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Tanakh and Talmud

How many years were Israelites slaves in Egypt?


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February 16, 2016 7:16AM

Traditional answers regarding the amount of time the Israelites spent in slavery in Egypt include 400 years, 430 years, and 210 years.

It depends on when you start your timeline. Some say 430 years, figuring from the time that Jacob and his family came down to join Joseph in Egypt. But when the Israelites arrived in Egypt they were guests of the Pharaoh for whom Joseph served as grand vizier. Joseph arranged for his family to live in the Goshen area (that part of northern Egypt on the eastern side of the Nile Delta) where they were pretty much left alone by the Egyptians and continued to lead a peaceful life.

Others say 210 years, figuring from the time that "there arose in Egypt a Pharaoh who did not know Joseph. Even here, there's a clear lack of clarity, for while many believe that the oppressive Pharaoh was Ramses II there is (as yet) no conclusive archaeological evidence to support this.

Around 400 years is the most accurate answer. The Bible is the most accurate historical book we have.

The Septuagint translates verse 40 in Exodus chapter 12 as such: "And the sojourning of the children of Israel, while they sojourned in the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan was four hundred and thirty years." The above verse falls into accordance with NLT's translation: "This is what I am trying to say: The agreement God made with Abraham could not be canceled 430 years later when God gave the law to Moses. God would be breaking his promise" Galatians 3:17. From the two passages we may conclude that the 400 years specified in Genesis 15:13 commence 30 years after the covenant (agreement) mentioned in Galatians 3:17, making the sojourn of Israelites 430 years in a foreign land.

"The LORD had said to Abram, 'Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father's family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.' So Abram departed as the LORD had instructed, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran." Genesis 12:1-4 states the establishment of the covenant and Abraham's age upon arriving at Canaan. 30 (time from covenant to 5 years subsequent to birth of Isaac) + 55 (Genesis 25:26) + 130 (Genesis 47:9) + 215 (time after Jacob's arrival in Egypt to the Israelites' departure from Egypt and the giving of Ten Commandments at Mtn. Sinai) = 430.

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February 16, 2016 7:13AM

Exodus 12:40-41 says the Hebrews spent 430 years in Egypt: "Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years ..." Of course, not all of this time is said to have been as slaves. However, the genealogy of Moses does not allow such a long time, since he had to be born sometime between 15 years and 270 years after the arrival in Egypt, lived 120 years and yet led the Israelites on the Exodus for some forty years.

Perhaps in recognition of this problem, a Jewish midrash of the common era attempted to rationalise by stating that Moses protested to God that he could not lead the Hebrews, because they had only been in Egypt for 210 years and had not yet faced the 400 years of oppression that God had foretold to Abraham. God responded that the time of oppression had to be dated from the birth of Isaac, and so 400 years had indeed gone by.

The great majority of biblical scholars now believe that the Israelites were never slaves in Egypt and that there was no Exodus as described in the Bible.

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October 25, 2015 6:51AM

According to the continuous tradition of the Israelites (Jews) themselves, they were in Egypt for a total of 210 years. Of this, the slavery itself lasted about 115 years.

Verses which mention 400 years (Genesis ch.15) and 430 years (Exodus ch.12) are calculated from events in Abraham's lifetime, not during the actual sojourn in Egypt (Rashi commentary, ibid).

See also:

More about the Exodus