Israel's Sojourn in Egypt

The patriarchs' quiet pastoral life in Canaan came to an end in the circumstances that followed the sale of Joseph to the Ismaelites and his subsequent exaltation in Egypt. According to the biblical chronology (of the MT), Jacob and his family would appear to have emigrated to Egypt sometime around 1871 BC during the 12th dynasty (the Middle Kingdom). Their emigration was sparked by Joseph's position of authority combined with a severe famine in Canaan.

Abraham had visited Egypt during an earlier period of the Middle Kingdom. This also had happened during a famine (Genesis 12:10-20). Trade was common between Asia and Egypt during this entire period. The Ismaelites who had sold Joseph into Egypt were described as "a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt" (Gen. 37:25). In addition to uncoined silver which was used as a medium of exchange (coinage wouldn't be invented for another thousand years or so), Jacob's sons later brought produce as items of trade to get food from Egypt (see Genesis 43:11-12).

Outside the Bible there is clear evidence for this sort of trade with asiatics. For instance, there is a nice sculpture at Beni Hasan from around 1900 BC that illustrates trade with Semites. It is on a tomb belonging to an Egyptian official named Khnumhotep, who had served under Senwosret II. The inscription accompanying the image describes the picture as a portrayal of "the arrival of thirty-seven asiatics bringing eye paint to Khnumhotep." The leader of these thirty-seven traders is described as "Ibshe, Sheik of the highlands"; this is clearly a Semitic designation.

Evidences of Israel's Sojourn in Egypt

Despite attempts by some of the more radical critics to deny that the Jewish people ever spent time in Egypt, most scholars are comfortable with the idea that the Isaelites did come from there, though there is sharp disagreement over exactly what that time was like, when it was, and exactly how it was that they ended up leaving Egypt.

The biblical picture of things is difficult to discount, however, because the captivity and subsequent Exodus form the foundation of Israelite society as portrayed by the Bible; theologically it is the demonstration and basis for the concept of salvation. If God is able to save physically from Egyptian servitude, then he as able to save spiritually from servitude to sin.

So what is the extrabiblical evidence of the Jewish captivity in Egypt?

Egyptian Personal Names of the Levites

Perhaps the most difficult to explain bit of evidence, if one should choose to deny that Israel actually spent time in Egypt, is the presence of a surprisingly large number of Egyptian personal names in the genealogies of the Levites. Some significant examples would be: Moses, Assir, Pashhur, Hophni, Phenehas, and Merari.

Most critical scholars grant that the proportion of Egyptian names among the Levites is surprisingly large and could scarcely be accidental. Accordingly, they are ready to agree that the tribe of Levi, or at least part of it, spent some time in Egypt. Other scholars point out that since the Egyptian names seem to be confined to Levites, then perhaps they are the only tribe that really lived in Egypt. Of course, arguments from silence are notoriously weak.

Authentic Egyptian Details

The details of life in Egypt as found in Genesis and then in Exodus are accurate and of a nature that make the stories consistent with a real captivity. That is, if the Israelites did not spend time in Egypt, it is unclear how the author of Genesis and Exodus would have known enough to so accurately describe Egyptian details and customs. For instance, in the Joseph narrative, when the author mentions the titles of the Egyptian officials, he employs the correct title in use and exactly as it was used in the period referred to. In fact, in those places where there is no equivalent Hebrew word, he simply transliterates the Egyptian term. For instance, the "chief of the butlers" and the "chief of the bakers" (Genesis 40:2) are palace officials that are mentioned in Egyptian texts.

When Potiphar makes Joseph "overseer over his house" (Genesis 39:4), the title employed is a direct translation of an official position in the houses of Egyptian nobility. In Genesis 41:40 Pharoah elevates Joseph to a high position, which corresponds precisely to the office of prime minister or vizier of Egypt, who was the chief administrator in the country, second in power to Pharaoh himself. Also, the list of gifts that Joseph got from Pharoah when he took office correspond to what we know of Egyptian custom (see Genesis 41:42-43).

Other instances of authentic local color in the story of Joseph are numerous. There is, for example, ample evidence of famines in Egypt (cf. Gen. 41). At least two Egyptian officials, giving a synopsis of their good deeds on the walls of their tombs, list dispensing food to the needy "in each year of want." One inscription written about 100 BC actually tells of a seven-year famine in the days of Pharaoh Zoser of the Third Dynasty (c. 3200 BC).

