Sunday, April 03, 2011

The Date of the Exodus: A Guide to the Orthodox Perplexed

The Date of the Exodus: A Guide to the Orthodox Perplexed [1]

by Mitchell First

A pdf of this post can be downloaded here, or viewed here.

The Exodus is arguably the fundamental event of our religion. The Sabbath is premised upon it, as are many of the other commandments and holidays. Yet if one would ask a typical observant Jew “in what century did this Exodus occur?,” most would respond with a puzzled look. The purpose of this article is to rectify this situation.

Admittedly, the date of the Exodus and the identity of the relevant Pharaoh are difficult questions. The name of the Pharaoh is not provided in the Bible. One scholar has remarked:[2]

The absence of the pharaoh’s name may ultimately be for theological reasons. The Bible is not trying to answer the question “who is the pharaoh of the exodus” to satisfy the curiosity of modern historians. Rather, it was seeking to clarify for Israel who was the God of the exodus.[3]

Nevertheless, there have been some important developments in recent decades which warrant this post.

Part I: The Date of the Building of Solomon’s Temple

According to 1 Kings 6:1, 480 years elapsed from the Exodus to the building of the First Temple in the 4th year of the reign of Solomon.[4] This suggests that a first step towards dating the Exodus would be obtaining the BCE date for the building of the First Temple.[5]

When books published by ArtScroll and other traditional Orthodox publishers provide a date for the building of the First Temple, the date they provide will usually be around 831 BCE.[6] Unfortunately, this date is far off. The date for the building is approximately 966 BCE.

Why is there such a discrepancy?

ArtScroll and the other traditional Orthodox publishers will provide a date around 831 BCE because that is the date for the building of the First Temple that is implied from rabbinic chronology. 831 BCE is the date that is arrived at after subtracting from 70 CE: 1) the 420 years which rabbinic chronology assigns to the Second Temple period, 2) the 70 years between the Temples, and 3) the 410 years which rabbinic chronology assigns to the First Temple period.[7] (In this calculation, one arrives at 831 BCE and not 830 BCE, because there is no year zero between 1 BCE and 1 CE.)

But there are two problems with this calculation:

1. The Second Temple period spanned 589 years, not 420 years. I have addressed this extensively in my book, Jewish History in Conflict (1997), and will only touch upon it briefly here:

The Tanach does not span the entire Persian period, which lasted about 207 years (539-332 BCE). Only some of the kings from the Persian period are included in Tanach.[8]

The rabbinic figure of 420 years for the length of the Second Temple period probably originates with R. Yose b. Halafta of the 2nd century C.E., who was the author or final editor of Seder Olam.[9] When R. Yose had to establish a length for the Second Temple period, he did not have complete information. In assigning a length, he decided to utilize a prediction found at Daniel 9:24-27. Here, there is a prediction regarding a 490 year period, but the terminii of this 490 year period are unclear. For a variety of reasons, R. Yose decided to interpret the 490 year period as running from the destruction of the First Temple to the destruction of the Second Temple. After subtracting 70 years for the period between the Temples, he was left with only 420 years to assign to the Second Temple period. This forced him to present a chronology with a shorter Persian period than he otherwise would have.[10] (Even so, he probably did not believe that the Persian period spanned anything close to two centuries.)

2. The First Temple period spanned approximately 380 years (c. 966-586 BCE), not 410 years.

The First Temple was destroyed in 586 BCE[11] (and not 421 BCE, as implied by rabbinic chronology).

It was built in the 4th year of Solomon. The BCE dates for the reigns of Solomon and the other First Temple period kings can be calculated because of the interactions between some of our kings and some of the Egyptian and Assyrian kings.[12] For example, the Tanach tells us (I Kings 14:25) that king Shoshenk (=Shishak) of Egypt invaded Jerusalem in the 5th year of Rehavam. Based on Egyptian sources, this invasion can be dated to 926 or 925 BCE. Assuming we (arbitrarily) utilize the 925 BCE date and assuming that Rehavam followed an accession-year dating system,[13] this means that the year Rehavam acceeded to the throne (=the year Solomon died), would have been approximately 930 BCE. Solomon ruled into his 40th year (I Kings 11:42 and II Ch. 9:30) This means that the fourth year of his reign would have been approximately 966 BCE.[14]

The Tanach nowhere states that the First Temple period spanned 410 years. If one totals the reigns of the individual kings of Judah during the First Temple period, and adds the last 37 years of the reign of Solomon, one obtains a figure of approximately 430 years.[15] The origin of the 410 year figure is somewhat of a mystery.[16] The large 430 year total is probably due to cases of co-regencies of father and son, or cases where the son ruled while the father was still alive but not functionally reigning. In these cases, the Tanach has sometimes provided the full amount of years that each king reigned, even if only nominally, despite the overlap.[17]


Once we realize that the First Temple was built in approximately the year 966 BCE, we can date the Exodus, based on I Kings 6:1, to approximately the year 1446 BCE.[18] If so, Thutmose III (1479-1425) would be the Pharaoh of the Exodus.[19]

Part II. Must We Accept the 480 Year Figure Found at I Kings 6:1?[20]

Two separate questions are implied here:

1. Are we, as Orthodox Jews, required to accept this figure found in the book of Kings?

2. What evidence supports and contradicts this figure?

I am not going to address the first question. This kind of question has been discussed elsewhere.[21] (My book includes much discussion of whether Orthodox Jews are required to accept the 420 year tradition for the length of the Second Temple period. But admittedly that is a different issue, because only a rabbinic tradition is involved.)

As to the second question, the 480 year figure is roughly consistent with a 300 year figure utilized by Yiftah, one of the later Judges, in a message he sends to the king of Ammon (Judges 11:26):

While Israel dwelt in Heshbon and its towns, and in Aror and its towns, and in all the cities that are along by the side of the Arnon, three hundred years, why did you not recover them within that time?

But what happens when we compare the 480 figure with the data found in the books of Joshua, Judges and Samuel? The specific years mentioned in the book of Judges (8, 40, 18, 80, 20, 40, 7, 40, 3, 23, 22, 18, 6, 7, 10, 8, 40, and 20) total 410.[22] To calculate the period from the Exodus to the 4th year of Solomon, one must add to this:

-40 years for the desert wandering;

-a length for the period the Israelites were led by Joshua, and after his death, by the elders; [23]

-a length for the judgeship of Shamgar;

-40 years for the judgeship of Eli (I Sam. 4:18);[24]

-a length for the judgeship of Samuel;[25]

-a reasonable length for the reign of Saul;[26]

-40 years for the reign of David (II Sam. 5:4-5, I Kings 2:11); and

- the first 3 years of Solomon.

If one does this, one arrives at a sum greater than 480 for the period from the Exodus to the 4th year of Solomon. (But to the extent that some of the numbers in the book of Judges can be viewed as overlapping,[27] the discrepancy is reduced.)

The 300 year figure utilized by Yiftah can be interpreted as only an approximation. More importantly, the context of the statement suggests that it was only an exaggeration, made with the intent of strengthening the Israelite claim to the land involved. As one scholar writes (exaggeratingly!):[28]

Brave fellow that he was, Jephthah was a roughneck, an outcast, and not exactly the kind of man who would scruple first to take a Ph.D. in local chronology at some ancient university of the Yarmuk before making strident claims to the Ammonite ruler. What we have is nothing more than the report of a brave but ignorant man’s bold bluster in favor of his people, not a mathematically precise chronological datum.

The 480 figure, in its context, does sound like it was meant to be taken literally.[29] But it has been argued that it was only a later estimate based on mistaken assumptions.[30] Moreover, we have no other evidence that the Israelites in the period of the Judges and up to the time of Solomon were keeping track of how many years it had been since the Exodus.

There was a time when there was significant evidence in support of a 15th century BCE Exodus. For example:

° When Yeriho was excavated in the 1930s by John Garstang, he found a city wall that he estimated to have collapsed around 1400 BCE. He also excavated an area which was destroyed in part by fire, and dated this destruction to around 1400 BCE.[31] But Kathleen Kenyon, excavating two decades later, showed that the collapsed wall was from about 1000 years earlier,[32] and that the destruction and conflagration that Garstang had dated to 1400 BCE should in fact be dated to around 1550 BCE.[33]

° The volcanic eruption that occurred long ago on the Mediterranean island of Santorini[34] might explain most of the ten plagues and the parting of the yam suf.[35] This was the second largest eruption in the past four millenia, and there is no question that it had an impact as far away as Egypt.[36] This eruption had traditionally been dated to around 1500 BCE. But recent radiocarbon and other scientific dating now strongly suggest that this eruption took place in the middle or late 17th century BCE.[37]

There is much circumstantial evidence against a 15th century BCE Exodus:

° The implication of the book of Exodus is that the Israelites, in the northeastern part of Egypt, were not far from the capital.[38] But in the period from 1550- 1295 BCE, the Egyptian capital was located in a region farther south, at Thebes.[39] It was only beginning with Seti I (1294-1279) that an area in the northeastern part of Egypt began functioning as the Egyptian capital, when Seti I built a palace there.[40]

° After the Six-Day War and additional areas came under Israel’s control, Israeli archaeologists were able to study much new territory that had been part of ancient Israel. Their studies show that the period that Israelite settlements began to appear in the land was the late 13th and early 12th centuries BCE, not the 15th and 14th centuries BCE.[41]

° Scores of Egyptian sources from 1500-1200 BCE have come to light that refer to places and groups in Canaan.[42] Yet there is no reference to Israel or to any of the tribes until the Merneptah Stele from the late 13th century BCE.[43] (The Merneptah Stele will be discussed below.)

