Exodus of Israel
- This article describes the major epochal event in the history of Israel. For the book of the Bible by this name, see Exodus (Biblical book).
- 1 The Biblical Narrative
- 2 Chronological Placement of the Exodus
- 3 Historicity of the Exodus
- 4 The Exodus in Popular Culture
- 5 Related References
- 6 See also
The Biblical Narrative
The Book of Exodus is the best source we have, and the only complete source, for this event. (The reasons for this will be discussed below.) The following is a summary of that narrative.
The Pharaoh who welcomed Joseph into Egypt was likely Sesostris I, the second ruler of the Twelfth Dynasty, Soon, however, two other Pharaohs, who were considerably harder of heart, succeeded to the throne: Sesostris III and his immediate successor Amenemhet III. These two (or perhaps the latter of the two) set in motion a chain of events that led to the founding of one nation and a near-total disaster for the other.
The Mass Infanticide
Sesostris III probably began the oppression after observing the phenomenal growth rate of the Hebrew population. Tellingly, the Bible says that the Pharaoh was worried that the Israelites might ally themselves to Egypt's enemies in war. (This would be entirely consistent with the Exodus taking place toward the end of the Twelfth or Thirteenth Dynasty and the beginning of the Hyksos period.)
The Bible further names two cities that the Israelites built for the Egyptians: Pithom and Ramesses. Some have speculated from these names that the Pharaoh of the Exodus was a Ramesside king, usually Ramesses II. But the notion that the city of Ramesses is actually named for a king named Ramesses is without even secular historical warrant.
In any event, so the Bible says, the Israelites multiplied more than ever. That's when Sesostris (or Amenemhet) raised the stakes. He ordered the two senior Hebrew midwives to make sure to kill all newborn boys, but to let newborn girls live. This is the first recorded instance of a governmental policy to use abortion or infanticide to accomplish genocide.
The midwives did not openly defy Pharaoh's order. They simply didn't carry it out as he asked. They excused their behavior by saying that Hebrew women were often far advanced in parturition before the midwives even arrived to assist them. Pharaoh's response was as drastic as it was draconian: he ordered his soldiers to throw every boy-child into the Nile River.
God Recruits Moses
Nearly forty more years passed, during which the original Pharaoh (presumably Amenemhet III) died and another Pharaoh (presumably Neferhotep I) reigned in his stead. Now God called to Moses, speaking from out of a bush that burned without being consumed. God made multiple signs to Moses to convince him to deliver a message to Pharaoh, and then to lead the Israelites out of Egypt when the time came. Because Moses pleaded that he was not a good speaker, God declared that his brother Aaron would assist him.
Moses was eighty years old, and Aaron eighty-three, when the two men went before Pharaoh.
The First Message
Moses and Aaron initially came in peace to Pharaoh, and asked his leave to lead the Israelites into the desert for a three-day period. Pharaoh indignantly refused, and then issued an order that the Israelites would have to gather their own straw to make bricks, and still make the same quota of bricks. This caused the Israelites to look on Moses with extreme disfavor. This was probably the lowest point ever in Moses' life.
But this was all part of God's plan—for God intended to demonstrate His Power in a manner that no one then alive would forget.
The Ten Plagues
- Main Article: Egyptian plagues
Because Pharaoh would not accede to a polite request, Moses began issuing a series of threats of supernatural disaster, none of which Pharaoh heeded. Each of these disasters, called plagues, was a direct strike at part of the Egyptian religious system and everything Egyptians held sacred.
The Evacuation and Despoliation
The death of the first-born of man and beast among the Egyptians, including Pharaoh's own son, finally broke Pharaoh's will. He gave his assent for the Israelites to leave, and even encouraged his people to bribe the Israelites to leave with whatever jewels or precious metals the Israelites cared to carry with them. This was the "despoliation" of the Egyptians. But after Pharaoh let the Israelites leave, he changed his mind. Now he set after them, with his entire army, and determined to overtake them and wipe them out. But what actually happened is that Pharaoh was wiped out, along with his entire army.
Traditionally, this occurred at the northermnost tip of the Gulf of Suez, the western arm of the Red Sea—though some have since suggested that the crossing actually occurred at the Gulf of Aqaba to the east.
