Monday, May 19, 2008

The Ages of the Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph

Late last year I set myself a goal of reading all the "standard works" (The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, New Testament, Old Testament, and Pearl of Great Price) during 2008. I put together a 5-chapter-a-day schedule. So far I’ve been following it. I finished the Book of Mormon on February 19, the Doctrine and Covenants on March 19, and the New Testament on May 10.

This morning I finished Genesis. In today’s material I read the story of Joseph in Egypt, and the reunion he has with his brothers during the seven year famine. This is one of my favorite stories in all the Scriptures. Here is Genesis 45:4-8, where Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers.

And Joseph said unto his brethren, Come near to me, I pray you. And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt. Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life. For these two years hath the famine been in the land: and yet there are five years, in the which there shall neither be earing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God: and he hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.

Just imagine, in spite of Joseph’s kind and prophetic words, how terrified his brothers must have felt! Years later, after the death of their father Israel, the brothers were still afraid of Joseph. This is Genesis 50:15-21.

And when Joseph’s brethren saw that their father was dead, they said, Joseph will peradventure hate us, and will certainly requite us all the evil which we did unto him. And they sent a messenger unto Joseph, saying, Thy father did command before he died, saying, So shall ye say unto Joseph, Forgive, I pray thee now, the trespass of thy brethren, and their sin; for they did unto thee evil: and now, we pray thee, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of thy father. And Joseph wept when they spake unto him. And his brethren also went and fell down before his face; and they said, Behold, we be thy servants. And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God? But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them.

Joseph’s compassion for his difficult brothers and his prophetic understanding that his suffering had been for their sake – to "save" them – is a "type" of Christ. Types of Christ would be a good subject for a future post to this blog. The repetitive or parallel nature of these scriptures might become another post.

The next verse is interesting in a different way. This is Genesis 50:22.

And Joseph dwelt in Egypt, he, and his father’s house: and Joseph lived an hundred and ten years.

There is an interesting mathematical "coincidence" associated with the lengths of the lives of the four Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.


1996 BC Birth of Abraham (Gen 11:26)
1921 BC Abraham goes into Canaan (Gen 12:1-5)
1896 BC Birth of Isaac (Gen 21:1-5)
1836 BC Birth of Jacob (Gen 25:21-26)
1821 BC Death of Abraham (Aged 175) (Gen 25:7-10)
1745 BC Birth of Joseph (See below*)
1716 BC Death of Isaac (Aged 180) (Gen 35:28-29)
1706 BC Jacob goes down into Egypt (Gen 46:1-7)
1689 BC Death of Jacob (Aged 147) (Gen 47:28)
1635 BC Death of Joseph (Aged 110) (Gen 50:26)
1491 BC The Exodus (Exo 12:29-42)
1451 BC The Death of Moses (Deu 32:49-50; 34:1-7)
1429 BC The Death of Joshua (Jos 14:7; 24:29)

Now take a look at the arithmetic associated with those four ages.


As much as I like to give credit for the work of other people, I don’t know where I got this gem. The chronology, on the other hand, is something I put together myself, based on a careful comparison of a lot of other chronologies, plus some of my own calculations.

What do you think about those numbers? Do you think they are a coincidence? I don’t think so. Either the Israelite scribes modified the actual ages to fit this pattern, or God made the ages of these men conform to this pattern for his own purposes. One last thing. There are 567 years from the birth of Abraham to the death of Joshua (1996-1429). Coincidence or design? What do YOU make of it?

The years of the birth and death of Joseph were obtained in the following manner.

1 - Jacob was born in 1836 BC (according to the timeline given above).
2 - Joseph was sold into slavery when he was 17 (Genesis 37:2).
3 - Joseph was 30 when he stood before Pharaoh (Genesis 41:46).
4 - 7 years of plenty and 2 years of famine before Jacob came down into Egypt (Genesis 45:6).
5 - Jacob lived in Egypt for 17 years and was 147 when he died (Genesis 47:28).
6 - Joseph was 110 when he died (Genesis 50:26).

