The Christian faith is based upon the infallible Word of God, the Bible, yet the text has been in question for centuries as evidence of different occurrences or lack of evidence are revealed. Many people have claimed the Bible is a collection of allegories, while others contest it is a book of historical facts. Only time, digging, and research will tell, but in the meantime, the exodus of God’s chosen people is one of the truths in question. Were Hebrews actually enslaved by Egyptians?
According to “Synopsis of the Argument on the ‘Pharaoh and Date of the Exodus’” an Egyptian Chronology published in “The Theological Monthly: An Exponent of Current Christian Thought Volume 2,” Biblical research shows that the exodus, if it did happen, occurred sometime around 1438 B.C.
However, it is more commonly accepted that the date is around 1450 B.C. Kings 6:1 says the exodus occurred some 500 years before the establishment of the King Solomon’s Temple (which was about 957 B.C. dating the exodus to about 1457 B.C.). But according to Exodus 1:11, the pharaoh at the time was Ramesses II. The storehouses indicated in the verse suggest Ramesses was ruler, but history says he reigned 1279-1212 B.C.
Biblical scholars offer theoretical explanations for the historical inconsistencies the Bible presents. Jimmy Dunn writes in an article entitled “The Israelite Exodus From Egypt” that one theory proposes the time lapses are symbolic or, “derived from adding together shorter periods that actually overlapped, such as those contained in the Book of Judges.”
Besides the inconsistent dates, there is no archaeological evidence of any Jewish occupancy in the meticulous records of the Egyptians, including any known records of Moses or the 10 plagues.
Donald Redford, an archaeologist from Pennsylvania State University said in an interview with the History Channel that it would have been nearly impossible for any group of the size of supposed enslaved Israelites (20,000-two million) to escape out of Egypt at that time.
“For five centuries from the 15th century on, Egypt ruled an empire, the largest at that time, which extended 2000 miles from a little north to Khartoum to near the Euphrates River,” he said. “The Egyptian army, its occupation forces, and its economy were extremely strong. They held all of Canaan, of course; their sphere of influence held to that of the Greek islands and Crete, and there is no indication what so ever in the records, either archaeological or written, of any major hiatus such as would have been created by the expulsion of upwards of two million people, as we believe the biblical record. That would have made such a hole in the population it would have brought the economy at such as standstill, it would have certainly turned up in the records somewhere.”
In the same segment, Silverman reveals that there were permanent military posts in the same desert the Bible proposes the Israelites roamed for 40 years. He explained that written reports from these posts have been found; but no documentation of a massive amount of people wandering in the desert has been uncovered.
Further, the land was promised to the Israelites at the time, Canaan, was being ruled by Egypt.
On the other end of the argument, critics claim Egypt would avoid any record of such a shameful event, especially the Pharaoh. However, historians and archaeologists say any event of that magnitude would have turned up even in private tomb records.
However in the Merneptah Stele, an Egyptian record of war victories in the fifth year reign of Merneptah (1213 to 1203 B.C.), Israel is briefly mentioned: “Israel is wasted, bare of seed.” This may be the only recorded acknowledgment of Israel as a nation in Egyptian records.
Robert T. Boyd, author of “Boyd’s Handbook of Practical Apologetics” explains the reason Egypt nearly completely failed to mention Israel in their records is due to pride.
“A question is often raised why there is no mention of Israel on any record in Egypt, especially since Joseph held an important position second to Pharaoh, and why there was no mention of Israel’s being in bondage. The answer lies in the fierceness of national and kingly pride,” Boyd writes.
“Nations in those days would record only what would enhance their position among other nations and how one king would outdo the other.”
Solid evidence of Israel’s enslavement in Egypt has yet to be found, however believers are confident these and other biblical events are in fact true.
Whether the Bible is simply a collection of allegories or a collection of divine and historically true words of God, this foundation of the Christian faith may always be questioned.