From the narrative recorded in Genesis 15:13-18 it appears that the plan of the Exodus may have been revealed to Abraham four generations before Moses.In Genesis 15:13 the narrative records that Abraham's descendants will be a stranger in a land that is not their own. The descendants of Abraham will serve the strangers in that land, and these strangers whom Abraham's descendants serve will "afflict them" for 400 years. In Genesis 15:14, the narrative records that God will judge the nation holding the descendants of Abraham in affliction, "your seed will leave that nation with material wealth". Genesis 15:15 records that Abraham will die at an old age, and be buried with his father; but after the 4th generation the things previously hinted at would occur. In Genesis 15:17 the narrative records that the sun went down, but that Abraham saw a smoking furnace and a burning lamp,picturing the "burning bush" of Moses, or the "burning cloud" which lead the Israelites in the Exodus. Finally, Genesis 15:18 records that the borders of the land that the descendants of Abraham will immigrate to after the period of affliction. The land borders are recorded as everything from the Nile river to the Euphrates. It should be noted that this verse has been a hotbed, as anti-semitic and anti-Israel bigots note this as a claim to an Israeli push for living space in the Middle East.
Chronological Placement of the Exodus
- Accepting 562 BC as the death of Nebuchadnezzar II.
- A direct reckoning of the dates-of-accession of the Kings of the Divided Kingdoms Northern and Southern.
- The Bible's explicit statement that Solomon broke ground on the Temple of Jerusalem exactly 479 years after the Exodus.
- 1491 BC (Ussher)
- 1445-1446 BC ("The Early Date")
- 1290 BC ("The Late Date")
Virtually all of the arguments for the Late Date rest solely on arguments from conventional Egyptian chronology, however. The Early Date is much better supported from Scripture, which specifically requires four hundred eighty years between the Exodus and the groundbreaking of the Temple built by Solomon. Several archaeologists have looked for battle-damage and other evidence for the Early Date in and around Jericho, Ai, and Hazor, and have found it.
The date preferred by Edwin R. Thiele (labeled "Early Date" above) is only forty-five years later than Ussher's. Thiele's sole warrant for favoring his date over Ussher's is his attempt to reconcile the king lists of the Divided Kingdoms Northern and Southern with the chronology of the Assyrians. (For a detailed discussion, and a synoptic table showing the differing results for those king lists, see here.) Thiele, like Ussher, relies on the Temple groundbreaking interval described above to assign his date for the Exodus.
The Pharaoh of the Oppression, as stated above, was likely Sesostris III, a Twelfth Dynasty king. James Ussher initially supposed that the Pharaoh of the Exodus was not Ramesses II, but another Ramesses whom he mistakenly assumed ruled directly before Ramesses II and for the same number of years. Future scholars accepted Seti I and Ramesses II as the Pharaohs of the Oppression and Exodus, respectively, for decades. Recently, some scholars tried to make a case for other pairings of the Pharaohs of the Oppression and Exodus in the Eighteenth Dynasty rather than the Nineteenth. These included:
- Thutmose III and Amenhotep II
- Thutmose I and Thutmose III. These scholars also identified Pharaoh's daughter as Hatshepsut, the first woman ever to rule as Pharaoh in her own right.
Still other scholars have attempted to identify Moses with Amenhotep IV, also known as Akhenaton, the "heretical Pharaoh" who tried to install a crude form of monotheism in his empire. However, a more likely scenario is that the actual Akhenaton took inspiration from Moses, though his understanding of Moses' religion was thoroughly mistaken.
Dating of the Exodus
- See also: Egyptian chronology
The reign of Solomon lasted between 970 - 930 BC. According to 1 Kings 6:1, the exodus took place 480 years earlier than the fourth year of Solomon's reign (966 BC), which would provide a date for the exodus at 1446 BC, during the reign of Amenhotep II. Bryant G. Wood states "Working back from Solomon’s fourth year... brings us to ca. 1446 BC for the date of the exodus."
Secondly, Judges 11:26 says that the Israelite's entered the promised land 300 years earlier than the Israel's judge Jephthah. Jephthah is thought to have reigned about 1100 BC, which places the entering of the Israelite's into the promised land at about 1400 BC, and going back 40 years (as the Israelite's wandered in the wilderness for 40 years before entering into the promised land; Numbers 32:13, Joshua 5:6) Judges 11:26 reveals a date for the exodus about 1440 BC, which conforms to the specific dating of 1 Kings 6:1 of the exodus to 1446 BC. Thirdly, 1 Chronicles 6:33-37 lists about 18 generations from the generation of the exodus to the generation of the time of King David. Generations last usually about 25 years, and going back 18 sets of generations, each somewhere around 25 years, the exodus date goes somewhere within the 15th century BC. Bryant G. Wood concludes based on these various passages that the "date of the Biblical Exodus-Conquest is clear. 1 Kgs 6:1 and 1 Chr 6:33–37 converge on a date of 1446 BC for the exodus and the Jubilees data and Judges 11:26 independently converge on a date of 1406 BC for the beginning of the conquest."
