How historically accurate is the Bible?

(George Brooks) #61


Like many students of the Bible, I have been discussing the Exodus for decades. But it was only about 18 months ago that I encountered an explicit article (and then soon 2 more) that stated with no uncertainty that the Sinai and the Levant entered into a period where Egypt was not only denied access to its Northern Frontier, but even access to its short-range neighboring Levantine interests! And the date by which this became Egypt’s new reality was 1130 BCE and thereafter!

This is when I realized that I could have made the deduction for when the Exodus could not have happened years earlier … but I had always been too distracted by people trying find traces of Egyptian history in the Exodus account.

I thought I would take a sample of the dates I found in a google search.

As one might imagine, we find datings ranging from the time of the Hyksos (the 1500s), from
the 1400’s (the Amarna period), and even as recently as 1290 BCE.

One of the most popular ways to date the Exodus was to subtract 480 years (or sometimes 430 or even 410 years) from the estimated date of the building of Solomon’s Temple. This would put it around 1446 BCE.

An Orthodox Rabbi writing at this link

does a very nice job arguing for as recent a date as possible. But everyone seems to run out of boldness as the 1200’s ebb away. The ramifications are too stark to embrace anything more recent than the 1200s; we see traces of this in his Footnote 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…"

But I was quite impressed by the Rabbi’s commitment to the historical findings!. Not only does he recognize the relevance of the Philistine settlement, but he provides even more congruent findings:

"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]

Most satisfying to me was finding this final sentence in his footnote 51: "Pi-Ramesse was abandoned as a royal residence around 1130 BCE."

The Rabbi concludes with his general desire to put the Exodus sometime (it would seem) bridging (before & after) the date he uses for the Philistines: 1177 BCE!

“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.”

The Rabbi then compares Levantine sites, I think 3 of them are pretty interesting!

°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]

I will offer my own “spin” on these case studies:

Lachish: with a destruction around 1200 BCE, this fits perfectly with the initial onset of the Philistine invasion on their way to the Egyptian homeland. It was re-occupied with the “fencing in” of the Philistines who are holding a beachhead on the now Philistine coast… terminated by a final destruction around 1184-1153 BCE. This indicates the Egyptians are losing ground against the restive Pelest!

Ai (or Et-Tell), was deserted up to around 1200 BCE, when there was a new smaller and peaceful occupation. The Philistines would have uprooted many settlements as they created “elbow room” for their invasion of Egpyt. Ai would fit the facts.

And lastly, Yeriho (or Jericho or City of Palms), which seems to have been a conquered Hyksos redoubt before the Amarna age texts, occupation doesn’t begin again until between 1275 to 1100 BCE. If the Hebrew had anything to do with its final elimination, 1100 BCE would fit very well with an Exodus march out of Egypt sometime after the Philistines had bottled the Egyptians up, circa 1130 BCE.

I’d like to conclude with something from Footnote 41, dealing with the usually mysterious context surrounding the populating of Ephraim and Manessah:
“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 [aka Manessah]. 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.

[Okay – this is not GBrooks writing this paragraph, but Merv Bitikofer inserting a mischievous paragraph here just for an unauthorized experiment. If anybody has read this far through such a long post and spots this, please respond to me and the world below to claim your public accolades for meticulous and thorough study, and to appropriately chastise me for losing my little private bet here. (Sorry, George! --sort of – well actually we’ll see, won’t we!) This edit added on 6-8-2018. The words after this paragraph are George’s again.]

These details fit beautifully into a post-Philistine reality (with or without a post-Philistine Exodus):
The Philistines follow an assertive pattern (which is even emulated in the David stories), where the Philistines extract their control over the central Israel much as Egypt once did. In fact, we see that while Canaan seemed to have prospered considerably with the Hyksos filling a “pipeline” of Egyptian valuables to the Levant, once Egpyt begins its control over what will become the “rear echelon” of their opposition to the Hittites, the pressures exerted on the Canaanites seems to have been relatively crushing. Towns disappear, as those Canaanites who know how to flee - - flee!

But then we see a surge in the settlements for some 200 years… which fits the timeline of Philistines driving refugees up into the hinterland … from 1200 BCE to about 1000 BCE. After 1000 BCE, the vigor does seem to have returned to these refugees… and the Philistines spend the next few centuries in a holding action against the people that they are becoming more and more like.
[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.

o o o o o o

[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.

[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.

[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.



Most secular scholars think the Bible is not accurate before 1000 BC. That said, most of the arguments given are based off of Enlightenment era presuppositions, and really stuff like Mosaic Authorship is the right way to go.

(George Brooks) #63


The fact of the Philistine entrenchment on the coast by 1130 BCE is not an Enlightenment Era finding. It is based on the most recent archaeological findings.

Digs at Beth Shean reveal that it was a major Egyptian administrative center (for collecting tribute, taxes and food products), and that once the last Egyptian fortress on the coast (north of the Philistines) had been destroyed, any Egyptians trapped behind in Canaan would be in serious trouble!

When Egyptian Pharaohs Ruled Bronze Age Jerusalem
Peter van der Veen investigates an Egyptian presence before the time of David
Noah Wiener • 05/30/2018


Egypt’s Final Redoubt in Canaan
The fiery end of the last Egyptian colony
Monday, June 12, 2017

(Lynn Munter) #64

Hey, @Mervin_Bitikofer.

