Evidence for an Israelite Exodus (?)

I thought it is better to start a new topic about this. :slight_smile:

In general, the Exodus as described in the Bible is rejected by the current consensus. Some scholars will allow for a small group of Semitic slaves to have escaped from Egypt and joined the proto-Israelites who already were living in Canaan.

One example would be Dr. Richard E. Friedman who wrote a book about this, The Exodus: How It Happened And Why It Matters. For a short summary of this book, see: [edit, forgot the link, The Historical Exodus.]

Nonetheless, I think a case can be made for a historical Biblical Exodus. Some arguments:

  1. The number of 600.000 Israelite men can’t be taken at face value. And if you think about the Hebrews having only two midwives, (1) these numbers have to been added much later, or (2) the original numbers have been corrupted.

View A: Naked Bible 271: Exodus 12 Part 1.

View B: Recounting the Census: A Military Force of 5,500 (not 603,550) Men; and Large Numbers in the Old Testament.

  1. It is said that there is no literary evidence for an Israelite sojourn in Egypt outside of the Bible. But if the Exodus occurred in the 12th century, the Merneptah stele can be interpreted as talking about Israel in Egypt: The Merenptah Stele and the Biblical Origins of Israel.

  2. The way out of Egypt as described in the Bible fits well with what we know about the geography of ancient Egypt: What We Know about the Egyptian Places Mentioned in Exodus; and The Hebrew Exodus from and Jeremiah’s Eisodus into Egypt in the Light of Recent Archaeological and Geological Developments.

  3. There are literary parallels between the Exodus account and Egyptian New Kingdom literature: The Exodus Sea Account (Exod 13:17–15:19) in Light of the Kadesh Inscriptions of Ramesses II; and Ancient Marriage Contracts and the Sinai Covenant.

  4. Much Egyptian influence can be seen within Israelite culture:

Egyptian Religious Influences on the Early Hebrews

Egyptian Loanwords as Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus and Wilderness Traditions

The Ark of the Covenant in its Egyptian Context

The Tabernacle in Its Ancient Near Eastern Context

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As ivar already pointed out, the numbers of individuals as typically given in modern English translations don’t make sense practically. However, as “thousand” can also mean “troop” (cf. the centuries of the Roman army, which generally had less than 100 men) and there may be other complications in the numbers, a group closer to 20,000 is a plausible understanding of the text.

What evidence should we see? The Egyptians are not going to put up a monument saying “oops, we lost a chariot division chasing some slaves who escaped.” Desert nomads don’t leave huge traces, and anything useful lost along the way is likely to be picked up by the next person going that way. Although some traces in Sinai are possible, they probably would be bot somewhat scanty and hard to distinguish from any other passers by.

Exodus notes that the group included a mixed multitude - no doubt some non-Israelite slaves would have seen a chance to get away. Joshua and Judges record a number of individual or groups of Canaanites blending in with Israel, a process largely completed under the united monarchy. So not 100% of later Israelite ancestry came from the Exodus.

However, the fact that Israel claimed to be descended from a bunch of escaped slaves should be taken seriously. It’s not like Thomas Urqhart claiming to trace his ancestry back through anybody who was anybody or Russia or China pretending that history justifies their aggressions. There is archaeological evidence of a major influx of people into Canaan in the 1200’s, and this new, primarily highland population seems to have been averse to pork and to idols.

There is no positive evidence that Israel mainly developed out of existing Canaanite cultures; the popularity of such claims depends more on rejecting the historicity of the Bible than on any evidence one way or the other. But patriarchal times and post-exodus would have the Israelite lineage strongly influenced by their neighbors (note that Jacob is speaking Hebrew, which is basically Canaanite, in contrast to Laban’s Aramean); even in Egypt they would likely be associating with other non-Egyptians.

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Oh ok, thank you for those sources!

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It’s refreshing to see someone challenge the conventional wisdom with some solid work.

Given that they were put in the eastern Nile delta which was poorly suited for Egyptian-style agriculture but fine for herds, they would have had other Semitics who were also herders there as neighbors.

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I can’t remember where I read or heard it. I think it was in a podcast. But apparently a jeep from the six day war that was buried under meters of sand suddenly appeared after a sand storm. So who knows what we may find in the future!

Two academic articles:
And yet, a nomadic error: A reply to Israel Finkelstein (and the accompanying podcast)

Exodus on the Ground: The Elusive Signature of Nomads in Sinai


Yeah! I once sent him a question by mail about Kathleen Kenyon’s Trench I at Jericho. He told me he is working on a book dealing with the Exodus and Conquest. I am looking forward to it very much!


