How Long Did the Israelites Live in Egypt?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Verse 40 in chapter 12 of Exodus looks like it’s saying that from the time Jacob brought his family to Egypt to live with Joseph in Gen 46, to the time of the Exodus, 430 years passed. In fact, this is the traditional view, but it may not be correct.

There are three ancient texts from which scholars translate the Book of Exodus into English: the Masoretic Hebrew text, the Samaritan Pentateuch, and the Septuagint. These three texts appear to contradict each other when it comes to verse 40 in Exodus 12.

According to Robert Bergen in the Apologetics Study Bible, the

Hebrew text used as the basis for English translations of this verse states literally that ‘the dwelling of the sons of Israel which they dwelt in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years.’ The Samaritan Pentateuch, on the other hand, states that the Israelites spent 215 years in Egypt. . . . The Septuagint . . . expands the reading found in the Hebrew text, stating that ‘the dwelling of the sons of Israel, and of their fathers, which they dwelt in the land of Canaan, and in the land of Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years.’

What are we to make of these different readings? Is it 215 or 430 years? It seems that the answer depends on when you start counting the Israelites as being in Egypt. The Septuagint and Samaritan Pentateuch start the clock when Abraham first journeys to Egypt in Gen 12 (not when Jacob brings his family to Egypt in Gen 46), whereas the Hebrew text is ambiguous.

Bergen, however, claims that the New Testament supports starting the clock with Abraham in Gen 12. Bergen writes,

The NT provides conclusive evidence that the chronological clarifications in the Samaritan Pentateuch and Septuagint are accurate. In Gal 3:17 the apostle Paul noted that the Law was given to Israel 430 years after God’s covenantal promise had been delivered to Abraham. The first-century Jewish historian Josephus (Antiquities 2:15:2) accepted this number, as did many significant voices in Christian history prior to the twentieth century (e.g., Tertullian, Origen, Augustine, Bishop James Ussher). When the NT evidence is considered together with that of the OT, it seems clear that 430 years elapsed from the time of Israel’s first entrance into Egypt, and that the reckoning began with Abraham’s dealings with Pharaoh (Gen 12: 10-20).

  • Anthony

    Is there any archaeological evidence of the Jews existence in Egypt?

  • Terryrp

    Hi I am Terry and have not so far found any offers to resolve the 430 or 215 question has included the text of Gen 26: which begins with Isaac being commanded ‘do not go down into Egypt’.
    For that reason Isaac died age 180 never having set foot in Egypt, 10 years before 130 year old Jacob reunited the family tribes of Israel in Egypt Gen 47:

    Because Isaac has been dead for 10 years when Jacob fully reunited the family tribes of Israel.. to begin the 430 year timeline at any point in the life time Isaac can only confuse the 400 year timeline with the 430 year timeline, by overlaying the 400 years with the 430 years in order to extend the promised 400 year affliction by the 30 extra years needed to make the 430 years terminate at the same point in time as the 400 years affliction as Bishop Ussher argued.
    The 400 years affliction begins with mocking of 5 year old Isaac, the 430 year timeline begins with 130 year old Jacobs entry into Egypt long after Abraham had died and 10 years after Isaac died.

    It is self evident from all the failed attempts to reapply Bishop Ussher’s day for a year method that that while his got his sums right to arrive at 4004 BC, his application of his extensive research has a design fault, If clarification about the Gal 3: comments of Paul are required why not use the same tried and tested method as one uses to get the life of Jesus Christ in correct sequence,you compare all 4 gospels to light up the correct sequence and letting the word be a lamp for your feet works just as well with Gal 3: when for example you inquire of Act 7: to include the essential information Paul has not fully included in Gal 3:because his primary concern and emphasis was the priority faith takes over legalism.
    Bishop Ussher deserves the credit for his extensive research which confirmed John Lightfoot’s calculation and because of his high position in the mainstream Christian Church Bishop Ussher’s BC creation date was included in the authorised English translation of the Bible, such was the resulting credit of Ussher’s creation date that by the Victorian age it was regarded as being as sacred as the Holy text itself much to the irritation of the evolving science of Geology.