Archive for the ‘Archaeology’ Category

Confirmation of Ancient Bethlehem

May 25, 2012

The Scriptures preserve ancient history for us. If we had to go with just the extent documents from the ancient near east, there are a lot of things we wouldn’t know about. For example, apparently until recently there was a complete absence of mention of the city of Bethlehem before the Babylonian exile (outside the Bible).

Of course, we have always believed that Bethlehem was a real historical city, despite the absence of archaeological evidence, but now there appears to be some archaeological evidence in the form of a clay seal found in the “city of David” in Jerusalem.

But don’t worry, atheists. The Bible’s supernatural claims still have no predictive power, aside from things like the afterlife and the final judgment, which you can’t experience yet. You’ll get to experience them some day, but for now you’ll have to be content with the predictive power of the Bible with respect to archaeology.

– TurretinFan


Most Ancient Hebrew Inscription

January 8, 2010

Here is an interesting article about a pottery fragment with inscribed words found near the place that is thought to be the site of David’s victory over Goliath (link). One of the most important notes from the article is the fact that this new artifact pushes back the secular chronology of Israel by centuries:

According to the university’s statement, such early Hebrew inscriptions make possible the idea that the Bible could have been written hundreds of years before current estimates.

Also of note is the similarity between the text and Scripture. Although the article states:

“The inscription is similar in its content to biblical scriptures, but it is clear that it is not copied from any biblical text.”

The following is the text that has been deciphered:

1′ you shall not do [it], but worship the [Lord].

2′ Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow] / Judge the orph[an]

3′ [and] the stranger. [Pl]ead for the infant / plead for the po[or and]

4′ the widow. Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king.

5′ Protect the po[or and] the slave / [supp]ort the stranger.



Psa 82:3 Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.
Psa 82:4 Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked.

Psa 68:4 Sing unto God, sing praises to his name: extol him that rideth upon the heavens by his name JAH, and rejoice before him.
Psa 68:5 A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God in his holy habitation.

Isa 1:17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.


CAVEAT: Archaeology is a science in flux. Today’s remarkable discoveries sometimes turn out to be yesterday’s frauds. Take all this sort of thing with a grain of salt. We know that Moses wrote the Pentateuch from divine revelation, not because of archaeology. Indeed, we recognize that it is possible that this archaeology is correct because it is consistent with Scripture, not the other way ’round.

Hat Tip to Randall Buth at the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog for pointing out the translation to me.

Nazareth Residence Found

January 3, 2010

There’s no reason to think it was Jesus’ residence, but if there were any skeptics out there who thought to themselves, “Nazareth wasn’t inhabited in Jesus’ day,” (and I seem to recall one telling me that on a previous occasion) that excuse for not believing in Christ has been taken away (link). As we learn from Scripture, it was despised and unimportant village in those days, and it is not surprising to us that it took this long to find any archaeological evidence that it existed as a village in Jesus’ day. We wouldn’t have been surprised if no evidence had ever been found, and we weren’t waiting for this evidence to believe.

Before posting this, I thought I’d try to find an example of the kind of skeptical comment I heard previously. The following is close:

There occurs not a shred of evidence for a city named Nazareth at the time of the alleged Jesus. [Leedom; Gauvin] Nazareth does not appear in the Old Testament, nor does it appear in the volumes of Josephus’s writings (even though he provides a detailed list of the cities of Galilee). Oddly, none of the New Testament epistle writers ever mentions Nazareth or a Jesus of Nazareth even though most of the epistles got written before the gospels. In fact no one mentions Nazareth until the Gospels, where the first one didn’t come into existence until about 40 years after the hypothetical death of Jesus. Apologists attempt to dismiss this by claiming that Nazareth existed as an insignificant and easily missed village (how would they know?), thus no one recorded it. However, whenever the Gospels speak of Nazareth, they always refer to it as a city, never a village, and a historian of that period would surely have noticed a city. (Note the New Testament uses the terms village, town, and city.) Nor can apologists fall on archeological evidence of preexisting artifacts for the simple reason that many cities get built on ancient sites. If a city named Nazareth existed during the 1st century, then we need at least one contemporary piece of evidence for the name, otherwise we cannot refer to it as historical.


Now, I’m not sure if they’ll find any specific usages of the word “Nazareth” on the house, but that’s not an especially reasonable request, so we’ll leave the evidence where it stands.


