- 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).
The narration of the exodus out of Israel originates from the Book of Exodus, the second book of the Bible. The dating for this document is controversial, although the frame in which this book was authored can be narrowed down to the second millennium BC. An analysis on the onomastics in the Book of Exodus revealed that out of the forty or more names that appear throughout the book, two of them specifically, Puah and Hebron, are Egyptian personal names that are only attested to within the second millennium BC, making authorship of this book during the first millennium BC unlikely, as later scribes in this time period would not be familiar with these names that have had long since gone out of us. This same analysis also failed to find any personal names attested to in the Book of Exodus that are only attested to in the first millennium BC. There are other elements that further indicate authorship in the second millennium BC. For example, in the Book of Exodus, God's strength and power is referred to by His strong and outstretched arm (cf. Exo. 3:19-20; Exo. 13:3; Exo. 32:11, etc.) which is a phrase now known to have originated from the Egyptians themselves and was only used by Egypt. This phrase was widespread and referred to the strong, powerful and outstretched arm of pharaoh by the Egyptians, and was soon adopted by the Hebrews, most likely through their interaction with Egyptian culture during their enslavement in Egypt. This phrase however, significantly declined in usage after the second millennium BC with the start of the Third Intermediate Period, making an adoption of this term after the second millennium BC unlikely. Thus, it is most probable to conclude that the story of the exodus was already known by the second millennium BC.
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")
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 cities, 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.
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.
An unofficial survey conducted by James K. Hoffmeier surveyed the views of 25 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 25 respondents, 19 egyptologists answered YES, whereas 0 answered NO, and the other 6 simply expressed views from this being likely to unlikely. Hoffmeier's survey revealed that the consensus of egyptologists is that the exodus is a historical event.
Book of Exodus
There are several historical indicators for the exodus in the Book of Exodus that have established the historicity of this event. The description of the conditions of the Hebrews under Egyptian slavery in the Book of Exodus seems to be familiar with the historical slavery that the Egyptians put to their own slaves. For one, it is known that the Egyptians had foreign slaves under their empire. This is especially well known to be depicted in the tomb of vizier Rekhmire, dating to c. 1460 BC. The Book of Exodus describes that the Egyptians "worked the Israelites ruthlessly and made their lives bitter with difficult labor in brick and mortar and in all kinds of fieldwork." (Exodus 1:13-14) It has been in fact confirmed that Egyptian slaves were forced to make bricks and engage in many forms of both fieldwork and construction work. Furthermore, the renowned egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen has demonstrated that ancient Egyptian brickmakers had to meet quota for their brick production, a fact that is highly reminiscent of Exodus 5:4-19.
Various studies have been conducted on the Book of Exodus, revealing that it is heavily influenced by the Egyptian language and uses a large number of specifically Egyptian words. A study by Benjamin J. Noonan has revealed that the Hebrew language used in the Book of Exodus uses more Egyptian loanwords than any other book of the Bible, and more than any other ancient language or dialect in general. In fact, the only ancient texts that had a comparable usage of Egyptian words to the Book of Exodus were those written in Imperial Aramaic, a dialect of Aramaic that was only spoken and written within Egypt. Thus, Noonan found that the only ancient language that exhibits similar levels of Egyptian influence to the Book of Exodus and wilderness narratives is a dialect of Aramaic that exhibited intense Egyptian contact, thus noting that the influence of Egypt in the Book of Exodus could only have come about through direct influence and life in the Egyptian world itself. This is considered by Noonan to be strong historical evidence for the exodus. Noonan interestingly also revealed that several of these Egyptian words in the Book of Exodus had to be borrowed in the Late Bronze Age of Egypt, rather than later periods of time.
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.
A 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.
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.
The Exodus has been the subject of many motion picture and television projects over the last fifty years, notably including The Ten Commandments, Prince of Egypt and Exodus: Gods and Kings. 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.
- Hess, Richard. Edited by James K. Hoffmeier, Alan R. Millard, and Gary A. Rendsburg "Did I Not Bring Israel Out of Egypt? (2016): pp. 37-48.
- Hoffmeier, James K. "The Arm of God Versus the Arm of Pharaoh in the Exodus Narratives." Biblica 67.3 (1986): 378-387.
- see reference 2, pg. 383
- Tas Walker, Steve Cardno and Jonathan Sarfati. "Timing is Everything: A Talk with Field Archaeologist David Down." Creation 27(3):30-35, June 2005.
