Did Moses Really Live 120 Years?

The Bible authors recorded real lifespans, not symbolic or honorific.

by Simon Turpin on March 28, 2023

In recent years, it has become popular for many evangelical scholars to argue that the long lifespans of the patriarchs in Genesis do not refer to actual ages but are intended to be taken symbolically or as honorific numbers.1 It is not only the lifespan of the patriarchs that evangelical scholars are questioning but also Moses’s lifespan. Distinguished Egyptologist James Hoffmeier, who holds to a thirteenth-century date for the exodus (c. 1270–1240 BC), believes two factors, anthropological reports from burial sites in Egypt and certain details in the Exodus narrative, work against Moses living for 120 years (see below).

This article will show why the chronological details in the book of Exodus (and the rest of Scripture) show that the 120-year lifespan of Moses is the only interpretation consistent with Scripture.

Moses’s Life

Exodus continues the account of God’s dealing with the descendants of Jacob (Israel) in the book of Genesis.

The book of Genesis ends with the Hebrew word בְּמִצְרָֽיִם, which literally means “in Egypt” (Genesis 50:26). By ending Genesis this way, Moses, the author of the Torah, provides the setting for the book of Exodus. The opening words of Exodus in the Masoretic text are וְאֵלֶּה שְׁמוֹת “Now these are the names . . .”2 (Exodus 1:1). The fact that the text begins this way emphasizes “that the book of Exodus continues the Genesis narrative.”3 Exodus continues the account of God’s dealing with the descendants of Jacob (Israel) in the book of Genesis. It picks up the history of Israel after a silent period of around 275 years (Exodus 12:40).4 Moses breaks that silence by recounting two important facts: (1) the nation of Israel had experienced tremendous growth (Exodus 1:7), and (2) the Israelites were no longer favored by the Egyptians but were enslaved by a king who did not know Joseph (Exodus 1:8–11).

A Chronology of the Life of Moses
1526–1486 BC
Moses in Pharaoh’s court.
1486–1446 BC
Moses in exile in Midian and the final year persuading Pharaoh to let Israel leave Egypt.
1446–1406 BC
Moses with Israel in the wilderness.

The impressive growth of the Israelites from 70 persons (Exodus 1:5; Genesis 46:27)5 to a number large enough (Exodus 12:37; Numbers 1:45–46; Psalm 105:24) to concern Pharaoh was the result of providential blessing and protection (Exodus 1:7; Genesis 1:28). This fulfilled God’s promise to Jacob (Genesis 46:3).

Moses was born at a time when the Hebrews were enslaved by the Egyptians (Exodus 2:1–9).6 When Moses was around three months old, because of Pharaoh’s decree that all newborn sons should be thrown into the Nile (Exodus 1:22), his mother placed him in an “ark” (tēbâ, see Genesis 6:14) to preserve his life (Exodus 2:3). The “ark” in which Moses is placed is hidden among the reeds of the Nile and found by the daughter of Pharaoh (Exodus 2:5–6). When Moses grew older, after he had been weaned by his Hebrew mother (Jochebed), he was brought to Pharaoh’s daughter and became her adopted son (Exodus 2:9–10). The fact that he had just been weaned indicates that he was probably three to four years old (Genesis 21:8).7 The daughter of Pharaoh named the child Moses (Mōšê, מֹשֶׁה)8 and educated him in all the wisdom of Egypt (Acts 7:22).

At around age 40, after killing an Egyptian (Acts 7:23, 28), Moses fled Egypt and went to live in the land of Midian for 40 years (Exodus 2:15; Acts 7:29–30). The reason for such a lengthy stay was that the pharaoh who oppressed the Israelites and from whom Moses fled was living and reigning for all that time. When the pharaoh from whom Moses had fled and any others who would seek his life died (Exodus 2:23, 4:19), Moses returned to Egypt with his brother, Aaron. He began to speak with the new pharaoh to ask for permission for the people of Israel to leave Egypt (Exodus 5:1). Moses was 80 years old when the exodus took place (Exodus 7:7, 12:41–42) in 1446 BC (see below), and 120 years old at his death (Deuteronomy 34:7). Given that Moses’ death was towards the close of the wilderness period, which lasted 40 years (Deuteronomy 2:7; Acts 13:18) (c. 1406 BC), this would place his birth around 1526 BC (see above).

The Biblical Date for the Exodus

To know the correct century in which Moses lived, it is necessary to establish the date of the exodus. The key text for understanding when the Israelite exodus from Egypt took place is 1 Kings 6:1:

“In the four hundred and eightieth year after the people of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second month, he began to build the house of the Lord.”

