Skeptics Annotated Bible A Response

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#50 How old was Benjamin when his clan migrated to Egypt?

Response by Looking Unto

How old was Benjamin when his clan migrated to Egypt? Some verses say he was an infant (Genesis 44:20, 22), while other verses say he was a grown man with ten sons (Genesis 46:8, 21). Is there a contradiction?

He was an infant.
Genesis 44:20: We have a father, an old man, and a child [Benjamin] of his old age, a little one.
Genesis 44:22: The lad cannot leave his father.

He was a grown man with ten sons.
Genesis 46:8, 21: And these are the names of the children of Israel, which came into Egypt. ... And the sons of Benjamin were Belah, and Becher, and Ashbel, Gera, and Naaman, Ehi, and Rosh, Muppim, and Huppim, and Ard.

RESPONSE: June 20, 2004 / Volume 4, Issue 25

Consider the words used of Benjamin which cause the questioner to think that he was an infant:
"child" - Heb. yeled, which is used of a child, or descendent. Though commonly used of those who are young, it need not be of an infant. Benjamin was indeed a child to his father, and even to the rest of his brothers, as he was the youngest.

"young" - Heb. qatan, which can mean small or insignificant, but with regard to people, refers to one who is young, younger or youngest. Although it may commonly be used of those who are very young, it is likewise valid to use it of Benjamin, as he was indeed the youngest of all Jacob's sons.

"lad" - Heb. na'ar, used of a boy, a servant or a young man. Though Benjamin had his own children, he was still Jacob's boy, and comparatively, a young man before his brothers.

An older man might refer to his forty year old son as "a child of his old age". That does not make the forty year old an infant. He might likewise be called "young", and even a "lad"; these words do not change the fact that he is a forty year old. Words used to describe age are relative.

Note the reason why "the lad cannot leave his father". It was not because Benjamin was an infant, but "if he should leave his father, his father would die." Jacob had already lost Joseph, and could not bear to lose Benjamin also. Perhaps Jacob was overprotective, maybe even "babied" Benjamin, but that does not change the fact that he was a grown man.

There is no contradiction.


Response by Tecktonics Apologetics Ministries

Genesis 44:20, 22
How old was Benjamin? Some see contradiciton between these verses, which they suppose imply a child, and 46:8, 21 which refer to Ben's kids. On the surface this isn't even a problem since it only reflects what Joseph's brothers say to Joseph, trying to get out of the tight spot of bringing Benjamin to him. However, none of the words here require seeing Benjamin as particularly young. "Child" is yeled, meaning any offspring and is also used of the older brothers (see here). "Little one" can mean smallest, youngest, or least. "Lad" (44:22) is na'ar and means any boy from infancy to adolescence, but it also means a servant. The brothers imply that Benjamin serves Jacob in his old age.

Genesis 46:4
I(God) will go down with thee (Jacob) into Egypt; and I will also surely bring thee up again: and Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes.Dennis McKinsey writes, "According to Hebrew the phrase "and Joseph" should have been translated as "then Joseph" In other words, the prophecy was that Jacob would return to Israel from Egypt while still alive. Yet one need only read Gen. 47:28-30 and see that Jacob died in Egypt before his entry into Israel." Neither the NIV, NRSV, NASB, or KJV translates "and" as "then", and McKinsey provides no scholarly support for his argument. In any event, one need only read v. 3, "do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you a great nation there", to see what is going on. "You" in v. 4 is then referring to Jacob’s descendants, otherwise Jacob was a great nation all by himself.

Genesis 49:13
Zebulun shall dwell at the shore of the sea; he shall become a haven for ships, and his border shall be at Sidon. McKinsey writes, "Two aspects of this prophecy are false. The borders of Zebulun never extended to the sea and never reached the city of Sidon." This was true as to the initial distribution of the land, but the borders were shifted from time to time. In regards to shore dwelling, Josephus (Ant. V 1:22) says that Zebulun’s lot included "that which belonged to Carmel and the sea." As for Sidon, the term was sometimes used as a synecdoche for Phoenicia as a whole (Judg. 3:3, 1 Kings 17:9), and their territory did stretch down to Zebulun at one point.