The Quest for the Historical Moses
Stephen Andrew Missick
Recently, certain scholars have come to the conclusion that there never was a Moses. They believe that Moses is a mythological figure who never existed in history. They have concluded that there never was a Moses or an Exodus from Egypt, that the Israelites were simply Canaanites and that the Exodus story was invented in a late period. (Even modern versions of the Passover Haggadah, or Seder, state in their introductions that Moses and the Exodus are mythological.) This is a challenge to the very roots of the reliability of the Holy Bible. It is imperative for those who believe in the truthfulness of Scripture to examine the historical, archeological, and textual evidence for the historicity of Moses and the Exodus. One of the principles differences between the "Quest for the Historical Jesus" and such a quest for a historical Moses is the time frame that we have to work with. Historically, we know that Christ's life and public ministry occurred sometime between 26 A.D.-36 A.D. with most Bible Scholars believing that his work occurred from 29-33 A.D. But with Moses we have conservative Bible scholars working over a much longer time period. Certain conservatives believe that the Exodus occurred around 1440 B.C. while others state that it occurred in the reign of Ramesses II (called "Ramesses the Great," reigned 1279-1213 BC) sometime during the 1200s. (In understanding the cultural background of the Exodus story, this two hundred year time span isn't very significant because the ancient Egyptians were very traditional and their culture changed very little. But obviously, historically it is of great concern.) Here we are going to examine the evidence for the historical truth of the Exodus account. Dealing with methodology, in attempting to discover the historical facts regarding the exodus we should avoid rabbinic lore. According to Rabbinical legend, called Midrash, Pharaoh commanded that the Hebrew male children should be put to death because Egyptian astrologers saw an evil sign that foretold the birth of a deliverer of the Hebrews. However, the Bible is very clear that Pharaoh's intent was simply population control (Exodus 1:10). The text says nothing about Pharaoh trying to kill the deliverer as a child. Also, sometimes the Bible was read too literally by the rabbis. Reading literally, first Pharaoh commands the Hebrews to kill their firstborn then he commands "all his people" to kill their first born (Exodus 1:22). The rabbis interpreted this as meaning that first the killings were directed at the Hebrews and then Pharaoh commanded all his people, Egyptian and Hebrew, to put to death new born male children. This is not a common sense reading of the Bible. Obviously, the command was directed solely to the Hebrews. Another rabbinical legend has Moses wandering the earth for nearly forty years after he murdered the Egyptian taskmaster, becoming king of Ethiopia and ruling there for several years and then afterwards he comes and settles with Jethro and marries Zipporah when he is approaching eighty. It is true that the Torah doesn't state that Moses arrived in Midian when he was forty years old. (Stephen does in his sermon in Acts 7:30.) Also, when Moses leaves Jethro to return to Egypt, Gershom is a small child. The reason why the rabbis developed this myth is that reading the text, it seems that Moses was not in Midian for forty years. If he had been Gershom would have been an adult with children of his own. (Perhaps we should entertain the possibility that these "forty years" represent rough estimates or symbolic numbers.) Rabbinical lore is very influential. Its influence can be seen in many movies and novels about the Exodus. We should look at rabbinical legend with extreme caution. Most of the Midrash contains absurd stories. Midrash is much too late to have any historical value and now we are more informed about the Bible than the rabbis were. Rather than reading Jewish folklore we need to examine historical and archeological evidences. The two most important archeological evidences are the Soleb inscription and the "Israel Stele of Merenptah." The Soleb inscription mentions Pharaoh having defeated the people of "Yahweh." Some believe this is a reference to the Israelites having left Egypt and then living in the desert region outside of Egypt. Supporters of the "Kenite Hypothesis" believe that the "people of Yahweh" referred to in the Soleb inscription are not Israelites but are rather Kenites, an Arabian tribe that worshiped Yahweh earlier than and independently of the Israelites. (The name Yahweh may not have been pronounced as "Yahweh." It may have been more like "Yahu." Yahweh has become the standard scholarly pronunciation or convention and is used although it may not be the proper pronunciation.) This inscription is still important regardless. If the Kenite hypothesis is true, the Israelites worshiped God by the name "El-Shaddai" and Moses settled among Yahweh worshiping Kenites, such as Jethro. Yahweh appeared to Moses and revealed to him that He was the same God worshiped by the Israelites by the name "El-Shaddai" (Exodus 6:2-3). The "Merenptah Stele" is the only Egyptian document that mentions Israel. It seems to describe Israel as being a people living in Canaan. So, this is viewed as a cut-off date for the Exodus. This means that the Exodus (and maybe Conquest) must have occurred by this date (1207 BC). However, it is possible that there were some Israelite tribes in Canaan before the Exodus. In Chronicles it describes Ephraim as settling in Canaan after his father died (1 Chronicles 7:20-22). This seems to be a story about Ephraim the son of Joseph and not a personification of the tribes as we see of Judah and Simeon in Judges 1:3. There is currently no independent evidence outside of the Bible that Moses lived and that the Exodus from Egypt occurred. And yet, James L. Kugel notes in How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now, "One text, however, Papyrus Leiden 348, speaks of some 'apiru who were used for "hauling stones to the great pylon" of one of the public structures in the city of Rameses (that is, P(r) R'mss)…Contrary to popular expectation, the word "Hebrew" actually does not appear very much in the Bible. What we call the Hebrew language, for example, is never called that in the Hebrew Bible; instead it is called "Judean" or "Canaanite." Nor are the people of Israel generally called Hebrews. But here and there, thirty-four times in all, the world "Hebrew" does occur in this sense, and of these, fully twenty of the occurrences are found in the context of the story of the Exodus or the preceding narrative of Joseph...All this may suggest that these ancient text preserve the tradition that "Hebrew" is what the Egyptians themselves called the Israelites. If so, the absence of direct reference to the Israelites slaves in Egyptian documents might be somewhat less troubling; indeed, the mention of the 'apiru in Papyrus Leiden 348 might actually seem to provide something like the smoking gun biblical scholars are looking for…It does say that the 'apiru were used for building part of the city of Rameses, which is exactly what the Bible says of the Israelites in Exo. 1:11." The city of Pi-Ramesses [Pi-Ramesses As-nakhtu-"House of Ramesses, Great in Victory"] has been excavated. It is 6.9 miles, four miles long by two miles wide. The population was 300,000 making it one of the largest cities of ancient Egypt. It has been discovered under the village of Qantir. Using ground penetrating radar, archeologists have been able to reveal most of the city. 460 horse tether points were discovered there. This was probably the stables from which Pharaoh assembled his chariory to capture the fleeing Israelites.
Reading the Bible Like the Ancients
In our methodology we must also avoid the error of superficiality. This is seen in the book Moses and the Gods of Egypt. The central thesis of this book is that each of the plagues were attacks against a specific Egyptian god or goddess. The Bible does say that God attacked the gods of Egypt. This can be seen in the plagues. Hapi was the Nile god and Yahweh defeated Hapi by changing the Nile to blood. Heket, a goddess of magic, appeared as a woman with a head of a frog. The plague of frogs was a defeat of Heket. Hathor was a cattle goddess and was defeated in the plague upon the cattle. Ra was the sun god and was defeated in the plague of darkness. I do believe that there is some truth in this analysis, but there are so many ancient Egyptian gods-the Egyptians had a god for just about anything! (James K. Hoffmeier notes in Israel in Egypt, "The Egyptians were not like the Hindus, who consider animals sacred and hence are vegetarian…Consequently, the notion that particular animals and their corresponding deities are under attack with the various plagues must be dispelled.") So, what we need to do is have a deeper knowledge of Egyptian religion. There wasn't one organized Egyptian religion. The Egyptian religions were never unified into one coherent system. There were actually different religions of ancient Egypt. Probably, these religions developed in different regions in remote antiquity. When Egypt was unified, its religion wasn't, as we will see here. Also, over the course of history, religious beliefs evolved and sometimes merged. Amen was a transcendent god. Ra was the sun god. These two gods were merged together and were worshiped as Amen-Ra. However, they also continued to be worshiped as separate gods. So you had the god Amen, the god Ra and a new third god Amen-Ra. There were also different versions of myths that contradicted each other. (Apparently, this is common in oral tradition.) In certain myths Hathor was the mother of Horus. In other myths Isis was the mother of Horus. Over the centuries, Isis gained the attributes and even took on some of the symbolism of Hathor and yet Hathor and Isis were worshiped as distinct goddesses. I believe that we need to try to read the Bible like an ancient. The ancient Hebrews were aware of these stories of the gods of Egypt and the Syrian gods. There was never one unified Egyptian religion. For example, there were different creator gods. Some Egyptians believed that the Creator was Atum. Atum was self-existent. Other Egyptians believed that Ptah was the Creator. Ptah created the universe by speaking it into existence. In southern Egypt Khnum was the creator god. He created man out of the dust of the earth. Amen was a transcendent god. All gods were seen as manifestations of Amen, the one true god. So we see that certain ideas that the Ancient Egyptians had about God are similar to our own and to ideas found in the Holy Bible. Different regions in Egypt had different religions and they were never really unified. The closest religion in Egypt that was the one religion of Egypt was the "universal" theological system that was the foundation of the authority of the Pharaoh. This is the Isis-Osiris-Horus mythology. The reason why this mythology was found throughout Egypt was because it was used to justify the rule of the pharaoh. The pharaoh was considered a god on earth. He was an earthly manifestation of Horus and represents the gods. Pharaoh was in a sense a priest. (Although Egyptian priests carried out his priestly functions, they did it on his behalf.) Pharaoh was responsible for maintaining "ma'at," Ma'at means order, truth and justice. Pharaoh is a false god who in the Bible is doing battle with Yahweh, the real and true god. To properly understand the story of the Exodus it is imperative to understand the historical and cultural background of when it occurred and when this story was told in earliest times. In fact, without an awareness of the stories of the Egyptian and Semitic gods important themes that the author of the sacred text wished to convey will be lost on the part of the reader. In addition to this, the author states that victory over the false gods of Egypt is won by Yahweh. The Bible says that Yahweh's mission in the plagues was to "execute judgment against all the gods of Egypt" (Exodus 12:11-13, Numbers 33:4). Also, in order to properly understand the religion of the Israelites during their sojourn in Egypt, it is necessary to understand ancient Egyptian religion since Joshua 24:14 makes it clear that the Israelites worshiped Egyptian gods while they were slaves in Egypt. (Also, Moses asked God what his name was so that he could tell the Israelites what god had sent him (Exodus 3:13). The Israelites had lost knowledge of God.) In retellings of the Exodus, such as Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments, ancient Egyptian religion isn't properly explained or represented. The only thing that the viewer would learn from this movie about ancient Egyptian religion is that they worshiped idols. Even in some scholarly works by Evangelical Christians, ancient Egyptian religion is superficially treated.
