The Duration of the Israelite Sojourn in Egypt -- By: Paul J. Ray, Jr.

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 17:2 (Spring 2004)
Article: The Duration of the Israelite Sojourn in Egypt
Author: Paul J. Ray, Jr.

The Duration of the Israelite Sojourn in Egypt

Paul J. Ray, Jr.

[For an explanation of the technical terms used in this article, see the Glossary at the end of the article—Ed.]

From possibly as early as the LXX (ca. 250–150 BC)1 , 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)2 , and another time following the MT.3 Rabbinic tradition as reflected in Seder ʿÔlām (second century AD) (Frank 1956:11, 19) 4 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 Galations 3:17, however, Paul seems to indicate that the 430 years extended from Abraham to the giving of the Law,5 rather than representing the totality of the sojourn in Egypt. In this, he appears to be following the LXX of Exodus 12:40.6 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).7

Among the Early-Church Fathers there is also division of opinion on the interpretation of the ch...

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