But…the Numbers Are Different! Did Jacob Go to Egypt with 70 or 75: Making Sense of Differing Biblical Records

Introduction

The account of Joseph, and his rise to power in Egypt stands as one of the most exciting accounts in Scripture of the exaltation of the humble. He went from the throws of slavery to the heights of an empire by the mighty working of God. Jacob’s reuniting with the son he thought dead for over twenty years takes us to a satisfying end.

God had promised Abraham to multiply him as the sand of the seashore and as the stars of the heavens (Gen. 13:16, 15:5, 22:17). Jacob himself began as one, fleeing for his life from the wrath of Esau and the displeasure of Isaac. He returned to the promised land as a troop and headed to Egypt with a solid foundation. In Egypt, those humble beginnings turned and multiplied into the great promised nation (cf. Exod. 1:7).

The 70 of Jacob

Yet, studying Jacob’s move to Egypt requires some number crunching. In Genesis 46, the Bible says that 70 people went down to Egypt with Jacob (Gen. 46:27). The chapter breaks down the 70 based on the number of children birthed by each of his wives:

  • Leah 33 (v. 15)
  • Zilpah 16 (v. 18)
  • Rachel 14 (v. 22)
  • Bilhah 7 (v. 25)
  • 33 + 16 + 14 + 7 = 70

For the most part, the heads of households are counted, namely the sons and grandsons, and a few great-grandsons.

Leah’s 33 Children

In the first group, Leah’s group, arriving at the number 33 provides some challenges. The most natural count includes Er and Onan (Gen. 46:12). Counting all the males listed, including Er and Onan, comes to 33. The problem with counting them is that they did not go to Egypt, nor did they contribute to the house of Jacob at all, since they both died childless. Nevertheless, they were a part of the household of Jacob, even if they did not have offspring of their own.

The other option is to skip Er and Onan and to count Dinah, who is mentioned in verse 15. Counting Dinah, a daughter, has some warrant.

  • Genesis 46:7 refers to Jacob’s daughters and the daughters of his sons. Of the daughters of Jacob, only Dinah is listed. Of the daughters of Jacob’s sons, only a daughter of Asher, Serah, is listed. For some reason, Serah is counted as one of Asher’s sons in Genesis 46:17 and in 1 Chronicles 7:30. Including Serah in the count is necessary in bringing the count of Zilpah’s children to 16 (cf. Gen. 46:18).
  • Furthermore, verse 15 is the only verse in the four groups that has the statement, “his sons and his daughters,” right after mentioning Dinah.

Including Dinah, however, and excluding Er and Onan brings the count of Leah’s group to 32, instead of 33. In order to come to 33, Jacob must be included, but including Jacob is problematic. The children are the children of each of Jacob’s wives, and including Jacob with Leah’s count is inconsistent with the approach of the chapter. Also, without Er and Onan, Jacob has to be removed from the count of 70 in order to get back to 66 in verses 26-27. If he shouldn’t be counted to begin with, then he shouldn’t be added.

At any rate, here are the two options for counting the 33 children of Leah:

Leah’s Group of 33
Reuben Reuben

Hanoch

Hanoch

Pallu

Pallu

Hezron

Hezron

Carmi

Carmi

Simeon Simeon

Jemuel

Jemuel

Jamin

Jamin

Ohad

Ohad

Jachin

Jachin

Zohar

Zohar

Shaul

Shaul

Levi Levi

Gerhon

Gerhon

Kihath

Kihath

Merari

Merari

Judah Judah

Er

Onan

Shelah

Shelah

Perez

Perez

Hezron

Hezron

Hamul

Hamul

Zerah

Zerah

Issachar Issachar

Tola

Tola

Puvah

Puvah

Job

Job

Shimron

Shimron

Zebulun Zebulun

Sered

Sered

Elon

Elon

Jahleel

Jahleel

Dinah
plus Jacob

 

From 70 to 66

Once the issue of counting Leah’s 33 children is resolved, everything else falls into place easily enough until Genesis 46:26-27. Verse twenty-six says that 66 of the “loins” of Jacob went to Egypt, and verse twenty-seven says that 70 of the “household” of Jacob went to Egypt. The difference between the 66 and 70 is the difference between the “loins” of Jacob verses the “household” of Jacob. So, what does that mean?