° The Philistines appear as a major enemy of Israel during the period of the Judges,[44] appearing in chapters 3, 10 and 11 of the book of Judges.[45] But they only arrived in the land of Canaan around the 8th year of Ramesses III (=1177 BCE).[46]

° Egypt is never mentioned as one of the oppressors against whom Joshua or a leader in the book of Judges fought. This would be very strange for a conquest commencing around 1400 BCE. Egypt seemed to have exerted strong control over the land of Canaan at this time and for the next 200 years.[47]

Part III. Most Likely, the Relevant Pharaohs are Ramesses II (1279-1213) and Merneptah[48] (1213-1203)

We have already observed that, archaeologically, the period that Israelite settlements began to appear in the land is the late 13th and early 12th centuries BCE. This suggests that we should be looking in the 13th century BCE for our Pharaoh of the Exodus.

Moreover, Exodus 1:11 tells us that the Israelites built store cities (arei miskenot) called Pitom andרעמסס .[49] Since the latter is an exact match to the name of a Pharaoh, this suggests that the Pharaoh who ordered this work (=the Pharaoh of the Oppression) bore this name. No Pharaoh bore this name until the 13th century BCE. The first to do so was Ramesses I. But he only reigned sixteen months (1295-94). Thereafter, after the reign of Seti I, Ramesses II reigned for over six decades. [50]

Since Ramesses I only reigned sixteen months, while Ramesses II reigned over six decades, it is much more likely that the latter is the Pharaoh we should be focusing upon. Moreover, archaeology has shown that Ramesses II was responsible for building a vast city called Pi-Ramesse, which would have required vast amounts of laborers and brick.[51] Ramesses I, on the other hand, is not known to have built any cities.[52]

Exodus 2:23 tells us that the Pharaoh of the Oppression died. If Ramesses II was the Pharoah of the Oppression, the Pharaoh of the Exodus would be his successor, Merneptah.[53]

But there is problem with this scenario. The Stele of Merneptah,[54] dated to his 5th year, refers to “Israel”[55] as one of the entities in the region of Canaan that Merneptah boasts of having destroyed.[56] This implies that Israel was already a significant entity in the land at this time.

The pertinent section of the Stele reads: [57]

The princes lie prostrate… Not one lifts his head among the Nine Bows.[58] Destruction for Tehenu! Hatti is pacified Cannan[59] is plundered with every evil Ashkelon is taken; Gezer is captured; Yanoam is made non-existent; Israel lies desolate; its seed[60] is no more; Hurru has become a widow for To-Meri; All the lands in their entirety are at peace…[61]

If the Exodus was followed by a 40 year period of wandering in the desert, and all of the Israelites entered Israel in the same stage, it would be impossible for Merneptah to have been the Pharaoh of the Exodus, since there was already an entity called Israel in the land of Canaan in the 5th year of his reign.

Of course, one approach is to view Ramesses II as both the Pharaoh of the Oppression and the Pharaoh of the Exodus, and to treat verse 2:23 as an erroneous detail that somehow made its way into our official tradition. Obviously, we would like to avoid such an approach.

Interestingly, there is a rabbinic view that treats the death mentioned at 2:23 euphemistically. According to this midrashic rabbinic view, verse 2:23 did not mean that the Pharaoh died; it only meant that he became leperous.[62] Identifying the Pharaoh of the Oppression with the Pharaoh of the Exodus is at least consistent with this rabbinic view.[63]

A different solution is to postulate that some Israelites never went down to Egypt, and that these are the Israelites referred to by Merneptah. Although we are not used to thinking in this manner, there is perhaps some evidence in Tanach for such an approach.[64]

Other solutions view the Israelites referred to by Merneptah as Israelites who left Egypt before the enslavement began, or who were enslaved but left Egypt in an earlier wave. Rabbi J. H. Hertz took the first of these approaches, and his comments (although written in the 1930’s) bear repeating: [65]

[If the reference in the Stele is to Israelites], then it refers to the settlements in Palestine by Israelites from Egypt before the Exodus… From various notices in I Chronicles[66] we see that, during the generations preceding the Oppression, the Israelites did not remain confined to Goshen or even to Egypt proper, but spread into the southern Palestinian territory, then under Egyptian control, and even engaged in skirmishes with the Philistines. When the bulk of the nation had left Egypt and was wandering in the Wilderness, these Israelite settlers had thrown off their Egyptian allegiance. And it is these settlements which Merneptah boasts of having devastated during his Canaanite campaign. There is, therefore, no cogent reason for dissenting from the current view that the Pharaoh of the Oppression was Rameses II, with his son Merneptah as the Pharaoh of the Exodus.


If we view the entity “Israel” in the Stele as representing the body of Israelites who came out of Egypt in the main Exodus, the matter of the determinative sign used for “Israel” becomes significant. The name “Israel” is marked with a determinative sign that differs from the determinative sign used for all the other city-states and lands in this section. All of the others[67] are accompanied by the determinative sign for city-state/land/region, while “Israel” is accompanied by the determinative sign for “people.” This could mean that the people of Israel were viewed as having arrived in Israel only recently and as having not yet settled down. This interpretation of the sign would support the view that the Exodus occurred only shortly before the time of the Stele, i.e., in the 13th century BCE.[68] Alternatively, the sign could mean only that the people of Israel were viewed as a nomadic people, or as a people that were settled in scattered rural areas but not as a city-state.[69] The implication of the different determinative sign for “Israel” has been much debated.[70]


A key issue that needs to be addressed is how a 13th century BCE Exodus squares with the book of Joshua and its listing of various sites in Canaan that were conquered by the Israelites. We would like to know, for each site,[71] if there is evidence of people having occupied the site in the 13th and 12th centuries BCE (so that they could have been there for the Israelites to defeat), and whether or not there is evidence of a 13th or 12th century BCE destruction at the site.[72]

I cannot discuss every site included in the book of Joshua, but I will briefly discuss four of them: [73]

°Hazor: The archaeological evidence indicates that there was an occupation at Hazor which was terminated by a destruction in the latter half of the 13th cent. BCE.[74] Evidence of a conflagration as part of this destruction has also been found. Joshua 11:11 had referred to a destruction by conflagration at Hazor.

°Lachish: The archaeological evidence indicates that there was an occupation at Lachish which was terminated by a destruction around 1200 BCE, and an occupation which was terminated by a destruction in the reign of Ramesses III (1184-1153 BCE).[75]

°Ai (= Et-Tell). The archaeological evidence indicates that this area was entirely deserted from around 2400 BCE to around 1200 BCE, when a new smaller occupation seems to have begun peacefully.[76]

°Yeriho: The archaeological evidence indicates that there was a conflagration and destruction at Yeriho in approximately 1550 BCE.[77] There was minimal occupation thereafter, without any wall, in the period from about 1400-1275 BCE.[78] There is no evidence of any occupation in the period from about 1275-1100 BCE.[79]

Thus, the evidence from Hazor and Lachish is consistent with a 13th century BCE Exodus, but the evidence from Ai and Yeriho is not. But Et-Tell may not have been the Biblical Ai; many other sites for Ai have been suggested.[80] With regard to Yeriho, it may have only been a small fort in the 13th century BCE, with only a minor wall,[81] and the evidence of this minor occupation and destruction may have eroded away over the centuries.[82] The book of Joshua never calls Yeriho a “large” city.[83]


Finally, a few other matters need to be discussed in connection with attempting to identify the relevant Pharaohs as Ramesses II and Merneptah:

°Exodus 7:7 records that Moses was 80 years old when he first spoke to Pharaoh. If the Pharaoh of the Oppression was Ramesses II, and Moses was born shortly after he began to reign in 1279 BCE, Ramesess II, Merneptah and Amenmesses (the subsequent Pharaoh) would all have died by the time Moses was 80.[84] (The reigns of Ramesses II, Merneptah, and Amenmesses total approximately 79 years). Yet the book of Exodus only records the death of one Pharaoh between the beginning of the Oppression and the Exodus.

