Does the archaeological evidence confound the biblical timeline for Abraham through the fall of Judah? Perhaps not. Read my reasoning in this post.

Introduction

Archaeology and lore have long fascinated mankind, and me personally.  In the fifth century BCE, Herodotus (b. ca. 484 BCE, d. ca. 425 BCE) published his inquires, the Greek word for which is Historia, whence our word History comes.  Like all such things, some of what he writes is true, some is legend, and a lot is his colorful flavor.  Various groups have long adored ancient texts and relics of their forefathers. Ancient Egyptian spells tout their efficacy because they are so old.

What really happened, even when eyewitness accounts are available, is shrouded in mystery and filled with opinion.  And, let’s face it, the records are sparse, and we should expect them to be so – just try investigating your own family history!

At the turn of the 19th century, in about 1801, a focused investigation of the artifacts in and from the “Holy Land” began, led by Europeans.  This new study branch is called Biblical Archaeology, and the initial focus was to prove that the biblical accounts are correct based on evidence other than scripture – “extrabiblical evidence”.

What they found was shocking.  What they found before about 750 BCE was and is a whole lot of nothing to support and a whole bunch of evidence to contradict the text, especially the Torah and the book of Joshua – the Hexateuch.  Efforts in Archaeology, biblical or not, have found lots of interesting things, but still do not find support for the text before Tiglath Pileser III, or very, very little support.

Tiglath Pileser III, King of Neo-Assyrian Empire, 745-727 BCE

Notions and Ideas

One of my favorite authors, James Kugel, included a gentle warning in one his books:  If you read this, you may never look at the Bible the same way again.  Cross-correlating the Biblical text to Archaeological evidence does not bode well for the historicity of the text, at least not before the fall of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, so be warned.

In my personal studies (see my bibliography post), I do not take a literal approach to much of the text.  I agree with scholars that the text prior to Abraham is a collection of stories and lore that is common throughout the region but tailored to the perspective of those keeping the text.  There are strong arguments that this is so, but this post is not the place to make them.

Based on what I knew before I worked up the details of this post, my hypothesis was that, from Abraham to the fall of Israel and Judah, there is some very loose historicity mixed in with legend, nationalistic writing, stories meant to teach, and stories meant to entertain, poems, and all sorts of good stuff.  Supporting the general narrative, there is no doubt in my mind that the “Hebrews” of the bible are closely connected to Egyptian culture. My notions of connection are based on similarity of wisdom literature, justice (more on that anon) and other things like the peculiar name of Moses (Moishe), but again this post is not the place to expound on those plausible fantasies.

It seemed plausible to me that a group of people entered Egypt and came under duress causing them to leave.  They gradually inhabited the region known in the Biblical text as Israel and formed a coalition of tribal elements into domains ruled by tribal leaders and, eventually, ruled by kings.  Two primary regions were concerned:  The kingdom of Israel to the north (aka Samaria), and the kingdom Judah (aka Judea) to the south.  The northern kingdom fell to Assyria and, later, the southern kingdom fell to Babylon.  The fall of the kingdoms is where Archaeology and the Biblical text meet.  The time period for all of this is about 1,200 years : 1800 BCE to 600 BCE. 

Nile delta from NASA Visible Earth. Credit: Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Land Science Team

All of that is plausible, but the details given in the Biblical text are impossible.  No, I’m not disputing miracles, I’m disputing numbers of people and dates.  In think that something really did happen at the sea of reeds: it was the Yam Suph “Sea of reeds” which parted, not the “Red Sea”.  Translation mixed with tradition can mislead. We really don’t know what these “seas” mean in terms of specific geographic limits at the time of the Exodus, to be honest. And the nature of the waterways in and near Egypt has changed dramatically, nay drastically, over the years. Proof is hard to come by, in other words.

The goal of this post is to lay out data and possibilities, to construct a plausible theory that gets in the data while acknowledging that it is impossible to prove out that theory.


