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How Long Was Israel in Egypt?

Aug 04, 2008

Many Bible chronologists have made the mistake of thinking that Israel was in Egypt 400 years. They have misread Genesis 15:13 and 14, which says,

" (13) And God said to Abram, 'Know for certain that your descendants ["seed"] will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. (14) But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve; and afterward they will come out with many possessions'."

There is a reason why the text does not actually mention Egypt. It is because the oppression actually began with their time in Canaan and ended in Egypt. Abraham's "seed" began with Isaac, for we read in Gen. 21:12, "in Isaac shall thy seed be called."

The question is this: At what time in Isaac's life was he a stranger in a land that was not his, according to the prophecy in Gen. 15:13? As soon as he was born. His father, Abraham, spoke to a Canaanite king in Gen. 20:4, saying, "I am a stranger and a sojourner with you." Abraham moved there as a stranger, but Isaac was born there. So he was a stranger there from his birth, and his oppression, or submission to foreign kings, began at birth.

Isaac was 60 years old when his twin sons, Jacob and Esau, were born (Gen. 25:26). Jacob was 130 when he went to Egypt and stood before Pharaoh (Gen. 47:9). That means 190 years had already passed between Isaac's birth and Jacob's sojourn in Egypt. This left just 210 years remaining of the 400 years in which they were oppressed "in a land that is not theirs."

Josephus says that Israel was in Egypt for 215 years, which is close to my figure of 210 and certainly closer than 400 years. Antiquities of the Jews, II, xv, 2 reads,

"They left Egypt in the month 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."

Take note also that this 430-year period is mentioned by Paul in Gal. 3:17. But whereas Josephus says it began with Abraham's trip to Canaan, Paul dates it from the Abrahamic covenant, which is more precise. God gave the covenant with Abraham when he was 70 years old, and he then went to Canaan at the age of 75 (Gen. 12:4).

By this reckoning, Isaac was born 30 years after the covenant was given to Abraham (age 100), and this began the final 400 years to the Exodus.

Paul's statement puts 430 years between the covenants (Abraham and Moses). But if Israel spent 400 years in Egypt, then the Abrahamic covenant would have been given just 30 years before Jacob went to Egypt. That is impossible, since Abraham had been dead for over a century by that time. Abraham only lived to the age of 175 (Gen. 25:7). Isaac was 75 when his father died. Jacob and Esau were 15. Jacob went to Egypt 115 years later at the age of 130.

So this shows it is impossible for Israel to have been in Egypt for 400 years. Even Josephus limits it to just 215 years. Back in 1991, when I was researching history, I came across a Time Chart attributed to Rabbi Yose ben Halafta about 160 A.D., in a writing called Seder Olam Rabbah, "Book of World History." His chronology was the same as mine from Adam to Solomon, and it stated specifically that Israel had been in Egypt for 210 years. I do not know how widespread this view was at the time, but it does show that I was not the first to figure this out. You can compare our dates (in years from Adam) by going to:


Look at the bottom of this article. Note that Isaac was born in 2048 and that the Exodus took place in 2448, which was 400 years after Isaac's birth.

Once we establish the date of the Exodus, it is relatively easy to go from there to modern history. 1 Kings 6:1 tells us it was 480 years from the Exodus to the 4th year of Solomon, when he laid the foundation of the Temple. The rabbi above does the same, which is why our dates are synchronized up to the time of Solomon's reign. Solomon reigned from 2925-2964 (years from Adam).

When he died, the kingdom was divided, and two sets of kings help us determine the chronology to the death of King Ahab, where we are able to convert the years from Adam to our current calendar system.

Jeroboam was made king of Israel when Solomon died. Rehoboam was king in Judah. They began to reign in the same year, 2965.

In the twentieth year of Israel's King Jeroboam, Asa began to reign in Judah (1 Kings 15:9). That would be 19 years after the first year of their reign. So Asa's first year was the year 2984.

Asa died in his 38th year (3021), which was also King Ahab's first year as king in Israel (1 Kings 16:29). Ahab died in his 22nd year (3042). He died as the result of a battle with the Syrians (1 Kings 22).

King Ahab had made a three-year peace treaty with the Syrians (1 Kings 22:1). Then something motivated King Ahab to break this treaty and to conspire with King Jehoshaphat of Judah to make war with Syria. It was in this war that Ahab was killed. Historians believe that this coincides with the famous Battle of Karkar, where Assyria fought a coalition of three kings: Israel, Judah, and Syria. The Assyrian records actually mention King Ahab himself. The Assyrians won that battle. Apparently, the Syrians were badly mauled in that battle, and so Ahab and Jehoshaphat thought this was a good time to finish off their old enemy, Syria.

That is how the three-year truce ended, but King Ahab died in this battle. Because it coincides with the famous Battle of Karkar, dated in 853 B.C. by astronomical records, most historians conclude that King Ahab died in 853 B.C.

You see, the Assyrians had a calendar of their own that included about 1400 unbroken years. Each year was named according to some event or famous person. The Battle of Karkar occurred in "the eponym [named year] of Daian-Assur," that is, in this particular year on their calendar. 90 years later, the Assyrian calendar records a solar eclipse in "the eponym of Bur-Sagale." Astronomers know that this eclipse occurred on June 15, 763 B.C.

So backtracking 90 years from that eclipse brings us to 853 B.C., the year of the Battle of Karkar, as well as the death of King Ahab of Israel.

So this is the key whereby we are able to correlate the year from Adam (3042) with the year 853 B.C. according to our modern calendar. It is the 22nd year of King Ahab, 90 years prior to the solar eclipse in Assyria (June 15, 763 B.C.).

3042 from Adam = 853 B.C.

Using that as our key, we are then able to translate all historical dates, before and after, to either dating system. For example, since Solomon died in 2964, and Ahab died in 3042, we know that Solomon died 78 years before the death of Ahab. Ahab died in 853 B.C., so Solomon died 78 years earlier in 931 B.C.

If you read history books, you will often find historians coming to the same conclusion. The generally accepted date of Solomon's death is 931 B.C. It is based upon the reasoning that I have just given. I did not have to do any "creative history" here, as so many try to do to establish their own will upon history.

Using the same key, we can go back to Adam's beginning in the year 3895 B.C., or we can go ahead to the birth of Jesus in 2 B.C., which comes out as 3893 from Adam. Sorry, folks. I would love to make it come out neat and clean as 4000 years after Adam, but that is not what history proves.

Yet when we begin to understand the Jubilee calendar, then it all makes sense and fits with modern events.

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Dr. Stephen Jones

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