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Exodus of the Israelites

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Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt by David Roberts (1830).
The Exodus of Israel is the abrupt embarkation of the people of Israel after a long period of slavery in Egypt. The exodus occurred on Date::April 12, 1491 BC according to Ussher, which corresponds to Date::15 Abib 2513 AM in the Hebrew calendar.[1]; or 1446 BC according to Thiele. This key epochal event in the history of the nation of Israel is described in detail in the second book of the Bible named the Exodus. The word is derived from the Greek ex out of, outward and hodos a road or a way.

The Biblical Narrative

The Book of Source::Exodus is the best source we have, and the only complete source, for this event. (The reasons for this will be discussed below.) The following is a summary of that narrative.


In the winter of 2298 AM , Jacob had led his vast extended family into Egypt, eventually settling in the province of Goshen. The number of years was 215 years ("short Sojourn"), although some authorities suggest that it was 430 years ("long Sojourn"). Jacob had done this at the invitation of his son Joseph, whom he had thought dead but who, as it happened, had risen from being a common prisoner to senior prison trustee and eventually viceroy of Egypt. The story of Joseph, and especially his viceroyship and the circumstances under which he entered into it, is told here and here.

The Pharaoh who welcomed Joseph was likely Djoser, the second ruler of the Third Dynasty. The Israelite oppression began in the 12th dynasty. By the time Moses was born, two other Pharaohs, who were considerably harder of heart, succeeded to the throne: Sesostris III and his immediate successor Amenemhet III.[Reference needed]
A schematic diagram illustrating the relationship between the Egyptian Kingdoms and dynasties and the various phases of Israel as the Israelites grew to be a nation while they were in Egypt and then traveled to the promised land where they were ruled initially by Judges and later by Kings. The nation of Israel became divided into North (Israel) and South (Judah) after Solomon. There was no first intermediate period.

The Mass Puericide

Sesostris III black granite statue on display at the British Museum

Amenemhet I, the first pharaoh of the 12th dynasty probably began the oppression after observing the phenomenal growth rate of the Hebrew population. The twelfth dynasty pyramids had an inner core composed of millions of mud bricks and an exterior veneer made of faced limestone. The Hebrews were forced to make mudbricks for the pyramids of the 12th dynasty. Tellingly, the Bible says that the Pharaoh was worried that the Israelites might ally themselves to Egypt's enemies in war. (Exodus 1:7-10 ) (This would be entirely consistent with the Exodus taking place toward the end of the Twelfth or Thirteenth Dynasty and the beginning of the Hyksos period.)

The Bible further names two cities that the Israelites built for the Egyptians: Pithom and Ramesses. (Exodus 1:11 ) Some have speculated from these names that the Pharaoh of the Exodus was a Ramesside king, usually Ramesses II. But the notion that the city of Ramesses is actually named for a king named Ramesses is without even secular historical warrant.

In any event, so the Bible says, the Israelites multiplied more than ever. (Exodus 1:12-14 ) The Pharaoh (Sesostris III or Amenemhet III) ordered the two senior Hebrew midwives to make sure to kill all newborn boys, but to let newborn girls live. (Exodus 1:16 ) This is the first recorded instance of a governmental policy to use abortion or infanticide to accomplish genocide.

The midwives did not openly defy Pharaoh's order. They simply didn't carry it out as he asked. They excused their behavior by saying that Hebrew women were often far advanced in parturition before the midwives even arrived to assist them. Pharaoh's response was as drastic as it was draconian: he ordered his soldiers to throw every boy-child into the Nile River. This happened toward the end of winter in 2433 AM (1571 BC).

The Birth of Moses

Moses was born on 7 Adar 2433 AM ({{#show:Moses|?Born}}), the son of Amram and Jochebed during the co-regency of Sesostris III and Amenemhet III. Amram, a Levite and the son of Kohath, one of Levi's three named descendants in the preceding generation, already had two children by Jochebed: a daugher, Miriam, and a son, Aaron. Moses' birth presented an immediate problem: how to conceal him from the king's soldiers?