Not sure accolades are in order. I am a dedicated reader, but that’s not always necessarily a good thing …

(John Dalton) #65

I’m glad someone else has to bear the heavy burden of causing a site mod to lose a bet :slight_smile:

(Mervin Bitikofer) #66

Confession time!

I didn’t think I would have to be writing something like this for several weeks at least (if ever)! But now at least two people have discovered my little ‘easter egg’. I trust that Lynn didn’t prompt you, John, but that you came by it honestly on your own? Not that there is anything material at stake here, apart from my properly deserved exposure. I ‘hid’ something in plain sight in one of your longer posts above (#61), @gbrooks9, to perform a little experiment at your expense, I’m afraid, or rather what I had thought might turn into an object lesson for all who write such long posts. But the expense, it turns out is mine instead as you would seem to be totally vindicated here. People are poring over the details of what you contribute, even weeks later. And that speaks well of you. I must admit my own eyes glaze over and the skim reading begins far earlier, hence my initial skepticism that such long posts get read.

But … obviously they are. And I will take this occasion to thank you, George, among others who do take the time to research and submit such volumes of information here, even if some of us (or just me!) don’t always attend to all of it carefully. This shows that there are others here who do!

Congratulations to you, @Lynn_Munter, for being the first to see it. Either George or I can delete it (or leave it) now as he may wish.

(John Dalton) #67

What are you suggesting Mervin? :clown_face: Of course I read George’s compelling post. I wound up reading a bit more on the Philistines too! Interesting stuff. Maybe this is more widely known than it was to me, but I hadn’t known about the connection with the name Palestine, for one thing.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #68

I’m suggesting nothing at all! And perhaps if I had spent more time actually reading George’s post instead of hatching mischief, I would have appreciated making such connection too.

So the name “Palestine” originally derives from “Philistine”? I didn’t see that directly insinuated in his post above, but is that what you discovered? The name “philistine” means “invader”, right?

(John Dalton) #69

Yes in the wiki article :slight_smile:

The name “philistine” means “invader”, right?

I don’t know, but it sounds logical.

(Lynn Munter) #70

I gotta admit, I did start skimming the footnotes!

(George Brooks) #71

@Mervin_Bitikofer… tut-tut-tut… oh yee of little faith…

(Reggie O'Donoghue) #72

How accurate is the documentary Patterns of Evidence: Exodus?

(Matthew Pevarnik) #73

Perhaps this review of other reviews is fitting:

(Reggie O'Donoghue) #74

Okay, I see R E Friedmann’s exodus as the most likely option now.

Also, does a historical Exodus mean a historical Moses?

(Matthew Pevarnik) #76

You would have to probably get his book on the exit is. It’s on my list of things to get to at least read and see what his main arguments are. I think that his conclusions are pretty dramatic for most Christians to hear or think about, including myself. Friedman’s pretty well supported idea is of course an Exodus where a small group of people, the Levites, used their priestly and military power to basically become the effective leaders of pre-Israelite Canaanites.

To take this idea further the Exodus story wasn’t even written down as we have it recorded until after the Babylonian exile. If we have Friedman’s view of these Levites, then I could see as crazy of a scenario as the Levites’ Exodus tale kept getting grander in grander as to what Yahweh actually did so that they had Yahweh’s blessing to exercise control over the people. And then when the story is officially written down, it has been exaggerated so much that it’s hard to say what what actually did happen it didn’t happen. Maybe there was a real Moses, but he certainly didn’t do the things recorded in the actual Old Testament under Friedman’s view.

This is quite shocking for anyone who grew up with the story being real, but again I am just logically trying to follow where this idea actually goes without knowing where he takes it himself. Maybe everything I wrote was wrong as I don’t actually have any sources, and I myself am not advocating any of this. Just trying to see where his idea takes at least me only knowing the very basics of what he argues.

(George Brooks) #77

@pevaquark and @Reggie_O_Donoghue,

I believe I’ve seen this link somewhere on these boards already …
Could it be here in a Pevaquark posting?.. up at the top of this thread?

In any case, the discussion between you two inspired my interest in finding it again …
Friedman is being interviewed about the book:

(John Dalton) #78

Looks like a good book. It sounds like a compelling theory.

(George Brooks) #79

Things I’d like to find in Friedman’s book, but probably wont:

  1. The kinship between Levites and Ben-Amm & Moab.

  2. Connection between Edomites and Levites. The “Servant of Edom” is the first to be master of the Ark… and the text about marching out of Seir is notoriously interesting.

  3. The generations of time that the Snake Pole of Moses is honored and revered. Little know fact: Moses… or rather, Moshe… when spelled in cuneiform, means both Snake & Priest (parallel to the Greek term for Pythoness & Priestess).

(George Brooks) #80
  1. I also find compelling clues for where the Bible derives the root for the name “Jebus” - - the texts linking that geography with “Jab-ez” peopke coming over from across the Jordan.

Sorry… I don’t have the verse # immediately at hand.

(John Dalton) #81

That should give me stuff to look into for a while here :slight_smile: First incidental comment: poor Uzzah.

This seems to be an overview of the book