Monday, June 12, 2017

Did I not bring Israel out of Egypt?

I was recently reading this book: "Did I Not Bring Israel Out of Egypt?" • Biblical, Archaeological, and Egyptological Perspectives on the Exodus Narratives. Edited by James K. Hoffmeier, Alan R. Millard, and Gary A. Rendsburg. Bulletin for Biblical Research Supplement - BBRSup 13 (Eisenbrauns, 2016). 

Here's the table of contents:

Part 1 Egyptology and Linguistic Matters
1. Egyptian Religious Influences on the Early Hebrews
James K. Hoffmeier

2. Onomastics of the Exodus Generation in the Book of Exodus
Richard S. Hess

3. Egyptian Loanwords as Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus and Wilderness Traditions
Benjamin J. Noonan

4. The Significance of the Horns (qrn) of Exodus 27:2: The Egyptian (tst) and Levantine Four-Horned Altars
David Falk

Part 2 Exodus in the Pentateuch/Torah

5. The Practices of the Land of Egypt (Leviticus 18:3): Incest, 'Anat, and Israel in the Egypt of Ramesses the Great
Richard C. Steiner

6. The Kadesh Inscriptions of Ramesses II and the Exodus Sea Account (Exodus 13:17–15:19)
Joshua Berman

7. The Literary Unity of the Exodus Narrative
Gary A. Rendsburg

8. Moses, the Tongue-Tied Singer!
Alan Millard

9. The Egyptian Sojourn and Deliverance from Slavery in the Framing and Shaping of the Mosaic Law
Richard E. Averbeck

10. "Tell Your Children and Grandchildren!" The Exodus as Cultural Memory
Jens Bruun Kofoed

Part 3 Exodus, the Wilderness Period, and Archaeology

11. Recent Developments in Understanding the Origins of the Arameans: Possible Contributions and Implications for Understanding Israelite Origins
K. Lawson Younger Jr.

12. Exodus on the Ground: The Elusive Signature of Nomads in Sinai
Thomas W. Davis

Part 4 Exodus in the Hebrew Prophets

13. "I Am Yahweh Your God from the Land of Egypt": Hosea's Use of the Exodus Traditions
Jerry Hwang

14. Some Observations on the Exodus and Wilderness Wandering Traditions in the Books of Amos and Micah
J. Andrew Dearman

Attacks on the historicity of the Exodus fail to make allowance for the kinds of evidence we can reasonably expect to survive and find from that time and place. The monograph is a state-of-the-art defense of the historicity of the Exodus. It originated in a 2014 symposium. In addition, some chapters are contributed by scholars who didn't participate in the symposium. I'm going to quote from some chapters in the book. This is just a sampler. I will primarily quote their conclusions, rather than the detailed supporting material they provide. For that you need to read the book!


Language, hairstyles and dress, clear ethnic markers, do not leave an archaeological footprint, unless texts and iconography preserve such information. In Egypt and during certain periods in Mesopotamia, such material has survived in abidance. When it comes to early Israel (i.e., the period from the exodus until settlement in Canaan), direct archaeological evidence is lacking to illustrate Williams's view that "Israel was always conscious of her ties with Egypt, and the traditions of her sojourn there were indelibly impressed on her religious literature." While this observation is true, the biblical data supporting the Egypt sojourn and exodus traditions are overwhelming, and as we shall see in this study, the indirect evidence from Egypt does indeed support his contention. 

Meek's nearly 80-year-old theory that the presence of Egyptian names among the Levites was surely evidence of their sojourn in Egypt has now been substantiated further. More-careful analysis of additional names of some Levites and other Egyptian theophoric names among the Hebrews further supports this view. I have also argued that the theophoric names along with Egyptian terms among the priest's regalia and the word "censer" in Num 16 all point to the influences of Egyptian religion on the Hebrews. Space prevents me from laying out the Egyptian background to the tabernacle and Egyptian words associated with various utensils of the tent-shrine (5,34). [He supplies references in a footnote]

All of the well-known names and those names found in category I have attestations of their roots or elements in West Semitic or Egyptian personal names of the second and first millennia BC. None is attested only in the first millennium BC, and thus there is none that can be used to support the argument for the narrative's being a fictional account written by scribes in the middle of the first millennium BC…It would be remarkable if scribes writing much later had not placed among 40 names some that were unique to their later period and not attested in the second millennium BC. 

However, the two names in the third category, Puah and Hebron, are attested only among West Semitic personal names that occur in the second millennium BC. Thus, it remains to be explained how roots that have no clear attestation in West Semitic personal names of the first millennium BC would have been used to invent early Israelite personal names. Add to this the Gt form of Ithamar, whose verbal stem is not attested in Israelite personal names in the first millennium BC but is present in the second millennium BC. The cumulative evidence points to authentic personal names from the Late Bronze Age of the West Semitic world (47-48).