The narrative of Joseph is paralleled to a very limited degree by the Egyptian story of the Two Brothers, Anubis and Bitis. This romance is contained in the Papyrus d'Orbiney, and the episode with which the story begins, the attempted seduction of Bitis by his brother's wife, bears a superficial resemblance to the story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife. Both Bitis and Joseph resist the temptation, suffer ignominy, and in the case of Bitis, physical mutilation. The rest of the story, nevertheless bears some faint resemblance to the story of Joseph's life. The tale belongs to the period of Seti II, near the close of the 13th century -- long after the time of Joseph.

Dreams were regarded by Egyptians as extremely important, as in the Biblical narrative. The monuments also indicate that magicians played an important role in Egyptian affairs (cf. Gen. 41:8), that Asiatic shepherds were indeed "an abomination to the Egyptians" (Gen. 43:32; 46:34), that Joseph's life span of 110 years (Gen. 50:22) was the traditional length of a happy and prosperous life in Egypt and that the mummification of Jacob and Jsoseph (Gen. 50:2, 26) was according to Egyptian practice in preparing the bodies of distinguished people for burial.

The family of Jcaob, seventy in number (Gen. 46:26, 27), settled in Egypt in the land of Goshen (Gen. 46:26-34), identified with the area around the Wadi Tumilat in the eastern part of the delta of the Nile. This narrow valley, about thirty-five miles in length joins the Nile River with Lake Timsah. In both ancient and modern times the area around this Wadi, especially to the north of it, was one of the richest parts of Egypt, "the best of the land" (Gen. 47:11). Besides the piece of sculpture showing the entrance of the family of Ibshe into Egypt about 1900 BC, another Egyptian inscription indicates that it was customary ofor frontier officals to allow people from Palestine and Sinai to enter this section of Egypt in periods of drought. Dating about 1350 BC, this document is written from frontier officials to the Pharaoh, telling him such a group "who knew not how they should live, have come begging a home in the domain of Pharaoh..., after the manner of your [the Pharaoh's] father's fathers since the beginning...."

Canaanite Place Names in the Bible

A long Semitic occupation of the northeastern Delta before the New Egyptian Empire (1546-1085 BC) is certain from the Canaanite place names found there in the the New Empire, which included Succoth (Ex. 12:37), Baal-zephon (Ex. 14:2), Migdol (Ex. 14:2), Zilu (Tell Abu Seifah) and very likely Goshen itself (Ex. 8:22; 9:26).

Israel and the Hyksos

According to the Biblical chronology, the story of Joseph should be placed around 1871 BC, during the 12th Dynasty.

However, many scholars like to place his rise to power during the time of the Hyksos, about 1700 BC, under the supposition that it would be a historical misinterpretation to imagine that a young Semitic foreigner would have been elevated to such power under native Egyptian dynasties like the 12th or late 18th. These scholars see in Exodus 1:8 a reference to one of the Pharaohs of the New Empire, after the Hyksos (the hated Asiatics), were thrown out.

I would argue, however, that the Pharoah who knew not Joseph might actually be a reference to the incoming Hyksos ruler, a foreigner. However, since the Bible does not give us the name of a Pharaoh, and since there are no unabiguous historical references, it is difficulty, in my estimation, to be overly certain or dogmatic about the dating of Joseph, or, for that matter, of the Exodus event itself.

Moses: The Deliverer

The account of the 430 year sojourn of Israel in Egypt is largely passed over in silence in the Biblical account, except for the events of the age of Joseph and his brothers and the period of severe captivity toward the end. The long interval in between these events is summed up in a single verse stressing the numerical increase of the Israelites in Egypt (Exodus 1:7).

Archeology and Moses' Birth

The name of Moses, the great deliverer and law giver, dominates the last 40 years of Hebrew residence in Egypt. The story of how the Egyptian princess found him in the boat of papyrus among the reeds by the riverside has many parallels in ancient lore.

For instance, the story of Sargon I (The Great) of Akkad (c. 2100 BC), is recorded on a tablet dating from the 9th century BC:

My humble mother conceived me; she bore me in secret, placed me in an ark of bulrushes, made fast my door with pitch and gave me to the river which did not overwhelm me. The river lifted me up and carried me to Akki the irrigator...Akki the irrigator hauled me out...took me to be his son and brought me up.

Similar stories are told of Romulous and Remus, Bacchus, and Perseus. As one writer commented (Caigen):

There is no need to postulate a common origin for such simple and natural romances, but if one must do so, the episode of Moses (16th century BC) may have been the inspiration of them all.

Moses' Egyptian Name

That Moses was born in Egypt and reared under strong Egyptian influence is independently attested by his clearly Egyptian name supported by the Egyptian names current among his Aaronic kinsmen for two centuries.