Other Methodological Concerns
It is also important to avoid sensational theories. Our research needs to be scholarly and mainstream. Sensational theories would include ideas that Moses was Ankhnaten or that Mount Sinai is in Saudi Arabia. Another extreme theory is David Rohl's "New Chronology" in which the chronology of the Egyptian pharaohs is adjusted by several centuries. Very few Egyptologists are going to take such theories seriously. Our desire is to advance knowledge. If we start with false assumptions we aren't going to get anywhere.
I want to give an example of how to do what I would consider proper research of the Egyptian background of the Exodus. The scholar needs to examine and to be familiar with ancient Egyptian culture. To the ancient Egyptians, Moses seemed to be a magician. We actually conceive of him as having the appearance of a wizard like Gandalf in the Hobbit stories. Wizards have a magic wand and Moses has a staff through which he works his wonders. (In the "Lord of the Rings" stories, the wizards use magic staves.) Moses is opposed by Pharaoh's magicians. Scripture says, "Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as was the folly of Jannes and Jambres" (2 Timothy 2:8). We can manifest their folly for ourselves by studying what the ancient Egyptians believed about magic. So, who were the magicians of Pharaoh and how did the Ancient Egyptians believe magic to work? Not the way most people would think. Egyptians actually believed that writing was a form of magic. (Bill Manley states that, "The Greek term hieroglyph actually means "sacred image, "and is a translation of the Egyptian phrase medu metjer, "divine words.") Similar to voodoo, Egyptians believed depictions of say, your enemy bound, made it happen. Sandals with pictures of Egypt's enemies upon its soles were worn by Egyptian kings. The ancient Egyptians believed that writing was a form of magic and that sculptures and paintings were also magical. The Pharaoh Ankhnaten attempted to establish monotheism in Egypt. Pharaohs believed that they lived through statues made in their image. After his death, there was a popular reaction against the monotheism of Ankhnaten. To destroy Ankhenaten's soul, the Egyptians would smash his images and his hieroglyphic inscriptions. We have to be cautious about our sources on ancient Egyptian religious beliefs and beliefs about magic. I am interested in how the ancient Egyptians conceived of magic and not how some modern neo-Pagan wants to adopt and adapt it. (One ancient Egyptian magical trick was to write upon a scroll and then dissolve it into water and then to drink the water. This technique is actually found in the biblical test of an adulteress (Numbers 5:23).) The ancient Egyptians thought of "magic" in different ways than we do. The gods such as Isis were wielders of magic. Magic was part of the structure of the universe. Names, and "true names" had magical powers. Isis gained supreme magical power by learning the true name of the god Ra. We have ample evidence of how Pharaoh's magicians practiced their magic arts.
Evidence for the Hebrews Sojourn in Egypt
Some scholars contend that there is no evidence that the Israelites dwelt in the land of Egypt. Actually, there is substantial evidence for "Hebrews" living in Egypt. We need to look into the Biblical account and realize that the Hebrews were not worshiping "Yahweh" in Egypt. According to the Bible, they were worshiping the "gods of Egypt." In the Bible, the Israelites describe their origins saying, "My ancestors were nomadic Syrians who migrated to Egypt and settled there" (Deuteronomy 26:5) There is ample evidence for Syrians in Egypt. With the huge population of Semites in Egypt (Syrians, Hapiru and Asiatics), after a while the Egyptians began worshiping Semitic gods such as Astarte, Anath, Qudshu and Reshep. Baal was identified with Seth and the mythology of Baal was merged with that of Seth. (In Egyptian mythology Seth was the brother of Osiris and Isis.) Like Joseph, certain Semites came into positions of great power. The Syrian "Chancellor Bey" ruled over Egypt during the reign of the female pharaoh Tawosret. The Semite Aper-el ruled as prime minister under Amenhotep III and his son Akhenaten. When looking at the evidence for Semites in Egypt, we are looking at the evidence for the Israelites in Egypt, but we don't know it because we are starting off with false (and unbiblical) assumptions. Another false assumption we have is that all the Israelites were working making mud bricks. The Bible is very clear that they were put to work in "all manner of work in the field" (Exodus 1:14). (The tomb of Intef at Thebes identifies workers in a winepress scene as Hapiru, or Hebrews.)
The Semites of Egypt have been profoundly influential in history. These Semites in Egypt were the inventors of the alphabet. Canaanite slaves who worked in Sinai mines for the Egyptians used Egyptian hieroglyphs to invent a new simplified alphabet which is the ancestor of many alphabets including the Greek, Hebrew, Arabic and Roman alphabets. Israel was part of this community of Semites that lived in Egypt.
The Beni Hassan paintings show Semites migrating into Egypt. Archeologists have also discovered letters describing Edomites coming into Egypt to settle. We also have a record that mentions the name Shiprah, one of the names of the Hebrew midwives who defy Pharaoh (Exodus 1:15). (The Bible isn't clear if the midwives are Hebrew or Egyptian.)
If the story of the Exodus was a late myth invented by the Israelites, it seems odd that they would have given the hero an Egyptian name. But Moses isn't the only character in the Exodus story with an Egyptian name. James K. Hoffmeier notes in Ancient Israel in Sinai: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Wilderness Tradition, "After reviewing the number of names that are of certain or probable Egyptian etymology, one cannot help but see…that the use of Egyptian name, especially among the Levites, is evidence that this tribe had been in Egypt." Aaron is probably from the Egyptian word for "overseer." Hur is the transliteration of the name of the god known as Horus. Miriam is from the root "mry," meaning in Egyptian beloved or love. Phineas is derived from an Egyptian word meaning "the Nubian," probably referring to a dark complexion. The name Sheshan, which means water lily in Egyptian, came into English as "Susan" (1 Chronicle 2:31-35). Korah means "bald head" and may refer to the practice of Egyptian priests of shaving their heads. (Others see more Egyptian names arguing that Moses' father Amran's name is derived from "Amen-Ra," that Issachar is Hebrew "Ish Sokar" meaning "Man of [the Egyptian god] Sokar.")
The Bible states frequently, that the origins of Israel are to be traced to Egypt. 1 Samuel 2:27 reads, "I revealed myself to your ancestors when the people of Israel were slaves in Egypt."Hosea 11:1 says, "When Israel was a child I loved him, out of Egypt I called my son." The commentary to the New American Bible states here that "Hosea, like most of the prophets dates the real beginning of Israel from the time of Moses and the Exodus." We also find this idea expressed in Isaiah 43:2, "I am Yahweh your God, the Holy One of Israel, your savior: I gave Egypt for your Ransom…" From these and many other scriptures, it is obvious that the ancient Israelites believed that they had some from Egypt.
