SYNOPSIS: The Bible’s exodus account is foundational to biblical history, yet viewed as mostly fictional by mainstream scholars. Could this skepticism be the result of looking for the exodus in the wrong time period? This list of ten remarkable pieces of evidence supporting the biblical account suggest the exodus happened centuries earlier than the standard date.
Then Moses said to the people, “Remember this day in which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of slavery, for by a strong hand the LORD brought you out from this place…– Exodus 13:3 (ESV)
Challenges to the Biblical Exodus from Mainstream Academia
Few topics produce as much controversy as the question of whether or not the biblical account of the Israelite exodus from Egypt was an actual historical event. Widespread skepticism about the exodus pervades the field archaeology, but might this view be the result of looking for evidence in entirely the wrong time period?
A recent article by Ariel David in Haaretz (considered by some to be the most influential and respected daily newspaper in Israel) ran with the headline: “For You Were (Not) Slaves in Egypt: The Ancient Memories Behind the Exodus Myth.” The article then goes on to give the views of leading archaeologists on how this foundational account in the Bible never happened. One of its lead paragraphs reads:
“For decades now, most researchers have agreed that there is no evidence to suggest that the Exodus narrative reflects a specific historical event. Rather, it is an origin myth for the Jewish people that has been constructed, redacted, written and rewritten over centuries to include multiple layers of traditions, experiences, and memories from a host of different sources and periods.”
This common assessment is due to a perceived lack of evidence for the entire range of events in the Exodus Period from the Bible’s portrayal of the Israelites arrival in Egypt, to their enslavement as their population exploded, to their departure en masse from a land devastated by plagues, to finally conquering the Promised Land of Canaan 40 years after their departure.
It is true that evidence for these events looks bleak when adopting the conventional thinking of an exodus during the days of Egypt’s greatest New Kingdom pharaoh, Ramesses II (typically dated to the 13th century BC). However, as profiled in the film Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus, when looking in earlier periods, a powerful pattern of evidence fitting the Bible’s account emerges. If the exodus occurred in this older period, it demonstrates that the majority view’s understanding of the Bible’s timeline is off, or the dates assigned to ancient history and the archaeological levels in this region is off, or some combination of the two.
10 Artifacts Pointing to the Historicity of Exodus Events
Here Is a List of Ten Supportive Artifacts; Countless Millions of Facts and Artifacts Support Genuine Biblical History.
- Merneptah Stele
- Mittelsaal House at Avaris
- The Bahr Yussef
- Proto-Sinaitic Inscriptions
- Brooklyn Papyrus
- Shasu of YHWH Name Ring
- Berlin Pedestal Stone Inscription
- Palace, Tomb and Statue of a Semitic High Official
- Ipuwer Papyrus
- Walls of Jericho
1. Merneptah Stele
Discovered in 1896 by pioneering Egyptologist Flinders Petrie, the Merneptah Stele (also pictured at the top of the article) has long been the most famous artifact related to biblical history in the era of the exodus. Conventionally dated to 1208 BC, it was erected in the 5th year of Pharaoh Merneptah who was the son of Ramesses II. The monument pronounces military victories over a series of enemies including the people of Israel living to the north of Egypt.
For more than a century, this was the oldest known inscription mentioning Israel. It shows that the Israelites were already in Canaan at this point, at least 40 years after leaving Egypt according to biblical chronology. Scholars holding to a Ramesses exodus see this as evidence of an Egyptian attack shortly after the Israelites arrived in Canaan. However, there is no record in the Bible of conflict with Egypt during the successful conquest of Canaan. Additionally, the fact that the stele depicts Israel as an established power in the land suggests that this was actually long after the time of the exodus and conquest.
2. Mittelsaal House at Avaris
At least 650 years before the Merneptah Stele was erected, a Syrian-styled house was built in Egypt’s Nile Delta at the site of Avaris. Its remains were unearthed by a team of Austrian excavators led by Manfred Bietak who recognized it as a “mittelsaalhaus” or “middle-room house.” It was part of a Semitic community that settled on virgin grassland near one of the branches of the Nile River. By examining the cultural materials left behind, the excavators concluded that the people had come from the Canaan area and settled with the permission of the Egyptian state – no walls surrounded this prosperous community.
