History fascinates me, but what fascinates me more is when the stories told in Sabbath School become real, concrete, and ALIVE! For me, this happens through history, and examining what was happening in the world at the same time of our favorite Biblical tales. I also enjoy telling Biblical stories that are normally separated as a chronological whole. For example, it wasn’t until my junior year of High School I realized that the “Jacob” from the story of Jacob and Esau was the same Jacob that is also Joseph’s father. It wasn’t until my freshman year in college that I realized that Leah and Rachel were the wives of that Jacob, and that Joseph and Benjamin were the sons of Rachel. Hence why Joseph was his father’s “favorite”.
In my final semester here at Union, I am taking a class called “World Antiquity” taught by Dr. Benjamin Tyner. It’s probably one of the best academic decisions I have ever made because this class is all about examining the ancient world and how the Bible fits into it. This week we have talked about Egypt in class. We have dated the three main periods of Egyptian glory, examined all the famous pharaohs, but the most interesting thing was talking about arguably the two most famous Egyptian stories known to Christianity – Joseph’s chronicles and the Exodus.
Now, I’ll be splitting these posts into two, so we can break up this information and give something to look forward to next week. I found this information absolutely incredible, and it really helps me envision the lives of our heroes from so long ago, and recognize the guiding hand of God as He painted the events of history.
Before I begin, it is important to note that I am using only the information discussed in my class, Biblical text, and the writings of Bob Brier in this article. There are many other theories and ways to date our spiritual history. A little note on Brier, he is a famous Egyptologist who does not claim to be Christian, yet still comes to some pretty amazing archaeological conclusions, which I think is pretty awesome. I have chosen to start this examination with Moses, with next week’s post going back in time to Joseph because this helps us date our history. Without further ado, let’s look at the internal and external evidences there are of the Exodus.
- When did the Exodus take place? There are a few ways we can guess when this famed story took place. We know there were approximately 430 years the Hebrew sojourned before and the mass Exodus, according to Ex. 12:40. So it could be that Jacob and his sons moved to Egypt 215 years after Abraham’s promise from God, with there then being 215 years remaining to grow and become enslaved in Egypt. It is most likely that the “430 years” quoted in the Bible was Moses harkening back to the idea that the dating system of “Israel’s sojourning” started with Isaac’s affliction at the hands of the Egyptian-born Hagar, found in Gen. 21:9 – which was 400 years prior to the Exodus, and approximately 30 years following the promise. (Simple equation: 30 + 400 = 430 = 215 + 215) We can’t exactly say what year the Exodus took place, but we at least can guess at a timeline of events.
- Who was the Pharaoh the Israelites escaped from? Brier’s particular specialties in Egyptology lie in the deep study of a few pharaohs, one of them being Ramesses II (aka Ramesses the Great). Brier notes that Ramesses II is probably the most likely candidate for being the pharaoh who was afflicted by the 10 plagues for many reasons. The cities of Pithom and Ramses are mentioned in Ex. 1:11, cities that both reside in the Delta and were most likely built under the guidance of Ramesses II.
- Why is there no archaeological record of Hebrew slaves, the plagues, or the Exodus? The answer is very simple. Egyptians did not record their defeats or negative happenstances in a dynasty. A Pharaoh’s reign was sacred and the narrative that is preserved through writings, hieroglyphs, and statues is glorified to be the best it can be. Brier argues there could possibly be evidence, however. The ancient Papyrus Leiden 348 mentions to “distribute grain rations to the soldier and to the Apiru who transport stones to the great Pylon of Ramses.” Apiru is an ancient word describing a type of people that can also be translated as “Habiru”. Both words are often attributed to being an ancient term for “Hebrew”. The transporting of the stones could be a reference to their forced labor in helping build the cities.
- Is there any more intriguing evidence? Oh yes. Lots more. But I have not studied far enough into Egyptology and Biblical history to know all the things – I just happened to hear a couple class periods on the matter. Something I do find fascinating is all the Egyptian terminology and references found within Genesis and Exodus, of which Brier also argues could only have been known by someone who had studied the culture well. Someone like, say, a prince raised by Egyptian monarchs perhaps?
All of the items discussed above are of course only a few theories in thousands of possibilities. I do not claim to be any professional historian or theologian, I just really like making connections. Tune in next week when we discuss Joseph and the lineage of pharaohs!