Sojourn, Exodus, Conquest
Sojourn to Conquest: Overall duration
Sojourn in Egypt to Conquest - How long was the Sojourn in Egypt?
A number of Bible passages can be used to formulate estimates of the period of the patriarchs and sojourn in Egypt (Abraham - Joseph - Moses). The problem is difficult becauses there are no ongoing year-markers through the Sojourn period, and so indirect methods must be used. The two approaches described here look at explicit durations mentioned in the Bible text, and investigating family genealogies extending over this period.
The overall time-spans suggested by this study are:
- Abrahamic Covenant - Joseph’s entry into Egypt ... 170 years
- Sojourn in Egypt (Joseph’s entry - Exodus) ... 230 years
- Period of slavery ... approx. 100 years (about half the Sojourn period)
It should be noted that these figures are rather lower than those frequently quoted. For example, the period of sojourn in Egypt (and even sometimes the period of slavery) is often said to be in the region of 400 years, on the basis of a straightforward reading of Genesis 15.13.
Bible verses indicating duration
The following explicit Bible verses (from the NIV) have relevance to the duration of this period:
- Genesis 15.13
- Then the LORD said to him [Abram], "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and ill-treated four hundred years...".
- Exodus 12.40, 41
- Now the length of time the Israelite people lived in Egypt was 430 years. At the end of 430 years, to the very day, all the LORD’s divisions left Egypt.
- Acts 7.6
- A direct quote of Genesis 15.13 by Stephen.
- Acts 13.17-20 (Paul speaking)
- "The God of the people of Israel chose our fathers; he made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt, with mighty power he led them out of that country, he endured their conduct for about forty years in the desert, he overthrew seven nations in Canaan and gave their land to his people as their inheritance. All this took about 450 years."
- Galatians 3.16,17
- The promises were spoken to Abraham and his seed... The law, introduced 430 years later....
The first three of these give the impression that the period of either slavery of sojourn was in the region of 400 years, and this is frequently presented as the case. However, the last two quotes suggest that this span of years relates not just to the Egyptian experience, but rather to the entire length from the Abrahamic covenant to the Exodus. To resolve this, the following should be noted:
- The Genesis quote (and therefore the Acts 7 repetition) itemises two separate parts 1) strangers in a land not their own, and 2) slavery. The first part relates to dwelling both in Canaan and Egypt. However, the translation of the last clause suggests that the 400 years relates solely to slavery.
- The Exodus quote ‘lived in Egypt’ follows the Masoretic text. Many other sources including the Septuagint and Samaritan Pentateuch have ‘lived in Egypt and Canaan'. Additionally, Jewish commentaries have often understood this to be the meaning . For example, Paul’s comments in Acts 13 and Galatians show this interpretation, and Josephus’ writings explicitly refer to this .
Thus the various sources can reasonably be interpreted to support a period of between 400 and 450 years between the covenant with Abraham and the Exodus, with an Egyptian sojourn of around 230 years and a period of slavery just under half of this.
As well as explicit time markers of the kind discussed above, there are also various genealogies listing descent of key members of the families of Israel. Biblical genealogies are known to be often misleading as regards direct interpretation. There are two main (and related) reasons for this: the text often uses the word ‘father’ to mean ‘ancestor’, and intervening generations are omitted without indication where the individuals concerned are not of especial relevance to the purpose of the passage. Both of these points are common features of other genealogies from the ancient world.
In order to diminish the risk of underestimating time lengths, it is therefore important to take into account all of the family lineages covering the desired period, and even then treat the results with some caution. The majority of Biblical genealogies covering this period may be found in the later parts of Genesis and the early chapters of 1 Chronicles. Certain other useful information may be gleaned from parts of Exodus and Numbers. The tribe most exhaustively listed is that of Levi, with Judah in second place. However, the most useful tribe for investigating the period of sojourn in Egypt is Ephraim, as given in 1 Chronicles 7.20-27.
The key lineages for Levi and Judah suggest only a short period of time:
- 1 Chronicles 6.1-10 (and other similar passages) indicates a mere four-generation span from Levi to Moses (Levi - Kohath - Amram - Moses). However, Numbers 3.27, 28 indicates that at the time of the Exodus there were several thousand descendants of Kohath . The likelihood is that a considerable time-gap extends between either Kohath and Amram, or else Amram and Moses (or both).
