Does 'All' usually mean 'All'?

This is a neat lead-in to something I’ve been trying to figure out how to talk about. I have a sense from reading the Bible (the relatively small portion of it I have read) that it frequently makes statements and claims in a way that, while not really unfamiliar to us, we would today categorize as informal rather than scientific speech. For example, I might say, “Everybody was hard on me today,” and my listeners would clearly understand that I do not mean 1) all people on the planet, 2) everybody I am aware of or know, or even probably 3) every person I encountered that day. Instead it is understood to be a casual reference to 4) the majority of people important to my day, 5) multiple people, or even 6) someone I don’t feel like naming.

Now, science abhors this kind of imprecision of language, and to the extent that our current society has been strongly influenced by scientific thought, we try in formal writing to use more accurate words and phrases.

But is it fair to then apply our formal writing standards to the Bible, because of how much respect we have for it? I wish I had the wherewithal to go through and look for all the places the Bible uses words and phrases in ways which clearly don’t match modern scientifically accurate standards. Actually I suspect someone has probably done this before me, but I wouldn’t know where to begin to look.

Here’s one quick example I found at random: Gen 50:7 “So Joseph went up to bury his father. With him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, as well as all the household of Joseph, his brothers, and his father’s household. Only their children, their flocks, and their herds were left in the land of Goshen.”

First of all, we assume Pharoah stayed in Egypt. Did he do without servants entirely for this time? And all the elders of Egypt, without exception? Were they all fit to travel? Are children not considered part of the households of Joseph and his brothers and his father? Were the children, flocks, and herds left totally unattended during this time? They were gone at least seven days plus travel time, which could not have been insignificant.

Of course the average science professor does not particularly care about passages like these, because they don’t contradict evidence we can point to today. It’s possible the answers to all the above questions are ‘yes’. But what is a ‘natural’ reading of the text?

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All means all and that’s all all means!!


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Lynn, you’re quite right. “All” in Scripture is as flexible as in English, or even more so. So the inclusiveness must be judged entirely on the context. That’s almost all one needs to say, except to remind people to remember it when they read before they build their theology on it.

In the context of the flood mention in 2 Pet 2, I think the word to treat contextually is “world”, not “all”. Even in English that word is highly contextual. For example, “we live in a postmodern world” means that some fashionable academics in some western countries hold a certain philosophy, and that has trickled down to some other people in those countries. It ignores most of the human population and, of course, the natural world.

Indeed, as a direct parallel to 2 peter we even commonly talk about what they believed in “the ancient world” when we mean only those few civilisations in the middle east that left written records - almost the same “world” that Peter may mean!



What an interesting question! A natural reading? I would think what would be natural would depend on whether you were an expert on ancient Egyptian culture or not.

For example, for “All of the servants of Pharaoh” to have attended the burial would suggest that Joseph was Pharaoh. No Pharaoh would send “all” or even “most” of his servants away like that. And if Joseph was that important, then the Pharaoh would have joined in the ceremony.

Frankly, the description sounds more like the burial of a Pharaoh. Everyone of importance in Egypt would go. The reason the Pharaoh himself is not mentioned is because he is dead.

So . . . what do you think happened to this text? Was it simply lifted from an Egyptian tradition? Or do you think the writer is trying to imply something?

It’s that “even more so” that really intrigues me! But it’s a question without very distinctive keywords to Google, lol!

Thanks for your examples on “world,” too—in a way it’s almost the same issue: we would tend to keep vague meanings of “world” out of our scientific papers, too!

Or perhaps all the servants meant all the servants pharaoh assigned Joseph, just as we say “all checkers to the front registers” at Wal Mart would not mean if you were a. checker at Costco that they want you to go to front. ( silly example. As they would never say that at Wal Mart)

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Well, I am definitely not an expert in ancient Egyptian culture! :smile:

I think the point of the passage is clearly that a lot of people, both Egyptians and Israelites, attended the funeral, and it was an impressive turnout. Whether it needs to say more than that is an open question.

I did notice on BibleHub an alternative translation: the NIV says, “So Joseph went up to bury his father. All Pharaoh’s officials accompanied him–the dignitaries of his court and all the dignitaries of Egypt–” and some of the other translations use other words, but the one I used originally was more common.


I do think NIV’s reading is more plausible. High officials were at the funeral of another High Official…none of this “all the servants of Pharaoh” were gone for 3 days business…

That’s a good thought too! Still doesn’t explain leaving all the kids alone for probably at least a month. (Extremely rough estimate: journey is 100 miles (edit: 200-300 mi) each way, plus aforementioned seven days at the destination.)

It is more plausible. And it makes sense if Hebrew has comparatively few words that they have more meanings per word, so really it could mean a variety of things.

But three days! They must have run the entire way! (See my comment to Phil above.)

I don’t believe you could even travel to the Valley of the Kings and back in three days.

But in the land of Ya?.. just into Sinai… it’s probably possible.

‘Land of Ya?’ Huh?