Hoffmeier argues for an exodus in the thirteenth century (1270–1240 BC) and, therefore, must interpret 1 Kings 6:1 figuratively to avoid the plain meaning of the text. Hoffmeier believes that 480 may be “what Assyriologists call a Distanzangabe,”9 an approximation of time. However, the writer of 1 Kings carefully recorded historical events. The information in 1 Kings 6:1 uses very precise chronological language (i.e., 480th year, 4th year, the 2nd month) and tells us that the exodus from Egypt took place in the 480th year before the construction of the temple, signifying an elapsed time of 479+ years. This means 479 years had passed, and the 480th (ordinal number) year had started. The number of years is 479, not 480 (cardinal number). Furthermore, when numbers are presented in ascending order in the Old Testament, such as “eightieth and four-hundredth,” the text gives technical data.10 The precise chronological language goes against taking the number symbolically (the number 479 cannot be rounded to a multiple of 40). The 480th year began in May of 967 BC.11 Therefore, the chronological information in 1 Kings 6:1 places the exodus in 1446 BC (967 + 479 = 1446 BC).12 Other biblical evidence confirms the 1446 BC date for the exodus (see Judges 11:26; 1 Chronicles 6:33–37; Ezekiel 40:1).13

To hold to his view that the exodus took place in the thirteenth century, Hoffmeier now argues that establishing the date of the exodus should be limited to only using the book of Exodus.14 This only shows that when the totality of the Bible is allowed to speak, the fifteenth-century (1446 BC) exodus view increases in credibility. More importantly, however, the chronological details in the book of Exodus cause a significant problem for an exodus in the thirteenth century BC under Ramesses II (1279–1213 BC).

Moses’s birth comes after work has started on the store cities of Pithom and Raamses (Exodus 1:11, 2:2).15 Then, after slaying an Egyptian, Moses fled to the land of Midian because Pharaoh wanted to kill him (Exodus 2:12, 15). It was “in those many days” (בַיָּמִים הָֽרַבִּים הָהֵם) when Moses was in Midian that the pharaoh who wanted to kill him died (Exodus 2:23). This means that when Moses returned to Egypt, a new pharaoh would have been ruling (Exodus 4:19). Moses was 80 years old when the Israelites left Egypt (Exodus 7:7). The people of Israel ate manna in the wilderness for 40 years (Exodus 16:35).16 In the thirteenth-century exodus view, Ramesses II is the pharaoh who not only ordered the building of the store cities of Pithom and Raamses but the pharaoh who was ruling when Moses came back from exile in Midian. Given the chronological details in the book of Exodus, it is not possible to reduce a time span of at least 120 years into the 66-year reign of Ramesses II (1279–1213 BC).17 The only way to fit Ramesses II into the time frame outlined in the book of Exodus is to reject or rearrange it significantly. Hoffmeier does, in fact, reject this chronological data for Moses’s life.

Answering Objection to Moses’s Life

Hoffmeier insists that using the chronology of Moses’s life (40 years each in Egypt, Midian, and the wilderness) as markers “ . . . forces one into incredible readings of some biblical texts . . . ”18 However, these chronological markers for Moses’s life are the result of the inspired Word of God (Acts 7:23, 30, 36).19 The chronological information in the Torah may have created the division of Moses’s life into three periods of 40 years that Stephen used in Acts 7. Although Exodus 2:23 simply mentions “in those many days”20 that Moses was in Midian, Moses returned to Egypt when he was 80 years old (Exodus 7:7), and he died after the people of Israel had wandered in the wilderness for 40 years at 120 years old (Deuteronomy 34:7).

Hoffmeier gives two reasons that he believes go against taking the chronology of Moses’ life naturally. The first reason is:

Life expectancy in the ancient Levant was about forty years. Even the average life span of Judean kings . . . was forty-four years. Analysis of human remains by anthropologists agree with literary data . . . Psalm 90 refers to seventy and eighty years as long life spans . . . In Stripling’s view [fifteenth-century exodus] Moses married when most men would be approaching death, and he lived approximately three times longer than the average individual of his day.21

Hoffmeier’s appeal to anthropological discoveries to interpret the lifespan of Moses is a profoundly flawed hermeneutic that places external evidence in a place of authority over the God-breathed (theopneustos) text of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16). The text of Scripture is the lens by which any evidence should be understood. The historical evidence in the book of Exodus tells us that Moses was 80 years old when he returned to Egypt and that Aaron was 83 years old (Exodus 7:7). Moses also records that his father, Amram, and Levi lived to 137 years and Kohath to 133 years (Exodus 6:16, 18, 20). The lifespans in the book of Exodus clearly show that not everyone living in the Levant died around 40 years old,22 and the book of Exodus is not the only evidence that shows life expectancy in the Levant was not only around 40 years. Although Hoffmeier may possibly appeal to exceptional cases, his candidate for the pharaoh of the exodus, Ramesses II, reigned for 66 years (1279–1213 BC),23 and it is generally accepted that he lived for around 90 years (1303–1213 BC).