A response is that we do not have to make the assumption that Moses was born after Ramesses II began to reign and that Ramesses II was the Pharaoh who ordered the male infants thrown into the river. We can understand the decrees against the Israelites to have been enacted in stages by separate Pharaohs, and assume that the book of Exodus oversimplifies matters in portraying only one Pharaoh of the Oppression. The import of Exodus 1:11 can be that the Israelites eventually built or completed the store cities of Pitom and Ramesses under Ramesses II.[85]

° The 14th chapter of Exodus and Psalms 106:11 and 136:15 can be read as implying that even the Pharaoh drowned.[86] But the mummies of both Ramesses II and Merneptah (and of nearly every Pharaoh from the New Kingdom[87]) have been found,[88] and their examination suggests that Ramesses II died from old age[89] and that Merneptah died from heart trouble.[90] Moreover, if all the Egyptians at the scene drowned, it would have been unlikely that the body of a drowned Pharaoh would ever have been recovered.

A response is that one can easily understand the 14th chapter of Exodus and the above verses from Psalms as not necessarily implying that the Pharaoh actually entered the water.[91]

° The fact that the book of Ruth (4:20-22) records David as being only the sixth generation from Nahshon can be reconciled with a 13th century BCE Exodus. On the other hand, the list of high priests that the Tanach provides from Aaron to the time of Solomon is longer,[92] and the geneaology of Samuel that the Tanach provides is even longer.[93] Thus, the evidence from the geneaological lists in Tanach is inconsistent. [94]

Part IV. A Brief Response to “Exodus Denial”

A mainstream view in scholarship today is that all or most of the Israelites originated in Canaan.[95] If a portion of the Israelites were slaves in and fled from Egypt, it is argued that they were only a small portion. “Exodus Denial” has infected the new Encyclopaedia Judaica as well.[96]

The archaeological evidence for the theory that all or most of the Israelites originated in Canaan is very speculative.[97] Archaeology has been able to document a large increase in population in the central hill country of Canaan commencing at the end of the 13th century BCE,[98] and to provide grounds for identifying this new population with early Israel.[99] But determining where this increased population came from is a much more difficult task.[100]

A main reason the occurrence of an Exodus is disputed is the lack of Egyptian records recording a story of an enslavement of Israelites and their flight.[101] But we do not have narrative history works from the times of the possible Pharaohs of the Exodus. Nor, with regard to the 13th century BCE Pharaohs, do we have their administrative records. As the noted Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen has remarked:

As the official thirteenth-century archives from the East Delta centers are 100 percent lost, we cannot expect to find mentions in them of the Hebrews or anybody else.[102]

In the limited 15-13th century BCE material from the Egyptian palaces and temples that has survived, there is evidence that foreign workers and captives were employed in building projects; that the supervision of the work was two-tiered;[103] that straw was used as an ingredient in the bricks; that workers were faced with brick quotas; and that workers were supervised by taskmasters threatening to beat them with rods.[104]

The one thing we are lacking is a document or relief from Egypt referring to slaves or workers as “Israel.” But even though the Merneptah Stele refers to our ancestors outside the land of Egypt as “Israel”, this does not mean that Egyptians would have used this term for our ancestors as slaves inside Egypt. Levantines in Egypt would typically be described as “Asiatics” (Egyptian: ‘amw), not by specific affiliations.[105] Moreover, our ancestors may have been intermingled with native Egyptians and other foreign groups while enslaved.

Leiden Papyrus 348, a decree by an official of Ramesses II, does record that grain rations were given to: “the apiru who are dragging stone to the great pylon (=gateway)” of Ramesses II.[106] There was a time when a mainstream scholarly position was that apiru was a reference to the Israelites. Now most scholars believe that the term is a general term for a class of renegades or displaced persons. As has been noted, the Biblical Hebrews (=Israelites) may have been apiru, but not all apiru were Biblical Hebrews.[107]

It has often been pointed out that it is unlikely that any people would invent a tradition of slavery in another land. Moreover, references to the Exodus are numerous in Tanach.[108]

Instead of looking at Egyptian history for references to the Israelite enslavement in Egypt, some scholars take a different approach to proving the enslavement. They attempt to find evidence in the Bible for knowledge of Egyptian practices and beliefs.[109] For example, all of the following suggest that there was an Israelite enslavement in Egypt:

-The Biblical knowledge of the details of the slaveworking process in Egypt (e.g., two tiers of supervision, bricks from straw, and brick quotas).

-The fact that some of the Biblical plagues seem to reflect a negation of Egyptian deities.

-The fact that some of the Biblical stories seem to be a polemical response to Egyptian beliefs. For example, the emphasis on the hardening of the Pharaoh’s heart seems to be a response to an Egyptian belief in the lightness of an innocent heart.[110] The use of the phrase חזקה ביד seems to be a response to the use of a similar term in Egypt to describe the power of the Pharoah.[111] The story of the saving of the baby Moses is perhaps a response to an Egyptian mythical birth story involving Horus.[112]

-Many words in the Bible are of Egyptian origin.

I will conclude with another quote from Kitchen:[113]

The Egyptian elements suggest a direct knowledge of how Egyptian labor functioned; the magical practices and the plagues are closely tied to specially Egyptian conditions… The Exodus route via Pi-Ramesse and Succoth fits the 13th century B.C… The lack of any explicit Egyptian mention of an Exodus is of no historical import, given its unfavorable role in Egypt, and the near total loss of all relevant records in any case…The sudden increase in settlement in 12th century [BCE] Canaan is best explained by an influx of new people (not needfully a military conquest…)…That they had ultimately come from Egypt is not proven but (in light of the long and pervasive biblical tradition and good comparative data) is by far the most logical and sensible solution.[114]

End Note

There are Egyptian legends from as early as the 4th and 3rd centuries BCE which refer to a mass departure of Jews from Egypt in ancient times. One could argue that these reflect independent Egyptian traditions confirming the Exodus. But more likely, these legends originated as Egyptian corruptions of an Exodus tradition that originated with the Jews, or as Egyptian polemical responses to such a tradition. I will now describe these Egyptian legends.

Hecateus of Abdera, a 4th century BCE Greek historian, tells us that a pestilence arose in Egypt in ancient times. The common people ascribed it to the workings of a divine agency. The Egyptian observances had fallen into disuse due to the many strangers in their midst. To remedy the situation, the people decided to expel the foreigners. The most outstanding of the foreigners ended up in Greece; the majority of the foreigners were driven into Judea, and were led by Moses.[115]

Hecateus is known to have traveled to Egypt and to have written a book about the ancient Egyptians. Most likely, he heard this story in his travels in Egypt.

Manetho, a 3rd century BCE Egyptian historian, tells us two Exodus stories. The first story[116] begins with an erroneous equation of the Israelites with the Hyksos invaders.[117] Manetho reports that there was a certain shepherd-people called Hyksos who came from the east and ruled Egypt for several hundred years. Eventually, the Egyptian king Misphragmouthosis defeated them and confined them to a place called Auaris. His son, king Thoummosis (whom he later calls Tethmosis), concluded a treaty with them.[118] Under the treaty, the Hyksos were allowed to evacuate Egypt unharmed. Manetho continues:

Upon these terms no fewer than two hundred and forty thousand, entire households with their possessions, left Egypt and traversed the desert to Syria. Then, terrified by the might of the Assyrians, who at that time were masters of Asia, they built a city in the country now called Judaea, capable of accomodating their vast company, and gave it the name of Jerusalem. After the departure of the pastoral people from Egypt to Jerusalem, Tethmosis, the king who expelled them from Egypt, reigned twenty-five years and four months… [119]

The second story[120] is one which Manetho admits is less reliable.[121] In this story, the king involved is named Amenophis.[122] The following is one scholar’s summary of this story:[123]

Amenophis desired to behold the gods and received an oracle that he would attain his wish if he purified the land of lepers. The king gathered them and sent them to forced labor in the quarries, then gave them the city of Avaris as their territory, their number amounting to eighty thousand. After they had fortified themselves in Avaris, they rebelled against the king and elected a priest of Heliopolis by the name of Osarseph as their leader.[124] Osarseph commanded the lepers to cease worshipping the gods, also ordering them to slaughter and eat the sacred animals of the Egyptians. He further forbade them to associate with people not of their persuasion. He fortified Avaris with walls and sent an invitation to the descendants of the Hyksos who lived in Jerusalem to come to his aid in the conquest of Egypt. They obeyed him willingly and came to Egypt to the number of 200,000. King Amenophis fled in fear to Ethiopia, taking with him the sacred animals, and stayed there thirteen years, as long as the lepers ruled Egypt. The rule was of unparalleled cruelty; the lepers burned down towns and villages, plundered Temples, defiled the images of the gods, converted shrines into shambles and roasted the flesh of the sacred beasts. Ultimately, Amenophis gathered courage to fight the lepers, attacking them with a great host, slaying many of them and pursuing the survivors as far as the frontiers of Syria.

Select Bibliography

Galpaz-Feller, Penina. Yitziat Mitzrayim: Mitziyut o Dimyon, 2002.

Hasel, Michael G. “Israel in the Merneptah Stela,” Bulletin of the American Schools of

Oriental Research 296 (1994), 45-56.