The name itself is apparently nothing more than the Egyptian Mas-e, (pronounced Mose after the 12th century BC; Heb. Moshe): the Egyptian word for "son" or "child". It appears in other Egyptian names such as Ahmose (son of Ah, the god of Light) or Thutmose (son of Thoth).

Two possibilities exist for the name as we see it in the Bible:

1. Pharaoh's daughter did not give a special name to this unknown infant, a child of an alien race, and simply contented herself by calling him "the child".

2. More likely, Moses is a hypocoristicon -- that is, a shortened form of his full name (something like a nick-name). For instance, Tiglath Pileser III is refered to as Pul in the Old Testament (from the Akk. Pulu; see 2 Kings 15:19. Cf. English Bill for William or Ted for Edward/Theodor).

The Egyptian Plagues

The account of the ten plagues, like the story of Joseph, abounds in authentic local coloring. The miricles consisted of events that were natural to Egypt, the supernatural element consisting in the great augmentation of their normal intensity, as well as their timing. In other words, the disasters are not imported from some other region; they are the sorts of troubles that Egypt has known before, just far far worse.

Also of significance: at least some of the plagues seemed to be directed against specific gods of Egypt, not just the people -- perhaps to demonstrate thereby Yahweh's superiority. That Egypt's gods were being cursed, in some way, is made clear by Exodus 12:12. Just in what way and to what extent the pagan cults were involved in the plagues is not entirely clear, however.

The knowledge extant concerning the practical, everyday worship of the Egyptian pantheon is meager; moreover, the source materials tell us little about their metaphysical assumptions.

It is obvious, however, that the twenty-two Egyptian provinces each had their own religious centers and totemic animal or plant.

It is precisely the attributes of these deities which are involved in the plagues, but whether each of the plagues was thought to be the special domain of one or another of the Egyptian gods cannot be stated with certainty.

The plagues, however, were an outward physical consequence of inward moral conditions.

G. Vos writes (Biblical Theology, 1954, pp. 124-130):

Not merely the Egyptians, but likewise the Egyptian's gods are involved in the conflict.

The situation of the Exodus from Egypt comprised not merely the physical bondage of the Jews but also the spiritual oppression of sin from which they were released by an act of God's special grace.

In the same fashion that Yahweh intervened to free them from pharaoh, so also he freed them from the restraints and penalty of their iniquity. Nowhere in the OT is the particularistic quality of God's grace so openly declared as in Exodus.

The identical judgment and circumstances that delivered Israel sentenced Egypt: one was sentenced to salvation, one to reprobation. As a prefigurement of the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross, the Exodus and the plagues which accompanied it derive their true meaning and proper perspective.

The sacred poetry of later ages celebrate the event, and the clear remembrance of it is reiterated at the Pasover and celebration of the first communion by Jesus before his death. The two events, the Exodus and the Passion, are acts of God's special grace, by which not only deliverence but atonement and redemption are accomplished.

In the OT motif of creation: fall, redemption, restoration -- the Exodus and the plagues are an event of momentous proportion. Upon it rests the faith of Israel in the covenant promises of God.

The restriction of the miraculous events of the Exodus to one small area and to one short period of time demonstrates the divine chaaracter of the action. The miricles of the Bible are not magical ways to accomplish difficult feats in front of an illiterate, credulous and prescientific audience. They are transcendant and supernatural assurances that the word -- the revelation -- given at the same time, in this case the ordinances of Passover and the Law -- are true and absolute, having divine authority.

The declaration of God: "and I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and...multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt" (Exodus 7:3) is for the purpose that "the Egyptians shall know that I am Yahweh!" (Exodus 7:5).

Ultimately, the plagues caused Egypt in its suffering to admit Yahweh's sovereignty and to glorify the God of Israel. There is some speculation (if you take an early date for the Exodus) that part of the reason for Ikhnatan's reformation and rejection of the traditional gods of Egypt were as a reaction to these plagues. In Ikhnatan's mind, it is possible that the traditional gods had been discredited and shown to be nonexistant, or at the least, to be weak and ineffectual.

List of the Plagues and Possible Identification With Egyptian Gods

1. Blood (Ex. 7:14-25)

The Nile god Hapi was a main object of worship and closely associated with Osiris and even Amon. Khnum was the guardian of the Nile. Osiris: the Nile was his bloodstream.