Hoffmeier gives a second reason for rejecting the 120-year lifespan for Moses:

Because of short life expectancy, marriage occurred typically in the early to mid teens . . . Could it be that forty years represents the approximate time from one’s birth to the birth of one’s grandchild? By this reckoning, at age forty when Moses fled to Midian, he already should have been a grandfather. According to Stripling’s reconstruction, forty years after Moses arrived in Midian and married Zipporah, he returned to Egypt at eighty. Exodus 4:20 reports that “Moses took his wife and sons, put them on a donkey and started back to Egypt” [emphasis in original]. It is hard to imagine Zipporah, Gershom, and Eliezer (likely aged thirty-eight and thirty-six at this time) all riding on a donkey together! The fact that Moses’ boys ride demonstrates that they were young . . . Clearly, the forty-year sojourn in Midian does not fit the details of the narrative.24

There is no textual reason for regarding any of the 40-year markers of Moses’ life as approximations of time (or as schematic numbers), as 40 years makes sense considering other biblical passages in the Torah. For example, the Israelites were to wander 40 years in the wilderness for each of the 40 days of the injurious journey of the spies (Numbers 14:34).

There is no textual reason for regarding any of the 40-year markers of Moses’ life as approximations of time (or as schematic numbers), as 40 years makes sense considering other biblical passages in the Torah.

How should we understand the supposed problem of Zipporah, Gershom, and Eliezer all riding on a donkey together? Does this indicate that the 40-year sojourn in Midian is inaccurate? Not at all. Different suggestions have been given to explain Exodus 4:20.25 Gershom was probably born sometime after Moses arrived in Midian (Exodus 2:22), although the text does not specifically state when he was born. So, we cannot be certain how old Gershom was when Moses returned to Egypt. There is also no record of the time of Eliezer’s birth in the book of Exodus (Exodus 18:2–4), so he might have been born around the time Moses set out for Egypt (Exodus 4:25; Genesis 17:12). Therefore, one donkey might be enough for Zipporah and her two sons because one of them had probably just been born (Eliezer) and the other’s age (Gershom) is unknown.

There is no objective reason to reject the chronology of Moses’s life; the only reason is if you are trying to adapt the biblical text to fit with a particular chronological theory (i.e., a thirteenth-century exodus). It is true that people today do not live as long as Moses did (Psalm 90:10), but this does not mean that it has always been the way, as the witness of Scripture testifies against this.26 The chronology of Moses’s life must be decided by the biblical text and not from sources outside the Bible. The chronological data in Exodus, and the rest of Scripture, confirm that Moses’s lifespan was 120 years and that he lived in the fifteenth century BC.


