#327. Do the Israelites leave Egypt on the 15th day of the 1st month OR on the 14th day? (Num 33:3 vs Ex 12:14-19)
#328. Do the Israelites leave in full view of all of Egypt OR not? (Num 33:3 vs Ex 12:31-39)

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Numbers 33:3’s summary of the Exodus event varies with the account in Exodus 12 on two points.

First, within the Priestly tradition itself there seems to have been a discrepancy on the date assigned to the actual Exodus. Was it the 14th, that is Passover, or the 15th, that is the following day? Indeed this discrepancy may have actually been more of a discrepancy on calculating when day begins.

So while Numbers 33:3 makes it pretty clear that the Israelites left Egypt on the morrow of Passover, on the 15th that is, Exodus 12:14-19 make it just as clear that it was “this day” (Ex 12:14, 12:17), that is the 14th of the month, Passover. This discrepancy is even transferred to the parallel discrepancy concerning the Festival of Unleavened Bread: does it commence on the 14th or the 15th?—treated already in contradictions #113 & #194-197.

Second, while Numbers 33:3 claims that the Israelites left Egypt on the day after the Passover and in full view of the Egyptians (“before the eyes of all Egypt”), the traditions preserved in Exodus 12 recount how the Israelites left during the night, in haste and practically in stealth.

On a rhetorical level the claim made in Numbers 33:3 amounts to hyperbole. But it also serves a theological purpose: now all of Egypt knows who Yahweh is! Remember that theologically speaking the central issue of the Plague narrative, especially in the hands of the Elohist, was “who is Yahweh?” (Ex 5:2). Of course Pharaoh’s seemingly innocuous question gets a response from Yahweh: “And Egypt will know that I am Yahweh when I reach out my hand against Egypt” (Ex 7:5, etc.). And indeed by the end of the 10 plagues, the Pharaoh and all of Egypt know who Yahweh is—the theological purpose and message of this story!

12 thoughts on “#327. Do the Israelites leave Egypt on the 15th day of the 1st month OR on the 14th day? (Num 33:3 vs Ex 12:14-19)
#328. Do the Israelites leave in full view of all of Egypt OR not? (Num 33:3 vs Ex 12:31-39)

  1. Wow, this is an awsome place. I am very interested in the tanakh and believe every word is the word of God. I just stumbled upon this site and cant wait to go through all these supposed contradictions. I am not sure how this works really. Guess ai will figure it out.

  2. I think the logic of the story has the death of the firstborn occur during the night and the Israelites leaving soon after. The disagreement is whether that counts as the next day or not. Certainly the two events could not have been twenty-four hours or more apart.

  3. Proverbs 7:9 is interesting, because it seems to use “twilight,” “evening,” and “night” as synonyms: “in the twilight (nesheph), in the evening (yom ereb), at the time of night and darkness.” Also, Genesis 15:17 associates sundown with darkness: “When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire-pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.” Steven, any additional thoughts about the different ways ancient Israel reckoned the start and end of a day?

    1. Exodus 12:8-10 might suggest that the next day commences in the morning. We are told that all the Passover meat is to be consumed ‘in this night” (lay’lah), which is still the 14th. And then verse 10 makes it clear that none is to remain until the morning (boqer). Likewise Lev 7:15: “And the meat of his peace-offering sacrifice shall be eaten on the (same) day it is offered. He shall not leave any of it until morning (boqer).” So it certainly looks that in these cases “morning” is being used to signal the next day.

      The ben ha‛arbayim of Ex 12:6—doesn’t that refer to between sunset and nightfall? I don’t have Propp’s commentary with me. I’m sure he’s written extensively about this. Additionally, it looks like the two evenings are to be understood as still a part of the 14th day! So this then throws us back to the realization that there was some disagreement or confusion about the date, or start of Unleavened Bread, yes?

  4. Maybe there’s a possibility that “between the two evenings” (ben ha‛arbayim) means “between the descending of the sun from its zenith and the sunset” which is our “afternoon” or some period of our afternoon. Exodus 12 seems to distinct sunset (ereb) and “ben ha‛arbayim” (see Ex12:6 and Ex:12:8). Could be different sources though.

    This would open a new contradiction however: “Was the passover killed at “ben ha‛arbayim” or at “ereb”? (Exodus 12, Leviticus 13 vs Deuteronomy 16)… But we shouldn’t be surprised with Deuteronomy 16 vs Exodus 12 because as stated in Contradiction #112, the same Deuteronomy 16 also implies that the passover meat should be boiled in water which was explicit forbidden in Exodus 12:9.

  5. Adding to the confusion is Numbers 28:3-8, a passage examined in contradiction #312, which says that the tamid offering should me made twice “daily” (yom), once in the morning and once “at twighlight” (Hebrew: “between the two evenings”). If a “day” starts in the evening, how could the same day be occurring when the second sacrifice was made? And of course there’s the age-old question of how there could be evening and morning without the sun, which you discuss here:
    http://contradictionsinthebible.com/genesis-3-the-creation-of-light/

  6. So the writer of Exodus 12 is reckoning the day from sunrise to sunrise while the writer from Numbers 33:3 is reckoning it from sunset to sunset?

    1. This is one possible solution and may have been the issue here. I know in later Jewish tradition the commencement of the day starts at sunset, but there is no biblical support for this — I think?

      Another possibility as alluded to in contradictions #194-197 is that since in later traditions Passover gets assimilated into the Festival of Unleavened Bread, which was initially a 7-day festival commencing on the 15th of Abib, some texts now speak of the Festival beginning on the 14th!

  7. Here’s the link to contradiction #115:
    http://contradictionsinthebible.com/morning-or-evening/

    On a technical note, the last two times I’ve logged onto the site (from different PCs), I’ve received this message: “SmartScreen Filter helps protect you from unsafe websites that impersonate addresses or content from legitimate websites. You can help SmartScreen filter identify unsafe websites by providing your feedback below.”

    1. Thanks John. I’m not sure what this message is. Studying the Bible is unsafe??? . . . but we all knew that already!?

  8. I think it’s worthwhile to cross-reference contradiction #115, since it discusses the time of departure from Egypt. As I pointed out in the comments, Deuteronomy 16:6 contradicts Exodus 12:29-34.

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