2. Frogs (Ex. 8:1-14)

Frogs werer sacred animals, the symbol of procreative power. They were associated with the goddess Heka (Heket, Heqt), who is represented with the head of a frog (god of resurrection). She is the wife of Kneph (or Nun). Such sacred animals as frogs could not be killed intentionally. Even involentary slaughter was punishable by death.

3. Gnats (Ex. 8:16-19)

4. Flies (Ex. 8:20-32)

Some have suggested this was actually a plague of beetles; if so, beetles were sacred, and like any sacred creature, could not be intentionally harmed. The beetle (scarab) was the emblem of Re (Ra), the sun god.

5. Livestock (Ex. 9:1-7)

Several Egyptian deities were represented by domestic beasts: Apis, the bull god; Hathor, the cow goddess; Khnum, the ram god; and Mnevis, the bull god, symbol of fertility and sacred bull of Heliopolis.

6. Boils (Ex. 9:8-12)

Imhotep, god of medicine (uncertain that this deity was being worshipped in Egypt at this early date)

7. Hail (Ex. 9:13-35)

Perhaps an attack on the sky goddess, Nut; Isis, goddess of life; Seth, protector of crops.

8. Locusts (10:1-20)

Isis was considered the protectoress against locusts. Seth, the protector of crops.

9. Darkness (10:21-29)

May have been brought by the Khamsin (wind of the desert). Re (Ra) the sun god would have been the intended target. Darkness was a creation of Set, the evil principle, the destroyer of Osirus. To the Egyptians, it would have seemed as if Re was dead, Set had triumphed over his brother, and Apophis had encircled the world with his dark folds.

10. First-born (Ex. 11:1-12:36)

First-born of people and animals were often worshipped. Pharaoh was considered a god (incarnation of Re), as was his first-born son, the heir to the throne. Osiris, the giver of life.

Route of the Exodus

Israel's exit from Egypt as outlined in the Biblical narrative formerly (and in some circles, still does) excite a great deal of skepticism and debate. Many contend that the route described in the book of Exodus was impossible, and that the Exodus itself was, accordingly, legendary, or at best, historically unrealiable.

Others insisted on a northern passage along the Meditteranean, despite definite Biblical assertions to the contrary (Ex. 13:17-18). For instance, the well-respected and popular Macmillan's Atlas of the Bible does precisely this.

Advocates of the southern route have the decided advantage, I believe. The initial stages of the Exodus are described in Exodus 12:37, 13:17-20 and 14:1-2. In tracing this itinerary on a map, it is important to first observe that the translation of the Hebrew name yam suph by Red Sea is plainly incorrect. The Hebrew word suph clearly means "reed." For instance, notice Ex. 2:3 which describes Moses' mother placing his floating basket among "the reeds"; the Hebrew word there is suph.

That this name is unlikely to denote what we today refer to as the Red Sea or even its northeastern arm (the Gulf of Suez) is indicated by the fact that there are no reeds in the Red Sea. Moreover, the body of water they actually crossed formed a natural barrior between Egypt and the Sinai wilderness, whereas the Israelites would have had to traverse a long expanse of desert to get to the Red Sea or even the Gulf of Suez, a trek that the text does not seem to suggest.

On the contrary, the account implies the proximity of the Reed Sea to Succoth (modern Tel-el-Mashkutah), about 32 miles southeastward of their starting point of Rameses (Ex. 12:37).

The Reed (or Papyrus) Sea which the Israelites miraculously crossed may be the Papyrus Lake or Papyrus Marsh known from an Egyptian document of the 13th century to have been located near Tanis. The topography of this region has been changed somewhat since the Suez Canal was dug. In fact, at least one body of water, Lake Ballah, has disappered as a result.

In the 15th century BC the region in the vincinity of Lake Timsah, between Lake Ballah and the Bitter lakes, may well have been more marshy than it is at present, and the crossing of the "Reed Sea" was perhaps in the are of Lake Timsah or just south of it.

The location of the city of Rameses (earlier Avaris-Zoan and later Tanis) has given Biblical geographers a starting point in verifying the accuracy of the Biblical route of the Exodus. Thus, leaving Rameses the escaping Israelites began a roundabout journey toward Canaan.

The direct military route lay before them past the Egyptian frontier fortress of Zilu (or Thel) and then along the coast by "the way of the land of the Philistines (Ex. 13:17).

This being the well-traveled and carefully guarded highway to the Egyptian Asiatic Empire in Palestine and Lower Syria, the Israelites, as yet only a disorganized mob of liberated slaves, were in no position either from the point of view of moral or military organization to wage the war such a route would have almost immediately precipitated (cf. Ex. 13:17).