Methods

I’m keeping it simple.  All biblical dating is based on the notes from the Douay Rheims translation of the Vulgate (Latin) bible.  The Douay Rheims translation was completed in the sixteenth / early seventeenth century and is therefore not influenced by archaeological dating and findings.  Archaeological dating is based on what science has to offer, be that carbon dating or other methods. I have been careful to exclude “extrabiblical” items with Bible based dates, please note.

Data

The Douay Rheims (D.R.) provides notes throughout and, where possible, verses are footnoted with a date in either Anno Mundi (AM – year of the world) or Ante-Christum Natum (ACM – before the birth of Christ) form, or both. AM is a dating system based on the biblical text – the one that makes the world about 6,023 years old – while I agree that the earth is 4-5 billion years old, one uses the dating system one is given. ACM dating, which is equivalent to “Before Common Era” (BCE) and “Before Christ” (BC), in the D. R., differs from BCE by 4004 years. That is, one subtracts the AM date from 4004 to render the BCE date, or one subtracts the BCE data from 4004 to render the AM date. The D. R. translation names what are commonly called the first and second book of Samuel the first and second book of Kings (making four books of kings in all). AM dates are provided relative to D. R. dates or are calculated from Archaeological dates to form a continuous timeline.


Canaanites and Asiatics (refs 3-12)

We’ll start in about 1800 BCE, because it is then that we find archaeological evidence that Canaanites began living in Egypt.  We’re on the edge of recorded history; coherent written artifacts begin to appear around 3000 BCE in Egypt and 2600 BCE in Mesopotamia.

Sargon of Akkad, ca. 2300 BCE

It is important for us to understand that Egypt was once a large empire that swept across Arabia into what was called “Asia” to the east and north meeting the Hittite civilization about half-way round the Mediterranean towards Turkey.  Canaanites, Sumerians, Phoenicians, Akkadians, Assyrians, folks from Philistia (“Philistines”) and so forth are considered “Asiatics” and are depicted in Egyptian artifacts as having black beards from their ears down across the bottom of the face – that’s why it’s important to understand “Asiatics” – they stand out in Egyptian vignettes.

Archaeology tells us that a group of Asiatics took lower kingdom of Egypt (northern Egypt by the Nile delta) in about 1650 BCE and were removed from power by about 1545 BCE.  These persons are called the Hyksos, and it seems clear that they introduced the wheel (for chariots and wagons) to Egypt.  Potters wheels pre-exist the Hyksos period, but wheels for use in mobility were introduced, it appears, by the Asiatics.  I’ll note that Papyri and pyramid vignettes still depict items being moved on sleds long after this period, perhaps a nod to the good old days.

If Joseph indeed sent wagons to Jacob to enter Egypt (Genesis 45:21), it must have been during or after the Hyksos if it happened at all. As we shall see, it could well have been in the Hyksos period.

Josephus writes, shortly after 70 CE, that the Hyksos correspond to the Biblical Joseph, and that their fall is synonymous with the Exodus.  He translates “Hyksos” to mean shepherds.  Modern Archaeology translates it to mean “foreign rulers” and discounts his views.  This may not be entirely wise given the information he had access to, but 1,600 years ago was a long time, even in 70 CE. What do the data potentially tell us?

References 3-16

According to the Biblical text, Joseph was sold in 1718 BCE and died in 1635 BCE. Archaeology tells us that the Hyksos rose to full power in the fifteenth dynasty in about 1650 BCE and that they lost power in about 1545 BCE. It is therefore entirely possible that the Hyksos and Joseph are related as indicated by Josephus. We can’t of course know, but it is at least not impossible. But we do know that he could have had wagons for Jacob!