In the Bible, Abraham had come from Haran in north Syria, his son Isaac got his bride from there as well, and his son Jacob had lived in Haran for 20 years where his first 11 sons were born. When Jacob moved to Egypt during a drought with his family and flocks, Pharaoh freely gave him the best land in Egypt for grazing flocks. The Syrian-styled house would have been just the type of structure one would expect the leader of this clan would build for himself.
3. The Joseph Canal (the Bahr Yussef)
In the same Middle Kingdom period as the mittelsaal house (Egypt’s 12th Dynasty), a canal was developed that ran parallel to the central portion of the Nile River for about 100 miles before dumping into a large lake called the Fayum. We don’t have any record of what its name was at that time, but the Arabic name for it that goes back over a thousand years is the “Bahr Yusef” or the Waterway (Canal) of Joseph.
Joseph was made second in command over all of Egypt for interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams of a coming 7-year terrible famine. Could this name be based on an older tradition of a canal built by Joseph as part of the relief efforts for the great famine mentioned in the Bible? In Egypt, famine would occur with either extremely low or extremely high levels of the annual Nile flood. A diversion canal leading to a reservoir would help combat either of those possibilities.
4. Proto-sinaitic Inscriptions
Another discovery by Flinders Petrie and his wife Hilda was made on the Sinai Peninsula where ancient Egypt worked copper and turquoise mines. At the site of Serabit el-Khadim, they found inscriptions made with a previously unknown writing system that became known as Proto-Sinaitic. As seen in the film Patterns of Evidence: The Moses Controversy it turned out that the writing used the world’s oldest alphabet, which was the father of all modern alphabets.
Intriguingly, the inscriptions were found to be in a Semitic language. Not only this, but the inscriptions first showed up in Sinai and in Egypt-proper during the same Middle Kingdom era as Joseph and his family, and they stopped being used in Egypt around the time of the exodus. Inscriptions in this same style (called Proto-Canaanite when found in Canaan) then showed up later in the land of Israel. Some scholars have proposed that these writings were actually an early form of Hebrew and that they have identified Hebrew words and messages.
5. Brooklyn Papyrus
One of the most common charges against the Bible’s exodus account is that there is no evidence of a massive Semitic slave population in Egypt in the era of Pharaoh Ramesses. However, in the earlier Middle Kingdom (13th Dynasty) there is evidence of Semitic settlements all across the northeast Nile Delta. A document from further south at this time lists nearly a hundred slaves from a single estate – the majority of whom were Semitic.
The Bible says the Israelites became so numerous that they spread across Egypt. All the documents from the Nile Delta have rotted away because of the Nile floods that covered the area annually for thousands of years. So, we have no written records from the Delta Egypt. But this slave list from the south has dozens of slaves including the biblical forms of names like “Shiphrah” (the same name as the Hebrew midwife in the Exodus account), “Asher” and “Issachar.”
6. Shasu of Yhwh Name Ring
The Exodus account makes it clear (in Exodus 5:2) that Pharaoh had never heard of Israel’s God YHWH. Yet at the ancient temple of Soleb in modern Sudan, an inscription from Pharaoh Amenhotep III (more than a hundred years before Ramesses II) lists enemies of Egypt. One of those enemies is the Shasu (nomads) of YHWH. This is the oldest known inscription to use the name “YHWH,” showing that after the Exodus Israel’s God was no longer unknown to the pharaohs.
7. Berlin Pedestal Stone Inscription
The Merneptah Stele no longer contains the oldest known mention of “Israel” in an ancient inscription. The Berlin Pedestal includes a set of name rings (each associated with a depiction of a bound prisoner) of enemies in the Canaan area with damage to the right-hand ring in the image. A reconstruction of the name ring by German Egyptologists Manfred Gorg, Peter van der Veen and Christoffer Theis has shown that it names Israel. The date of the artifact is disputed, but most put it somewhere around a century prior to Ramesses. If the Israelites were established in the Canaan area at that time, the Exodus would have happened at least 40 years before this point.