430 Years from the Promise – A Response to Fred Butler

September 5, 2009

I have indicated that I think that the Israelites were in Egypt for only about 215 years, as opposed to 430 years. Mr. Fred Butler disagrees (link to his post). Mr. Butler’s response is friendly, and I hope he’ll take my response as being in a similarly amiable vein.

First of all, Mr. Butler points out what he sees as the primary argument argument regarding the length of the stay. In some ways it is the primary argument. I’ll reiterate, and perhaps expand upon it here.

Galatians 3:17 And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.

What Galatians tells us is that from the the promise to the law was 430 years. The law was given the same year as the Exodus out of Egypt, so we know that the time from the promise to the Exodus was 430 years. What promise is Paul talking about?

Let’s check what the context of the verse informs us. After all, the correct way to understand the verse is by examining the context.

Galatians 3:6-18:

6 Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. 7 Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. 8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. 9 So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. 10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. 11 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. 12 And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. 13 Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: 14 That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. 15 Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto. 16 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. 17 And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. 18 For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.

The promise in question is the gospel, and specifically this promise: “In thee shall all nations be blessed” set forth in verse 8. This is reiterated in verse 14 “That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” Notice how Paul links the promise and the in-gathering of the Gentiles.

That promise is recorded for us in Genesis 12.

Genesis 12:1-3
Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.

Here’s the timeline based on that promise:

0. Abram was 75 years old when he departed out of Haran (Genesis 12:4).

11. Abram was 86 years old when Ishmael was born (Genesis 16:16).

25. Abraham was 100 years old (and Sarah was 90 years old) when Isaac was born (Genesis 21:5).

[?]. Isaac weaned (we’re not told how old he was when he was weaned), Ishmael and Hagar the Egyptian banished and went to Paran & Egypt (Genesis 21:8-21).

55. Sarah was 120 years old when she died (Genesis 23:1-2).

85. Isaac was 60 years old when Jacob was born (Genesis 25:26).

100. Abraham died at 175 years old (Genesis 25:7-8).

169. Isaac died at 144 years old (Genesis 35:29).

215. Jacob was 130 years old when he went into Egypt (Genesis 47:28).

(which is half of the 430 years, the other 215 years being the time in Egypt)

Notice, however, that there is no reference to “seed” in that particular promise. Paul makes reference to the expression “to thy seed.” That issue is easily remedied. Chapter 12 of Genesis explains that when Abraham arrived at Sichem God added to what was said in verses 1-3.

Genesis 12:7 And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him.

That promise to Abraham and his seed gets repeated several more times, for example, in Genesis 13:15-16 and more dramatically in Genesis 15. Interestingly, the promise is also applied (at least to some degree) to Ishmael:

Genesis 21:13 And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed.

But I digress. The primary argument is that the promise in question is the promise made to Abraham, not some other promise.

Some have seized on the verse 16’s comment: “to Abraham and his seed were the promises made,” to suggest that perhaps a promise to someone other than Abraham is in mind (specifically a promise to Jacob). There are several problems with this objection. First, the repetitions of the promise (or the division of the promise in Genesis 12) can be considered the “promises,” alternatively the various blessings can be considered the promises. There is no need for there to be other promises made to other people. Second, the “his seed” comment is immediately followed up – in the very same verse – by Paul explaining that the seed is Christ: “He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.”

The only promise that I can see that God made to Jacob at the time of entry into Egypt was this:

Genesis 46:3-4
And he said, I am God, the God of thy father: fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will there make of thee a great nation: I will go down with thee into Egypt; and I will also surely bring thee up again: and Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes.

That promise does not mention the seed (so relevant to Paul’s discussion) nor does it mention the nations (also highly relevant to Paul’s discussion). In short, while it is a promise, and while Jacob was from Abraham, it seems strained at best to say that this is the promise to which Paul is referring.

This is the first argument, but there is a second like it. The second argument deals with the time in Egypt.

[?1 – at some point before 169 in the first list] birth of Levi (one of the 70 who came to Egypt – Genesis 46:11)

[?2] birth of Kohath (one of the 70 who came to Egypt – Genesis 46:11)

0. Entry into Egypt

[?3] birth of Amram

[?1 + 137] Levi died at 137 years old (Exodus 6:16)

[?4] Aaron born

[?4 + 3] Moses born (Exodus 7:7)

[?2 + 133] Kohath dies at 133 years old (Exodus 6:18)

[?3 + 137] Amram dies at 137 years old (Exodus 6:20)

[?4 + 83] Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 7:7)

As you can see from the use of the designation “?” there are a number of uncertainties over the precise dates in the chronology. There are, however, a few hooks that prevent the chronology from shrinking or expanding excessively. For example, a child cannot be born before his father, and it is not reasonable to expect that a child is born before the father is at least about 13 years old.