I looked up the Land of Goshen (Egypt) on Wikipedia and found Hebron on a map, too, in Israel. They’re between two and three hundred miles apart by eyeball estimates. Could I be way off? Of course!

But show your work if you say it’s only three days’ journey!

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Here, I’ll give you what I use to remind me of the possiblities…

“There is also a place name in Seir mentioned in the Egyptian Soleb inscription (late 15th century) called Yhw (discussed later), and there is the Asiatic land of Ya mentioned in the story of Sinuhe”

So… here’s something for you to google while I start my googling as well.

Sinuhe, Seir, Shasu, Soleb

I’ll be back as soon as I can find something “YAY vs. NAY”

And then maybe you could help me with some Ring Species research! :smiley:

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I am always hoping for something more conclusive… but this is at least why I mentioned the “Land of Ya” as being closer to Egypt than Judah (aka Yaudi):

It seems the best phrase to google is: 3 search terms, one of them in quotes:

“land of the Shasu” Ya Yhw

Quotes Below …
YHWH of Seir

"The artifact pictured below is from the Soleb inscription (15th century BC) and it says “Yhw, the land of the Shasu” (here Yhw is used as a place name). These Shasu dwelt in Seir (ancient Edom). "

" It is not known for sure whether or not we have here the name Yahweh, but Donald Redford says it has been generally acknowledged as such for half a century, and he also believes it is undoubtedly the case here (Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Anient Times, 272-273)."

" Cross believes this inscription to be evidence that Yahweh originated among the tribes of Edom and Midian (CMHE, 86), which is precisely what the Scriptures indicate in the Sinai references."

"The word shasu means “wanderers” and was an Egyptian denonym for many desert peoples; the shasu of Yhw just mentioned have often been described as Edomites who worshipped YHWH (this arises from the Shasu being elsewhere identified with Edomites as well as the late Exodus dating, which presumes that Israel was not in the area in the 15th century), however they could have also been Israelites sojourning in the region; we know that after the Israelites escaped Egypt they wandered about mount Seir for many days (Deut. 2:1). . . . "

"Biblical references associate YHWH with mount Paran and the region of Teman (Habakkuk 3:3), and Seir, which constituted much of the Negev and Arabah. Paran was the desert west of the land of Midian, adjacent to the Arabah southward (1 Kings 11:18), and close to Judahite territory (1 Samuel 25:1). "

" According to Deuteronomy 33:2, “YHWH came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; he shined forth from Mount Paran, and he came with ten thousands of saints: from his right hand [went] a fiery law for them.” The song of Deborah and Barak in Judges 5 and the passage in Habakkuk 3 also mention Seir (the “field of Edom”) and Teman as the region from which YHWH arose. According to Cross, “these geographical designations cannot be moved west into the peninsula now called Sinai” (From Epic to Canon, 66)."

"Seir also referred to the Negev highlands (Deut. 1:2, 19, 44; Numbers 20:16), while mount Seir probably referred to the mountain range east of the Arabah. The Israelites wandered about mount Seir in the south by Ezion-geber, and the Edomites dwelt in the northern part (Deut. 2:1-4). "

" We also know that Moses encountered YHWH on the western reaches of the desert from Midian (Exodus 3:1), and that Mount Sinai was near the wilderness of Paran (Numbers 10:12), which again was west of Midian. Wherever the mountain is then, it must be in proximity to both Edom and Midian in the desert west of these territories, and on the way to Egypt from Midian (Exodus 4:27)."

" Exodus 4:27 points to a location of the mountain north of the Gulf of Aqaba, and Frank Cross, while arguing his Midianite hypothesis, has spoken in favor of an Edomite location for the mountain (Conversations With A Biblical Scholar, 26). Perhaps the most ancient passage in the Bible, Judges 5:4-5 (considered by scholars to be an important historical source and dates to at least the 12th century) places the mountain in the field of Edom, in Seir. "

" Kenneth Kitchen (2003) dismisses these accounts as “poetics,” yet Frank Cross regards this archaic poetry to be the most reliable information concerning the location of the mountain. The Midianites Moses dwelt with were north of the Gulf of Aqaba, and reached as far north as Moab (Numbers 25, 31)."

" The Midianites were among the peoples that Joshua battled while Israel was taking Canaan, and Frank Cross has stated that what later became Edomite territory belonged to the Midianites before the Edomites moved southward (see above source). Mount Sinai then appears to be what is now called Har Karkom, between the territories of Midian and Amalek, in Seir. "

" It was in this region that the most ancient Scriptural traditions spoke of as the location of the Sinai revelation. Seir, Teman, and Edom all figure prominently in the Sinai references. Har Karkom contains many petroglyphs of Jewish nature (the names Yah and El were discovered), and the twelve stones and altar that Moses built are still there. Nearby Kuntillet Ajrud yielded an inscript."

The writer of this page believes the “Ya of Shusu” was the Egyptian name for the Israelites, but I reject this idea for lots of various reasonsl.

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