Genesis 46: How Many Israelites Came Into Egypt, 66 or 70?
In studying Genesis 46:8-27, there seems to be a conflict in the number of people in Jacob’s family (the Israelites) who came into Egypt. In verse 26, it says 66 came into Egypt. But in verse 27, it says that 70 came into Egypt. At first glance, it may seem that this contradiction cannot be resolved, leading many to discredit the validity of the whole book altogether. After further exploration into the text, I beg to differ. I believe the Bible to be completely without error. To all those asking “How many Israelites came into Egypt if in one part it reads 66 and in another it reads 70?” here is my answer:
66 Israelites Came Into Egypt (Genesis 46:26)
“The total number of persons belonging to Jacob–his direct descendants, not including the wives of Jacob’s sons–who came into Egypt: 66.”
In this first accounting, we are only accounting for the direct descendants of Jacob, not his wives. Here is how we can count 66:
Genesis 46:8: These are the names of the Israelites, Jacob and his sons, who went to Egypt: Jacob’s firstborn: Reuben.
9. Reuben’s sons: Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi.
10. Simeon’s sons: Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul, the son of a Canaanite woman.
11. Levi’s sons: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.
12. Judah’s sons: Er, Onan, Shelah, Perez, and Zerah; but Er and Onan died in the land of Canaan. Perez’s sons: Hezron and Hamul.
Here, we do not count Er and Onan, because they had died before coming into the land of Egypt.
13. Issachar’s sons: Tola, Puah, Jashub, and Shimron.
14. Zebulun’s sons: Sered, Elon, and Jahleel.
Genesis 46:15. These were Leah’s sons born to Jacob in Paddan-aram, as well as his daughter Dinah. The total number of persons: 33.
16. Gad’s sons: Ziphion, Haggi, Shuni, Ezbon, Eri, Arodi, and Areli.
17. Asher’s sons: Imnah, Ishvah, Ishvi, Beriah, and their sister Serah. Beriah’s sons were Heber and Malchiel.
18. These were the sons of Zilpah–whom Laban gave to his daughter Leah–that she bore to Jacob: 16 persons.
Let’s consider for a second if this “number 16” checks out. Because we are looking at the sons of Zilpah, we would count, Gad, Ziphion, Haggi, Shuni, Ezbon, Eri, Arodi, Areli, Asher, Imnah, Ishah, Ishvi, Beriah, Heber and Malchiel. That equals 15. I think the conflict here is in that it says “16 persons” therefore including Serah in the “total persons” count. Otherwise, it would have said “15 sons and 1 daughter”.
19. The sons of Jacob’s wife Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin.
20. Manasseh and Ephraim were born to Joseph in the land of Egypt. They were born to him by Asenath daughter of Potiphera, a priest at On.
Here we can count Manasseh and Ephraim in the line of Jacob’s direct descendants, because they are in the line of Israel’s direct descendants (they are sons of Joseph!). BUT, these boys were already in Egypt, and therefore cannot be included in our count of 66.
21. Benjamin’s sons: Bela, Becher, Ashbel, Gera, Naaman, Ehi, Rosh, Muppim, Huppim, and Ard.
22. These were Rachel’s sons who were born to Jacob: 14 persons.
Check: 14 persons? Joseph, Manasseh, Ephraim, Benjamin, Bela, Becher, Ashbel, Gera, Naaman, Ehi, Rosh, Muppim, Huppim and Ard: 14. But, remember for our count of 66 descendants ENTERING INTO EGYPT, Manasseh and Ephraim were already there, so they aren’t counted in this 66.
23. Dan’s son: Hushim.
24. Naphtali’s sons: Jahzeel, Guni, Jezer, and Shillem.
Genesis 46:25. These were the sons of Bilhah, whom Laban gave to his daughter Rachel. She bore to Jacob: seven persons.
Here are the “seven persons” born to Jacob by Bilhah: Dan, Hushim, Naphtali, Jahzeel, Guni, Jezer and Shillem.
26. The total number of persons belonging to Jacob–his direct descendants, not including the wives of Jacob’s sons–who came to Egypt: 66.
70 Israelites Came Into Egypt (Genesis 46:27)
“And Joseph’s sons who were born to him in Egypt: two persons. All those of Jacob’s household who had come to Egypt: 70 persons.”
As we just proved above, the counting of 66 total people who came to Egypt, Jacob’s direct descendants, is accurately described in the account. In order for this to serve as a complete lineage of Jacob, they include that Joseph bore to Jacob an additional two sons that had not been previously accounted for, Manasseh and Ephraim. This would bring the total count of Jacob’s descendants (not including himself but also including Manasseh and Ephraim) to 67.
66 Total – Jacob = 65 + Joseph’s 2 sons = 67 Descendants
The confusion comes where we list in verse 27 “All those of Jacob’s household who had come to Egypt: 70 persons.” Does this include Manasseh and Ephraim? No. They didn’t come to Egypt, they were already there. Does this include Jacob? Yes. He is part of his own household, as any census taker will attest.
So, from the listed 66 persons above, we add in Jacob’s wives:
Rachel was no longer living, so she cannot be counted. How do we get 70? We can’t consider the wives of Jacob’s sons, because the scripture says “not including the wives of Jacob’s sons.” And if we did include the wives of Jacob’s sons, we would certainly get much more than 70! So who is the missing link? I believe it to be:
Remember back in Genesis 38 when Judah’s sons were evil and so that Lord killed them? Both Er and Onan left poor Tamar with no husband to care for her. After much happening, Tamar births Perez and Zerah to Judah himself, both of which are direct descendants of Jacob. But, we aren’t considering the wives of Jacob’s sons. Was Tamar the wife of Judah? I would say, no.
As she [Tamar] was being brought out, she sent her father-in-law [Judah] this message: “I am pregnant by the man to whom these items belong.” And she added, “Examine them. Whose signet ring, cord, and staff are these?” Judah recognized them and said, “She is more in the right than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not know her intimately again. (Genesis 38:25-26)
Perhaps in place of it saying “And he did not know her intimately again,” it might have said “and Judah took Tamar to be his wife.” (Remember that in verse 12 of this chapter, Judah’s wife, the daughter of Shua, died. Judah did not have a wife.)
So Tamar was NOT a wife of Jacob’s sons. But was Tamar part of Jacob’s household that came into Egypt? I would say so. (At the beginning of Genesis 37 it reads “These are the family records of Jacob. Then the stories jump from Joseph to Judah and Tamar, back to Joseph.) I think Tamar was considered righteous and was therefore taken in as one of the family, but not one of the wives.
Final check of Genesis 46: 66 or 70?
Finally, when we look back to the verses that sum up how many are coming into Egypt, we have:
33 (verse 15) + 16 (verse 18) + 14 (verse 22) + 7 (verse 25) = 70
So, how many Israelites came into Egypt, 66 or 70? Both. It depends how you are counting.
God’s word is always true. If it isn’t consistent, we are interpreting something incorrectly. Amen.