Jochebed solved the problem in a unique manner: she built a basket for the baby, coated the basket with pitch, placed Moses into it, and set it floating down the Nile. In this, Moses' journey recalled the voyage of Noah's ark.

Eventually, Moses' little ark drifted into the waters outside the royal residence of the Pharaoh's daughter (Sobeknefru). She herself was infertile, and saw Moses as a substitute for the child she could never have. She gave the child the name Moses, which literally means drawn out in Egyptian and Hebrew. (Exodus 2:1-10 )

The name of this daughter of Pharaoh was probably Sobekneferu.[2] In this connection, one must remember that female members of the royal family were always described in terms of their relationship to Pharaoh, e.g. "Pharaoh's Wife" or "Pharaoh's Sister" or, as in this case, "Pharaoh's Daughter."[3]

Main Article: Moses and Amenemhet IV

Main Article: Evidence for the Israelites in Egypt

Moses in Exile

Moses with the Ten Commandments by Rembrandt Harmensz. 1659

Sobekneferu (if it was she) had intended raising Moses as a prince of Egypt. Some authorities have suggested that Moses appears in the Twelfth Dynasty king lists as Amenemhet IV.[2]

But Moses identified not with the royal family but instead with his own people. Soon an incident occurred that required Moses to make a choice: he witnessed an Egyptian taskmaster beating a Hebrew. Moses looked this way and that, and then killed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand.

Two days later, Moses caught two Hebrews fighting and tried to settle the quarrel. The man at fault challenged Moses, saying,

Who made thee a prince and a judge over us? intendest thou to kill me, as thou killedst the Egyptian? Exodus 2:14 (KJV)

The Pharaoh (likely Amenemhet III) heard about the murder and ordered that Moses be killed. Moses fled immediately. His exile had begun. He was forty years old at the time, according to the testimony, centuries later, of Stephen before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. (Acts 7:23 )

Moses Finds a Wife

Moses eventually came to the country of the Midianites. There he fought against some shepherds who were harassing a number of women who were trying to water their own sheep. (Exodus 2:17 ) This won him the attention and favor of Jethro, the father of these women. Eventually, Moses married the eldest of Jethro's daughters, Zipporah. Here the Book of Exodus records that he had one son, Gershom.

The Bible makes no attempt to identify these shepherds. Nor does Flavius Josephus.[4]. The historical warrant for the popular supposition that these shepherds were Amalekites is therefore lacking. However, the Amalekites were known to be shepherds—and, more to the point, the Hyksos, which some identify with the Amalekites, were known as the "Shepherd Kings."[2][5] If these shepherds with whom Moses clashed were Amalekites, then this could have been the first hostile encounter that an Egyptian-trained man had with the race that conquered all of Egypt shortly after the Exodus and held it until the reign of King Saul.

God Recruits Moses

Nearly forty more years passed, during which Amenemhet III died and another Pharaoh (presumably Neferhotep I[2][6]) reigned in his stead. Now God called to Moses, speaking from out of a bush that burned without being consumed. God made multiple signs to Moses to convince him to deliver a message to Pharaoh, and then to lead the Israelites out of Egypt when the time came. Because Moses pleaded that he was not a good speaker, God declared that his brother Aaron would assist him.

Moses returned to Egypt with his wife and two sons, Gershom and Eliezer. At an unspecified time before the Exodus actually occurred, Moses sent Zipporah back to Jethro with his two sons. (Exodus 18:1-5 )

Moses was eighty years old, and Aaron eighty-three, when the two men went before Pharaoh. (Exodus 7:7 )

The First Message

Moses and Aaron initially came in peace to Pharaoh, and asked his leave to lead the Israelites into the desert for a three-day period. Pharaoh indignantly refused, and then issued an order that the Israelites would have to gather their own straw to make bricks, and still make the same quota of bricks. This caused the Israelites to look on Moses with extreme disfavor. This was probably the lowest point ever in Moses' life.

But this was all part of God's plan—for God intended to demonstrate His Power in a manner that no one then alive would forget.

The Ten Plagues

Main Article: Egyptian plagues

Because Pharaoh would not accede to a polite request, Moses began issuing a series of threats of supernatural disaster, none of which Pharaoh heeded. Each of these disasters, called plagues, was a direct strike at part of the Egyptian religious system and everything Egyptians held sacred.

