The Israelite Exodus in History


February 20, 2010 by Korshi

A scene from the prince of Egypt

Of all the stories of the Hebrew Bible, the story of the Exodus must be among the best known and most influential.  It spans the gap from history to legend, serving as the transition between the semi-mythical Patriarchal age and the more concrete histories of the Former Prophets.  But it is a narrative which makes certain historical claims, and in this essay I will attempt to come to some sort of conclusion as to how far these claims can be reconciled with historical evidence.  As I will later discuss, the Hebrew Bible is derived from multiple sources with disparate historical contexts and agendas, but disentangling these elements is still a fraught endeavour.  Hence I will accept the Exodus story as we have it, as part of a larger cycle, beginning with the sojourn of the Israelites in Egypt, leading to the Exodus itself, the Sinai period of wandering and culminating in conquest of Canaan.  I will treat all of these stages as independently verifiable, with the confirmation of each strengthening the case for, though not proving, the historicity of the cycle as a whole.

Written Sources

Before considering the books of the Hebrew Bible itself, it is worth discussing briefly the authors from the Hellenistic and Roman periods whose works describe the Exodus, among whom the works of Flavius Josephus and Manetho are fairly representative in terms of content and character.

Josephus belongs broadly to the same tradition of Hellenised Jewish writers as the translators of the Septuagint and Philo of Alexandria.  While his account in Antiquites of the Jews generally parallels that of the Bible, he adopts many Greek historiographical tropes, among them the invention of speeches and philosophical exegeses of customs, laws and rituals.  In addition, he adds many tantalising details not known from Exodus, among them a longer birth narrative for Moses[1] and details of an early campaign he fought in Ethiopia as an Egyptian prince.[2] But while Josephus’ nineteenth century translator William Whiston concluded that he had “much completer copies of the Pentateuch, or other authentic records now lost” and Cecil B. DeMille eagerly used them to flesh out his Ten Commandments,[3] it is equally, if not more likely that he was simply embellishing the tale with details which he may either have invented or adopted from contemporaneous traditions.  When it comes to omissions, more easily detected, we can see that Josephus neglects to mention stories which show the Israelites in a less positive light, such as that of the golden calf; there is a parallel here in the Septuagint, which, aware of accusations that the original Jews were lepers, removed reference to Moses’ briefly leprous hand.[4] So while we cannot dismiss Josephus’ account out of hand, we cannot accept it as historically accurate without external confirmation.

Manetho, a Ptolemaic Egyptian priest, gives two accounts relating to the Exodus in his Aegyptiaca, preserved in fragmentary form in Josephus’ Contra Apionem.  The first describes the invasion and expulsion of the Hyksos, and although he identifies their destination as Jerusalem it has only a passing resemblance to the Exodus narrative as we have it, and it is Josephus who makes the connection explicit.  Many writers have suggested that the flight of the Hyksos from Egypt provided part of the historical kernel of the Exodus, [5] but while there may be some truth in this, the stories are too different for us to accept this as a full explanation. This fits quite well with the internal chronology of the Bible, which, if we take the figures in Kings 6:1 literally, gives fifteenth century date for the Exodus, contemporary with the Hyksos.[6] However, archaeological work in the Egyptian delta and the Hyksos capital of Avaris has suggested that while the rulers and military were expelled, a significant Semitic-speaking population remained behind, so that this ‘exodus’ was not a particularly large one.[7]

The Heretic Pharaoh Akhenaten

The Heretic Pharaoh Akhenaten

In the second account given by Manetho the pharaoh Amenhopis banishes all Egypt’s lepers to the former Hyksos capital of Avaris, where, under the leadership of the Heliopolitan priest Osarsiph, they turn against the Egyptian gods and invite the Hyksos to invade.  Amenhopis flees to Ethiopia, but later returns to cast out the lepers and their allies; a postscript tells us that Osarsiph changes his name to Moses.  As is the case with Josephus’ account, it is tempting to clutch at any details which supplement the Biblical account, and many writers have used the connection with the ‘monotheistic’ pharaoh Akhenaten, who originally shared with his father the name Amenhopis, to craft a colourful, albeit problematic, picture of the birth of Israel.  But Manetho was writing over a thousand years after the events about which he was writing, and we now know that much of his knowledge of the period is garbled,[8] and filled with literary parallels to late Egyptian texts such as The Demotic Chronicle, The Potter’s Oracle and the Prophecy of the Lamb.[9]

While the account in the Bible, contained in the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua and Judges is undoubtedly earlier, it has problems of its own.  On the one hand, much of its account is taken up by miracles, literary conventions and aetiologies, all features common to ancient history writing, but all historically suspect.  As an example, the birth narrative of Moses, his abandonment in a papyrus basket and rescue by the princess, falls into a common legendary trope.[10] This does not in itself mean that the event was not historical, since similar stories attached themselves to Sargon and Ptolemy Soter,[11] but the more legendary features appear in a story the harder it becomes to extract a hypothetical historical core from the story, and the life of Moses is filled from beginning to end with dramatic but improbable episodes.

