#76. Was it 66 OR 70 OR 75 males from Jacob’s loins who came to Egypt? (Gen 46:26 vs Gen 46:27, Ex 1:5, Deut 10:22 vs Acts 7:14)

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The passage in question is Genesis 46:8-27 which breaks from the narrative to offer yet another genealogy: “And these are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt…”

We have seen elsewhere that such interest in genealogies, dates, and ages were evidence of the Priestly writer’s hand. Yet this passage also evidences editorial reworking, possibly even done by a scribal hand during the recopying of the manuscript. In other words, within this single source there is a discrepancy pertaining to the number of male descendants from Jacob’s loins that went down to Egypt.

Verse 26 states that there were 66, while verse 27 states 70. One of these is an editorial correction most likely inserted during textual transmission. That seems to be the best hypothesis that fits the textual data.

If one counts up all the male descendants of Jacob listed in the passage, one arrives at the total of 70—thus verse 27: “All the persons of Jacob’s house who came to Egypt were 70.” However this is inaccurate; 4 of the males listed did not in fact go down to Egypt. For the original 70 mistakenly counts Judah’s sons Er and Onan. But they were killed by Yahweh earlier in the narrative—at least according to the Yahwist tradition (Gen 38). It is possible that the Priestly hand from which this genealogy was written was unaware of, or consciously wanted to suppress, this Yahwist story. If this were the case, this serves as yet another textual example of a later tradition reinterpreting or subverting an earlier tradition, both of which now exist in the Bible, sometimes verse-by-verse as in this example.

Two others, Joseph’s sons Manasseh and Ephraim, which are also listed among those who go down to Egypt, were also subtracted from the original 70 by the hand of this later editor given the fact that both these sons were born in Egypt and therefore cannot be counted among those who traveled down to Egypt. Subtracting these 4, we arrive at 66 males of Jacob’s household who went down to Egypt, verse 26.

It is difficult to say which number was the earlier, and which the latter. Some scholars have speculated that the number 70 was the earlier reading, especially if we recognize the legendary character of the number 70 in both Israelite and Canaanite literature. If the assignment was purely based on legend, then 70 best fits this aim, and additionally explains why we find the number 70 given in Ex 1:5 and Deut 10:22. It is quite possible, therefore, that the number 66 came as the result of a scribe who aimed for more precision, or who saw the error among those who were being counted in the 70.

To complicate matters further, Acts 7:14 stipulates that there were 75 in all. Where does this number come from? There are in fact a couple of manuscripts that attest the number 75, one of which is from Qumran (4QExod), and the other is from the LXX where Genesis 46:27 reads 75. Both of these manuscripts suggest that in the pre-Christian era there were two Hebrew manuscripts that had 75, one of which served as the text for the translation of the Greek LXX. It is this manuscript, the Greek Torah, that the author of Acts would have most likely had access to.

12 thoughts on “#76. Was it 66 OR 70 OR 75 males from Jacob’s loins who came to Egypt? (Gen 46:26 vs Gen 46:27, Ex 1:5, Deut 10:22 vs Acts 7:14)

  1. The last post didn’t come out formatted correctly. (I wish there were an edit button.) Let’s try again:

    Daniel Arovas wrote:
    If you want to explore inerrantist “explanations” for this and other discrepancies, I suggest you try teh google. I’m really not interested in arguing the point, only to explain why it is a fool’s errand to debate with such people. Some Christian fundamentalists start counting the 430 years from the moment Ishmael mocked Isaac.

    Oh, believe me I’m quite familiar with inerrantists’ “explanations” for many of the Bible’s contradictions and inconsistencies, including the assertion that Ishmael’s “mocking” of Isaac is when the 430-year period starts. (They argue that this “mocking” is the start of the “oppression” mentioned in Genesis 15:13–and presumably do so with a straight face.) I have McKinsey’s book and many others about the Bible, and I have discussed the Bible on the Internet with Christians and atheists since the late ’90s, but I still enjoy it.

  2. If you want to explore inerrantist “explanations” for this and other discrepancies, I suggest you try teh google. I’m really not interested in arguing the point, only to explain why it is a fool’s errand to debate with such people. Some Christian fundamentalists start counting the 430 years from the moment Ishmael mocked Isaac. I have McKinsey’s book and many others about the Bible, and I have discussed the Bible on the Internet with Christians and atheists since the late ’90s, but I still enjoy it.

    Oh, believe me I’m quite familiar with inerrantists’ “explanations” for many of the Bible’s contradictions and inconsistencies, including the assertion that Ishmael’s “mocking” of Isaac is when the 430-year period starts. (They argue that this “mocking” is the start of the “oppression” mentioned in Genesis 15:13–and presumably do so with a straight face.)

