Update: The Case for a Proto-Gospel

I have been advised by Peter Lang Publishers that a paperback version of “The Case for a Proto-Gospel”, my peer-reviewed treatise on the literary origins of the Gospels, should be at the printers by mid-June. Because this is an academic work from a scholarly publisher, it is not cheap, but the paperback edition will be substantially less expensive that the hardcover version.

Why Can’t We Date the Exodus? Part 9, My Take: The Parameters

Editorial note: I originally intended to wrap up this series with the present post, but it was becoming far longer than I expected. So, I am publishing it in at least three parts. The present essay is “My Take: the Parameters.The follow-up post will be My Take: a Proposed Date for the Exodus. The final post, I hope, will be My Take: the Exodus in its Historical Context.

The Egyptian god Thoth, watching over a scribe

For Part 1, Introduction go here

For Part 2, Merneptah and the Book of Judges go here

For Part 3, The Problem of Solomon’s Chronology go here

For Part 4, The 430-year Sojourn go here

For Part 5, The 400 years of slavery go here

For Part 6, The Hyksos Theory go here

For Part 7, The Osarseph Theory, go here

For Part 8, The Chaeremon Theory, go here

To establish a plausible date for the Exodus, we need to find a balance among four different parameters. (1) Do we date biblical events using the traditional Jewish date of Creation at 3761 BCE, or do we have to move the Creation date back to an earlier time? (2) Do we use biblical dating or historical dating? (3) Do we date events in Egypt based on the High Chronology or the Low Chronology? (4) Does the chosen Exodus date show a parallel relationship between the events in the biblical account and events in Egypt?

Because of potential plausibility issues in the biblical story, such as miracles, conflicts within the biblical chronological data, and conflicts over the Egyptian chronology, there may not be a perfect solution that precisely aligns all four factors. However, whatever date presents the best balance among these four parameters is likely to be the best solution.

In my book, Genesis Chronology and Egyptian King-Lists: The Egyptian Origins of Genesis Chronology, Volume I, Egypt’s Dynastic Period, I examined the relationship between Genesis Chronology and Egyptian Chronology. Genesis has a chronology that provides a continuous record of Patriarchal birth and death dates running through twenty-three generations, beginning with the birth of Adam and ending with the death of Joseph. If one had a fixed date for any of these births or deaths, one could establish a set of dates for each birth and death in the sequence. Using the traditional Jewish date of Creation, I calculated each of these birth and death dates.

Why Can’t We Date the Exodus? Part 8, the Chaeremon Theory

Emperor Nero, who was tutored by Chaeremon

For Part 1, Introduction go here

For Part 2, Merneptah and the Book of Judges go here

For Part 3, The Problem of Solomon’s Chronology go here

For Part 4, The 430-year Sojourn go here

For Part 5, The 400 years of slavery go here

For Part 6, The Hyksos Theory go here

For Part 7, The Osarseph Theory, go here

Chaeremon, an Egyptian priest who tutored Emperor Nero, wrote a version of the Exodus story that had a number of similarities to Manetho’s Osarseph story but had enough differences to suggest that he worked from a different source than Manetho did. If so, then there would have been multiple versions of Egyptian Exodus accounts in the Egyptian libraries. You may want to first reread the Osarseph theory in Part 7 to refresh your recollection as there will be some references to that installment.

Chaeremon wrote in the first century and was a contemporary of Josephus. The latter was responsible for preserving Chaeremon’s account. (See Against Apion 1.32–33. You can read Josephus’s account and his comments here.) Here is what he says.

Why Can’t We Date the Exodus? Part 7, the Osarseph Theory

Pharaoh Akhenaten and his family. (Photo from KMT magazine.)

For Part 1, Introduction go here

For Part 2, Merneptah and the Book of Judges go here

For Part 3, The Problem of Solomon’s Chronology go here

For Part 4, The 430-year Sojourn go here

For Part 5, The 400 years of slavery go here

For Part 6, The Hyksos Theory go here

It is relatively common among biblical and Egyptological scholars to claim that there is no Egyptian evidence indicating the Exodus took place. This isn’t actually true. The problem is that the Egyptian account is embarrassing to biblical and Egyptological scholars and they would prefer that it didn’t exist. We’ll get to the reason for that below.