Three salient points emerge from the above discussion. First, the exodus and wilderness traditions contain significantly higher proportions of Egyptian terminology than the rest of the Hebrew Bible, proportions comparable to the high proportions of Old Iranian terminology of the books of Esther and Ezra-Nehamiah that reflect foreign influence. Second, the exodus and wilderness traditions contain significantly higher proportions of Egyptian terminology than other Northwest Semitic texts, with the exception of Imperial Aramaic texts that exhibit intense Egyptian contact. Third, at least some of the Egyptian loanwords found in the exodus and wilderness narratives were borrowed during the Late Bronze age, and it is likely that many of the other loanwords also were borrowed them.

Perhaps the Egyptian loanwords in the exodus and wilderness narratives were borrowed during the Late Bronze Age but were borrowed into Late Bronze Age Canaanite and subsequently passed into Hebrew without any historical contact such as describe in the narratives…Nevertheless, while this explains the existence of these loanwords in Hebrew, it does not adequately explain the high concentration of Egyptian terminology in the exodus and wilderness narratives.

We must consider whether someone writing after the fact would be capable of such literary creation. Modern authors, after all, do write historical fiction. As any author who has ever done so knows, however, writing historical fiction takes extensive historical research. One must carefully research the society and culture of the era in which the narrative was set, which takes not only time and effort but access to resources that describe that era. It seems unlikely that the ancient Israelites would have been able to research the level of detail that the exodus and wilderness narratives display, particularly with respect to its loanwords. The vast majority of Egyptian loanwords in the exodus and wilderness narratives relate to particular aspects of material culture, including terms for specific pieces of clothing, minerals, and plants. Such technical vocabulary presumably would be hard to come by without research, assuming that resources for such research was even available. In any case, why would a late writer go through the effort of researching such mundane details, trying to make his account look authentic, especially when his audience probably would not even know the difference? 

There is a simpler, more logical explanation of the data. Just as one concludes that the sudden increase in French loanwords in the English language ca. AD 1050-1400 reflects some particular circumstances in history, so one should conclude that a high concentration of Egyptian loanwords in the exodus and wilderness traditions reflects some particular historical circumstance (65-67).

It is instructive to compare the list of Ramesses's marriages with the list of forbidden unions in Lev 18. Ramesses II married his sister, Henut-mi-re (Lev 18:9), and at least three of his daughters, Bint-Anat, Meryet-Amun, and Nebt-tawy (Lev 18:6 and/or 18:10). According to Kitchen, at least one of these father-daughter unions was consummated, for Bint-Anat's tomb bears a depiction of the daughter born to her union with Ramesses. Moreover, the king married Bint-Anat while he was married to Istnofret, her mother (Lev 18:17). After the death of Ramesses, Bint-Anat was involved in another incestuous union–this time with Ramesses's successor, her brother, Merenptah. In other words, Merenptah (identified as the Pharaoh of the Exodus by many early scholars) married a woman who was both his sister (Lev 18:9) and the wife of his father (Lev 18:8).

Is it mere coincidence that a princess named after a Canaanite goddess Anat was cast as the queen of incest in this pharaonic family drama? If it turns out that the incestuous embraces of Ramesses and his daughter Bint-Anat are somehow connected to his embrace of the Canaanite goodness Anat, juxtaposition of Egypt and Canaan in Lev 18:3 will take on a new and deeper meaning. 

What, then, does Lev 18:3 mean when it characterizes incestuous sexual unions as "the practices of the land of Egypt?" In my view, the answer is that this characterization does not refer to the practices of all strata of Egyptian society in every period. It refers, rather, to the consanguineous couplings of Ramesses II and his children. It is true that similar unions–usually brother-sister marriages and often assumed to involve half-siblings–occurred occasionally in other pharaonic families, but Ramesses went far beyond his predecessors and successors in his pursuit of them. No other pharaoh engaged in so many incestuous practices that Lev 18 prohibits…Even the name of Bint-Ana, the leading lady in this Ramesside sexual saga, was preserved by Israelites–albeit in a Judaized form and attached to a later Ramesside princess (1 Chr 4:18). 

Why would the incestuous unions in the family of Ramesses II be a matter of common knowledge among the Israelites? Why would the Israelites be expected to know so much about the marriages of this particular pharaoh and his oldest daughter? To my mind, the most straightforward answer is that the Israelites were in Egypt during Ramesses's reign. Many of them-especially if they worked in Ramesses's new residential capital–would have heard the title "Kign's Daughter and Royal Wife" used with reference to at least three of Ramesses's daughters…This is particularly true of Bint-Anat, who would have appeared alongside the king on public occasions during her reign as Chief Queen. As for the king's special relationship with the Canaanite goddess Anat, anyone working in Pi-Ramesses would have been aware of that as well, since Anat "evidently even possessed in Pi-Ramsses a remarkable temple complex, in which two groups of statues, of Anat and Ramses, were found". One of the groups is thought to have been displayed outside the temple, in front of the pylon. (86,90-91).