Hasel, Michael G. “Merenptah’s Inscription and Reliefs and the Origin of Israel,” in

Beth Albert Nakhai, ed., The Near East in the Southwest: Essays in Honor of

William G. Dever, 2003, 19-44.

Hess, Richard S., Gerald A. Klingbeil, and Paul J. Ray, Jr. eds. Critical Issues in Early

Israelite History, 2008.

Hoffmeier, James K. Israel in Egypt, 1997.

Hoffmeier, James K. “What is the Biblical Date for the Exodus? A Response to Bryant

Wood,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 50/2 June 2007, 225-47.

Kitchen, Kenneth. “The Exodus,” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 2, 700-08, 1992.

Kitchen, Kenneth. The Reliability of the Old Testament, 2003.

Malamat, Abraham. “Let My People Go and Go and Go and Go,” Biblical

Archaeological Review Jan-Feb. 1998, 62-66.

Wilson, Ian. Exodus: The True Story, 1985.

[1] I would like to thank Sam Borodach, Allen Friedman, and Ari Leifer for reviewing the draft and for their insights. The views expressed here are solely my own.

[2] James K. Hoffmeier, Israel in Egypt (1997), p. 109.

[3] The truth is that the absence of the name of the Pharaoh in the book of Exodus does not appear to be for theological reasons. “Pharaoh” originally meant “great house.” Ibid., p. 87. It began to be used as an epithet for the monarch in the 15th cent. BCE, but it was only in the 10th cent. BCE that the name of the monarch began to be added.

[4] “It was in the 480th year of the children of Israel coming out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year…of the reign of Solomon over Israel, the house of God was built.” From a parallel passage at II Ch. 3:1-2, it is seen that the sense of the passage in Kings is only that Solomon began the work of the rebuilding at this time.

[5] The fact that the First Temple was built in the year 2928 according to rabbinic chronology does not determine the issue. In order to convert this to a BCE date, one must make assumptions about the lengths of the First and Second Temple periods.

[6] The exact date provided depends on whether 68, 69, or 70 CE is used as the date for the destruction of the Second Temple. 831 BCE is the date arrived at if one uses 70 CE.

[7] The tradition that the First Temple period spanned 410 years is recorded at Tosefta Zevahim 13:3, Yoma 9a and J. Megillah 72d (1:12). The tradition that the Second Temple period spanned 420 years is recorded at Tosefta Zevahim 13:3, Yoma 9a, Arachin 12b, Avodah Zarah 9a, and J. Megillah 72d (1:12). See also Nazir 32b.

The earliest source for the 410 and 420 figures is Seder Olam (“SO”). The 420 year figure is explicit in SO chap. 28 and implicit in chap. 30. The 410 year figure is not explicit in SO, but is implicit in its statement in chap. 11 that the period that the Israelites spent in the land, from the time they entered until the time they left, was 850 years. 480 less 40, added to 410, equals 850.

The 410 and 420 year traditions are implicit in the accepted Jewish count from creation.

The tradition that the exilic period spanned 70 years is recorded at Jer. 25:11-12 and 29:10, Zech. 1:12 and 7:5, and Dan. 9:2.

[8] The Persian period begins with Cyrus and Cambyses, who reigned before the Temple was built in the reign of Darius I. After Darius I, six other major kings ruled until the next Persian king, Darius III, was defeated by Alexander. The Tanach mentions Cyrus, Darius, Achashverosh (=Xerxes), Artachshasta (=Artaxerxes I), and Darius II (see Neh. 12:22). It does not mention any of the Persian kings after this: Artaxerxes II, Artaxerxes III, Arses, and Darius III. (As to Cambyses, his reign is alluded to in the word ve-ad at Ezra 4:5.). In the chronology of SO, the Persian period spanned the reigns of only three Persian kings. See SO, chap. 30.

[9] Yevamot 82b and Niddah 46b

[10] Jewish History in Conflict, pp. 128-137.

[11] Some historians use the date 587 BCE. By my use of the date 586 BCE, I am not intending to take a position on this issue.

[12] See Kenneth Kitchen, “How We Know When Solomon Ruled,” BAR Sept-Oct.2001, pp. 32-37 and 58.

[13] In an accession-year dating system, the partial year in which the king began his reign is not counted as his first year. The prevailing view is that the kings of Judah followed this system. The kings of Israel used non-accession year dating in the tenth and ninth centuries BCE, but changed to accession-year dating in the eighth century BCE. Ibid., p. 35, and Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (2003), p. 29.

[14] If the meaning of the verses is that Solomon ruled 40 complete years, i.e., into his 41st year, then his 4th year would have been 967 BCE.

[15] From Rehavam to Tzidkiyahu, the total years of the kings of Judah are 393½. See Divrey ha-Yamim, Daat Mikra edition, vol. 2, appendix, pp. 73-74. Adding another 37 years, for years 4 to 40 of Solomon, yields a total of 430½.

[16] It can be suggested that since there were nineteen kings of Judah from Solomon to Tzidkiyahu (not including two kings who reigned only three months each), it was decided to subtract 19 from 430 years because the last year of each of these kings and the first year of his sucessor would usually have been the same year. But why was 20 subtracted from 430? Moreover, would not the above approach have warranted a subtraction of only 18 years?

I would not rule out the possibility that the 410 figure originated with a gematria based on be-zot (בזאת) yavo Aharon (Lev. 16:3). This gematria is found in a few classical sources, e.g., Baraita of 32 Rules (M. Margaliot, Midrash ha-Gadol to Genesis, p. 37), Lev. Rabbah 21:9, Numbers Rabbah 18:21, Pesikta Rabbati, chap. 47, Pesikta de-Rav Kahana, p. 177a (ed. Buber), and Midrash ha-Gadol to Lev. 16:3. Some of these sources record it in the name of a 3rd cent. Palestinian Amora, R. Levi. But it could have been in existence at the time of SO.

The suggestion is made at Divrey ha-Yamim, Daat Mikra edition, vol. 2, appendix, p. 72, that the Sages wanted to create a chronology in which the length of time from the entry into the land until the departure spanned exactly 17 jubilee cycles (480-40, plus 410 equals 850). But there is no compelling reason that the Sages should have desired to adopt such a scheme, unless one theorizes that there was a desire to create a chronology which would approximately fit ונושנתם (852) of Deut. 4:25. But this seems very farfetched. If the chronology originated based on a gematria, an origin based on the exact fit of בזאת seems more likely. See also the comments at p. 72, n. 16.

[17] See Divrey ha-Yamim, Daat Mikra edition, vol. 2, appendix, pp. 70-72. As stated here, if we focus on the period from Yehu to the Assyrian exile, and compare the total of the lengths of reigns of the kings of Israel with the total for the kings of Judah, there is a discrepancy of approximately 21 years. The kings of Israel in this period reigned a total 143 years and 7 months, and the kings of Judah reigned a total of 165 years. Obviously, the method of counting lengths of reigns employed in the Judean kingdom was different from the method employed in the Israelite kingdom, and the method employed in the Judean kingdom must have been a more generous one.

[18] But if the Exodus was year one on the 480 count (and not year zero), we should go back only 479 years.

[19] All the dates I have used in this article for the reigns of Pharaohs are taken from Kenneth Kitchen, “Egypt, History of (Chronology),” Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 2 (1992), pp. 322-331 (tables at p. 329). A radiocarbon study published in 2010 suggests that these dates should be pushed back a few years. See Science, vol. 328, June 18 2010, pp. 1489-1490 and 1554-1557.

Thutmose III was young at the time of his accession. Hatshepsut, who was his stepmother and aunt, served as the acting Pharaoh for the first 22 years of his reign until her death. (Based on I Kings 6:1, the Pharaoh of the Exodus almost turns out to be a woman!)

[20] The Septuagint has a different number here, 440 years.

[21] See, e.g, Shalom Carmy, “A Room with a View, but a Room of our Own,” in Carmy, ed., Modern Scholarship in the Study of Torah (1996), pp. 22-24, and Marc B. Shapiro, “New Writings from R. Kook and Assorted Comments,”, Parts I and II, 20 Marheshvan, 2010, and Feb. 9 2011. Shapiro cites a few Rishonim who take the position that the long lifespans recorded in the beginning of Genesis are not be taken literally.

Mishnah Taanit 4:5 records the 17th of Tammuz as the date of the breaching of the city wall, impliedly with regard to both Temples, while the Tanach (in three separate places) records the 9th of Tammuz as the date of the breaching of the city wall in connection with the First Temple. The view is expressed by an Amora in the Jerusalem Talmud (Taanit 4:5) that the 9th of Tammuz date is not correct, and that the calamaties of the time led to a mistaken date being recorded. This Amora makes a similar observation about a date expressed at Ezekiel 26:1. Admittedly, these verses concern errors of very small lengths of time, not hundreds of years.

