SPECIAL TOPIC: THE EXODUS (uncertainties)
I. Date of the Exodus is in Doubt
A. There have been two scholarly opinions on the date of the Exodus:
1. from 1 Kings 6:1, which says, "480 years from the Exodus to the building of Solomon's Temple":
a. Solomon began to reign in 970 b.c. This is figured by using the battle of Qarqar (853 b.c.) as a certain starting date.
b. The Temple was built in his fourth year (965 b.c.), and the Exodus occurred about 1445/6 b.c.
2. This would make it occur in the 18th Egyptian Dynasty.
a. The Pharaoh of the oppression would be Thutmose III (1490-1436 b.c.).
b. The Pharaoh of the Exodus would be Amenhotep II (1436-1407 b.c.).
(1) Some believe the evidence of silence from Jericho, based on the fact that no diplomatic correspondence occurred between Jericho and Egypt during the reign of Amenhotep III (1413-1377 b.c.).
(2) The Amarna texts record diplomatic correspondence written on ostraca about the Habiru overrunning the land of Canaan in the reign of Amenhotep III. Therefore, the Exodus occurred in the reign of Amenhotep II.
(3) The period of the Judges is not long enough if the 13th century is the date of Exodus.
3. The possible problems with these dates are:
a. The Septuagint (LXX) has 440 years not 480.
b. It is possible that 480 years is representative of 12 generations of 40 years each, therefore, a figurative number.
c. There are 12 generations of priests from Aaron to Solomon (cf. 1 Chronicles 6), then 12 from Solomon to the Second Temple. The Jews, like the Greeks, reckoned a generation as forty years. So, there is a 480 year period back and forward (symbolic use of numbers, cf. Bimson's Redating the Exodus and Conquest).
4. There are three other texts that mention dates:
a. Genesis 15:13,16 (cf. Acts 7:6), 400 years of bondage
b. Exodus 12:40-41 (cf. Gal. 3:17)
(1) MT – 430 years of sojourn in Egypt
(2) LXX – 215 years of sojourn in Egypt
c. Judges 11:26 – 300 years between Jephthah's day and the conquest (supports 1445 date)
d. Acts 13:19, exodus, wanderings, and conquest – 450 years
5. The author of Kings used specific historical references and did not round numbers (Edwin Thiele, A Chronology of the Hebrew Kings, pp. 83-85).
B. The tentative evidence from archaeology seems to point toward a date of 1290 b.c., or the 19th Egyptian Dynasty.
1. Joseph was able to visit his father and Pharaoh in the same day. The first native Pharaoh who began to move the capital of Egypt from Thebes back to the Nile Delta, to a place called Avaris/Zoan/Tanis which was the old Hyksos capital, was Seti I (1309-1290). He would be the Pharaoh of the oppression.
a. This seems to fit two pieces of information about the Hyksos reign of Egypt.
(1) A stele has been found from the time of Rameses II that commemorates the founding of Avaris four hundred years earlier (1700's b.c. by the Hyksos)
(2) The prophecy of Genesis 15:13 speaks of a 400 year oppression
b. This implies that Joseph's rise to power was under a Hyksos (Semitic) Pharaoh. The new Egyptian dynasty is referred to in Exod. 1:8.
2. The Hyksos, an Egyptian word meaning "rulers of foreign lands," who were a group of non-Egyptian Semitic rulers, controlled Egypt during the 15th and 16th Dynasties (1720-1570 b.c.). Some want to relate them to Joseph's rise to power. If we subtract the 430 years of Exod. 12:40 from 1720 b.c., we get a date of about 1290 b.c.
3. Seti I's son was Rameses II (1290-1224). This name is mentioned as one of the store cities built by the Hebrew slaves, Exod. 1:11. Also this same district in Egypt near Goshen is called Rameses, Gen. 47:11. Avaris/Zoan/Tanis was known as "House of Rameses" from 1300-1100 b.c.
4. Thutmoses III was known as a great builder, as was Rameses II.
5. Rameses II had 47 daughters living in separate palaces.
6. Archaeology has shown that most of the large walled cities of Canaan (Hazor, Debir, Lachish) were destroyed and rapidly rebuilt around 1250 b.c. In allowing for a 38 year wilderness wandering period this fits a date of 1290 b.c.
7. Archaeology has found a reference to the Israelis being in southern Canaan on a memorial stele of Rameses' successor Merneptah (1224-1214 b.c. [cf. The Stele of Merneptah, dated 1220 b.c.]).
8. Edom and Moab seem to have attained strong national identity in the late 1300's b.c. These countries were not organized in the 15th century (Glueck).
9. The book entitled Redating the Exodus and Conquest by John J. Bimson, published by the University of Sheffield, 1978, argues against all of the archaeological evidence for an early date.
C. There is a new possible date even earlier than 1445 b.c. See the History Channel, "The Exodus Decoded," which asserts a northern route in the Hyksos period.
II. The number of people to leave in the Exodus is in doubt
A. Numbers 1:46; 26:51 report that there were 600,000 men of fighting age (20-50 yrs. of age, cf. Exod. 38:26). Therefore, if one estimates women, children, and old men, a number of 1.5 to 2.5 million is possible.
