Evidence for Biblical Exodus

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There is evidence for the biblical Exodus and for the biblical Moses. Not for every bit of the story but for enough elements to make it plausibile.

 

Before we begin. The earliest reliable mention of Israel as a people is the Merneptah Stele, a rock in Egypt listing the achievements of an Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah which is dated to 1205 B.C. He refers to the Jews as a people group in Canaan (modern day Israel). The word he used implies Israel is not firmly established. But they must have commanded a significant chunk of territory to get a 'shout out' from the Egyptian Pharaoh.

 

But moving onto the purpose of this post, I wanted to start with Moses name. The Bible says the Jews left Egypt 480 years from when Solomon began building the temple. (Historians think Solomon's father David ruled around 1000 B.C., Solomon around 970-950 B.C.). So that makes the Exodus, according to the Bible, around 1440 B.C.

 

Starting with the Bible's own dating of the Exodus then, what was going on in Egypt in 1440 B.C.? It was the 18th dynasty. A lot of Pharaoh's named ___moses. (Note: Ancient Greek puts a 's' after every male name. The Bible comes to us today by way of Greek for the most part. But Hebrew and Egyptian did not put 's' at the end of male names. The original names of Moses and Pharaoh's like Thutmoses would have been Mose / Moshe and Thutmose.) The text of Exodus itself says Pharaoh's daughter named him Moses because she found (drew) him out of the water--the basket in the Nile. In Egypt at this time, Mose or close variations were normal names. They meant approximately 'son'. Lots of Pharaohs had it as part of their name meaning 'son of____insert Egyptian god'. It's possible that Pharaoh's daughter gave Moses a more elaborate name meaning 'son of something' and the "something" was later dropped off, but maybe not.

 

Final point on Moses's name. This has less consensus but the Ancient Egyptian word for water was approximately "Mo". So it's possible that Pharaoh's daughter in Egyptian intended to name Moses "son of the water" because she found him in the water. And you can get something like Moshe (or maybe Momose ) with an Egyptian name meaning that. And the first bit was dropped because it was meaningless in Hebrew. In Hebrew the name Moshe means "Drawer out" or figuratively "the deliverer". (And Moses apparently is a very unusual name in Hebrew, not something Hebrew speaker would be likely to come up with, happy to be corrected by any Hebrew speakers.) So the name Moses seems to have been an Egyptian name but which had symbolic meaning in Hebrew.

 

This makes it weirder for Jews literally making up the Old Testament while they are in exile in 400 B.C. in Babylon (what the accepted theory is) to know the ancient Egyptian language of this period so well. The text in Exodus reads like the author(s) is actually unaware that this is actually an Egyptian name.  

 

But I'll be honest, so far this this evidence is weak.

 

Secondly, the Amarna Letters are letters written from Canaanite kings to a succession of 3 Pharaohs (the third being King Tut). They were written between 1399 - 1300 B.C. The subject of most of these letters is a new group of people invading Canaan. The group is referred to by a few names, but Habiru seems to be the main one. This is obviously close to the word Hebrews. The tone of these letters gets more desperate in the later instances, seeming that all of these vassal kingdoms of Egypt in Canaan would be gone if Egypt did nothing.

 

(If you know anything about King Tutankhamun, you'll know his father Akhenaten tried to change religion of Egypt to monotheism and build a new capital, Amarna, in the middle of the desert. And it was apparently built very fast, and the entire court of the Pharaoh was moved there. Perhaps this is why he didn't send help to the Canaanites, busy with his new capital and state religion. Also interesting if you consider the monotheistic Hebrews could have left in living memory of his reign. Monotheism was very unusual in the ancient world, there was usually a god for everything, across cultures. )

 

But this is still weak. There isn't even a consensus among historians that the Armana Letters are talking about the Jews. But the timing is exactly right. The name is even almost right.

 

Thirdly, there is a tomb for a guy named Rekhmire who was a mayor of Thebes, then governor of a province in the 18th dynastry (dating to around 1400 B.C.). He decorated his tomb with scenes from life (with commentary). There is one scene of slaves, the commentary on the wall literally says they were slaves (dark-skinned slaves from Africa and lighter skinned slaves from somewhere in the Middle East) making mud bricks using straw, exactly how the book of Exodus says the Israelite slaves made their bricks.

 

Finally, for brevity's sake, I'll conclude quickly with two more points. There is a famous Egyptian papyrus scroll called the Ipuwer Papyrus which contains a poem called the Admonitions of Ipuwer which seems to describe the world turned upside, 'the river is blood', 'servants / slaves making off with the people's riches', begging the king or a god to restore order. Part of it is lost. It dates to the 18th dynasty or possibly earlier. This may finally be an allusion to the Biblical Exodus from an Egyptian point of view. But who knows? 