The Evacuation and Despoliation

The death of the first-born of man and beast among the Egyptians, including Pharaoh's own son, finally broke Pharaoh's will. He gave his assent for the Israelites to leave, and even encouraged his people to bribe the Israelites to leave with whatever jewels or precious metals the Israelites cared to carry with them. This was the "despoliation" of the Egyptians.

The Bible says that the "sojourn" of the children of Israel lasted 430 years. (Exodus 12:40-41 ) When those 430 years began is a difficult question, with some saying that it began with the entry of Jacob into Egypt, and others saying that it actually began with Abraham's entry into Canaan. The best support for this "short Sojourn" theory is this verse:

What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. Galatians 3:17

The Law in this case is the Ten Commandments, which God spoke to the people of Israel early in the first year after the Exodus. The promise is that promise made to Abraham when Abraham entered Canaan for the first time. (Genesis 12:1-3 )

The Red Sea Crossing

Map of the Red Sea region

But after Pharaoh let the Israelites leave, he changed his mind. Now he set after them, with his entire army, and determined to overtake them and wipe them out. But what actually happened is that Pharaoh was wiped out, along with his entire army. (Exodus 14 )

Traditionally, this occurred at the northernmost tip of the Gulf of Suez, the western arm of the Red Sea—though some have since suggested that the crossing actually occurred at the Gulf of Aqaba to the east.[7][8]

No archaeologist has ever found the mortal remains of Neferhotep I. Furthermore, Neferhotep did not have a son to succeed him, but rather a brother, Sobekhotep IV. Shortly after Sobekhotep IV came to the throne, the Hyksos came in force, and occupied Egypt virtually without resistance.[5]

Physical evidence of the Exodus

Main Article: Evidence for the Israelite Sojourn in Egypt

Egyptian history is of little to no help in substantiating the Exodus, much less dating it. To an Egyptian, history was not an objective inquiry into past events, but rather was a medium of propaganda. The willful destruction or defacement, called memorywashing, by succeeding kings of the monuments, stelae, and other records of their predecessors is a common theme in Egyptology (and Assyriology as well).

Soleb Inscription

The earliest mention of the Biblical God, Yahweh, has been discovered from two Egyptian descriptions, with the oldest, the Soleb Inscription, dating to 1400 B.C. In mentioning a list of lands campaigned against by Egypt, the Soleb Inscription refers to the "land of the Shasu of Yahweh" so it is clear Israel had become a nation by that time. This provides strong evidence that the Israelite Exodus had completed by 1400 B.C.[9]

Ipuwer Papyrus

The Ipuwer Papyrus provides evidence of the Biblical plagues. The ancient Egyptian document records events similar to the plagues of the Exodus.[10]

Israelite Houses in Egypt

The distinctive 4-room Israelite house has been discovered in Tell el-Daba, Egypt dating back to 1175 A.D.[11] What is more, found among these distinctive Israelite houses was one which may have been Joseph's containing a tomb that very unusually had the skeleton removed consistent with Exodus 13:19 and Genesis 50:25.[12]

One of the tombs was monumental in construction and totally unique in finds. Inside were found stone fragments of a colossal statue of a man who was clearly Asiatic, based on the yellow painted skin, the red-painted mushroom-shaped hairstyle and a throwstick on his right shoulder (the hieroglyph for foreigner). The statue had been intentionally broken in antiquity. While the other tombs nearby had intact skeletons, the only finds in the monumental tomb were fragments of an inscribed limestone sarcophagus and a few bone fragments. The body was gone! While it was common to plunder tombs in ancient Egypt, the bodies were usually not taken. Could this be the tomb of Joseph, from which he commanded his bones to be carried back to Canaan (Gn 50:25; Ex 13:19)?