8. Palace, Tomb and Statue of a Semitic High Official
After the Mittelsaal house was demolished at Avaris, a new palace was constructed for a Semitic high official. The Bible states that Joseph was highly rewarded for his saving Egypt from the famine. Could this palace have been part of that reward? Behind the palace was a set of 12 principal tombs with chapels associated with each. One of these tombs was unique because it was in the form of a small pyramid with a statue of its occupant in the chapel. The statue had all the motifs designating a Semitic figure from the Canaan area. This included a coat of many colors.
9. Ipuwer Papyrus
This common assessment is due to a perceived lack of evidence for the entire range of events in the Exodus Period from the Bible’s portrayal of the Israelites arrival in Egypt, to their enslavement as their population exploded, to their departure en masse from a land devastated by plagues, to the feasibility of a journey across dry wilderness areas like the Sinai and Negev, to finally conquering the Promised Land of Canaan 40 years after their departure.
Another common charge made against a biblical exodus is that no hint of anything like the disaster of the exodus is recorded in Egyptian documents from the time of Ramesses. The calamities experienced by Egypt were so severe that their society would have collapsed. In fact, every one of the images of the Exodus plagues (from locusts to frogs, hail, and waters turning to blood) is used in the Book of Revelation to describe events during the end times judgments.
A papyrus housed in the Leiden Museum in the Netherlands records a time of great calamities in Egypt and the resulting chaos that occurred when society had broken down. Known as the Admonitions of an Egyptian Sage and also as the Ipuwer Papyrus, it uses several phrases early on that bear an uncanny similarity to the Exodus account. These include the river turning to blood, darkness, all is ruin, wailing throughout the land with no shortage of the dead and the slave taking what he finds, while gold, silver, and precious stones are strung on the necks of female slaves. The Bible recounts that the Israelites asked for silver and gold jewelry as they exited Egypt, and the Egyptians gave them what they requested. More information on this and the other artifacts on the list can be found in the book Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus.
While some scholars focus on the date of the copy of the Ipuwer Papyrus in the Leiden Museum (19th Dynasty – New Kingdom) and others speculate on what events the document might be speaking of (most think it may refer to the collapse at the end of the Old Kingdom), the first concern is to determine when the original story was composed. The consensus of modern specialists is that what we have is a copy of an account originally composed very late in the Middle Kingdom – in line with the era of the other pieces of evidence matching the Bible. For instance, the account mentions pyramid builders in the present tense, and the building of pyramids ceased at the close of the 13th Dynasty.
10. Walls of Jericho
The Conquest of Canaan 40 Years after the Exodus:
Perhaps the biggest claim made against the Bible’s account exodus events is the lack of evidence matching the conquest of Canaan 40 years after the Exodus. However, once again the evidence matching the Bible can be found, only centuries before the time of Ramesses.
The starkest example of this is the walls of Jericho. The Bible says the walls came tumbling down as the Israelites marched around the city, blew their trumpets and shouted. They then burned the city. Archaeologists found that the high walls of the city did fall outward and down the slope that the city was built on. This would have provided a convenient ramp for the Israelites to travel up to take the city. A very thick burn layer that took place after the walls came down and evidenced extremely high temperatures convinced the excavators that the city was intentionally burned by an enemy. Other evidence such as uneaten and abundant grain stores show that the city was taken after a very short siege, and after the spring grain harvest had come in – are evidence exactly matching the biblical account of a short siege soon after Passover.
The debate about the exact date of the final city destruction at Jericho will continue, but there can be no doubt that the evidence matches the Bible in numerous, specific and unique ways. And it all happened centuries earlier than expected for one using the standard Ramesses view.
Final Thoughts on Biblical Paradigms and Presuppositions
Questioning entrenched paradigms and presuppositions can lead to seeing new alternatives and patterns that have been there all along, but not recognized for what they may be. Having this mindset might even allow most scholars to view the Exodus account as being real history. – Keep Thinking!
TOP PHOTO: David Rohl and Timothy Mahoney visit a replica of the Merneptah Stele at Thebes where the original was found. (© 2014, Patterns of Evidence LLC.)