The Bible tells us that God delivered the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt and led them into the land to the north that He had promised to Abraham centuries earlier. Critics of the Bible have long voiced their skepticism regarding the Exodus account.
One of the objections critics raise has to do with the massive Egyptian military presence that was along the Mediterranean coast route leading up to Canaan. Critics suggest that it would have been impossible for the Israelites to make it past such a force.
Well, they are failing to consider a couple of things. First, earthly armies are no match for God. You may recall what a lone angel did to 185,000 Assyrians in a single evening (2 Kings 19:35). A second fact critics overlook is that the Bible specifically tells us that the Israelites were not led out via the route along the Mediterranean lest they retreat when they saw the soldiers (Exodus 13:17–18). It’s not uncommon for critics to miss or ignore Biblical details and then attack their own misunderstanding.
Another objection critics bring up regarding the Exodus concerns the lack of any Egyptian records mentioning the Israelite’s departure from the land. But a lack of records should not concern us. The Egyptians may have had written record of the Exodus but as British Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen points out, voluminous papyrus archives once stored in Egypt have vanished:
In the sopping wet mud of the Delta, no papyrus ever survives (whether it mentions fleeing Hebrews or not)…In other words, as the official thirteenth-century archives from the East Delta centers are 100 percent lost, we cannot expect to find mentions in them of the Hebrews or anybody else. [K. A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (2006), 466.]
“Well,” the skeptic says, “perhaps no written record survives on papyrus, but surely there should be an inscription on a wall relief that mentions the Exodus.” I disagree. Jeffery Sheler, U. S. News & World Report religion writer, points out:
Official records and inscriptions in the ancient Near East often were written to impress gods and potential enemies, it would be quite surprising to find an account of the destruction of pharaoh’s army immortalized on the walls of an Egyptian temple…Indeed, the absence of direct material evidence of an Israelite sojourn in Egypt is not as surprising, or as damaging to the Bible’s credibility, as it first might seem. [Jeffery Sheler, Is the Bible True? (1999), 78.]
Archaeologist, James Hoffmeier, agrees with Sheler. He says, “Royal inscriptions typically did not record disasters and setbacks experienced by Egypt or its royalty.” Joseph Free adds:
The plagues and the Exodus of Israel were a national calamity and surely would have been carefully avoided in the monumental records. Furthermore, when something was recorded that proved to be uncomplimentary or distasteful to a later regime, it was effaced at the first opportunity. For example, after the Hyksos were expelled [by the Egyptians] their monuments were destroyed. Also, after the death of Hatshepsut, Thutmose III chiseled away the name and representations of this queen. [Joseph Free, Archaeology and Bible History (1992), revised and expanded edition by Howard Vos, 86.]
“Okay,” the skeptic reasons, “perhaps there wouldn’t be an inscription on a wall telling the story of the Exodus, but surely the Israelites would have left behind some pottery in the Sinai desert during their sojourn from Egypt to Canaan.”
Yes, and they may have. But as Paul Maier, Professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan University, points out, “Hardly any archaeology is taking place in the Sinai, and if this changes, evidence of migration may very well be uncovered.” [Paul Maier, “Archaeology: Biblical Ally or Adversary,” The Christian Research Journal, vol. 27, number 2 (2004), http://journal.equip.org/articles/archaeology.]
When it comes to finding evidence for the Exodus (such as pottery in the Sinai desert), it is important to remember that the Israelites lived as nomads during their time in the wilderness. Nomads living in a desert like environment, where every utensil and tool is of great value, leave few traces in the archaeological record. Perishable animal skins used for drinking flasks and shelter make ancient nomadic populations nearly invisible to archaeologists. The Israelites’ temporary tent encampments from 3500 years ago would not have left much behind in the swirling sands of the desert.
You may recall that “the Egyptians urged the people of Israel to get out of the land as quickly as possible” (Exodus 12:33) and that “they were driven out of Egypt and could not wait, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves” (12:39). People being run out of town don’t usually haul their heavy pottery with them.
Now, having acknowledged that the archaeological evidence for the Exodus is scant, and some of the reasons why, it is worth pointing out that there are several other lines of historical evidence that the Exodus took place. Randall Price, an archaeologist who directed archaeological excavations at Qumran, summarizes some of them:
The general outline [of the exodus account] as presented in the biblical account is true to the times…For instance, we can show that the details of Egyptian court life and certain peculiarities in the Hebrew language used to describe such activities indicate that the writer had a firsthand knowledge of an Egyptian setting. We have evidence that foreigners from Canaan entered Egypt, lived there and were sometimes considered troublemakers, and that Egypt oppressed and enslaved a vast foreign workforce during several dynasties. We also have records that slaves escaped, such as the Tale of Sinuhe, and that Egypt suffered from plague-like conditions. [Randall Price, Zondervan Handbook of Biblical Archaeology (2017), 88–89.]
Charles Krahmalkov, Professor Emeritus of Ancient Near Eastern Languages and Literature at the University of Michigan, lays out a case that the stopping places along the route of the Exodus east of the Jordan River (as laid out by Moses in Numbers 33) have now turned up in lists of cities along a similar route on the temple walls at Karnak, Egypt. The Egyptian lists date as far back as the time of Thutmose III (c. 1479–1425 BC). [Charles Krahmalkov, “Exodus Itinerary Confirmed by Egyptian Evidence,” Biblical Archaeology Review 20.5 (1994): 54–62.]
It is also interesting that the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus (c. AD 55–120) said in his work Histories that most of his sources were in agreement that there was an Exodus from Egypt led by a man named “Moses.” [Tacitus, Histories, Book 5, 3–5.]
Exploring these further is outside the scope of this short post. If you’d like to learn more about evidence for the Exodus, I recommend the following books:
• Zondervan Handbook of Biblical Archaeology by Randall Price
• Let My People Go! by Steven Collins
• Patterns of Evidence: Exodus by Timothy Mahoney
For a critique of Ron Wyatt and Bob Cornuke’s claims to have found the real Mount Sinai, I refer you to Gordon Franz’s articles: “Mount Sinai is NOT Jebel al-Lawz in Saudi Arabia,” and “Is Mount Sinai in Saudi Arabia?”
CHARLIE H. CAMPBELL
is an itinerant Christian apologist, the founder of ABR, and the author of several books and videos, some of which include:
• Archaeological Evidence for the Bible
• One-Minute Answers to Skeptics
• Dakota Knox & the Archaeology Thief + Dakota Knox: London, Love, & Terror
• The Bible’s Scientific Accuracy and Foresight
• Scrolls & Stones: Compelling Evidence the Bible Can Be Trusted
• Evidence for God
• The Case for Christianity
• Answering Atheists
• The Case for the Resurrection
• If God is Loving, Why is there Evil and Suffering?
• Homosexuality and the Bible: Answering Objections to the Biblical View
• Teaching and Preaching God’s Word
• Apologetics Quotes
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