So I received an e-mail from a pastor friend who had ran across a problem in his bible study, and seeing that I spent around an hour responding to a problem that many people run into from time to time, I thought I would post an edited version of the response here. His question was fairly straightforward: The Israelites were in Egypt for 430 years but the combined ages in the genealogy in Exodus 6 simply didn’t add up to 430 years. He had studied the issue but couldn’t resolve the conundrum, so he needed a fresh set of eyes (as we all do from time to time, especially when we’re hung up on a problem. Happens to me too!)
Here’s my response:
Genealogies are essentially resumes in ancient near eastern thinking; the question of a genealogy is not “how many years does this account for?” but rather “who does this connect to?”
In Exodus 6, we are well into the story with Moses. We know who he is, and we know a fair bit about him, but all we know about Aaron is from Exodus 4:14. We know that Aaron is Moses’ brother and that he’s a Levite (not a ton of information). So, in a break in the narrative of Exodus 6, there’s a (seemingly) random insertion of a genealogy. It’s set up with a double inclusio (similar phrase opening and closing the section – Exodus 6:10-12 and 6:28-30 is the first and Exodus 6:13 and 6:26-27 is the second – and the double inclusio is emphatic, showing that this is something to *really* pay attention to). This whole passage is a brief response to Moses’ complaining in Exodus 6:12 – “But Moses said to the Lord, ‘Behold, the people of Israel have not listened to me. How then shall Pharaoh listen to me, for I am of uncircumcised lips?'”.
As I already mentioned, ancient genealogies were basically resumes. It’s worth noticing that the genealogy mentions Reuben, Simeon and Levi, but none others (Ex. 6:14-15); so the person that the genealogy connects to is Levi (that’s important). Then the genealogy mentions the sons of Levi (Ex. 6:16-19), and then the genealogy ignores the other sons of Levi and concentrates on Kohath’s one son, Amram, and two specific children of him; Moses and Aaron (Ex. 6:20). The genealogy then mentions the children of 2 out of 3 of Kohath’s other sons (Ex. 6:21-22) and focuses on sets up several up and coming cast members in the story of the exodus: Nadab and Abihu (Ex. 6:23), Korah (Ex. 6:24), and Phineas (Ex. 6;25).
Moses may have had uncircumcised lips, but Aaron didn’t. That’s the main idea behind the insertion of this genealogy into the passage. If you add up the numbers and come up short of 430, you’re basically treating the genealogy as something that it’s not.
Until Next Time,