From about the third century B.C.E. through the first century C.E. Egyptian, Greek, Jewish, and Roman historians produced a body of literature describing an Egyptian point of view about the events leading to the Exodus. Not all of these stories look alike, with very different characters in the narratives, but a case can be made that despite the very different details they can all be traced back to the writings of Manetho, a third-century B.C.E. Egyptian priest and historian. I won’t be exploring all of the stories in this series, but I do cover many of them in my book The Moses Mystery. In the present series, I will just cover two of the stories.

In this installment, I’ll look at the version attributed to Manetho by the first-century Jewish historian Josephus. (Manetho’s manuscript is lost to history and we have only later redactions appearing in various historical writings.) In the next installment, I’ll look at a different version preserved by Chaeremon, a tutor to Emperor Nero. That version is also preserved by Josephus.

I’ll begin with the Manetho story. It appears in Josephus’s Contra Apionem, I. 26–31, §§ 227–287. (PDF of Josephus’s Contra Apionem here.) The implications aren’t immediately obvious and require historical context. It is the implications of the story that are highly controversial. It’s a long narrative and, in the interest of space, I’ll just summarize the highlights.

According to Josephus, Manetho said that the Jewish ancestors came to Egypt and gained mastery over the country but that at a later date they were driven out of Egypt, occupied Judea, founded Jerusalem, and built the Temple. So we begin the narrative with a twist. The Egyptians didn’t try to keep the Israelites in Egypt as slaves. The Egyptians drove them out because they were dominating Egypt.

Despite this initial twist, Josephus says that up to this point Manetho followed the chronicles, but then he introduced legends and gossip about the Jews. He did this to confuse the Hebrews with a crowd of Egyptians, who, for leprosy and other maladies, were banished from the country.

After denouncing Manetho for some allegedly clumsy history of the Egyptian kings (probably due to redactors rather than Manetho himself), Josephus accuses Manetho of inserting a fictitious king named Amenophis into the record. Amenophis is the Greek rendering of the Egyptian name Amenhotep. This king Amenophis had a desire to look upon the gods. A seer advised the king that he could see the gods if he would cleanse the land of lepers and other polluted peoples. (These would be the Egyptians that Josephus claims were being deliberately confused with the Jews.)

The king rounded up over 80,000 such individuals, segregated them from the other Egyptians, and put them to work in the stone quarries. But the seer became frightened at what happened and feared that the people would be outraged if they learned about it. He predicted that the polluted ones would join with allies and seize control of Egypt for thirteen years. He then wrote down what happened and committed suicide.

After some period of hardship, the polluted ones begged the king to allow them to live in the deserted city of Avaris, which had been the capitol of the “shepherd kings” before they were driven out of the country. As noted in Part 6 (go here,) Josephus’s “shepherd-kings” were the Hyksos rulers of Egypt, whose expulsion from Egypt he equated with the Exodus. The king consented.

Using the city as a base, the polluted ones planned a revolution. The polluted ones fortified the city and prepared for war. They appointed as their leader a priest from Heliopolis named Osarseph. This priest declared that they shouldn’t worship the Egyptian gods and that they should destroy and consume the sacred animals. He also challenged many other Egyptian laws and customs.

Osarseph sent messages to the “shepherd kings” in Jerusalem and promised them all sorts of benefits in Egypt if they joined with him against the king. A deal was reached and 200,000 soldiers joined Osarseph and the polluted ones in Avaris. When the king learned of the invasion he remembered the prophecy and issued orders. The Egyptian priests were to gather the sacred animals and hide the images of the gods.

As to his five-year-old son, “Sethos also called Ramesses,” the child was sent into hiding. Amenophis raised an army of 300,000 warriors and marched out against the invading army. But at the last minute, fearing that he would be violating the prophecy of the gods by going to war, he got cold feet and he retreated to the city of Memphis, bringing with him the sacred animals. From Memphis he went to Ethiopia, to wait out the thirteen years.

The alliance of Shepherds and polluted ones seized control of the country and brutalized the people, making the earlier Shepherd rule seem like a paradise. They burned villages, pillaged the temples, and butchered the beasts. Manetho, according to Josephus, says “it is said that the priest who framed their constitution and their laws was a native of Heliopolis, named Osarseph after the god Osiris, worshipped at Heliopolis; but when he joined this people he changed his name and was called Moses [emphasis added].

