HISTORICAL EVIDENCE — AND LACK OF EVIDENCE — OF MOSES AND THE EARLY JEWS

WERE THE HEBREWS IN EGYPT?


Figurine from Egypt of a semitic slave

Archeologist have combed the Sinai desert for more than a century in search of evidence of the ancient Hebrews living there but have turned up nothing but they found somethings in the Nile Delta, the part of Egypt where the Bible says the Hebrews settled. According to the BBC: “They combed the area for evidence of a remarkably precise claim — that the Hebrews were press-ganged into making mud-bricks to build two great cities — Pithom and Ramses. Ramses II was the greatest Pharaoh in all of ancient Egypt - his statues are everywhere. Surely his city could be traced? But no sign could be found. There were suggestions it all been made up by a scribe.| [Source: BBC |::|]

“Until a local farmer found a clue: the remains of the feet of a giant statue. An inscription on a nearby pedestal confirmed that the statue belonged to Ramses II. Eventually, archeologists unearthed traces of houses, temples, even palaces. Using new technology, the archaeologists were able to detect the foundations and they mapped out the whole city in a few months. The city they had discovered was one of the biggest cities in ancient Egypt, built around 1250BCE. 20,000 Egyptians had lived there.|::|

“But was this city actually built by Hebrew slaves? There is a reference in ancient Egyptian documents to a Semitic tribe captured by Pharaoh and forced to work on the city of Ramses. A clay tablet lists groups of people who were captured by the Pharaoh and one of the groups was called Habiru. Could these be the Hebrews? No-one can be sure.”

Book: Moses: A Life by Jonathan Kirsh. Film: Cecil B. DeMille's Ten Commandments with Charleston Heston; Prince of Egypt , a Dreamworks animation with the voice of Moses supplied by Val Kilmer and his friend Ramses by Ralph Fiennes.

Websites and Resources: Bible and Biblical History: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible biblegateway.com ; King James Version of the Bible gutenberg.org/ebooks ; Bible History Online bible-history.com ; Biblical Archaeology Society biblicalarchaeology.org ; Internet Jewish History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) ccel.org ; Judaism Judaism101 jewfaq.org ; Aish.com aish.com ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; torah.org torah.org ; Chabad,org chabad.org/library/bible ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/judaism ; BBC - Religion: Judaism bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/judaism ; Encyclopædia Britannica, britannica.com/topic/Judaism; Jewish History: Jewish History Timeline jewishhistory.org.il/history ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Jewish History Resource Center dinur.org ; Center for Jewish History cjh.org ; Jewish History.org jewishhistory.org ; Christianity and Christians Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Christianity.com christianity.com ; BBC - Religion: Christianity bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/ ; Christianity Today christianitytoday.com; Biblical Images: Bible in Pictures creationism.org/books ebibleteacher ebibleteacher.com ; Bible-History.com bible-history.com ; Pictures from the Bible lavistachurchofchrist.org ; Bible Blue Letter Images blueletterbible.org/images ; Biblical Images preceptaustin.org

Trying to Trace the Route of the Fleeing Hebrews

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “Attempts to chart the course followed by the fleeing Hebrews is equally frustrating. No one knows for sure the location of Mount Sinai, and the site chosen for the holy mountain determines, in part, the route suggested. Attempts have been made to identify stopping places mentioned in Num. 33:1-37,11 but the identifications can be no more than conjectures, for biblical descriptions are vague without distinctive landmarks. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, infidels.org <=>]

“The traditional site of Sinai, Jebel Musa, near the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula, has been widely accepted since the fourth and fifth centuries A.D., although there was some confusion over which mountain in the cluster of peaks was Sinai. The traditional route to Jebel Musa begins in Egypt, crosses the Sea of Reeds (identified either at the tip of the Red Sea in the Gulf of Heroonpolis [Gulf of Suez] or as one of the papyrus swamps above the gulf), and goes southward along the western edge of the Sinai peninsula before turning inland to Jebel Musa. From Sinai, the Hebrews would move to the north along the Gulf of Aqabah toward Ezion Geber and Kadesti Barnea.<=>


Canaanites (Asiatic people) from the Egyptian Book of Gates

“Sinai has also been identified as Jebel Helal, located in the northern part of the peninsula. The route to this mountain goes from Egypt across the marshy swamp area and follows the Way of Shur, one of the major trade routes of the ancient world, to Jebel Helal and Kadesh Barnea. Another route to this same mountain goes over the land strip of Lake Sirbonis (which becomes the Sea of Reeds), northward along the Way of the Philistines, the coastal route, then southward to Kadesh Barnea and Jebel Helal.<=>