Exodus and Entry into the Promised Land (refs 13-16)

The departure, or overthrow, of the Hyksos is met with little fanfare in ancient literature and artifacts do not indicate a purge of the Asiatic population from Egypt.  If the entire event was considered shameful, it is possible that the dearth of literature is in and of itself telling.  One must always remember the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence; one speculates and must acknowledge that fact.

We then have Moses born in 1571 BCE noting that, according to the Bible, he was raised in the house of Pharaoh. Assuming that the slaughter and so forth are additions, this would make some sense if he were adopted or otherwise part of the Hyksos group – Pharaohs of the lower kingdom (Nile delta) of Egypt. The murder of the Egyptian happens, according to the Bible, in 1531, after the Hyksos fall from power. That’s entirely possible, and what’s more, it make sense. Indeed, Ahmose I defeated the Hyksos in the lower kingdom and reunited Egypt somewhere between 1549-1524 (dates here are in some dispute in Archaeology, we’re at the limit of carbon dating). Did Moses fight for the Hyksos against Ahmose I? Perhaps.

Ahmose I drives the Hyksos from Egypt

Douay Rheims dates the Exodus at about 1491 BCE, a time after archaeology tells us the Hyksos fell from power, 54 years after the fall of the Hyksos. And the text says that Moses was then 80 years old (Exodus 7:7). That’s a near perfect fit assuming he fought during the overthrow and was in his twenties.

And the Pharaoh of the Exodus? Sorry, it’s not Ramesees II. Although a city called Ramses (sic) is mentioned five times in the text (Genesis 47:8, Exodus 1:11 & 12:37, Numbers 33:3 & 33:5), the person is not. Archaeologists date the reign of Ramesses II from 1279-1213 BCE, which does not fit into the timeline in our table. He could have been harassing and making war on the people in the region, but he is not a candidate for the Pharaoh of the Exodus in my reckoning. That said, we should duly note that, if this city is indeed Pi-Ramesses, then the biblical references are anachronistic dating that portion of the text after ca. 1279 BCE when the city was built and before ca. 1060 BCE when the city was abandoned. Note that these dates are both pre-exilic (prior to 605 BCE), meaning that this portion of the text settled prior to the Exile to Babylon. That’s important later on.

Who then was the Pharaoh of the exodus? For that distinction, we’d look toward the eighteenth dynasty and to Thutmose I (1520-1492 BCE) and / or Thutmose II (1492-1479 BCE, or 1513-1499 BCE (the dates are in dispute) if the earlier dating be true, our prize may go to Hatshepsut, a female Pharaoh, Thutmose II’s “Queen” wife who succeeded him). Thutmose II is a favorite candidate for some due to an apparently short and ignominious rule marked by very few (clay) Scarabs being produced with his name, no son by the Queen wife (Thutmose I was the child of his lesser wife), and obvious skin problems on his mummy – perhaps from diseases that could be related to the Exodus narrative.

That said, there is no evidence of a mass migration of 600,000 men (Exodus 12:37) plus women and children and flocks from Egypt has been found to date.  Here, absence of evidence is indeed evidence of absence – 600,000 men of fighting age and at least that many family members plus the herds and so forth required to keep them alive for forty years certainly leaves evidence.  And while we may argue that the route is not yet discovered, the destination is known and artifacts do not indicate a mass take-over of the region at all, or, for that matter, a large influx of people.

1695 Map of Israel by Abraham Bar-Jacob

Artifacts do indicate incursions from a group of people, mainly based in the mountains, gradually taking control of the region and that those people did not eat pork. Archaeology is quite like the updated version we find in the book of Judges “The LORD was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain, because they had chariots of iron.” (Judges 1:19 NRS) and “When Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not in fact drive them out.” (Judges 1:28 NRS). 