This is a key controversial point. Manetho identifies Moses as an Egyptian priest who led a rebellion against the country’s ruling class. Thirteen years later, according to the prophecy, Amenophis’s son, “Sethos also called Ramesses,” raised an army and forced the alliance of Shepherds and polluted ones out of Egypt.

Josephus makes several arguments that challenge Manetho’s accounts, several of them based on what he considers logical flaws in the story, most of which I pass over here. Since Josephus had previously described the Shepherds as the Israelites who left Egypt, he argued that it is clear that the people who initially opposed Amenophis were Egyptians, not Hebrews. In opposition to this rebuttal to Manetho, it should be noted that the bible placed the start of the Israelite nation in Egypt, when Jacob, also known as Israel, moved there with his family. For at least two centuries or more, depending on one’s chronological theories, the Israelites were for all practical purposes an Egyptian people, who did not even know the name of the Israelite god until after the Exodus. Josephus also offered an argument that it would be unlikely that the Shepherds would have joined with the polluted ones, although that seems to be rather a weak counterclaim. Other objections had some merit.

As to Moses being Osarseph, Josephus argued that “the Egyptians regard him as a wonderful, even a divine being, but wish to claim him as their own by an incredible calumny, alleging that he belonged to Heliopolis and was dismissed from his priesthood there owing to leprosy.” Moses, however, according to the biblical account, was raised as a member of the royal family and would have almost certainly been educated at Heliopolis, a chief educational center for the Egyptian elite.

Josephus then added that Moses belonged 518 years earlier, when the Shepherds were expelled from Egypt. (Manetho’s chronology was badly distorted by redactors, and he assigned 518 years to the Hyksos kings, although we now know the entire Hyksos era was less than two hundred years, and the effective control of Egypt by the Hyksos lasted only about a century)

I want to make a couple of brief observations about three points in the story, and then get down to what causes controversy about this episode, other than just the name of Moses being inserted into the account. One is the desire to see the gods. Another is about leprosy. The third is about the child being hidden away.

In Exodus, Moses expressed a desire to see God. As a result, he suffered some sort of skin disease. Consequently, he wore a mask over his mouth.

The wearing of a mask over the mouth was a standard regulation in Leviticus for persons suffering from leprosy. Both his brother Aaron and his sister Miriam, according to the biblical account, were stricken with leprosy and Moses had to intervene with god to have them cured. Furthermore, the book of Leviticus devotes a large portion of its narrative to dealing with the problem of leprosy. So, the connection to Israelites having leprosy has literary parallels in the bible.

Additionally, in both stories, the desire to see God has some ramifications. Moses suffered a skin disease and the pharaoh eventually went into hiding. Donald Redford, a highly respected Egyptologist, contends that “’seeing the gods’ and the desire to do so are themes well known in Egyptian literature (Pharaonic King-Lists, Annals and Day-Books, 250). That the bible claims Moses shared this desire doesn’t necessarily prove that the Osarseph story is true, but it does suggest literary connections between the biblical narrative and Egyptian literary traditions, which is interesting in its own right.

Lastly, Moses was famously hidden away as a child to avoid being put to death by an oppressive ruler, left the country as an adult out of fear of being arrested for murder, and returned many years later to confront and defeat the oppressors. The Osarseph story provides a mirror image of that narrative. The child “Sethos also known as Ramesses” was hidden away from the oppressive ruler to avoid being put to death and returned as an adult to confront and defeat the oppressor. In the Osarseph story, however, it is the child’s father who flees the country to avoid punishment because of his behavior. If one wants to find parallels between the Osarseph story and the Exodus account, they are present.

Putting aside any arguments for the credibility of the Manetho story, most critics of the Osarseph story simply reject it as an obvious fiction not worthy of comment (although little argument is provided for this opinion.) It helps that the assertion that Osarseph was Moses consists of a single sentence that is easily removable without disrupting the remaining Egyptian narrative. Most go as far as to say that enemies of Judaea invented the charge to discredit the Hebrew nation, that some scribe maliciously inserted the Osarseph-Moses passage into a Manetho text that subsequently received wide circulation before it found its way into Josephus’s hands.