Another frequent technique used in ancient histories including Josephus, Manetho and the Bible is aetiology (alternately spelled etiology), a method by which history is reconstructed by creating superficially plausible stories to explain the present.  To take a modern example, I might notice that the British, North Americans and Australians all speak English.  If I didn’t know about the history of British colonisation, I might invent a story in which three brothers, Britain, America and Australia, led their separate tribes from one homeland into their new countries.  Everywhere in ancient histories we find similar stories, about legendary founders named after their countries- Israel, Aegyptus, Romulus.  Another frequent technique involves creating etymologies for words whose real origins are unknown.  A good modern example of this is backronyms, or false acronyms: explanations that fuck, wog and pom come from ‘fornication under consent of king’, ‘western oriental gentleman’ and ‘prisoner of Her Majesty.’ By the same token the name ‘Moses’, which modern scholars tend to think comes from the Egytian mose, meaning ‘child’, was thought by Israelites to come from Hebrew masha or ‘draw out’, and by Muslims to come from the Arabic  mū (‘water’) and shā (‘tree’ or ‘reeds’).

The Finding of Moses by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

The Documentary Hypothesis, first proposed by Julius Wellhausen to explain the formation of the Bible, breaks the books with which we are concerned five sources: in order of presumed age the Jahwist, Elohist, Deuteronomist, Priestly Source and Redactor, each commonly referred to by their first letter.[12] This division is based mainly on the presence of parallel accounts of identical events in the books, with differing frequencies of the divine name – either YHWH or some variation of El/Elohim.[13] That such redaction took place in antiquity is shown by sources such as 4QDeut and Codex Vaticanus, where the source texts are known.[14] The presumed dating of these individual sources varies between authors: for J between the ninth and seventh centuries, and R sometime after the fifth.[15] Ahlström, Nicholson and others have criticised the traditional Documentary Hypothesis as too simplistic,[16] and suggest that the composition may have been a far more complex process which may never be fully unraveled, but still agree with the fundamental premise, that the Bible is an amalgamation of multiple written sources, all of which have a post-ninth century origin.

In earlier scholarship, it was common to adopt what I would describe as ‘euhemeristic’ approaches to the Bible.  The original Euhemerists in Ancient Greece believed that the gods had existed, but were mortal kings and sages whose stories were later twisted to make them into supernatural beings, a flawed but interesting hypothesis. In the same way, early scholars often accepted the events as described in the Bible, but tried to find naturalistic explanations for them, of which the original writers were somehow ignorant.  These range in unlikelihood from Velikovsky’s Worlds in Collision hypothesis, in which the passing planet Venus caused the plagues of Egypt in some manner unknown to any theory of physics,[17] to Wilson’s attribution of the same misfortunes to the eruption on the volcanic island of Thera,[18] which would in fact have had minimal impact on Egypt, even if it occurred at the right time.[19] In the same vein, though less egregious, is Hay’s suggestion that Pharaoh’s chariot was not swept away by the Red Sea, but bogged down in the Sea of Reeds.[20]

'The Seventh Plague', Martin John, 1823

'The Seventh Plague', Martin John, 1823

All these explanations ignore the numerous earlier, later and contemporary literary parallels to stories of miracles and plagues in Ancient Near Eastern literature, and their narrative functions.  All the plagues could have occurred in Egypt, and it was this that gave them their rhetorical power.[21] But in the story they are used to describe a world in the grip of destructive forces, a frequent theme in Egyptian literature which uses similar language of rivers turning to blood.[22] The turmoil in the natural order is the moral consequence of the Pharaoh’s tyranny, and the literary demonstration of YHWH’s superiority.[23] If we remove the meaning from the miracles, we are left with a series of extremely unlikely coincidences; if we remove the miracles we are left with a chain of events for which the actors have no motives.