In Judges chapter 1, we are told that the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, Manasseh (half tribe), Ephraim (half tribe), Zebulun, Asher, Naphtali, and Dan did not displace the inhabitants.  Of course, the tribe of Levi had no inheritance. The leads us to believe that only the tribes of Reuben, Simeon, Gad, and Issachar did drive out the indigenous population, yet Simeon is really within Judah and Issachar is nestled on the west bank of the Jordan and southern tip of the Sea of Galilee between tribes that did not drive out the native population, and  Reuben and Gad are on the east side of the Jordan. I think it’s safe to say that none of the tribes drove out or slaughtered the inhabitants on any wide scale.

The text also self-conflicts within chapter 1 which is rare (conflicts in the text are common, within the same chapter they are rare).  “Then the people of Judah fought against Jerusalem and took it. They put it to the sword and set the city on fire.” (Judges 1:8 NRS) does not agree with “But the Benjaminites did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem; so the Jebusites have lived in Jerusalem among the Benjaminites to this day.” (Judges 1:21 NRS). More on that anon.

So, here we are in 1434 BCE, per the Bible, and there’s no evidence that the people in the “promised land” have been displaced or that cities of Israel abound with a huge numberless population as described. The residents may have been, and quite probably were, harassed from the mountains, but were most certainly not displaced. From that perspective, it seems we might be closer to historical reality with the book of Judges than if we follow the books of the Hexateuch. There is however some history being recorded that impacts this area which was largely under Egyptian control. But what about the justice system of the Torah, is it truly special?

Middle East image from NASA Visible Earth. Credit: Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC

Torah Justice

Many compare the laws of the Torah to the codes of Lipit Ishtar (ca 1860 BCE) and Hammurabi (ca 1754 BCE).  While the systems of laws have much in common, the systems of justice are not comparable at all.  The Torah justice system is unique in its period (and, perhaps even today):  The law is the law regardless of one’s station – every person, King, Prophet, Priest, common person, is equally accountable.  Other codes presume that feudal lords escape direct consequences by giving up slaves or family members to be punished.  This is not at all true in the Torah.  Regardless of dating, be that 1800 BCE or 600 BCE, the Torah stands out at the first recorded justice system requiring equality before the law among all humans living under its rules.  There should be no doubt, even with little extabiblical evidence, that this group was unique, and if not inspired, certainly inspiring. I personally believe both to be true. But is it from Egypt?

Egyptian Justice

I’ve said that the people of the Bible were closely tied to the people of Egypt based on literature and certain names. What does that say about their systems of justice?

Ancient Egyptian culture is still somewhat of a mystery to us. This is especially true because we do not understand their religion in practice and we’ve not found a set of codes or laws that allow us to compare as we can with Lipit Ishtar or Hammurabi or the Torah. That notwithstanding, we do know a few things. These come from funerary texts in the form of negative confessions. In other words, the departed prepares a list items that they have not done in order for the sins of their heart to weigh less than the feather of Ma’at (truth, justice, etc.) thereby admitting them to the afterlife. From this, we can infer what their codes or traditions must have been.

Among the things that Ani did not do according to the Papyrus of Ani (ca. 1250 BCE) are: Steal, Blaspheme, Kill – or cause to be killed, Commit Adultery, Act with lies or deceit, Slander, Commit acts of violence, Oppress or terrorize people, Ignore the truth. Those are a familiar list, yet we must understand that the Egyptian underworld was not open to all and therefore these lofty goals were originally for the nobles only and, gradually, became applicable to all as the doors to going forth by day were opened to all (this transition is from ca. 3000 BCE to Ani’s time, ca. 1250 BCE).

Weighing of the Heart, Hunefer Papyrus, ca. 1375 BCE. By Hunefer – http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/aes/p/page_from_the_book_of_the_dead.aspx

The vignette above is the weighing of the heart. One can see the hand of the deceased to the left, being led into judgement by Anubis who is also tending the scales. Thoth, the creator of writing, records the results. On the scales, to the left, a jar with the supplicant’s heart, to the right, the feather of Ma’at. And that nasty creature looking at Thoth? That’s Ammit, depicted as a crocodile, lion, and hippopotamus. Ammit is the devourer of the dead, the eater of souls, the end for those who fail the test. Ammit is a goddess, she is hell’s fury – it’s a very, very old concept. The writings above are all incantations (spells). A new spell starts with red hieroglyphs. That’s part of our problem, the text does not describe the scene.