B. However, the Hebrew term for thousand, eleph, can mean:
1. a family or clan unit, Jos. 22:14; Jdgs. 6:15; 1 Sam. 23:23, Zech. 9:7
2. a military unit, Exod. 18:21,25; Deut. 1:15
3. a literal thousand, Gen. 20:16; Exod. 32:28
4. used symbolically, Gen. 24:60; Exod. 20:6 (Deut. 7:9); 34:7; Jer. 32:18
5. from the Ugaritic (a cognate of Semitic language), the same consonants is alluph which means "chieftain" (cf. Gen. 36:15). This would mean that for Num. 1:39 there were 60 chieftains and 2700 men from Dan. The problem comes when there are obviously too many chieftains for the number of men in some tribes.
6. There is a good discussion in the NIV Study Bible, p. 186.
C. Archaeology has estimated the size of the armies of Egypt and Assyria during this period in the tens of thousands. Some passages in Joshua seem to imply that Israel had an army of about 40,000, (cf. Jos. 4:13; 7:3; 8:3,11,12).
III. The route of the Exodus is in doubt
A. The location of:
1. the Egyptian cities
2. bodies of water
3. early Hebrew camp sites
are all uncertain
B. The term "Red Sea" is literally Yam Suph (see Special Topic: Red Sea), which:
1. means, "sea of weeds" or "sea of reeds." It can refer to salt water, Jonah 2:5; 1 Kgs. 9:26 or fresh water, Exod. 2:3; Isa. 19:26. The LXX first translated it as "Red Sea," followed by the Vulgate and then the King James Version.
2. referred to the "sea to the south" or "sea at the end (of the earth)." It could have referred to the modern Red Sea, Indian Ocean, or Persian Gulf.
3. had several usages in the OT (cf. Num. 33:8,10).
C. There are three possible routes involving three different bodies of water:
1. A northern route – this was along the Mediterranean coast, following the commercial highway known as "the way of the Philistines." This would have been the shortest way to the Promised Land. The body of water that they would have encountered would have been one of the shallow, marshy areas called: Lake Sirbonis or Lake Menzalch. However, one must take into account Exod. 13:17 which seems to negate this option. Also the presence of Egyptian fortresses along this route militates against this option.
2. A middle route – this would involve the central lakes called:
a. "The Bitter Lakes"
b. "Lake Balah"
c. "Lake Timsah"
This would also have been following a caravan route through the wilderness of Shur.
3. A southern route – this would involve the large body of salt water we call the Red Sea today. There was also a caravan route from this area that linked up with the "King's Highway" (the trans-Jordan road to Damascus) at Ezion-Geber.
a. Militating against this is the absence of reeds in this body of water.
b. Pointing toward this is that 1 Kgs. 9:26 says Ezion-Geber is on the Yam-Suph. This would be the Gulf of Aqaba or part of the Red Sea (cf. Num. 21:4; Deut. 27; Jdgs. 11:16; Jer. 49:12).
4. Numbers 33 clearly shows the problem. In Num. 33:8a they "pass through the sea," then in 33:10 they camped by the "Red Sea," a different body of water.
5. Whichever body of water was crossed, it was a miracle of God. Israel was provided weaponry from the dead Egyptian soldiers who floated to their side of the body of water, another miracle, Exod. 14:30; 15:4-5.
6. It is possible from other literature that "the yam suph" was the uncharted, mysterious body of water to the south. In some literature the Indian Ocean or the bay of Bengeli is called "yam suph."
IV. The location of Mt. Sinai is also in doubt
A. If Moses was speaking literally and not figuratively of the three day journey he requested of Pharaoh (Exod. 3:18; 5:3; 8:27), that was not a long enough time to get to the traditional site in the southern Sinai peninsula. Therefore, some scholars place the mountain near the oasis of Kadesh-Barnea.
B. The traditional site called "Jebel Musa," in the Wilderness of Sin, has several things in its favor:
1. a large plain before the mountain
2. Deut. 1:2 says it was an eleven day journey from Mt. Sinai to Kadesh-Barnea
3. The term "Sinai" is a non-Hebrew term. It may be linked to the Wilderness of Sin, which refers to a small desert bush. The Hebrew name for the mountain is Horeb (wilderness).
4. Mt. Sinai has been the traditional site since the 4th century a.d. It is in the "land of Midian," which included a large area of the Sinai peninsula and Arabia.
5. it seems that archaeology has confirmed the location of some of the cities mentioned in the Exodus account (Elim, Dophkah, Rephidim) as being on the western side of the Sinai Peninsula.
C. The traditional site of Mt. Sinai was not established until Pilgrimage of Silvia, written about a.d. 385-8 (cf. F. F. Bruce, Commentary on the Book of the Acts, p. 151).
D. History Channel, "Decoding the Exodus," places it on the northern caravan route to Canaan (i.e., the shortest route to the Promised Land). This is a good archaeological theory.
V. What is not in doubt is the historical reality of the exodus. It fulfills the prophecy of Gen. 15:12-21. It is the establishment of the nation of Israel.
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