After all, attacking the Jewish people for refusing honors to the non-Jewish gods was something of a cottage industry in the Greco-Roman era. In fact, Josephus wrote Contra Apionem to specifically refute anti-Jewish attacks by the Egyptian writer Apion, who engaged in scurrilous condemnations of the Jewish people.

Redford, while rejecting the historicity of the Osarseph story, does, though, trace it back to pre-Manetho literary traditions that Manetho tapped into, giving the underlying narrative an even earlier historical provenance. Two common literary traditions, he says, “invasion” and Plague/expulsion,” can be traced back to pre-Manetho times (Redford, 291.)

The invasion theme is usually an after-effect of the Hyksos era, which surfaces here in the Osarseph story and in other Egyptian literature. Redford does note, however, that there are some details in the Manetho account that vary from earlier versions of the plague/expulsion theme. Nevertheless, Redford writes, “I do not think this secondary hodge-podge derives from Manetho himself. In all likelihood, he is here, as elsewhere simply paraphrasing, if not translating, a demotic original which he found among his library sources.”

So, given that the story may be easily dismissible, whether true or not, what is the hubbub about. The problem is the history that forms the background to this narrative. Egyptologists readily admit that Manetho’s tale presents a disguised (white-washed?) account of events under pharaoh Akhenaten. This pharaoh’s fame stems from the fact that he introduced a form of monotheism into Egyptian religion, declaring the Aten to be the sole god.

He sent hordes of workers to chisel out the names of other deities from monuments and challenged the domination of the Amen cult that controlled Egyptian religious practices in the Eighteenth Dynasty. After he died there was a counter-revolution and his successor, the child known as Tutankhamen, whose original name was Tutankhaten, served as a bridge from which the Amen cult reasserted authority. Shortly thereafter, the Amen cult under Pharaoh Horemheb began a campaign of oppression and persecution towards those who were prominent in the Aten cult or who remained followers of his teachings.

Akhenaten’s name was originally Amenhotep, the fourth pharaoh of that dynasty with the same name. This is the name Greeks rendered as Amenophis, the name of the pharaoh in the Osarseph story who fled the country. In Akhenaten’s fifth year on the throne, he changed his name to Akhenaten and began his attack on the Amen cult elites. His revolution lasted for thirteen years and ended when he died.

Notably, in the Osarseph story, the reign of terror begins in the fifth year of Amenophis’s son, Sethos also called Ramesses,” and ends thirteen years later when the child returns and expels the polluted ones and their Hyksos allies. Clearly, the child functions as a placeholder for Akhenaten’s revolutionary time frame and serves to eliminate Akhenaten as the perpetrator of his religious revolution, casting blame instead on the polluted ones and the Hyksos invaders.

Could Akhenaten be connected to the Exodus? The Jewish tradition that would place the Exodus in the year 131 (see Part 4: The 430-Year Sojourn here) places it right at the end of the counter-revolution against Akhenaten’s religious reforms. Yet, no scholar, Jewish or otherwise, wants to study what this date means for the historical context of the Exodus. They just don’t want to trace the origins of Judaism and Christianity to a pagan religious revolution. Every academic theory of the Exodus tries to place it either well before or long after the Akhenaton era. I’ll have more to say about the connection between Akhenaten and the Exodus in a later installment.

Coming up next: Part 8, The Chaeremon Theory.

Update: The Case for a Proto Gospel

The Case for a Proto-Gospel, my peer-reviewed study of gospel origins, is a lengthy (over 700 pages) scholarly study published by Peter Lang, the academic publisher. Such a large book is expensive to produce and commands a high price.  The hardcover version currently sells on Amazon for $147. As such, it is much too expensive for most of the people who like to follow my work. I have been negotiating with the publisher and they have agreed, verbally so far but a contract is in the works, to release a paperback edition to be (hopefully) available by this Spring and sell for no more than $60. While still not cheap, it should make the book accessible to more of my readers.

In related news, Olegs Andrejevs, author of Apocalypticism in the Synoptic Sayings Source: A Reassessment of Q’s Stratigraphy, sends me this note based on an upcoming review of my book. “Greenberg’s massive book will be required reading for everyone interested in the relationship between John and the synoptic gospels. I welcome his attempt to draw the academic community’s attention to the extraordinary complexity of the data involved in the discussion.”