[22] See, e.g., Soncino Books of the Bible: Joshua ·Judges (1950), intro. to Judges, p. 153. See also James K. Hoffmeier, “What is the Biblical Date for the Exodus? A Response to Bryant Wood,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 50/2 (2007), p. 227.

[23] Judges 2:7. Joshua himself lived until 110. Judges 2:8. Joshua was described as a naar at Ex. 33:11.

[24] The number 40 is one of the most frequently occurring numbers in the Bible. There are 33 forty-year spans mentioned in the Bible. This is only surpassed by the number of seven-year spans; there are 34 of those. Hoffmeier, What is the Biblical Date, p. 236. By way of contrast, no Egyptian Pharaoh is reported to have reigned 40 years.

[25] According to I Sam. 7:14, Samuel judged Israel until the end of his life.

[26] Despite I Sam. 13:1, which states that Saul reigned only 2 years. See, e.g., the commentaries of Soncino and Daat Mikra to this verse.

In the Septuagint, some versions drop verse 13:1 altogether (the first part of the verse is problematic as well), some give Saul a reign of 42 years, and some give him a reign of 31 years. At Acts 13:21, Paul allots 40 years to Saul. See Hoffmeier, What is the Biblical Date, p. 227, n. 8.

[27] Only a limited number of “after him” phrases link successive judges. Probably, many were only regional rulers and some served as contemporaries in different areas. See, e.g., Soncino Books of the Bible: Joshua ·Judges, intro. to Judges, p. 153, Hoffmeier, What is the Biblical Date, p. 228, and Kitchen, On the Reliability, pp. 202-03.

[28] Kitchen, On The Reliability, p. 308.

[29] Even though numbers like 40 and its various multiples could perhaps be interpreted schematically.

Umberto Cassuto studied the formulation of numbers in the Hebrew Bible. He concluded that numbers written in ascending order are generally intended to be technically precise figures, while numbers written in descending order are generally non-technical numbers found in narrative passages, poems, and speeches. He writes:

[W]hen the Bible gives us technical or statistical data and the like, it frequently prefers the ascending order, since the tendency to exactness in these instances causes the smaller numbers to be given precedence and prominence.

See Cassuto, The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch, tr. by Israel Abrahams (1961), p. 52. (Cassuto developed this theory in order to refute the view that the explanation for the different orders was a difference in sources.) The number in I Kings 6:1 is written in ascending order (80 + 400).

[30] It has been suggested that the author of this number believed that the period from the Exodus to Solomon spanned 12 generations and just assumed 40 years for the length of each generation. See, e.g., Hoffmeier, What is the Biblical Date, p. 236, Kitchen, On the Reliability, pp. 307-08, and EJ 6:1044-45 and 8:576. (All my citations to the EJ are to the original edition, unless otherwise noted.)

[31] Bryant G. Wood, “Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho?,” BAR March-April 1990, p. 49.

[32] Ibid., pp. 49-50. The walls of Yeriho were destroyed or collapsed from earthquakes many times over the centuries. See Barbara Sivertsen, The Parting of the Sea: How Volcanoes, Earthquakes, and Plagues Shaped the Story of the Exodus (2009), p. 95.

[33] Wood, p. 49. See also Kitchen, On the Reliability, p. 187. A recent radiocarbon estimate agrees with the 1550 BCE dating, dating this destruction to 1571-1529 BCE. Sivertsen, p. 97.

[34] This island was known to the ancient Greeks as Thera. It is near Crete.

[35] E.g., clouds of ash caused the plague of darkness, and a tidal wave (tsunami) caused the parting of the Sea.

This suggestion was first made in 1964. Sivertsen, p. 7. In 2006, the suggestion was the subject of a documentary film, The Exodus Decoded, by filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici. (I was initially supposed to appear in this film and be interviewed on the topic of Jewish chronology. But the interview never took place.)

[36] Volcanic ash from Santorini was found in the Nile Delta. Sivertsen, p. 168, n. 28.

[37] Ibid., pp. 23-24. But there are those who still adhere to the later date. See, e.g., Sivertsen, p. 166, n. 3, and there are radiocarbon tests which support this position. For further background to this eruption and the controversy about its date, see the entries in Wikipedia for “Santorini” and “Minoan eruption.” See also Science, vol. 328, June 18 2010, pp. 1489-1490.

[38] For example, the daughter of the Pharaoh of the Oppression found the baby Moses at a site on the Nile. From here, Miriam was easily able to run home to fetch her mother (Ex.2:1-10). Also, the Pharaoh of the Exodus was able to summon Moses and Aaron to his palace in the middle of the night (Ex. 12:30-31).

[39] Nahum M. Sarna, Exploring Exodus (1986), p. 10 and Ian Wilson, Exodus: The True Story (1985), p. 23. The 17th Dynasty operated out of Thebes as well, ruling the southern part of the country, while the Hyksos ruled the northern part of the country from Avaris. Sarna, p. 16.

[40] Wilson, p. 23. Ramesses II built his city and palace at Pi-Ramesse around this earlier palace. Hoffmeier, Israel in Egypt, p. 123.

Excavations beginning in the early 1990s at Tell el-Dab‘a/Ezbet Helmi, very close to Pi-Ramesse, have now revealed two palaces which were in use in the period from 1550-1400 BCE. See Manfried Bietak, “The Palatial Precinct at the Nile Branch (Area H),”;. But the main Egyptian capital still seems to have been Thebes in this period.

[41] See Israel Finkelstein, The Archaeology of the Israelite Settlements (1988), p. 353; Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, The Bible Unearthed (2002), pp. 107-115, and William G. Dever, Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From? (2003), pp. 97-99, 154-155, and 167. The early Israelite settlements are particularly found in the areas of Ephraim and Menashe.

Beginning in 1978, Adam Zertal conducted an extensive survey of the history of the settlement in Menashe. Among his conclusions:

-In the period from 1550-1200 BCE, the number of settlements sharply declined in comparision to the period 1750-1550 BCE, with only one quarter of the sites remaining. In the period from 1550-1200 BCE, no new sites were established.

-There was a considerable increase in settlements during the period from 1200-1000 BCE.

See Ralph K. Hawkins, “The Survey of Manasseh and the Origin of the Central Hill Country Settlers,” in Richard S. Hess et al, eds., Critical Issues in Early Israelite History (2008), pp. 167-68.

Those who argue for a 15th century BCE Exodus and Conquest can take the position that the Israelites lived pastorally for their first 200 years, and that this accounts for the lack of archaeological evidence for their settlement. See, e.g., Paul Ray, “Classical Models for the Appearance of Israel in Palestine,” in Critical Issues, p. 93. Such a position is very much out of the mainstream today.

[42] Hoffmeier, What is the Biblical Date, pp. 241-42, based on Shmuel Ahituv, Canaanite Toponyms in Ancient Egyptian Documents (1984).

[43] There are references in Egyptian texts from the 13th and 12th centuries BCE to a place called ’Isr. ’Isr has been equated by some with the Israelite tribe of אשר. See, e.g., Ray, p. 84, n. 3. But the identification should probably be rejected. See Kitchen, Ramesside Inscriptions, vol. 1 (1993), pp. 40-41.

Manfred Görg argues that there is an inscription which provides evidence of Israel’s existence in the 15th century BCE. The inscription itself dates to the 13th century BCE, but based on the spellings, Görg suggests the names were copied from a 15th century BCE source. The inscription refers to Ashkelon, Canaan, and a third toponym. The third toponym is only partially preserved. If it is restored to spell “Israel,” the spelling would be slightly different from the spelling of Israel on the Merneptah Stele. Hoffmeier writes that “Gorg’s reading of this name…is plagued by serious linguistic and orthographic problems that preclude it from being Israel.” Hoffmeier, What is the Biblical Date, p. 241.

[44] Ibid., p. 242

[45] Judges 3:31, 10:7 and 13:1.

[46] Kitchen, On the Reliability, pp. 339-340 and EJ 13:399.

[47] In the 12th century BCE, the Egyptian grip on Canaan began to loosen considerably, so the Israelites could have operated with little Egyptian interference. Hoffmeier, What is the Biblical Date, pp. 242-43. According to Lawrence F. Stager, “the Egyptians maintained some control over parts of Canaan until just after the death of Rameses III in 1153 BCE.” See his “Forging an Identity: The Emergency of Ancient Israel,” p. 123, in Michael D. Coogan, ed., The Oxford History of the Biblical World (1998). See also Carol A. Redmount, “Bitter Lives: Israel in and out of Egypt,” Ibid., pp. 117-118.

[48] More recently, scholars have been spelling his name Merenptah. I have followed the traditional spelling.

Merneptah was the 13th son of Ramesses II. Ramesses II outlived the first twelve.

[49] A region called רעמסס was mentioned earlier at Gen. 47:11. רעמסס is also mentioned as the place the Israelites began their departure from. See Ex. 12:37 and Num. 33:3,5.