Archaeological Data

The book of Kings[24] tells us that the Exodus occurred 480 years before the reign of King Solomon, dated from synchronisms between Kings and Egyptian history to about 970 BC.[25] This would give us a date in the fifteenth century, but create several non-trivial problems.  This period was the zenith of Egyptian imperial power, and we possess a large cache of correspondence between the kings of the eighteenth dynasty and their Canaanite vassal kings, in which they describe in detail their internal intrigues.[26] This was a period in which the Egyptians could control a city with a force of thirty archers, and conducted regular raids to reinforce their rule.[27] The idea that Israel could have conquered and settled in Canaan during this period is untenable; there are no references to Israel in the Egyptian texts, and the books of Joshua and Judges describe a Levantine world free from Egyptian influence, a situation which did not exist until the twelfth century.[28]

Stiebing and others have therefore suggested that the figure of 480 years be taken as a reference to twelve Biblical generations of forty years, a suggestion with some precedent from other books.[29] Reducing forty to a more realistic twenty-five would give us a thirteenth century date, and also solve the problem of the name of the store city Ra’amses given in Exodus[30] and identified with pr-rˤmssw, which, if an authentic detail , would give a terminus post quem in the reign of the eponymous Ramesses II (1279 BC to 1213 BC).[31] It is worth mentioning that his solution is not air-tight; the figure of 12 generations is not explicitly mentioned, and one relevant genealogy gives 19 generations (approximately 475 years).  But since it comes from the late Books of Chronicles, written at earliest in the 5th century BC, this alternative genealogy is not itself necessarily reliable.[32]

The Merneptah Stela

For a latest date for the events of the Exodus we might look to the Merneptah Stela, dating from 1208 BC, and providing us with the first documented occurrence of the ethnonym ‘Israel’.[33] Brown saw in the Stela a direct reference to the Exodus, suggesting that the attacks of the Libyans which it describes may have served the same purpose as the Biblical plagues, providing the Israelites with a chance to escape.[34] But this is nowhere suggested by the literary evidence, nor by the Stela itself.  The reference – Israel is laid waste, his seed is no longer[35] – is so fleeting that it has been irresistible for historians to attempt to read further meaning into it.  Rendsburg has suggested that the determinative used, different from that of the other Canaanite city states and common to some of the Sea Peoples, suggests that they were a people without a state, but the determinative itself means only ‘foreign people’, and further conclusions seem unwarranted.[36] Hasel has suggested, from examples of similar phraseology that the reference to ‘seed’ must mean ‘grain’, suggesting Israel was an agricultural state,[37] but similar statements are made of Libyan invaders and Sea Peoples,[38] neither of whom were settled.  Yurco and Rainey have identified the peoples mentioned on the Stela with scenes from the Cour de la Cachette in the temple of Karnak, but have disagreed over whether the scenes should be read clockwise or anti-clockwise, and therefore whether the Israelites are depicted as nomadic shasu or settled Canaanites.[39] Whichever is right, as Ward has pointed out, trusting that these depictions are accurate or meaningful requires us to place too great a trust in Egyptian artists who may have had only the most general knowledge of the peoples they depicted,[40] and Tyson has shown that the ethnic signification of even single individuals can vary depending on context.[41] The most we can say is that by 1208 BC a group known as Israel existed, probably in Canaan, but who exactly they were is unclear.

This lack of conclusive evidence is paralleled in other archaeological evidence; even the most maximalist scholars admit that there is no direct evidence of the Exodus cycle in the historical record.[42] Given the close policing of Egypt’s borders in the New Kingdom, Finkelstein believes a record of the flight of the Israelites should exist, but given the fragmentary nature of surviving written sources such a record may have rotted away in the three thousand years since.[43] And although we similarly lack evidence of the wanderings of Israel in Sinai, Levy and Muniz point out that nomadic communities do not always leave traces in the archaeological record, even when their existence is otherwise documented.[44]

Tell es-Sulṭân, the modern remains of Jericho

Tell es-Sulṭân, the modern remains of Jericho

The conquest narrative provides us with even greater problems.  Hoffmeier compares Joshua to other Near Eastern accounts of battles, and suggests that we should take many of the more grandiose accounts of battles and exterminations to be rhetorical hyperbole.[45] But even allowing for some exaggeration, it seems impossible to deny that the story in Joshua is that of a brutal invasion with extremely specific details.  In 11:13 hyperbole is distinctly lacking when the writer tells us that of all the cities of one coalition only Hazor was burned, and 12:1-24 gives us a list of kings executed by the Israelites; this cannot be a rhetorical convention, it is either a historical memory or history reconstructed along aetiological lines.  Now while many Late Bronze Age Canaanite sites were destroyed in the centuries leading up to the Iron Age, this was a gradual process lasting centuries, and in the cases of Ai and Jericho (two of the three cities explicitly described as razed) completed long before the thirteenth century.[46] The destruction of old Canaan was only one part of the larger ‘Bronze Age collapse’ which affected the entire Near East and Mediterranean and involved mass famine and depopulation, resulting in the destruction of the the Homeric Mycenaean and Hittite states and the loss of Egypt’s empire.[47] The cause of the collapse is still unknown, but has been attributed to climatic changes[48] and changes in patterns of warfare which disadvantaged large states reliant on chariots.[49] What we do know is that ancient states were often unstable, and the fall of one state could trigger the collapse of others linked by trade and diplomacy, and set out shockwaves of refugees and landless bandits. The memory of the destruction of Canaanite cities by raiders or Egyptian forces may survive in the conquest narrative, but the sequence of events given in Joshua does not fit well with archaeological data.