Leaving Succoth, which is located some ten miles in an easterly direction from Pithom (Ex. 1:11), now identified with Tel Retabeh, the Israelites encamped on the borders of "the wilderness of the Reed Sea" (Ex. 13:18-20), that is, in the general region of Lake Timsah. Pi-hahiroth, which is said to be "between Migdol and the [Reed] Sea" and "in front of Baal-Zephon" (Ex. 14:2), seems clearly to be the Egyptian Pi-Hathor in the general vicinity of Tanis.

Although Migdol and Baal-Zephon bear Semitic names, which are perfectly normal for this part of Egypt, and are attested by the inscriptions, their exact location as yet has not been fully determined.

For this reason, it is possible that the Israelites in their meandering trip at this point (Ex. 13:18), may have wandered futher northward than is commonly supposed and crossed the water in the region of Lake Ballah.

At any rate, the Biblical route, as outlined in Exodus, bears every indication of being authentic.

Excursis (from Saturday, March 14, 1992 Los Angeles Times, p. A1 & 25)

Research Supports Bible's Account of Red Sea Parting

Weather: Gulf of Suez's geography would make it possible, meteorologist and oceanographer say.

By Thomas H. Maugh II (Timses Science Writer)

Sophisticated computer calculations indicate that the biblical parting of the Red Sea, said to have allowed Moses and the Israelites to escape from bondage in Egypt, could have occured precisely as the Bible describes it.

Because of the peculiar geography of the northern end of the Red Sea, researchers report Sunday in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, a moderate wind blowing constantly for about 10 hours could have caused the sea to recede about a mile and the water level to drop 10 feet, leaving dry land in the area where many biblical scholars believe the crossing occured.

An abrupt change in the wind would have allowed the waters to come crashing back into the area in a few moments, a phenomenon that the Bible says inundated the Israelites' pursuers.

This explanation "should not affect the religious aspects of the Exodus," wrote meteorologist Nathan Paldor of the University of Rhode Island and oceanographer Doron Nof of Florida State University. "Some may even find our proposed mechanism to be a supportive argument for the original biblical description of this event."

Although few religious scholars or scientists were familiar with the report, oceanographer Gabriel Csanady of Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., said the new scenario is "very plausible." Csanady was one of the reviewers who recommended publication of the report in the Bulletin.

The Israelites' flight is described in the 14th chapter of the book of Exodus: "The Lord caused the sea to go bck by a strong east wind all the night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea on the dry ground."

Most scholars agree that the Israelites did not cross the Red Sea, but the Gulf of Suez, which is a northern extension of the sea. The crossing probably occured at the northern end of the gulf, around the site of the modern town of Suez.

Paldor, who is on sabbatical in Rhode Island from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said he became interested in the problem because of his acquaintance with the biblical descriptions and because it is an interesting, unsovled problem in physical oceanography. The problem consists of simple physical laws -- which are very well known -- and a very complicated set of equations that describe what happens to the water when the wind acts on it."

His and Nof's contribution, he said, was to simplify the equations so that the calculations could be performed in a resonable amount of time and without the need for an expensive supercomputer.

They found that the gulf's geographical configuration makes it possible for the waters to part. Because the gulf is so long and shallow, Nof said, "the wind can lift a lot of water. It's like blowing across the top of a cup of coffee. The coffee blows from one end of the cup to the other.

Also important, they noted, is that the other end of the gulf is connected to a large body of water, the Red Sea. That sea can accomodate the water from the gulf without rising significantly.

Their calculations show that a steady northeasterly wind of about 40 to 45 m.p.h. over a 10-hour period could push the water of the gulf back from the northern shore by as much as a mile, lowering its depth by 10 feet or more. Such wind-driven reductions in water level are frequently observed during winter storms in Lake Erie, Paldor said, but the bottom slope there is much steeper than in the Gulf of Suez, so the shoreline does not recede.

Such a phenomenon would not completely explain the bilbical passage, which says that the Israelites had water on oboth sides of them when they made the crossing. Paldor and Nof speculate that the group actually crossed on an underwater ridge that was exposed by this receding water. In that case, there would have been water on both sides.

No such ridge apparently exists at the site now, but Csanady has previously shown that such ridges are formed and destroyed frequently.

One potential objection to the new theory is that the researchers postulate a northwesterly (sic -- should be northeasterly) wind, while the Bible cites an east wind. But they note that in Hebrew texts, the wind prior to the crossing is described as Ruach kadim, which can mean northeasterly or southeasterly.