As to Pitom, this is the only time this place is mentioned in Tanach. Many suggest it means “the house of Atum” (see, e.g., Hoffmeier, Israel in Egypt, p. 119, and Daat Mikra to Ex. 1:11), in which case we would be looking for a site where the god Atum had a special position. There are various theories as to its location. See Hoffmeier, Israel in Egypt, pp. 119-121. Papyrus Anastasi 6 refers to “the pools of Pithom-of-Merneptah.” Herodotus (2:158), 5th cent. BCE, refers to a town called Patoumos.

[50] There were other Pharaohs named Ramesses thereafter, starting with Ramesses III in 1184 BCE. But a 12th century BCE Pharaoh of the Oppression would considerably compress the period of the Judges, and be egregiously inconsistent with the 480 year and 300 year verses mentioned above. Also, a 12th century BCE Pharaoh of the Oppression followed by 40 years of desert wandering would not fit the archaeological evidence that shows that Israelite settlement began in the late 13th and early 12th centuries BCE.

[51] Kitchen, On the Reliability, p. 255. The city and palace at Pi-Ramesse were built around an earlier palace built at this location by Seti I. Ibid., p. 256. Pi-Ramesse was abandoned as a royal residence around 1130 BCE.

I am not assuming that this is the city referred to at Ex. 1:11. But this is possible too.

[52] Kitchen, On the Reliability, p. 255.

[53] It has been suggested that the references to mayan mei neftoah at Joshua 15:9 and 18:15 are to a place that derives its name from Merneptah (and perhaps from his campaign in Palestine, see below). The combination of mayan and mei is redundant and is not attested elsewhere in Tanach. Also, Papyrus Anastasi 3 includes a reference to the “wells of Merneptah” in Canaan. See Kitchen, On the Reliability, pp. 165-66 and Hoffmeier, What is the Biblical Date, p. 243.

(In the movie “The Ten Commandments,” Seti I was the Pharaoh of the Oppression, and Ramesses II was the Pharaoh of the Exodus.)

[54] The Stele was discovered in 1896 at Thebes. A fragmentary copy was later discovered at Karnak. At Karnak, the section where “Israel” would have been written has not survived.

[55] The actual reading is: ysri3r (in Egyptian hieroglyphs). Hoffmeier, Israel in Egypt, p. 30 and Michael G. Hasel, “Israel in the Merneptah Stela,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 296 (1994), p. 46. The Egyptian dialect at that time did not have an “l” sound; both the “r” sound and the “l” sound were written with the Egyptian “r”. See Kitchen, “The Victories of Merenptah, and the Nature of their Record,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 28 (2004), p. 271. (The Philistines are referred to as prst in Egyptian inscriptions from this era. EJ 13:399.)

[56] This is the earliest reference to the entity “Israel” outside of the Bible. It is ironic that in this first reference, Israel is described as having been destroyed! (The name “Israel” for an individual is known prior to the Merneptah Stele. It is found at Ebla and Ugarit. Hasel, p. 46.)

The Stele was probably constructed after a successful military expedition into Palestine by Merneptah’s forces (perhaps led by Merneptah himself.) There is other evidence for such an expedition. For example, Merneptah adopts the epithet “conqueror of Gaza” in a different stele. See Sarna, p. 12, Hasel, p. 55, and Hasel, “Merenptah’s Inscription and Reliefs and the Origin of Israel,” in Beth Albert Nakhai, ed., The Near East in the Southwest: Essays in Honor of William G. Dever (2003), p. 27. Moreover, the reliefs at Karnak are now generally viewed as illustrations of the conquests referred to in the Stele. This further supports the likelihood that there was such an expedition. Ibid.

It has been suggested that if the Exodus occurred in the reign of Ramesses II, Merneptah’s expedition may have been a response to the Israelites’ expanding their control in Canaan during the early period of the Judges. Hoffmeier, What is the Biblical Date, p. 243.

[57] The above translation is from D. Winton Thomas, ed., Documents from Old Testament Times (1958), p. 139.

[58] “Nine Bows” is an Egyptian expression for all subjugated peoples. Hasel, Israel in the Merneptah Stela, p. 55.

[59] This can be another term for Gaza, and not the land of Canaan. Hoffmeier, Israel in Egypt, p. 29 (but compare p. 45).

[60] The Egyptian word can mean either human seed or grain. Ibid., p. 45. If the meaning is “grain,” the implication may be that Israel was no longer a military threat to Egypt. Also, one could perhaps infer that Israel was an agrarian society and hence already established in the land. Hasel, Israel in the Merneptah Stela, p. 53.

[61] Sarna writes (p. 12):

[T] he “Nine Bows” are the traditionally hostile neighbors of Egypt; the Tehenu are one of the Libyan peoples; Hatti is the land of the Hittites, now Asiatic Turkey; Ashkelon and Gezer are two southerly Cannanite towns; Yanoam is a town in the north of the country; Hurru , the land of the Hurrians, who are the Biblical Horites, is an Egyptian term for Palestine and Syria. To-Meri is another name for Egypt.

[62] See Exodus Rabbah 1:34, and Targum Jonathan to Ex. 2:23. For a connection between death and leprosy, see Num. 12:12. There is a similar midrashic rabbinic teaching on Isaiah 6:1, a verse that mentions the death of king Uzziahu.

[63] The passage at Exodus Rabbah 1:34 does not state what motivated it to treat the death euphemistically. But a different version of this passage is found at Midrash ha-Gadol to Ex. 2:23. There, additional language is found (underlined below) which helps explain what motivated the euphemistic reading:

(Ex. 9:16 ) העמדתיך זאת בעבור ואולם אומר הוא והלא מת וכי

(citing Num. 12:12) …כמת והמצורע שנצטרע אלא

Given the reliability of Midrash ha-Gadol with respect to its quotations of midrashim (see, E.g., EJ 11:1515), it is reasonable to view the added language as original, and not as a later interpolation. For further possible background to the midrash at Exodus Rabbah 1:34, see Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, vol. 5, n. 101, pp. 412-413.

Many rabbinic commentaries offer a different explanation of what motivated the euphemistic reading (without being aware of the additional language in Midrash ha-Gadol). The groaning and crying out referred to at verse 2:23 perhaps make no sense if the Pharaoh had died; we would expect an optimistic hope for change. Hence, a euphemistic interpretation of the “death” is called for.

[64] See, e.g., I Chronicles 7:20-24. The events described here imply that Ephraim and his sons and daughter were living in Israel, not Egypt. See Y. Zakovitch and A. Shinan, Lo Kach Katuv be-Tanach (2004), pp. 145-150, and Gary N. Knoppers, I Chronicles 1-9 (The Anchor Bible) (2003), pp. 464-65.

[65] The Pentateuch and Haftorahs (2d. ed. 1975), p. 395 (Exodus-Additional Notes).

An interesting suggestion was made by Abraham Malamat. The Bible implies that the Exodus occurred over a relatively brief period, i.e., that it was a “punctual” event. But perhaps it was a “durative” event (=an event which spanned a long period of time), and involved a steady flow of Israelites out of Egypt over hundreds of years. If it was a durative event, the search for a specific date is not the correct approach. All we really should be looking for is the peak period, when Moses was their leader and the highest percentage left. See his “Let My People Go and Go and Go and Go,” BAR Jan.-Feb. 1998, pp. 62-66. A longer version of this article is included in Ernest S. Frerichs and Leonard H. Lesko, eds., Exodus: The Egyptian Evidence (1997).

[66] I believe Hertz is referring to I Chronicles 7:20-24, but he is giving a different interpretation than the one I just suggested.

[67] Specifically: Tehenu, Hatti, Canaan, Ashkelon, Gezer, Yanoam, and Hurru. “Nine Bows” has a bow as a determinative, but this was not a city-state or land.

[68] For example, Sarna writes (p. 13):

[I]t may be concluded that… [at the time of the Stele] the people of Israel was located in Canaan, but had not yet settled down within definable borders. Its presence there was of recent origin, so that the Exodus would have taken place in the course of the thirteenth century BCE.

See also the comments of Lawrence Schiffman in “Making the Bible Come to Life: Biblical Archaeology and the Teaching of Tanach in Jewish Schools,” Tradition 37/4 (Winter 2003), p. 48, n . 19:

The text describes the situation in Canaan in the thirteenth century B.C.E. with Israel alone pictured as a people without a geographical designation. This clearly refers to the period between the invasion and the actual settlement of the various Israelite tribes.

Those advocating an earlier date for the Exodus can make a different argument from the Stele. Since Merneptah felt that the destruction of Israel was something to boast about, Israel must have been a significant entity, one that was long-established in the land.

[69] Hasel, Israel in the Merneptah Stela, pp. 53-54.

[70] See the two articles by Hasel cited previously. See also his “Merenptah’s Reference to Israel: Critical Issues for the Origin of Israel,” in Critical Issues, pp. 47-59.

