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Jacob's Family Goes to Egypt:

Varying Portraits of Unity and Disunity in the Textual Traditions of Exodus 1:1-5

Andrew E. Steinmann
Ashland University

These are the names of the sons of Israel who came with Jacob to Egypt, each with their families: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah; Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin; Dan and Naphtali; Gad and Asher. The total number of Jacob's descendants was seventy. (Joseph was already in Egypt.)--Exodus 1:1-5

1. In this way the book of Exodus begins its introduction, reacquainting readers with the family of Jacob. Verses 1-4 list the sons of Israel who went with Jacob to Egypt. In verse 5 two additional pieces of information are given: the total number of Jacob's descendants who went to Egypt and that Joseph was already in Egypt. A number of differences--some major, others minor--exist among the various traditions of Exod 1:1-5. These differences have often been discussed. Each one is treated as an isolated problem, and variants from the MT are typically classified as conscious or unconscious harmonizations, expansionist tendencies in various traditions, or, in the case of the Septuagint, stylistic preferences of the target language.

2. In this study I wish to compare the text of Exod 1:1-5 in what may be argued are the four most ancient traditions that preserve it: The Masoretic Text, Samaritan Pentateuch, 4QExodb (all in Hebrew), and the Septuagint. While the variety of explanations given for the several variants in each tradition may in some part explain the origin of each variant, they ignore the cumulative effect of the variants in each tradition. Taken as a group, the variants in each tradition skew that tradition's view of the unity or disunity that existed in Israel as it entered Egypt. In other words, the several variants have a synergistic effect on the meaning of the text.

3. The four traditions in Exod 1:1-5 read:

Masoretic Text:

.hdwhyw ywl Nw(m# Nbw)r .w)b wtybw #y) bq(y t) hmyrcm My)bh l)r#y ynb twm# hl)w
.Myrcmb hyh Pswyw #pn My(b# bq(y-Kry y)cy #pn-lk yhyw .r#)w dg yltpnw Nd .Nmynbw Nlwbz rk##y

Samaritan Pentateuch (Von Gall 1918:113):

hdwhyw ywlw Nw(m#w Nbw)r w)b wtybw #y) bq(y t) hmyrcm My)bh l)r#y ynb twm# hl)w
Myrcmb hyh Pswyw #pn My(b# bq(y Kry y)cy #pn lk yhyw r#)w dg yltpnw Nd Nmynbw Nlwbzw rk##yw

4QExodb (Cross 1961:184-185; Ulrich, Cross, et al. 1994:84-85):1

line 1: w]tybw [#y) Mhyb) bq(y t) ]hmyrcm My)bh l)r#y ynb twm# hl) [
line 2: N]ymy[nbw Pswy Nlwbz rk##y ] hdwhyw ywl Nw(m# Nbw)r w)b[
line 3: P]swy t[myw #pn My(b#w #bx ] bq(yl #pn lwk yhyw r#)w dg yltpnw Nd[


tau=ta ta_ o0no/mata tw~n ui9w~n Israhl tw~n ei0speporeume/nwn ei0j Ai1gupton a#ma Iakwb tw~| patri\ au0tw~n e3kastoj panoiki/a| au0tw~n ei0sh/lqosan Roubhn Sumewn Leui Ioudaj Issaxar Zaboulwn kai\ Beniamin Dan kai\ Nefqali Gad kai\ Ashr Iwshf de\ h]n e0n Ai0gu/ptw| h]san de\ pa~sai yuxai\ e0c Iakwb pe/nte kai\ e9bdomh/konta

4. Six differences between the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint in these first five verses are well known and discussed widely in scholarly literature (Le Boulluec and Sandevoir 1989:73-74; Childs 1987:1; Durham 1987:2; Schmidt 1988:2-3, 9-11; Wevers 1990:1-3; Wevers 1992:13, 27, 31, 47, 60, 73, 97):

  1. The MT begins with a conjunction (hl)w), whereas the LXX begins with no conjunction (tau=ta, not tau=ta de\ or kai\ tau=ta; Wevers 1992:161-168).2
  2. In v. 1 the LXX adds the words their father (tw~| patri\ au0tw~n) after Jacob.3
  3. The MT places the words and Joseph was in Egypt (Myrcmb hyh Pswyw; LXX: Iwshf de\ h]n e0n Ai0gu/ptw|) at the end of v. 5, whereas the LXX places them at the beginning.4
  4. In v. 5 the LXX has a shorter reading of pa~sai e0c 70Iakwb for the MT's bq(y-Kry y)cy #pn-lk.
  5. The MT reckons the total number of descendants of Jacob who went to Egypt as seventy, while the LXX reckons the number as seventy-five.5
  6. In v. 5 the MT reads #pn My(b#, while the LXX simply reads pe/nte kai\ e9bdomh/konta (without adding yuxai\).