 

And around 1500 B.C. (a century before the Bible and I argue for the Biblical Exodus), a group of Semitic foreigners from Canaan (Hyksos) had conquered and controlled Egypt for a century were finally expelled. These folks lived in the north of Egypt exactly where the Bible says the Hebrews were. And my general understanding is it's likely the Egyptians, being ticked off and making no distinction between the Semitic Hebrews and these folks, took massive numbers of slaves (refugees, prisoners of war) as they expelled these folks. That history jives well with what the Bible says about the enslavement of the Jews. 

 

Obviously what is missing is finding the garbage of a huge group of people traveling in the desert, dating to the 15th century B.C. That hasn't been found. And the Jews may have 'wandered in the desert' in Saudi Arabia where archaeologists are forbidden to dig (ancient Egyptian forts and trade routes went over the Nile delta, southern Israel, northern Sinai area, seems strange that a people group of 100,000 of more could escape the gaze of Egyptian for 40 years in the relatively small Sinai desert). 

 

But this is hopefully some info that lends plausibility to many elements of the Biblical story. The smoking gun is still missing (maybe because it's in Saudi Arabia). 

Comments

Flying Junior Added Jan 30, 2019 - 3:03am
The tradition of written history by the Hebrews is certainly among the oldest in all of the world that is written in a modern language.  Surely it predates the great epics of Homer and the dawn of Greek civilization.
 
It is quite possible that in the time of Abraham, Jacob and Isaac the history of the Jews was an oral tradition.  When did the written language evolve?  Was the Pentateuch written and recorded from earlier oral histories during the Babylonian exile?  It is entirely possible.  It would be quite fascinating to understand a timeline of the Hebrew written and spoken word.
 
I wish I understood my old Bible stories more completely.  Did Jacob lead the Hebrews to live in Egypt to escape famine?
Ward Tipton Added Jan 30, 2019 - 4:09am
There are indeed a great many hints at events from the Bible ... among the most interesting to me, if not one of the most compelling, is the apparently radioactive waste including very unique glass that is rare and only formed through something similar to a nuclear explosion around what used to be Babylon. Admittedly, I have not researched much of it, but I do find the constant small reminders intriguing. 
White Hair'd Added Jan 30, 2019 - 10:23am
Thanks Cullen.
it's good to see a discussion opened which touches on emerging understandings of the ancient world, based on modern archaeological evidence.
Hyksos; get ready to hear a lot more of that word.
TexasLynn Added Jan 30, 2019 - 11:32am
FJ >> Did Jacob lead the Hebrews to live in Egypt to escape famine?
 
(From a novice Bible scholar)
 
Indirectly.
 
Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel) was the father of the twelve "Patriarchs" of Israel.  Each of the twelve sons became the "father" of a tribe.  Jacob favored Joseph (the youngest) who was sold, out of spite, into slavery by the other eleven.  They told Jacob he was killed.  Joseph ended up a powerful man in Egypt and foretold of the famine and prepared Egypt for it.  So, when famine came, Egypt was the only place food was available.
 
Jacob and all his people (the Hebrews) were starving in Canaan, so he sent his sons to Egypt to buy food.  Joseph was reunited with his brothers, forgave them, and said it was the plan of God all along.  Joseph insisted that Jacob and all his people (less than 100 at the time) move to Egypt, which they did.  There they multiplied and were eventually enslaved by the Egyptians... enter... Moses (Exodus)
 
The above is a very abbreviated telling of the story which is found at the end of Genesis: Genesis 37-50
TexasLynn Added Jan 30, 2019 - 11:36am
Cullen,
Really excellent research and presentation. I learned a lot.
 
I personally don't think we're going to find the "smoking gun" in all of this. I think God values faith too much. He gives us everything we need to believe and search if we want.
 
That said, He did give us an inquisitive nature for a reason.
Benjamin Goldstein Added Jan 30, 2019 - 2:22pm
This is absolutely an amazing post. I hope you don't mind if I copy it to my blog, credit to your name of course, and link back to this location.
 
I don't expect to find any 'garbage' from the travellors. Most civilisations came and went without a trace. It is rather rare that something survives and it is mostly because a people decides to build with stone and bricks, which was rare most of the time. Most subsaharan cultures had been there forever and find hardly any ancient traces.
 
