Stephen, Session #9 (All quotes generally ESV)

A GLITCH IN THE NUMBERS: 70 OR 75?

Acts 7:14-15  “And Joseph sent and summoned Jacob his father and all his kindred, seventy-five persons in all.15 And Jacob went down into Egypt, and he died, he and our fathers.”

The Lutheran Study Bible at Acts 7:14 says this in the footnote:  “Stephen may have arrived at this total by adding the five sons of Manasseh and Ephraim mentioned in Nu 26:28-37.”  In my estimation, this is a “wild pitch!”  We may not have the answer for sure about why Stephen used “75,” but we’ve got better guesses than that!

The Masoretic Text (the Hebrew  version used for our English Bible) has the number 70 in Exodus 1:1-5:  “ These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household:  Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah,  Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin,  Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher.  All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons (שִׁבְעִ֣ים נָ֑פֶשׁ); Joseph was already in Egypt.”  (The Hebrew word נָ֑פֶשׁ [nephesh] means “souls” but sometimes is translated “persons.”)

Here is the translation of the Septuagint (“LXX”—the Greek version of the OId Testament used by Jews) But Joseph was in Egypt. And all the souls of Jacob were seventy-five.”

Two Dead Sea Scrolls (100 B.C.) 4Q1 (“All the souls who came out of Jacob’s body were seventy-five souls, and Joseph was in Egypt already.”) and 4Q13 (“…were seventy-five souls, and Joseph was in Egypt already.” The first phrase is missing/broken off on the 2nd scroll) The Qumran community believed Exodus reads 75 persons.

Josephus (70 A.D.) reads 70 (which already is showing a problem within the Jewish community about this number) but Philo (30 A.D.) reads 75.

There are two facts to be drawn here:  1) even the Jewish commentators knew there was a problem with Exodus 1:5.  And 2) The Septuagint translation was ordered in the 3rd century B.C. but was not completed until 132 B.C.  Nevertheless, it is without question that the Greek translation of Exodus 1:5 used a Hebrew manuscript that read “75 persons.”  Remember that the Septuagint (LXX) scholars were using a Hebrew text more than 1000 years older than our best Masoretic texts (MT)!  

The problem is actually a little more complicated than this, but I don’t want to lose my audience completely!  The point here is that this provides even more evidence that Stephen’s Old Testament was probably Greek (LXX), not Hebrew (MT).  Some scholars claim that Stephen was using the Samariticon (Samaritan version of the Greek Old Testament) but we can’t prove this because copies don’t exist today.  Stephen’s audience would take note of this number 75, however!  It would NOT be ignored!

WHO IS BURIED WHERE—AND WHY DOES IT MATTER?

Acts 7:16  “…and they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.”

Unfortunately, this verse presents staggeringly difficult problems.  Stephen is saying that “all our fathers” were buried in Samaria.  That would leave the Jews frowning and the Samaritans grinning!  This is the “Samaritan version” of history.

Study the following Bible passages and see if you spot some of the problems which Stephen generates with his statement:

John 4:12 “Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.”  (Samaritan women at “Jacob’s Well,” near Shechem—the well is still there today!  Jacob bought the land and dug the well).

Genesis 49:29-32  Jacob speaking:  “I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite,30 in the cave that is in the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place.31 There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife. There they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah32 the field and the cave that is in it were bought from the Hittites.”   (Jacob says “I want to be buried in Abraham’s cave in Hebron!”  See next verse–)

Genesis 50:12-13So Jacob’s sons did as he had commanded them:13 They carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre, which Abraham had bought along with the field as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite.”   

Joshua 24:32As for the bones of Joseph, which the people of Israel brought up from Egypt, they buried them at Shechem, in the piece of land that Jacob bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of money.  It became an inheritance of the descendants of Joseph.”  (This time Shechem and not Hebron!  Jacob bought this land, not Abraham, but Jacob isn’t buried there.)

Problems and possible solutions:

Stephen says Abraham bought this land from the sons of Hamor, north in Shechem.  Genesis 49 says Abraham bought a field from Ephron the Hittite (this is south, near Hebron).  The Old Testament doesn’t mention the first field.  Perhaps Abraham bought two plots?  But the second plot in the north was supposedly bought by Jacob, and he dug a well on the land.  In Genesis 49, Jacob is dying and wants to be buried in the south—at Hebron—with Abraham.  

Stephen also says that Abraham had bought a tomb (a cave, not a well) and that “Joseph and all our fathers” (Joseph’s brothers?) were taken to Shechem and buried there.  Joshua 24, however, only mentions the bones of Joseph which were buried in Shechem; Jacob was the person who had purchased this land.

Some have suggested that Stephen’s speech was correct in the original version, but Luke made a mess of it when he wrote it down.  I think we can toss this one out.  The Bible’s inerrancy won’t tolerate this kind of slop.

It has been suggested that Rabbinical tradition placed all of the brothers of Joseph in the tomb in Shechem, and Stephen was just being inclusive.  Stephen’s words would not allow this interpretation.  The Greek grammar indicates that, according to Stephen’s speech, the entire bunch was buried at Shechem.  

Tradition says 4 couples are buried in Abraham’s cave:  Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah.  The local village is Kiryat Arba (“The Town of the Four”); the cave is מערת המכפלה (Mah’a-rat Ha MACH-pay-lah) “the cave of the double tombs.”  Adam and Eve?  I don’t think so!  Noah’s Flood would erase their tombs!  The rest—yes, the Bible says they are buried there. It is the second-holiest site in Judaism. (The Temple mount is #1)

Is Stephen  conflating the two stories for the sake of brevity OR possibly do we yet have more details to learn?  It is frustrating to say “We don’t know” but we don’t know!  Someday we may have the answer.  But clearly the Samaritans are correct:  “Our father Joseph is buried here–at Shechem!”