“Some have insisted that the descriptions in Exod. 19:16 suggest volcanic disturbances and that Sinai must be sought among volcanic mountains, probably those in the Midianite areas on the eastern side of the Gulf of Aqabah. One choice among these mountains is El Khrob which preserves the name Horeb. The Exodus route would then follow the Way of Shur to Kadesh Barnea and Ezion Geber and down the coast to El Khrob. Sinai has also been located in Edomite territory, for Judg. 5:4 and Deut. 33:2 locate the mountain in Seir. Jebel Faran on the west side of the Wadi Arabah has been suggested as a possible choice, and mountains in the Petra area have also been suggested. In this case the Hebrews would have traveled along the Way of Shur, by way of Ezion Geber, into Edomite territory.13<=>

“Although, for the scholar, there are innumerable problems associated with the Exodus tradition, this memorable event became a central factor in the interpretation of the Hebrew faith. Here Yahweh had demonstrated his loyal, redeeming love to the people whom he had chosen as his own. In the darkest days of the Exilic period, the memory of the Exodus event became a source of hope, for it was believed that Yahweh would deliver his people from bondage in Babylon even as he had rescued them from Egypt.”<=>

Problems with Dates and Places Associated with Moses and the Exodus

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “Efforts to determine the date and route of the Exodus have been disappointing. Josephus placed the Exodus at the time of the overthrow of the Hyksos by Ahmose in the sixteenth century, a date that is far too early. Biblical evidence is limited. I Kings 6:1 reports that Solomon began building the temple in the fourth year of his reign, 480 years after the Exodus. Solomon's rule is believed to have begun near the middle of the tenth century, possibly about 960 B.c. Thus, the date of the Exodus would be: 960 minus 4 (4th year of reign) plus 480, or 1436. In that case, Thutmose III would be the pharaoh of the oppression, and his mother, Hatshepsut, might be identified as the rescuer of the infant Moses. The Hebrew invasion of Canaan, taking place forty years later or about 1400 B.C., might be identified with the coming of the 'apiru. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, infidels.org <=>]

“Another theory is based on the reference to the building of Pithom and Raamses in Exod. 1:11. It was noted earlier that both Seti I and Rameses II worked at the rebuilding of these cities, and that Rameses is the best candidate for the Pharaoh of the Exodus (1290-1224 B.C.). If the Exodus took place between 1265 and 1255, the invasion of Canaan would occur in Mernephtah's reign, and some encounter between Egyptians and Hebrews would be the basis for his boast of annihilating Israel.<=>

Merneptah Stela (1250 B.C.): Oldest Description if the Jews in Egypt?


Merneptah Stela

The late-13th-century B.C.Merneptah Stele, now in the Cairo Museum, has long been considered the earliest reference to the Hebrews (ancient Jews) outside of the Bible, the Exodus from Egypt and Settlement of the Jews in the Land of Canaan. According to Biblical Archaeology: “The Merneptah Stele has long been touted as the earliest extrabiblical reference to Israel. The ancient Egyptian inscription dates to about 1205 B.C. and recounts the military conquests of the pharaoh Merneptah. Near the bottom of the hieroglyphic inscription, a people called “Israel” is said to have been wiped out by the conquering pharaoh. This has been used by some experts as evidence of the ethnogenesis of Israel around that time.” [Source: Biblical Archaeology, January 17, 2012]

The Merneptah Stele reads: Live the Horus: Mighty Bull, Who Loves Truth, ... (Ramses 1I).' His majesty commanded the making of a great stela of granite bearing the great name of his fathers, inorder to set up the name of the father of his fathers (and of) the King Men-maat-Re, the Son of Re: Seti Mer-ne-Ptah, (Seti I) and abiding forever like Re every day: Year 400, 4th month of the third season, day 4,' of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt: Seth-the-Great-of-Strength; the Son of Re, his beloved: The-Ombite,* beloved of Re-Har-akhti, so that he exists forever and ever. Now there came the Hereditary Prince; Mayor of the City and Vizier; Fan-Bearer on the Right Hand of the King, Troop Commander; Overseer of Foreign Countries; Overseer of the Fortress of Sile; Chief of Police, Royal Scribe; Master of Horse; Conductor of the Feast of the Ram-the- Lord-of-Mendes; High Priest of Seth; Lector Priest of Uto, She-Whe~Opens- the-Two-Lands; and Overseer of the Prophets of All the Gods, Seti, the triumphant, the son of the Hereditary Prince; Mayor of the City and Vizier; (10) Troop Commander; Overseer of Foreign Countries; Overseer of the Fortress of Sile; Royal Scribe; and Master of Horse, Pa-Ramses (Ramesis I), the triumphant, and child of the Lady of the House and Singer of the Re, Tiu, the triumphant. He said: 'Hail to thee, 0 Seth, Son of Nut, the Great of Strength in the Barque of Millions, felling the enemy at the prow of the barque of Re, great of battle cry... ! Mayest [thou] give me a good lifetime serving [thy] ka, while I remain in [thy favor] ...' while I remain in [thy favor] ...' [Source: "Commerative Stela of family of Ramesis at Tanis" ANET., pp.252-253. web.archive.org]