Some historians and Egyptologists believe the exodus happened during the reign of Ramses II, based on the text of Exodus 1:11. According to Exodus 1:11, the Israelite slaves were instructed by the Egyptians to build two supply, named Pithom and Rameses. The biblical city of Rameses (modern day Tell el-Dab'a) only received the name Rameses after it was reconstructed by the pharaoh Rameses II, and so some historians contend that the date of exodus belongs to the reign of Rameses II in the 13th century BC. According to historians who date the exodus to the mid-15th century BC, the name Rameses could be a later editorial gloss to update the name of the biblical text as time moved on, which happens throughout biblical text several times.
Other egyptologists, such as Peter James, author of Centuries of Darkness (1991), and other scholars such as David Rohl, D.A. Courville, and David Down, argue that rather than linear Egyptian chronology, several dynasties existed simultaneously with each other. The revised Egyptian chronology requires a far shorter timespan and fits better with the biblical record. Concerning the Exodus, the revised chronology supports the early date of the Exodus. Under the revised chronology, Neferhotep I likely was the pharaoh during the Exodus.
Historicity of the Exodus
There is substantial historical evidence for the exodus, which cannot be addressed in its entirety here. An unofficial survey conducted by James K. Hoffmeier examined the views of twenty-five Egyptologists on the historicity of the exodus, where they were asked "Do you think the early Israelites lived in Egypt and that there was some sort of exodus?" Out of the twenty-five respondents, nineteen answered YES, whereas zero answered NO, and the other six simply expressed views from this being 'likely' to 'unlikely'. This revealed that the vast majority of Egyptologists accept the historicity of the exodus.
A popular criticism of the exodus is that the event is not explicitly mentioned in surviving Egyptian records. Aren Maier complains "For the literal understandings—those that profess that the story occurred, more or less as described in the biblical text—the archaeological and inscriptional evidence does not corroborate most of the story. Why do the Egyptian texts not mention this explicitly? Why do the Levantinetexts (when relevant, such as the el Amarnaletters) not relate to this—or show evidence of the aftermath of these supposed events?" This criticism however, is largely problematic. Firstly, the Egyptians never recorded their defeats, and secondly, virtually all papyri and records of ancient Egypt are no longer available and have been either lost or destroyed. Joshua Berman points out that "Ninety-nine percent of the papyri produced there during the period in question have been lost, and none whatsoever has survived from the eastern Nile delta, the region where the Torah claims the Hebrew slaves resided. Instead, we have to rely on monumental inscriptions, which, being mainly reports to the gods about royal achievements, are far from complete or reliable as historical records. They are more akin to modern-day résumés, and just as conspicuous for their failure to note setbacks of any kind." Surviving Egyptian records are primarily focused on either recording or mentioning the life of the pharaoh, his companions or militaristic battles, or propaganda espoused to promote the Egyptian gods and goddesses.
Secondly, some historians criticize that there are no archaeological remains of the actual Israelite exodus from Egypt. In the same paper, Maier goes on to say "The same goes for the archaeological remains— Where is the evidence of a large group (even if it was less than 600,000 men as suggested for example by Kitchen traversing the desert and archaeologists can identify the camps of small groups of ephemeral prehistoric hunter-gatherers)?" The typical translation of biblical text says that there were over 600,000 men who went out of Egypt in the exodus (Exodus 12:37; Numbers 1:46), although there is debate about these translations. The biblical text may reveal that the number of Israelite's was actually considerably smaller. For example, the Book of Deuteronomy says that the Israelite's were the "fewest of all peoples" (Deuteronomy 7:7), showing the biblical text implies there were much less than 600,000 men alone in the Israelite population. Secondly, the Book of Exodus says "I will not drive them out ahead of you in a single year; otherwise, the land would become desolate, and wild animals would multiply against you. I will drive them out little by little ahead of you until you have become numerous and take possession of the land" (Exodus 23:29-30). According to the Book of Exodus, the Israelite's were so few that God could not immediately give them the entire promised land, as the population of the Israelite's were few and could not immediately inhabit the entire land, so God gave the land to the Israelite's in small portions at a time while they increased in their numbers, implying a small population of Israelite's. Several scholars believe the biblical text conforms more closely to an exodus population of somewhere between 20,000-50,000, rather than 600,000 men alone. This smaller population gives much less reason for us to find remaining archaeological traces of the actual exodus, especially when considering the exodus migration was semi-nomadic, and archaeological traces of nomadic migrations are virtually never found. Thus, there exists no archaeological challenge for the exodus and wilderness narratives.