5. Two of these differences (numbers 2 and 5) deal directly with issues relating to the size and relationships in Jacob's family. Interestingly, 4QExodb agrees with the LXX (as it also does in the case of difference number 4).

6. Since the Samaritan Pentateuch agrees with the MT in all of these cases, it has often been overlooked in this comparison. However, a careful look at the SP reveals that in vv. 2-4 (the actual list of names) all four ancient traditions differ.

MT:r#)w dg yltpnw Nd Nmynbw Nlwbz rk##y hdwhyw ywl Nw(m# Nbw)r
4QExodb:r#)w dg yltpnw [n]d Nymy[nbw Pswy Nlwbz rk##y h]dwhyw ywl Nw(m# Nbw)r
SP:r#)w dg yltpnw Nd Nmynbw Nlwbzw rk##yw hdwhyw ywlw Nw(m#w Nbw)r


Roubhn Sumewn Leui Ioudaj Issaxar Zaboulwn kai\ Beniamin Dan kai\ Nefqali Gad kai\ Ashr

7. In all four traditions the list retains one striking similarity: the last four names are listed identically. Dan and Naphtali are grouped together as sons of Jacob's concubine Bilhah. Gad and Asher are grouped together as sons of Zilpah, Jacob's other concubine.

8. The differences in the four traditions deal with the sons of Jacob's wives. In both the SP and the LXX, all the sons of Jacob's wives are listed in the same manner and in birth order, placing all of them on the same level of importance. In the SP this is accomplished by placing a conjunction before each name except the first one (Reuben). In the LXX this is accomplished by omitting the conjunctions before each name except the last one (Benjamin). Depending on whether the conjunction actually occurred before Judah's name in 4QExodb, it may have carried this one step further by adding Joseph to the list (and omitting any reference to him in v. 5).6

9. The MT divides the sons of Jacob's wives into two groups: Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah as the first group and Issachar, Zebulun and Benjamin as the second group. If a conjunction occurred before Judah's name in 4QExodb, then the addition of Joseph to the list balanced the two groups by giving each four members.

10. But why would the MT (and perhaps 4QExodb) divide the sons of Jacob's wives in this manner? If they were split according to maternity, then in the MT Benjamin, Rachel's only son in the list, would be in a group by himself. (If we assume that a conjunction occurred before Judah's name in 4QExodb Joseph and Benjamin would have been in a group with two of Leah's six sons.7) The reason for the grouping in the MT is found through a careful reading of Gen 29:32-30:24 and Genesis 35:16-18. There we are told that Leah's first four sons (the four grouped together in MT Exod 1:2) were born before Rachel gave her slave Bilhah to Jacob and Leah gave her slave Zilpah to Jacob. The last four of Jacob's sons by his wives were born after Bilhah and Zilpah stopped bearing children.

11. When this observation about the organization of the list of Jacob's sons in the MT is combined with the other characteristics of MT Exod 1:1-5, a pattern emerges. While these verses give us information on the family of Jacob, in a number of indirect ways they also point to that family's fractured relationships. First, we are reminded by groupings in the list in vv. 2-4 of the strife between Jacob's wives that is played out in Gen 29 and 30. His wives' sons are split into two groups and the concubines' sons are placed in their own group at the end of the list. This is done although they were born earlier than the last three sons born to the wives.