If indeed, the Exodus Sea account [Exod 13:17-15:19] was composed with an awareness of the [Egyptian] Kadesh Poem, then could the Poem have been introduced into Israelite culture?…The latest copies of the Kadesh poem in our possession are from the Nineteenth Dynasty…The battle of Kadesh is without question the most extensively advertised event of ancient Near Eastern history…During the Nineteenth Dynasty we find a vast increase in the remains of Egyptian buildings, civil and military, within Canaan. We have found more inscriptions and statuary surviving from this era than from all previous Egyptian dynasties combined…The [Kadesh] poem may have reached Israelite or proto-Israelite scribes who were living under the rule of the Egyptian pharaohs of the Nineteenth Dynasty. Such a hypothesis would accord with the well-accepted claims that the language and poetic style of the Song of the Sea [Exod 13-15] strongly resemble those of Canannite poetry from the Late Bronze Age as well (110-112).

While very often ancient Near Eastern scholars divide the ancient population into the sedentary and nomadic categories…there was in antiquity a third category: "displaced persons"…"exiles and deportees"…people living on the fringe to escape the constraints–especially corvée labour and taxation–imposed on sedentary settlements. Some of these functioned as armed bands of outlaws and brigands; others adapted as best they could. 

It is quite an irony that in the very decades when many theorists have opted for an immobilist model of explanation for the origins of the Arameans and the origins of the Israelites, some of the greatest migrations in human history have been happening! There is not a single ethnic marker in the archaeological material cultural record for the Arameans. Not one! This also is the case with the Amorite's entry and appearance in Babylon…The evidence concerning the emergence of the Arameans is almost entirely textual. Archaeology sheds light on the first Aramean states, but is of little help to understand the settlement process of a people that is commonly recognized as nomadic in origin. No early Aramean site has been identified in the Upper Euphrates area, no regional survey has identified changes in the site distribution and settlement patterns that could reflect the irruption new social groups.

What is clear is that the Arameans were West Semites who were highly adaptable to their various environments. They acculturated within the different regions where they appear in the textual records…Expectations for ethnic markers in the archaeological record are faulty since, as with the Arameans, the Israelites appear to have adopted the material culture in Canaan…They were West Semites who acculturated (214-15,221-222). 

The exodus story is a foundational event in the Hebrew Bible, yet no direct evidence has yet been uncovered to ground the tale in historical/physical space. This absence of evidence is often interpreted as a direct challenge to the historicity of the biblical account. However, the formation processes that affect archaeological data in remote desert environments such as Sinai, and the nature of the archaeological signature of a migratory group force a reassessment of this negative conclusion.

According to the biblical text, the Israelites set up temporary encampments, living in their "their tents" (e.g. Num 1:52). We should understand the Israelites as a mobile group whose marching camps were near water sources and were organized in a military fashion. It would be an incorrect application of this interpretive model of the text if we expected to find the archaeological signature of permanent settlements, such as houses and settlement fortifications…Although direct evidence of the exodus is lacking, the world that forms the backdrop for the divine action record in the biblical texts reflects the current scholarly constructs of the physical and cultural realities of Egypt and Canaan at the end of the Bronze Age.

Albright argued long ago that nomads do not leave archaeological footprints…groups that migrate in search of foot, water, good pasture–do not leave traceable remains…Sites understood to be the signature of nomadic groups in their own space are generally lithic/ceramic scatters with occasional hearths or other site furniture in both old world and new world contexts. Such sites will be small, sometimes 10-20 meters, with few sherds or lithic artifacts. For Late Bronze Age sites in the Sinai, pottery is the main diachronic indicator. However, ceramic vessels are not a hallmark of nomadic groups. Waterskins are much more practical, as documented in ethnographic literature…Watercourses, although they are only periodically active, can deposit a great amount of silt after an intensive storm, effectively burying evidence of short-term occupation. An additional problem when archaeologists are trying to isolate nomadic sites is wind-generated deflation, which creates a "desert pavement" of artifacts, destroying diachronic space. On deflated sites, separating out a specific occupation and isolating it diachronically can become almost impossible. Therefore, finding direct evidence of a single-use campsite of a nomadic group that can be dated in isolation in the Sinai is a totally unrealistic expectation. This severely limits the potential to discover the archaeological signature of the Hebrew sojourn (223-226).


  1. The book looks like it will be a helpful resource.

    I agree that we shouldn't expect to find archeological evidence of Israel's 40 years of wandering in the Sinai and/or Arabian deserts. As your citation notes, nomadic peoples tend to not leave much, if any, durable artifacts behind. Aside from the destruction of watercourses, desert sands tend to bury things. And there are political obstacles, perhaps insuperable at this time, to conducting archeological digs in Saudi Arabia anyway. Egypt is no picnic these days, either, ever since the events of the "Arab Spring" and the rise of an ISIS franchise in Egypt. Given all this, how much force can one give to these arguments from the silence of the archeological record?

    However, I don't think we should despair of finding evidence of Israel's presence in Egypt prior to this. Doug Petrovich and Bryant Wood are the guys to keep an eye on in the next few years.

    1. I think one ambiguity is that when critics say there's no evidence for the exodus, they are using the "exodus" as an umbrella term for events in Egypt leading up to the exodus proper, the "40-year" sojourn in Sinai, as well as the conquest and occupation of Canaan. But these all present different textual and evidential issues.