Manfred Bietak excavated the Egyptian city of Avaris/Tell el-Dab'a, and in a geophysical investigations report on Avaris, Bietak noted "Another important matter is the stratigraphy, which shows the abandonment of the site of Tell el Daba/Ezbet Helmy after the reign of Amenhotep II and its reactivation in the late Eighteenth Dynasty." Bietak's excavations revealed that the major Egyptian city of Avaris (modern day Tell el-Dab'a) was abandoned, and Bietak subsequently dated this abandonment after the reign of Amenhotep II (during the reign of his successor, Thutmose IV). Scholarly investigation ended up revealing that the abandonment of Avaris actually took place under the reign of Amenhotep II himself, contrary to Bietak's initial thoughts. The previously discussed dating of the exodus reveals it to have taken place under the reign of Amenhotep II, and archaeological investigations have shown that the entire Egyptian city of Avaris (biblical city of Rameses) was abandoned during Amenhotep II's reign. This provides a serious parallel for the Israelite abandonment of Egypt under Moses in the reign of Amenhotep II.
Furthermore, after the reign of Amenhotep II, Egypt's military power was greatly diminished, and Egypt was no longer capable of conducting major military expenditures as in the reign of Amenhotep II's predecessor, Thutmose III. Douglas Petrovich states "Once the native Egyptians eradicated the foreign invaders who had dominated their landscape for a century, they quickly moved to rebuild the destroyed city and establish it as a storehouse, eventually to be utilized as a military garrison with weapon-making facilities. Peru-nefer/Avaris became the most vital cog in the unprecedented military campaigning under the reigns of Thutmose III and Amenhotep II. Yet during the height of Egypt’s enterprise and glory, her naval base was abandoned mysteriously, and her imperialistic machinery ground to a halt. Egypt suddenly sought to make treaties rather than seize what she desired." This correlates with the biblical account of the exodus, where God destroys the army of pharaoh once the it is commanded to pursue and destroy the fleeing Israelite's (Exodus 14:26-28).
The Exodus in Popular Culture
The Exodus has been the subject of many motion picture and television projects over the last fifty years. Most of these projects contain extra-Biblical interpolations for which no Scriptural warrant and very little archaeological warrant exists. For example, Scripture clearly says that when Moses killed the Egyptian taskmaster, he did so in secret and did not want that fact known—because he was not prepared to face the consequences. (Not every deed of a recognized hero and leader of the Hebrew people was a good or wise deed.) The various motion-picture projects that have treated this story have shown Moses behaving negligently or even recklessly in the killing of the Egyptian, and left out entirely the context in which Moses found out that his deed was no longer secret.
- Tas Walker, Steve Cardno and Jonathan Sarfati. "Timing is Everything: A Talk with Field Archaeologist David Down." Creation 27(3):30-35, June 2005.
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- Kinnaer, Jacques. "Entry on Sesostris I." The Ancient Egypt Site, 2007. Retrieved June 23, 2007.
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- Jaroncyk, Ron. "Egyptian History and the Biblical Record: A Perfect Match?" Creation Ministries International, January 23, 2007. Retrieved June 25, 2007.
- Exodus 1:7-10
- Exodus 1:11
- Exodus 1:12-14
- Exodus 1:16
- Authors unknown."Entry for Neferhotep I." Digital Egypt for Universities. London, England: University College, 2000. Retrieved June 28, 2007.
- Exodus 7:7
- Exodus 14
- Kovacs, Joe. "Pharaoh's chariots found in Red Sea?" WorldNetDaily.com, June 21, 2003. Retrieved July 8, 2007.
- Petrovich, Michael, dir. "Crossing of the Red Sea." Center for Natural Studies, n.d. Retrieved July 8, 2007.
- Genesis 15:13
- Genesis 15:14
- Genesis 15:16
- Exodus 33:7-11
- Genesis 15:18
- verses-1 6
- Lorenzini, D. Massimiliano. "Evidence for the Early Date of the Exodus." 2002. Retrieved July 8, 2007.
- http://www.etf.cuni.cz/~prudky/pdf/Kitchen-2001_BAR-How_We_Know.pdf/ How we know when Solomon ruled
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- McClellan, Matt (August 24, 2011). Ancient Egyptian Chronology and the Book of Genesis. Answers in Genesis. Retrieved April 8, 2017.
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- https://mosaicmagazine.com/essay/2015/03/was-there-an-exodus// Was There an Exodus?
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