Answering The Atheist
June 20, 2004 / Volume 4, Issue 25
THE ATHEIST'S COMPLAINT:
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?
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.
This article is a response to Skeptic's Annotated Bible