Furthermore, the child cannot be born much after the father dies, and it is pretty much normal for the child to be born before the father dies, unless the father dies quite young (which is not the case with any of the men here). Finally, at the start of the chronology, we know from Genesis 35:27-28 and Genesis 32:22, which show that Jacob had his first eleven sons (including Levi) before Isaac died.

One further item should be noted. I’ve placed the birth of the grandsons before the deaths of their grandfathers, since this seems to have been normal at the time. There is, of course, no absolute requirement that the grandfathers in each case lived to see their grandsons.

I want to draw your attention to one fact of central importance to this discussion. There is only one person in the chronology who both was born and died in Egypt. That was Amram. His entire life fits within the endpoints of the time in Egypt, but his father was born in Canaan and his sons died in the wilderness on the way to Canaan.

It should be plain that this time-line is perfectly consistent with there being 215 years in Egypt. That duration permits there to be a comfortable amount of time before Amram was born and after he died while the Israelites were in Egypt.

As noted above, though, this timeline has a lot of play in it – it can be expanded or contracted by quite a bit. How much?

Well, using the most extreme assumptions, the maximum time that there can be between 0 and the Exodus in the timeline is if Kohath is born the same year as the entry (and comes in consequently as a newborn) and then if Amram is born the year following Kohath’s death, and Moses is born the year following Amram’s death. None of these seem probable, but they provide us with an outside limit. Under those assumptions, the time from the entry to the Exodus would be: 133 (life of Kohath) + 1 + 137 (life of Amram) + 1 + 80 (age of Moses at Exodus) = 352 years.

Plainly, 352 years is not enough to make 430. However, perhaps someone will point out that Joseph went down to Egypt first, and try to expand the time in Egypt by adding the time that Joseph was there. How much can that help?

Joseph was 17 years old when he received his coat of many colors (Genesis 37:1). To maximize the times involved, we will assume he was enslaved the same year. Joseph died at 110 years old (Genesis 50:26). However, Joseph did not die in the year of the entry into Egypt. Jacob died 17 years after the entry into Egypt (Genesis 47:28). Joseph survived Jacob by at least 70 days (Genesis 50:1-4). So, the most time that Joseph was in Egypt prior to the entry was 93 years (assuming he died the same year as his father and was enslaved the same year he got his lovely coat).

352 + 93 = 445, which would actually permit a play of about 15 years. If we go ahead and remove the 15 years to end up at 430, we have Joseph being 78 years old at the time of the entry of Jacob into Egypt. However, Jacob was 130 years old when he went into Egypt (Genesis 47:28). Thus, for that scenario to work, Joseph would have to have been born when Jacob was 52.

Yet Scripture tells us:

Genesis 37:3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours.

While 52 is a bit old for folks to be having children now, it really wasn’t that old in the age of the patriarchs. Furthermore, remember that Jacob had left the home on his own to flee from Esau when they were at least forty years old (Genesis 26:34-35, remembering that Jacob and Esau were twins), had worked fourteen years for his wives, and then had had children after that (Genesis 29:31-32), with Rachel having children only after Leah had given birth seven times (six sons and one daughter) (Genesis 30:19-22). In short, such a thesis is impractical.

On top of that, when Joesph goes down into he Egypt, he is sold to Potiphar, and then imprisoned after being falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife. He there interpreted two dreams. Two years later (Genesis 41:1) Joseph was called before Pharaoh to interpret a dream (it was one dream in two dreams) and was thirty years old at that time (Genesis 41:46). The dream announced 7 coming years of plenty followed by 7 coming years of famine (Genesis 41:26). Furthermore, the year of the entry into Egypt was the 2nd or 3rd year of the famine (Genesis 45:6). While Scripture does not say the the years of plenty started immediately after the dream’s interpretation, that seems to be the implication. If so, then it should be plain that Joseph was about 40 years old at the time of the entry of Jacob into Egypt. That would mean that Joseph was born when Jacob was about ninety years old, which would make him a son of Jacob’s old age.

