When you think of the Exodus do you think of a cute children’s story to be told around religious holidays?

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Have you ever investigated whether the account of the Exodus given in the first few books of the Bible is a highly reliable record of human history?

A friend of mine recently gave me a book entitled “Reading the Bible: A Study Guide,” by Timothy R Carmody.

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It’s been a very informative read so far.  However, I hesitated to continue when I came across the following:

“In about 1200 B.C.E. several tribes and groups of Semitic peoples formed a confederacy in the highland areas of Palestine and thus formed the Hebrew people who will be the nation of Israel.  There are many possible reconstructions of who they were and where they came from.  It is widely agreed that the biblical account of the premonarchical history is artificially unified, oversimplified and exaggerated.  …Most likely the tribes of Israel were groups or nomads from the desert who decided to settle in the highlands of Canaan, groups from the Philistine city states who wanted to start their own lives outside of that strict class system, and groups of ex-slaves from Egypt and other lands who settled down between the great highways from Egypt to Mesoptamia.” 1

What concerns me about this statement is the extent to which the events that took place during the Exodus are central to Israelite worship (e.g., the Passover, the Feast of Weeks i.e. Shavout) and Christian Salvation History (e.g., the Eucharist, Pentecost).

Believing that a loose confederacy of tribes were unified by a story about a departure from Egypt, with little reason to believe that the story is accurate or true, undermines a providential understanding of God’s intervention in human history.

For one, the Passover lamb has sacrificial elements that correspond to the body and blood of Christ.  The blood placed on the door of the Israelite home caused the angel of death to pass over and spare the first born child; it is the blood of Christ delivers those who believe in Jesus from sin and the death it causes.  In a similar way, the blood of the sacrified animal sprinkled in the Holy of Holies gave atonement for the sins of Israel.

The first aspect of this story, the blood on the doorpost, could have represented a symbolic escape from the indoctrination that occurs from parent to child and leaves the child predisposed to sin – he or she cannot escape from idolatry and paganism, except by the grace of God, grace that was given to the people of Israel.

Those who believe that Jesus is the Messiah have been instructed to reenact the Passover that corresponded with the Last Supper –we follow his instructions to eat His body (just as the people of Israel were instructed to eat the whole lamb of the Passover) and drink His blood.

If the Passover is only a story of deliverance from Egypt, made up to unify a confederacy of tribes, the foundation of Salvation History is weakened.

The Last Supper, and the Passover, were historic events, as real as the holocaust and the wanderings of the Israelites in the desert, as real as the Shekinah glory that surrounded the Ark of the Covenant and the bread from heaven that fed the Israelites and as real as the receiving of the 10 commandments and the laws given to Moses to guide covenant life, especially towards the proper worship of God who is rightly owed our worship, in spirit and in truth.

In this article I bolster the claim that Hyskos and the Hebrews are one in the same, providing archaeological evidence in support of this theory and an explanation that connects associated events.

“The Hyksos rulers of the fifteenth dynasty of Egypt were of non-Egyptian origin. Most archaeologists describe the Hyksos as a mix of Asiatic peoples, suggested by recorded names such as Khyan and Sakir-Har that resemble Asiatic names, and pottery finds that resemble pottery found in archaeological excavations in the area of modern Israel. The name Hyksos was used by the Egyptian historian Manetho (ca. 300 BCE), who, according to the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (1st century CE), translated the word as “king-shepherds” or “captive shepherds.” Josephus himself identified the Hyksos with the Hebrews of the Bible.“ 2

The theory that the expulsion of the Hyskos and the Exodus is the same event is not new a theory.3

The entrance of the Hyskos into Egypt corresponded with the entrance of Joseph, favored son of Jacob, hated by his brothers who dumped him in a well and later sold him as a slave to travelers on their way to Egypt.  In spite of starting his sojourn in Egypt as a slave, Joseph became great, finding favor in the eyes of the Pharaoh and the Egyptians.  Joseph kept his relationship with God sacred; he saved many from famine through the interpretation of a dream, just as Daniel later found favor under Babylonian rule through the interpretation of a dream –he kept his relationship with God his first priority, just as we’re called to do today.