[71] Of course, there are always questions of whether archaeology has identified the correct site. Even if a name similar to the Biblical name has been preserved at a village or tel, the Biblical name may refer instead to the larger region. Moreover, even if the correct site has been identified, typically only 5% of each site is dug. Kitchen, On the Reliability, p. 183.

[72] But it must be stressed that there is little reason to expect that the victories of the Israelites would have left archaeological traces of destruction in most instances. The Israelite victories over a city and its people are typically described only by the terms ויכה and ויכוה, and the underlying Israelite goal was only to kill the leaders and the inhabitants. The cities themselves were eventually to be occupied by the Israelites. The victories described in the book of Joshua can be viewed mainly as disabling raids. After their victories, the Israelites did not attempt to hold the areas; they remained based at Gilgal. Kitchen, On the Reliability, p. 162. Only in the cases of Jericho, Ai and Hazor does the book of Joshua specify that the city was burnt, something that can be tested for archaeologically. See Kitchen, On the Reliability, pp. 183 and 189-90, and Hoffmeier, Israel in Egypt, pp. 33-44.

It has also been observed that the descriptions of the conquests in the book of Joshua are formulaic and use rhetorical language, suggesting that they are somewhat exaggerated. The continuing presence of the Canaanites in Canaan after the time of Joshua is seen from the book of Judges.

[73] A similar analysis must also be conducted with regard to how a 13th century BCE Exodus squares with the cities in Transjordan mentioned in the book of Numbers as conquered by the Israelites (e.g., Arad, Heshbon, Dibon, and Edrei). Compare Kitchen’s analysis, On the Reliability, pp. 190-196 with Dever’s analysis at pp. 23-35.

[74] Dever, pp. 66-68. Judges 4:2 describes the Israelites as having been handed over to Yavin, king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. But this was many years later and the city may have been rebuilt by this time. Soncino, comm. to Judges 4:2.

[75] Kitchen, On the Reliability, pp. 184 and 211. See also Dever, pp. 50 and 210.

[76] Joseph Callaway, “Ai,” in David Noel Freedman, ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary (1992), vol. 1, pp. 125-30, and Kitchen, On the Reliability, p. 188.

[77] See above, Part II.

[78] Kitchen, On the Reliability, p. 187.

[79] Ibid., and Wood, “Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho?,” p. 50.

[80] A recent discussion is that of Bryant G. Wood, “The Search for Joshua’s Ai,” in Critical Issues, pp. 205-240.

[81] See, e.g., Richard S. Hess, “The Jericho and Ai of the Book of Joshua,” in Critical Issues, pp. 36-38.

I am reminded here of Mark Twain’s remarks in The Innocents Abroad, end of chap. 46, after his visit to Palestine in 1867. In Sunday school, he imagined the kings mentioned in the Bible to be similar to the kings of England, France, Spain, Germany, and Russia, “arrayed in splended robes ablaze with jewels, marching in grave procession…” Now that he has been to Palestine, he realizes they were probably only “petty chiefs- ill-clad and ill-conditoned savages much like our Indians, who lived in full sight of each other and whose ‘kingdoms’ were large when they were five miles square and contained two thousand souls.”

[82] Hess, p. 38, Kitchen, On the Reliability, pp. 187-88, and Kitchen, “The Exodus,” Anchor Bible Dictionary (1992), vol. 2, p. 702.

[83] It has also been argued that the city could not have been too large if the Israelites were expected to march around it seven times in one day and then have sufficient energy to fight a battle. Hess, p. 35.

Kitchen (On the Reliability, pp. 182-90) analyzed 24 cities listed as conquered in the book of Joshua. He omitted places whose identification on the ground was doubtful or which had not yet been explored archaeologically. He concluded ( p. 189):

[O]nly four can be regarded as deficient in background finds for LB II [=Late Bronze II, c. 1350-1200 BCE] and in those cases there are factors that account for the deficiency. The rest shows very clearly that Joshua and his raiders moved among (and against) towns that existed and which in several cases exhibit destructions at this period…

Kitchen’s four deficient sites were: Makkedah, Yeriho, Ai, and Givon, and his suggested explanations were: erosion (Yeriho), wrong site (Ai), and most of the site still undug (Makkedah and Givon). Most scholars who have analyzed the sites listed as conquered in the book of Joshua have come out to more critical conclusions. See, e.g., Dever, pp. 54-72.

[84] Ramesses II died in 1213 BCE , Merneptah died in 1203, and Amenmesses died in 1200.

Thereafter, Seti II died in 1194, Siptah died in 1188, Tewosret died in 1186, Setnakht died in 1184, and Ramesses III died in 1153. Should Moses have been born as late as 1250, by the time he reached the age of 80, his life would have spanned the deaths of Ramesess II, Merneptah, Amenmesses, Seti II, Siptah, Tewosret, and Setnakht.

[85] Indeed, Hoffmeier writes (What is the Biblical Date, p. 233):

[C]onstruction at Tell el-Dab‘a-Qantir is now documented under the previous reigns of Horemheb (1323-1295 BC) and Seti I (1294-1279) BC. This means that the oppression of the Hebrews could have begun decades before the reign of Ramesses II and culminated with the construction of Pi-Ramesses.

The construction by Horemhab involved renovations at the Temple of Seth and enlargement of a fortress. Kitchen, On the Reliability, p. 309, Hoffmeier, Israel in Egypt, p. 123, and Bietak, p. 10.

[86] Psalms 106:11:צריהם אחד מהם לא נותר מים ויכסו; Psalms 136:15: ונער פרעה וחילו בים-סוף.

[87] The New Kingdom comprises the 18th-20th dynasties, from Ahmose in the mid-16th century BCE to Ramesses XI, at the beginning of the 11th century BCE.

[88] Hoffmeier, What is the Biblical Date, p. 239. They were found in the Deir el-Bahri cache of royal mummies discovered in 1881.

[89] Wilson, p. 24.

[90] Ibid., p. 25. When this mummy was first examined, the salt deposits found were thought to provide evidence that Merneptah had drowned at sea. It was later realized that such deposits are found on most mummified remains and derive from the mummification process. Ibid., p. 24.

All of the mummies of the 15th century BCE Pharaohs have been found. None indicate a death by drowning. Hoffmeier, What is the Biblical Date, p. 240.

[91] For example, one can understand פרעה at Psalms 136:15 to be a metaphor for Egypt.

Hoffmeier points out (Ibid., p. 239) that even Cecil B. DeMille did not have Yul Brynner follow the Israelites into the sea!

There are also rabbinic sources that take the view that Pharaoh survived. See, e.g., Mechilta, Beshalah, Masecheta Bet, parsha 6 (view of R. Nehemiah), and Pirkey de-Rabbi Eliezer, chap. 43.

There is also an issue of whether these mummies are actually whom they purport to be. In June 2007, it was discovered that the mummy thought to have been that of Thutmose I was in fact that of another. The secretary–general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities stated: “I am now questioning all the mummies. We have to check them all again.” This process, using CT scanning and DNA tests, is ongoing.

[92] I Ch. 5:29-36.

[93] I Ch. 6:18-23 and I Ch. 6:7-13.

[94] It would seem that the most logical approach would be to rely on the longest of these lists and to view the others as abbreviated. But Gary Rendsburg takes a different approach, and argues that the royal geneaology (David to Nahshon) should be considered the most reliable. Based on this, he argues for a 12th century BCE conquest and settlement. See his Rendsburg, “The Internal Consistency and Historical Reliability of the Biblical Genealogies,” Vetus Testamentum XL, 2 (1990), pp. 185-206, and “The Date of the Exodus and the Conquest/Settlement: The Case for the 1100S,” Vetus Testamentum XLII, 4 (1992), pp. 510-527. (With regard to the Merneptah Stele, he takes the position that the Stele refers to the Israelites as slaves in Egypt.)

[95] Some scholars postulate instead that the Israelites originated in Syria or Transjordan before they came to Canaan (and did not get to Transjordan following an Exodus).

[96] The original EJ had an entry “Exodus” (6:1042-1050) that discussed much of the material I have discussed and concluded that the evidence supported a 13th century BCE Exodus. Similar was the section “The Exodus and Wanderings in Sinai” (8:575-577) in the “History” entry. In contrast, the new EJ eliminated the “Exodus” entry, and completely revised the section in the “History” entry. The “History” entry now includes the following:

The discussion of the Exodus is connected with the Israelite Conquest of Canaan. Both of these events are not historical… Truth to tell, there was never any external evidence for the enslavement in Egypt and the subsequent exodus. Those scholars who supported some version of the enslavement tradition argued, irrelevantly, that no one would have made up a tale of enslavement, and that the tradition was persistent… The general consensus at present is that the people Israel arose in the land itself or perhaps from an area slightly to the east, with no indication of an Egyptian cultural past… [T]he tradition that the people of Israel originated outside the land serves to distance Israel from peoples to whom [they] were ethnically quite close…

The view that the Israelites obtained possession of Canaan mainly through a military conquest at the time of Joshua has also come under much attack in recent decades. The general consensus at present is that the settlement process was largely a peaceful infiltration into areas that had not been settled by the Canaanites. This rejection of the Conquest model contributes to Exodus denial, as many argue that if there was no Conquest, there was probably no Exodus. But the Exodus and Conquest are not dependent on one another. One can easily take the approach that most of the Israelites arrived in Canaan subsequent to an Exodus from Egypt but that the book of Joshua overdramatizes what happened thereafter.

