Now it’s time to deal with the elephant in the room. Is the history of Israel and Christianity based on a gigantic lie? Did Jesus and the New Testament writers get it wrong because they accepted the testimony of Moses and Israel’s Exodus? Deliverance from bondage in Egypt is the very heart of Israel’s story as a people.
We’ve already looked at the biased nature of historiography in part two. Now we need to look at the nature of archeology and see how that affects our understanding of the Old Testament.
The nature of archeology
Archeology, like historiography, is always biased. The rocks, bones, and pottery do not speak. Someone has to interpret and then extrapolate a theory from the interpretation. This is why we first must understand that archeology, by itself, cannot prove or disprove history. Sir Allen Gardiner, one of the most influential 20th Century Egyptologists, said this about archeology’s limitations:
“It must never be forgotten that we are dealing with civilization thousands of years old and one of which only tiny remnants have survived. What we proudly advertised as Egyptian history is merely a collection of rags and tatters.” (Egypt of the Pharaohs)
The rocks aren’t crying out
Archeologist Kathleen Kenyon worked on the ruins of Jericho in the early 1950s and discovered that the city had indeed been destroyed, but it was too early to be Joshua’s Canaanite invasion. Kenyon expected the evidence to be found in the 13th century, when the conventional chronology puts Joshua’s invasion, but she found there would not have been a city at all during this time. From this discovery, a wave of new skepticism started to sweep across the field of archeology.
Today, leading Israeli archeologists like Israel Finkelstein and even Rabbis like Rabbi David Wolpe say there’s no evidence for Israel’s exodus from Egypt. You might’ve seen documentaries like Nova’s “The Bible’s Buried Secrets” that reflects this modern archeological skepticism.
Understand that the whole argument for there being no archeological evidence is based on the traditional chronology of the Exodus. What’s ironic is that Egyptology was started by Christians in order to properly date Bible history; now it’s being used to erase Bible history.
The rocks regain their voice!
The Exodus is traditionally placed during the reign of Rameses II (1279-1213 BC). But is this true? And if it actually happened long before Rameses, then it means that the chronology Egyptologists and skeptics have been working with for the last 50 years is all wrong. And we can make this case for three very good reasons.
First, a statue was found in 1896 from the reign of Rameses’ son, Merneptah, that mentions Israel called the “Merneptah Stele.” This Stele describes Israel being defeated by Merneptah which dates to 1208 BC. But that means Israel would’ve already had to have been an established nation-state in Canaan by then (post-Canaan conquest).
Second, there’s The Berlin Statue Pedestal, acquired in 1913 by Ludwig Borchardt from an Egyptian merchant. This tablet has the inscriptions of three tribes (Ashkelon, Canaan, Israel) which scholars say refers to either the time of Amenhotep II (ca. 1453–1419 BC) or Amenhotep III (ca. 1386–1349 BC). Either way, this would make the conventional dating for Israel impossible.
The third reason is based on a possible misunderstanding of the Bible text itself. We assume the Bible says it was Rameses who let Israel go. We’ve all seen The Ten Commandments with Yul Brynner as Rameses, right? It must be so!
Well actually, no…it just seems so. Let’s look at the text:
11 So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. (Exod. 1:11 *)
But Rohl believes this was an anachronistic update by a later scribe. And he has a point. We also see a Rameses reference with regard to Jacob coming to live in Egypt with Joseph.
11 So Joseph settled his father and his brothers in Egypt and gave them property in the best part of the land, the district of Rameses, as Pharaoh directed. (Gen.47:11 *)
Obviously, Joseph predates Rameses by several hundred years so it could not literally mean the Rameses District but referencing a well-known location at the time it was written. This is typical of ancient Semitic writing. It would be like us saying “Iran” when talking about ancient Persia.
The fact is, there’s been a city discovered that’s buried under Rameses called Avaris (Tell el-Dab’a). Egyptologist Manfred Bietak has been digging in this site for the last 30 years. Avaris was populated by people who originated from Canaan, Syria-Palestine. This is the only such Semite settlement in Egypt during either period, so why could it not be the Israelites?
And when we use Avaris as the starting point, the Exodus story lines up almost perfectly.
A 2014 documentary film directed by Tim Mahoney called, “Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus” makes a strong case for this theory. What Mahoney believes he has documented is perhaps archeology’s best kept secret, that Egyptologists might’ve gotten their chronology wrong (by several hundred years). Even if this is new chronology is correct, mainstream archeologists will naturally be averse to even considering it since it could unravel a lot of their assumptions over the last 50 years.
This is just the beginning and the ramifications are huge! Rohl is not alone in this assertion as the debate over Egypt’s chronology is heating up in scholarly circles. I believe we’ll see some amazing confirmations for the Exodus story in the next 50 years.
Unfortunately, I cannot show the whole documentary so I will just show the trailer. If you want to investigate this further, I suggest you rent or buy the video on YouTube or get the DVD here. It’s an excellent documentary and well worth the expenditure.
UPDATE 08/30/17: If you have Netflix you can watch the documentary here.