On these two arguments from Scripture, the idea that the 430 years should be counted from the first promise to Abraham seems to be pretty strong. There are two lesser arguments, however.

The first of the lesser arguments, and our third point in this discussion, is one that is of relatively minor interest. Recall that Genesis 15 is one of the places where the promise to Abraham is reiterated. At that time, Abraham is given a date for the length of the sojourning, namely 400 years.

Genesis 15:13-14
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; and also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.

As you may note in the first chronology above, the date at which Ishmael is driven off is about the year 30 in the chronology (assuming Isaac was weaned at age 5, which does not seem very unreasonable). If that’s the case, then 400 years of affliction would begin with Ishmael’s affliction and end with Israel’s exodus. This seems a little too neat, but perhaps it is correct. The more usual explanation for the difference between the 400 and the 430 is that the 400 is simply a round number, and that we should use the birth of Isaac (which would be 405 years) rather than his weaning as the date for the fulfillment of the 400 year prophecy.

The fourth argument (and the second of the lesser two arguments) is an argument from the fact that Exodus occurs in the fourth generation.

Genesis 15:15-16
And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.

As can be seen from the first chronology above, Abraham lived to see the birth of Jacob. Thus, the first generation after what he saw was Levi, then Kohath, then Amram, and finally in the fourth generation there was Aaron and Moses. Thus, the prophecy was fulfilled in a way that is fully consistent with the sojourning period being counted from Abraham’s initial sojourn out of Haran in Canaan (Genesis 12:5) and Egypt (Genesis 12:10).

Finally, there is one textual objection that is made. The one objection that is made is that Exodus 12:40 states unequivocally that the Israelites were in Egypt for 430 years. This argument seems to be based on the particular readings found in many modern translations. The King James Version translates the verse in question as follows:

Exodus 12:40 Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years.

With this reading, the sojourning is 430 years and the “dwelt in Egypt” modifies the children of Israel, though not necessarily their stay in Egypt. Thus, the text of the KJV is ambiguous as to whether the sojourning all took place in Egypt or not. Some (perhaps all!) the other versions phrase the verse such that all the 430 years are in Egypt. Mr. Butler is quite insistent that the only way to read this verse is as saying that the entire time of the sojourning was in Egypt, but when I’ve questioned him on the issue of translation of the text (i.e. whether the KJV’s translation is a reasonable translation) he does not seem to have any answer.

Aside from textual arguments, I had noted that John Gill, John Calvin, and Matthew Henry agree with my position on this matter. I could have added others, such as Matthew Poole, Martin Luther, John Chrysostom, and John Owen. It doesn’t seem to have been a particularly contentious point of exegesis historically. If there are any reputable Reformed, Reformation Era, or Patristic commentators that took a different view, Mr. Butler hasn’t pointed them out (I should note that one of the articles noted that Hippolytus took a long-sojourn view, and at least one of the articles indicates that Josephus inconsistently seemed to support both views).

Mr. Butler’s response instead was to lead by dogmatically insisting that the verse regarding the 430 year stay can only be read one way:

First, there is absolutely no other way to read Exodus 12:40 but that Israel sojourned in Egypt 430 years. In fact, the Exodus record even places the termination of Israel’s sojourn in Egypt at the 430th year (vs. 41).

With all due respect to Mr. Butler, the text of the Authorized Version can be read in another way, and has been so read. Moreover, it seems to be the case that the Hebrew is similarly ambiguous.

Mr. Butler’s second argument is to suggest that we should downplay the significance of the Galatians passage:

Next, Galatians 3:16, 17 should not be made the controlling passage over Exodus 12:40, 41. Thus, Paul may have had something else in mind when he spoke about the 430 years before the giving of the law, quite possibly the last promise of the covenant made to Jacob in Genesis 46:3, 4 before he went down into Egypt to live.

This argument is not feasible, as discussed above. The promise in Genesis 46:3-4 is not the promise that Paul has been talking about, nor does it contain either of the elements (“seed” and “all nations”) that are germane to Paul’s discussion.