“Pharaoh acknowledged that Joseph’s proposal to store grain during the abundant period was very wise. Pharaoh then released him from prison and put him in charge over “all the land of Egypt” asVizier. The Pharaoh took off his signet ring and put it on Joseph’s hand, then clothed him in fine linen and put a gold necklace around his neck. He was then renamed Zaphnath-Paaneah [42] and was given Asenath, the daughter of Potipherah who was the priest of On,[43] to be his wife. At the age of 30, Joseph was the most powerful man in Egypt, next to Pharaoh. During the seven years of abundance, Joseph ensured that the storehouses were full and that all produce was weighed until there was so much that it became immeasurable. In the sixth year, Asenath bore two children to Joseph: Manasseh and Ephraim. When the famine came, it was so severe that people from surrounding nations “from all over the earth” came to Egypt to buy bread. The narrative also indicates that they went straight to Joseph or were directed to him, even by Pharaoh himself, so as to buy from him. (Genesis 41:37-57)

The seven-year famine became so severe that toward the later period, even Egypt was feeling the effects. Because the Egyptians had used up all of their money to buy grain in the previous years, they began to pay with their livestock. As a last resort, all of the inhabitants of Egypt, less the Egyptian priestly class, sold their properties to Joseph for seed. As this land now belonged to Pharaoh, Joseph set a mandate that because the people would be sowing and harvesting seed on government property, a fifth of the produce should go to the Pharaoh. This mandate continued down to the days of Moses. (Genesis 47:20-31)”4  

During the famine that swept across Egypt while Joseph ruled, there was likely still a great deal of starvation, whether distant or local, which caused strife and bloodshed.  Consider the following depictions of Egypt from the Ipuwer Papyrus:

“Plague is throughout the land. Blood is everywhere. (2:5)

The river is blood (2:10)

That is our water! That is our happiness! What shall we do in respect thereof? All is ruin! (3:10-13)

Trees are destroyed. (4:14)

No fruit or herbs are found . . . (6:1)

Forsooth, grain has perished on every side. (6:3)

The land is not light [dark]. (9:11)

Nile overflows [bringing the harvest], yet no one ploughs for him. (2:3)

No craftsmen work, the enemies of the land have spoilt its crafts. (9:6)

Gold and lapus lazuli, silver and malachite, camelian and bronze . . . are fastened on the neck of female slaves. (3:2)” 5

This papyrus described the famine that struck Egypt during the reign of Joseph.  The Ipewer  Papyrus has been dated by several scholars as having been written between 1850 -1600 BC.  Assuming the later date of 1850, there would have been many generations before the Exodus.

“Then Joseph died, and all his brothers, and that whole generation. But the Israelites were fruitful and prolific; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.”  -Ex 1:6-7

I propose that the Exodus occurred at a time between 1600 and 1529.

1529 is the earliest date given for the end of Hysko rule in Egypt.  Also, by 1550 the Palace of Rameses would have been completed.  This palace is recorded as having been built by the Israelites (Gen 47:11; Ex 1:11; 12:37).

Most likely several years before 1550, Egyptian authorities began realizing the threat the Hyskos posed.  This explains why the firstborns of the Hebrew people were being killed –genocide, which gives credence to the story behind the birth of Moses.

“Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, ‘Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.’ Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labour. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labour. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.

The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, ‘When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.’ But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, ‘Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?’ The midwives said to Pharaoh, ‘Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.’ So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, ‘Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.’” 
–Exodus 1:8-22

The change of Egyptian rule from the 17th to the 18th dynasty occurred in 1550 BC.

At this time, under Ahmose I (1570-1544), the Hyskos were allegedly expelled from Egypt.  While this may be partially true, there may have been Egyptian victories, whether through genocide or military force, they may also be exaggerations entered into history at a later date to help bolster the Egyptian pharaoh into a greater position of honor and esteem in the annals of Egypt—the idea of anything less than victory would have been embarrassing for a living god who ruled the superior people of the earth.  A more accurate explanation may be that many Hebrews were expelled from parts of Egypt while others remained in servitude.

“At the time, Ahmose’s elder brother, Kamose, had become king following the death of their father, Seqenenre Taa I. The Hyksos had brutally killed Seqenenre Taa I, along with his entire army.

Kamose was keen to avenge their father’s death and reunite Egypt. To have foreign occupiers on their land was a humiliation they could not bear. Although many Egyptians did not want to fight, war became inevitable after Kamose’s men intercepted a message from the Hyksos to the Nubians, inviting them to join forces and conquer what was left of Egypt. 