So the arithmetic goes like this.

Assuming 1836 BC is the correct year for Jacob’s birth (1), then he must have died (5) in 1689 BC (1836 - 147).
Jacob went down into Egypt (4) seventeen years earlier, in 1706 BC (1689 + 17).
Joseph was 30 (3) plus 9 (4) years old when Jacob came to Egypt. So Joseph was born in 1745 BC (1706 + 39).
Finally, Joseph died when he was 110, in 1635 BC (1745 - 110)

You’ll notice that according to this timeline, Israel was in Egypt 215 years, not the 430 implied by Exodus 12:40-41. The earliest surviving manuscript of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, renders verse 40 with a few additional words: "And the sojourning of the children of Israel, that is which they sojourned in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, was four hundred and thirty years." How convenient that both periods were of equal length.

In Galatians 3:17, Paul also seems to suggest the same thing. Paul is always a little hard to interpret, so this may not be what he was trying to say at all. Josephus wrote in his Antiquities of the Jews: "They (the Israelites) left Egypt in the month of Xanthicus, on the fifteenth day of the lunar month; four hundred and thirty years after our forefather Abraham came into Canaan, but two hundred and fifteen years only after Jacob removed into Egypt" (Chapter XV:2).

The genealogy of Joshua from 1 Chronicles 7:22-27 lists either nine or ten generations from Ephraim to Joshua. (Ten if you assume Resheph was the son of Rephah and nine if you assume they were brothers - as I have done below.)

And Ephraim their father mourned many days, and his brethren came to comfort him. And when he went in to his wife, she conceived, and bare a son, and he called his name Beriah, because it went evil with his house. (And his daughter [was] Sherah, who built Bethhoron the nether, and the upper, and Uzzensherah.) And Rephah [was] his son, also Resheph, and Telah his son, and Tahan his son, Laadan his son, Ammihud his son, Elishama his son, Non his son, Jehoshua his son.

Ephraim may have been something like 5 years old when Jacob’s extended family moved to Goshen. Then assuming an average generation length of 25 years, these nine generations would cover 225 years. However, a 48 year generation length would give 430 years for the nine generations, and either is possible. A study of my ancestors yielded an average generation length of 29.53 years for several hundred men for whom I have genealogical information.

There is also the statement in Numbers chapters 20-21 that Edom and Moab would not allow Israel to pass through their lands. Edom and Moab didn’t exist in the fifteenth century BC. There is also evidence that a number of Canaanite cities were violently destroyed in the thirteenth century. This could have been the work of the invading Israelites.

One strong argument in favor of the fifteenth century, however, is the statement in 1 Kings 6:1 that it was 480 years from the Exodus to the fourth year of Solomon’s reign. You’ll notice that this is a multiple of 40, but there isn’t room here to discuss what that means.

AND it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign over Israel, in the month Zif, which [is] the second month, that he began to build the house of the LORD.

Another argument in favor of a long bondage is Abraham’s dream in Genesis 15:13.

And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land [that is] not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years;

The conclusion seems to be that the date of the Exodus is not certain.

Another interesting problem is the number of people who left Egypt in the Exodus. If you read page 201 in the Old Testament Student Manual (Warning: this is an 11 Mb PDF file) you’ll discover that a careful study of the translation of numbers reveals that the probable number of Israelites who left Egypt was 72,000, including women and children, not 2,000,000. The article points out that 2,000,000 people in Palestine would imply a population density higher than the most populated European nation today. According to this article, in many cases the numbers in the Old Testament are mistranslated by a factor of 1,000! The imperfections of the Bible would make an interesting post.

As a parting shot let me warn you that I’ve been going over these numbers for so long that they are all starting to look alike, so there are probably mistakes and typos. But the basic ideas are OK. If you find an error, please let me know.

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