From the article about the Egyptian place names I shared above:

We have finished letting the Shasu tribes of Edom pass the Fortress of the House of Merneptah, l.p.h., which is in Tjeku, to the pools of Pithom of Merneptah, which are in the Tjeku, in order to sustain them and sustain their flocks by the pleasure of Pharaoh, l.p.h.

Papyrus Anastasis VI (54-56)

The reading ‘thousand’ comes from the Masoretic text. Masoretic text was formed close to the end of the first millennium, don’t remember the years but might be somewhere 800-900 CE. The scribes wanted to ensure that the reading of the text did not change by adding the signs that tell how to pronounce the words, so the reading ‘thousand’ must have started before that era. Yet, it may not be the original spelling.

The reading ‘thousand’ causes internal conflicts within Torah, so it is not supported by a detailed analysis*. The reading ‘troops’ fits better to everything told. At that time, the size of a military troop was somewhere between 8-20 men. There is a huge difference between ‘troops’ and ‘thousands’. The reading suggesting that up to two million people reached the promised land is not credible, something closer to 20000-40000 might be possible.
*: Humphreys, CJ. THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE IN THE EXODUS FROM EGYPT: DECODING
MATHEMATICALLY THE VERY LARGE NUMBERS IN NUMBERS I AND XXVI. Vetus Testamentum XLVIII, 2

Deuteronomy 29:5 tells “During the forty years that I led you through the wilderness, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet.”

If that kind of miraculous preservation of clothes would be true, the nomads would not leave much signs of their travel.

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I also understand that only a small fraction of the total area where they travelled through over 40 years has been excavated, so I dont see how any conclusions could be drawn that the exodus didnt happen. But I suppose one of the main issues is the miraculous element, which is clearly fundamental to the whole account.

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Care to summarize? My eyes and brain aren’t up to absorbing much of anything scholarly at the moment.

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Biblia Hebraica Leningradensis as I recall is from right around the turn of the millennium; the Aleppo codex may be a bit younger. The Aleppo codex is considered to be more accurate.

Plus markings to indicate how to chant it in synagogue – marks that to me just clutter the page.

If for no other reason than that if they had 600,000 fighting men taking all the Promised Land would have been a walkover. The more likely 5,000 or so fighting men, however, fits the accounts of military campaigns well.

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Dr. David Falk (egyptologist) has a great video series on this:

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I don’t think anyone is trying to find evidence of the wanderings, for good reason: there is no agreement at all on just where they left Egypt, or what route they then followed – and that describes the scholarly situation; if you want to consider self-appointed experts there’s even less agreement. We don’t even know where most of the waypoints mentioned in Exodus are, including Mt. Sinai itself.

Where there’s any work being done it’s in “Goshen” – or at least in one of the possibilities for where that was; all that’s really known is it was the eastern Nile delta. I keep hoping for a discovery that will pin down the date, as well; there’s not even any agreement on which Pharaoh was the one who “knew Joseph” and thus who was the one who “knew not Joseph”, whether that was the same as the oppressor who made them slaves, or who was the Pharaoh of the Exodus.

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Such a large migration over so long a period of time should have left evidence, unless they had teleportation. After all, we can trace the wanderings of other people groups, even archaic humans. Ron Wyatt the charlatan claimed to have found chariot wheels in the red sea.

I have seen a document of the claimed findings. There were coral formations that seemed to have grown on chariot wheels, on sandy bottom. Also other clusters of corals that looked like they had formed on objects on the bottom of the sea. It is easy to believe that the corals had grown on chariot wheels but as far as I understood, there is no evidence of what wheels and when. These objects could have been trash that was thrown in the sea during the ancient times.

The major problem with the findings is the depth of the Red sea. The locations at the shore of the Red sea would fit to the Exodus story very well and the shallow parts of the sea were also very promising. However, the central part of the Red sea is deep, there would have been a deep gorge in the middle of the walk through the sea. If that part of the Red sea would be the location where Moses and the people walked across the sea, it was definitely a miracle. Just drying the sea would not be enough, there should have been a miraculous underwater bridge that has now completely disappeared.

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agreed the lack of scientific support for the narrative here creates a mood of deep mistrust in the rest of the biblical record…including the resurection of Christ.

  • joseph as second in charge of Egypt appears to be a myth

  • Little if any evidence of the Exodus and 40 years of wandering in the wilderness,

  • scant evidence for the existence of Moses,

  • there are no eyewitnesses outside of the gospels who recorded Christs resurection…i mean lets face it, surely at least have Nicodemus and Joseph (both members of the Sanhedrin) write about it in official Jewish political records. Why not even something in the Roman historical records or someone from another nation who wasnt loyal to Rome or the Jewish Sandhedrin?

