Sojourn, Exodus, Conquest
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Sojourn in Egypt to Conquest - How long was the Sojourn in Egypt?

Summary

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:

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:

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.

Genealogies

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:

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.

Genealogies used

Genealogy from Ephraim to Joshua

Largely taken from 1 Chronicles 7.20-27

Ephraim
ShuthelahEzerElliadBeriah
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.

Judah
Perez
Hezron
JerahmeelRam
OnamAmminadab
ShammaiNahshon (tribal assistant of Moses, Numbers 1)
NadabSalmon
AppaimBoaz
IshiObed
SheshaJesse
AhlaiDavid
Attai 
Nathan 
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

Levi
Merari
MahliMushi
Libni (this generation present at Exodus)Mahli
ShimeiShemer
UzzahBani
ShimeaAmzi
HaggiahHilkiah
Asaiah (1 Chronicles 15.6 - contemporary of David)Amaziah
 Hashabiah
 Malluch
 Abdi
 Kishi
 Ethan

Genealogy from Levi through Gershon

1 Chronicles 6.39-42 for the line to Asaph, another musician in David’s time

Levi
Gershon
Jahath
Shimei
Zimmah (this generation taken as present at the Exodus by correspondence with other descent lines)
Ethan
Adaiah
Zerah
Ethni
Malkijah
Baaseiah (Maaseiah)
Michael
Shimea
Berekiah
Asaph

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

Levi
Kohath
Amram (married Jochebed)Izhar
 Amminadab
Aaron (m. Elisheba of Judah)MiriamMosesKorah
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

TribeAssistantSon of
ReubenElizurShedeur
SimeonShelumielZurishaddai
JudahNahshonAmminadab
IssacharNethanelZuar
ZebulunEliabHelon
Joseph (Ephraim)ElishamaAmmihud
Joseph (Manasseh)GamalielPedahzur
BenjaminAbidanGideoni
DanAhiezerAmmishaddai
AsherPagielOcran
GadEliasaphDeuel
NaphtaliAhiraEnan

Explorers/spies of Canaan

TribeExplorerSon of
ReubenShammanZaccur
SimeonShaphatHori
JudahCalebJephunneh
IssacharIgalJoseph
ZebulunGaddielSodi
Joseph (Ephraim)Joshua (Hoshea)Nun
Joseph (Manasseh)GaddiSusi
BenjaminPaltiRaphu
DanAmmielGemalli
AsherSethurMichael
GadGeuelMaki
NaphtaliNahbiVophsi

Sojourn, Exodus, Conquest