The Exodus is a famous Biblical event where the ancient Jewish people, after centuries of enslavement and oppression under ancient Egypt, were liberated and migrated en-masse out of Egypt. For Judaism, Christianity and Islam, this is a very significant event. The leader of the Exodus, Moses, is considered the greatest Prophet in Judaism, and a highly revered Prophet in Christianity and Islam.
The event is therefore usually told in a religious context. However, what about its historic significance? The enslaved Jewish population numbered around 600,000 men (Exodus 12:37) - the sudden disappearance of such a workforce must have had enormous consequences on Egyptian economics and society. Since the Egyptians themselves do not explicitly record this event (they rarely recorded defeats, and never recorded disasters of such a scale), we know very little of how it impacted them.
This study attempts to wrap the Exodus event with a historical context, not a religious one. The first step is to find the date when the Exodus happened. If we succeed in this, then we can place the event in the Egyptian timeline and see how it fits with Egyptian history. This may give us a vault of new information, enabling us to draw new conclusions on the historicity of the Biblical Exodus. We may even see the face of Moses.
Before we begin the study, let's have a brief review of the Exodus story.
Moses and the Exodus Explained
According to the Bible, the ancient Jews - the Israelites - first came to Egypt after being invited in by Joseph, a fellow Israelite and the second-in-command of Egypt. They settled in the heart of Egypt and became a high-standing class. Their standing probably increased in the age of the Hyksos (1650 - 1538 B.C) - a period in Egyptian history where a foreign, Levantine people took power over Egypt, and were therefore more welcoming of other Semite tribes. Under the Hyksos regime, the Israelites were prosperous and plenty.
However, in 1538 B.C, the Hyksos regime was ousted and ethnic Egyptians re-assumed control. The tone quickly turned on the Israelite immigrants, who were closely associated with the Hyksos and now viewed as intruders. The Egyptians gradually turned the Israelites into enslavement, and reportedly killed Israelite first-borns to regulate their population to a controllable size. The Bible says:
"Now there arose a new Pharaoh over Egypt, who did not know Joseph [implying the Hyksos rule had ended]. And he said to his people, “Look, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we; come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and it happen, in the event of war, that they also join our enemies and fight against us, and so go up out of the land...So the Egyptians...made their lives bitter with hard bondage—in mortar, in brick, and in all manner of service in the field." - Exodus 1:8-1:14 (with cut-outs).
After a long period of tyranny, the court prince Moses appeared as a savior to the Jewish people. Moses was ethnically Jewish, but was abandoned as a child and found by the Pharaoh's daughter in the Nile. She had adopted him and raised him as a Prince of Egypt. However, after 40 years as an Egyptian prince, Moses felt threatened by the Pharaoh and, fearing for his life, fled the country.
40 years later he re-appeared in Egypt, now demanding the immediate release of the Israelite slave population. The Pharaoh stubbornly refused, but after a series of natural disasters that wrecked Egyptian society (known in the Bible as the Ten Plagues and the Quran as the Nine Plagues) the Pharaoh finally let them go.
Moses then led hundreds of thousands of liberated Israelites out of Egypt. The Pharaoh soon regretted his decision and pursued them with his army, but the Israelites managed to escape by passing through the Red Sea. The pursuant Egyptian army however, perished underwater.
Moses would lead the Israelites into "the wilderness" for 40 years until they reached the Land of Canaan - modern-day Israel and the West Bank. They swiftly conquered the land (where the Battle of Jericho is most famous) and inhabited it. For 262 years the Israelites ruled the land independently as 12 tribes, until their unification as the Kingdom of Israel.
This is a lot of information at once, so let's focus on what's important for this study:
Enslavement of the Israelites began when the Hyksos regime fell. ("Now there arose a new Pharaoh over Egypt who did not know Joseph" and was threatened by the Semitic, Jewish population) The Hyksos ruled Egypt from approximately 1650 - 1538 B.C. So, the Exodus must have happened after 1538 B.C.
The Pharaoh's army perished when attempting to recapture the Israelites.
Egypt was wrecked after the Exodus, due to the natural disasters (the Ten Plagues).
The Israelites spent 40 years after the Exodus wandering the wilderness, before entering the Land of Canaan.
All of this clearly tells us that the Exodus had an enormous impact on Egypt, and probably numbed the Empire for decades after the event. What Pharaoh had to experience this dreadful fate?
The Current Paradigm
This question would not have been a problem if the Bible specified who the Pharaoh was. But the Bible makes no mention of the Pharaoh by name. We therefore have to look for other clues that can reveal the time period.
Modern historians have long held that Pharaoh Ramses II (1279 - 1213 B.C) was the Pharaoh of the Exodus. They affirm this due to the Biblical verse in Exodus 1:11:
"...[The Egyptians] set taskmasters over [the Israelite slaves] to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh supply towns, Pithom and Ra'amses."(Exodus 1:11.)
Egyptian sources confirm that Pharaoh Ramses II built a "Pi-Ra'amses" as the new capital for the Empire. Assuming he used Israelite slaves to build it, and that the Exodus happened just some years after it, they have settled on 1250 B.C as the date of the Exodus.