Literary Evidence and the Alphabet Soup of the Documentary Hypothesis
There is literary evidence within the Bible of the historicity of the Exodus account. According to Archeology and the Bible, "One must consider certain realistic details in the life of Moses, such as his marriage to Zipporah, daughter of the priest of Midian. The early date of the tradition is unquestionable; by the time of the Judges the Midianites had become bitter enemies of Israel. A later description of Moses would not have included the marriage of the great lawgiver to an enemy. Even more, how could any tradition allow Moses to be guided by a Midianite priest unless it were early and authentic?" (One scholar proposed that perhaps the reason Moses father-in-law had different names (Jethro, Ruel, Hobab) was that perhaps Moses was a polygamist. That is an interesting theory but I doubt it. I believe that Moses had one wife, Zipporah, and she is the same person as Moses' "Ethiopian" (or "Cushite") wife (Numbers 12:1). She was from a Kenite woman from a Midianite region called Cushan (Habukkuk 3:7).) Historians prefer to have multiple sources of historical events. We do have alternate accounts of the Exodus found in the book of Psalms, such as Psalm 78 and Psalm 105. In Psalm 81:9-12 we have words spoken by Yahweh at Meribah that are not recorded in the Torah. If the "Documentary Hypothesis" is correct, then we do have multiple accounts of the Exodus that were merged together to form the Torah. Using literary analysis, certain Bible scholars have identified various source documents that were combined and merged together to become the Torah. In order to understand the premise of the Documentary Hypothesis a good example is the Diatesseron. We have four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Around the year 150 an early Church Father named Tatian the Assyrian composed a harmony of the Four Gospels and entitled it "the Diatesseron" which means "a harmony of four." In the Aramaic church, the Diatesseron displaced the Four Gospels. Finally, a bishop named Rabulla decided to bring the Aramaic church into uniformity with practice of the rest of the Christian world. He was able to repress the Diatesseron and was so effective that we no longer have copies of the Diatesseron in its two original languages, Greek and Aramaic. Imagine a scenario in which the Diatesseron became recognized as the official Gospel and the Four Gospels were lost. Perhaps, in such a scenario, Bible scholars could theoretically reconstruct the "separate gospels" by identifying vocabulary, style of writing, and concepts unique to each distinctive gospel. Certain Bible scholars believe, as we have four gospels, there were also different accounts of the life of Moses and the Exodus that were merged together by a man called "the Redactor" who is believed to have been Ezra. There is a veritable alphabet soup of documents that certain scholars believe to have been used to create the Pentateuch. These include, J: "Jehovah" source, E: "Eloheim" source, P: Priestly source, D: Deuteronomic source, H: Holiness Code, K: Kenite source and R: Redactor. (It is possible that some of these "source documents" being distinct sources is an incorrect product of certain scholars imagination.) Certain scholars are questioning the "Documentary Hypothesis" stating that ancient writings from the Near East are structured in a similar manner to the Torah. (However, no ancient text the length of the Pentateuch has yet been discovered.) Defenders of the "Documentary Hypothesis" admit that there are flaws in the system. For example, they cannot firmly state whether certain stories come from J or E. The "Documentary Hypothesis" remains controversial.
When Did the Exodus Occur?
When searching for a date for the Exodus we need to first try to fit the time period to the historical context as described by the Bible. The Israelites were in Goshen in the Nile Delta. Therefore, the capital of Egypt as the time of the Exodus was most likely in the north, in "Lower Egypt" and not in the south at Thebes in southern Egypt, called "Upper Egypt." (The capital city of Egypt alternated between Thebes in the south and Memphis in the north.) The story reads as though Pharaoh resides nearby Goshen and not hundreds of miles away in Thebes. During certain periods in Egyptian history, Egypt held onto Canaan as a possession. This is important for two reasons. First, if the Exodus took place during the time Egypt held Canaan, then the Israelites were escaping slavery in Egypt and fleeing to Egyptian controlled territory in Canaan. It should also be remembered that there is no historical memory of the Jews preserved in the Bible or in extra-biblical Jewish texts that describe the Jews living under Egyptian occupation in Canaan during the conquest of Joshua or the period of the Judges. Joshua isn't described as fighting Egyptians during his conquest of the Holy Land. In the book of Judges many enemies are described such as Moabites, Midianites, and Philistines, but the Jews are not described as being oppressed by Egyptian occupiers. Egyptians are not described as occupying the Holy Land at all. Therefore, the most likely explanation is that the events of the Exodus, Joshua and Judges took place as or immediately after the Egyptians relinquished their holdings in Canaan.
A name of a Pharaoh is mentioned in the Exodus account, that of Ramesses. The Book of Exodus states that the Israelites built the city of Pi-Ramesses. The city of Pi-Ramesses was built under Ramesses the Second (called "Ramesses the Great") and was abandoned as a capital by his son Merneptah. The city of Pi-Ramesses has been discovered and excavated by archeologists. According to Hoffmeier the city flourished between 1270 and 1100 and then was abandoned.
The text seems to indicate that Moses returned to Egypt soon after one Pharaoh died and another Pharaoh ascended the throne. In fact the text clearly says, "And Yahweh said to Moses in Midian, "Go and return into Egypt: for all the men are dead which sought thy life." (Exodus 4:19). When that man, or those men, died, it was time for Moses to return to Egypt.
An important archeological artifact regarding the dating of the Exodus is the Victory Stele of King Merneptah. It is dated to the summer of 1207. Currently, it is the only Egyptian inscription that mentions Israel. It describes Israel as being in the land of Canaan and having been defeated by Pharaoh there. Merenptah boasts, "Israel is devastated, His seed is no more." Most scholars now use this as a cut-off date. They believe the Exodus and the conquest of the Holy Land must have taken place before 1207.
So, if Israel was established in Canaan by 1207 does this mean that the Exodus had to occur prior to this date? Some liberals say no. Some scholars believe that only the tribe of Levi participated in the Exodus. Noth believed in a "confederation" theory. In this theory, the Levites and other tribes of diverse origins, merged to become Israel. This theory holds that the Israelites were Canaanites. (The Bible concedes that the Israelites did have some Canaanite ancestry (Genesis 38).) According to First Chronicles, while many Israelite tribes stayed in Goshen in Egypt, Ephraim, the Son of Joseph, went to live in the land of Canaan. The Scripture says that Ephraim's sons were slain while attempting to rustle cattle from the men of Gath. After their death he mourned many days and his brothers came and comforted him. After this mourning his wife conceived and bore him another son. So we see Israelites settled and living in Canaan while other Israelites are living in Goshen in Egypt many years before the Exodus and even before the oppression and enslavement of the Israelites in Goshen (1 Chronicles 7:22-23).
John J. Davis explains the standard "early" date for the Exodus in his book Moses and the Gods of Egypt, "The early date of the exodus (1445 B.C.) is primarily established upon two biblical texts and the resulting relationship of the chronology to Egyptian history. According to 1 Kings 6:1, the Exodus from Egypt took place 480 years prior to the fourth year of Solomon. Since the fourth year of Solomon is usually calculated at 966/5 B.C., this would point to an exodus date of approximately 1446/5 B.C." The other Scripture to which Davis refers is Judges 11:26 in which Jephthah gives a period of three hundred years between Israel's sojourn at Heshbon and his judgeship. Some Bible scholars view the 480 years as a symbolic number that represents twelve generations. A generation was rounded off as forty years, even if it was a shorter period. If the earlier dates of the Exodus are correct this would mean that the Israelites lived for centuries under Egyptian occupation in Canaan. There is no record in the Bible or a period during the time of Joshua or Judges when the Israelites lived in Canaan under Egyptian rule. Since the Israelites had no historical memory of living under Egyptian occupation in Canaan, the Exodus and Conquest of the Promised Land must have occurred when Egypt was loosening its control over Canaan or after it had abandoned the territory. It is also noteworthy that the ancient Septuagint Version of Exodus provides an alternate reading and states that the Exodus took place 440 years prior to the fourth year of Solomon. The Exodus must have occurred sometime between the 17th-13th centuries Before Christ. (That is from 1500 to 1200 B.C.) Dates that are significantly before 1500 and significantly after 1200 are unlikely dates for the Exodus.
