As I was typing up yesterday’s contradiction (#81), it dawned on me that the imposition of the later Priestly writer’s chronology onto the older JE sources was not the only visible discrepancy in the narrative’s chronology. It was also there in the older sources themselves. So we’ll backtrack a bit here and note one more Genesis-Exodus contradiction.
In Genesis 15:13, Yahweh is presented as claiming/prophesying to Abraham that the Hebrews will be “slaves in a land not theirs and will serve them, and they will oppress them 400 years.”
Yet this is not at all what happens, and it is in fact completely negated by what is claimed in the opening of the book of Exodus. For there we learn that the enslavement and oppression only occur after Joseph, his brothers, and all that generation had died and on the eve of Moses’ birth! In other words, only for a generation, or 80 years if we adopt P’s age of 80 for Moses at the time of the exodus (Ex 7:7).
In fact, when we come to think about this further Genesis 15:13 is the only text in the Hebrew Bible that claims, from Yahweh’s prophetic lips (!), that the Hebrews will be enslaved for 400 years. Earlier in contradiction #32 we saw that the Priestly writer attributed 430 years to this period. But on closer examination Exodus 12:40, P’s text, claims that 430 years was the duration of the captivity, not of the enslavement! The Priestly source does not say a word about the length of the enslavement.
We are left then with this:
- Exodus 1:8-11, which is usually attributed to E, claims that the Hebrews were oppressed for just a generation—the generation in which Moses is born.
- P claims 430 years for the entire duration in Egypt, and acknowledging P’s age of 80 for Moses at the time of the exodus, puts the period of enslavement at around 80+ years.
Genesis 15:13, in other words, is the only text from the Hebrew Bible that makes the claim that the Hebrews were enslaved for 400 years. There might be something else going on here as well.
Source critics have always been stumped by Genesis 15:13-17a. It is usually marked as unidentifiable. Richard Friedman,1 for example, notes how it awkwardly sits in its present context, i.e., the Yahwist narrative
- It is enclosed by a resumptive repetition. That is editors often left clues in the text when they inserted later passages into an already existing text. We will see better examples of this later, but basically the scribe repeats the last sentence in the text as the last sentence in the excerpt he has just inserted, so we come back to the point in the narrative before the insertion was made. Here, the resumptive repetition is “the sun was about to set” (v. 12) in the original Yahwist text and “the sun was setting” (v. 17a) at the end of the inserted text.
- This prophecy has nothing whatsoever to do with the present narrative context, the covenant. It in fact disrupts the narrative.
- The vocabulary used seems to be a melange of different sources.
It is quite possible, in fact, that Genesis 15:13-17a was a later scribal addition or even gloss that got incorporated into the text at a later time period. If this were the case, then this is yet another excellent example of how a later interpretive tradition becomes more authoritative than the text it purports to interpret! That is to say, ask any moderner how long was the Egyptian enslavement and the response you’d get would be 400 years (or maybe 430 years from P). But there is only 1 passage in the whole Hebrew Bible that affirms this, and the textual evidence suggests that it is a later inserted passage! Moreover, no other passage in the Hebrew Bible confirms Yahweh’s prophecy in Genesis 15:13-17 and in fact refutes and negates it! But this later interpretive tradition has become the more authoritative, the more remembered, the more trusted—even though other and earlier biblical texts do not substantiate this passage’s assertion and make contradictory claims.
This is precisely how later interpretive traditions subvert the very texts they purport to represent. This is what I’ve already written extensively about with respect to another later interpretive tradition, the one that goes by the name “the holy Bible.” See What is the Bible?
- The Bible with Sources Revealed, 54.↵