One stark departure could be punishment. The Torah is filled with various punishments notably including extirpation (being cast out), stoning to death, and the old eye for an eye lex talionis retaliatory punishment, the avenger of blood and so forth.

From what we know about Egyptian culture, which is admittedly lacking, the death penalty was for treason only, and the Pharaoh would not sentence anyone to death (perhaps the one thing the Ten Commandments movie got right). The priests would inquire of the (or a) god for this sentence. If the god nodded, it would be carried out. One supposes that certain idols were akin to bobble head dolls. No, I’m not joking.

We should note that this is not because the Egyptians were in any way squeamish. During war, valiant warriors kept a show of hands with them, by which I mean a stringer, you know, as with fish that you catch, except this stringer contained the severed hands of those whom they had slain. No, not squeamish at all. Now for the Heretics.

Amarna Heresy (ref 16)

Amenhotep IV “Amun is Satisfied” became pharaoh in about 1353 and within five years (ca 1358 BCE) had moved the capital from Thebes to a town called Akhenaten (now known as El Amarna) and changed his name to Akhenaten variously “Effective for Aten” or “Horizon of Aten” – Aten is a sun god, instituting somewhat of a monotheistic culture “Atenism” albeit Pharaoh was still divine. This all treads into areas that we don’t really understand, Akh being our representation of the word for the Egyptian concept of an effective being or soul, which also includes the Ba – the personality and the Ka – the spark of life.

Akhenaten Credit: Jon Bodsworth – http://www.egyptarchive.co.uk/html/cairo_museum_34.html

The “heresy” resulted in the removal of priests and scribes from power, with the Pharaoh being the sole intermediary between Aten and the people. This was both a brilliant power play as well as a radical reform. These reforms brought a complete disarray to the Egyptian empire, and cost enormous sums of money destabilizing the region and ended shortly after Akhenaten died in about 1336 BCE (the capital was relocated to Thebes in about 1335 BCE). He was followed by two very short lived Pharaohs (Smenkhkare 1335-1334 BCE and Neterneferauten 1334-1332 BCE). And then came Tutankhaten (1332-1323 BCE). You know him well.

TutAnkhAten – Tut, The life of Aten. His name was changed to TutAnkhAmun – Tut, the life of Amun officially restoring traditional Egyptian religion and pantheon, Amun-re (or Amun-Ra as most have it) being the head of the Egyptian pantheon.

I had the opportunity to see the Tut artifacts as a lad when they traveled through New Orleans. My father, working for a major oil company in an executive position, got special passes and we had all the time we wanted to stand right up to the glass cases and study. These artifacts are amazing in all ways, especially including the quality of Tut’s mask. Not widely known is the fact that the back of the mask is inscribed with hieroglyphs. Like many Egyptian burial writings, these are incantations to be used by the dead to “go forth by day” (the Egyptian name for what we call the book of the dead is “Going forth by day”, a reference to the daily trip of the Sun Barque across the sky).

Many, including Sigmund Freud, have speculated that Atenism and Judaism are closely tied and that Moses may have been an priest of Aten, with the “Hebrews” being in flight from the overthrow of Atenism. Tempting though it may be, this doesn’t quite fit our timeline. Moreover, the priesthood that Moses establishes in the Torah is contrary to the very notion of Atenism which does away with the power of priests and scribes. Again, it is tempting given source and text criticism to suppose that the priestly duties were a later addition, but that does so much violence to the fundamentals of the text, and well beyond the Hexateuch, that it seems a far stretch, to me at least. Regardless, we have the letters.

