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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.

2007 bs cover large summerThis article was published in a full-color format in the Summer 2007 issue of Bible and Spade.

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

Variant

MT

Samaritan

Josephus

LXX

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

h

Egypt & Canaan

Ant. 2.15.2

B

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

1

Joseph

   

Levi

 

Judah

 

2

Ephraim

   

Kohath

 

Perez

 

3

Shuthelah

Becher

(Bered)

Tahan

Amram

 

Hezron

 

4

Eran & Tahath

 

Laadan

?

 

Ram

Caleb

5

Eleadah

 

Ammihud

Amram =

Jochebed

Amminadab

Hur

6

Tahath

 

Elishama†

Aaron† =

Elisheba

Nahshon†

Uri

7

Zabad

 

Nun†

     

Bezaleel†

8

Shuthelah

 

Joshua†

       

9

Ephraim

           

10

Ezer & Elead & Beriah

           

11

Rephah & Resheph

           

12

Telah

           

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

THE GENEALOGIES OF EPHRAIM, LEVI, AND JUDAH

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.

Abraham

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.

Joseph

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.

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Endnotes

[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.

[xi] MSS ABCD4EFG1HINPQW3X1BDCF = dln.

[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.

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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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