I think I need to find out more about the Hykos eventually.
Dave Volek Added Jan 30, 2019 - 2:53pm
I recall a documentary about 10 years ago that shifted the Exodus timeline by 500 years. Can't recall enough to find it. Not sure if it got any traction for this obtuse angle of history.
Michael B Bagala Added Jan 30, 2019 - 3:15pm
 Ipuwer Papyrus could be describing the mayhem and vandalism, and theft that the Jews did going out of Egypt. The Exodus led to the vandalism and theft of Egyptian towns and villages as the Jews left the kingdom of Egypt. 
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The Pharoah and his army went after the Jews to stop them from looting the smaller towns and villages and not to bring them back. 
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The Epic of Gilgamesh predates by Moses by 1000 to 1400 years.
edinmountainview Added Jan 30, 2019 - 3:22pm
Ward - I believe you are talking about trinitite.  Certainly a question people need to ask is how can there be trinitite in the desert before there was ever a nuclear bomb?  Some have speculated that it could have been spontaneous - Mother Nature doing her thing.
Semper Fi
Cullen Kehoe Added Jan 30, 2019 - 7:03pm
@Benjamin - Thanks and go for it if you want. 
 
@Michael - Yes, the Epic of Gilgamesh is very old, back to Sumeria. This was written likely before the Biblical Abraham ever lived (sometime between 2000 B.C. and 3000 B.C. - in the general timeframe of Egypt building the great pyramids). 
 
But so what? It's nothing to do with the Moses tale. The Epic of Gilgamesh has a flood story, but it's primarily a Hercules sort of mythological tale. A half god, half human king goes on adventures to destroy strange creatures.
 
Another wolf-man / half divine being is terrorizing the people in the forest so they send in a prostitute to "tame" him and nearly defeats Gilgamesh so they become friends. 
 
In the end, Gilgamesh wants to become immortal but finds he cannot. And is told the story of the only man allowed to live among the gods and escape death, the Noah character who saved humanity and the animals from a Global Flood (he's got a different name in the story). This story has nothing to do with Moses.
 
And I'll further add that the mythological genre of ancient stories was common the ancient world. We know of the fanciful legends of the ancient Greeks. But Exodus doesn't read like mythology (nor was it written as rhyming poetry like most mythological tales like the Odyssey). It reads quite matter of fact. There's no monsters or hero quests they go on. Moses when you finally meet him as a mature man at the burning bush is a little cowardly wuss instead of the hero looking for an adventure. 
 
Have you mistaken the the Epic of Gilagmesh for the legend of Sargon? That him (Sargon) claiming he was put into a basket in the river as an infant before becoming king. That's also very old and nearly as old as the Epic Gilgamesh. 
Cullen Kehoe Added Jan 30, 2019 - 7:21pm
Regarding the Sargon story, as I stated in my post, I don't know. Is it possible later authors added the baby in the basket to Exodus? I don't know you can think so if you want. 

But the argument I made in my post is that Moses (Moshe) is an Egyptian name. The "deliverer" of the Hebrews was named by an Egyptian. That wasn't made up (or would have been hard to make up many centuries later and get it right like they did).
 
And in the text we have today, it appears the Jew writer(s) of the first chapter of Exodus no longer realized that his name was Egyptian. And they have the text seeming to say that the Egyptian princess gave Moses the (weird form of) Hebrew name he had which figuratively meant "deliverer".
 
So that, I'd argue, places the Hebrews / Jews in Egypt during the 15th century B.C. Also, the writer(s) of Exodus seem quite well versed on how Egyptians made mud bricks with straw during this period. This would have been tricky to "make up" centuries later. 
 
So we have some degree of confidence the Jews were in Egypt. Then we know they disappear from Egypt and wind up by the 13th century B.C. in the land of Canaan / modern day Israel from the Merneptah Stele.
 
So it doesn't matter if the 'baby in the basket' portion was copied from somewhere else or added in later. (I don't think it was.) But it doesn't change the overall narrative. A guy named Moses really did lead the Semitic people know as the Hebrews / Israel out of Egypt and into the land of Canaan. After 1000 B.C. (the time of king David), we have lots of artifacts from the kings of Northern Israel and Judah across 3-4 different neighboring kingdoms (naming kings that are in the Bible, one saying the king of Judah was from the "house of David.)
 
