Patterns of Evidence (the Exodus), Part I

I recently watched the 2015 documentary, Patterns of Evidence, which is about the historicity of the biblical Exodus.  See here for the trailer.  You can watch the movie on Netflix.

Before I offer some thoughts about the documentary, I would like to present some preliminary information about the proposed dates for the biblical Exodus.

Some scholars date the Exodus to the thirteenth century B.C.E., which was the time of Raamses II.  There are a variety of defenses for this particular date.  Exodus 1:11 states that the Israelites in Egypt built for the Pharaoh the treasure city of Raamses, and the time of Raamses was one of mass building projects.  Another argument in favor of the thirteenth century B.C.E. date is that, around the beginning of the Iron Age in 1200 B.C.E., we see in the land of Palestine new houses, which differ from the previous houses and which a number of archaeologists believe are Israelite.  In the documentary, James Hoffmeier was an advocate for the thirteenth century B.C.E. date.

Other scholars date the Exodus to the fifteenth century B.C.E.  This appears to coincide with I Kings 6:1, which states that the Israelites came out of Egypt 480 years before King Solomon started to build the Temple (which many believe dates to the tenth century B.C.E.).  In the documentary, Bryant Wood was an advocate for the fifteenth century B.C.E. date.  Wood argues, on the basis of archaeology, that the city of Jericho was destroyed in the fifteenth century B.C.E.  Archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon, however, dated the destruction of Jericho to the sixteenth century B.C.E.  In any case, the Canaanite cities pose a potential problem for those who date the Exodus to the thirteenth century B.C.E.  First of all, in the biblical narrative, the Israelites destroyed Jericho soon after leaving Egypt, and archaeology seems to indicate that Jericho was destroyed prior to the thirteenth century B.C.E.  Second, in the biblical narrative, there are indications that Canaanite and Transjordanian cities were walled and fortified (e.g., Numbers 13:28; Deuteronomy 1:28; 3:5).  That was not the case in the thirteenth century B.C.E. (see here), but it was the case during the Middle Bronze Period in Palestine (1950-1550 B.C.E., according to T.A. Holland’s article on “Jericho” in the Anchor Bible Dictionary).

A third approach is one that this documentary leans toward, and it states that the Exodus took place during the Middle Kingdom period of ancient Egypt.  The Middle Kingdom dates from 2000 B.C.E. to 1700 B.C.E.  In the documentary, David Rohl is the main proponent of this view, and John Bimson seems to agree with him.  The documentary’s argument is that Egypt during the Middle Kingdom fits the biblical narrative better than the thirteenth century B.C.E..   According to the documentary, during the Middle Kingdom, we see the following: Semites were in the Egyptian area of Avaris (which later became the city of Raamses); there is a house of a Semitic high official that is surrounded by twelve tombs and has twelve pillars (the twelve tribes of Israel?); there is a tomb of a Semitic official who has a multicolored coat (Joseph?), and the body is missing (because the Israelites took Joseph’s bones to the Promised Land in Exodus 13:19?); the economic status of the Semites in Avaris dramatically declined from a state of prosperity (because the Pharaoh made them slaves?); there is evidence of high infant mortality for males in Avaris (the Pharaoh’s ordered slaughter of the male Israelite babies in Exodus 1?); Papyrus Ipuwer talks about events that sound like the biblical plagues; there are bones in Avaris that are tossed into the ground, and indications that people abandoned the site (the plague killing the firstborn, following by the Exodus?); and the slave city of Kahun shows signs of abandonment (the Israelites left Egypt?).

Rohl in the documentary, from what I remember, did not identity whom he believes was the Pharaoh during the time of the Exodus, but this article states that he thinks that it was Dedumose II, whom some Egyptologists (not all) date to the Thirteenth Dynasty of the Middle Kingdom.  (UPDATE: Actually, Rohl in the documentary refers to a statement by the third century B.C.E. Egyptian historian Manetho that, in the reign of Dudimose, God smote the Egyptians.)  The Thirteenth Dynasty is significant: according to this site, it was during the early Thirteenth Dynasty that Kahun was abandoned; John van Seters argues that the present form of the Admonitions of Ipuwer dates “no earlier than the late 13th Dyn.” (Ronald J. Williams, “Egyptian Literature (Egyptian Wisdom Literature),” Anchor Bible Dictionary); and the Thirteenth Dynasty marked extreme decline for Egypt (Ronald J. Lephrohon, “Egypt, History of (Middle Kingdom-2d Intermediate Period),” Anchor Bible Dictionary).  The Thirteenth Dynasty lasted for over one hundred years, so one could ask if it is problematic to Rohl’s position for the abandonment of Kahun to date to the early Thirteenth Dynasty, whereas the final form of the Admonitions of Ipuwer dates to the late Thirteenth Dynasty.  The Exodus was one-time event, right, not something stretching out for over a hundred years?  I have not read Rohl’s ideas on this, but he may have reasons for dating things as he does.  Dating is not an arbitrary exercise that lacks support (far from it!), but there are times when it can have uncertainties and can rest, at least in in part, on assumptions.

There is a challenge to this Middle Kingdom date for the Exodus, however, and that is that the Middle Kingdom ended about two centuries prior to the time that Kathleen Kenyon dates the destruction of Jericho.  How would dating the Exodus to the Middle Kingdom work, if the Israelites destroyed Jericho soon after leaving Egypt?  In the biblical narrative, the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years, not two hundred years!  This is where the New Chronology enters the picture, in the documentary.  Rohl and Bimson are advocates for a New Chronology, one that deletes about three hundred years from the standard Egyptian chronology.  This New Chronology is controversial.  It allows for some conclusions that may strike people as pretty odd: According to this article, for example, Rohl identifies Shishak, the Egyptian king who invaded Jerusalem during the reign of King Rehoboam (I Kings 14), as Raamses II rather than Shoshenq I.  If true, that would mean that the Pharaoh whom many believe was the Pharaoh of the Exodus was ruling after the time of King Solomon of Israel, which was long after the time of the Exodus!  The New Chronology does not necessarily exist to uphold the Bible: as John Bimson said in the documentary, there are Egyptologists who do not believe that the standard chronology holds up, who think that it has problems.  Still, there are people who believe that the New Chronology can allow for the Exodus to occur during the time of the Middle Kingdom, while moving the destruction of Jericho closer to the time of the Middle Kingdom.

I’ll stop here.  I may write a sequel, offering my thoughts on the documentary.

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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One Response to Patterns of Evidence (the Exodus), Part I

  1. I found the Exodus exactly at 1510 B.C. with the giving of the Ten Commandments marked per Genesis 1:14 on Sivan 6 by the Star of Bethlehem. This is the exact date. Rohl was wring about Pharaohs and Kingd. I found thr Ugarut solsr eclipse in 1375. B.C. His 12th yeat was 1375. Joshua died in 1420 BC. He was 110 (if U recall rught). 1420 was a Jubilee year. Find ny video of Akhenaten on YouTube. Date of the Ugart Solar Eclipse

    Liked by 1 person

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