Controversy has arisen within archaeology concerning the historicity and timing of the Exodus. The Director, Timothy Mahoney was reluctant to make a film on this subject since he knew it would inevitably result in facing the giants of archaeology, tradition, and religion. We live in confusing times since there are some rabbis and pastors who do not view the great biblical narrative of the events prior, during and after the Exodus as an exact literal account, though consider the message they see embedded as still ‘true’ in any age.
Beyond the doublespeak, the thinking and honest enquirer recognises that since the Bible contains so many specific names, places, and events, concerning the events prior to and after the Exodus, careful and thorough investigation should be able to determine if the archaeological evidence is inconclusive, or supports or negates the text. Similarly, it is difficult to establish the origin of the Passover if there was no real event on which it is based.
Frustratingly, many television documentaries concerning biblical archaeology either present one view and greatly undermine or ignore the counterargument. More often than not the material is written from a higher critic standpoint and if a biblical passage is cited, it is pigeon- holed with a theory as to what it might mean, oblivious to what it does mean within the context of that particular book and the Bible as a cohesive unit.
Amongst others, Mahoney interviewed Israel Finkelstein, Professor Emeritus of archaeology at Tel Aviv University and British Egyptologist and agnostic David Rohl, who are respected with widely diverging viewpoints concerning the historicity and timing of the Exodus. Rabbi Manis Friedman facilitates an understanding of what took place prior and afterwards, so this is neither a lightweight presentation, nor a Hollywood style production.
Firstly though, Mahoney introduces guest appearances from Benjamin Netanyahu and Shimon Peres who outline the centrality and importance of the Exodus narrative and the Ten Commandments to leave the viewer cognizant that this is no trivial matter for experts to pontificate in their ivory towers of hypothetical academia. He then investigates relatively new findings at the site of Avaris, which is at the southern sector, underneath the city of Rameses (mentioned in the Bible), one of the main store cities the Israelites were forced to build.
Mahoney interviewed one leading archaeologist who in his mind struggled to relate the findings at Avaris which he worked on with the Bible, yet when he spoke with David Rohl, the latter evidenced numerous clear resemblances. A Semite palace was discovered with twelve graves nearby and a portico with twelve pillars. One of the graves was distinct being a pyramid tomb although this person was not a king, and the pyramid tomb was empty. Rohl and other scholars notice a remarkable similarity compared with Joseph and his brothers and note that Joseph was buried in Shechem.
The Timing of the Exodus
The majority of scholars today argue that the Exodus took place during the reign of Rameses II, during the New Kingdom Period, around 1250, known as the Rameses Exodus Theory. This is accompanied with their claim that as yet, no documental evidence of the Exodus has been discovered. This date is taken from Exodus 1:11 where it is assumed that because the Hebrews built for Pharaoh the supply cities Pithom and Raamses, they were building during Rameses II reign. Nonetheless way back in Genesis 47:11, Joseph gave his father and brothers a possession of the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses as Pharoah had commanded. David Rohl also suggested that Exodus 1:11 could be an anachronism (editor’s note), in the same way that some scholars might consider that Joshua could have written the final section of Deuteronomy 34 about the death of Moses.
Rabbi Manis Friedman helpfully draws our attention to the fact that the Exodus story begins with Abraham when God made a covenant with him and his descendants. In addition, his descendants would serve and be afflicted in a land not theirs for four hundred years (Genesis 15:13). Therefore Mahoney decided to draw a timeline of events and look at the events to see if they fitted together when matched with archaeology from the biblical narrative.
Mahoney interviewed John Bimson, Professor of Old Testament at Trinity College Bristol who cited evidence for a vast number of Semites in Egypt who resided only in the Middle Kingdom. Bimson was quick to point out that history and theology are tightly intertwined in the Bible. Amongst other findings, Rohl specifically gives evidence of Semite tombs, pottery, enslavement, and types of weapons. In Avaris, examination of the deceased regarding the infant mortality rate of those 0-3 months and a 60/40 split in female/male population supports the death of the male babies enforced by Pharoah when Moses was born. Of course, there could be other explanations for that but when all the evidence is examined together it builds an increasingly detailed picture.
Further evidence is presented for slaves being given previous metals matching the description of the children of Israel being given gold, silver, and other items (Exodus 12:35-36).The Brooklyn Papyrus list of domestic servants includes 70% in that region with Semite names. Yet Maarten Raven, Curator of the Leide Museum in Holland apparently sees no evidence in that document in connection with the Exodus nor the Ipuwer Papyrus which seems to depict the Ten Plagues, and neither did the late and influential Egyptologist Miriam Lichtheim.
The Actual Date of the Exodus
How can published and peer-reviewed authors look at the same documents and reach entirely different conclusions? Simply put, Mahoney stated, “If people look for evidence of the Exodus at the wrong time of the Exodus, they won’t find any.” It was fascinating to watch Mahoney suggest to scholars that saw no evidence for the Exodus that their dates could be wrong. In each instance, they were not willing to consider that because the leading experts in their fields all held to the view they were advocating.
1 Kings 6:1 is sadly often ignored. This verse gives us the time gap between the fourth year of Solomon’s reign from the Exodus as 480 years. Even the liberals do not have an issue with dating Solomon’s reign, but it is seemingly too much to ask to them to even investigate whether a date of around 1440BC could be the time of the Exodus.
When the evidence is re-evaluated, the puzzle fits together perfectly. Trying to solve a large complex puzzle with even some pieces missing is difficult enough though starting from the middle rather than the corners, and then lines, could either take an inordinate amount of time or you may never piece together the picture at all. Starting out with the wrong timeline will inevitably result in faulty conclusions. But when the biblical timeline is used as the frame of reference a remarkable coherency emerges. So much information was presented that I have not been able to summarise all the findings though a second part will follow relating to the conquest of Canaan and especially Jericho.
Time is Running out
The Bible gives us an important chronology of events that have happened and also foretells what is yet to be fulfilled. The God of the Bible is the great Potentate of time, and He has appointed for men to die once and then the judgement. Everything has a time and there is a season and time and purpose for everything under heaven. God has put eternity into our hearts, and it is time to seek the Lord.