Why Can’t We Date the Exodus? Part 6, the Hyksos Theory

Yakub-HR seal, name in the center, 18th-century B.C.E.
BAR Jul-Aug 1996

For Part 1, Introduction go here

For Part 2, Merneptah and the Book of Judges go here

For Part 3, The Problem of Solomon’s Chronology go here

For Part 4, The 430-year Sojourn go here

For Part 5,  The 400 years of slavery go here

Sometime around the 1770s B.C.E., a group of Semite-speaking Canaanites obtained control over a small part of Egyptian territory. Sometime later, around 1680 to 1650 B.C.E. depending upon whether you use the High or Low Egyptian chronology, a larger and more powerful group of Semite-speaking Canaanites seized control over a vast swath of Egyptian territory, and may have even ruled all of Egypt for a period of time.

Egyptologists assign the first group of foreigners to the Fourteenth Dynasty and the second to the Fifteenth Dynasty. It is not known if the Fourteenth Dynasty ended when the Fifteenth Dynasty began or if it ruled concurrently for some portion of the time. It is the Fifteenth Dynasty with which we are concerned.

According to one Egyptian source, the Turin Canon of Kings, the Fifteenth Dynasty lasted 108 years, until Ahmose, the Theban founder of the Eighteenth Dynasty drove them out of the country, but the fighting continued outside of Egypt for another eleven years or so before the final defeat of these foreign rulers.

Egyptologists commonly refer to these two groups as the Hyksos kings but the first person to use that term was Manetho, the third century B.C.E. Egyptian priest who wrote a history of his country. We only know about that name because Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, in his Contra Apion, quoted Manetho’s references.

According to Josephus, Manetho gave two different definitions of Hyksos, “Shepherd Kings” in one copy of the history and “captive Kings” in another. This latter interpretation led Josephus to identify the Hyksos with the children of Israel.

The term Hyksos derives from the Egyptian phrase “Heqau-khasut,” meaning “Chieftains of a foreign land.” Alan Gardiner translated the term as “Chieftains of a foreign hill-country” and says that in the Middle Kingdom (early third-millennium B.C.E.) Egyptians applied that term to designate Bedouin sheiks (Egypt of the Pharaohs, 156)” Manetho, writing in Greek, transliterated the phrase as Hyksos, and it is highly unlikely that this educated Egyptian priest would not have known the meaning of the Egyptian term. Interestingly, the Egyptian literature referencing the Hyksos era, both contemporaneous to the Hyksos rule and in writings about the aftermath, never used that term for the invaders. The Egyptians referred to them as Aamu, which was probably the name they were known by in Canaan.

Josephus equated the expulsion of the Hyksos with the Exodus of Israel from Egypt. This claim influenced scholars until well into the twentieth century, and the Hyksos were commonly known throughout this entire era as the “Shepherd kings.” But Josephus’s definitions of the Hyksos were wrong. Whether it was his error or that of an intervening redactor who passed on Manetho’s history we can’t say.

In Part 5 of this series, discussing the 400-year prophecy to Abraham, it was noted that period would end when the iniquity of the Amorites ended. What this “iniquity of the Amorites” meant is not known. While the meaning of the term “Amorite” in the Genesis prophesy is debatable, in the biblical account of the Exodus, we are told that “the Amorites live in the hill country (Numbers 13:29).” This description is consistent with, though not necessarily proof of, a connection between the Aamu/Hyksos and the Amorites.

Fueling the idea that there is a connection between the Israelites and the Hyksos comes from an archaeological find. Scarabs from this era show many of the Hyksos chieftains with Semitic names, two of whom were Jacob-Her and Anat-Her. (See the illustration at the beginning of the article.) Linguists do not know what the “her” element stands for, but Anat is a well-known Canaanite goddess.

A  number of scholars have been quick to see the name Jacob on the other scarab, speculating about its connection to the biblical Jacob. That the names are similar is true, but by analogy to the Anat-her inscription, Jacob could have been the name of a Canaanite god. At most, it only proves that the name Jacob existed in ancient times. No evidence connects this Jacob-her in any way to the biblical Jacob.

