.C. Horse skeleton discovered at Buhen Nubia dated to Senusret III's reign. (Joseph lives 1741-1631 B.C.)

Egyptian kings at Itj-tawy:

Senusret III 1724-1685 B.C. annexed Canaan after God terrorized the cities around Shechem (Genesis 35:1-6) after Jacob and family flees to Bethel. Senusret III had battled the Canaanites around Shechem.
Amenemhet III 1685-1640 B.C. had trade with the Minoans on the island of Crete and Babylon's king Ammi-ditana 1683-1647 B.C.
Amenemhet IV 1640-1631 B.C. Civil war occurs in Egypt when Joseph dies in 1631 B.C.
(Amenemhet I slew Thebean Mentuhotep IV and the Thebean Ahmose family slew Amenemhet IV 212 years later. Prosperity ended in Egypt upon Joseph's death.Abydos Egyptian kings list shows after Amenemhet IV the next king is Ahmose)
Queen Sobekneferu 1631-1628 B.C. civil war spread throughout Egypt.
Thebean Kamose 1631-1628 B.C. and queen Sobekneferu killed in this war.(The horse used in ceremonies during Joseph's lifetime is now used in war.)

The Egyptian people & nomarchs (governors) gave up their land and migrated to Egyptian cities. (Genesis 47:20-21) The cities were ruled by mayors who had limited power.

Hyksos kings/mayors at Avaris:

Sheshi 1702-1699 B.C. lead the Hyksos Canaanites into Egypt.
Yakubher 1699-1690 B.C. name = Yakov/Yakub/Jacob.
Khyan  1690-1660 B.C. had trade with Minoans at Crete and Babylonians.
Apepi I  1660-1619 B.C. routed both Thebean Tao II and Kamose armies.
Apepi II or Khamudi 1619-1608 B.C. driven out of Egypt by Thebean Ahmose

Thebean kings:

Tao II.......1632-1631 B.C.
Kamose....1631-1628 B.C. Kamose wars with queen Sobekneferu.
Ahmose....1628-1603 B.C. defeats the Hyksos Canaanites in 1608 B.C. in the first Exodus. The Hebrew Exodus is is 1495 B.C.

Amorite Babylonian kings reign 300 years at Babylon 1895-1595 B.C. and Amorites are still powerful in Syria and Canaan 1595-1495 B.C. (Genesis 15:13-16 the 400 powerful Amorite years.

Thutmose III did not die in 1434 B.C. Thutmose III died in 1495 B.C. Amenhotep II, Thutmose IV, Amenhotep III and Akenaton all collect tribute from the Amorites proving their power had ended with Thutmose III.

Tom - 3/1/2012 6:48:16 PM

3/2/2012 4:43 PM #

We also have a second confirmation that there were only 4 generations in Egypt - the story of Kohath and his rebellion.  Moses very specifically gives us Kohath's lineage and we can see that they are first cousins!  More than likely Kohath was slightly older - so can you see how possibly family rivalry pushed the older relative of Moses Kothath to rebel after Moses' "failure"?

We know Levi was born in Canaan and then he later moved there.  Levi was slightly older than Joseph - who went there at age 17.  So let's say Levi was 21 at the time (Demetrius the Chronographer also agrees).  They moved down to Egypt when Joseph was 39 (daddy Jacob was 130) - making Levi 43 into Egypt.

Levi had Kohath later (he is not on the list of the ones who moved down) - so let's say at age 60 (Demetrius again agrees - and adds this was the same year Jacob died at 147).

Kohath had Amram at age 40 (per Demetrius).  Let's say Kohath had his brother Izhar maybe 10 years later (could be either way - older or younger - but go with me now) - at age 50.  Then if Izhar had Korah at age 60 - we would see him being born about 8 year before Moses (his first cousin - born to his father when he was 78).

I do date the Exodus at 1446 - when Moses was 80 (and estimating Kohath at 88).  However, even if that date is off we have another Biblical confirmation of a shorter (I say 215 year) sojourn in Egypt - it simply cannot be stretched to 430 years in that one location.  

My earlier posting on here shows how I see the Bible filling those 430 years.


Fount Freeman - 3/2/2012 4:43:43 PM

3/11/2012 4:33 PM #

I disagree with the opinion that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were not oppressed.  Abraham had his wife taken by both the Egyptian and the Canaanites.  Isaac was persecuted by the Canaanites and had his wells taken multiple times.  Jacob lived in fear of the Canaanites and was forced to move because of the danger and even had his daughter raped.

One could pretend that the blessed state of Joseph in Egypt was free of persecution, but first you must remember the many, many years of oppression and imprisonment prior to the event, then you must realize that wealth is not freedom.  Our country is more wealthy than any land on earth, and yet Christians are heavily persecuted and are generally in financial bondage to the money changers.  We are in oppression here as was Israel then.  Even when treated well for Joseph's sake, the Pharaoh was clear that the people did not care for shepherds and that the people therefore were very likely denied many advantages in the public arena and marketplace.

Finally, a man in a tent wandering the land, even if recognized as a prince and blessed man, can hardly be considered one who has "inherited" the land.  They had to wait for the full 400 years before they could receive their promise.  I prefer the 4 generation "short chronology" interpretation.