~ Gary Byers, Associates for Biblical Research[13]

A 3rd century B.C. Egyptian historian named Manetho wrote that the Hyksos founded their capital at Avaris, also known as Tell el-Daba, where the Israelite houses were found. As noted by Noah Wiener of the Biblical Archaeological Society, "After the Hyksos were expelled from Egypt, Manetho reports that they wandered the desert before establishing the city of Jerusalem... The Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut (1489–1469 B.C.E.) recorded the banishment of a group of Asiatics from Avaris, the former Hyksos capital."[14]

Amarna Tablets

Furthermore, the Amarna Tablets record the Israelite takeover of Canaan. Letters such as those by Abdu-Heba and Rib-Addi show Canaanite kings pleading with Egypt to send them military aid to stop the Israelites from conquering the land.[15] Dating to the 14th century B.C., they provide strong evidence for an early date to the Exodus.

Graves of the Exodus in Saudi Desert

Those claiming the Exodus lacks graves evidencing the Exodus are not finding the graves because they are looking on the wrong peninsula, the Sinai Peninsula. The Exodus occurred across Saudi Arabia/the Arabian Peninsula, which does have thousands, possibly millions, of ancient graves supporting the Biblical Exodus.[16]

Abandonment of Kahun

Main Article: Kahun

Kahun is an ancient Egyptian workers village that was built during the construction of the pyramid of Sesotris II and was occupied until the 13th dynasty.[17] Biblical archaeologists such as David Down[18] and Bryant Wood[19] have concluded that Kahun was occupied by Israelite slaves that were laboring in Egypt prior to the Exodus of Israel.

The site was originally excavated by Sir Flinders Petrie (in 1888-90 and again in 1914) who found an abundance of household items and tools that provided a good representation of life during the 13th dynasty.[17] The materials found at Kahun suggest that the town was deserted suddenly and without premeditation during the 13th dynasty, which David Down points to as evidence of a mass exodus of Israelites from Egypt. [20]

Hyksos conquest

The revised chronology of David Down strongly suggests that the beginning of the Intermediate Period is the best time for the Exodus.[21] By this scheme, the Hyksos overran Egypt when conditions could not have been more favorable to invaders: a country first devastated by multiple meteorological, agricultural, and epidemiological disasters is suddenly deprived of its leader and its entire army in a single battle.[22]

Chariot wheels

In 2003, amateur diver Peter Elmer discovered coral-encrusted chariot wheels and other chariot parts submerged in the Gulf of Aqaba, the eastern offshoot of the great body of water called the Red Sea today.[7] This is not, however, conclusive. The Biblical narrative indicates that the Israelites made their crossing far too soon for them to have successfully crossed the entire Sinai desert and peninsula to reach the Gulf of Aqaba. More likely, the Israelites crossed the Gulf of Suez—and the destruction of Neferhotep's army was so complete that not a single artifact was left. The Bible does, of course, say that not a single man was left of that army.

Date of the Exodus

Main Article: Date of the Exodus

Timeline from Noah to Christ with important landmarks in the Biblical Chronology (long sojourn) aligned with the Revised Egyptian Chronology of David Down.

James Ussher, in Source::The Annals of the World, placed the Exodus at May 5, 1491 BC. His primary assumptions consisted of:

  1. Accepting 562 BC as the death of Nebuchadnezzar II.
  2. A direct reckoning of the dates-of-accession of the Kings of the Divided Kingdoms Northern and Southern.
  3. The Bible's explicit statement that Solomon broke ground on the Temple of Jerusalem exactly 479 years after the Exodus.[23]

Floyd Nolen Jones, in Source::The Chronology of the Old Testament, suggested that Ussher should not have assumed, as he did, that the Hebrews followed a strict solar calendar of thirty-day months with intercalary days added in the autumn (or presumably, after the Exodus, in the spring). Instead, Jones stated that month means moon and therefore all months in the Biblical calendar begin with new moons, except that the first new moon of the springtime (1 Abib) was declared only if the barley ears were ripe. Based on these assumptions, a more accurate calculation of 15 Abib 2513 AM would be 12 April 1491 BC.

