Bronze-level articleEvidence for the Exodus

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This article examines the YEC and Bible Literalist claims regarding the historical reality of the Exodus of the Hebrew people from Egypt, as well as the evidence relating to such claims.

Mainstream history and archaeology now consider the Exodus never to have happened, and the story to be an entirely fictional narrative put together between the 8th and 5th centuries BCE.[1] Christian and Jewish literalists do not accept this.

A detailed examination of the innumerable issues raised by the fringe Velikovsky and Rohl alternate chronologies is beyond the scope of this article, and will not be attempted here.


[edit] Mainstream historical consensus

It's mythic storytelling and nothing more. The more we learn about archeology and history in biblical times, the more we realize that most of the stuff in the bible is fiction.
Michael Shermer[2]

Despite being regarded in Judaism as the primary factual historical narrative of the origin of the religion, culture and ethnicity, Exodus is now accepted by scholars as having been compiled in the 8th–7th centuries BCE from stories dating possibly as far back as the 13th century BCE, with further polishing in the 6th–5th centuries BCE, as a theological and political manifesto to unite the Israelites in the then‐current battle for territory against Egypt.[3]

Archaeologists from the 19th century onward were actually surprised not to find any evidence whatsoever for the events of Exodus. By the 1970s, archaeologists had largely given up regarding the Bible as any use at all as a field guide.

The archaeological evidence of local Canaanite, rather than Egyptian, origins of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel is "overwhelming," and leaves "no room for an Exodus from Egypt or a 40‐year pilgrimage through the Sinai wilderness."[4] The culture of the earliest Israelite settlements is Canaanite, their cult objects are of the Canaanite god El, the pottery is in the local Canaanite tradition, and the alphabet is early Canaanite. Almost the sole marker distinguishing Israelite villages from Canaanite sites is an absence of pig bones.

It is considered possible that those Canaanites who started regarding themselves as the Israelites were joined or led by a small group of Semites from Egypt, possibly carrying stories that made it into Exodus. As the tribe expanded, they may have begun to clash with neighbors, perhaps sparking the tales of conflict in Joshua and Judges.

William Dever, an archaeologist normally associated with the more conservative end of Syro-Palestinian archaeology, has labeled the question of the historicity of Exodus “dead.” Israeli archaeologist Ze'ev Herzog provides the current consensus view on the historicity of the Exodus: “The Israelites never were in Egypt. They never came from abroad. This whole chain is broken. It is not a historical one. It is a later legendary reconstruction—made in the seventh century [BCE]—of a history that never happened.”[5]

[edit] Dates given for the Exodus

Various dates have been put forward for the Exodus.

How it happened (really!)

[edit] James Ussher/Paul Hansen: 1491 BCE

James Ussher gave a date of 1491 BCE for the Exodus in his 1654 work, Annales Veteris Testamenti: A Prima Mundi Origine Deducti.[6] Ussher's work very strongly influences the chronology advocated by Paul Hansen of Answers in Genesis, who uses the same date[7]

A 1491 BCE date would put the exodus in the early 18th Dynasty, during the reign of Thutmose II according to standard chronology[8], though a date early in the reign of Hatshepsut or late in the reign of Thutmose I would be within the +/− 10 year margin of error given by Shaw for the New Kingdom period.[8]

[edit] Immanuel Velikovsky/David Rohl: New Chronology, Reign of Dudimose

Rohl and Velikovsky both date the Exodus to Dudimose, final ruler of the 13th Dynasty at the very end of the Middle Kingdom, at the time of the Hyksos rise to power in the Delta region. Both based their dates on the alternative chronologies, the Revised Chronology of Velikovsky, and New Chronology of Rohl, both of which shift the accepted chronology forward by several centuries, in the case of Rohl from c.1690 BCE to 1450–1446 BCE, with the exodus occurring in 1447/1446 BCE.

[edit] Various: Reign of Ramesses II (1279–1213 BCE)

The reign of Ramesses II (Ramesses the Great) has long been considered a candidate for the Exodus, due to the biblical reference to the city of Per‐Ramesses[9], which was largely constructed during his reign.[10]. Ramesses II reigned for just over 66 years, circa 1279–1213 BCE.[8]

[edit] Various: Reign of Merenptah 1213–1203 BCE

Merenptah (sometimes spelt Meneptah) is one of the "old favourites" for being the "Pharaoh of the Exodus", and his reign is used by adherents of both conventional[11] and also (less commonly) in the New Chronology. Conventional chronology gives Merenptah's reign as c.1213–1203 BCE,[8] or 888–875 BCE in Rhol‐world.