Mr. Butler’s third argument relates to a counter-argument that I have not presented above. Very briefly, the counter-argument is that the LXX reading of Exodus 12:40-41 includes the phrase “and in the land of Canaan” into the middle of “who dwelt in Egypt.” This reading suggests at least the possibility that the original reading included the time in Canaan as well as that of Egypt. Alternatively, the reading suggests that there was an ancient marginal note that confirmed that the expression “in Egypt” shouldn’t be understood in the exhaustive sense that Mr. Butler contends. Thus, some ancient commentator likewise confirms the 215 year thesis. Mr. Butler’s response is this:

Third, we need to keep in mind that the LXX is a translation of the Hebrew text. Applying the normal rules of textual criticism, the shorter reading of the original language text should be preferred over the longer reading of a translated text that wasn’t published until some 1300 years or so later. Moreover, the fact that the additional phrase “and in the land of Canaan” is just found in a few editions of the LXX and not others makes this even more of a questionable reading in my mind.

“Published” is probably not the word he means to use. It’s worth noting that the Hebrew manuscripts that we have are not 1300 years earlier than the LXX manuscripts that we have. Thus, the date issue is a bit moot. From what I can tell the Dead Sea Scrolls give support to the idea that Masoretic text was preserved well at least back to that date (more on the Dead Sea Scrolls below).

Mr. Butler’s fourth argument is this:

Fourth, as much as I appreciate the writing ministry of Gill, Calvin, and Henry, and the great treasure of their commentaries they have left to the Church at large, let’s be honest, they are seriously dated with regards to current archaeological information. Our understanding of Egyptian history, the sojourn of Israel, and the Exodus has advanced dramatically since those men wrote.

I’m quite hesitant to use the external evidence of archaeology to trump the text of Scripture. Mr. Butler goes on to identify several articles, which we can take a look at, but he does not point to any specific or concrete archaeological data that suggests that we know the entry and exodus dates via the historical records of Egypt. If such data has been conclusively established, I know at least one friendly South African atheist who will be chomping at the bit to review it.

But, in fact, there is at least some additional archeological evidence that has come to light since the time of Gill, Calvin, Henry, et al. that confirms the 215 year stay. Specifically, 4Q559 (Biblical Chronology) provides the following at fragment 3:

[… And Levi was 3]4 [years old] when he [begot Qahat.] [And Qahat was 2]9 years old when he begot Amram. And Amram [was] [110 years old when he begot] Aaron. And Aaron left Egy[pt …] […] these thousand and 536

Leaving aside, for the moment, the complexities of reconstructing those fragments and simply plugging those numbers into the second chronology above, we would have:

0. birth of Levi (one of the 70 who came to Egypt – Genesis 46:11)

34. birth of Kohath (one of the 70 who came to Egypt – Genesis 46:11)

[??] Entry into Egypt

63 birth of Amram

137 Levi died at 137 years old (Exodus 6:16)

167 Kohath dies at 133 years old (Exodus 6:18)

173 Aaron born

176 Moses born (Exodus 7:7)

200 Amram dies at 137 years old (Exodus 6:20)

256 Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 7:7)

Note that this approach is all relative to Levi’s birth, not to the entry itself. If the entry were 215 years before the exodus, then the entry would be at year 41, which fits within the appropriate window (Kohath is not yet old enough for his own children, but he is already born).

It should be readily apparent that the fragment cannot bear out the 430 years in Egypt hypothesis.

Additionally, fragment 2 of the same document is provided thus:

[Abraham was 99] years old [when he begot Isaac] [And I]saac was [60 years old when he begot Jacob. And Jacob] [was] 65 ye[ars old when he begot Levi …] …

This piece would provide the final link necessary to connect the Levi-based second chronology with the Abraham-based first chronology. If Jacob were 65 years older than Levi then Levi would be 65 year old at the time of the entry into Egypt. The problem is that it seems that Amram born when Levi was 63 (based on fragment 3) and consequently the numbers don’t quite line up. Since we don’t view 4Q559 as inspired, this is not a particularly severe problem.

The first article to which Mr. Butler links is The Duration of the Egyptian Bondage by Harold Hoehner

Contrary to Mr. Butler’s apparent argument, almost all of the arguments in the article are exegetical and lexical (with support being given to the Authorized Version’s reading) and not archaeological.

The next is The Length of Israel’s Sojourn in Egypt by Jack Riggs

Again, the arguments are not archaeological, and the other material that may not have been available to some of our Reformed fathers (though Gill seems to mention it) is the Samaritan Penteteuch, which confirms the LXX reading as to the 430 years including the time in Canaan.