Although this is a very strong case, it is incomplete. Even if we assume that Pi-Ra'amses is the same as Pithom and Ra'amses, the Bible still calls the latter two "supply towns" (indicating small-medium size, and in plural), whereas the Egyptians note it as a capital city (indicating grandiose design and large size, and in singular). It is therefore possible that the Israelite slaves first built two supply towns, Pithom and Ramses that were later converted into a capital city by Ramses II.
In any case, we need to look at other clues to get a better idea.
Clue #1: The Merneptah Stone
Pharaoh Merneptah was the son and heir of Ramses II. One of his stones of victory, dated 1205 B.C, boasts that "Israel is wasted, its seed is not," implying that Merneptah attacked and defeated Israel.
However, how can Merneptah attack and defeat Israel in 1205? If the Exodus happened in 1250 (as historians have assumed), then Merneptah's attack would have happened just as the Israelites entered the Land of Canaan (40 years after the Exodus).
Ancient Jewish scriptures make no mention of such an affair during the conquest of Canaan. If such an engagement did happen, it must have occurred much later in Jewish history, when the tribes were established. Therefore, for the Merneptah claim to make sense, we need the Exodus date to be earlier than 1250 B.C.
Clue #2: Solomon's Temple
One of the most useful clues in the Bible appear in 1 Kings 6:1:
"In the four hundred and eightieth year after the Israelites came out of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel...he began to build the temple of the Lord."
Solomon was the third King of the united Israel, and was the one who built the First Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. He did this 480 years after the Exodus. Archeologists have settled (through carbon dating and other instruments) that Solomon reigned from ca. 970 to 931 B.C. 970-4 ("in the fourth year of Solomons reign") = 966. 966+480 years = 1446 B.C.
Now we have a new date: 1446.
Clue #3: The Judges of Israel
The Judges of Israel were Prophets and military leaders who tangled the 12 tribes of Israel together until Israel's final unification. The Bible carefully notes each judge and the duration of their judging period. One judge in particular, Jephthah, is cited as living 300 years after the Israelites entered the Land of Canaan. In other words, 340 years after the Exodus (300 years + 40 years in the wilderness). If we take the date of Solomon's Temple from 966 B.C and calculate back to Jephthah, we find him living around 1100 B.C. Add 300 years and we arrive at ca. 1400 B.C as the year when the Israelites entered Canaan, or ca 1440 B.C as the year of the Exodus.
Again, Biblical records all point to around 1446 B.C.
Clue #4: Asher
One of the twelve tribes of Israel was Asher. It occupied the coastal lands around Tyre, in modern-day Lebanon. Egyptian records from the 1300s B.C makes mention of Asher several times. How could this be if the Exodus occurred in 1250? It strengthen's the dating of 1446 B.C.
Clue #5: The Sinai inscriptions and other tablets
16 stone tables were found by archeologists Hilda & William Matthew Flinders Petrie in Egypt in 1905. These were untranslated and left in Museums for almost 100 years until Dr. Doug Petrovich had them translated. What he found was astonishing:
One tablet (Sinai 115) saying "Hebrews from Bethel, the beloved" dated 1842 B.C, around the time Joseph must have invited them to Egypt. Also confirms that Princess Asenath was married off to Joseph (Sinai 376).
One tablet (Sinai 349) of Hebraic inscriptions accusing the Pharaoh of being threatened by the size of the Jewish population and seeking to burden it, dated 1480 B.C.
Several tablets (Sinai 357, 360, 353) lamenting the oppression by the Egyptians: "a curse 100 fold has passed through our people...a multitude has surrounded us. My father was completely depleted..." One describes how some Hebrews began praying to a sun god. All are dated 1480 B.C.
One tablet (Sinai 361) saying: "Our bound servitude had lingered. Moses then provoked astonishment. It is a year of astonishment because of the Lady.," dated 1446 B.C.
There is also a tablet (Amarna tablets) in another collection referencing an attack by the "Hebrui" (Hebrews) on Jerusalem, dated 1406 B.C.
Famed archeologist John Garstang, who found and excavated the ruins of Jericho (the first battle of the Israelites upon entering Canaan) dated the fall of the city to 1405 B.C. Add 40 years of wilderness and we can date the Exodus at 1445 B.C.
Conclusion for Step 1: Finding the date
We see that the date 1250 B.C for the Exodus is highly problematic when examining other Biblical Scriptures, and ancient texts. It makes the 1250 date almost impossible. Instead, we keep returning to the date 1446/1445 B.C.
The next step will investigate the Egyptian side to the story. We will assume 1445 B.C as the date of the Exodus to see whether it "fits" in with Egyptian history. If we can comfortably establish 1445 as the date, then an ocean of rich historical context will become available to us, enabling us to understand the Exodus in a completely new light. We may also look directly on the faces of the characters involved, and perhaps, even Moses himself.
PART 2/3: "THE EXODUS - FINDING THE PHARAOH" IS COMING.
This article is dedicated to the late Professor Svein Ivar K. Herland. He was a true adventurer, Physicist and philanthropist. I had the honor to formulate this theory together with him.