My regular readers more than likely keep track of James White’s goings on. They know that late in July he had a radio “debate” with Harold Camping, who has not met a biblical number he can’t use to predict the second coming of Jesus. In an attempt to debunk the ridiculous numerology Camping uses, Turretinfan, who blogs with the Amazing Alpha&Omega Apologetic team, wrote a couple of posts (see HERE and HERE) demonstrating Camping’s use of numbers is woefully in error and that in turn places significant doubt upon his chronological dating scheme he uses to calculate the date of Christ’s second coming in 2011.
The two articles by Turretinfan address how long Camping says the nation of Israel sojourned in Egypt from the time Jacob went there in Genesis 46 until the nation came out in Exodus 12. Camping’s argument is based upon genealogical information, along with Exodus 12:40, 41 which specifically states Israel was in Egypt for 430 years. However, Turretinfan, in an effort to debunk Camping’s numerology, argues that Israel was only in Egypt for 215 years or so.
He main appeal is to Paul’s words in Galatians 3:16, 17 where he states Israel’s sojourn started 430 years before the giving of the law. Thus, rather than seeing the 430 years beginning at the point when Jacob went into Egypt with his family, the sojourn really began at the giving of the promise to Abraham, 215 years before Jacob went into Egypt. The remainder of the 215 years was Israel’s time of slavery under the Egyptians.
Turretinfan then supplies some additional comments from John Gill, John Calvin, and Matthew Henry, who also argue for the 215 year theory being the length of Israel’s sojourn in Egypt. Gill specifically cites a Septuagint (LXX) reading, along with the Samaritan version, that adds to Exodus 12:40 the phrase, and in the land of Canaan, implying that the 430 years not only includes Israel’s time in Egypt, but also takes into account the generations following the giving of the promise to Abraham when Isaac and Jacob still lived in the land of Canaan.
At first glance, this seems like a clever solution; plus, major biblical commentators like Gill, Calvin, and Henry, add significant weight to the argument. However, as much as I appreciate TF’s attempt to expose Camping as the theological crank he is, saying Israel sojourned in Egypt for only 215 years serves to create more difficulties.
[One interesting side note: Simcha Jacobivici, the sensationalist documentarian who gave us The Lost Tomb of Jesus, also appeals to the 215 year theory for his views he presented in his Exodus Decoded documentary].
1) There are other editions of the LXX which do not contain the phrase “and in the Land of Canaan,” particularly, A, F, and M.
2) All of the Hebrew texts of Exodus 12:40 do not contain the additional phrase.
And 3) Well established extra-biblical evidence also supports the 430 year sojourn, not the 215.
There are other points the article raises, but I think those three are the most solid evidence against a 215 year theory.
But let me back up and expand upon them a bit.
First, there is absolutely no other way to read Exodus 12:40 but that Israel sojourned in Egypt 430 years. In fact, the Exodus record even places the termination of Israel’s sojourn in Egypt at the 430th year (vs. 41).
Next, Galatians 3:16, 17 should not be made the controlling passage over Exodus 12:40, 41. Thus, Paul may have had something else in mind when he spoke about the 430 years before the giving of the law, quite possibly the last promise of the covenant made to Jacob in Genesis 46:3, 4 before he went down into Egypt to live.
Third, we need to keep in mind that the LXX is a translation of the Hebrew text. Applying the normal rules of textual criticism, the shorter reading of the original language text should be preferred over the longer reading of a translated text that wasn’t published until some 1300 years or so later. Moreover, the fact that the additional phrase “and in the land of Canaan” is just found in a few editions of the LXX and not others makes this even more of a questionable reading in my mind.
Fourth, as much as I appreciate the writing ministry of Gill, Calvin, and Henry, and the great treasure of their commentaries they have left to the Church at large, let’s be honest, they are seriously dated with regards to current archaeological information. Our understanding of Egyptian history, the sojourn of Israel, and the Exodus has advanced dramatically since those men wrote.
Those things being stated, there are a handful of academic articles available on line that go into greater depth concerning the problems with the 215 year theory.
The Duration of the Egyptian Bondage by Harold Hoehner
The Length of Israel’s Sojourn in Egypt by Jack Riggs
The Duration of the Israelite Sojourn in Egypt by Paul J. Ray
Though I commend TF’s efforts to stick with scripture, I think consideration of further historical information helps to illuminate more of what the biblical text is saying, and in my mind, the 215 year theory is extremely problematic. Even for debunking a false teacher like Camping.