So where did the tribes, and later kingdom, of Israel come from, if not a conquest? The 1200s saw a “surprisingly uniform” wave of settlements in the hilltop country in the eastern Levant; most were under an acre in size, and had populations of only a hundred people, perhaps fifty adults and fifty children.[50] With a few exceptions, these villages, of which nearly three hundred of varying sizes are known,[51] are lacking in the public buildings, religious structures, fortifications, luxury items and evidences of literacy characteristic of the earlier city states.[52] They probably represented kin-related family holdings, subsistence farmers practicing terrace horticulture and keeping animal stock.[53] Material continuities between these early Iron Age sites and later ones known to be Israelite show that these should be considered as the first signs of the later Iron Age ethnic groups, of which Israel is the best known.[54] But rather than a completely new ethnic group, these settlements seem to represent materially poorer, but identifiably indigenous Canaanite cultural assemblies.[55]

A four room house

Proto-Israelite settlements are generally found in areas not settled by Canaanites,[56] showing that the two groups existed side by side for some time.  Israelite pottery shows clear continuity with older Canaanite models,[57] but it is nonetheless possible to differentiate between Israelite, Philistine and Canaanite sites.  Israelite sites tend to be small, kin based villages rather than hierarchical urban developments, they lack significant imports from outside their communities, or defensive walls and show peculiar features such as four room or courtyard houses and stone lined silos.[58] The four room house plan is an excellent example of emergent Israelite ethnicity; it was not originally a uniquely ‘Israelite’ model of architecture, but it rapidly became the most common plan for their buildings. In the historical Israelite state, all houses, rich and poor, were built according to this model, and the plan was even applied to public buildings and tombs.[59] While other Canaanite groups experimented with the model, the presence of four room houses is still seen as a fairly reliable indicator of Israelite culture.[60] All this suggests that, whatever its original significance, the house plan soon became a defining feature of Israelite ethnicity.

Various theories have attempted to account for the formation of Israel,[61] but I will consider here only the two I consider most likely.  The model suggested by Callaway and Soggin and adopted by Dever posits the Israelites as a mixed group, though predominantly Canaanite peasantry, who fled conflict and state control to settle in the highland frontier, bringing with them their Canaanite culture and gradually developing awareness as a separate ethnic group.[62] By contrast Finkelstein puts greater emphasis role of semi-nomadic shasu who lived in a symbiotic relationship with the city-states, and were forced to settle as their access to the products of sedentary civilisation was eroded by the cities’ collapse.  He points to similar cycling between settled and nomadic life in Ottoman Palestine,[63] and links this to larger demographic processes which can be observed in Canaan from the fourth the first millennia BC.[64] While Hoffmeier points to the undeniably bitter disputes between minimalists as evidence of problems with their methodology,[65] this ignores their more important points of agreement.  Both Dever and Finkelstein see the early Israelites as indigenous Canaanites whose way of life shifted in the early Iron Age. The only difference is that for Dever these are sedentarists, and for Finkelstein semi-nomads, and the fluidity of boundaries between the two groups in the ancient Near East is well documented.

The Levant in the 9th Century

The formation of Israel is closely paralleled by the formation of other new states in the Levant and Mediterranean around the same time – Moab, Edom, Philistia, and slightly later the Phoenician, Italian and Greek city-states.  Robert Drews sees a more direct parallel to Israel in the Philistines; just as the Israelites grew to believe they were the descendants of escaped Egyptian slaves, the Philistines believed they were the ‘remnant of Caphtor’, refugees from Minoan Crete, despite the fact that their way of life showed that they were largely the descendants of native Canaanites.[66]

The Exodus Account in Context

While there is no Egyptian evidence for the Exodus narrative itself, many scholars have found parallels in ancient sources.  We know that people from Canaan and Syria often came to sojourn in Egypt during times of famine, as Jacob’s family do in Genesis.[67] We know that the Delta was in the Ramesside period home to large numbers of enslaved Semitic-speakers, although these were captives rather than sojourners.[68] Papyrus Anastasi V describes slaves fleeing into Sinai, taking a similar route to the Israelites, with Egyptian forces in close pursuit.[69]