Only 10 years old, Ahmose watched Kamose lead the Egyptian army north against the Hyksos. They captured the first Hyksos town they encountered and headed on to the Hyksos capital, Arvaris. But just when they were about to push the Hyksos out of Egypt, Kamose died, leaving the Hyksos in northern Egypt.”6

The Israelites, composing many of the descendants of Jacob and most likely other Semitic people, were not one of the military conquests of the Egyptians.  Rather, the departure from Egypt likely began during the end of the reign of Kamos or Ahmose I and continued as the Israelites wandered through the desert during some of the reign of Amenhotep I.

Rather than records of the events of the Exodus in Egyptian history, which would have reflected that a god-pharaoh had experienced defeat and humiliation, as well as any miracles that would have been attributed to a foreign god, there are records of the military conquests of Ahmosis I.  In actuality, the destruction from the conflict between the Hyskos and the Egyptians likely paralleled the destruction we’re given an account of in the Ipuwer Papyrus, having elements very similar to the plagues described in Exodus through Moses.

History does suggest, according to Wikipedia, that Amenhotep I, “…inherited the kingdom formed by his father’s military conquests and maintained dominance over Nubia and the Nile Delta but probably did not attempt to keep power in Syrio-Palestine.”

Ahmose I was most likely the pharaoh in office during the Exodus.  Both his father and his brother were killed by the Hyskos –the fighting could indeed have turned the Nile red.

Ahmose I likely resided, at least for some of the time, in the Palace of Rameses described in Exodus 10, now known as Avaris or Arvaris.

In Exodus 10 we are told that Moses was able to have face to face contact with the pharaoh and was able to wander from there to the area where the Israelites were laboring.

During the 1990s an enormous royal compound was discovered on the southern bank of the eastern branch of the Nile River.  The use of this compound is well established during the Eighteenth Dynasty (1550-1292 BC).  “Moses probably meandered the halls of these buildings, and the pharaoh quite likely mobilized his 600 chariots to pursue the Israelites from this location.”

This location would have been near Qantir, “the most likely location for ancient Rameses”.7

Qantir is a modern village in Egypt. Qantir (Khatana-Qantir) is believed to mark what was probably the ancient site of Ramesses II’s great capital, Pi-Ramesse or Per-Ramesses (“House or Domain of Ramesses”). This city is situated about 9 kilometers (5.6 mi) north of Faqus inSharqiyah province of the eastern Nile Delta, about 60 miles north-east of Cairo.8

If Qantir eventually became the residence of Ramesses II, substantiating the name used in the book of Genesis and Exodus, it could also have been a location where Ahmose I resided during his reign.  Alternatively, Avaris may also have been the location where Ahmose I resided while working to expel the last of the Hyskos –both of these locations are more probable then the neighboring city of  Memphis, some 70 miles away.  70 miles is a long way for Moses to wander back and forth.

“Avaris (/ˈævərɨs/; Egyptian: ḥw.t wr.t, Budge notation: Hut-waret, Greek: Αὔαρις,Auaris) was the capital of Egypt under the Hyksos. It was located at modern Tell el-Dab’a in the northeastern region of the Nile Delta, at the juncture of the 8th, 14th, 19th and 20th Nomes. As the main course of the Nile migrated eastward, its position at the hub of Egypt’s delta emporia made it a major administrative capital of the Hyksos and other traders. It was occupied from about 1783 to 1550 BC, or from the Thirteenth Dynasty of Egypt through the second intermediate until its destruction by Ahmose I, the first Pharaoh of the Eighteenth dynasty.” 11

Since Hyskos influence “overlapped with those of the native Egyptian pharaohs of the 16th and 17th dynasties of Egypt, better known as the Second Intermediate Period,” it is not improbable that at some point in that interval, well prior to the reign of Ahmose I, the Hyskos were successfully subdued and forced into slave labor, though fighting and uprisings continued.  The end of this period would have coincided with the lifetime of Moses and the Exodus.  “The first pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, Ahmose I, finally expelled the Hyksos from their last holdout at Sharuhen in Gaza by the 16th year of his reign.”9-10

Three other aspects of archaeological evidence that corroborate the theory that the expulsion of the Hyskos and the Israelites is the same event:

1.            the destruction of Jericho

2.            an attempt at a monotheistic reform in Egypt under Ahmehotep II and

3.            the peace treaty between Egypt and Palestine, which may have included Solomon’s marriage to an Egyptian princess, the daughter of the Pharaoh, likely Ramesses II the Great.