[edit] The issues

[edit] Egyptian record keeping

It is unlikely that the 603,550 adult males plus women and children mentioned in the Exodus story would have gone unremarked by contemporary Egyptian records. That's easily 2 million people (assuming one man, one woman, 1.5 children, which is very conservative[12]). But no Egyptian account mentions them. Or the plagues, which would be similarly unlikely not to have been recorded. There is no evidence of any of this. Given the standard of Egyptian record keeping of the time, this is an absence that would require explanation.

Bible literalists claim that it did happen, but that the Egyptians destroyed all the records, for reasons generally unspecified, though embarrassment has been offered. This is contrary to the normal archaeological practice of testing a theory against the evidence, rather than the evidence against the theory.

[edit] Sinai Peninsula

Map of sites discussed in this article

The Book of Numbers gives a list of sites at which the Hebrews settled in Sinai and the immediate surroundings during the Exodus. Of these sites, some can be pinpointed relatively well by description and deduction. Two such sites are the Biblical Kadesh Barnea, modern Ein Qadis, and Ezion Geber, on the Israeli side of the border between Israel and Jordan, just outside Eilat. Both sites have been investigated archaeologically, and found to have been founded during the Ancient Near Eastern Late Iron Age — no earlier than 700/800 BCE,[13] with the obvious exception of early neolithic/nomadic activity.

[edit] Non‐existent cities

Many of the places mentioned in the Exodus did not exist within the same chronological period as one another. Pithom (Per‐Atum/Tckenu) and Raamses (Per‐Ramesses), the two "treasure cities" claimed to have been built by the Hebrews, never existed at the same time. Pithom did not exist as a significant settlement before the 26th Dynasty. Prior to this, the settlment was known as Tckenu, and was still referred to as such in the Ptolemaic period, and was an obscure garrison town which mainly, if not exclusively, served as a waystation for Egyptian expeditions. Even in its enlarged Roman state, the town barely registered on either Egyptian or Greco–Roman accounts.[10] Per‐Ramesses, the Royal Residence of the Ramessides, was abandoned at the end of the New Kingdom, centuries earlier.[10]

[edit] Signs of national chaos or collapse

All of the dates put forward by advocates of the historicity of Exodus fail to correspond to any period of national weakness or chaos in Egypt, as would be expected by such a series of disasters.

Ussher's 1491 BCE date corresponds with a time of ambitious Egyptian expansion. The reign of Hatshepsut was stable, peaceful and saw extensive construction projects and trading missions; this is known from actual material remains as well as Egyptian records. Her successor, Thutmose III, took Egypt to its greatest imperial extent, forging an empire from the Euphrates to the 4th and possibly the 5th cataract. These are not the signs of a nation that, just a few years before, had lost its entire harvest, its drinkable water, its army and its sons. There is no archaeological evidence at all of mass death and impoverishment in the early New Kingdom period.

The same holds true for the period of Ramesses II. Although there were a few brief reigns after Merenptah, and what appears to be an attempt to interfere with the line of succession (the Chancellor Bey affair), there is no evidence of national catastrophe. Not long after, during the reign of Ramesses III, the state was still able to construct numerous massive monuments (such as Medinet Habu and the temple of Ramesses III within the Karnak complex) and mount effective military campaigns on both land and sea.

[edit] Edom

Edom was not yet a nation. In fact, the region wasn't even inhabited yet. The place the Hebrews stop at wasn't even built until 800 BCE, as the earliest Iron Age settlements (copper mining camps) date to the 9th century BCE and the main excavated sites have been dated between the 8th and 6th centuries BCE. However, the latest the Exodus could have occurred and still be biblically accurate is in the 13th century BCE.

[edit] Ron Wyatt's claims of new evidence

Ron Wyatt was a self‐proclaimed "archaeologist" with no formal training in the subject who claimed to have dived in the area of Nuweiba in 1978 and later released a set of low resolution images of vaguely wheel shaped coral formations, and what looks very much like a modern steel shut off/valve control wheel [14] as "proof" of his discovery.