Symbolic Numbers in the Exodus Narrative
The Bible divides the life of Moses into three equal periods of forty years. Moses spends forty years in Egypt, forty years in the desert with Jethro his father-in-law and Zipporah his wife, and forty years in the desert with the Israelites after leading them out of slavery in Egypt. Some interpreters feel that "forty years" is a figure of speech that refers to a period of time and is not exactly forty full years. An example of its use as a figure of speech is seen in the story of Elijah's pilgrimage to Mount Horeb. Elijah lay and slept under a juniper tree. An angel touched him and spoke to him and said, "Rise and eat; because the journey is too great for you." And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went on the strength of that food forty days and forty nights unto Horeb, the mountain of God." (1 Kings 19:7-8). If we read this literally, we could take it to mean that Elijah walked without stopping all day and all night for forty days. Also, Mount Horeb is not a forty day journey from Canaan. The Scripture declares it is an eleven day journey from Kadesh Barnea (Deuteronomy 1:2). (This is perhaps an indication that by the time this story was written down the location of Mount Horeb was forgotten. It is also interesting that Elijah chose to inquire of Yahweh at Horeb and not at the Temple of Jerusalem.) There are also indications in the text that "forty years" represents eras or epochs, within the life of Moses and not a full four decades. The first indication is that when he leaves to return to Moses, his son Gershem, is still a small child. When Moses arrived in the land of Midean, he met Zipporah and her father Jethro. Soon afterwards he took Zipporah to wife. A straightforward reading of the text implies that soon afterward she bore him his son. (Or rather "sons," Gershem was born and then Eliazar.) According to the text he took his sons with him when he went back to Egypt and they both rode upon a donkey (Exodus 4:20). In route to Egypt, Zipporah circumcised Gershem (Exodus 4:25). If a literal forty years were meant, then Zipporah would have been about sixty years old. There are many stories of barren women and older women having children in the Bible but there are no such stories concerning Zipporah. During the Exodus, it seems that Gershem is a small child, perhaps less than ten years old. It is possible that Moses spent five or seven years (perhaps 10) in Midian before returning to Egypt to confront the new Pharaoh.
Moses asks Hobab, his brother-in-law, the accompany Israel and serve them as a guide in the desert. Surely, if Moses spent forty full years in the desert, he would have known the wilderness as well as Hobab and wouldn't require his assistance (Numbers 10:39-36).
Who was the Pharaoh of the Exodus?
How to identify the Pharaoh of the Exodus:
- The Bible is clear that the Israelites dwelt at Goshen in the Nile Delta. We should look for a period in which the capital of Egypt was at the north and not hundreds of miles in the south at Thebes. The reigns of Ramesses II and Merenptah fit this description. Also, the Bible says that the Israelites built Pi-Ramesses. Pi-Ramesses was built by Ramesses II. (Other scholars try to argue that the city of Avaris is actually Pi-Ramesses. This is an attempt to date the Exodus to an earlier period that that of Ramesses II.)
- Egypt controlled Canaan. The Bible doesn't describe Israel as living under Egyptian occupation in Canaan. So, we should look for the Exodus and the Conquest of the Holy Land in a time period after the Egyptians had relinquished control of Canaan. Why would the Israelites flee from Egyptian controlled Goshen and go to Egyptian controlled Canaan? If the Israelites lived under Egyptian occupation, there isn't any historical memory of such an occupation preserved in the Bible. (Perhaps part of the reason Moses led the people to the trans-Jordan was because that region was not under Egyptian control.) Egypt began relinquishing control of Canaan after the rule of Merenptah.
- If we date the Exodus too early, we will run into an anachronism. In the early periods, the Egyptians did not have horses and chariots.
- The arrival of the Philistines is a historical time indicator. In the Bible, during the Conquest of the Holy Land, the Israelites fight various Canaanite tribes, but they do not fight Philistines. When Caleb spies out the Holy Land he mentions Canaanites, but not Philistines in the region he spied (Numbers 13). The Israelites must have came and settled in the Holy Land about the same time the Philistines did. The Philistines are mentioned in Egyptian records and Ramesses III did battle with them. It should also be noted that Joshua battled Canaanites and not Philistines.
- Some would add, erroneously, a number four: Which Pharaoh died in the Red Sea? Did Pharaoh drown at the Red Sea crossing? Does the Bible say he did? The reason that this is important is that, if so, people will use this as a criterion for identifying the Pharaoh of the Exodus. The text in question is Psalm 136:13-15 which reads, "To him which divided the Red Sea into parts: for his mercy endureth forever: and made Israel to pass through the midst of it: for his mercy endureth forever: but overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea." This passage could be interpreted as saying he did. The word that could be translated drowned here could also be translated as overthrew or "shook off" (as it is translated in Nehemiah 5:13). The Bible does not specifically say that the Pharaoh of the Exodus drown in the Red Sea although some people do interpret it that way. Thus, death by drowning is not a necessary criterion for indentifying the Pharaoh of the Exodus.
- The Bible seems to give an exact number of years from the time of the Exodus until the building of King Solomon's Temple. However, this is problematic. In Archeology of the Bible: Book by Book, the problems of the chronology is dealt with, "According to traditions stemming from a priestly source, the writer figured that there were twelve generations of priests from Aaron to Azariah of the House of Zadok, the first priest to officiate at the Temple, and that each generation was 40 years long. Thus he arrived at 480 years from the Exodus to the founding of the Temple." (The Septuagint says it was 440 years.) Friedman continues saying, "The artificial nature of this calculation militates against its use in reconstructing history. But, if we take 25-27 years for an average generate and count twelve generations (although this may also be an artificial figure) we arrive approximately at the beginning of the thirteenth century."
There is a great deal of controversy of who the Pharaoh of the Exodus was. Since the Bible doesn't name the Pharaoh of the Exodus many contenders have emerged. In this paper I am going to list the proposed Pharaoh's of the Exodus and list the arguments for and against each one. (There is not universal consensus among Egyptologists concerning the dates of most of the rulers of Egypt.) Most scholars believe that Ramesses the Great (Ramesses II) is the Pharaoh of the Exodus. Certain conservative scholars lean towards Amenhotep II.
Amenemhet IV (1815-1806) thought by some to be the Pharaoh who drowned in the waters of the Red Sea, he was the last king of his dynasty. He was succeeded by the female Pharaoh Sobeknefru.
Hyksos Period Oppression and Exodus Theory
Tutimaios (circa 1690) also known and Dudimose. Dudimose was the last king of Egypt's 13th Dynasty during the Middle Kingdom. This was followed by the Hyksos period. The story of Dudimose and his fall is told by the ancient Egyptian chronicler Manetho, who calls him Tutimaios. Precise dates of his reign are unknown but his reign probably ended around 1690 BC. Immanuel Velikovsky (1895-1970) and David Rohl identify him as the Pharaoh of the Exodus but this is rejected by most historians. (Velikovsky wrote Worlds in Collision in 1950 and Oedipus and Ankehaten in 1960. Velikovsky tried to use "comparative mythology" to reconstruct ancient history. I believe we should be very cautious regarding any attempt to use mythology as a source from writing history.) Currently, Egyptologists do not believe that Tutimaios was an actual historical Pharaoh but rather a mythological figure created by the ancient Egyptian historian Manetho. (Velikovsky and Simcha Jacobovici attempt to use volcanic and cataclysmic events to explain the Exodus.) I believe that the "smoke and fire" appearance of Mount Sinai was understood as a supernatural appearance (a theophany) and was not volcanic in nature. While God may have used certain natural phenomenon as plagues on Egypt and to provide for the Israelites in the wilderness, I do not believe that we should look for a natural explanation for the apparitions at Mount Sinai. Velikovsky's theories are sensationalistic and controversial. (Supposedly, Thrasyllus of Mendes, an ancient astrologer, dated the Exodus to 1690 B.C. He died 36 A.D.) David Rohl has Amenemhet III as Joseph's Pharaoh. Rohl has developed his own ancient Egyptian Chronology that he calls the "New Chronology." (He identifies the Bible's Shishak as Ramesses II and has Ramesses the Great as a contemporary of King Solomon. In Rohl's scenario Neferhotep I is the adoptive grandfather of Moses. He has Moses flee from Khanefere Sobekhotep IV. And dates the Exodus to 1447 under the reign of Pharaoh Tutimaios. Rohl states that Sobekhotep III enslaved the Israelites in 1568. Moses flees Egypt around 1530-1508. Rohl has the Pharaoh of the Exodus followed by Sheshi. Rohl has the Hyksos ruling Egypt from 1298-1183. Rohl dates the rule of Akhenaten to 1022-1007 (the standard chronology is 1352-1336), Ramesses II to 943-877, and Merenptah from 888-875. Rohl dates the Hyksos period to the time after the Exodus and cites Psalm 78:49-50 as support. The Hebrew states that God sent destroying angels against the Egyptians. Rohl translated destroying angels "malakhei-roim" as "Shepherd Kings." (But Egyptologists no longer believe "Shepherd Kings" is an accurate translation of "Hyksos.") Both Velikovsky's and Rohl's ideas are considered sensationalistic and outside of the mainstream.
Hyksos King (1648-1540) It is possible that the Pharaoh was promoted Joseph and gave sanctuary to his people was a Hyksos king. The Hyksos were "Asiastics" or a Semitic people who took over Egypt and ruled over the Egyptian people. It seems unlikely to me that Semites would enslave their brother Semites. John J. Davis in Moses and the Gods of Egypt argues, "that the oppression of Israel began during the period of the Hyksos and continued into the reign of Thutmose III, who was perhaps Israel's most severe taskmaster." Davis identifies Amenhotep II as the Pharaoh of the Exodus.