  • troubles with creation timeline

  • science doesnt appear to agree with Noahs flood

It isnt just the Exodus thats problematic. some of the biggest stories in the bible are not well supported by scientific evidence. After one throws out Creation, The Flood, The Exodus and 40 years in the desert, the conquest of Canaan, Christs ascention and resurrection…I mean, whats actually left of the bible story that is credible?

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I detect a note of sarcasm there. Or perhaps a symphony. It is a valid question as to how we deal with the Bible. If we treat it as history as we define it, there are problems. If we state that if not historical, it is not valid, we box ourselves in. If we deny its history, there are problems as well. I ultimately accept it as God’s revelation to man, incorporating historical elements, but being history as seen through the eyes of ancient authors expressing God’s revelation.

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Ben-Yosef’s article:
He addresses architectural bias, the idea that important buildings indicate an important society. Or as he phrases it:

“the overemphasis on building monumentality and other aspects of the settled in the identification of social complexity and geopolitical power.” p. 51

But if you take a look at Early Iron Age Edom, there are no real monumental buildings. Yet the remains of the copper mines indicate that Edom certainly was a complex society.

The same may be said about Judah, which is often regarded as weak compared to the northern tribes because of, you guessed it, architectural bias.

He shows his confusion about minimalist archaeologist Israel Finkelstein, who disagrees with Ben-Yosef, yet:

“According to Finkelstein, nomadic societies—like the one he
reconstructs in the Late Bronze Age Hill Country—could have existed without leaving any detectable material remains, and even when some “nomadic sites” are found, they probably represent only a fragment of a polymorphous society whose true size cannot be estimated archaeologically.” p. 51


Thomas W. Davis’ article:
A lot of pottery remains is not to be expected. If you are sedentary [edit: not “sedentary”, should be “nomadic”], waterskins are much more practical.

Picture of Asiatic with waterskin, Beni Hasan tomb

Nomads often camp near water sources, which can deposit a great amount of silt after an intensive storm, burying the evidence. Wind-generated deflation in those open spaces cause deflation of sites.

It is easier to search when you know where to look. So in the vicinity of Egyptian forts (e.g. Tell el Borg) the remains of huts have been found. The occupants may have provided the garison with necesaties.These persons coud have served as middlemen for the trade between Egyptians and the truly nomadic Shasu of the Sinai desert.

But even these remains close to known forts will become even more hard to find in the future because of agricultural development and the current political situation in Sinai.

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Yes! One example: Joshua 7:3-5 makes much more sense if “thousand” is replaced by “unit of ~15 men”.

"When they returned to Joshua, they said, “Not all the army will have to go up against Ai. Send [~30 or ~45] men to take it and do not weary the whole army, for only a few people live there.”

So about [~45] went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, who killed about thirty-six of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes. At this the hearts of the people melted in fear and became like water." (NIV)

36 casualties out of 3000 is nothing. But 36 out of 45 is a massacre.


To put that in perspective, pharaoh Mereneptah could muster 20.000 - 25.000 soldiers against the Libyan coalition. With 600.000 fighting men, the Israelites wouldn’t have to be afraid at all. :sweat_smile:

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Just stop there. These events should have left physical evidence.

Science says nothing about ascension and resurrection and the lack of physical evidence is to be expected. A firm case can be made for Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection based on history.

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Science can’t dictate every enigma we come across in history and the real world as we don’t even know whether to believe quantum mechanics or the theory of relativity. It is absolutely possible that a resurrection and ascension is scientifically possible (only through God obviously) as if God did create everything then he would be the most logical, scientific mind to ever exist.

Physical evidence like what? The creation has physical evidence…we exist. I don’t know what physical evidence you want the flood to have, as it was not even a flood of the whole world necessarily. We would have to pinpoint where it happened and on what scale. What physical evidence would the exodus or 40 years in the desert leave, a culture imprint that exists to this day? Bones, bodies, and buildings in that very same desert?

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It is only “scientifically possible” if it is repeatable or measurable. Science can’t establish a process or framework that would make resurrection possible. Once you say God is responsible then anything is possible (if it doesn’t go against God’s nature).

A literal 6 day creation would leave physical evidence such as no visible light from a source more than 6,000 light years away. The processes which lead from the big bang up to us today are well understood and do not give any sign of God’s involvement. Which is what I actually expect.

The person I was responding to is a YEC so my response should be read in light of that.

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