Hymn of Merneptah:
The princes are prostrate, saying: "Mercy!"
Not one raises his head among the Nine Bows.
Desolation is for Tehenu;
Hatti is pacified;
Plundered is the Canaan with every evil;
Carried off is Ashkelon;
seized upon is Gezer;
Yanoam is made as that which does not exist;
Israel is laid waste, his seed is not;
Hurru is become a widow for Egypt!
All lands together, they are pacified;
[Source: Hymn of Merneptah ANET., pp. 376-378]

Does the Merneptah Stela Indicate the Presence of the Jews and Israel?

“Does the Merneptah Stele Contain the First Mention of Israel? According to an article published in 2012 by Manfred Görg, Peter van der Veen and Christoffer Theis, the name-ring on the right may indeed read “Israel,” and they date it almost 200 years earlier than the reference to Israel on the Merneptah Stele. [Source: Biblical Archaeology, January 17, 2012 ++]


part of the Merneptah Stela that reads "foreign people", taken to mean Israelites


Biblical Archaeology reported that research by Egyptologists and Biblical scholars Manfred Görg, Peter van der Veen and Christoffer Theis suggests that there may be an even earlier reference to Israel in the Egyptian record. Manfred Görg discovered a broken statue pedestal containing hieroglyphic name-rings in the Egyptian Museum of Berlin and, after studying it with colleagues Peter van der Veen and Christoffer Theis, they suggest that one of the name-rings should be read as “Israel.” ++

“Not all scholars agree with their reading because of slight differences in spelling, but Görg, van der Veen and Theis offer strong arguments, including supportive parallels in the Merneptah Stele itself. This newly rediscovered inscription is dated to around 1400 B.C.—about 200 years earlier than the Merneptah Stele. If Görg, van der Veen and Theis are right, their discovery will shed important light on the beginnings of ancient Israel.” ++

Ipuwer Papyrus and Evidence of the Jews in Egypt

The Ipuwer Papyrus (officially Papyrus Leiden I 344 recto) is an ancient Egyptian hieratic papyrus made during the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt, and now held in the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, Netherlands. It contains the Admonitions of Ipuwer, an incomplete literary work whose original composition is dated no earlier than the late Twelfth Dynasty of Egypt (c.1991-1803 BCE). The Ipuwer Papyrus has been dated no earlier than the Nineteenth Dynasty, around 1250 BCE but it is now agreed that the text itself is much older, and dated back to the Middle Kingdom, more precisely the late Twelfth Dynasty. [Source: Wikipedia +]

In the poem, Ipuwer – a name typical of the period 1850-1450 BCE – complains that the world has been turned upside-down: a woman who had not a single box now has furniture, a girl who looked at her face in the water now owns a mirror, while the once-rich man is now in rags. He demands that the Lord of All (a title which can be applied both to the king and to the creator sun-god) should destroy his enemies and remember his religious duties. This is followed by a violent description of disorder: there is no longer any respect for the law and even the king's burial inside the pyramid has been desecrated. The story continues with the description of better days until it abruptly ends due to the missing final part of the papyrus.The Admonitions is considered the world's earliest known treatise on political ethics, suggesting that a good king is one who controls unjust officials, thus carrying out the will of the gods. It is a textual lamentation, close to Sumerian city laments and to Egyptian laments for the dead, using the past (the destruction of Memphis at the end of the Old Kingdom) as a gloomy backdrop to an ideal future.

Ipuwer has often put forward in popular literature as confirmation of the Biblical account in Exodus, most notably because of its statement that "the river is blood" and its frequent references to servants running away, but these arguments ignore the many points on which Ipuwer contradicts Exodus, such as the fact that its Asiatics are arriving in Egypt rather than leaving, and the likelihood that the "river is blood" phrase may refer to the red sediment colouring the Nile during disastrous floods, or may simply be a poetic image of turmoil. +