The Amarna Letters

Amarna letter EA 161

Several letters from the Amarna period have survived, and letter El Amarna (EA) 289, ca. 1350 BCE reports Jerusalem being given over to people called the ‘Apiru (which is not too far of a stretch to make a homonym for Hebrew – this is, of course, widely disputed). This is reference 16 in the table, and many have incorrectly, say I, associated this with David. As you can see from the table, that doesn’t work at all. It could, however, work with Judges chapter 1 and the report of Judah (the tribe thereof) taking Jerusalem. Now Jerusalem is technically in the territory of (the tribe of) Benjamin, and we know from Joshua how exaggerated claims can be, so I’ll suppose for this post that the Egyptian vassal king handed it over to the tribe of Judah as reported in the Amarna letter, and Benjamin took possession of the city with the Jebusites (residents) intact.


Our next intersection with Archaeology is reference 21 where the Merneptah Stele tells us that ” Israel is laid waste and his seed is not;”. Some scholars differ with that translation, but the consensus is that this is indeed a reference to a group of people – not a geographic nation – named Israel.

Petrie’s 1897 Plate 14 from the Merenptah Stele

My calculations in reference 20 when Tola became king, assuming he took the throne in the same year that Abimelech died, place the death of Abimelech in 1211 BCE. The Merneptah Stele could date from 1208 to about 1210, making the dates too close to ignore. Of course, we read that Abimelech was killed by a millstone dropped on him by a woman in a tower in the city of Thebez, (Judgs 9:50), and that city still exists today – known as Tubas. As I’ve said, it would not be a stretch for Merneptah to be claiming such a victory even if it were a vassal state that did the work.

References 19-22

And, you know, Merneptah’s father was Ramesses II whom many associate with the Exodus. That association appears to be errant, as noted above.

Saul, David, and Solomon (refs 23-26)

To date, there is no extrabiblical evidence that these people existed, or of a unified, or any large organized Kingdom, in the are we known as Israel in this period.  The Tel Dan Stele (ca. 870-750 BCE) likely refers to “The House of David” as the king of Judah, and it certainly refers to the Kingdom of Israel.  Some controversy exists on the translation of “House of David”.

It does seem clear that the first temple existed albeit we have no extrabiblical evidence.  Religious reasons prevent a full-on archaeological dig in the area, and evidence that something was there in the period has indeed been found, albeit fragmentary and sparse.  Identification with Solomon is simply not possible, and some posit it was actually built in about 820 BCE by Jehoash based on dubious, potentially forged, evidence.

Is that all? Saul, David, and Solomon are huge. True enough, the stories take up a lot of space but there is no supporting evidence at this time. Moreover, what evidence does exist is of a group of small villages, not that of a glorious kingdom with huge armies, fortresses, and the stables and so forth indicated for Solomon. This doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen, but it does mean that what happened is certainly different from what we are led to believe by the text. If it were small and uneventful on a grand scale, not much would be left behind. If it were as large and glorious as described in the text, and Solomon was as multi-national as described, it is a virtual impossibility that no record whatsoever is to be found.

Statue of King David by Nicolas Cordier in the Borghese Chapel of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.

From this point, we reach the age of the Prophets and the close correlation between major events in the text to archaeological support. Many still dispute this, and it will be an area of further study for me. After all, the existence of Pontius Pilate was held in question until the Pilate Stone was unearthed in 1961.


Speculation

Well, as you can hopefully see, my original hypothesis is almost a theory. It does seem quite possible that folks came into Egypt, came into authority in the lower kingdom, and left after the Hyksos fell. It seems quite possible that the narrative of the first chapters of the book of Judges has a basis in fact, that the people were not displaced / slaughtered as indicated in the Hexateuch, and that a gradual incursion mingled with the indigenous population did occur.

Given the rural and mountainous nature of the place, it also seems quite likely that tribal cohesion under kingdoms would have been split between the north (Israel aka Samaria) and South (Judah aka Judea). We should be careful to note that this period in these locations are marked by city states and kingdoms being just few villages with a wall around them, nothing glorious at all.

