Despite over a century of detailed investigation, the date of the Hebrew exodus from Egypt remains a topic of extensive debate within scholarship. Scholarly discussion focuses on exegetical concerns such as the interpretation of chronological data in the Old Testament, the correct identification of toponyms (place names), and the relationship between textual and archaeological data.This initial article summarizes the emergence of the two most commonly proposed dates.
This article is the second of two in a consideration of the date of the Exodus. Typically, only two dates are considered viable; c. 1440 BCE (the ‘early date’), and c.1280 BCE (the ‘late date’). Arguments for these dates are reviewed and compared here.
Archaeology tells us that there was no way to ESCAPE the Egyptians by lingering in the region of Sinai any time before 1130 BCE… because the Egyptians regularly exerted their power and presence in the Levant until the Philistines established themselves militarily right in the middle of it!
So both proposed dates, 1440 BCE and 1280 BCE are impossibly too early for an Exodus. Even during the Amarna period, when Egypt’s interest in the Levantine coast is supposed to be at a low point, Egyptian influence extends all the way up into the highlands, including Jerusalem.
"The destruction of the Egyptian-allied city at Megiddo marked the end of
Egyptian power in the Levant for the next several centuries, except for the
three years following its reconquest by the Pharoah Shehsonq I of the 22nd
Dynasty, 925-922 BCE. Palestina, as it was then known to the Greeks, didn’t
come under the sway of Egypt again until its conquest by Ptolemy I in 301
Egypt ruled southern and central Palestine from 1530 BCE when they chased
the Hyksos back into Palestine and northern Palestine and Lebanon from 1457
when they conquered Djahy, eventually conquering the entire Levant and part
of Anatolia. The New Kingdom ruled all these areas, except for the
territory the Hittites took from them down to Qatna with the defection of
Amurru, until the Late Bronze Age Collapse, with the last bit of its hold
there vanishing in 1130 BCE. Clearly, there was no room for the Israelites
to escape from Egypt into the Land of Canaan because they would have just
been “escaping” into more of Egypt."
I must admit this is a difficult issue. I studied the 1290 BCE view in philosophy at Old Dominion University. These were pre-seminary courses. I have also studied the older date when I was in seminary. I will be happy to study what you have here. Perhaps you will help me to decide. God bless.
This timeline may not be perfect or definitive … but it provides a nice starting point for discussing chronologies…
The years highlighted in yellow represent about 800 years … from when Abraham left his homeland and entered into the Levant … all the way to the approximate time that the Philistines had replaced Egypt as the dominant power in Palestine (circa 1130 BCE).
Interestingly this is when Saul’s rise occurs … as well as David. Many historians have pondered just how closely associated David was with the Philistines. I have pondered whether this congruence of archaeology and this part of the Bible narrative is “momentous” … or “coincidental” !
I’ll respond to the question of “Exile” in my next posting … coming soon …
Ramesses II is frequently mentioned as the likely Pharaoh during Exodus. But how could he be?
This is a discussion of how far the Egyptian sphere of influence was at that time:
“… [a] treaty was concluded between Ramesses II and Hattusili III in year 21 of Ramesses’s reign.
(c. 1258 BC) Its 18 articles call for peace between Egypt and Hatti and then proceeds to maintain that their
respective gods also demand peace. The frontiers are not laid down in this treaty but can be inferred from
other documents. The Anastasy A papyrus describes Canaan during the latter part of the reign of
Ramesses II and enumerates and names the Phoenician coastal towns under Egyptian control. The
harbour town of Sumur, north of Byblos, is mentioned as the northern-most town belonging to Egypt,
suggesting it contained an Egyptian garrison.”
"No further Egyptian campaigns in Canaan are mentioned after the conclusion of the peace treaty. The
northern border seems to have been safe and quiet, so the rule of the pharaoh was strong until
Ramesses II’s death … "
It wasn’t until the Philistines arrived (presumably with relative naval superiority) that the Egyptians could
no longer extend their reach northwards up the Levantine coast.
Your comment about “Exile” is fine as far as it goes. I suppose one COULD argue that the
Jews were STILL in Exile … but historians have always used “Exile” to be a reference to
Judea … not as an abbreviated way of saying “politically unfree”. Judea must wait SEVERAL
centuries before it regains its political independence.