1.            Jericho is one of the most documented and celebrated sites of Israelite victories in Joshua (2, 6-8:29).  The text is explicit about the cities being burned (josh. 6:24; 8:28).  Jericho should serve as a test case for the historicity of the Joshua narratives.  John Garstang, a Liverpool University archeologist, excavated Tell es-Sultan (Jericho) from 1930 – 1936.  City IV had undergone a massive destruction and conflagration.  Based on the ceramic and scarab evidence, Garstang dated this destruction to approximately the 14th century.1  This date would fit into with the theory that the expulsion of the Hyskos and the Exodus are the same event, occurring at some time between 1600 and 1529, though likely an earlier date, considering 40 years of wandering in the desert.

However, this 14th century date has been contested by the highly respected archeologist, Dame Kathleen Kenyon.  Nonetheless, her findings, which were accepted immediately by a majority in the archeological community based on her reputation, weren’t satisfactory for Bryan G Wood, who has reassessed the Jericho material by comparing Garstang’s publications, the material in excavations at Jericho volumes three through five, and unpublished Jericho ceramics.  Moreover, the presence of Egyptian scarabs that date from between mid-fifteenth through mid-fourteenth century, found in Jericho tombs, cannot be ignored. 12

2.           There is good reason to consider a causal relationship between Ahmenhotep II’s attempt at deistic reform and the influence the Israelites would have had in Egypt.  That the attempted reform occurred, a huge deviation from the previous Egyptian rule of nearly two millennia, is indicative that the monotheistic beliefs of the Israelites had a lasting impression on the people of Egypt long after the Exodus.  Ahmenhotep II’s reign started at least 100 years after the date of the suggested Exodus.  His attempt at reform may also suggest that the political union of Egypt was less stable than other authorities desired to reveal to history.

Interestingly, from Wikipedia,

“Osarseph /ˈoʊzərˌsɛf/ or Osarsiph /ˈoʊzərˌsɪf/ is a legendary figure of Ancient Egypt who has been equated with Moses. His story was recounted by the Ptolemaic Egyptian historian Manetho in his Aigyptiaca (first half of the 3rd century BC); Manetho’s work is lost, but the 1st century AD Jewish historian Josephus quotes extensively from it.

The story depicts Osarseph as a renegade Egyptian priest who leads an army of lepers and other unclean people against a pharaoh named Amenophis; the pharaoh is driven out of the country and the leper-army, in alliance with the Hyksos (whose story is also told by Manetho) ravage Egypt, committing many sacrileges against the gods, before Amenophis returns and expels them. Towards the end of the story Osarseph changes his name to Moses.[1]

Also much debated is the question of what, if any, historical reality might lie behind the Osarseph story. The story has been linked with anti-Jewish propaganda of the 2nd and 1st centuries BC as an inversion of the Exodus story, but an influential study by Egyptologist Jan Assmannhas suggested that no single historical incident or person lies behind the legend, and that it represents instead a conflation of several historical traumas, notably the religious reforms of Akhenaten (Amenophis IV).[2]“13  

Another theory behind the Osareph legend is that Manetho was simply reiterating propaganda that was fed to the Egyptian people, namely that those who had risen against a pharaoh did not have favor from the gods, hence their state of leprosy.  That the legendary figure was originally an Egyptian priest who changed his name to Moses would have helped to quiet any rumors circulating about the identity of Moses and whether his god really was greater than all the other Egyptian gods –it would be better that an Egyptian priest be associated with great deeds.  This kind of propaganda would have helped to explain away any miracles associated with Moses as though due to anything other than Egyptian worship practices.

The stories and rumors about Moses could easily have been circulating as a legend 100 years after the Exodus, culminating in the attempted monotheistic reforms of Akhenatin II.   Grant it, the reforms leading to the worship of the one true God, who had revealed Himself to the people of Israel, would have taken many years for assimilation in Egypt if the attempt had been successful.  But, reform from a polytheistic religion to a monotheistic one would have been a huge step in the right direction for Egypt, one many Egyptians may have been yearning for after the events of the Exodus.