Other researchers have previously suggested that the parting of the Red Sea might have been caused by a tsunami, a massive tidal wave resulting from an earthquake. Such an even could have caused the waters to recede briefly and then crash back upon the pursuers.

But the biblical account "specifically addresses a strong wind that blew for the entire night before the crossing," Paldor said, and indicates that the waters receded gradually.

Thus the tsunami explanation, he said, is simply not tenable.

The Exodus

The Date

When was the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt?

The chronology of the Exodus has presented problems which are undoubtedly among the most perplexing in the whole of Hebrew history. It has been the subject of heated debate for a number of years and the difficulties have not yet been fully resolved (though those on all sides of the issue might argue otherwise). Two of the main conflicting views have a difference of about a century and a half between them. Both can be supported to some extent by the biblical narratives.

The earliest dating places the Exodus in the reign of Amenhotep II of the 18th Dynasty.

The later view regards the Exodus as occuring in the 19th Dynasty, when Rameses II ruled Egypt.

The 15th c. date depends on:

1. The chronological note in 1 Kings 6:1

2. The date of the conquest of Canaan

3. The fall of Jericho

4. Archaeological material

Assuming the reference in 1 Kings referst to c. 961 BC, the Exodus would have occured c. 1441 BC.

The excavations of Garstang at Jericho provided further support for this date when it was announced that Jericho had fallen to invaders before 1400 BC. It was also stated that diplomatic contact between Jericho and Amehotep III (c. 1413-1377 BC) ceased; thus, Amehotep II (c. 1436-1422 BC) could be the pharaoh of the Exodus.

The fall of Jericho had been preceded by the Israelite occupation of Moab, which, according to Jephtha in Judges 11:26 extended over a period of about 300 years. If the date of 1100 BC is given for Jephtha, the occupation of Moabite territory would have taken place around 1400 BC, which then also gives a 15th c. BC date for the Exodus.

Circumstances in Egyptian history have also been suggested in favor of a date at this time, thereby making Thutmose III the great Egyptian empire builder and the pharoah of the last Israelite oppression. A mural in the tomb of Rekhmire, the Vizier of Thutmose III depicts a brick making scene, where slaves are moistening lumps of nile mud, adding sand and chopped straw, and placing the mixture into molds for baking in the sun.

The mural also contains the inscription reminscent of advice given by the taskmasters to the enslaved Hebrews: "The rod is in my hand; be not idle."

The mention of the invading Habiru in the Tel-el-Amarna tablets (c. 1400-1300 BC) was taken as particularly significant for an early date of the Exodus.

The Habiru were equated with the conquering Hebrews (there may be a link between the words Habiru and 'Ivri; Habiru is used generically of nomads and the earliest uses in the Bible of the word 'Ivri seem to match the same usage). The disturbed political conditions reflected in the Tel-el-Amarna tablets were held to be those which existed in Canaan before the Israelite invasion.

The feudal system under which the land was ruled made for small fortified centers. It was necessary for the local rulers to pay their annual dues to the Egyptian overlord or to his representative.

During the time of Ikhnatan, Egypt was weak and many cities were revolting, as well as suffering from the invasion of outsiders.

The Date of the Exodus

Although up to the present no direct archaeological evidence has been found of Israel's sojourn in Egypt, nevertheless in the light of considerable inderect testimony, it is practically impossible with any show of reason to deny either the historicity of Moses or the fact of the Exodus. As schlars generally concede, an event which impressed itself so ineradicably on the consciousness of a people as to control al its later thinking, to be the foundation of its national history and to ratify its religion, could by no stretch of the imagination have been a mere invention. It would be like postulating the American Revolution never occured and that George Washington was just a legend, with no historical basis.

The real problem is not, did it happen, but rather when and how did it happen.

The date of the Exodus is a particularly elusive problem, which has divided not just critical scholars, but also conservative evangelicals.

Excluding (for the moment), the radical and extreme views of people like Gardner, Hall and Wresninski who consider the Exodus story to be a garbled form of the Egyptian saga of the Expulsion of the Hyksos, or people like Petrie, Eerdmans, and Rowley who place it very late, in the reign of Merneptah or even later, only two principal views exist. The first places the event around 1441 BC (dates ranging from 1467 to 1425 have been proposed), thus placing it in the reign of Amenhotep II (or Thuhmose III c. 1482-1450). The second places the Exodus around 1290 BC in the reign of Ramses II, of the 19th Dynasty.

The Early Date

Although any view of the Exodus is plagued with difficulties so great that many critics insist "that complete harmonization" of the Biblical account "and our extra-biblical material is quite impossible," it is nevertheless true on the basis of many considerations that the early date (1441 BC) most easily fits the biblical material.