That this would lead to different alliances and to altercations between the kingdoms is not a surprise at all. Indeed, it would be somewhat surprising if the two kingdoms united which the Bible tells us they did from Saul through Solomon, a very short period, really.

I’d say that, over time, the tribal elements did indeed desire a king in order to concentrate forces and join in mutual cooperation and eliminate a corrupt rule of the priesthood (1 Samuel chapter 8). As we’ve discussed in the Amarna Heresy, corrupt rule of priests and scribes was a common problem in these times. Indeed, those familiar with the Caesar’s writings will know that the role of the Druids were somewhat centralized and held wide influence on (and got tribute from) many nations. We know them more directly from Ireland, but this is likely because they escaped extermination there. The desire for a king may well be a desire to reform the control of the priestly factions that are reflected in the Torah. Of course, the Yahad at Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls) certainly wanted such reforms in the first century BCE, and one can hardly miss the many reforms called for by the New Testament. This was indeed a widespread problem and conflict over power. That priestly power concentration may also be one reason for the insistence of a single location for offerings throughout scripture.

But why would the text be so misleading and so highly embellished? Read on.

Vaticinium Ex Eventu

Prophesy from events in English, this phrase is used by scholars to indicate a text that purports to tell the future yet is written after the events it foretells have occurred. For the reader with a good translator and commentary (see my bibliography post), Nostradamus is filled with this.   

When reading ancient texts, it is important (and necessary) to keep an eye out for vaticinium ex eventu because it was commonplace in texts and was often used as a means to tell history along with the reasons, often divine, for what occurred, or, to explain why the people were in the current, usually miserable, state.

Another thing one looks for is overkill.  When a topic is beaten to death and approached from multiple angles, is may indicate that ancient interpreters have been at work on the text, filling in gaps and holes and explaining contradictions.  This, too, is common in ancient literature.

When we look at the narrative for this migration several things spring to mind in reading the text:

  1. In Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Joshua (and, to a lesser extent, et al.), we find – over and over and over – admonitions for how bad things will be in the promised land if the ways of the Lord are not followed. It this providing an explanation for why things are bad after they have become bad?  Is it explaining why the people didn’t find the population fleeing from their approach?  Is it a very large corpus of vaticinium ex eventu? Does it explain why things didn’t get better after the return from Babylon?
  2. Is the 40 years wandering really an explanation of the nomadic nature of a small group that ultimately chose to live in the mountains and encroach on Canaan?
  3. Throughout the text (from Exodus on), including Samuel and Judges, we repeatedly hear how vast the population was – always above 600,000 fighting men. This cannot be the case, we wold find something. We also hear that taking a census was illegal and caused a plague (2 Samuel 24:1-25).  Is this overkill telling us that the population was very sparse?  I mean, the prior statements are that the seed of Abraham would be a numberless as the sands on the shore. 
  4. In the Exodus narrative and what follows, the oppression by the Egyptians is emphasized over and over again yet modern findings do not, thus far, show massive harsh conditions for those building pyramids and other structures – conditions seem quite good, even compared to modern textile and shoe sweatshops. Is this overkill? After all, Solomon is recorded as having wed Pharaoh’s daughter forming an alliance with Egypt: Solomon made a marriage alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt; he took Pharaoh’s daughter and brought her into the city of David, until he had finished building his own house and the house of the LORD and the wall around Jerusalem. (1 Kings 3:1 NRS) Is all of this meant to strengthen the Hexateuch? Is the constant polemic about Egypt meant to prevent just such an alliance that is above described?
  5. Are the strident narratives of Saul, David, and Solomon embellished to show that the people had accomplished what the Egyptians had accomplished – a unified north/south kingdom? That the wealth of the people exceeded that of Egypt?