Report from an Egyptian Frontier Official on Runaway Slaves


Papyrus Anastasi VI

The Report of a Frontier Official on the Papyrus Anastasi (11th century B.C) VI lines 51-61 (the Scribe lnena communicating to his lord, the Scribe of the Treasury Qa-g[abu]): In life, pros-perity, health! This is a letter [to] let [my lord] know: An[other communication to] my lord, to wit: [I] have carried out every commission laid upon me, in good shape and strong as metal. I have not been lax. Another communication to my [lord], to [wit: We] have finished letting the Bedouin tribes of Edom pass the Fortress [of] Mer-ne-Ptah Hotep- hir-Maat--life, prosperity, healthl--which is (in) Tjeku, to the pools of Per- Atum (biblical Pithom according to Gardiner= Tell er-Retabeh) [of] Mer-[ne]- Ptah Hotep-hir-Maat, which are (in) Tjeku, to keep them alive and to keep their cattle alive, through the great ka of Pharaoh --life, prosperity, health !-- the good sun of every land, in the year 8, 5 [intercalary] days, [the Birth of] Seth." I have had them brought in a copy of the report to the [place where] my lord is, as well as the other names of days' when the Fortress of Mer-ne-Ptah Hotep-hir-Maat --life, prosperity, health!--which is (in) [Tj]ek[u], may be passed .... [Source: "The Journal of a Frontier Official" Papyrus Anastasi, James B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts (ANET., pp., 258-259), Princeton, 1969, web.archive.org]

The Pursuit of Runaway Slaves from the Papyrus Anastasi V: 19.2-20.6): The Chief of Bowmen of Tjeku, Ka-Kem-wer, to the Chief of Bowmen Ani and the Chief of Bowmen Bak-en-Ptah: In life, prosperity, health! In the favor of Amon-Re, King of the Gods, and of the ka of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt: User-kheperu-Re Setep-en-Re (Seti II)--life, prosperity, health!--our good lord--life, prosperity, health! I say to (xix 5) the Re-Har-akhti: "Keep Phar-aoh-life, prosperity, health! our good lord--life, prosperity, health!----in health! Let him celebrate millions of jubilees, while we are in his favor daily!"

Another matter, to wit: I was sent forth from the broad-halls of the palace--life, prosperity, health!--in the 3rd month of the third season, day 9, at the time of evening, following after these two slaves. Now when I reached the enclosure-wall of Tjeku on the 3rd month of the third season, day 10, they told [me] they were saying to the south that they had passed by on the 3rd month of the third season, day 10. (xx 1) [Now] when [I] reached the fortress, they told me that the scout had come from the desert [saying that] they had passed the walled place north of the Migdol of Seti Mer-ne-Ptah--life, prosperity,~health !--Beloved like Seth." When my letter reaches you, write to me about all that has happened to [them]. Who found their tracks ? Which watch found their tracks ? What people are after them ? Write to me about all that has happened to them and how many people you send out after them. [May your health] be good!

Nash Papyrus


Fourth Commandment on the Nash Papyrus

The Nash Papyrus is a second-century B.C. fragment containing the text of the Ten Commandments followed by the start of the Shema Yisrael prayer. Prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls it was the oldest known manuscript containing a text from the Hebrew Bible. The manuscript was originally identified as a lectionary used in liturgical contexts, due to the juxtaposition of the Decalogue (probably reflecting a mixed tradition, a composite of Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5) with the Shema prayer (Deuteronomy 6:4-5), and it has been suggested that it is, in fact, from a phylactery (tefillin, used in daily prayer). Purchased from an Egyptian dealer in antiquities in 1902 by Dr Walter Llewellyn Nash and presented to the Library in 1903, the fragment was said to have come from the Fayyum Oasis . [Source: Cambridge University Library]

The Nash Papyrus is written in Hebrew in a pre-Herodian cursive script. Made in the middle of second century B.C. and made from papyrus, it is 140 millimeters long and 60 millimeters wide and in the form of a leaf. It is relatively poor condition. The text is made up of 24 lines, with traces of a 25th. The papyrus is torn, barely legible and has holes and is comprised of four separate pieces fixed together.

According to the Encyclopedia Judaica: The text of the Decalogue accords closely with the Septuagint of Exodus (20:2ff.), and must resemble the Hebrew that underlay the Septuagint translation. The Shema follows (Deut. 6:4–5), including the Septuagint's preliminary to verse 4: "And these are the statutes and the judgments that Moses (so Nash; LXX, "the Lord") commanded [the Israelites] in the wilderness when they left the land of Egypt." The papyrus breaks off after the second letter of verse 5. The combination of the Decalogue and the Shema indicates that the text of the papyrus represents the Torah readings included in the daily morning liturgy of Second Temple times.” [Source: Encyclopedia Judaica: Nash Papyrus]

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons, Schnorr von Carolsfeld Bible in Bildern, 1860

Text Sources: Internet Jewish History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Old Testament Life and Literature” by Gerald A. Larue, King James Version of the Bible, gutenberg.org, New International Version (NIV) of The Bible, biblegateway.com Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL), translated by William Whiston, ccel.org , Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018


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