This original year for the Exodus is sharply contested. The three contenders for the date of the Exodus are:

  1. 1491 BC (Ussher and Jones)
  2. 1445-1446 BC ("The Early Date", according to Edwin R. Thiele and his followers)
  3. 1290 BC ("The Late Date")

Virtually all of the arguments for the Late Date rest solely on arguments from conventional Egyptian chronology. The Early Date is much better supported from Scripture, which specifically requires four hundred eighty years between the Exodus and the groundbreaking of the Temple built by Solomon.[23] Several archaeologists have looked for battle damage and other evidence for the Early Date in and around Jericho, Ai, and Hazor, and have found it.[24]

The Early Date shown above is actually the date favored by Edwin Thiele. Thiele's date is only forty-five years later than Ussher's. Thiele's sole warrant for favoring his date over Ussher's is his attempt to reconcile the king lists of the Divided Kingdoms Northern and Southern with the chronology of the Assyrians. (For a detailed discussion, and a synoptic table showing the differing results for those king lists, see here.) Thiele, like Ussher, relies on the Temple groundbreaking interval described above to assign his date for the Exodus.

The Pharaoh of the Oppression, as stated above, was likely Sesostris III, a Twelfth Dynasty king. James Ussher initially supposed that the Pharaoh of the Oppression was not Ramesses II, but another Ramesses whom he mistakenly assumed ruled directly before Ramesses II and for the same number of years. Future scholars accepted Seti I and Ramesses II as the Pharaohs of the Oppression and Exodus, respectively, for decades. Recently, some scholars tried to make a case for other pairings of the Pharaohs of the Oppression and Exodus in the Eighteenth Dynasty rather than the Nineteenth. These included:

  1. Thutmose III and Amenhotep II
  2. Thutmose I and Thutmose III

These scholars also identified Pharaoh's daughter as Hatshepsut, the first woman ever to rule as Pharaoh in her own right. (Jones suggested that this pairing was most reasonable, but acknowledged that such an identification was tentative.)

In his review of the subject in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1982),[25] William Shea originally identified Thutmose III as the Pharaoh of the Exodus, then later in 2003 adopted Amenhotep II as the most likely candidate, admitting that the evidence is very circumstantial.[26] Still other scholars have attempted to identify Moses with Amenhotep IV, also known as Akhenaton, the "heretical Pharaoh" who tried to install a crude form of monotheism in his empire. However, a more likely scenario is that the actual Akhenaton took inspiration from Moses, though his understanding of Moses' religion was thoroughly mistaken.

Exodus according by book of Jasher

Pepi II and Neferkare

Jasher places the Exodus at 2448 AM. The Pharaoh of the Exodus, Adikam, ruled four years,including three years co-ruling with his sick father. Adikam was a dwarf; so, the Hebrews called him Adikam Ahuz. Ahuz means “short” in Hebrew. Adikam’s father was Pharaoh Melol. During the last ten years of his life, Melol had leprosy but still ruled a total of ninety-four years. Melol reigned from 2353 to 2447 AM. Joseph reigned from 2228 to 2309 AM. Thus Melol would be the “Pharaoh who knew not Joseph.” Melol was the pharaoh who started the heavy persecution of the Israelites. The Egyptian records in the Temple of Abydos, the Turin papyrus, and the Egyptian historian Manetho, show that Pharaoh Neferkare Pepi II (also called Phiops II and NetjerKhau) was the longest living Pharaoh in the Old Kingdom. He became Pharaoh at the age of six and lived until he was one hundred years old. His son, Neferkare the Younger, (also called Menthesuphis and Merenre Antiemsaf II) ruled only one year after his father ’s death. This exactly matches the description Jasher gives. The last ruler listed in the texts is Nitokerti, the wife of Neferkare, the Younger. The Hebrews called her Gedudah. With her husband gone and her firstborn son, Netjerykare, killed in the last great plague, she alone was left to rule. In this male-dominated society, a queen would be allowed to rule only when there were no male heirs. Menrenre Antiemsaf I ruled fourteen years. This was three years with Pepy I and eleven years with Pepy II, when he grew from six to seventeen years of age. Moses was born in 2368 AM (See Jasher 66). So, the Sixth Dynasty lasted a total of 174 years plus the two years Nitokerti ruled after the Exodus..[27]

Popular Culture

The Exodus has been the subject of many motion picture and television projects over the last fifty years. Most of these projects contain extra-Biblical interpolations for which no Scriptural warrant and very little archaeological warrant exists. For example, Scripture clearly says that when Moses killed the Egyptian taskmaster, he did so in secret and did not want that fact known—because he was not prepared to face the consequences. (Not every deed of a recognized hero and leader of the Hebrew people was a good or wise deed.) The various motion-picture projects that have treated this story have shown Moses behaving negligently or even recklessly in the killing of the Egyptian, and left out entirely the context in which Moses found out that his deed was no longer secret.