[97] It is based largely on claims that the Israelite pottery of 1200-1000 BCE is similar to Canaanite pottery or reflects a natural evolution from it. But these interpertations are disputed by other scholars. Dever (p. 121) writes: “no issue in the current study of the early history of the Israelite people is as controversial as the above question. Debates rage among specialists, accompanied by acrimonious name-calling…”

If there was no common historical past in Egypt, how the Israelites eventually coalesced into one nation requires explanation.

The theory that all or most of the Israelites originated in Syria or Transjordan has practically no archaeological basis.

[98] See above, n. 41. As Lawrence Stager writes (quoted at Dever, p. 99):

This extraordinary increase in population in Iron I cannot be explained only by natural population growth of the few Late Bronze Age city-states in the region: there must have been a major influx of people into the highlands in the twelfth and eleventh centuries BCE….That many of these villages belonged to premonarchic Israel…is beyond doubt.

(Iron I is the period c. 1200-1000 BCE. The Late Bronze Age is the period c. 1550/1500-1200 BCE.)

Kitchen jokingly suggests that if we do not accept an outside origin for the Israelites, the only other explanation for the huge population growth in highland Canaan between 1250/1200 and 1150 BCE is “a half century of fertility cult sex orgies.” See On the Reliability, pp. 226-27.

[99] See, e.g., Finkelstein, The Archaeology of the Israelite Settlements, pp. 27-33, and Dever, pp. 81, 84, 105 and 108. Some of the indications that a settlement is probably Israelite are: houses in the pillar-courtyard (=four room) style; stone-lined silos and collared-rim jars; the absence of pig bones; and the location of the settlement at a site which we know from later 10th century BCE sources to have been Israelite. Also, most early Israelite sites consist of only ordinarily dwellings without public buildings (e.g., a ruler’s quarter or storehouses).

[100]Adam Zertal has argued that the evidence from the different Israelite cooking pots in use in successive periods documents a movement by the Israelites in Canaan from east to west. Finkelstein has argued for such a movement based on successive pottery styles. See, e.g., Kitchen, On the Reliability, pp. 227-28, and 551, and Hawkins, Critical Issues, pp. 170-173. An east to west movement would be consistent with the Israelites having entered Canaan from the outside. But an east to west movement also fits approaches that view the Israelites as indigenous. (Finkelstein adopts such an approach). Many scholars find the evidence for an Israelite movement in Canaan from east to west unconvincing.

There is now some evidence for possible Israelite settlement on the east side of the Jordan in the second half of the Late Bronze Age and the early Iron I Age. The evidence consists of sites with four room houses and/or collared-rim jars. See Kitchen, On the Reliability, pp. 198-199, and Hawkins, Critical Issues, p. 175.

[101] Even though Papyrus Ipuwer is often cited as an extra-Biblical source that confirms the plagues, and the extant copy of Papyrus Ipuwer dates from the New Kingdom, Egyptologists believe that Papyrus Ipuwer is merely a copy of a text composed many centuries earlier. See, e.g., Donald B. Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times (1992), p. 66, and Hoffmeier, Israel in Egypt, p. 72, n. 63. According to Redford, a passage from Papyrus Ipuwer was already excerpted in a 20th cent. BCE source.

[102] Kitchen, On the Reliability, p. 466. The only administrative records found at Pi-Ramesse so far involve a handful of wine-jar dockets. To quote Kitchen: “[w]ine jars do not an Exodus record!”

[103] I.e., Egyptian taskmasters oversaw leaders drawn from the oppressed group.

[104] See, e.g., Kitchen, The Exodus, p. 704.

[105] Kitchen, On the Reliability, p. 466, and Redmount, p. 89.

[106] Hoffmeier, Israel in Egypt, p. 114. See also, Kitchen, On the Reliability, p. 248.

[107] Kitchen, The Exodus, p. 703. For a recent discussion of the term apiru, see Patrick Mazani, “The Appearance of Israel in Canaan in Recent Scholarship,” in Critical Issues, pp. 105-107.

Apiru is a reconstruction of the Egyptian pronounciation of the term (in the consonant-only Egyptian script). In other languages, this group of people are called Habiru or Hapiru. They are referred to in areas as far away as Syria and Mesopotamia. Hoffmeier, What is the Biblical Date, p. 242, n. 96.

There are verses in Tanach which seem to distinguish between Israelites and ivrim. See, e.g., I Sam. 14:21-22. It has been suggested that such verses are referring to Apiru/Habiru/Hapiru.

[108] Kitchen, The Exodus, p. 701.

[109] One scholar who has focused on such an approach is Penina Galpaz-Feller. See her Yitziat Mitzrayim: Mitziyut o Dimyon (2002).

[110] Ibid., pp. 80-85.

[111] See, e.g., Kitchen, On the Reliability, pp. 253-54.

[112] For further references, see Gerald A. Klingbeil, “ ‘Between North and South’; The Archaeology of Religion in Late Bronze Age Palestine and the Period of the Settlement,” in Critical Issues, pp. 124-126.

[113] Kitchen, The Exodus, p. 707. This article belongs in the new EJ in an “Exodus” entry!

[114] I must disclose that Kitchen takes the approach here (p. 705) that the Exodus only involved about 72,000 Israelites, relying on a redefinition of the word אלף. A reduced number of Israelites involved in the Exodus helps explain why no evidence has been found in the Sinai of the Israelite wandering. A reduced number is also much more consistent with the recent population estimates of the ancient Israelite settlements in the period from the 13th through the 11th centuries BCE. (See Dever, p. 98, for some of these estimates.) In his On the Reliability, p. 265, Kitchen reduces his estimate of the number of Israelites who left in the Exodus to about 20,000. He estimates the total population of Canaan thereafter (including the Israelites) to have been about 50,000 to 70,000.

It has been argued that if the Israelites were served by only 2 midwives (see Ex. 1:15), the Israelite population in Egypt at that stage could not have been in the hundreds of thousands. It has also been suggested that the tradition of 2 midwives has its roots in an alternative tradition of the number of Israelites enslaved.

[115] The above was my summary of a much longer passage. This material from Hecateus was preserved in Diodorus (1st cent. BCE.). We know of the Diodorus material from Photius (9th cent. CE). The passage is printed and translated in Menahem Stern, Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism, vol. 1 (1974), pp. 27-29.

[116] The story is preserved in Josephus, Against Apion, I, commencing with para. 75.

[117] Josephus argues for this equation as well.

[118] According to modern scholars, the Hyksos were driven out of Egypt in a series of campaigns by the Pharaohs of the 17th and 18th dynasties. See, e.g., Redmount, p. 108. One of the Pharaohs of the 17th dynasty who led a campaign against the Hyksos was named Kamose (1555-1550). Perhaps we see echoes of this name in the name Misphragmouthosis. The next king mentioned by Manetho, as preserved in Josephus, sounds like a reference to Thutmose. The reference could be to Thutmose I (1504-1492), Thutmose II (1492-1479), Thutmose III (1479-1425), or Thutmose IV (1400-1390). But based on versions of Manetho preserved in other sources (which refer to Amosis, Amos or Amoses), the reference seems to be to Ahmose, the first king of the 18th dynasty. See John Day, “The Pharaoh of the Exodus, Josephus and Jubilees,” Vetus Testamentum XLV, 3 (1995), p. 377. Ahmose is known to have led a campaign against the Hyksos. He reigned 25 years (1550-1525).

[119] Manetho continues with the names of the kings who reigned over the next several centuries. Some are identifiable. For example, he lists “Harmesses Miamoun” as reigning sixty-six years and two months. Surely, this is Ramesses II.

[120] Josephus, Against Apion I, commencing with para. 230.

[121] Josephus, Against Apion I, para. 229.

[122] The exact identification of the king intended is unclear. He is probably one of the four kings named Amenhotep. See, e.g., the note by H. St. J. Thackeray at p. 257 in Josephus, Against Apion I (Loeb Classical Library edition) (suggesting Amenhotep III or IV) and Day, p. 378 (suggesting a conflation of Amenhotep IV and Merneptah).

[123] Victor Tcherikover, Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews (tr. by S. Applebaum, 1959), pp. 361-362.

[124] Manetho adds that he changed his name to Moses when he went over to these people.


ronald berman said...

The 480 year figure per Biberfeld should be from the death of Yosef. You mention that you think the pharaoh was a woman, on what basis? Why not start with the exodus at 1312bce Ramban I feel winks ath the genology of David in Megilot Ruth. 380 years for first Temple and 585 for second is correct.

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