Semitic Traders coming into Egypt in the Middle Kingdom

Semitic Traders coming into Egypt in the Middle Kingdom

In the 20th century, scholars were excited to find references to ‘Hebrews’ in Egyptian (as ‘apiru’) and Akkadian (as abiru ) texts.[70] However, analysis of the use of this word has shown that it was originally a social designation for temporarily uprooted brigands and migrants, used frequently in a derogatory sense in the Armana letters written between the Egyptian kings and their Canaanite vassals.[71] In the Biblical texts it was originally a literary term used for the Israelites only in certain instances- as emigrants, Egyptian slaves and to refer to the more literal abiru who played a role in the rise of King David.[72] Nadav Na’aman suggests that it was only later (perhaps in the post-Exilic period), when the original sense of the word was forgotten, that it was generalized to mean all ethnic Israelites.[73]

These details – evidence of Semites in Egypt, and mentions of Hebrew and fleeing slaves – along with some authentically Egyptian details in the cycle have led many writers to posit a smaller, though historical exodus as being more likely than the story’s wholesale invention.[74]

Again, it can be argued that the huge figures given in Numbers for the fleeing Israelite population (two million or twenty thousand according to differing interpretations)[75] are integral to the account itself, but assuming they can be dismissed as later accretions it seems plausible that, as Dever describes, a small group of escaped Egyptian slaves was a component of the hill-dwelling Israelite society, whose story was later adopted by the entire group as their foundation myth.[76]

At present, this is not a hypothesis which can be decisively accepted or rejected, but it is worth pointing out that it would be wrong to characterise the Bible as a ”literary hoax”[77] even if it proved the Exodus was not a historical event.  As we have seen from Manetho, writers in antiquity often did not have the means to construct histories in the modern sense, and drew by necessity upon such suspect sources as aetiologies and folklore.[78] More importantly, the Biblical writers did not claim to be writing history for the first time; their work was in producing an authoritative version of what everyone already knew.[79] The fact that they were written in response to a wider substratum of assumed knowledge can be seen by cryptic references, including those to nephilim[80] and rephaim,[81] the latter only understood in the light of Ugaritic mentions of them as deceased kings worshipped in ancestor cults.[82] The prophet Balaam, mentioned in Numbers, also appears in a completely unrelated Ammonite narrative known from a ninth century inscription.[83] It seems that the stories preserved in the Hebrew Bible are one iteration of the common folklore of the Iron Age Levant, between whose nations a very close linguistic and cultural similarity is archaeologically attested.[84] Anthropologist Francisco Gil-White has described how it can be adaptive for closely related communities to differentiate themselves via cultural norms and narratives,[85] and the Exodus narrative may represent a literary example of this “retribalisation”,[86] a process by which the peoples of Israel, Edom, Moab and the other Canaanite successor states developed distinct identities to promote internal cohesion.  This may be reflected in the pork taboo extrapolated from the lack of pig bones in proto-Israelite sites.[87]

Edward_Poynter's 'Israel in Egypt', 1867

Edward_Poynter's 'Israel in Egypt', 1867

I believe we may go a step further, and propose that the specific form or choice of the Exodus cycle as the foundation myth of Israel comes down to the cultural and political predominance of Egypt over the Levant; even in periods of imperial decline Egyptian cultural hegemony can be seen in Moabite cult statues who wear the crown of Osiris,[88] the use of the Egyptian scarab seal in preference to the Mesopotamian cylinder seal,[89] and the adoption by the Israelite and Judaean kingdoms of Egyptian symbols- a four winged scarab as the royal seal of Israel, a winged sun disk (the symbol of Horus Behdety) as the symbol of Judah.[90] Much later, the Romans had to articulate their relationship to the dominant Greek culture, so that in the Aeneid, the Romans are said to be the descendants of Trojan refugees; historically this is almost impossible, but it serves to distinguish the Romans from the Greeks, and find a place for them in the most important Greek legend, that of the Iliad and the Trojan War.[91] In the same way the Exodus describes the relationship of Israel to Egypt – original subjection followed by victory under the leadership of the national god.


In this essay I have tried to avoid the facile route of attempting to either ‘prove’ or ‘disprove’ the Biblical story, and instead use the Exodus narrative as the window into an investigation of the context of the Bible and the development of the Israelite state as understood by archaeologists.  While this has led to few certainties and only tentative conclusions, I believe this is more valuable than firm assertions based on naïve assumptions about written sources; it is this exact methodology which makes ancient writers so problematic.

Prince Moses unearths his history in another scene from 'The Prince of Egypt'

Prince Moses unearths his history in another scene from 'The Prince of Egypt'

It is also important to note that archaeology, for all its usefulness, is subject to the biases of selection, survival and the assumptions of excavators.  The Iron Age assemblages which allow us to describe the formation of the Israelite states were barely known twenty years ago,[92] and therefore all conclusions must be tentative, and the data upon which they rely made explicit.