12. Next we are given the number of descendants of Jacob. This is a reference to Gen 46:8-27. The number seventy in the MT matches the MT of Gen 46:27 (and Deut 10:22 in both MT and LXX). To obtain that number two of Judah's sons who died in Canaan are excluded. Of course, the alert reader of Exodus will remember that those two sons died in Canaan because of the strife involving Tamar. Furthermore, although Joseph was already in Egypt, he and his sons (but not his grandsons) are included in that number. However, here again the alert reader might remember that in Genesis 46:26-27 these sons were born to Joseph in Egypt by an Egyptian wife. In addition, by grouping the sons of the concubines together, the text reminds readers of the strife between Jacob and Laban. Again, the reference that lies behind the enumeration of Jacob's family, Gen 46, explicitly states that these wives of Jacob were once Laban's slaves (Gen 46:18,25).

13. Finally, in v. 5 after we are told that Jacob's descendants who came to Egypt numbered seventy (a number that included Joseph and his sons, Gen 46:27), we are reminded that Joseph was already in Egypt. This is a direct reference to the envy and strife that led Joseph's own brothers to start the chain of events that embittered Joseph's life. Thus, by organizing the list of Jacob's sons in accordance with the story of their birth in Gen 29 and 30 and by enumerating them based on Gen 46, the MT of Exod 1:1-5 is intended to remind the knowledgeable reader that the Israelites come from a strife-torn family. These verses prepare readers for the strife that the Israelites produce for Yahweh and Moses later in the book.

14. We are also reminded of how Israel got itself into its predicament in Egypt in the first place. The first chapter of Exod in the MT is not simply a story about an oppressed, disadvantaged people who are mistreated by their overlords. Instead, without making excuses for the Egyptians' inhumane actions, the MT reminds us that Israel contributed to its own sad situation (Exod 1:8-22).

15. Whether by accident or design, in various ways the texts of the other traditions soften the effect of the strained family ties among Jacob's descendants. The least radical is the text of the SP. It removes the distinctions among the sons of Jacob's wives by placing a conjunction before each name (except the first one, Reuben) through Benjamin. However, the sons of the concubines are placed in two separate groups. Since these conjunctions are the only non-orthographic variants that distinguish the SP from the MT, it is probably safe to assume that the SP represents the smoothing of a text similar to one that produced the MT.

16. But why were conjunctions not added throughout the list instead of only before Jacob's sons by his wives? In keeping with the tendency of the SP to make or retain differences from the MT that minimize the ascendancy of Judah (Sanderson 1986; Purvis 1968; Waltke 1970),8 this way of grouping the sons makes each of the sons separate groups with Judah in the middle of a list. In the MT Judah is in the first group of sons with Reuben, Simeon and Levi. A reader who remembers Jacob's blessing in Gen 49 will no doubt recall that Judah was the first son to receive a blessing. Reuben, Simeon and Levi were disqualified from the blessing by their father (cf. Gen 49:3-7). Moreover, the Masoretic accentuation and versification surely points to the natural way to read the list: a pause would be at the end of each group. Especially in oral reading the names Judah, Benjamin, Naphtali and Asher would receive emphasis because of pause, with Judah being the first to receive such emphasis. The addition of the conjunctions delays the emphasis until Benjamin, making Judah simply another name in the middle of the list.

17. The purpose of the form of the list in the SP of Exod 1:1-5 was probably to diminish any perceived emphasis on Judah. It was not designed to soften the references to the strife within Jacob's family. However, the consequence of placing all of Jacob's sons by both his wives in the same grouping does soften the reference to the jealousy between Rachel and Leah. Rivalry that led to the contest to give birth to sons for Jacob is downplayed in the SP.

18. When we turn to the LXX we see a more concerted effort to highlight the unity and downplay the fractiousness of Jacob's family:

  1. In v. 1 we are told that the sons of Israel went to Egypt with Jacob their father. This variant helps remind the reader that Israel and Jacob are the same person.9 However, its unintended consequence is to reaffirm family ties.
  2. In the list of names, no conjunction appears before any name until Benjamin. Instead of placing each son of Jacob's wives in a separate group as the SP does, the LXX unites them into one group, though retaining separate groups for the sons of the concubines.
  3. That Joseph was in Egypt is stated before the total number of Jacob's descendants who went to Egypt, clarifying that he was included in that number. He is made closer to his family by inverting the thoughts contained in v. 5. This is also Joseph's position in the enumeration in Gen 46 (v. 27; although note v. 20).
  4. The number of Jacob's descendants is given as seventy-five. The five additional descendants are Manasseh's and Ephraim's children and grandchildren, as listed in LXX Num 26:33, 39-40.10 The similarity of Exod 1:5 (and Gen 46:20, 27) to Num 26 is one way in which the LXX places Joseph's family closer to that of his brothers as if the torn family ties had become reconciled.11
  5. To complete the effect, the beginning of v. 1 in the LXX breaks the close connection with Genesis by the omission of kai\ or de\ with tau=ta.

