Returning to Egypt [II]

See part 1 for the background…

There are two specific passages that lend support for the 215 year theory, Galatians 3:16-18 and Exodus 6:16-20. TF does a tremendous job of exhausting these two passages, especially Exodus 6, in defense of his position. However, there are other exegetical points I believe he has overlooked that don’t easily allow these two passages to be an airtight affirmation for the 215 year theory. I will consider them in turn.Galatians 3:16-18

The passage in Galatians reads,

16 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. 17 And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. 18 For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.

The argument put forth by proponents of the 215 year theory is that the 430 years in which Abram’s seed will be a stranger and oppressed began at the promise of the covenant God made with him in Genesis 15. Paul, then, traces the 430 years from Genesis 15 all the way to the Exodus and the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai. Hence, 215 years of time passed with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and when Jacob and his family went to Egypt, another 215 years passed until the Exodus. For TF’s position, Paul’s words couldn’t be more clear and the conclusion of a 215 year stay for the Children of Israel in Egypt is the correct understanding of all the chronological data.

But as I have already noted in the previous sections dealing with Genesis 15 and more importantly, Exodus 12, there are undeniable textual factors that contradict the 215 year theory as TF argues for it. So, I believe Paul’s words have to be understood much differently than him saying the 430 years began in Genesis 15 and run through to Exodus 12. That being, the 430 years began with Jacob going into Egypt in Genesis 46. TF states that it is straining the text of Genesis 46 to say Jacob was given the terms of the promise made to Abraham, especially when there is no mention of “seed” or of “being made a nation” in Genesis 46. But that response too readily dismisses some important biblical elements.

The first problem I think the supporters of the 215 year theory make is to separate Abraham from his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob. They are quite insistent that Paul only has in mind Abraham and is not at all including Isaac and Jacob with his words here. But it is mistaken to make such a separation when all three patriarchs are always listed together in Scripture as recipients of God’s promise He made with Abraham in Genesis 15. William Hendricksen writes in his commentary on Galatians:

The covenant which God made with Abraham was repeated and confirmed in identical language in the promise addressed to Isaac and to Jacob. … The reasonable character of this explanation is evident from the fact that Scripture itself definitely points in this direction, for again and again it mentions Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in one breath. Not only this, but in nearly every case when this occurs it is in connection with the divine promise that the three patriarchs are grouped together as if they were one (Gen. 28:13; 32:9; 48:16; 50:24; Exod. 3:16; 6:3; 32:13; Deut. 1:8; 9:5, 27; 29:13; 30:20; I Chron. 29:18; Matt. 22:32; Mark 12:26; Acts 3:13; 7:32) [emphasis in original].

Additionally, Hebrews 11:8, 9 connects Isaac and Jacob as heirs to the promise where the text states, By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. 9 By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise… That last phrase in verse 9 is especially worth noting, because it links Isaac and Jacob directly to the original promise God gave to Abraham.

Also, Paul seems to be contrasting two periods, or eras, in Galatians 3. The period of promise, which ended with Jacob going into Egypt with his family, and then the period of the law, which began 430 years later with the giving of the 10 commandments on Mt. Sinai.

Exodus 6:16-20

The passage in question reads,

16 And these are the names of the sons of Levi according to their generations; Gershon, and Kohath, and Merari: and the years of the life of Levi were an hundred thirty and seven years. 17 The sons of Gershon; Libni, and Shimi, according to their families. 18 And the sons of Kohath; Amram, and Izhar, and Hebron, and Uzziel: and the years of the life of Kohath were an hundred thirty and three years. 19 And the sons of Merari; Mahali and Mushi: these are the families of Levi according to their generations. 20 And Amram took him Jochebed his father’s sister to wife; and she bare him Aaron and Moses: and the years of the life of Amram were an hundred and thirty and seven years.

The genealogical lists in Exodus 6 also seem to lend strong support to the 215 year theory. The argument goes like this: Levi was the father of Kohath, who in turn was the father of Amram. Amram took his father’s sister, Jochebed as a wife (vs. 20). Amram and Jochebed are the parents of Moses and Aaron. If Jochebed is Kohath’s sister, then that makes her Levi’s daughter. If she is Levi’s daughter and there were 430 years between the entrance of Levi with Jacob into Egypt, that means Jochebed was over 200 years old when Moses was born.