Kamose (1573-1570) is depicted at the Pharaoh of the Exodus in Peter Danielson's novel entitled The Exodus.
Ahmose I (1550-1525) The expulsion of the "Shepherd Kings" from Egypt is, for now the only historically document large scale migration of Semitic peoples from Egypt.(Setnakte may have also expulsed groups of Semites from the Nile Delta.) Josephus dated the Exodus to the time of the expulsion of the Hyksos from Egypt. (Egyptologists state that "Hyksos" in Egyptian means "Rulers of Foreign Lands" and not "Shepherd Kings.") Simcha Jacobovici and Ian Wilson also date the Exodus to this period. However, the Hyksos were ruler and not slaves. Therefore, the expulsion of the Hyksos rulers does not match the biblical description of the oppression and exodus of the Israelites.
The Amenhotep II Theory
Thutmose I is believed to be the Pharaoh during whose reign Moses was born. Some argue that Queen Hatshepsut is the daughter of Pharaoh who saved baby Moses from the Nile. After Thutmose I died, there the male heir was not of age and Queen Hatshepsut seized the throne.
Thutmose III (1479-1425) Queen Hatshepsut ruled until this young king came of age. When he did she continued to rule and they had a co-regency. (After she died Thutmose III had her name on monuments and her images defaced.) Certain Bible students believe this Pharaoh is the "Pharaoh of the Oppression" from whom Moses fled to Midian after murdering the Egyptian taskmaster.
Amenhotep II (1427-1401) According to this theory Thuthmose III was the Pharaoh of the oppression. Hatshepsut was the daughter of Thutmose I and probably the "daughter of Pharaoh" who reared Moses. After Hatshepset died Moses was expelled by Tuthmose II probably around 1485 B.C. Tuthmoses III's son, Amenhotep II ruled from 1453-1419 and was the Pharaoh of the Exodus (1450-1424 BC?). (Davis suggests that the "Dream Stela" of Thutmose IV, the son and successor of Amenhotep II, provides support for the argument of Amenhotep being the Pharaoh of the Exodus. Thutmoses IV was not the first born son. To legitimize his claim to the throne, Thutmose claimed that as he slept by the Sphinx it spoke to him in a dream as the god Har-em-akht. The Sphinx promised him if he unburied him then he would come to rule over Egypt.
The Akhenaten Theory
Amenhotep III (1353-1336) also known as Ankhnaten. Sigmund Freud believed that Akhnaten was Moses. Ankenaten is important for two reasons. First, he was monotheistic (or "Henotheistic") and secondly, in his royal archives several letters from Canaan are found that describe the land being invaded by a people called the Hapiru. This has led some people to believe that the "Amarna Letters" describe the Conquest of the Promised Land by Joshua.
In 1937 Freud wrote "Moses and Monotheism." In it he argued that Moses was an Egyptian nobleman who adhered to the monotheism of Ankhenaten, or was perhaps Ankenaten himself. He believed that Moses was murdered in the wilderness by the Israelites and was replaced by another man, who took the name Moses. The second Moses was a Midianite. The Midianite Moses combined the religion of Akenaten with the monotheistic religion of a tribe that worshiped Yahweh, a volcanic god. According to Freud, the Israelites inherited a collective guilt over the murder of Moses. This "collective guilt" led to the idea of the coming of the Messiah.
In the 1960s and 1970s, several scholars such as George Mendenhall associated the Israelites arrival into Canaan more closely with the Hapiru mentioned in the Amarna letters which date to the reign of Ankhnaten. Most scholars today, however, view the Hapiru instead as bandits who attacked the trade and royal caravans that traveled along the coastal roads of Canaan. (An interesting question is whether Akhenaten's monotheism influenced Moses or vice-versa, depending on how you date the Exodus.)
Horemhub (1319-1292) In the Akhenaten theory Horemhub is the Pharaoh of the Exodus.
Nineteenth Dynasty Theory: Ramesses the Great or Merneptah
Ramesses I (1292-1290) Some believe that Ramesses the first was the Pharaoh of the Exodus. He might have been the original founder of the city of Pi-Ramesses.
He is believed by many to have been the Pharaoh of the Oppression. He had a summer palace built at Pi-Ramesses.
Ramesses II (1279-1213) Most historians (that accept that the Exodus was a historical event) identify Ramesses the Great (Ramesses II) as the Pharaoh of the Exodus.
Merenptah (1213-1203) Merenptah is depicted as the Pharaoh of the Exodus in Ben Kingsley's Moses and Burt Lancaster's Moses the Lawgiver.
The "Moses is Amenmesse" Theory
Amenmesse (1203-1199) Rolf Krauss in The Moses Mystery offered an interesting, compelling and provocative (but most likely incorrect) theory that Amenmesse was Moses! In this scenario Amenmesse is Moses, Seti II is the Pharaoh of the Oppression, and Setnakhte was the Pharaoh of the Exodus. (Apparently, Amenmesse did go by the name "Moses.")
Setnakte (1190-1186) In the "Moses is Amenmesse" theory, Setnakte is the Pharaoh of the Exodus.
How many Israelites left Egypt?
In recent times we have seen large scale migrations and displacements of peoples. This includes the population displacements between India and Pakistan, an expulsion of Kurds after the first Gulf War, the flight of Albanians from Kosovo before the Kosovo war and displacement of African tribes during the massacres in Rwanda. Centuries from now, would an archeologist be able to excavate and find evidence that these large scale migrations have occurred? Probably not. So we see that an absence of evidence is not an evidence of absence. Skeptics counter that much smaller groups than the proposed two million that left Egypt at the Exodus have left archeological evidence in the Sinai. I witnessed a migration of over two million when the incompetent mayor of Houston sparked a panic when hurricane Rita was in the Gulf of Mexico. It was a humanitarian disaster. There was over eighty miles of gridlock. People were defecating in the medians. Vehicles were bursting in flames and burning their occupants alive. Several people died. It took over eight hours for a vehicle to drive thirty miles. Everything behind this mass was consumed. After the city was emptied it looked as though it had been a war zone. Since I have seen for myself what an Exodus of over two million people looks like, I have doubts that the numbers of the Israelites in the Exodus was that large. I have also been in a full scale reproduction of the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle was 45 feet long, fifteen feet wide and fifteen feet high (Exodus 26:15-20). The courtyard was 150 feet long, seventy feet wide and seven and a half feet high (Exodus 27:18). It is too small to accommodate the religious needs of two million people. Such a mass of people would need over twenty tabernacles to be able to participate in worship. How could only two midwives deliver babies for a population of two million (Exodus 1:15)? Each midwife would be responsible for one million people each. Also, why would Pharaoh have brought 200 chariots against 2 million people (Exodus 14:7)? It seems like an exercise in futility. (Then again, so is his fighting God.) So, what do we do with the census that seems to indicate that there were about two million Israelites that participated in the Exodus? Some will view the census as a deliberate "pious fraud" on the part of the scribes who wrote the Bible. Others have proposed that it is perhaps the census that David had conducted and it was mislabeled and misplaced into the story of the Exodus. Another possibility that has been proposed is that we have been mistranslating the numbers and over-counting the Israelites. The Exodus was more likely tens of thousands rather than millions.
Eric H. Cline in From Eden to Exile: Unraveling Mysteries of the Bible examined the issues saying, "Maxell Miller and John Hayes…have pointed out that if "six hundred thousand fighting men" left Egypt, then altogether there would have been about 2.5 million people who left Egypt at that time, since most of the "fighting men" would have had wives, and most of the couples would have had several children. Add in the assorted others the Bible says were also present, and we have easily 2.5 million people taking part in the Exodus. As Miller and Hayes note, if this were the case, the Israelites would have formed a line 150 miles long, marching ten across, and would have taken "eight or nine days to march by any fixed point." A line of escaped slaves 150 miles long certainly makes the crossing of the Red Sea very problematic, for Moses would have had to keep the water parted for nearly nine days for all his people to cross safely. ..The more likely suggestion is that we should not take the number at face value, and indeed most archeologists, historians and biblical scholars do not. In fact, scholars estimate the total population of ancient Egypt was 1.5 million people. If these numbers are correct it would mean that Pharaoh was correct when he said that Israel was "More and mightier than we" (Exodus 1:9). If there were 2.5 million Israelites, Israel would have been the largest nation in the ancient world. But Moses says that the Canaanites were "greater and mightier" than the Israelites and that god did not chose the Israelites because they were more in number for, according to Moses, they were the "least of all peoples" (Deuteronomy 7:1, 7). It is frequently suggested that perhaps there are simply a few too many zeroes in the account. It would make a great deal more sense if, rather than having six hundred thousand Hebrews of fighting age leave Egypt, there were only 60,000 or 6,000, or perhaps 600. It may also be that the Hebrew words usually translated as "thousand" could mean "family" or "clan," in which case we would be talking about 600 families or clans, which would be even more logical." The issue of the numbers is also dealt with in Archeology of the Bible, "There is also skepticism about the total number of 600,000 men of military age given in the biblical tradition (Num. 1:46, 26:51). The consensus is that it must have been a much smaller group that eluded the Egyptian army and crossed the wilderness. There have been several attempts at explaining the large figures given in Numbers. According to G.E. Mendenhall, following a suggestion by Flinders Petrie, the Hebrew word 'eleph (1,000) refers to the village or other population unit that provides troops from among its able-bodied men, and is not the number here. He arrives at a total figure of about 6,000 men as the maximum martial strength of the Israelite army during the period of the Judges. Albright believed that the figure represented the total population of the United Kingdom in the time of David and his ill-fated census. There are other possibilities, but Mendelhall appears to be on the right track in recognized the census roll as a military list. Hence, Numbers 1 refers to 600 small units."