19. This last variant appears to be the least significant. Indeed, it could have arisen by simple omission in the LXX Vorlage. On the other hand, it may have been an adaptation to the stylistic preferences of the target language (Greek). However, the preference of the LXX is to translate the phrase ynb twm# hl)w with a conjunction. Of the seven occurrences of this phrase, six are translated in the LXX with the inclusion of a conjunction, either kai\ or de\, Exod 1:1 being the only exception. Even if we broaden the count to include only twm# hl)w, thirteen of the fifteen occurrences in the LXX include a conjunction (besides Exod 1:1, see Gen 36:40). If we broaden our search further to include the 108 occurrences of hl)w we find that in only five instances do the LXX translators not include a kai\ or de\ (Gen 36:40; Exod 1:1; Num 26:40; 1 Chr 8:6; Job 10:13). Clearly, if the absence of a conjunction is a concession by the translator to preferred style of Greek, such a concession is the exception, not the rule.

20. It may be argued that the absence of a conjunction at the beginning of Exod was a concession to Greek style for the beginning of a book on what was most often on its own scroll. However, of the twelve books of the Hebrew Bible that begin with a w in the MT, ten of them, including Leviticus and Numbers, begin with a kai\ in the LXX, the only exceptions being Exodus and 1 Samuel. If we include 2 Samuel and 2 Chronicles (2 and 4 Kingdoms in the LXX), the count climbs to twelve out of fourteen.12 In fact, one book in the LXX, Micah, begins with a kai\ although the MT does not. Once again, if the absence of a conjunction is a concession by the translator to preferred style of Greek, such a concession is the exception, not the rule.

21. I would argue that the LXX translator of Exodus may have taken advantage of preferred Greek style to further reinforce the impression of unity in Jacob's family that his text is portraying. This does not mean that the translator did this consciously (though he may have). It may be that the lack of a conjunction seemed to fit better. The feel of the text without the conjunction was reinforced by the rest of the features it contained. Inclusion of a conjunction would naturally lead the reader to make an immediate connection with the final narratives of Genesis, even when reading Exodus on a separate scroll. By severing that connection, as weak as it was, the translator added further distance between the LXX text's unity for Jacob's family in Exod 1:1-5 and the disunity exhibited in the final chapters of Genesis.13

22. In fact, the LXX tradition tends to emphasize the unity of Jacob's descendants. This can be seen not only in the similarity of Gen 46 and Exod 1 to Num 26 mentioned above but also in the list of Jacob's sons in 1 Chr 2:1-2. The MT text of 1 Chr 2:1-2 is similar to that of Exod 1:1-4 with a related, but not identical, use of conjunctions.14 The LXX text of 1 Chr 2:1-2 simply lists the names of the sons with no conjunctions whatsoever, eliminating the distinctions of the MT.15

23. Therefore, the absence of a conjunction at the beginning of Exod 1:1 in the LXX may have been a stylistic preference of the target language. But it was not merely a variant produced by the translator in deference to Greek style. It was also a variant that furthered the ideology about the unity of Jacob's family exhibited in the LXX tradition. The LXX translator may have had mixed motives for beginning Exodus in this way. Of course, the omission of the w may not be a translator's decision at all. It may not have been present in the Hebrew exemplar used by the translator. Even if this is the case, however, the effect is the same.

