In Genesis 47, Jacob is presented before Pharaoh:

Then Joseph brought his father Jacob in and presented him before Pharaoh. After Jacob blessed Pharaoh, Pharaoh asked him, "How old are you?"

And Jacob said to Pharaoh, "The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers." Then Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from his presence.

Genesis 47:7-10 NIV

Their encounter is brief and centers on Jacob's age. It seems unlikely the narrator is just showing the two making small talk, but why would Pharaoh ask Jacob how old he is?

  • 1
    Joseph Benson's Commentary - "In Egypt people were not so long-lived as in Canaan, and therefore Pharaoh looks upon Jacob with wonder." I wonder if this 'fact' is documented somewhere.
    – tblue
    Sep 12, 2019 at 5:07
  • 1
    Maybe because ancient cultures generally believed that living for a really long time was a sign that you were divinely blessed/superior. Its like how we modern Westerners view being slim, fit, muscular etc with good face shape, curves etc. The Sumerian Kings List is an example. Sep 12, 2019 at 5:23
  • I read some commentary on BibleHub. One points out that it's "a common question with an uncommon answer". Thus it seems less important to ask why Pharaoh did it and more why the narrator saw it as useful to relate. BibleExplorer shows that it has some narrative value, but as ba points out, rendering it as dialogue is interesting. One idea might be that in narration, Jacob's (subjective) comment on the evilness of his days would have no place. Another might be related to Egyptians' preoccupation with age and being able to cite a long lineage (but that's reaching ahead to Platonic dialogues). Sep 12, 2019 at 11:01

3 Answers 3


I don't know what Pharaoh's motivation was for asking, but the information is necessary to piece together the chronology of the Bible Timeline.

First, it tells us how many years from the Promise until the Israelites entered Egypt. Abraham was 75 years old at the Promise (Gen. 12:1-5). 25 years later he was 100 when Isaac was born. 60 years later Isaac was 60 and Jacob and Esau were born. 130 years later Jacob was 130 years old when they entered Egypt. So there was a total of 215 years from the Promise until Israel entered Egypt (25+60+130=215).

Second, we can use this info to know how old Jacob was when Joseph was born, and that in turn gives us a definite timeline for when Jacob was in Haran after stealing his brother Esau's blessing. Joseph was 30 years old when he entered into Pharaoh's service. 7 years of plenty then passed, and 2 of the 7 years of famine had passed, making Joseph (30+7+2) 39 years old. Since we know Jacob was 130 when Joseph was 39, we now know Jacob was 91 when Joseph was born.

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    Interesting idea, but why does the information come in dialogue? All of the other information about ages in those verses comes from the narrator
    – b a
    Sep 12, 2019 at 9:11

Jacob was the last patriarch

Most likely, in connecting facts and contextual factors, is that Jacob was the last patriarch.

Jacob was the last person in the Bible to live as long as he did, 147 years (Gen 47:28). Joseph lives to 110, much shorter (Gen 50:22).

This is a direct answer to the Question as stated: "Why does Pharaoh ask...?", not "What is Pharaoh's reason for asking...?" We can't know Pharaoh's reason for asking because the Bible does not say.

But, the reason the question of Jacob's age came up is most likely connected to the fact that Jacob was the last man to live so long.

The years on Jacob's face must have gotten Pharaoh's attention, and we would expect as much, that the last patriarch's old age would surely have been great enough to pique the curiosity of a Paraoh.

  • 1
    Jacob's son Levi lived to 137, then Levi's son Kohath lived to 133, then Kohath's son Amram (father of Moses) lived to 137. Sep 13, 2019 at 19:07

This is a great question. I don’t believe Pharaoh would have had much concern for Jacob’s age.

One thing that answer of 130 helped me calculate was the length of Jacob’s fatherhood, and that led to two key numerical signs.

I applied the way I reached those to 3 unresolved math problems in Genesis, and that solved them. https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/8366/2873

It gave not just a theory but now a fact that Genesis mathematically supports Pro-Life (i.e. fatherhood, motherhood, and childhood must all start at conception). Otherwise, we’ll always have 3 math enigmas from Genesis we’ll never solve.


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