But it seems to me that the picture which has emerged is a richer and more interesting one than the linear account of the Exodus cycle: one of complex ethnogenesis rather than static and ahistorical tribes acting out an inevitable conquest.  This is not to say the narrative has no value; it has clearly served as a source of inspiration and identity from the time it was written right until the present day.  But even the most conservative writers understand that it makes real historical claims, and these cannot be easily divorced from the meaning of the text itself.[93] The Exodus story has been a source of inspiration for many oppressed people, most notably the African slaves in the Americas. But the subsequent conquest of Canaan has been used to justify both the English wars against the Irish under Cromwell, and the extermination of the Native Americans by the European immigrants.  Its legacy, like its historical nature, is a murky one.[94]

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[1] Flavius Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, 2:205-232

[2] Ibid, 2: 238, 243

[3] Flavius Josephus, ‘Contra Apionem in The Works of Flavius Josephus, William Whiston (translator) . A M Auburn and Buffalo, 1895,

[4] The story appears in Exodus 4:7- Association with Leprosy- Moses’ hand is afflicted and then cured; Joseph Mélèze Modrzejewski, ‘The Exodus Traditions: Parody or Parallel Version?’ in Jewish History, Vol. 12, No. 1, Spring, 1998, p. 135

[5] For instance, Israel Finkelstein & Neil Asher Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origins of Its Sacred Texts, The Free Press, New York, 2001, p. 69

[6] William H Stiebing Jr, Out of the Desert: Archaeology and the Exodus/Conquest Narratives, Prometheus Books, Buffalo, New York, 1989, p. 40

[7] James K Hoffmeier, Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition, Oxford University Press, New York, 1996, p. 65; Nahum M Sarna, ‘Exploring Exodus: The Oppression’ in The Biblical Archaeologist, The American Schools of Oriental Research, Vol. 49, No. 2, 1986, p. 70

[8] Erik Hornung, ‘The Rediscovery of Akhenaten and His Place in Religion’ in Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt, American Research Center in Egypt, Vol. 29, 1992, p. 44

[9] Erich S Gruen, ‘The Use and Abuse of the Exodus Story’ in Jewish History, Vol. 12, No. 1, Spring, 1998, p. 106

[10] Donald B Redford, ‘The Literary Motif of the Exposed Child (Cf. Ex. ii 1-10)’ in Numen, Vol. 14, Fasc. 3, BRILL, 1967, p. 219

[11] Redford, The Literary Motif of the Exposed Child, pp. 212-13

[12] Hoffmeier, Israel in Egypt, 1996, pp. 7-8

[13] Jack Cargill, ‘Ancient Israel in Western Civ Textbooks’ in The History Teacher, Society for History Education, Vol. 34, No. 3, 2001, p. 298

[14] E W Nicholson, ‘The Pentateuch in Recent Research: A Time for Caution’ in Congress Volume: Leuven 1989, John Adney Emerton (editor), International Organization for the Study of the Old Testament, 1989, p. 15

[15] Hoffmeier, Israel in Egypt, 1996, pp. 7-8; Finkelstein et al, The Bible Unearthed, p.  23

[16] Based on passages like the Plague Cycle, where the use of the divine names is almost impossible to disentangle; G W Ahlström, ‘Where did the Israelites Live?’ in Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Vol. 41, No. 2, The University of Chicago Press, 1982, p. 145

[17] Stiebing, Out of the Desert, p. 104

[18] Ian Wilson, The Exodus Enigma, Wendielf and Nicolson, London, 1985, pp. 120-121

[19] Stiebing, Out of the Desert, p. 106

[20] The question of whether Yam Suf means ‘Sea of Reeds’ or ‘Red Sea’ is not one I can conclusively answer here, but it is not really relevant to this point.  The Exodus account seems to describe a miracle, the waters piled like walls on either side of the Israelites. Hay, Lewis S, ‘What Really Happened at the Sea of Reeds?’ in Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 83, No. 4, Dec., 1964, pp. 397-403; Exodus 14:28

[21] Ahlström, Where did the Israelites Live?, pp. 146-149

[22] William Kelly Simpson, The Literature of Ancient Egypt, Yale University Press, Newhaven & London, 2003, p. 188

[23] Terence E Fretheim, ‘The Plagues as Ecological Signs of Historical Disaster’ in Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 110, No. 3, The Society of Biblical Literature, 1991, p. 385

[24] Kings 6:1

[25] This date is supported by Assyrian records, which first mentions the Kingdom of Israel about 1000 BC; Stiebing, Out of the Desert, pp. 40, 98