24. The text of Exod 1:1-5 in 4QExodb is even more forceful in its view of the unity of Jacob's family. Joseph's being in Egypt before Jacob's arrival is never mentioned. Instead, he is listed along with his brother Benjamin. In other variants 4QExodb tends to agree with the LXX: it includes the phrase their father after Jacob in v. 1.16 It reckons the number of Jacob's descendants who came to Egypt as seventy-five.17

25. Two other variants that do not alter the view of unity or disunity in Jacob's family are also in 4QExodb. The first is in agreement with the LXX in v. 5. Where the MT reads "all the persons that came from Jacob's loins" (bq(y Kry y)cy #pn lk) the LXX reads "all the persons from Jacob" (pa~sai yuxai\ ec 70Iakwb). 4QExodb agrees with the LXX in that it is clear that there is insufficient room for the fuller reading of the MT (Cross 1961:185). The second variant is that the MT in v. 5 reads "seventy persons" and 4QExodb reads "seventy-five persons," but the LXX reads simply "seventy-five." This last variant that shows agreement between 4QExodb and the MT confirms Cross' judgment that although 4QExodb exhibits a textual tradition closely aligned with the LXX "it appears to offer a more consistent form of that tradition than the Septuagint itself" (Cross 1961:185).18

26. If that is the case, we are left with two traditions, the MT and 4QExodb, that show two different views of the unity in Jacob's family. The MT stresses the fractures within Jacob's family while 4QExodb stresses the unity of that same family. We also have two traditions derived from them. The SP is derived from the tradition behind the MT. The LXX is derived from the tradition represented by 4QExodb with at least one accommodation to the MT in that it includes the phrase "Joseph was in Egypt." However in the LXX it occurs before the number of Jacob's descendants who went to Egypt, thereby minimizing its impact as an indication of disunity in Jacob's family.

27. It may be impossible to decide which tradition is older.19 However, one fact is clear. The numerous variants in these five verses may have originated for different reasons, but they did not arise in a vacuum. The message of the two basic traditions concerning the degree of unity or disunity in Jacob's family affected most of the variants that arose in the textual traditions of Exod 1:1-5. When read in context, variants can have a synergistic effect on the meaning of the text. Therefore, while differing explanations for the rise of the individual variants is useful, a single variant should never be viewed in isolation from other variants in the same context.

© TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, 1997.


1Note that 4QExodb was formerly given the siglum 4QExoda. Throughout this paper the reconstruction given in Cross 1961:184-185 and Ulrich, Cross, et al. 1994:84-85 will be followed.

2Only two manuscripts (fourteenth and fifteenth century) begin tau=ta de\ (Wevers 1991:95).

3The Syro-hexaplaric tradition omits the phrase, in agreement with the MT (Wevers 1991:65).

4The Hexaplaric Greek manuscripts place this phrase at the end of the verse in agreement with the MT (Wevers 1991:66).

5Le Boulluec and Sandevoir follow Barthélemy (Barthélemy 1978:300) in positing that the MT is a correction by the scribes (one of the tiqqune sopherim) to match Deut 10:22 (Le Boulluec and Sandevoir 1989:73-74). However, the situation is not as simple as they would claim, since the variation of the placement of Joseph in the MT and the LXX requires different reckoning of the numbers of Jacob's sons who went to Egypt with him. Ultimately whether the MT or the LXX is a correction of the original reckoning depends on which one is determined to be closer to the presumed original text.

6Cross states that one cannot be certain whether 4QExodb read hdwhyw or simply hdwhy. I agree. While 4QExodb often agrees with the LXX, in one instance it clearly agrees with the MT: it includes the word #pn after the word My(b#w (Cross 1961:185). Interestingly, Cross does not discuss this in his more recent treatment (Ulrich, Cross, et al. 1994:85).

7See Gen 35:23-26.

8On the basis of 4QpaleoExodm Sanderson demonstrates that many of the differences between the MT and the SP existed in a Hebrew manuscript tradition predating the adoption of this text by the Samaritans.

9Wevers notes that the addition of their father also serves to define the use of Israel in the first verse as the person, in contrast to v. 7 where is takes on the more common meaning of Israelites (Wevers 1990:1).

10Note that the corresponding passage in the MT (Num 26:29, 35-36) lists six people. The additional person is Becher, who is listed as a son of Benjamin in Gen 46:21 (MT and LXX) and at 2 Sam 20:1 (as Bichri). The MT of Num 26:35 probably reflects an error that somehow displaced Becher from Num 26:38.

11In only one other case do the great-grandsons of Jacob appear in the enumeration in Gen 46: the sons of Perez (Gen 46:12).

