[b-hebrew] Septuagint vs. Masoretes/75 vs. 70: How Many Hebrews Did Jacob Lead into Egypt?

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Thu Jan 17 09:58:20 EST 2008


Septuagint vs. Masoretes/75 vs. 70:  How Many Hebrews Did Jacob Lead into 
Egypt?
 
For the most part, the Masoretic text and the Septuagint have similar 
readings of the Patriarchal narratives.  But there is one glaring exception to that 
general rule.  In chapter 46 of Genesis, the Septuagint lists 74 names 
(including the name “Jacob”), and states that Jacob led 75 Hebrews into Egypt 
(including two unnamed younger sons of Joseph, as we shall see, but excluding Jacob 
himself).  By stark contrast, the Masoretic text lists only 70 names (including 
“Jacob”), and states that Jacob led 70 Hebrews into Egypt (including Jacob 
himself).  
 
Importantly, this same dichotomy between the numbers 75 vs. 70 appears in 
Exodus 1: 5, which repeats how many people Jacob led into Egypt.  Very 
interestingly, the Dead Sea Scrolls follow the Septuagint here as to Exodus 1: 5, 
reading 75 people (not 70 people) that Jacob led into Egypt.  (Unfortunately, there 
is no legible Dead Sea Scrolls version of chapter 46 of Genesis.)  That means 
that the number 75 in Exodus and in chapter 46 of Genesis is a very old 
tradition.  Accordingly, we should not dismiss this number 75 lightly, even though 
English translators have consistently opted for the number 70 used in the 
Masoretic text.
 
The reason why this phenomenon is quite well known is that in the New 
Testament, Acts says at 7: 14 that Jacob led 75 people into Egypt.  The KJV uses the 
number 70 both in chapter 46 of Genesis and at Exodus 1: 5 (from the Masoretic 
text, not using the Septuagint), but then, like all other versions of the New 
Testament, the KJV uses the number 75 at Acts 7: 14.
 
The main drawback of the Septuagint is that it is a Greek translation of the 
Hebrew, rather than setting forth the original Hebrew.  But other than the 
inevitable (and important) manifold translation issues, the Septuagint is 
otherwise a fine text, and is very old.  The fact is that the Septuagint is not known 
to add an entire sentence into a Biblical text on its own motion, especially 
where the sentence lists 5 specific names.  (The Septuagint is a series of 
Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible, done over a period of 200 years or so by 
educated Jews for educated Jews, prior to the common era.  The Dead Sea 
Scrolls have shown that both the Septuagint and the Masoretic text are very 
accurate, with the Masoretic text on balance being slightly more accurate overall than 
the Septuagint, but only slightly.  The Septuagint is thus a valuable 
resource, even though it is a Greek translation, rather than being in the original 
Hebrew.)  For certain books of the Bible, especially Jeremiah, the Septuagint 
and the Masoretic text must have been working off of different original texts, 
hence there are many differences in Jeremiah as between the Masoretic text and 
the Septuagint.  But in the case of the Patriarchal narratives, it would 
appear that the Septuagint and the Masoretic text are based on the same, or at 
least a very similar, original source, since only chapter 46 of Genesis reflects a 
prolonged substantive difference in the text.  On translation issues, the 
Masoretic text is normally preferred, because the Masoretic text is in Hebrew, 
and hence is not a translation, whereas the Septuagint is in Greek.  (However, 
the equivalent of “translating” is, in some ways, how the Masoretic text added 
pointing.  Scholars now recognize that the pointing done in the Masoretic 
text sometimes does not accord with how the oldest Hebrew texts were originally 
read.)  But here in chapter 46 of Genesis, we are not dealing with either a 
translation or a pointing issue.  Rather, the Septuagint has an entire sentence 
at Genesis 46: 20, listing 5 named descendants of Joseph’s sons Manasseh and 
Ephraim, that is completely missing in the Masoretic text.  Why?
 
On this thread, I will propose a new solution to this age-old problem.  (If I 
am right, it will be the first time in 2,500 years that people will know 
exactly how many people Jacob is portrayed as leading into Egypt.)  For reasons I 
will discuss later, it is my view that the original Hebrew text differed from 
both the Septuagint and the Masoretic text.  In my view, (i) the original text 
listed 75 names, basically following the Septuagint (which has 74 names), but 
also having the name “Huppim” that is in the Masoretic text, but is missing 
in the Septuagint, as one of Benjamin’s descendants, (ii) the original text 
referred to 9 descendants of Joseph (including Joseph’s 2 unnamed younger sons), 
per the Septuagint, but (iii) nevertheless the original text stated, and not 
by a “mistake”, that Jacob led 70 people into Egypt, per the Masoretic text 
(not the 75 people reported in the Septuagint).  Though at first glance that 
may seem like an outright numerical contradiction, we will see why the author of 
the truly ancient Patriarchal narratives said precisely that:  75 names are 
listed, but only 70 people are said to come with Jacob to Egypt.  
 
In my view, when the Bible was compiled in the mid-1st millennium BCE, the 
later Hebrews (perhaps J, E, P or D, none of whom understood the truly ancient 
Patriarchal narratives very well) mistakenly thought that the original author 
of the Patriarchal narratives had made an obvious numerical “mistake” as to 75 
vs. 70.  The Septuagint changed/“corrected” the number 70 to 75, since the 
original text referred first to 66 people, and then referred to 9 additional 
people, and the Septuagint editor reasoned that 66 + 9 = 75 (though the text 
itself did not say to add 66 + 9).  The Septuagint editor then reduced the 75 
names listed in the original text by one to 74 (dropping Huppim), with there 
being (as in the original text) 2 unnamed younger sons of Joseph.  Jacob himself 
could then be subtracted from the count, to get to 75:  74 + 2 –1 = 75.  The 
Masoretic text is worse, however, in that (in my view) it dropped an entire 
sentence, which gives us 5 more names.  The Masoretic text also deletes any 
reference to any younger sons of Joseph, which in my view is also a major problem 
(since Genesis 48: 6 strongly implies that Joseph sired younger sons, albeit 
after Jacob got to Egypt;  I view chapter 46 of Genesis as listing all of Jacob’s 
grandsons, including grandsons born after Jacob got to Egypt, though that may 
not have been clear to the mid-1st millennium BCE people who were pulling the 
Bible together).  The Masoretic text lists only 70 names in the text, so that 
the number of listed names exactly corresponds to the statement in the 
original text (in my view) that Jacob led 70 (not 75) Hebrews into Egypt.  The math 
in the Masoretic text is very straightforward, but at the cost of dropping 
many descendants of Joseph, both named and unnamed, that are referenced in the 
Septuagint.  (It seems doubtful to me that the Septuagint editor just made up 
new descendants of Joseph on his own accord, as the Septuagint is not known for 
such gratuitous freelancing.)
 
In my next post, I will set forth the portions of the Septuagint that differ 
substantially from the Masoretic text as to chapter 46 of Genesis.  After 
that, we can compare how the Septuagint and the Masoretic text count the number of 
people whom Jacob is portrayed as leading into Egypt.  And then after that, I 
will set forth my own view as to what the original text of what became 
chapter 46 of Genesis originally said, and why I see it that way.  We will discover 
that both the editor of the Septuagint, and the editor of the Masoretic text, 
in the mid-1st millennium BCE “corrected” in different ways the math that was 
in the original text.  But we can recover that original math, and see that 
that original math in fact made perfect sense, if one knows how to understand it 
in terms of the mindset of the truly ancient Patriarchal narratives, 
including the specific types of numerical symbolism used throughout the Patriarchal 
narratives.
 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois




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