Which Ten Commandments?
We have three versions of the Ten Commandments in the Bible (Exodus 20, Exodus 34 and Deuteronomy 5). Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 are very similar and are the Ten Commandments most people are familiar with. Exodus 34 is substantially different and contains a focus on religious ceremony and not morality. The traditional explanation is that Moses broke the first set of commandments he was given which was a moral law code. The second set of commandments were ceremonial in nature. Another important early witness to the Ten Commandments is found in Hosea 4:1-3, "Hear the word of the LORD, O people of Israel; for the LORD has a legal case against the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or loyalty and no obedience to God in the land. False swearing, and murder and stealing and adultery break out; bloodshed follow bloodshed. Therefore the land mourns, and all who live in it languish." This prophecy alluding to the Ten Commandments dates back to the eighth century.
Parallels between Egyptian and Israelite Religion
Like the Israelites, the Egyptians had "kosher" rules regarding ritual purity and distinguishing what is ceremonially clean verses what is ceremonially unclean. Although there are some exceptions, it appears that the Egyptians, like the Israelites, regarded pork as unclean. Like the Israelites, the Egyptian priests underwent ritual libations. Like the High Priest Aaron, Egyptian priests wore jewel embedded pectorals. The Egyptian gods dwelt in "thick darkness" as Yahweh is also described as dwelling within (Exodus 20:21). Egyptians also went ceremonially barefoot at holy places. And like the Israelites, the Egyptians circumcised, as the Bible itself concedes (Jeremiah 9:24-25). (Certain mummies have been found to have been circumcised. Also, we have Egyptian artwork showing circumcision being performed on boys approaching puberty.) The ancient Egyptians had a ten day week, with eight days of labor and two days of rest. It was not uncommon for workers to petition for days of to observe religious festivals and such requests were usually granted. According to Ancient Egypt: An Illustrated Guide to the Myths, Religions, Pyramids and Temples of the Land of the Pharaohs, "Attendance records have survived from the New Kingdom tomb-builder's village of Deir el-Medina in Western Thebes. They tell us that it was not unheard of for me to take days off work specifically to brew beer for a particular occasion, which was usually religious in nature. As ostracon, or inscribed potsherd from Deir el-Medina, now in the Cairo museum, describes the celebration of the deified king AmenhopteI, who was the patron deity of the tomb builders, "The crew [necropolis workers] were in jubilation before him [Amenhotop I] for the whole day of drinking with their children and their wives.""
What is going on with the Golden Calf?
Why did Aaron build a golden calf? Can ancient Egyptian religion give us insight? The ancient Egyptians had sacred bulls. These were the Apis and Mnervis bulls. (To the Egyptians, the Apis bull was an incarnation of Ptah and the Mnervis bull was an incarnation of Atum-Ra.) A specially selected bull calf was believed to be an incarnation of the sun god. Upon its death the Mnervis bull was mummified and a search was made for the next incarnation. Like the red heifer in Leviticus 19, the bull calf had to have a specific pattern of fur. Perhaps the correct understanding isn't through Egyptian culture but rather through the surrounded Semitic cultures. The god El is described as a bull. The bull is a symbol of virility and strength. At the Kuntillet Ajrud site graffito depicting Yahweh with bovine features and in a pose reminiscent of the Egyptian god Bes has been discovered. The most likely explanation is that the golden calf was a pedestal for Yahweh to stand upon and this way Yahweh stood astride and towered over all the territory of Israel. (Perhaps this is why the Israelite king built two, one for each foot of Yahweh, so he could stand over the entire kingdom of Israel with one foot upon Beth-el and the other at Dan (1 Kings 12:28-29).) Aaron sinned by building a molten god and by merging revelation with pagan beliefs.
The Site of the Red Sea Crossing, the Route of the Exodus and the Location of Mount Sinai
There have been many sensational theories about the site of the crossing of the Red Sea and the location of Mount Sinai. The basic problem of the "Mount Sinai is in Saudi Arabia" is that it has the Israelites traveling further in one week than other reconstructions of the Exodus route have them traveling in forty years! The question that needs to be kept in mind is how far can a mass of people travel in a day? We do have near contemporary evidence in the record of Tuthmoses military expedition to Canaan. As Hoffmeier notes, "The only route in Sinai for which there is evidence that chariots ever traveled is the military highway also known as the Ways of Horus or the Via Maris, that is, the coastal route across northern Sinai that ran between Tjaru and Canaan. Thutmose III took this route, according to his annals, leading his army by chariot from Tjaru to Gaza in ten days. The distance between these points is 150 miles, meaning that this force traveled at a rate of fifteen miles per day and it should be noted that Thutmose traveled with a sense or urgency to deal with a rebellion at Megiddo…If Humphreys' [a proponent of the Sinai is in Saudi Arabia theory] projected pace for the Israelites at twenty-eight miles per day reflects reality, the Egyptian chariots going at the pace of fifteen miles per day would never have caught up to the escaping Hebrews!"
What can we know about Moses historically? Moses had a speech impediment, whether it was a stutter or non-eloquence (Exodus 4:10, 6:12 and 6:30). (Since this it mentioned several times, Moses' speech impediment meets the criterion of multiple attestations.( One of the criticism of St. Paul was that his speech was "contemptible" (2 Corinthians 10:10). Certain scholars take this to mean not that Paul wasn't eloquent but that he didn't give proper speeches according to the rules of Greek Rhetoric. The Egyptians did not develop rhetoric the way the Greeks did, however, they did value eloquence. One popular ancient Egyptian tale was "The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant," who was brought before Pharaoh to plead his case not because of its merits but because of his eloquence.) Israel became God's people in a special way in Egypt. Moses took Israel to Sinai as a religious pilgrimage (Exodus 5:1). ). The crossing of the Red Sea, literally Yom Suf, the Sea of Reeds, occurred at a lake north of the Suez Gulf. Not at the Mediterranean since the Bible clearly states that the Israelites avoided a northerly route (Exodus 13:17-18). It is possible that we have a translation error and tens or hundreds of thousands of Israelites left Egypt, not millions. The evidence points towards the traditional Exodus route and Jebel Serbal, near to Mount Sinai, being the actual Mount Sinai (or perhaps Jebel Catherine, the "traditional" Mount Sinai.) (Jebel Safsafah is another contender for the "real" Mount Sinai.") Using a criterion of embarrassment or dissimilarity, Moses had settled with the Kenites in Midian after his flight from Pharaoh when he murdered an Egyptian and he married a Kenite woman, Zipporah (whose name means "bird"). (Apparently, Bithia, Moses' adoptive mother, accompanied Moses in the Exodus and married Mered, the brother of Jethro, and bore him children (1 Chronicles 4:18).) At Sinai Moses met with the Kenites again and formed an alliance with them (Exodus 18). The Kenites accompanied the Israelites during the wilderness wanderings and participated in the conquest and settlement of the Holy Land (Numbers 10:29-32, Judges 1:16). Apparently, Moses erected two sacred tents of worship. One tent is called "the Tent of Meeting." It was erected outside the camp and anyone could enter into it to invoke Yahweh (Exodus 33:7). The Tabernacle that contained the Ark of the Covenant was erected at the center of the camp (Leviticus 2). Moses defeated King Sihon and King Og in the Trans-Jordan. For some reason, these battles are not viewed as major events in the popular imagination but they were significant victories and very important episodes in the life of Moses (Exodus 21:21-35). The Exodus most likely occurred during the reign of Ramesses. (The early date, while less likely, may be accurate.) I believe that the story of the Exodus is historically true. It is important that we defend the truth of the Scripture. However, this is not just an intellectual exercise. The Epistle to the Colossians describes the Law of Moses as a shadow of the things to come, the fullness of God revealed in Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:17). John states in his Gospel, the Law came through Moses, but Grace and Truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17). In the end, to Christians, Moses points towards Jesus Christ.