  3. I erred when I said that the Jewish tradition is to start when Joseph arrived in Egypt. The tradition is that the 430 years begins when Abraham leaves Ur. (Else Jochebed has to be about 320 years old when she gives birth to Moses.) So, problem solved!

    If you want to explore inerrantist “explanations” for this and other discrepancies, I suggest you try teh google. I’m really not interested in arguing the point, only to explain why it is a fool’s errand to debate with such people. Some Christian fundamentalists start counting the 430 years from the moment Ishmael mocked Isaac. Why? I’m sure they can explain in mind-numbing detail. There are also various ways one can slip extra time into the Joseph story. For example, how do we know that all the events between Joseph’s elevation to vizier and the arrival of Jacob proceeded uninterrupted? How do we know the seven years of plenty begin directly after 41:46? Perhaps there was a hiatus of 60 years before Joseph’s decipherment of Pharaoh’s dream was to come true. Can you prove that is impossible? (Perhaps so, but we can surely find other, increasingly ludicrous lines of defense for the inerrantist position, even within the Joseph story alone.) And there’s no problem at all with the “land that is not theirs” prophesy – the enslavement could have been metaphorical at the beginning, or some such excuse.

    If you really get off on Biblical contradictions for the sake of contradictions, I recommend McKinsey’s “Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy”.

  4. The Jewish sages start the 430 year count from the moment Joseph crosses into Egypt, so even if one detects a problem with lifespan of Kohath (133) plus Amram (137) plus Moses at the time of the Exodus (80) yielding 350, a committed inerrantist can harmonize this without batting an eyelash.

    Joseph was 17 when he was sold into slavery (Genesis 37:2), 30 when he was made second-in-command to Pharaoh (41:46), and 39 when Jacob and company entered Egypt (two years into the seven years of famine, after seven years of plenty, 45:6). How does adding 22 years solve the problem, since 377 years is still 53 years short? Plus, how is this reconciled with Genesis 15:13-16’s promise of 400 years of bondage “in a land that is not [the Israelites’]?

  5. The Jewish sages start the 430 year count from the moment Joseph crosses into Egypt, so even if one detects a problem with lifespan of Kohath (133) plus Amram (137) plus Moses at the time of the Exodus (80) yielding 350, a committed inerrantist can harmonize this without batting an eyelash. But biblical scholarship is not – or should not be – about twitting inerrantists (though I do enjoy that diversion from time to time!), but rather about disentangling the various sources and exegeting them in their native sociohistorical context to better understand the component sources and how and why they were redacted in the manner that has been handed down to us.

    The count of 70 in the MT of Gen 46 probably did not originally include Dinah, who was a later addition, nor Jacob (Exod 1, again), but did include Er and Onan. As Steven points out, the text of the Hebrew Bible was pluriform in the late Second Temple period, and the Hebrew exemplar to which the LXX was witness read 75 and not 70, as we find in 4QExod(a) as well as Acts 7:14.

    Incidentally, if you look in the Old Testament section of just about any Christian Bible you will find 70 in both Gen 46 and Exod 1, consistent with the Masoretic Hebrew. The reason is that the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible was unstable, existing in many recensions (LXX, Hexaplaric, Lucianic, Hesychian, plus rabbinic recensions of Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion). Quite an unsatisfactory state of affairs for a notionally divine and perfect text. It was likely for this reason that Jerome, when he embarked on translating the Bible into Latin at the end of the fourth century CE, largely abandoned the Greek in favor of the Hebrew (‘hebraica veritas’). The consonantal Hebrew text had stabilized roughly by the time of bar Kokhba, in the early second century CE, as evidenced by the Wadi Murabba’at texts.

    The convergence of the Hebrew toward the proto-MT was almost certainly due to the fact that most of the sectarian Jewish movements of the first century CE evaporated as a result of the two Jewish wars. Only the Pharisaic strand (and the Christians, of course) survived. From the early Rabbinic literature’s mentions of the perushim (=pharisees), it seems clear that the pharisees are sensibly viewed as proto-rabbis. Theirs was a Babylonian text, in the classification system of F. M. Cross. Other text types, such as Alexandrian and Samaritan, are represented at Qumran but in the long run fell into desuetude. (Some scholars, such as Emanuel Tov, hold more in a broad pluriformity of biblical texts, rather than Cross’s tripartite division, which tends to lump anything not obviously proto-Masoretic, proto-LXX, or Samaritan as “nonaligned”.)