Wyatt, who died in 1999, claimed to have brought one eight‐spoked wheel to the surface, and sent it to Nassif Mohammed Hassan at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. He claimed that Hassan dated it to the 18th Dynasty.[14] However, no record of the wheel entering the museum has ever been found, the article itself has never been seen, and no photographs of it on the surface have ever been released.

[edit] The "ancient" fortress of Nuweiba

Wyatt’s Exodus “proof” also rested on a supposedly "ancient" fort at Nuweiba, which blocked the Hebrews in on the beach‐head, leaving the sea as their only exit. The fort is, in fact, Ottoman, not Pharaonic, as a glance at Wyatt’s own photo clearly shows.

[edit] Solomon’s pillar

Wyatt also claimed to have found a "Solomonic" column lying on the beach at Nuweiba in 1978, complete with a partially erased inscription by Solomon.[14] No publication of the inscription has ever been made, despite the granite column being accessible to anyone, standing on a concrete base in Nuweiba. It is, in fact, totally bare, with no evidence at all to support the idea it was made by Solomon. However, the architecture of the Levant of the time Solomon is claimed to have existed used individual square blocks, forming rectangular columns, completely unlike the round column of a single piece of stone Wyatt shows us.[15]

Another pillar that Wyatt claimed to have discovered in Saudi Arabia, on the opposite side of the crossing, has mysteriously vanished off the face of the earth, with no records of it by the Saudi or any other antiquities authorities.

[edit] Parting the Red Sea

Between Nuweiba and Saudi Arabia lies a relatively shallow stretch of the otherwise very deep Gulf of Aqaba. This, Wyatt claimed, was the strongest sign yet that the Red Sea must have parted here, to allow an easy way across the waters.

In fact, according to a map produced by the British Admiralty, while a short distance to both north and south the sea is over 900m deep, opposite Nuweiba it is a "mere" 765m deep.[16] Even if some mechanism could be suggested to produce a channel through such a depth of water, sending hundreds of thousands or even millions of people of all ages, plus accompanying animals, down steep cliffs and coral dropoffs that typify the Gulf of Aqaba, and then up the other side is clearly infeasible.

Wyatt does not attempt to explain how the Red Sea might be parted. Tsunamis can cause the sea to retreat, though nothing approaching the kind of scale required to expose seabed over 700m below sea level. Even if such an unlikely event were possible, the arrival of the wave itself shortly afterward would destroy everything within the vicinity, including those people both on the seabed and on either coastline as well.

[edit] Bibliography

  • United Kingdom Hydrographic Office, Admiralty Chart H2 73 0012 – El 'Aqaba to Duba and Ports on the Sinai Coast, UKHO, Taunton
  • The Catholic Encyclopaedia WWW Link
  • Hansen, P, Timeline from creation to JesusPDF Document
  • Finkelstein, I & Silberman, N (2001), The Bible Unearthed, The Free Press, New York
  • Gospel Pedlar, James Ussher: The Annals of the WorldPDF Document
  • Merling, D (1999), Did the Israelites Cross the Red Sea or the Gulf of Aqaba?WWW Link
  • Shaw, I (2000), Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, Oxford University Press, Oxford
  • Uphill, E P (1968), Pithom and Raamses: Their Location and Significance, JNES, Vol.27 No.4
  • Wyatt Archaeology, The Exodus ConspiracyWWW Link

[edit] Footnotes

  1. John McDermott, "Reading the Pentateuch" (Paulist Press, 2002) p.22
  2. Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, S02E01, The Bible - Fact or Fiction
  3. Israel Finklestein and Neil Asher Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts, Free Press, 2001. ISBN 978-0-684-86912-4. The Wikipedia article summarises it nicely.
  4. Dever, William G. (2002). What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It? Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. ISBN 0-8028-2126-X.p.99
  5. Quoted in Sturgis It Ain't Necessarily So, pg. 74
  6. Gospel Pedlar, Annals
  7. Hansen, Timeline
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Shaw, 2000 p480–489
  9. Exodus 1:11
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Uphill, 1968
  11. Catholic Encyclopaedia – Merenptah
  12. Studies of Ancient Egyptian suggest an average fertility rate of >6 in A.Egypt. See: Meskell (2002), Private Life in New Kingdom Egypt
  13. Finkelstein & Silberman, p63
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Wyatt Archaeology, Conspiracy
  15. Merling, 1999
  16. UKHO, Admiralty Chart

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