More to the point, most of these projects have assumed that the Pharaoh of the Exodus was either Ramesses II or his son Merenptah. This supposition is based either on Late Date chronology or on Manetho's initial mistake in assuming that all Dynasties of Egypt ran consecutively.

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  1. James Ussher, The Annals of the World, Larry Pierce, ed., Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2003 (ISBN 0890513600), pgh. 192ff.
  2. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Jaroncyk
  3. Tyldesley, Joyce A. Hatchepsut: the Female Pharaoh. New York: Penguin Books, 1998 (ISBN 0140244646).
  4. Josephus, Flavius. The Antiquities of the Jews, William Whiston, trans. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1987, p. 70. ISBN 0913573868
  5. 5.0 5.1 Authors unknown. "The Hyksos." Retrieved June 28, 2007.
  6. Authors unknown. "Entry for Neferhotep I." Digital Egypt for Universities. London, England: University College, 2000. Retrieved June 28, 2007.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Kovacs, Joe. "Pharaoh's chariots found in Red Sea?", June 21, 2003. Retrieved July 8, 2007.
  8. Petrovich, Michael, dir. "Crossing of the Red Sea." Center for Natural Studies, n.d. Retrieved July 8, 2007.
  9. Aling, Charles, & Billington, Clyde (2010, March 8). The Name Yahweh in Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts. Associates for Biblical Research.
    Argubright, John (2013). Bible Believer's Archaeology, Volume 3: Behold the Man! p. 108. ISBN: 978-09792148-2-0.
  10. Becher, Mordechai. The Ten Plagues - Live From Egypt. Ohr Somayach.
  11. Bietak, Manfred (2003). Israelites Found in Egypt. Biblical Archaeology Society. Retrieved July 10, 2014.
  12. Wood, Bryant G. (1998). Is there evidence that the Israelites once lived in Egypt as the Bible says? Has Joseph's original tomb been found? Associates for Biblical Research. Retrieved July 10, 2014.
  13. Byers, Gary (2008, September 24). Israel in Egypt. Associates for Biblical Research. Retrieved July 10, 2014.
  14. Wiener, Noah (2014, February 11). The Expulsion of the Hyksos. Biblical Archaeological Society. Retrieved July 10, 2014.
  15. Dollinger, Andre. The Amarna Letters.
  16. Kessler, Rebecca (2011, February 15). Thousands of Tombs in Saudi Desert Spotted From Space. LiveScience.
  17. 17.0 17.1 El-Lahun by Wikipedia
  18. Ashton, John F., and Down, David. Unwrapping the Pharaohs: How Egyptian Archaeology Confirms the Biblical Timeline p.100, Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2006.
  19. Wood, B., New evidence for Israel in Egypt, Newsletter of the Horn Archaeological Museum, p. 3, Winter–Spring 1999.
  20. Searching for Moses by David Down. Journal of Creation 15(1):53–57. April 2001
  21. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Timing
  22. Ashton, pp.102-103.
  23. 23.0 23.1 I_Kings 6
  24. Lorenzini, D. Massimiliano. "Evidence for the Early Date of the Exodus." 2002. Retrieved July 8, 2007.
  25. Shea, W.H. 1982 Exodus, Date of the. Pp. 230-38 in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia 2, rev.ed., eds. G.W. Bromiley, et al., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
  26. Amenhotep II as Pharaoh of the Exodus by William Shea. Bible and Spade. Spring 2003.
  27. Ken Johnson Th.D. "Ancient Post-Flood History, Revised." 2010 page 36.

See Also