The final article is The Duration of the Israelite Sojourn in Egypt by Paul J. Ray

This one finally refers to some additional archaeological material, but the material is far from compelling. Essentially, the final article provides a thesis for how the time in Egypt could have occurred within a particular window of Egyptian history, as well as how Abraham’s sojourning could fit in the century in which it would fall under the 430 years in Egypt scenario. While certain of the arguments could be critiqued (for example, the idea that Joseph received the “second chariot” of Pharaoh, for example, almost certainly refers to an honor, not a shortage of chariots at the time) since the arguments do not suggest a significant preference for a long stay over a short stay, it is difficult to see what Mr. Butler finds so compelling about the arguments. His summary:

Though I commend TF’s efforts to stick with scripture, I think consideration of further historical information helps to illuminate more of what the biblical text is saying, and in my mind, the 215 year theory is extremely problematic. Even for debunking a false teacher like Camping.

seems unjustified.

Mr. Butler sums up his arguments thus:

1) There are other editions of the LXX which do not contain the phrase “and in the Land of Canaan,” particularly, A, F, and M.

2) All of the Hebrew texts of Exodus 12:40 do not contain the additional phrase.

And 3) Well established extra-biblical evidence also supports the 430 year sojourn, not the 215.

As noted above, however, those first two issues are not particularly central to the argument. The short reading of Exodus 12:40-41 is consistent with the 215 year stay in Egypt just as the longer reading is (though the longer reading complete destroys the theory of the 430 year stay in Egypt). The idea that the extra-biblical evidence does not support the 215 year stay or somehow provides a preference for the 430 year stay seems inaccurate, and the idea the timeline of Egyptian history is well-established from contemporary archaeology seems slightly naive.

What’s more, Mr. Butler seems to present the articles in favor of the long stay in Egypt as though they were the scholarly consensus on the topic. In contrast, however, the articles themselves make reference to the fact that there scholars who come down on both sides of the issue.

The above should have addressed most of the arguments that Mr. Butler has raised. There are, however, a few other points to be noted. First, the issue of the sojourn is also mentioned by Stephen in Acts:

Acts 7:6 And God spake on this wise, That his seed should sojourn in a strange land; and that they should bring them into bondage, and entreat them evil four hundred years.

This is simply a translation of Genesis 15. The most natural reading of the Authorized Version here is that the four hundred years relates to evil entreaty. However, another reasonable reading is to understand the “four hundred years” as referring to the entire period of sojourning in a strange land, being in bondage, and being treated harshly. And again, the 400 years may be viewed as approximate (based on Isaac’s birth) or exact (based on Isaac’s weaning and Ishmael’s exile, either on the basis of treating Ishmael as the seed, or as treating the exile of Ishmael as being the revelation of the true seed status of Isaac).

Second, Paul makes reference to a time period in his speech at the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia.

Acts 13:16-24:

Then Paul stood up, and beckoning with his hand said, Men of Israel, and ye that fear God, give audience. The God of this people of Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an high arm brought he them out of it. And about the time of forty years suffered he their manners in the wilderness.
And when he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Chanaan, he divided their land to them by lot. And after that he gave unto them judges about the space of four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet.
And afterward they desired a king: and God gave unto them Saul the son of Cis, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, by the space of forty years.
And when he had removed him, he raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also he gave testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will.
Of this man’s seed hath God according to his promise raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus: When John had first preached before his coming the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.

The time period in question is the four hundred fifty years mentioned at verse 20. Sometimes this verse is presented as though it is relevant to the discussion. That time period, however, is plainly referring to a time period after the exodus.

Ray, in his article, provides the following comment in a footnote:

On the basis of MSS B, [Aleph], A, and C, the text should indicate, according to B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort a[] period of “about 450 years” (or more precisely 447 years)–i.e., 400 years of bondage in Egypt, 40 years in the wilderness, and 7 years of conquest of Canaan. See Westcott and Hort, The New Testament in Original Greek (New York, 1948), p. 276.

Even if, however, the 400 year period should be started before the exodus, it works better to select the 215 year hypothesis and use as the starting point the weaning of Isaac/exile of Ishmael as the start of the 400 year period.

Nevertheless, the flow of the passage seems to suggest that Paul is trying to refer to the period of the judges (including, perhaps, Joshua), since Paul has already specifically enumerated the 40 years in the wilderness, and subsequently gives the time period of Saul.