Many would deny this on the basis of Exodus 1:11 and its mention of the city of Rameses, together with other evidence external to the Bible. But it is quite clear from a careful survey of all the scriptural evidence, including the whole time scheme underlying the Pentateuch and the early lhistory of Israel through the period of the Judges to the time of Solomon, that the OT places Moses and the period of the Exodus around the middle of the 15th century BC rather than a century and a half later in the first half of the 13th century BC. Biblical and extrabiblical evidence in support of this is not easily set asside, in my estimation.

1. Explicit scriptural statement places the Exodus around 1441 BC (see 1 Kings 6:1).

The fourth year of Solomon's reign (although the chronology still oscillate about a decade) would be about 961 BC. W.F. Albright gives 922 BC as the date of Solomon's death. Edwin R. Thiele 931 BC for ye year of his death, and Joachim Begrich 926 BC as the year of his death. And since Solomon ruled 40 years (1 Kings 11:42), the 4th year of his reign would be variously computed:

Albright: 958 BC

Thiele: 967 BC

Begrich: 962 BC.

If we take Unger's year (961 BC), then we arrive at 1441 BC as the date of the Exodus, and 1871 BC as the time of the entrance into Egypt by Joseph and family (since the sojourn is recorded as lasting 430 years -- Exodus 12:40-41).

Scholars such as Albright, who argues for a date of the Exodus 150 years later (c. 1290 BC) and H.H. Rowley, who places it over 200 years later (1225 BC) are compelled to reject 1 Kiings 6:1 as late and unreliable, or they would argue that the number given there is symbolic (480 years, after all, does break down into 12 x 40, which has a certain look of artificiality about it, after all). The time of the Judges, if a late date for the Exodus is accepted, must be shortened from the 1400-1050 BC an early date would give, to about 1250-1050 BC, necessitating doubling up some of the Judges (admittedly not at all an impossible task, since they often operated in limited spheres in different parts of Palestine).

2. Contemporary Egyptian history permits a date for the Exodus c. 1441 BC. The date of 1441 BC falls very probably in the opening years of the reign of Amenhotep II (1450-1425 BC), son of the famous conquereor and empire builder, Thutmose III (1482-1450 BC). One of the greatest of all the Pharaohs, Thutmose III furnishes an ideal figure for the Pharoaoh of the oppression. According to the Biblical record Moses waited for the death of the great oppressor before returning to Egypt from his refuge in Midian (Ex. 3:23). The Exodus took place not very long afterward in the reign of Amenhotep II, who evidently was the king who hardened his heart and would not let the Israelites go.

In the contempoary records of Amenhotep II no references occur to such national disasters as the ten plagues or the loss of the Egyptian army in the Reed Sea, much less to the escape of the Jews. But that absence does not demonstrate it didn't happen during his reign. The Egyptian government, like any totalitarian government, were not quick to record their misfortunes. They were like the old USSR in that respcet: airplane crash? You wouldn't have heard about it in the government controlled media. Only happy news, since bad things only happened to the capitalists in America.

If Amenhotep II was the reigning pharaoh of the exodus, his eldest son was slain in the tenth plague, "which killed all the firstborn of the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh on his throne to the firstborn of the captive in the dungeon..." (Exo. 12:29). It is plain from the monuments that Thutmose IV (1425-1412 BC) who escavated the Sphinx, was not the eldest son of Amenhotep II. The so-called "Dream Inscription of Thutmose IV" recorded on an immense slab of red granite near the sphinx at Gizeh states that while yet a youth, the future Pharaoh had fallen asleep under the famous monument and dreamed. In his dream the sphinx appeared to him, startling him with a prophecy that one day he would become king of Egypt, and asked him to clear the sand away from her feet in token of gratitude. (for a copy of the text, see Pritchard, p. 449).

The general historical situation made the Exodus possible toward the beginning of the reign of Amenhotep II. At the death of the great Thutmose III the whole of the outlying parts of the Empire in Syria-Palestine revolted. The new Pharaoh moved against he insurrectionists and crushed them, but it may well be that the distractions of this campaign created a diversion, the advantage of which Moses was not slow to seize.

The picture of Thutomose III as the great oppressor of the Israelites is quite credile. He was a great builder and employed semitic captives in his vast construction projects. Many of his building operations were supervised by his vizier, named Rekhmire. This important official or prime minister exercised powers as extensive as those of his earlier colleague, Joseph. His tomb near Thebes is covered with scenes depicting his career. In one of these representations Rekhmire leans upon his staff and inspects stonecutters, sculptors, brickmakers and builders who toil before him.