It took me a little bit to dredge up my copy of Drews’ The End of the Bronze Age and a bit longer to refresh myself from that particular MA seminar but fascinating nonetheless and currently on my 3rd rewrite. I’m not sure I can agree that ANY major migration out of Egypt prior to 1130 was impossible. In the decades before and after 1200 BCE, Egypt was under extraordinary pressure from seafaring raiders, and Libyan land armies. Furthermore, the entire region was beset by drought and MAYBE a major earthquake or 2. Furthermore, the destruction of trading partners in Greece and elsewhere would have put further strain on Egypt. All of which to say, when the throne itself is under serious enough threat, letting a bunch of rebellious peasants wander off into the desert seems plausible.
I’d also caution against drawing to close of a parallel between Ancient Egypt and the modern nation-state with clearly defined borders and rock solid control within those borders. In fact, Drews leaves the distinct impression that Egyptian control over southern Canaan by 1155 BCE was tenuous at best. Of course, that is still 130ish years after the 1280 BCE date set by @Jonathan_Burke and many historians will disagree over the causes, effects, and extent of the ‘catastrophe.’ However, my point is that by 1200 BCE Egypt was under significant strain and an exodus in that environment was plausible.
I’m not sure there is much room for even the fuzziest of focus on Egyptian chronology. Egyptian forces periodically exercised its reach into the Levant generation after generation … until the settlement of the Philistines ended all of that.
But we see NONE of that in the Old Testament … leading one to conclude that the context of the narrative (even from Abraham’s first interactions with the Philistines) is a post-1130 melieu … when and where iron is common, camels are common, and Judah is on the verge of appearing on the stage of history (in the mid-700’s).
I still think you give to much credit to what a successful military campaign meant in terms of central control. As a case in point, the Western Roman Empire was able to launch a successful military campaign against the Huns as late as 451 and I don’t anybody would describe their borders at the time as anything but porous. But, I am curious to see your sources on this. My only source on this area and time period notes that:
“Under Ramesses IV (1155-1149) there may still have been Egyptian garrisons at Beth Shan and a few other strategic posts in southern Canaan…The last evidence of Egyptian power so far north is the name of Ramesses VI inscribed on a bronze statue base at Megiddo…and in the Twenty-First Dynasty royal power in Egypt reached a low ebb.”
Nothing that specifically excludes a military campaign northwards, but he definitely leaves the impression that real power projection was outside the capabilities that you are describing. But, I do want to see what you have available to help flesh that out.
What I have been able to put together is that Egyptian control was loose at best, the aforementioned Thutmose III spent most of his long reign campaigning through Canaan and Syria, the first block you assigned putting down rebellions only to return the following year to do it all again. The 1450-1400 block appears relatively peaceful shows little military activity in that direction. Interestingly enough, there was one campaign near the 1440 mark set by the OP (@Jonathan_Burke) against an unspecified group of rebellious nomads identified as the ‘Shasu.’ The results of the campaign are unclear…
Now, if we assume a 1440 date then that puts the Crossing of the Jordan at the very end of Amenhotep II. Not finding much evidence of any kind of foreign venture between 1400 and 1350 which admittedly doesn’t mean much. We could look to the precedent established by Thutmose III and say that any kind of major shift in the Levant’s balance of power meant an immediate military campaign. We could just as easily point to the curious omissions in Thutmose’s record that could indicate a potential defeat. Neither Amenhotep II nor his successor, Thutmose IV, would likely bother to record a loss of power or influence in and around Canaan. I will readily admit that his still poses problems later on as Ramesses II launched a MAJOR campaign across Canaan in 1275. Even if we assume that Israel did not cross the Jordan until 1240 it still seems unlikely that Ramesses could fight the Battle of Kadesh only a few years after losing most of his nobles and expensive chariots to Moses and the Isrealites at the Nile. Ramesses II died on or about 1213 and his successors appear to have been struggling to hold on with their campaigns conducted in the near vicinity of Memphis and Thebes. I’m not convinced that any Egyptian Pharaoh in the century or two after the death of Ramesses II had the means or the time to reclain land lost in Canaan.