[26] Alan James, ‘Egypt and Her Vassals: The Geopolitical Dimension’ in Armana Diplomacy, Raymond Cohen and Raymond Westbrook (editors), The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, 2000, p. 114

[27] Stiebing, Out of the Desert, p. 53

[28] Ibid, p. 91

[29] For instance Genesis 15:13, 15:16; Richard S Hess, Review: Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition, Denver Seminary,

[30] Exodus 1:8-1:14

[31] Stiebing, Out of the Desert, p. 62

[32] Bryant G Wood, Recent Research on the Date and Setting of the Exodus
, 2009,

[33] Abraham Malamat, ‘The Exodus: Egyptian Analogies’ in Exodus, the Egyptian Evidence, Ernest S Frerichs & Leonard H Lesko (editors), Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake, Indiana, 1997, p. 19

[34] Hanbury Brown, ‘The Exodus Recorded on the Stele of Menephtah’ in The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Vol. 4, No. 1, Egypt Exploration Society, 1917, p. 18; Gary A Rendsburg, ‘The Date of the Exodus and the Conquest/Settlement: The Case for the 1100s’  in Vetus Testamentum, Vol. 42, Fasc. 4, 1992, pp. 516-517

[35] William Kelly Simpson, The Literature of Ancient Egypt, Yale University Press, Newhaven & London, 2003, p. 356

[36] Rendsburg, The Date of the Exodus and the Conquest/Settlement, pp. 517-518

[37] Michael G Hasel, ‘Israel in the Merneptah Stela’ in Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 296, The American Schools of Oriental Research, 1994, pp. 52-53

[38] Finkelstein et al, The Bible Unearthed, p. 88

[39] Frank J Yurco, ‘Merenptah’s Canaanite Campaigns and Israel’s Origins ’ in Exodus, the Egyptian Evidence, Ernest S Frerichs & Leonard H Lesko (editors), Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake, Indiana, 1997, p. 39; James K Hoffmeier, Ancient Israel in Sinai: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Wilderness Tradition, Oxford University Press, New York, 2005, pp. 244-245

[40] Yurco, Merenptah’s Canaanite Campaigns and Israel’s Origins, p. 39

[41] Stuart Tyson Smith, Wretched Kush: Ethnic identities and boundaries in Egypt’s Nubian Empire, Routledge, London, 2003, p. 173

[42] Hoffmeier, Israel in Egypt, 1996, p. x

[43] Rendsburg, The Date of the Exodus and the Conquest/Settlement, p. 525

[44] T E Levy, R B Adams & A Muniz, ‘Archaeology and the Shasu Nomads — Recent Excavations in the Jabal Hamrat Fidan, Jordan’ in W H Propp and  R E Friedman (editors.), Le-David Maskil: A Birthday Tribute for David Noel Freedman, University of California, San Diego, pp. 69

[45] Hoffmeier, Israel in Egypt, 1996, p. EGYPT 39

[46] Nadav Na’aman, Canaan in the Second Millenium B.C.E., Eisenbraums, Indiana, 2005, p. 321

[47] Stiebing, Out of the Desert, pp. 169-170, 172-3

[48] Ibid, p.186

[49] Robert Drews. The End of the Bronze Age: Changes in Warfare and the Catostrophe ca. 1200 B.C., 1993, Princeton University Press

[50] Finkelstein et al, The Bible Unearthed, pp. 107-108

[51] William Dever, ‘”Will the Real Israel Please Stand Up?” Archaeology and Israelite Historiography: Part I’ in Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 297, The American Schools of Oriental Research, 1995, p. 72

[52] Finkelstein et al, The Bible Unearthed, pp.  109-110

[53] William G Dever, ‘Ceramics, Ethnicity, and the Question of Israel’s Origins’ in The Biblical Archaeologist, Vol. 58, No. 4, The American Schools of Oriental Research, 1995, p. 208

[54] Ibid, p. 210

[55] Ibid, p. 205

[56] Gary A Rendsburg, ‘The Date of the Exodus and the Conquest/Settlement: The Case for the 1100s’ in Vetus Testamentum, Vol. 42, Fasc. 4, 1992, pp. 510-11

[57] Dever, Ceramics, Ethnicity, and the Question of Israel’s Origins, p. 206

[58] William G Dever, ‘Archaeology, Ideology, and the Quest for an “Ancient” or “Biblical Israel”’ in Near Eastern Archaeology, Vol. 61, No. 1, The American Schools of Oriental Research, 1998, p. 47

[59] Avraham Faust & Shlomo Bunimovitz, The Four Room House: Embodying Iron Age Israelite Society in Near Eastern Archaeology, Vol. 66, No. 1/2, House and Home in the Southern Levant, The American Schools of Oriental Research, 2003, p.25