(And note: I don't think Moses wrote the final chapter of Deuteronomy which explain how he--Moses--died. So it's reasonable to assume that later writers may have fleshed out the first chapter or two of Exodus around Moses's birth too. But the majority of these books of the Torah, I think they were written and compiled by Moses.) 
Flying Junior Added Jan 30, 2019 - 7:23pm
Thanks Lynn
Cullen Kehoe Added Jan 30, 2019 - 7:31pm
Also, there's no evidence that the Hebrews would have necessarily come into contact with either the Epic of Gilgamesh or story of Sargon until they were in exile in Babylon around 550 B.C. (since these stories originate in modern day Iraq / ancient Sumeria / Babylon). 
Michael B Bagala Added Jan 30, 2019 - 7:47pm
@Michael - Yes, the Epic of Gilgamesh is very old, back to Sumeria. This was written likely before the Biblical Abraham ever lived (sometime between 2000 B.C. and 3000 B.C. - in the general timeframe of Egypt building the great pyramids). 
I only pointed out that epic out in the sense of ancient writings. Also, Egypt had several forms of writing down through ages.
And I'll further add that the mythological genre of ancient stories was common the ancient world. We know of the fanciful legends of the ancient Greeks.-Hindus (may I add)
As for myth and religion, it is the language of symbolism and in that sense is far more complex than a religion based on a pseudo-history/myth. 
FacePalm Added Jan 31, 2019 - 6:37am
Cullen-
Upon reading your article, i recalled seeing a youtube vid several years back which tracked the Israelite's journey through the Sinai Peninsula to the Gulf of Aqaba (where the waters were parted, and divers have found the remains of chariot wheels and the like scattered across the sea floor), then across into Saudi Arabia, where they found the grove of 70 date palm trees(more, now) and an oasis of 12 wells (which is still there), plus the rock which God split at Moses' staff striking it - no water there now, but evidence of water flow exists - also the burned mountaintop of Mt. Sinai.  i thought of linking to it/them, but most have schmaltzy music accompanying the narrator - but anyone who wishes can certainly find them.
 
One such is titled "Ron Wyatt's Untold Story: the Discovery of Mt. Sinai."
 
The area is off-limits to researchers, and has been for many years, now; the Saudi's have several of the areas fenced off, and refused visas for quite some time.  One group who was denied visas decided to chance going in anyway,  explored and found that which was described above, then on leaving, were caught and imprisoned as spies - but were released after 75 days.
 
With the recent sea-change in the Saudi gov't, perhaps the area might be re-opened either to bonafide researchers or even tourists, idk.
Koshersalaami Added Jan 31, 2019 - 9:29am
Have any of you ever read Walking The Bible? That goes into verifying Bible stories, particularly early ones, and the conclusions it reaches are that direct evidence doesn’t really exist but circumstantial evidence does. 
 
Regarding the Hyksos: The dominant ethnicities of the region of the period were Egyptian and Mesopotamian. The Hyksos were likely Mesopotamian. The Egyptians kept good records but the Hyksos did not, so there is a dearth of information from their period. 
 
Abraham was from Ur, meaning the early Hebrews were Mesopotamian. They may have been well received by the Hyksos for that reason. When the Egyptians regained control of their land, this would help explain why the Pharoah assumed the Hebrews would ally with their enemies. 
 
By the way, they’ve found the storehouse city of Ramses. It dates from the right period. 
 
There’s an interesting piece of Biblical evidence from before that. The ancient Hebrews wrote on papyrus, which mainly didn’t survive. Their Canaanite neighbors wrote on cuneiform,  which does, in quantity. In those records, about 1900 BCE there are accounts of birthrights being sold for food. Not before that and not after that, just in a very limited period that happens to coincide with about when Jacob and Esau would have lived. 
Michael B Bagala Added Feb 7, 2019 - 6:44pm
Flying Junior:
The tradition of written history by the Hebrews is certainly among the oldest in all of the world that is written in a modern language.  Surely it predates the great epics of Homer and the dawn of Greek civilization.
 
That is not history. that is mixing bits of history with bits of fantasy. As a Sri Lankan whose culture is one of only  2 (that I can recollect ) that actually has a written history spanning 3 thousand years the Torah is not history.
 
burning bushes and pillars of flame to parting oceans and people turning into salt are fantasies.
 
That is why the Jews make bad historians. Unlike the Sri Lankans, the Jews are not known to write history. That is why the Holocaust is a part fib and part fact.
Michael B Bagala Added Feb 7, 2019 - 6:52pm
Flying Junior.
You may not know this but Sri Lanka actually wrote down our history literally wrote it down in the 
Mahavamsa, Culavamsa, Dipavamsa, Rajagilya, Bhodivamsa, (Chronicles)
We also have what is called "religious history" separated from chronicled history as in:
Buddhavamsa, Mahabodhivamsa, Daladavamsa, Sasanavamsa, Tupavamsa, Dathavamsa.
Biographical chronicles as in:
Hathanagala Vihara Vamsa, Vattamala, Saddam Ratna Karaya.
Sri Lankans made a sharp difference from myth and religion to history. Jews do not.
Koshersalaami Added Feb 7, 2019 - 11:17pm
Your conclusion about 3300 year old Biblical myth and it’s relation to 75 year old Holocaust reporting is far from valid. And that's being kind. 

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