Arriving at the number 70 is easy enough but getting to 66 is a little more challenging. Two options can account for the number 66.

First, verse twenty-seven points out that two of Joseph’s sons were born in Egypt. Of course, that refers to Ephraim and Manasseh. Placed between the references of 66 and 70 makes it hard not exclude them in the difference. They must be part of the difference between 66 and 70, since they were born in Egypt and did not go down with the rest of the family.

So, if Ephraim and Manasseh are two of the four, then who are the other two? If Dinah is counted, then Joseph and Jacob are the only two other options to be subtracted, Jacob, because the count, after all, is about who went down with him, and Joseph, because he was already in Egypt. While a possibility, it seems like stretching the case, primarily because of Jacob.

Also, if Joseph were not to be included, then verse twenty-seven should read something like, “Joseph and the sons born to him in Egypt were three persons.” The implication of verse twenty-seven, therefore, is that only the 2 sons of Joseph should be excluded. As a result, we can’t get to 66 from 70 easily enough.

Arriving at these numbers should not involve a higher degree of learning. It is a straight-forward narrative, and the difficulty we have making the numbers line up is probably the difference between our cultural perspective and their cultural perspective. That leads to the second option.

Second, and what seems the more plausible option, involves Er and Onan. They were part of the household of Jacob, even if they did not contribute to the multiplication of Israel. After all, there is no evidence that Dinah married or contributed to the multiplication of Israel, either.

Er and Onan, plus the two sons of Joseph born in Egypt, make a natural count of 4, reducing the household of Jacob that went to Egypt from 70 to 66. Additionally, Genesis 46:12 provides commentary on Er and Onan, that they died in Canaan. So, commentary on Er, Onan, Manasseh, and Ephraim lends to a natural inclusion in the 70, because they were of the household of Jacob, but exclusion in the 66, because although they were of the loins of Jacob, they did not actually travel to Canaan. Furthermore, if that is the difference between the “loins” of Jacob and the “household” of Jacob, another issue is solved, for it is unlikely that all the children of Benjamin were born in Canaan. Some of them were probably born in Egypt, too.

The Septuagint’s 75

Resolved, then, is the Hebrew text of Genesis 46, but some Septuagint differences must be considered. The Septuagint is the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible. As Christians we believe in the inspiration of the Hebrew Bible as God-breathed, but not the Septuagint. It is a translation of the Hebrew. In Acts 7:14, however, the Greek text, which we believe to be inspired, repeats the number in the Septuagint, forcing us to give credence to it and consider what it says.

The primary difference is found in Genesis 46:27, which reads 70 in the Hebrew, but 75 in the Septuagint. Two other differences appear in the Septuagint, both having to do with Joseph and his children. The number 75, then, counts additional people of the descendants of Joseph.

Rachel’s 19 Children

The differences are as follows: instead of 14 sons of Rachel, as in the Hebrew, the Septuagint gives the number as 18 (cf. Genesis 46:16-18). Second, instead of two people born of Joseph in Egypt, the Septuagint reads 9 (Gen. 46:27). The 9, then, of Joseph’s descendants born in Egypt is significant in taking the number 66 to 75, 66 + 9 = 75.

There is no discrepancy, then, between the Hebrew text and the Septuagint. The Septuagint includes more of the sons of Joseph than the Hebrew.

The sons of Manasseh in the Septuagint are: Machir, who, in turn bore Gilead.

The sons of Ephraim in the Septuagint are: Soutalaam and Taam. Soutalaam bore Edem.

These sons of Manasseh and Ephraim add 5 names to the household of Joseph, and, thus, to the household of Jacob.