There is a slight problem with respect to the number that Paul gives, because the time from the coming out of Israel from Egypt to the building of the temple of Solomon is 480 years. In order for the time of the Judges to be 450 years (approximately), one would need to assume that in that instance, the coming out from Egypt is reckoned according to Joshua’s death 30 years after the 40 years of wandering. Then back-subtracting the 80 years of David and Saul from the 480, we would have 400 years from the death of Joshua to start of Samuel/Saul. That 400 years plus the 30 years of Joshua could be viewed as the “about 450 years.”

The problem, however, is not fully resolved because the typical accounts of the time of the judges proper is given around 350 years rather than 450 years. In any event, that particular difficulty is one that can be addressed at another time.

Third, a few of the articles raise as an objection the increase in the number of the people of Israel during the time in Egypt. I have dealt with this issue at greater length in a previous post. In brief, however, several replies are called for. First, Scriptures make abundantly clear that the time in Egypt was accompanied by extraordinary multiplication of families. As I noted, if we simply go by the ratio of first-born males to total men, the family sizes would have been enormous by modern standards. Even if that number is too high, much smaller families of 10-12 children would have been sufficient to produce the necessary multiplication.

Additionally, as at least one of my readers pointed out, there is the possibility that a large number of proselytes were made via the plagues, either among the Egyptians themselves or more likely among their other slaves. In support of this argument it is asserted that we find folks like Caleb (who might have been a descendant of Esau’s grandson Kenaz) and that there are described those who “feared the word of the LORD among the servants of Pharaoh.” (Exodus 9:20)

Moreover, the very high level of fertility among Israelite women helps to explain why there are some folks during the exodus who, like Moses and Aaron are in the fourth generation from Jacob, whereas there are others who are in the sixth or seventh generation. Notice, for example, that Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation and some of the grandchildren of Manasseh before his death. (Genesis 50:23) Thus, that in some cases the number of generations would be only four, but in other cases six or seven should not be thought to be the result of inaccurate chronologies, but rather of the varying ages at which the patriarchs and their children begot children of their own.

As a next-to-last point, some contention is made that the fourth generation referenced in Genesis 15 should be interpreted as four lengthy periods of time rather than four generations in the usual sense. This interpretation seems quite strained. The reckoning of generations in the usual sense seems both more natural and consistent with other uses in the Torah, such as in Deuteronomy 23:2, where an illegitimate son is prohibited from entering into the congregation of the LORD to his tenth generation.

That particular prohibition becomes important because of the following genealogy:

0. Judah
1. Pharez (illegitimately by Tamar)
2. Hezron
3. Ram
4. Amminadab
5. Nahshon
6. Salma
7. Boaz
8. Obed
9. Jesse
10. David

Some have argued that the crown was deferred until David’s generation specifically because of the prohibition in Deuteronomy 23:2. In any event, the idea that the illegitimate person would himself be excluded for 10 periods of time of about 100 years each sounds a bit bizarre.

Finally, a few articles and commenters attempt to make an issue of the idea that sometimes the genealogies are questionable in that they sometimes have gaps or questionable items. One example of these is the issue of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, as reported in Luke 3:36. In the genealogy of Genesis 11 (in the Masoretic text) that Cainan is omitted.

While this is a significant issue for those who think the KJV was specially inspired, it is a less significant issue for those who do not have that same persuasion. After all, the Septuagint provides the details for Cainan and some early manuscripts of the New Testament omit that particular Cainan in the genealogy.

More significantly, there is no similar variant present in any of the manuscripts or versions (of which I’m aware) with respect to the genealogy of Moses from Levi. Furthermore, the genealogy is repeated in Scripture, and in every case it is the same. Thus, it does not seem to be reasonable to suppose that this is a case of a corrupted genealogy through some sort of scribal error.

In conclusion, I respectfully maintain the 215 year period in Egypt on the strength and clarity of the Scriptural testimony both in Exodus 6 and Galatians. In both cases, the Scriptural evidence rules out the view of the 430 years being exclusively by Jacob’s children in Egypt.


Sodom and Archaeology

January 9, 2009

I found the following video on archaeology performed in the Dead Sea Valley to be fascinating. Until more certain proof is presented, I would be hesitant to draw overly strong conclusions, but the view that the city of Sodom, as well as the other valley cities, have been located is reasonably persuasive.


UPDATE: Take the video with a grain of salt, in view of the criticism found at the following link (link). Thanks to Daniel’s Place for noting this issue.

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