Thomas - 3/11/2012 4:33:55 PM

4/29/2012 6:35 PM #

I don't think we should speculate on how long four generations is. The tenth President of the U.S., John Tyler, who was born in 1791, still has two living grandsons today. There could easily have been a different number of generations of descendants for each son of Jacob during the sojourn in Egypt.

Rebecca - 4/29/2012 6:35:49 PM

4/30/2012 3:46 PM #

Joseph lived in Egypt to see the third generation. (Genesis 50:23)

Lujack Skylark - 4/30/2012 3:46:09 PM

4/30/2012 5:19 PM #

We don't need to speculate. It is all written down for us. We know 2 generations were already born before they left Canaan for Egypt. That was Levi and Kohath. You go read who left with Jacob.

David - 4/30/2012 5:19:06 PM

7/10/2012 2:58 PM #

In Genesis 15:13, which says, "And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land [that is] not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years," God says that the oppression of the Children of Israel would span a period of 400 years. Psalm 105:12-15, which says "When they were [but] a few men in number; yea, very few, and strangers in it. When they went from one nation to another, from [one] kingdom to another people, He suffered no man to do them wrong: yea, he reproved kings for their sakes; [Saying], Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm," would seem to indicate that there was no oppression of the Patriarchs by anyone during their time in Canaan. Thus, according to Psalm 105, the 400 years of oppression in Egypt could not have included the Patriarchs, and thus must be applied to the time the Children of Israel spent in Egypt. This would mean that the 430 years would be the time between Jacob/Israel's entrance into the land with his seed until the Exodus. That's the way I understand it.--Dan Bruce, The Prophecy Society

Dan Bruce - 7/10/2012 2:58:35 PM

2/24/2014 1:17 PM #

Dan Bruce,

Concerning the situation with Genesis 15 and Psalm 105, I see two issues.

The first is the grammar of Genesis 15:13. You have presented a translation of: "And He said unto Abram, know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land [that is] not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years." However, considering the Hebrew does not contain punctuation, the punctuation supplied is somewhat subject to the translator's understanding of the text. One translation I have seen is, "Then He said to Abram: "Know certainly that your seed will be strangers in land not their own, (and will serve them, and they will afflict them), four hundred years." (Warner, T; "The Time of the End"; 2012) The implication is that the timeframe is related to the time of sojourning in land not belonging to them, while the serving and affliction is descriptive. This then corresponds with both Galatians 3:16 & 17 which says the promise was given to Abraham and to his seed (Jesus) and that the law given 430 years later does not negate the promise previously given (to Abraham), as well as to Acts 13:17-19: "The God of this people Israel [1] chose our fathers and [2] made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and [3] with an uplifted arm He led them out from it. For a period of about forty years He [4] put up with them in the wilderness. When He [5] had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, He [6] distributed their land as an inheritance--[all 6 things took] about four hundred and fifty years."

This brings us to the second issue, the description of Psalm 105. First, we have to acknowledge that Psalm 105 is written in poetic form, as opposed to the narrative form of Genesis. While it is accurate to the Genesis account regarding how God caused kings and leaders--such as Abimelech and Laban--to not do harm to the Patriarchs, the Genesis account of Isaac's and Jacob's lives is certainly not without affliction from the people among whom they live. Genesis 26 recounts how the Gerarians had stopped up the wells which Abraham had dug, and then continually claimed the wells which Isaac redug, pushing Isaac further and further away. Isaac describes this affliction to Abimelech himself in 26:27, "Why have you come to me, since you hate me and have sent me away from you?" Moreover, Jacob's whole time in Haran is spent subservient to Laban and afflicted continuously as Laban deals treacherously with Jacob. Indeed, Abraham's sons were afflicted while sojourning in lands not belonging to them, just as also were the children of Israel in the land of Egypt.

David E. Gregory - 2/24/2014 1:17:04 PM

2/24/2014 1:59 PM #

To Paul J. Ray Jr.,

I appreciated your even handed presentation of the discussion. I especially appreciated your input regarding the generations of the Egyptian sojourn. I think you made some excellent points regarding the discrepancy between the number of generations between the Levites and the Judahites and the idea of four generations, points I had not considered or previously heard addressed. One thing I wanted to add to that discussion is that you discuss the difficulty of counting the four generations from Levi and Judah themselves, but indeed, Judah is said to have grandchildren go with him to Egypt, Hezron and Hamul (Genesis 46). Therefore the fourth generation would be counted from Hezron's generation, meaning that the sixth generation from Judah would indeed be the one who would come out, as your article relates. It certainly does make sense that Levi's generations would also be approximately equivalent to the generations of Judah, therefore likely the sixth generation from Levi, but the fourth generation of the sons of Abraham who went into Egypt, ie the fourth generation from Jacob's great-grandsons. In this case, Moses and Aaron may very well be the sons of a different Amram than the one listed as the head of the household, yet still fall within the confines of the fourth generation spoken of in Genesis 15.

David E. Gregory - 2/24/2014 1:59:34 PM

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