- 1 Chronicles 2.3-11 (and other similar passages) indicates a six-generation span between Judah and Nahshon (Judah - Perez - Hezron - Ram - Amminadab - Nahshon). Nahshon son of Amminadab is listed in Numbers 1 as leader of the tribe of Judah and one of Moses’ assistants in the enumeration and collection of gifts. Additionally, Nahshon’s sister (and so Amminadab’s daughter) Elisheba is listed as marrying Aaron, Moses’ brother (Exodus 6.23). Although a chronological improvement over the Levitical gap mentioned above, this is still too short a period given the typical expectation of a generation of around 20-30 years.
However, the descendants of Ephraim listed in 1 Chronicles 7.20-27 provide a much more promising line of evidence. Here the interval between Ephraim and Elishama is given as eight generations (Ephraim - Beriah - Rephah - Telah - Tahan - Ladan - Ammihud - Elishama - Nun - Joshua/Hoshea). Elishama son of Ammihud is also listed in Numbers 1 as an assistant of Moses and leader of his tribe, and Joshua became Moses’ immediate assistant and successor. Given that Ephraim (Joseph’s younger son) would have been a young boy at the time of the entry into Egypt of the remainder of Joseph’s family, and Elishama may be assumed to be a venerable representative of his tribe, 8 generations correlates well with the 200-year interval indicated above.
Clearly it cannot be asserted with confidence that the genealogy of Ephraim is complete, when it has been shown that the other lineages are incomplete. However, to have a sojourn in the region of 400 years would require the supposition of an additional 8-10 generations, for which no evidence exists in any lineage. Since the explicit time indications can be interpreted as supporting a sojourn in the region of 200 years, a consistent picture emerges in this way from both lines of investigation.
Genealogy from Ephraim to Joshua
Largely taken from 1 Chronicles 7.20-27
|Bered|| || ||Rephah|
|Tahath|| || ||Resheph|
|Eleadah|| || ||Telah|
|Tahath|| || ||Tahan|
|Zabad|| || ||Ladan|
|Shuthelah|| || ||Ammihud|
| || || ||Elishama (tribal assistant to Moses, Numbers 1)|
| || || ||Nun|
| || || ||Joshua (Moses’ assistant and successor)|
Genealogy from Judah to David
Repeated several times at different points of both Old and New Testaments. 1 Chronicles 2 is a good starting point. Not all branches are shown in the table following.
|Shammai||Nahshon (tribal assistant of Moses, Numbers 1)|
|Zadab (one of David's 'mighty men')|| |
Genealogy from Levi through Merari
1 Chronicles 6.44-46 for the line to Ethan, one of the musicians in the time of David
|Libni (this generation present at Exodus)||Mahli|
|Asaiah (1 Chronicles 15.6 - contemporary of David)||Amaziah|
Genealogy from Levi through Gershon
1 Chronicles 6.39-42 for the line to Asaph, another musician in David’s time
|Zimmah (this generation taken as present at the Exodus by correspondence with other descent lines)|
Genealogy from Levi through Kohath
1 Chronicles 6.33-38 for the line to Heman, another of David’s musicians, and 1 Chronicles 6.1-10 for the line to Zadok, repeated in other locations and with additional information from Ezra 7.1-5
|Amram (married Jochebed)||Izhar|
|Aaron (m. Elisheba of Judah)||Miriam||Moses||Korah|
|Eleazar|| || ||Abiasaph (Ebiasaph)|
|Phinehas|| || ||Assir|
|Abishua|| || ||Tahath|
|Bukki|| || ||Zephaniah (Uriel)|
|Uzzi|| || ||Uzziah (Azariah)|
|Zerahiah|| || ||Shaul (Joel)|
|Meraioth|| || ||Elkanah|
|Amariah|| || ||Amasai|
|Ahitub|| || ||Ahimoth (Mahath)|
|Zadok (contemporary of David)|| || ||Elkanah|
| || || ||Zuph (Zophai)|
| || || ||Toah (Nahath)|
| || || ||Eliel (Eliab)|
| || || ||Jeroham|
| || || ||Elkanah|
| || || ||Samuel|
| || || ||Joel|
| || || ||Heman (contemporary of David)|
Assistants to Moses from Numbers 1
Explorers/spies of Canaan
|Joseph (Ephraim)||Joshua (Hoshea)||Nun|
Sojourn, Exodus, Conquest