12See LXX Lev 1:1; Num 1:1; Josh 1:1; Judg 1:1; Ruth 1:1; 1 Kgdms 1:1; Ezra 1:1; Esth 1:1; Jonah 1:1; Ezek 1:1.

13Wevers also notes that the lack of the conjunction makes the book a new work, not connected to Genesis (Wevers 1990:1). Aejmelaeus' comments are appropriate here: "In divergences concerning small details of the text [emphasis original], articles, suffixes, the conjunction 'and,' and various grammatical items, it is often impossible to know whether we are dealing with the freedom of the translator or with differences of the Vorlage.... But if the MT contains an incongruence or other kind of contextual difficulty which is ironed out in the Septuagint, the change may equally well have originated with the Vorlage or with the translator" [emphasis mine] (Aejmelaeus 1993:88).

14 r#)w dg yltpn Nmynbw Pswy Nd Nwlbzw rk##y hdwhyw ywl Nw(m# Nbw)r l)r#y ynb hl) Note that the sons are in five groups: the sons of Leah born before the concubines were given to Jacob, the sons of Leah after the concubines were given to Jacob, the sons of Rachel after the concubines were given to Jacob (with Dan considered Rachel's son, cf. Gen 30:3-6), and two groups of the concubines' sons.

15Wevers explains the MT's conjunction in Exod 1:2 as dittography or the LXX's lack of one as a case of haplography in its Vorlage. However, he does not note the striking similarities in the MT and LXX traditions of 1 Chr 2:1-2 (Wevers 1990:1). The comparison between Exod 1:2-4 and 1 Chr 2:1-2 in both traditions would argue against haplography and in favor of a more conscious harmonizing within each tradition.

16It is possible, based on the number of characters in a line in 4QpaleoGen-Exodl, that Mhyb) occurred after bq(y in this manuscript also (Skehan, Ulrich, and Sanderson 1992:26).

17The same is true in 4QGen-Exodb. However, the words are apparently reversed to read #mx M]y(b# [ (Ulrich, Cross, et al. 1994:18-19).

18This is assuming, of course, that the omission of yuxai\ after pe/nte kai\ e9bdomh/konta is not simply an adaptation to Greek style, which would not require the repetition. Aejmelaeus notes that in the Pentateuch the LXX often exhibits natural Greek usage (Aejmelaeus 1993:84). However, even if this is an adaptation to the translator's target language, it still confirms Cross' comment with respect to the Greek text (though not necessarily to its Hebrew Vorlage).

19While I do not feel that a decision can be made between the two traditions with absolute certainty, I favor the tradition behind the MT for the following reasons:

  1. The enumeration of the descendants of Jacob as seventy-five appears to be a deliberate harmonization with Num 26 and especially with Gen 46. In the list in Gen 46 only one other set of great-grandchildren is mentioned, the sons of Perez. Perez's line is important because it gave rise to the kings of Israel (cf. Ruth 4:18-22). No such importance can be assigned to the sons of Ephraim or Manasseh. Their addition to Gen 46 with the resulting enumeration of seventy-five in Gen 46 and Exod 1 makes it likely that this was a later harmonization. Cross also notes that the addition of #mx in different places in 4QExodb and 4QGen-Exodb appears to indicate that the word was added independently in the two traditions (Ulrich, Cross, et al. 1994:19).
  2. The text of 4QExodb contains the first word of Exod 1:6, tmyw ("and he died"), and traces of a few letters of the next word, which cannot be restored with confidence. Cross (Ulrich, Cross, et al. 1994:84) proposes that it should be read "Joseph." It is probably safe to assume that the text that followed read in a similar way to the LXX (and MT): "Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died." If this is the case, then the special mention of Joseph's death and his brothers' deaths makes no sense unless he was called out for special attention in v. 5 as in the MT. If he was simply a member of the list in vv. 2-4 as in 4QExodb, notation of his death in v. 6 and of its importance in v. 8 would be extremely abrupt and unnatural (despite his prominence in the last chapters of Genesis). Therefore, the text that lay behind 4QExodb and MT before their traditions diverged probably was closer to that of the MT, with Joseph mentioned only at the end of v. 5.


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