  1. For a critique of this view, see “Did Abraham Really Live 175 Years? Examining the long ages of the biblical patriarchs,” Last modified December 6, 2022, AnswersInGenesis.org/bible-characters/did-abraham-really-live-175-years/.
  2. In the standard Hebrew Bible, the title of Exodus is shortened to שְׁמוֹת, “Names.” The Greek translation of the Old Testament (LXX) gave Exodus the title exodou, “a way out,” apparently based on Exodus 19:1.
  3. T. Desmond Alexander, Exodus (London: Apollos, 2017), 36.
  4. This timeframe is based upon a long Israelite sojourn in Egypt.
  5. In both verses, the Septuagint (LXX) reads 75 persons (see Acts 7:14).
  6. Moses’ biological parents, Amram and Jochebed, were Hebrew (Exodus 2:1–2, 6:20).
  7. See Douglas Stuart, Exodus: The New American Commentary (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2006), 93.
  8. The name Moses is most likely derived from the Egyptian msi, a word that means “born of” or “son.” Hoffmeier writes, “Standing behind this name is thought to be the Egyptian root msi . . . Msi or ms-type names, such as Amenmose, Thutmose, Ramose, and even Mes and Mesu, were very popular in the New Kingdom [c. 1570–1100 BC].” James Hoffmeier, Ancient Israel in Sinai: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Wilderness Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 226. Egyptian loan words in the Hebrew text are understandable, given that Moses, the author of Exodus (Exodus 17:14, 34:27), was educated in Egypt (Acts 7:22).
  9. James Hoffmeier, “Response to Scott Stripling,” in Five Views on the Exodus: Historicity, Chronology, and Theological Implications, Counterpoints: Bible and Theology, ed. Stanley N. Gundry (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Academic, 2021), 57.
  10. Umberto Cassuto, The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch, trans. I. Abrahams (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1961), 62.
  11. Both late-date and early-date exodus advocates agree that the building of Solomon’s temple began in 967 BC. Kenneth Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: W. B. Eerdmans, 2003), 202–203; Rodger Young, “When Did Solomon Die?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 46, no. 4 (December 2003): 599–601.
  12. A textual variant of 1 Kings 6:1 in the LXX, which is 40 years shorter than the 480 years of the MT, places the exodus between 1416–1386 BC. However, the internal and external evidence clearly shows that “480th year” is the original reading, and the historical evidence related to the internal evidence demonstrates that the reading “440th year” is impossible. Douglas Petrovich, “Resolution of 1 Kings 6:1 Textual Variant.” Unpublished manuscript: https://www.academia.edu/5987760/Resolution_of_1_Kings_6_1_Textual_Variant.
  13. When Ezekiel saw his vision (574 BC), it was on Rosh HaShanah, and it was the tenth month. It also took place on Yom Kippur, “on that very day—bǝʿeṣem hayyôm hazzê” (see Leviticus 23:28–30). It was only in a Jubilee year that Rosh HaShanah was on Yom Kippur (Leviticus 25:8). Ezekiel’s Jubilee was the 17th (see Sedar Olam, chapter 11). Israel was to start counting for the Jubilee and Sabbatical years when they entered the land of Canaan (Leviticus 25:1–8). Counting for the Jubilee and Sabbatical years must have begun in 574 BC + 17 * 49 = 1407 BC. 1407 BC would have been a “zero” Jubilee, so year 1 of the Jubilee cycle was in 1406 BC, the year the Israelites entered Canaan. The exodus, 40 years earlier, was in 1446 BC. From the above calculation, and the fact that Ezekiel’s Jubilee was the 17th Jubilee year beginning on Yom Kippur of 574 BC means that counting for the Sabbatical and Jubilee years began in 1446 BC. See Rodger Young, “Ezekiel 40:l as a Corrective for Seven Wrong Ideas in Biblical Interpretation,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 44, no. 2 (2006): 265–283, https://www.rcyoung.org/articles/ezek401.html.
  14. James Hoffmeier, “The Thirteenth-Century (Late Date) Exodus View,” in Five Views on the Exodus: Historicity, Chronology, and Theological Implications, Counterpoints: Bible and Theology, ed. Stanley N. Gundry (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Academic, 2021), 103.
  15. In Exodus 1:11, the city named Raamses is anachronistic (Genesis 47:11) and used to indicate the older city of Peru-nefer. See Alexander, Exodus, 26.
  16. According to Deuteronomy, the Israelites’ entry into Canaan took place 40 years after they left Egypt (Deuteronomy 1:3, 2:7).
  17. See Alexander, Exodus, 20.
  18. Hoffmeier, “Response to Scott Stripling,” 54.
  19. Hoffmeier tries to dismiss the chronology of Moses’ life in Acts 7 as the result “of the then-current rabbinic interpretation of the life of Moses.” Hoffmeier, “Response to Scott Stripling,” 54.
  20. Even though Exodus 2:23 is not specific, the reference to “in those many days” needs to be considered in light of Stephen’s testimony that Moses lived in Midian for 40 years (Acts 7:30). The pseudepigraphical work, Jubilees (not included in the Hebrew canon), claims that Moses was 42 years old when he fled to Midian (Jubilees 47:1, 48:1). The reason for the additional two years is not known.
  21. Hoffmeier, “Response to Scott Stripling,” 54.
  22. Several kings of Judah lived more than 44 years: David lived for 70 years (2 Samuel 5:4–5); Manasseh lived 67 years, and Uzziah lived 68 years (2 Chronicles 26:3). Even Jehoiada, the chief priest in Judah, lived until he was 130 years old (2 Chronicles 24:15).
  23. Hoffmeier, “The Thirteenth-Century (Late-Date) Exodus View,” 97.
  24. Hoffmeier, “Response to Scott Stripling,” 54–55.
  25. One possible way to understand Exodus 4:20 is suggested by Stuart: “The reference to their being placed on a ‘donkey’ [ass] does not necessarily mean that the children were very small and therefore rode with their mother Zipporah; it is normal, optional style in Hb. to use the singular to indicate things (e.g., Isa 6:10, לֵב־הָעָם הַזֶּה, ‘the mind of this people’; 2 Chr 25:5, בֵית־אָבוֹת, ‘house of fathers’ = paternal estates; 1 Kgs 12:31, בֵּית בָּמוֹת, ‘the place of high places’ = high place locations). Additionally, חֲמוֹר, the word for donkey, is often used collectively, as in Gen 32:6, וַֽיְהִי־לִי שׁוֹר וַחֲמוֹר, ‘I have cattle and donkeys.’” Stuart, Exodus, 145.
  26. This video on Answers TV is a helpful explanation of the decline in lifespans after the flood: https://www.answers.tv/videos/biblical-lifespans.


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