List of Significant Archeological Discoveries that shed light on the Exodus
The Soleb Inscription from the Temple of Amenhotep III (1390-1353). Describes the "Shasu land of Yahweh."
The Merenptah Stele the earliest mention of Israel yet discovered.
Hyksos king "Jacob-hur" Semitic kings of Egypt have Hebrew names such as Jacob.
Aper-el and Chancellor Bay
These are two Semites who served as Prime Minister of Egypt. Aper-el under Akhenaten and the Syrian Bay under Tawosret.
7 years of Famine Inscription dealing with the creator god Khnum, found in southern Egypt.
The Timna Tabernacle A Midianite tabernacle with a "Brass Serpent" within its holy place.
Papyrus Leiden 348-349 These papyri mention Hebrews working building the city of Pi-Ramesses.
Papyrus Anastasi 4 an officer filed a complaint stating, "I am staying at Kenkenento, unequipped, and they are neither men to make bricks nor straw in the neighborhood." These materials, along with the Deir el-Medineh materials and the Louvre Roll, date to the Ramesside era and have been studied by Kenneth Kitchen.
Papyrus Anastasi 5 contins a letter reporting on the movements of runaway slaves that corresponds to the route taken by the Hebrews in Exodus 13:37 and Numbers 33:5.
Papyrus Anastasi Vi, 55-56 refers to the Shasu (Bedouin) of Edom who were permitted to water their herds in the waters of Pithom.
The tomb of Intef at Thebes identifies workers in a winepress scene as Hapiru, or Hebrews.
Ipuwer Papyrus (Papyrus Leiden I 344 recto) entitled "Admonitions of Ipuwer" or "The Dialouge of Ipuwer and the Lord of All." Dated to the late 13th Century BC but a copy of an earlier Middle Kingdom document. Its date is disputed. It describes a world in chaos and natural disasters and says "the river has become blood."
The Shiprah document The name "Shiprah," the name of one of the Hebrew midwives, is found listed on a list of slaves from the reign of Sobekhotep III in Papyrus Brooklyn 35.1446
The Sargon Inscription King Sargon claims that as a baby he was set adrift in the river by his mother and was found by a farmer and raised as his son.
Midianite pottery Midianite pottery has been discovered. Perhaps to many people a "boring" discovery but it is nevertheless important.
The Silver Calf found in Ashkelon.
The Tale of Sinuhe This is the story of an Egyptian nobleman who overhears a conspiracy and in fear flees to the desert where he takes up with a Bedouin sheik.
The Hymn to Aten. Some scholars believe it is found in our Bibles at Psalm 104!
Amarna Letters letters of Canaanite potentates to Pharaoh Ankenaten complaining of the attacks of the Hapiru.
Hammurabi's Lawcode A stone tablet containing a lawcode very similar to the law of Moses. There are also other similar lawcodes such as that of Ur-Nammu, Eshnunna and Lipit-Ishtar.
The Negative Confession of the Book of the Dead. (The "Book of the Dead" was called "The Book of the Going Forth By Day" in ancient Egyptian. It is a collection of spells to enable to soul to endure its passage into the Netherworld.) In the Negative Confession the soul claims her innocent before a divine tribunal saying, "I have done no evil…I have not killed, I have not stolen, ect."
The Tale of Prince Biafra and the Setne Khaemwaset Cycle Egyptian magicians part waters in a manner similar to Moses at the crossing of the Red Sea in these stories.
Relief of Royal Tent of Ramesses II from Abu Simbel Temple. It shows a reception tent. The layout is very similar to the Tabernacle.
Megiddo Ivory. This relic shows a Canaanite dignitary seated upon a Cherubim throne. The design is probably similar to the Ark of the Covenant
James K. Hoffmeir Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition
James K. Hoffmeier Ancient Israel in Sinai: Evidence for the Authenticity of the Wilderness Tradition
Richard H. Wilkinson The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt (Thames and Hudson, London, 2003)
Geraldine Pinch Magic in Ancient Egypt (University of Texas Press, Austin 2006)
Darrell D. Baker The Encyclopedia of the Egyptian Pharaoh's Volume I: Pre-Dynastic Through Twentieth Dynasty (3300-1069 BC) (Bannerstone Press, Oakville, CT 2008)
Aidan Dodson and Dyan Hilton The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt (Thames and Hudson 2010)
Eric A. Claayton Chronicles of the Pharaohs: The Reign-by-Reign Record of the Rulers and Dynasties of Ancient Egypt (Thames and Hudson 1994)
Jonathan Kirsch Moses: A Life (Ballentine Books, Wiona Lake IN.)
Louis Ginzberg Legends of the Bible (Konecky and Konecky, Old Saybrook, CT 1956)
Richard Elliot Friedman The Bible with Sources Revealed (Harper Collins, San Francisco, 2003), The Hidden Book in the Bible: The Mystery of the First Prose Masterpiece (Harper San Francisco, 1999), Who wrote the Bible? (Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1987)
David M. Rohl Pharaohs and Kings: A Biblical Quest (Crown Publishers, Inc. New York, 1995)
Richard A. Gabriel "Moses: The Israelites first Great General" Military Chronicles: The Magazine of Warfare and History, Volume 1 No. 3 December 2010
Moses at the Movies
"The Ten Commandments" (2 Versions) by Cecil B. DeMille. This is the classic version. Charlton Heston set a bad precedent by asking that he be the "Voice of God." DeMille wisely altered the voice so you can't really tell it is Heston. Most movies follow this example. This however is the problem. Rather than a revelation, it makes it seem like something Moses is making up. He is talking to himself. In this version Rameses II is the Pharaoh of the Exodus.
"Moses" with Burt Lancaster. In this version Ramesses II is the Pharaoh of the Oppression and Merenptah is the Pharaoh of the Exodus. This film seems to try to show naturalistic explanations of the miracles.
"Moses" with Ben Kingsley. In this version Ramesses II is the Pharaoh of the Oppression and Merenptah is the Pharaoh of the Exodus. This version is probably the most biblically accurate version (but I don't think it is as accurate as it could have been).
"The Prince of Egypt" animated with Val Kilmer as the voice of Moses. In this version we start to see the Egyptians as the victims.
"Testament: The Bible in Animation: Moses" In this version Ramesses II is the Pharaoh of the Oppression and Merenptah is the Pharaoh of the Exodus.
"The Ten Commandments" with Christian Slater and Ben Kingsley. An animated version. I feel that this version is true to the Bible. It shows the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night leading the Israelites through the wilderness.
"The Ten Commandments" with Omar Sharif. This movie presents Moses as demonic. He is an anti-Christ figure and really the villain of the program. (In fact, this movie reminded me of the film "The Omen.") After seeing all the horrible things Moses does-at the end of the movie you do wish that the Egyptians had killed him as an infant!
The Nomadic Ideal
Through Hosea the Prophet, Yahweh spoke saying, "I have been Yahweh your God since the land of Egypt. I shall make you dwell in tents again" (Hosea 12:9). Hosea had spoken this word from the Lord to Israel, "Therefore, behold, I will allure her, I will bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfort to her…She shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, as in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt…in that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, with the birds of the air, and with all the living things of the earth. Bow and the sword I will shatter from the earth, to make them lie down safely. I will betroth you to Me forever, yes, I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you shall know the LORD" (Hosea 2:14-20). The word of Yahweh came to Jeremiah speaking to Israel and saying, "I remember you, the kindness of your youth, the love of your betrothal, when you went after me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. Israel was holiness to the Lord (Jeremiah 2:2-3)." Hosea, like Amos before him, describes Israel's journey through the wilderness as a time of spiritual idyll. Israel was then innocent and childlike, knowing nothing of the pagan gods and loyal to Yahweh whose presence was seen during the time of Moses in the pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21-22). In Hosea 2:16, Yahweh says to his bride, "I am going to lure her and lead her out into the wilderness and speak to her heart…I will betroth you to myself forever, betroth you with integrity and justice with tenderness and love. I will betroth you to myself with faithfulness and you will come to know Yahweh." Jeremiah speaks of the wilderness saying, "I remember the devotion of your youth, how you loved me as a bride, following me in the desert, in a land unsown" (Jeremiahs 2:2-3). The tent represented to some Israelites, the proper sanctuary of Yahweh. (The god El dwelt in a tent.) The Rechabite sect, a very devout sect of Kenite Yahweh worshipers, lived in tents as a sign of their devotion to Yahweh (Jeremiah 35). Apparently, Moses erected two sacred tents of worship. One tent is called "the Tent of Meeting." It was erected outside the camp and anyone could enter into it to invoke Yahweh (Exodus 33:7). The Tabernacle that contained the Ark of the Covenant was erected at the center of the camp (Leviticus 2).