As strong as this passage appears to be in favor of the 215 year theory, it is fraught with a few problems that unravel it.

First is the biblical genealogical lists. Biblical genealogies can be a bit tricky to interpret. The primary reason is that the lists may not always be complete and gaps can exist in them. Now, just to be clear: I am personally of the opinion that most of the genealogical lists found in the Bible are fairly tight. So where as I think gaps do exist in various instances, they are not huge, multiple year gaps that make tracking biblical chronologies impossible. None the less, genealogies can and do contain some gaps and in some cases, these genealogical lists are stylized, or lists that are abbreviated for specific purposes. This is typical of many lists not only in the Bible (for example Matthew 1:1-18), but also in ANE historical documentation.

I believe Exodus 6:16ff. happens to be one of those stylized lists. It is not meant to be chronological at all. In fact, every Hebrew and OT scholar I consulted both in published works and through email correspondence believes the list is abbreviated and stylized for a purpose, and is not at all meant to convey chronology in this instance.

TF presents his case for his position with the assumption that Exodus 6:16-20 is chronological where as what the list probably represents is marking off key men in a family line. Old Testament scholar, K. A. Kitchen, suggests the list is not successive generations, but instead represents tribe (Levi), clan (Kohath), family (Amram) and individuals (Aaron and Moses). Moreover, Genesis 15:16 states that in the 4th generation they shall come out. If we understand “generation” to mean a lifetime, and a “generation” at that period in human history was over a 100 years of age, seeing that Levi lived 137 years, Kohath 133, Amram 137 and then Moses 120 years (Deut. 34:7), then Israel came out of Egypt in the “4th generation,” which is established by the age of the key men in Exodus 6.

An additional reason this list in Exodus 6 is believed to be stylized is that other OT genealogies list individuals contemporary with Moses and Aaron at the exodus who have several generations in between them and their parental ancestors arriving in Egypt with Jacob. For example, Eugene Merrill notes that Bezalel, one of the artisans who oversaw the construction of the Tabernacle (Exod. 31:2-5), was a contemporary with Moses, but was the 7th generation from Jacob (1 Chron. 2:1-20). Elishama, who was the leader of the tribe of Ephraim when Israel journeyed through Sinai, was the 9th generation from Jacob according to 1 Chron. 7:22-26, and Joshua, the military assistant to Moses was in the 10th generation from Jacob (1 Chron. 7:27).

Then two final mathematical problems that add to the understanding the genealogies are stylized and not chronological: According to Exodus 6, Kohath has four children, Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel. Amram is the father of Moses and Aaron. Numbers 3:27, 28 lists the total number of all the males between these 4 sons as being 8,600. Those are just the males. Dividing up the number between 4 brothers would mean roughly 2150 with each individual. If we take the chronological view of the Exodus 6 genealogies, that means Moses had over 2100 brothers.

Then there is the problem of getting 1.5 to 2 million people who left Egypt at the exodus out of 75 in just 215 years. TF believes it is because the Israelites had big, 20 plus kid families like the Duggars in Arkansas. That could be a possibility, due to the fact God blessed the Israelites and the land of Egypt was filled with them (Exod. 1:7), but there are a lot of assumptions to be accepted in order to believe it. TF suggests the average Hebrew family had 50 kids, and that would include (I guess) instances of polygamy. But that is a large leap to jump, seeing that the biblical text doesn’t state the average number of children by one couple. The more reasonable assumption is around 20 or less entailing births by one or two women. But even if we assume 20 children per couple (along with polygamy surrogates), who all survive to adulthood and then in turn have 20 children of their own, 215 years is still not enough time to create a nation of 1.5 to 2 million people. The only reasonable conclusion is that there was an interval of 430 years between the promise God made to Abraham and his son and grandson and when and the people of Israel left Egypt at the exodus.

….to be concluded next post


2 thoughts on “Returning to Egypt [II]

  1. Pingback: Returning to Egypt [III] | hipandthigh

  2. Pingback: Biblical and Theological Studies | hipandthigh

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