- Author unknown. "Entry for Sesostris I." Encyclopedia Britannica, 2007. Retrieved June 23, 2007 from Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
- Kinnaer, Jacques. "Entry on Sesostris I." The Ancient Egypt Site, 2007. Retrieved June 23, 2007.
- Kjellen, Tore. "Entry for Sesostris I." Encyclopedia of the Orient online, 2007. Retrieved June 23, 2007.
- 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
- http://www.etf.cuni.cz/~prudky/pdf/Kitchen-2001_BAR-How_We_Know.pdf/ How we know when Solomon ruled
- Wood, Bryant G. "The Rise and Fall of the 13th-Century Exodus-Conquest Theory." JOURNAL-EVANGELICAL THEOLOGICAL SOCIETY 48.3 (2005): 475.
- Rowley, H. H. "The Exodus and the Settlement in Canaan." Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 85 (1942): 27-31.
- Wood, Bryant G. "The Biblical date for the exodus is 1446 BC: a response to James Hoffmeier." JOURNAL-EVANGELICAL THEOLOGICAL SOCIETY 50.2 (2007): 249.
- Hoffmeier, James K. "What is the Biblical date for the exodus? a response to Bryant Wood." JOURNAL-EVANGELICAL THEOLOGICAL SOCIETY 50.2 (2007): 231.
- McClellan, Matt (August 24, 2011). Ancient Egyptian Chronology and the Book of Genesis. Answers in Genesis. Retrieved April 8, 2017.
- Mitchell, Elizabeth (July 22, 2010). Chapter 24 -- Doesn’t Egyptian Chronology Prove That the Bible Is Unreliable?. Answers in Genesis. Retrieved April 8, 2017.
- Historical Evidence for the Exodus
- Hoffmeier, James K. "Egyptologists and the Israelite Exodus from Egypt." Israel's Exodus in Transdisciplinary Perspective. Springer International Publishing, 2015. 197-208.
- Kitchen, Kenneth Anderson. The Bible in its world: the Bible and archaeology today. Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2004. pg. 77
- Arnold, Bill T., and Richard S. Hess, eds. Ancient Israel's History: An Introduction to Issues and Sources. Baker Academic, 2014. pp. 56-58.
- Kitchen, Kenneth Anderson. "From the Brickfields of Egypt." Tyndale Bulletin 27 (1976): 137-147.
- Lambdin, Thomas O. "Egyptian loan words in the Old Testament." Journal of the American Oriental Society 73.3 (1953): 145-155.
- Muchiki, Yoshiyuki. Egyptian proper names and loanwords in North-West Semitic. Diss. University of Liverpool, 1990.
- James K. Hoffmeier, Alan R. Millard, and Gary A. Rendsburg eds. "Did I Not Bring Israel Out of Egypt?" Eisenbrauns. pp. 48-68.
- Bietak, Manfred. "Perunefer: the principal New Kingdom naval base." Egyptian Archaeology 34.2009 (2009): 1-3.
- Petrovich, Douglas. "Toward Pinpointing the Timing of the Egyptian Abandonment of Avaris during the Middle of the 18th Dynasty." Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections 5.2 (2013): 9-28.
- Maeir, Aren M. "Exodus as a Mnemo-Narrative: An Archaeological Perspective." Israel's Exodus in Transdisciplinary Perspective. Springer International Publishing, 2015. 413.
- Joshua Berman: Was There an Exodus?
- Maeir, Aren M. "Exodus as a Mnemo-Narrative: An Archaeological Perspective." Israel's Exodus in Transdisciplinary Perspective. Springer International Publishing, 2015. 413-14.
- Mendenhall, George E. "The Census Lists of Numbers 1 and 26." Journal of Biblical Literature (1958): 52-66.
- Waite, Jerry. "The Census of Israelite Men after their Exodus from Egypt." Vetus Testamentum (2010): 487-491.
- Humphreys, Colin J. "The number of people in the Exodus from Egypt: Decoding mathematically the very large numbers in Numbers i and xxvi." Vetus Testamentum 48 (1998): 196-213.
- Driver, S. R. "An Additional Note to Two Recent Articles on the Number of People in the Exodus from Egypt and the Large Numbers in Numbers I and XXVI." Vetus Testamentum 51 (2001): 3.