  6. The Dinah issue is not the only one that creates problems for Bible inerrantists. At least three other names on the list also cause discrepancies with other biblical texts: Kohath (son of Levi) and Hezron, and Hamul (sons of Perez, Judah’s son). Kohath is a problem because even if we assume that he was only an infant when he came to Egypt, there is no way to reconcile 430 years of Israelite occupation in Egypt (Exodus 12:40) with the genealogy in Exodus 6:16-20 (thus, Jewish and Christian claims of a 210- or 215-year sojourn, which is at odds with Genesis 15:13-16). Hezron and Hamul are Judah’s grandsons, and the events in Genesis 38 involving Judah could not have occurred after Joseph’s enslavement (chapter 37) in time for Judah’s grandsons to be born and travel to Egypt.

  7. The Masoretic Text clearly has some problems here. First of all, even the subtotal of 33 for Leah’s progeny is off because of Dinah. (For a nice discussion on the Dinah pericope and her appearance in Gen 46, see James Kugel, “How to Read the Bible”.) Incidentally, it isn’t only males who are included in the list. Even if we exclude Dinah as a later addition, 46:17 counts Serah, a daughter of Asher, among Zilpah’s contribution to Jacob’s retinue. Then we have the very likely corrupt 46:23, “uvnei Dan chushim”, which lists one son for Dan – rather conspicuously unfruitful – even when it uses the plural “uvnei”. (If I recall correctly, somewhere in Midrash Rabbah it is stated that in the Torah of Rebbe Meir, this text read “uven Dan chushim”.)

    If we include Dinah, who is explicitly mentioned, then we arrive at a total of 71 names, excluding Jacob himself, although the text gives a grand total of 70. Note that in Exod 1, the number 70 is associated with “kol nefesh yotsei yerekh-yaaqov” = all souls who issued from the loins of Jacob. If the 70 in Gen 46 is the same 70 as in Exod 1, this would mitigate against including Jacob himself, who obviously cannot have been issued from his own loins. (I am reminded of the song, “I am my own grandpa”.)

    Jewish tradition generally excludes Er and Onan from the total, since they died in Canaan and never set foot in Egypt. Some exegetes included Jacob as the 70th, and some included the shekhinah itself (i.e. the divine presence). The most dominant tradition, from the midrash and Rashi, is to identify Jochebed, the daughter of Levi (Num 26:59), wife of Amram, and mother of Moses, as #70 – she is said to have been born “between the walls” as the group entered Egypt. Of course Gen 46 itself says nothing of Jochebed. (Note that Amram, son of Kohath, apparently married his paternal aunt, which is a no-no, but I suppose one could claim that at this part in the story, the law from Sinai had not yet been given.)

  8. I’ll also add that even though Genesis 46:15 claims that “in all [Jacob’s] sons and his daughters [listed in vv. 8-15a] numbered thirty-three,” the total is actually 32.

  9. What’s interesting, too, is that even though Benjamin is even younger than Joseph (35:16-20, from the E source) and is called a “boy” in 43:8 and 44:30-34 (from J), in the P account of Genesis 46:21, it says that Benjamin had 10 (!) sons who went into Egypt!

  10. Hmm, this does seem like a contradiction, but I do want to note that a number of translations seem to regard 46:27 as a statement that the number of people in Jacob’s household (which went down to Egypt) was 70, not that the number of people who went down to Egypt (in Jacob’s household) was 70.

    Furthermore, 46:27 starts by saying, “And Joseph’s sons who were born to him in Egypt were two souls [Manasseh & Ephraim]”, before giving the total count of 70. Thus, the writer could be giving the number 70 “out of time”, that is, he is giving the eventual number of children that Jacob will have (through his sons). If that’s the case, one could then go a step further and suggest that Onan and Er were also counted in this number to reinforce the divine roundness of “70”, even though they had already died — because if the unborn Manasseh and Ephraim are explicitly included by verse 27a, then the number could well be intended to be the final count of Jacob’s descendants.

    The explanation by some commentators for the additional five in the LXX total of 75 is that those are the “wives of Jacob’s sons” explicitly not counted in verse 26. Others seem to suggest that the missing five are the children of Manasseh and Ephraim (that would have been Asriel, Machir, Zelophehad, Shuthelah and Bered if we leave out the sister Hammolecheth — see 1 Chron. 7:14-20). There’s some even more complex computations from other commentators that leave my head spinning.

    Not to say that, even if we can explain the 66, 70 and 75, this isn’t still a contradiction, because it is, and maybe it can tell us something interesting about the history of the text if we can figure out why the Septuagint has a variation in Gen. 46:27.

    1. Nice addition, quite erudite of you good sir !

      Yes, apparently the 75 tradition gets Manasseh and Ephraim’s 5 sons from the tradition now preserved in Num 26. It would appear then that some later manuscripts/scribes tried to reconcile the contradiction between Gen 46 and Num 26. Tomorrow’s contradiction will be between Benjamin’s sons in these two traditions.

      cheers

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