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Verse 8

8.These are the names of the children of Israel. He recounts the sons and grandsons of Jacob, till he arrives at their full number. The statement that there were but seventy souls, while Stephen (Acts 7:14) adds five more, is made, I doubt not, by an error of the transcribers. For the solution of Augustine is weak, that Stephen, by a prolepsis, enumerates also three who afterwards were born in Egypt; for he must then have formed a far longer catalogue. Again, this interpretation is repugnant to the design of the Holy Spirit, as we shall hereafter see: because the subject here treated of, is not respecting the number of children Jacob left behind him at his death, but respecting the number of his family on the day when he went down into Egypt. He is said to have brought with him, or to have found there, seventy souls born unto him, in order that the comparison of this very small number, with that immense multitude which the Lord afterwards led forth, might the more fully illustrate His wonderful benediction. But that the error is to be imputed to the transcribers, is hence apparent, that with the Greek interpreters, it has crept only into one passage, while, elsewhere, they agree with the Hebrew reckoning. And it was easy when numerals were signified by marks, for one passage to be corrupted. I suspect also that this happened from the following cause, that those who had to deal with the Scripture were generally ignorant of the Hebrew language; so that, conceiving the passage in the Acts to be vitiated, they rashly changed the true number. If any one, however, chooses rather to suppose that Luke in this instance accommodated himself to the rude and illiterate, who were accustomed to the Greek version, I do not contend with them. (179) In the words of Moses there is, indeed, no ambiguity, nor is there any reason why so small a matter, in which there is no absurdity, should give us any trouble; for it is not wonderful, that, in this mode of notation, one letter should have been put in the place of another. It is more to the purpose, to examine wherefore this small number of persons is recorded by Moses. For, the more improbable it appears, that seventy men, in no lengthened space of time, should have grown to such a multitude; so much the more clearly does the grace of God shine forth. And this is also the reason why he so frequently mentions this number. For it was, by no means, according to human apprehension, a likely method of propagating the Church, that Abraham should live childless even to old age; that, after the death of Isaac, Jacob alone should remain; that he, being increased with a moderate family, should be shut up in a corner of Egypt, and that there an incredible number of people should spring up from this dry fountain. (180) When Moses declares that Shaul, one of the sons of Simon, was born of a Canaanitish woman, while he does not even mention the mothers of the other sons, his intention, I doubt not, is to fix a mark of dishonor on his race. For the holy Fathers were on their guard, not to mix in marriage with that nation, from which they were separated by the decree of heaven. When Moses, having put down the names of Leah’s sons, says there were thirty-three souls, whereas he has only mentioned thirty-two; I understand that Jacob himself is to be reckoned the first in order. The statement that he had so many sons or daughters by Leah does not oppose this conclusion. For although, strictly speaking, his discourse is concerning sons, yet he commences with the head of the family. I reject the interpretation of the Hebrews, who suppose Jochebed the mother of Moses to be included, as being overstrained. A question suggests itself concerning the daughters, whether there were more than two. If Dinah alone were named, it might be said that express mention was made of her, because of the notorious fact which had happened to her. But since Moses enumerates another female in the progeny of Aser, I rather conjecture that these had remained unmarried, or single; for no mention is made of those who were wives.

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