The Ten "Ceremonial" Commandments of Exodus 34
And Yeho said unto Moses, "Hew for yourself two tables of stone and be prepared at morning, and thou hast come up in the morning unto mount Sinai, and hast stood before Me there, on the top of the mount, and no man cometh up with thee, and also no man is seen in all the mount, also the flock and the herd do not feed over-against that mount." And he heweth two tables of stone, and Moses riseth early in the morning, and goeth up unto mount Sinai, as Jehovah commanded him, and he taketh in his hand two tables of stone.
And Yeho cometh down in a cloud, and stationeth Himself with him there, and calleth in the Name of Yeho, and Yeho passeth over before his face, and calleth: `Yeho, Yeho God, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in kindness and truth, keeping kindness for thousands, taking away iniquity, and transgression, and sin, and not entirely acquitting, charging iniquity of fathers on children, and on children's children, on a third generation, and on a fourth." And Moses hasteth, and boweth to the earth, and doth obeisance, and saith, `If, I pray Thee, I have found grace in Thine eyes, O my Lord, let my Lord, I pray Thee, go in our midst (for it [is] a stiff-necked people), and thou hast forgiven our iniquity and our sin, and hast inherited us.' And He saith, `Lo, I am making a covenant: before all thy people I do wonders, which have not been done in all the earth, or in any nation, and all the people in whose midst thou [art] have seen the work of Jehovah, for it [is] fearful that which I am doing with thee. Observe for thyself that which I am commanding thee to-day: lo, I am casting out from before thee the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite; take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitant of the land into which thou art going, lest it become a snare in thy midst; for their altars ye break down, and their standing pillars ye shiver, and its shrines ye cut down;
For ye do not bow yourselves to another god -- for Yeho, whose name is Zealous, is a zealous God. `Lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitant of the land, and they have gone a-whoring after their gods, and have sacrificed to their gods, and [one] hath called to thee, and thou hast eaten of his sacrifice, and thou hast taken of their daughters to thy sons, and their daughters have gone a-whoring after their gods, and have caused thy sons to go a-whoring after their gods;
a molten god thou dost not make to thyself. `
The feast of unleavened things thou dost keep; seven days thou dost eat unleavened things, as I have commanded thee, at an appointed time, the month of Abib: for in the month of Abib thou didst come out from Egypt.
All opening a womb [are] Mine, and every firstling of thy cattle born a male, ox or sheep; and the firstling of an ass thou dost ransom with a lamb; and if thou dost not ransom, then thou hast beheaded it; every first-born of thy sons thou dost ransom, and they do not appear before Me empty.
Six days thou dost work, and on the seventh day thou dost rest; in ploughing-time and in harvest thou dost rest.
And a feast of weeks thou dost observe for thyself; first-fruits of wheat-harvest; and the feast of in-gathering, at the revolution of the year. Three times in a year do all thy males appear before the Lord Jehovah, God of Israel; for I dispossess nations from before thee, and have enlarged thy border, and no man doth desire thy land in thy going up to appear before Jehovah thy God three times in a year.
Thou dost not slaughter with a fermented thing the blood of My sacrifice;
and the sacrifice of the feast of the passover doth not remain till morning:
the first of the first-fruits of the land thou dost bring into the house of Jehovah thy God;
thou dost not boil a kid in its mother's milk.'
And Jehovah saith unto Moses, `Write for thyself these words, for, according to the tenor of these words I have made with thee a covenant, and with Israel.'
And he is there with Jehovah forty days and forty nights; bread he hath not eaten, and water he hath not drunk; and he writeth on the tables the matters of the covenant -- the ten matters. And it cometh to pass, when Moses is coming down from mount Sinai (and the two tables of the testimony [are] in the hand of Moses in his coming down from the mount), that Moses hath not known that the skin of his face hath shone in His speaking with him, and Aaron seeth -- all the sons of Israel also -- Moses, and lo, the skin of his face hath shone, and they are afraid of coming nigh unto him. And Moses calleth unto them, and Aaron and all the princes in the company return unto him, and Moses speaketh unto them; and afterwards have all the sons of Israel come nigh, and he chargeth them with all that Jehovah hath spoken with him in mount Sinai. And Moses finisheth speaking with them, and putteth on his face a vail; and in the going in of Moses before Jehovah to speak with Him, he turneth aside the vail until his coming out; and he hath come out and hath spoken unto the sons of Israel that which he is commanded; and the sons of Israel have seen the face of Moses that the skin of the face of Moses hath shone, and Moses hath put back the eail on his face until his going in to speak with Him. (Exodus 34:1-35)
Modern Myths about Ancient Egypt
Our knowledge of Egypt has tremendously increased since Hieroglyphics were deciphered and important archeological discoveries were made and it continues to increase as additional discoveries are continuously made. Despite this fact, the public has many incorrect ideas about ancient Egypt. There are several reasons for this. Some misinformation comes from sensational claims made by books marketing bizarre ideas and also by practitioners of the New Age movement and "Neo-pagans." Most of the disinformation comes from Hollywood. Unfortunately, people really do form their view of ancient Egypt from watching movies. I think this issue needs to be taken very seriously because we should be on a quest for truth and reality. Fantasies from Hollywood set us backwards on this quest. These movies are harmful. They create and reinforce misrepresentations about Ancient Egypt. The worst culprits are the "Stargate" movie and the movies "The Mummy" and "The Mummy Returns." I initially enjoyed Stargate as a good science fiction movie. But upon reflecting upon the movie it is obvious that it is a hateful attack on organized religion. Some of the very notions of this movie are incorrect. The director seems to be implying that religions try to restrict reading and education. In reality, Ancient Egyptian religions (as well as Judaism, Christianity and Islam) are religious that are based on sacred writings. (In the movie to control the people, writing is forbidden. In reality, in ancient Egypt writing was a form of control over the masses. The ability to read and write gave the scribes enormous power. Bill Manley discusses this in "The Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Egypt." He says, "Power, land and wealth were increasingly concentrated in the lands of an elite group of men and their families, probably numbering less than two thousand in a population estimated at around 1.5 million…The common factor which set these men apart from the mass of society was their ability to read and write, and so control the function of the administration. The skill was inherited as a right, taught at court and reserved exclusively for those in power.") Stargate is an attack on religion in a similar way with the "Golden Compass" and the re-make of "Clash of the Titans." One of the most dangerous ideas purveyed by Stargate is that aliens from outer space built the Great Pyramids of Egypt. Egypt was not the first civilization. Civilizations emerged in ancient Iraq hundreds of years earlier than Egypt. (The idea that ancient Egypt was the earliest human civilization is also a false perception about ancient Egypt among the general public.) Ancient Egyptian civilization emerged around the year 3100 B.C. We know that Khufu (or "Cheops") built the great pyramid. Also, it took the ancient Egyptians several failed attempts before they perfected the art of pyramid building.
The problem with the "Mummy" movies is that it incorrectly represents ancient Egyptian religion. Take for instance the Scarab. In ancient Egyptian Religion the Scarab, or dung bettle, was a symbol of resurrection and continual life. In the Mummy movies the Scarabs are flesh eating monstrosities. So, in the film, the Scarab is a horrific image of a gastly death-while to the ancient Egyptians it was a symbol for the hope of a new life. In the "Mummy Returns" Anubis is depicted as a good of evil and of death. To the Egyptians Anubis was not viewed as an evil god. He presided over the mummification process and stood in judgment with the god Osiris as they judged the souls of the departed. In the "Mummy Returns" Anubis appears with the character of the Egyptian god "Seth," as a god of death, evil and destruction. This does not accurately reflect what the ancient Egyptians believed about their gods. Both Stargate and "The Mummy" movies distort what the ancient Egyptians actually believed. . Also, the Egyptians were not black. Just because Egypt is in the continent of Africa, it doesn't mean that the Egyptians were black. Today's Egyptians, especially Coptic Christians, are the direct descendents of the ancient Egyptians. They may have dark complexions but they are not black. (I have seen very light skinned Egyptians. Egyptians with red hair and blond hair who were full blooded Egyptians. That may be rare in Egypt-but these people are full blooded Egyptians.)
Another inaccuracy in how Egypt is presented in movies, in Stargate, The Mummy and even movies such as Charlton Heston's "The Ten Commandments." Usually, Egyptian Temples are portrayed as plain stone buildings. Actually, the Temples were painted with vibrant and dazzling colors.
Additional Educational Resources (DVDs)
Ancient Egyptians narrated by Jeremy Sisto. This movie recreates four historical events reconstructed from ancient Egyptians records including, the Battle of Megiddo, a trial of tomb raiders, the Cult of the Apis bull and an episode regarding the priests of Amen.
Building the Great Pyramid BBC Video
Pyramid with David Macaulay
The Exodus De-coded by Simcha Jacobovici. I do not agree with him but this documentary is interesting regarding the plagues and the crossing of the Red Sea.
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