If the expulsion of the Hyksos constituted the Exodus, then it can be dated to somewhere between 1576 and 1550, depending upon whether we use the High or Low Chronology. This would make King Ahmose the Pharaoh of the Exodus. That makes his predecessor, Kamose, the Pharaoh who died just before Moses returned to Egypt. I suppose one could equate the long war between the Hyksos and the Thebans as a metaphor for the plagues sent by God.

Dating the Exodus to the expulsion of the Hyksos closely tracks the claim in the book of Judges that the Exodus happened about 300 years before the time of Jephthah. The Merneptah stele places Israel in Canaan in the last third of the 13th century B.C.E. The Hyksos expulsion occurred in the middle of the sixteenth century B.C.E., a period about 325 to 350 years before the Merneptah stele. Given a couple of uncertain factors such as how long Samuel judged Israel, how long Saul ruled, and how long after the Exodus the 300 years start, there could be some slight wiggle room to make this work.

Also, the Hyksos era starts in the 1770s B.C.E. and the expulsion occurred about 200-250 years later. This is somewhat consistent with the interpretation that says that Jacob and his family were in Egypt for 215 years before the Exodus. The Hyksos theory, therefore, seems to have some chronological parallels with biblical evidence. But there are also some problems.

First, we’d have to jettison the claim that the Exodus occurred 480 years before the fourth year of Solomon’s reign. If we date that year to the historical evidence, the king’s fourth year was in 967 or so. That would date the Exodus to 1447, about a century after the Hyksos expulsion. If we count from the earlier date based on biblical data for the reigns of the kings, Solomon’s fourth year would be 1017. That indicates a date of 1497, still a half-century after the Hyksos expulsion.

We are also missing the 400 years of affliction since the Hyksos were rulers during all their time in Egypt. The only affliction is their expulsion and the continuing war for another eleven years. It should also be noted that the Hyksos, while in Egypt, worshipped the Egyptian god Set, whom they identified with the Canaanite god Baal, not the Hebrew god.

If we use the traditional Jewish date of Creation and count down to the birth of Joseph, he was born in 1564 and didn’t die until 1454. Since the bible says that the slavery didn’t begin until after Joseph died, there would be more than a century after the Hyksos expulsion before an Exodus could occur. Once again, we need to move Joseph to a substantially earlier time to make the numbers work, pushing Creation much earlier than the Jewish date.

Today, not many scholars equate the Hyksos expulsion with the Exodus. Instead, an alternative theory has been proposed. Acknowledging that the Hyksos were not the Israelites, the argument goes that the Israelites drew on traditions about the Hyksos expulsion to frame their own Exodus narrative. This theory does not necessarily say that there was or wasn’t an Exodus. It only says, whether there was or not, the basis of the biblical account derives from traditions about the Hyksos expulsion.

Coming up next: Manetho’s theory of the Exodus

Why Can’t We Date the Exodus? Part 5: The 400 years of slavery

For Part 1, Introduction go here

For Part 2, Merneptah and the Book of Judges go here

For Part 3, The Problem of Solomon’s Chronology go here

For Part 4, The 430-year Sojourn go here

Genesis 15:13–16 is the source of the biblical claim that Israel suffered 400 years of bondage in Egypt. The passage, as I‘ll reiterate below, is inconsistent with the claim that Israel sojourned in Egypt for 430 years. There are also several problems with the internal content. The verse reads as follows.

Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know this for certain, that your offspring shall be aliens in a land that is not theirs, and shall be slaves there, and they shall be oppressed for four hundred years; but I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your ancestors in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete. (Genesis 15:13–16 NSRV)”

This passage has several parts. (1) Abraham’s offspring will be slaves in a land where they are “aliens” (per the NRSV) or “strangers (per the KJV). (2) the oppression will last 400 years. (3) “They” shall return “here” in the fourth generation. (4) They won’t return to “here” until the iniquity of the Amorites has ended.

The passage generates many interpretive problems, at least for me. Implicitly, “here” is in Canaan, which is where the narrative context places Abraham. Just about all scholars accept that the “strange land” that afflicted Israel is Egypt and the return is to Canaan. This interpretation strikes me as wrong because, in all other biblical passages referring to the patriarchs as strangers in a land, it is Canaan that is the strange land. I’ll discuss that point further below. Let’s look at some of the chronological problems first.

