Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Exploring the Exodus

1. Over at Debunking Christianity, apostate atheist Hector Avalos has a long review of Patterns of Evidence. I won't have much to say in response to Avalos, since his post is not a direct attack on the Exodus itself, but on a film about the Exodus. At the end of this post I will comment on one of his statements. 

I haven't seen Patterns of Evidence. But from what I've read about it, I'm concerned that the film seems to be predicated on a false premise: 

The operating assumption is that if the Exodus was a real event, there ought to be hard evidence for that event. And from reviews I've read, the film's solution is that scholars are looking for evidence within the wrong period. 

Assuming that's accurate, it's a misguided way to frame the issue. The "Exodus" is, itself, something of an umbrella term for (A) the period in which Israelites were slaves in Egypt, followed by (B) their miraculous deliverance from Egypt, followed by (C) their "40" year sojourn in the Sinai desert, followed by (D) the "Conquest" of Israel. 

2. We need to begin with a realistic understanding of what kind of physical evidence we'd expect to be available at this late date. As Edwin Yamauchi noted, in The Stones and the Scripture:

• Only a fraction of the world’s archaeological evidence still survives in the ground.

• Only a fraction of the possible archaeological sites have been discovered.

• Only a fraction have been excavated, and those only partially.

• Only a fraction of those partial excavations have been thoroughly examined and published.

• Only a fraction of what has been examined and published has anything to do with the claims of the Bible!

3. Regarding A-B:

i) Genesis and Exodus never name the Pharaohs who interacted with Moses and Joseph. That, itself, limits our ability to date the chain of events. We don't even know whose royal records to consult, assuming they're available. We don't know which Pharaonic tomb to look into. That tomb may not have been discovered or excavated.

ii) Even if we knew where to look, Pharaonic tombs don't broadcast the domestic and foreign policy failures of the establishment. 

iii) The Israelites resided in the Nile Delta. By definition, that's a flood zone. Do we really think their mud huts will survival millennia of erosion? 

4. Regarding C:

i)  The Sinai desert is about the size of West Virginia. 

ii) What physical evidence we'd expect to survive depends, in part, on the number of Israelites. Estimates vary. In his commentary, I think Douglas Stuart reasonably estimates their number at 28,800-36,000 (p302). 

iii) They only resided in the Sinai for a period of about 40 years, during the 2nd millennium BC.  

iv) They didn't settle down. Didn't build fortified cities with stone walls, houses, and public facilities. Rather, they were nomads, living in tents and moving from place to place. 

v) Even if they had some hard artifacts, like metal tools, they'd take that with them into the Promised Land rather than leaving it behind. 

vi) Moreover, they were hardly the only people-group to trek through the Sinai. Even if they did leave behind trace evidence, how would we be able to distinguish that from other nomadic groups in the Sinai, like the Bedouin? (I don't necessarily mean there were Bedouin at that time and place, but groups like the Bedouin.) 

5. Regarding D: 

i) Attacks on the historicity of the Conquest are typically based on misreading what Joshua and Judges actually claim. As one commentator notes:

The fact is that the book of Joshua does not claim that the Israelites caused widespread destruction of cities; in fact, it explicitly denies this (Josh 11:13). Joshua speaks of cities being taken and people (especially kings) being killed, but "only three cities–Jericho, Ai, and Hazor–are said to have been burned" (Josh 6:24; 8:28; 11:11,13). Furthermore, some areas seem to have been taken by something more like accommodation (or interpretation) than conquest (e.g., Gideon, Josh 9; Shechem, Josh 24:1,25; Gen 34). Finally, there is abundant evidence in the biblical record, especially in Judges, of Israelites intermarrying with Canaanites and worshipping their gods…It should hardly surprise us, therefore, if in the material remains of the period Israelites are virtually indistinguishable from Canaanites. B. Webb, The Book of Judges (Eerdmans 2012), 10. 

ii) Avalos says:

Mahoney never addresses the seemingly blatant contradiction that Jabin and Hazor are supposed to have been exterminated completely in Joshua 11:1, 10, and yet there is Jabin king of Hazor AFTER the death of Joshua (See Judges 1:1) in Judges 4:2. 
Apologists have attempted to explain this away by saying that there were two different Jabins. However, Judges has at least one other instance where it simply repeats a story from Joshua (compare Judges 1:11-15 with Joshua 15:15-19)
Therefore, editorial problems probably better explain the occurrence of Jabin in Judges 4. Otherwise, one would have to suppose that after a complete destruction of both city and people, Hazor rose again within a few years, and installed another king Jabin. The archaeological evidence is certainly lacking for that.

iii) But as one scholar notes:

The appearance in Joshua-Judges of two kings with the name Jabin is no more a "doublet" than two Niqmads (II and III) and two Ammishtamrus (I and II) in Ugarit, or two Suppiluliumas (I and II), two Mursils (II and III), and two Tudkhalias III and IV) of the Hittites, or two pharaohs (Amenophis (III and IV), Sethos (I and II), and Ramesses (I and II) in Egypt–all these in the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries. K. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans 2003), 184-85. 

As another scholar notes:

Jabin was probably a royal title (like "Pharaoh" for the kings of Egypt). Joshua had defeated another "Jabin" at Hazor almost one hundred years earlier (Josh 11:1-11). Verses 23-24 probably refer to the final destruction of a resurgent Hazor in the thirteenth century, as attested (on at least one reading of the data) by the archeological remains there. B. Webb, ibid., 180.

iv) Notice that this isn't "within a few years," but about a century later. A lot can happen in a century. 

In addition, there's a reason why some sites were settled in the first place. They may have access to fresh water for drinking, fishing, or irrigation. They may be located along trade routes. 

That means that even when a site is destroyed by invaders, it remains an appealing location, for all the reasons that made it a magnet for the original settlers. So it's not surprising that it will be repopulated at a later date. Prime real estate is always desirable.  


  1. Unless he repents Avalos will have a lot of time to ponder these matters in hell. Pretty sad way to spend your life on this side of eternity, much less on the other side.

    It's amazing to see people who hate God so much.

  2. This not about the film, but about the maps of Exodus.
    Something I have wondered for a long time - Why do maps of the Exodus in the back or front of our Bibles or in Bible Atlas' (google Exodus Map) show the crossing over dry land?

    If we don't know where they crossed, why not just extend it down and show a clear crossing through water that would be consistent with "the waters stood up like a wall on the left and the right" (Exodus 14:22)

    I saw one map that has them doing down much farther and crossing a larger part of the water below the Sinai penninsula into what is today Saudi Arabia. (some have postulated that, I am aware)

    But most maps don't even attempt at showing a water crossing - most look like they are crossing over dry land. What gives?

  3. An interesting map showing the Exodus crossing way down below Sinai penninsula and into what is today Saudi Arabia.