How many of Jacob’s family went to Egypt?

Posted on Oct.03, 2009. Filed in Genesis, Exodus, Acts. Average rating: Not yet rated (Rate It).

Having established himself in Egypt, Joseph sent for his father Jacob and his entire family, who came and settled in Egypt, in the region of Goshen. There is some confusion in the Bible, however, as to just how many people this was.

According to Genesis, it was seventy members of Jacob’s family who moved to Egypt:

“… all the persons of the house of Jacob who came into Egypt were seventy.” [Genesis 46:27, NRSV]

This number, which includes Jacob (who is, after all, a member of his own family) is confirmed in Exodus:

“These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. The total number of people born to Jacob was seventy. Joseph was already in Egypt.” [Exodus 1:1-5, NRSV]

So Jacob had seventy descendants, one of whom was already in Egypt. When he (one person) and his entire family except for Joseph (sixty-nine people) moved to Egypt, that would have been seventy people making the move.

The number seventy is again given in Deuteronomy:

“Your ancestors went down to Egypt seventy persons; and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars in heaven.” [Deuteronomy 10:22, NRSV]

When Stephen gives his speech to the council, however, he says that seventy-five members of Jacob’s family went to Egypt:

“‘Then Joseph sent and invited his father Jacob and all his relatives to come to him, seventy-five in all; so Jacob went down to Egypt.'” [Acts 7:14-15a]

So how many of Jacob’s family went to Egypt, seventy or seventy-five?

N.B. All posts are written in a style sympathetic to the claim of Biblical error, even in cases where the author ("Errancy") disagrees with the claim. See the About page for the site's philosophy.

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  1. 1

    Well. Stephen is at it again with his faulty knowledge of the Fathers. Obviously he made a mistake, which Acts reports accurately. Perhaps he thought that he needed to count Jacob, Joseph, Asenath (Joseph’s wife), Manasseh and Ephraim (Joseph’s sons) apart from the 70 mentioned in the OT.

  2. 2

    My 70 already includes Jacob, so including Jacob, Joseph, Asenath, Manasseh and Ephraim only makes 74. There’s probably someone else we could find who would make 75 though…

  3. 3

    Dinah appears to me to be listed but not counted in Genesis 46: Perhaps she’s a good candidate for #75.

  4. 4

    I was actually suggesting that Stephen mistakenly believed that he needed to add five to the total. I was taking it for granted that by doing this, he might be counting some people twice.

    The underlying defense of inerrancy is that Stephen was wrong and Acts accurately reports his mistake.

    By mentioning Joseph’s family and Jacob, I was merely suggesting a group of five that he might have thought needed including in the total. Here’s a list of possible ‘fivesomes’ that might account for Stephen’s mistake:

    1) Joseph’s family + Jacob
    2) Joseph’s family + Dinah
    3) Joseph’s family + Shaul (possibly the bastard of Simeon).
    4) Joseph and his sons + Er and Onan (these two died on the way).
    5) Joseph and his sons + Jacob and Shaul
    6) Joseph and his sons + Jacob and Dinah
    7) Joseph and his sons + Shaul and Dinah

    In the end, it doesn’t really matter which of these fivesomes Stephen had in mind (perhaps he had in mind another fivesome altogether, or perhaps he was just misremembering the number or repeating an incorrect number he learned by rote). The doctrine of inerrancy asserts the inerrancy of Scripture, not of Stephen.

  5. 5

    Actually, I think I might know this one. It took a lot of pouring over Genesis 46, but I believe I figured it out
    *goes and pulls up old notes*

    We know that there are
    33 by Leah
    16 by Zilpah
    14 by Rachel
    7 by Bilhah
    = 70

    HOWEVER, a few points:

    1. Genesis 46:15 says “These sons AND daughters…” so we must assume that Dinah is counted [she’s mentioned just before in verse 15]. This brings us to 34. To get back down to 33, we subtract Ohad son of Simeon. Why? Because his name does not appear in the Septuagint [very early Greek translation]. Nor does his name appear in the similar lists at Numbers 26:12-13 or 1Chr. 4:24. So we bring Leah back down to 33 children. That gives us our 70 again.

    Now, verse 26 tells us that only 66 went to Egypt, so we need to drop four. This is actually not as difficult as it seems. Er and Onan are dead [see chapter 38.] Perez’s two sons [Hazron and Hamul] could not POSSIBLY have been born yet at this time, since Perez son of Judah had to be VERY young at this time. So why are they counted in 46:12? Notice the wording:

    “The sons of Judah: Er, Onan, Shelah, Perez and Zerah [but Er and Onan had died in the land of Canaan]. The sons of Perez: Hezron and Hamul.

    The solution, I believe, is to simply extend the parenthesis about Er and Onan to include the note about Hezron and Hamul. In fact, THE HEBREW WORDING HERE IS DIFFERENT FROM THAT USED IN THE REST OF THE CHAPTER.

    So by dropping two dead sons [Er and Onan] and leaving to the side Hezron and Hamul [who couldn’t have been born] we arrive at the 66 children mentioned in verse 27. This solves two issues:

    1. How could Hezron and Hamul have gone to Egypt when their father must have been a young child, and

    2. Why don’t the numbers add up to 66.

    NOW, to get 75, we simply take the 66 and add the nine sons of Joseph [see the Septuagint of verse 27].

    66 + 9 = 75.

    Not only does this match Stephen, it also explains the issue in verse 26 in the Hebrew, which says 66 + 2 = 70. 66 + 9 = 75 makes much, much more sense, of course.

  6. 6

    “So how many of Jacob’s family went to Egypt, seventy or seventy-five?”

    No matter how you dice these lists, the people are being counted in a genealogical sense, some of them even before they were born.

    And if you read the passage in Acts more closely, you will see that the 75 that Stephen is referring to is Joseph’s family, rather than merely Jacob’s family. In Acts the focus is on Joseph, not Jacob, and Joseph had an additional five grandchildren through Ephraim and Manasseh.

    For a more detailed answer including colored charts:

    Seventy or Seventy-Five

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