This morning, I was researching some of the claims that were made in the 2015 documentary, Patterns of Evidence, which argues that the biblical Exodus occurred during the time of Egypt’s Middle Kingdom. I would like to talk about two issues: the abandonment of Kahun, and the Egyptian historian Manetho’s reference to God striking the Egyptians.
A. The documentary argues that the abandonment of the city of Kahun may be a piece of evidence for the historicity of the biblical Exodus. Kahun had slaves, and suddenly it was abandoned. The documentary refers to Rosalie David’s statement that the departure from Kahun was “sudden and unpremeditated.” Goods were left in the streets and in houses. According to the documentary, this marked the departure of the Israelite slaves from Egypt.
I was interested in alternative and mainstream interpretations of the abandonment of Kahun. I read things online about Kahun, including brief passages from Rosalie David’s The Pyramid Builders of Ancient Egypt. The Encyclopedia Britannica says about Kahun: “It was erected for the overseers and workmen employed in constructing the nearby pyramid of Al-Lāhūn, built by Sesostris II (reigned 1844–37 bce), and it was abandoned when the pyramid was completed.” That is one view of why it was abandoned: slaves were temporarily at the city to build a pyramid, and they left when their job was done.
Rosalie David, however, does not buy that. My impression is that she is skeptical of this argument because of her belief that the abandonment was “sudden and unpremeditated.” In the passage of the book to which the documentary was referring, David states: “The quantity, range and type of articles of everyday use that were left behind in the houses may indeed suggest that the departure was sudden and unpremeditated” (page 199) If the inhabitants were simply leaving because their job was done, why would they leave so many things behind, rather than taking some of the stuff with them?
To what does Rosalie David attribute the abandonment of Kahun? I could not find her own opinion, but she did refer to possibilities that scholars have proposed. She states on page 199: “There are different opinions about how this first period of occupation of Kahun drew to a close. Declining local economic conditions, or foreign infiltration and harassment, may have driven them from their homes.” For David, this was a time when Asiatics were making more incursions into Egypt. David also refers to the view that Kahun may not have even been abandoned, but that its “population declined and dwindled until, by the New Kingdom, only a token occupation of some of the houses remained.”
In watching the documentary, I have wondered about alternative interpretations of the “evidence” it offers for the Exodus. I think of what Dr. Zaius said in Planet of the Apes in defending ape creationism: he said that he could come up with an alternative explanation for the “evidence” to which Taylor was appealing in arguing that apes evolved from men. A question that may remain, however, is whether the Exodus is at least a plausible way to account for the data.
B. In the documentary, David Rohl referred to a statement by the third century B.C.E. Egyptian priest and historian Manetho. According to Rohl, Manetho said that, in the reign of a king called Dudimose, whom Rohl says was one of the last kings of the Thirteenth Dynasty, God smote the Egyptians, then invaders came from the north, the Hyksos (I draw some here from the words that Rohl used in the documentary). Rohl thinks it is interesting that Manetho here says “God” rather than “the gods,” and Rohl believes that Manetho is referring to the Exodus.
Rohl does not explicitly cite the source in the documentary, but the source is Josephus’ Against Apion 1:75, where Josephus quotes Manetho. Rohl’s view is that the Exodus occurred and that weakened Egypt significantly, such that the Hyksos could invade and easily conquer Egypt. Josephus, however, appears to equate the Hyksos with the Israelites in Egypt.
The passage states: “There was a king of ours, whose name was Timaus. Under him it came to pass, I know not how, that God was averse to us, and there came, after a surprising manner, men of ignoble birth out of the eastern parts, and had boldness enough to make an expedition into our country, and with ease subdued it by force, yet without our hazarding a battle with them” (Whiston’s translation).
Just looking at the passage itself, I do not think that it necessarily refers to the Exodus. It could be saying that the Hyksos invasion WAS God’s affliction of the Egyptians, not that God afflicted the Egyptions prior to the Hyksos’ invasion. Is it significant that Manetho refers to God in the singular, as Rohl says? Well, I did a search on Perseus, and there are numerous examples in which Greek polytheistic works refer to “God” in the singular (see here to sort through the results). Maybe they mean Zeus, or providence, or the gods acting as one (I do not know), but they occasionally refer to God in the singular. Is it therefore remarkable that Manetho, who lived in Ptolemaic Egypt, would refer to God in the singular? I have my doubts.
There are other things that deserve consideration. Russell Gmirkin refers to some of these on page 173 of Berossus and Genesis, Manetho and Exodus. Some claim that the Exodus story could be a response to Manetho; others say Manetho may be responding to the Exodus story. There is also the question of whether Manetho is correct that there was a Hyksos invasion: the Hyksos may not have forcibly invaded. Something else to note is that, according to Josephus in Against Apion 1:265, Manetho did refer to Moses: Manetho said that Osarsiph, an Egyptian priest who allies with the Hyksos and leads lepers against the Pharaoh, changed his name to Moses.
A significant question is: How reliable is Manetho, in terms of understanding what occurred during the time of Egypt’s Middle Kingdom? To what extent is he communicating real history, and in what ways may he be influenced by his own times (the third century B.C.E.)?