Source and Text Criticism

Any discussion of the historicity of the Torah or Hexateuch would be incomplete without acknowledging the massive and excellent work done by source and text critics delving into the origins of the text itself. The various conflicts, obvious changes in language use, writing style, and abrupt discontinuities in the text have long been a puzzlement which resulted in the documentary hypothesis (not to mention the work of ancient interpreters such as the Midrashim and Pesherim).

The documentary hypothesis, now disproven in my view, was that the Hexateuch, or Torah if you like, was created by the combination of several complete, or mostly complete, sources in a patchwork quilt. The sources are commonly known as the Yahwist, Elohist, Deuteronomist, and Priestly sources, JEDP (Yahwist being spelled with a J in some languages). I said I felt that the hypothesis is disproven, not that use of multiple sources is disproven – it seems to be a fact. Indeed, there seem to be multiple sources within JEDP so that JEDP may represent schools of thought rather than specific individuals.

Some scholars go so far as to write that the Torah / Hexateuch is a post-exilic creation, that it was written upon the return to the land from the Babylonian Exile in order to compel performance to the law and prevent a recurrence of God’s wrath. The basis for the text would then be the Prophets, particularly Jeremiah.

What I’ve said above about prophesy after the fact and overkill leads in the direction of these scholars, but I don’t agree that the text is an interpolation of the prophets. I don’t agree at all, and I wanted to take some time to say that lest the wrong opinion be given to those familiar with these scholars. I should also say that the work of these scholars is superb, by the way, however, we speculate too much. As noted above, at least the part of the text that refers to the city Rameses (sic) must have been written before 1060 BCE thereby pre-dating the exile and the prophets.

One of my mentors commented on this critical research, saying that we must deal with the text as we have it, and he’s right. The original purpose of the source criticism was to weed out the Torah and produce a pure narrative. The recent source critics are working to understand the providence of the text as it is – where did it come from? While excellent scholarship is being done, we must grasp the fact that one cannot solve for six unknowns with two equations. We simply cannot know, and that’s a fact. I’m interested in what we can know, hence this post.

Conclusions

  1. The Hyksos period and the timeline for the rise of Joseph and subsequent duress of his clan following the fall of the Hyksos, as well as the timeline associated with Moses are compatible. From a timeline perspective, Josephus is correct.
  2. While an exodus of Jacob’s descendants during the given timeline is quite possible, even probable if they were associated with the Hyksos, the evidence does not support a mass exodus of over a 600,000 men plus women and children. Assuming it occurred, and I do personally believe that it did, the exodus numbers would be more like 6,000 men.
  3. The narrative of the entry into the promised land in the Hexateuch is a nationalistic flare set straight by the book of Judges. This band of travelers gradually achieved dominance in areas of the land starting with life in mountainous dwelling and gradually harassing people and taking over sections of land in the valleys and plains.
  4. We have to downsize our approach for evidence supporting David and Solomon in order to have any success. If the stately grandeur expressed in the text were real, other records would tell us of these glorious kingdoms, in my opinion. What we are looking for is a much looser relationship between tribes in the land affiliated with a king located in or near Jerusalem. If that view is correct, we’re unlikely to find anything dispositive.

Closing Remarks

Well, there you have it. Forty odd years of study started by Cecile B. DeMille’s introduction to this movie “The Ten Commandments” where he lists some extrabiblical sources such as Josephus. This is but a way-point in that study, and I freely admit that I may be all wet. But if there’s one thing to take away from Joshua, it’s that you have to get your feet wet.

When the people set out from their tents to cross over the Jordan, the priests bearing the ark of the covenant were in front of the people.

Now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest. So when those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the edge of the water, the waters flowing from above stood still, rising up in a single heap far off at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, while those flowing toward the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, were wholly cut off. Then the people crossed over opposite Jericho.

While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan. (Joshua 3:14-17 NRS)

One thought on “Egypt to Babylon: What happened?

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