However, counting the names of the children Rachel bore brings the total to 19 instead of 18:

  • Joseph and his children – 8
  • Benjamin and his children – 11

In order to reconcile the difference of accounting between 19 and 18, a look at some other Septuagint readings must be made. Two alternate readings exist in the Septuagint manuscripts. The first reduces one name from the children of Benjamin. Instead of Muppim and Huppim (following NKJV spelling). Some Septuagint manuscripts only say Muppim. Many English versions of the Septuagint, therefore, have only that one name. That reduces the number to 18. This variation is not so satisfactory, though, since the Hebrew contains both names, which is the preferred text.

The other manuscript variation actually says “19” in verse 25, instead of “18,” leaving all the names as is. This variation is preferred, taking care of several issues. First, the number of sons of Benjamin is preserved and matches the Hebrew text. Second, the numbers of each of the sons of the wives equals 75, whereas with 18, the number fell one short:

  • Leah 33 (v. 15)
  • Zilpah 16 (v. 18)
  • Rachel 19 (v. 22)
  • Bilhah 7 (v. 25)
  • 33 + 16 + 19 + 7 = 75

Joseph’s 9 Children

One last problem is found in Genesis 46:27, where it says that the number of children born to Joseph in Egypt was 9. Including Ephraim and Manasseh, the number of the sons of Joseph in the Septuagint is 7, not 9.

Genesis 50:22-23 speaks of the final days of Joseph. The blessing for Jacob and Joseph was that they had a chance to see their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Of Joseph, it says that he saw the children of Ephraim to the third generation and the children of Machir, who was the son of Manasseh. 1 Chronicles 7:14-29 lists the children of Machir and of Ephraim. Of course, there were more than 9, but the Septuagint at this point, which is not an inspired version, may be rounding the numbers for the sake of making them add up right. In other words, getting from 66 to 75 requires 9.

The change, though, is unnecessary. The number 7, rather than 9, resolves the issue and is correct. Following the solution of the Hebrew text, Joseph’s 2 sons with Er and Onan makes the required 4 to go from 66 to 70. So, here, Joseph’s 7 sons with Er and Onan makes the required 9 to go from 66 to 75. The numbers, then, accurately reflect the number of the children of Joseph listed in Genesis 46:20.

70 or 75?

The final item needing attention is whether the household of Jacob that went down to Egypt was 70 or 75. The Hebrew text reads 70, while the Greek New Testament reads 75 (Acts 7:14), both texts inspired by God. Commenting on Acts 7:14, it is not sufficient to say that Stephen (or Luke the author of Acts) is quoting from the Septuagint as an explanation of the difference in the numbers. Was the number of people 70 or 75?

The correct answer is: both. In both texts the authors seek to represent the household of Jacob and the heads of his household (not all of which actually traveled to Egypt) and therefore both numbers are accurate.

Other numbers would be equally accurate, depending on how detailed one desires to go in counting the households of Israel. For example, most counts of Israel begin with the 12 sons of Jacob and go on from there, so 12 could have been used.

In Numbers 26, which closely follows Genesis 46, only Manasseh is listed. That is strange since Machir and Gilead are important in the history of Manasseh. 5 children of Ephraim are listed (including Ephraim), and 8 children of Benjamin are listed (including Benjamin). That brings the total of Rachel’s children to 15, according to that passage. In other words, 15 could have been used instead of 14 or 19 in Genesis 46, bringing the final count to 71, rather than 70 or 75.

In the first seven or so chapters of 1 Chronicles, the children of the twelve tribes are listed yet again. In those chapters, even more descendants are listed, any one of them, especially those grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the children of Israel, might be included in the count.

So, 70 or 75, both accurately reflect the household of Jacob in Egypt, and no discrepancy exists between Genesis 46 and Acts 7.

In Summary

The following points summarize the findings in this article:

  • The 70 of the household of Jacob that went to Egypt consist of the totals given in the text for each of the four wives of Jacob, 33+16+14+7=70.
  • Leah’s 33 probably includes Er and Onan.
  • The 66 of the loins of Jacob exclude Manasseh, Ephraim, Er, and Onan.
  • The Septuagint’s 75 include more of the descendants of Joseph, listed in the Septuagint text.
  • The Hebrew OT number of 70 and the Greek NT number of 75 are both correct numbers.

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