3.  In the description of the Battle of Kadesh, which occurred around 1274 BC, according to Wikipedia:

“[Seti I] …made an informal peace with the Hittites, took control of coastal areas along the Mediterranean, and continued to campaign in Canaan.  …There is no consensus on the outcome of the Battle of Kadesh. Views range from an Egyptian victory, a draw, and, according to the view of Iranian Egyptologist Mehdi Yarahmadi, an Egyptian defeat (with the Egyptian accounts simply propaganda). 14

Moses lived to be 120 years old and the Exodus is reported to have occurred when he was 80 years old, at which time Joshua began leading.  There doesn’t appear to be any Biblical account of Joshua’s descendants.  However, from Judges, we know that after Ehud slays Eglon, king of Moab, he judges Israel for 80 years (Judg 3:12-30).  Then, Jael slays Sisera, captain of the Canaanite armies, and Deborah and Barak judge Israel for 40 years (Judg 4 -5).  Then, Gideon defeats the Midianites with a small army and judges Israel for 40 years (Judg. 6-8).  Jephthah defeats the Ammonites and judges Israel for six years (Judg. 11-12).  Samson begins to deliver the Israelites from the Philistines and judges Israel for 20 years (Judg. 13-15).  Ruth marries her kinsman Boaz, the grandparents of King David (Ruth 1-4).  The son of Ruth and Boaz was Obed –Obed had a son name Jesse who had a son named David, David had Solomon.

40 +80 +40 +40 +6 +20 + (assume 15 to 40 years before R&B have Obed) + (assume 15 to 40 years before Obed has Jesse) + (15 to 40 before Jesse has David) + (15 to 40 before David has Solomon) = 286 years using the youngest age Ruth would have been for the birth of Obed, and assuming the young ages for his descendants.

The dates that the judges ruled are likely approximations, especially since five of the six end by the decade.  They could have been rounded upward, thus 31 years could have been rounded to 40 years.  This would allow for a margin of error of 45 years.

Without making this assumption, subtracting 1550 from 286 we can arrive at the year 1264 for the birth of Solomon, which is a bit late to suggest an alliance being formed through Solomon’s marriage to an Egyptian princess, forming an indirect alliance between Seti I and the “Hittites.”  Alternatively, an alliance may have been formed under David’s rule.  This would have been possible in making the assumption that years had been rounded up, yielding a date as late as 1309.  This date allows enough time for Solomon to have been both the one who formed the alliance and ratified the peace treaty:

“The running borderlands conflicts were finally concluded some fifteen years after the Battle of Kadesh by an official peace treaty in 1258 BC, in the 21st year of Ramesses II’s reign, with Hattusili III, the new king of the Hittites.” 14

If Egyptian propaganda was at work in the alleged victories, than one of the conditions of the peace treaty, since it was the Egyptians who acquiesced, might have included a daughter of the Pharaoh.  This date could have corresponded with the reign of Solomon and his marriage to the daughter of a Pharaoh (1 Kings 3:1).

In conclusion, while there are a number of possibilities for when the Exodus occurred, and at what time the Hyskos were completely subdued by the Egyptians and forced into labor, there is considerable evidence that Joseph’s rise to power and Moses’ Exodus are real and historically believable accounts of Salvation History.

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  1. Reading the Bible, Timothy R. Carmody, Paulist Press, 2004. Pg 26.
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origins_of_the_Hyksos.  Accessed 9/4/13.
  3. Archeological Study Bible, The Zondervan Corporation, 2005. Pg. 99.
  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_(son_of_Jacob).  Accessed 9/4/13.
  5. http://www.ou.org/chagim/pesach/whenex.htm.  Accessed 9/4/13.
  6. http://www.pbs.org/empires/egypt/newkingdom/ahmose.html Accessed 9/4/13.
  7. Archeological Study Bible, The Zondervan Corporation, 2005. Pg. 103.
  8. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qantir.  Accessed 9/4/13.
  9. Grimal, Nicolas. A History of Ancient Egypt. p.193. Librairie Arthéme Fayard, 1988.
  10. Redford, Donald B. History and Chronology of the 18th Dynasty of Egypt: Seven Studies, pp.46–49. University of Toronto Press, 1967.
  11. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avaris.  Accessed 9/4/13.
  12. Bryant Wood, “Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho: A New Look at the Archaeological Evidence,” BAR 16 no. 2 (1990) 44-59.
  13. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osarseph.  Accessed 9/4/13.
  14. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Qadesh.  Accessed 9/4/13.
  15. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_pharaohs#Eighteenth_Dynasty
  16. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origins_of_the_Hyksos
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