Why Can’t We Date the Exodus? Part 4: The 430-Year Sojourn

Joseph greets his brothers in Egypt

For Part 1, Introduction go here

For Part 2, Merneptah and the Book of Judges go here

For Part 3, The Problem of Solomon’s Chronology go here

According to Exodus 12:40-41, “The time that the Israelites had lived in Egypt was four hundred thirty years. At the end of four hundred thirty years, on that very day, all the companies of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt (NRSV) [emphasis added].” The KJV translates the emphasized phrase as “children of Israel” and the underlying Hebrew says “ben Yisrael,” which seems to support the KJV translation. In either event, you can’t have Israelites until you have an Israel and the first Israelite is Jacob, who God renamed Israel.

I mention this point because it becomes a significant issue later on in this discussion. Contextually, the only group of Hebrews living for a long time in Egypt would be Jacob, his son Joseph, and their descendants, and this generates lots of problems. However, for the reasons explained below, Jews from at least the third century B.C.E measured the duration by starting from Abraham, who, by definition, is not an Israelite and did not, according to the bible, live in Egypt except for a brief visit in his 75th year.

Where does the 430-year period begin? I’ll start with the arrivals in Egypt of Jacob and his son Joseph. Chronologically, Joseph came to Egypt before Jacob. So do we start with Jacob or Joseph? There is no obvious answer as Joseph is a child of Israel? This gives us two possible time frames for the sojourn, one from Joseph and one from Jacob, but they are not very far apart.

Why Can’t We Date the Exodus? Part 3: The Problem of Solomon’s Chronology

A rendering of what Solomon’s Temple would have looked like

For Part 1 go here

For Part 2 go here

According to 1 Kings 6.1, “In the four hundred eightieth year after the Israelites came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second month, he began to build the house of the Lord [emphasis added].” Because Solomon’s reign can be closely connected to the chronological sequence of Jewish kings, some of whom are anchored to particular years in the archaeological record, this passage is probably the most influential source on the historical school of biblical studies. As one scholar observes, “This chronological note attached to Solomon’s construction of the Jerusalem temple is at the heart of the discussion of the date of the exodus and conquest periods. . .(Matthews, V. H., Chavalas, M. W., & Walton, J. H. (2000). The IVP Bible background commentary: Old Testament (electronic ed., 1 Ki 6:1). InterVarsity Press.)

It seems easy enough. Date Solomon’s reign based on the archaeological record, check off Year 4, and count back 480 years and you have the date of the Exodus. As you have probably guessed by now, nothing regarding Exodus dating is easy. Not even the majority of biblical historians accept this formula.

Putting aside the issue that there is no contemporaneous archaeological evidence indicating that either Solomon and /or his large and grand kingdom existed, the historical school relies primarily on a synchronization of archaeological events to create anchor dates for the sequence of Jewish kings. However, the biblical chronology of Hebrew kings is inconsistent with the historical alignments and most historians accept that some of the kings (must have) had overlapping coregencies, which shortens the time period to Solomon’s reign. The biblical chronological data, as I’ll show below, moves Solomon’s starting date back much further than historians would agree to. Nor does the bible mention any coregencies. So we will have to look at multiple chronological paths.

Why Can’t We Date the Exodus? Part 2: Merneptah and the Book of Judges

Go here for Part 1: Introduction

In 1896, the archaeologist and Egyptologist Flinders Petrie made a remarkable discovery in the ancient Egyptian capital of Thebes, a stele with historically important inscriptions. Erected in the fifth year of Pharaoh Merneptah (somewhere in the last third of the 13th millennium B.C.E., the precise date depending upon whether you use the High or Low Egyptian chronology), son and successor to Ramesses II. This ten-foot tall monument records the Pharaoh’s alleged defeat of several opponents. Some Egyptologists question whether the victories were real or just braggadocio.

Merneptah Stele

What makes the stele particularly interesting is that it contains history’s first mention by name of Israel, and its grammatical and historical context make it especially important. The Egyptians never again mentioned Israel by name, and the name “Israel” doesn’t appear again in the historical record for about another 400 years, skipping over the entirety of the reigns of David and Solomon.

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