[60] William G Dever, ‘Archaeology, Ideology, and the Quest for an “Ancient” or “Biblical Israel”’ in Near Eastern Archaeology, Vol. 61, No. 1, The American Schools of Oriental Research, 1998, p.  47

[61] Rendsburg, The Date of the Exodus and the Conquest/Settlement, p. 510

[62] Stiebing, Out of the Desert, p. 160; Dever, Ceramics, Ethnicity, and the Question of Israel’s Origins, p. 211

[63] Finkelstein et al, The Bible Unearthed, pp.  117

[64] Israel Finkelstein & Neil Asher Silberman, ‘Review: “The Bible Unearthed”: A Rejoinder’ in Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 327, The American Schools of Oriental Research, 2002, p. 64

[65] Hoffmeier, Israel in Egypt, 1996, p. 43; For examples of these see the back and forth between Dever and Finkelstein over Finkelstein’s Bible Unearthed

[66] Robert Drews. The End of the Bronze Age: Changes in Warfare and the Catostrophe ca. 1200 B.C., 1993, Princeton University Press, p.68-69

[67] Finkelstein et al, The Bible Unearthed, pp. 52-3

[68] Ibid, pp. 52-3

[69] Malamat, The Exodus: Egyptian Analogies, pp. 20-21

[70] William H Stiebing Jr, Out of the Desert: Archaeology and the Exodus/Conquest Narratives, Prometheus Books, Buffalo, New York, 1989, p. 42;  The correspondence between cuneiform ḫa-pi-ru, Egyptian ˤpr.w and Hebrew ˤbri(m) seems to be generally accepted as linguistically sound.

[71] Nadav Na’aman, Canaan in the Second Millenium B.C.E., Eisenbraums, Indiana, 2005, pp. 254-8

[72] Ibid pp. 262, 269, 270-1

[73] Ibid pp. 270-1

[74] Ahlström, Where did the Israelites Live?, pp. 224-6

[75] Colin J Humphreys, ‘The Number of People in the Exodus from Egypt: Decoding Mathematically the Very Large Numbers in Numbers I and XXVI’ in Vetus Testamentum, Vol. 48, Fasc. 2, Apr., 1998, p. 196

[76] Dever, Ceramics, Ethnicity, and the Question of Israel’s Origins, p. 211

[77] William G Dever, ‘Review: Excavating the Hebrew Bible, or Burying It Again?’ in Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No 322 (May, 2001), p. 69

[78] Arnaldo Momigliano, ‘Time in Ancient Historiography’ in History and Theory, Vol. 6, Blackwell Publishing for Wesleyan University, 1966, p. 19

[79] Ibid, pp, 20-40

[80] Genesis 6:1-4; Numbers 13:32-33

[81] Joshua 3:11

[82] André Caquot,, ‘At the Origins of the Bible’ in Near Eastern Archaeology, Vol. 63, No. 4, , The American Schools of Oriental Research, 2000, p. 227

[83] A H Joffe,, ‘The Rise of Secondary States in the Iron Age Levant’ in Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, Vol. 45, No. 4, BRILL, 2002, p. 455; Jo Ann Hackett, ‘Some Observations on the Balaam Tradition at DeircAllā ‘ in The Biblical Archaeologist, Vol. 49, No. 4, The American Schools of Oriental Research, 1986, p. 220

[84] Joffe, The Rise of Secondary States in the Iron Age Levant, pp. 454-455

[85] Francisco J Gil-White,, Is ethnocentrism adaptive? An ethnographic analysis, 2005,, p. 26

[86] Caquot,, At the Origins of the Bible, p. 225

[87] Joffe, The Rise of Secondary States in the Iron Age Levant, p. 438; Finkelstein et al, The Bible Unearthed, p. 119

[88] Joffe, The Rise of Secondary States in the Iron Age Levant, p 450

[89] Siegfried H Horn, ‘Scarabs from Schechem’ in Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Vol. 21, No. 1, The University of Chicago Press, 1962, p. 1

[90] A D Tushingham, ‘New Evidence Bearing on the Two-Winged LMLK Stamp’ in Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 287, The American Schools of Oriental Research, 1992, p. 61

[91] Horn, Scarabs from Schechem, p. 1

[92] Dever, Ceramics, Ethnicity, and the Question of Israel’s Origins, p. 208

[93] W S La Sor, D A Hubbard, F W Bush,  Old Testament Survey: the Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1996, p. 145

[94] John J. Collins, The Zeal of Phinehas: The Bible and the Legitimation of Violence, Journal of Biblical Literature, 2003,The Society of Biblical Literature, pp. 13-14

One thought on “The Israelite Exodus in History

  1. liz says:

    what about the tag ‘Exodus’?

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