A portion of the scene on Rekhmire's tomb depicts the brickmakers. Brickmaking in ancient Egypt was a process which invovled breaking up the Nile mud with mattocks, moistening it with water, and mixing it with sand and chopped straw (Ex. 5:6-19). Afterwards it was formed in molds and baked in the sun. Semitic foreigners are significantly found among the brickmakers and bricklayers on Rekhmire's tomb. The accompanying inscription refers to the "captives brought by his majesty for the works of the temple of Amun." The bricklayers are quoted as saying "He supplies us with bread, beer and every good thing," while the taskmasters warn the laborers "the rod is in my hand; be not idle."

3. Contempoary events in Palestine suggest a date for the Exodus around 1441 BC. When I was at UCLA I had an Akkadian Seminar on the Amarna letters, which involved translating them and discussing various aspects. I was taught that the Habiru mentioned in the tablets could not refer to the Hebrews, since the Hebrews didn't enter the land until the 13th century BC -- not the 15th c., when the letters were written.

However, having said that, the letters present a strikingly similar situation of what was described in Joshua, except from the point of view of the conquered rather than the conquerer.

The Amarna letters were discovered in 1886. These invaders, the Habiru, are etymologically acually equatable with the Hebrews, though, of course, some scholars would disagree with me on that.

Abdi-Hiba, governor of Jerusalem, wrote numerous letters to the Pharaoh Ikhnatan, begging for Egyptian aid against the encroaching Habiru, if the country were to be saved for Egypt:

The Habiru plunder all lands of the king. If archers are here this year, then the lands of the king, the Lord, will remain; but if the archers are not here, then the lands of the king, my Lord, are lost.

Late Date for the Exodus

According to Genesis 15:13, the descendants of Abraham were to be afflicted in a strange land for 400 years, while the tradition of Exodus 12:40 extends the sojourn to 430 years. The LXX, however, reduces the period in Exodus 12:40 to 215 years. However, this 215 year period would not be easily reconcilabe then with Gen. 15:13.

Part of the difficulty of interpreting the reference in 1 Kings 6:1 correctly lies in the fact that the peoples of the ANE sometimes used numbers to signify other than purely mathematical considerations.

Thus the phrase "40 years" was synonymous with the concept "generation", while in Genesis 50:26 the period of 110 years, which marked the life span of Joseph, was the traditional Egyptian figure for a full life, or simply advanced old age. It is not always easy on such occasions to determine whether the biblical numbers are being used literally or symbolically.

Where there appears to be a motif or cycle involving sevens, forties, and the like, it is probable that other than purely literal considerations are involved. When the reference in 1 Kings 6:1 is examined from this standpoint, it is obvious that the number could be understood to comprise 12 generations of 40 years each. This appears to involve a double cycle, and may be related in some manner to the idea of successive generations as applied to the 12 tribes. Of course, when it says 4th year in the same verse, we will still tend to understand it "literally"....

As a supporter of the late date wrote: "If the number [480] is taken literally, however, it argues strongly for a fifteenth century date of the Exodus."

The 13th century date for the Exodus is postulated primarily on the basis of the reference in Exodus 1:11 to the city of "Rameses", which implies that the Israelites were in bondage during the reigns of Seti I and Rameses II. Contemporary inscriptions do refer to a people the Egyptians called "Apiru" laboring for Rameses II; "Apiru" are identified by most scholars as equivalent to the Akkadian "Habiru".

Additional evidence for a 13th century date for the Exodus emerged from the work of Glueck in the Transjordan. He discovered that after the time of Abraham, the territories of Edom and Moab became denuded of population until the 13th century BC.

From this, it becomes evident that the conditions of population that necessitated the circuit of Edom and the difficult campaign against the Ammonites at Heshbon (Num. 20-21) could scarcely have existed until the 13th century BC, after which time Edom was densly populated.

A late date for the fall of Jericho, c. 1250 BC was suggested by Vincent, an eminent Palestinian archeologist, who rested his conclusions, to some extent, on the discovery of immitation Mycenaean vases at Jericho.

These had probably been imported from Greek sources when the Minoan civilization of Crete (2000-1000 BC) had exercised an important cultural influence over the lands of the mediterranean, and belonged properly to the Late Bronze II period (c. 1375-1200 BC), after which they were no longer imported.

However, other archeological considerations weigh heavily against so late a date for the Exodus, including the fact that a whole series of Canaanite cities, such as Lachish and Bethel fell in the 13th c. BC.