Is there evidence of the Exodus from Egypt?
The following article is based on the book A New Approach to the Chronology of Biblical History from Abraham to Samuel and The Biblical Chronologist Volume 2, Number 2. Further details and references can be found there.
A Long Reign
Before the account of the Exodus itself, the Bible tells of the enslavement of the Israelites and the first 80 years of the life of Moses. One remarkable feature of this story is apparent from the following sequence of events:
- A new king comes to power in Egypt who "did not know Joseph." (Exodus 1:8)
- This king orders the death of all newborn Hebrew boys. (Exodus 1:22)
- Moses is born into this regime. (Exodus 2:2)
- Moses is adopted by the Pharaoh's daughter. (Exodus 2:5)
- Moses grows up, murders an Egyptian, and flees the country. (Exodus 2:12,15)
- Moses marries Zipporah and they have a son. (Exodus 2:12,15)
- Eventually, "in the course of those many days", the king of Egypt dies. (Exodus 2:23)
- God meets Moses and sends him to the new Pharaoh. (Exodus 3,4)
- Moses is 80 years old when he stands before the new Pharaoh. (Exodus 7:7)
The Bible indicates that the same Pharaoh whose daughter adopted three-month-old Moses died when Moses was nearly 80 years old! This Pharaoh must have reigned for a very long time.
Only one pharaoh in the history of Egypt can meet this Biblical requirement---Pepy II.
Pepy II is traditionally thought to have governed the country for ninety-four years... (Grimal, page 89.)
Pepy II's Successor
From the Biblical account we would expect the reign of Pepy II's successor to be quite short. This pharaoh had to deal with Moses and the plagues, and the Bible indicates that he drowned in the "Red Sea" with the rest of his army. Grimal makes this mention of the pharaoh who followed Pepy II:
The exceptional longevity of Pepy II resulted not only in the gradual fossilization of the administrative system but also in a succession crisis. The Abydos king-list mentions a Merenre II (also called Antiemdjaf), who seems to have been the son of Pepy II and Queen Neith. This very ephemeral ruler, who reigned for only a single year, would have been married to Queen Nitocris, who according to Manetho was the last Sixth Dynasty ruler. (Grimal, page 89)
So there is a good fit between the secular history of Egypt and the Biblical account with these two pharaohs; an extremely long reign is followed by a very short reign, as required.
The Biblical account of the ten plagues is quite detailed. It describes the pollution of the water supply, and devastation of the livestock and vegetation of the land. The Israelites left, depriving the land of its slave labor, and they carried away much of the land's wealth in the form of silver, gold, and clothing (Exodus 12:36). Also, the army and the Pharaoh were drowned in the "Red Sea," leaving the country with weakened defenses. The Exodus must surely have left a bold signature in Egyptian history. What do the historians find following the reign of Pepy II's successor?
Pepy II's successor was the final Pharaoh of the Old Kingdom of Egypt. Grimal says: "The Old Kingdom ended with a period of great confusion." (page 89). Summarizing an ancient Egyptian literary/historical work called Admonitions, which comments on Egypt following the reign of Pepy II's successor, Grimal says:
It was the collapse of the whole society, and Egypt itself had become a world in turmoil, exposed to the horrors of chaos which was always waiting for the moment when the personification of the divine being - the Pharaoh - neglected his duties or simply disappeared. (Grimal, page 138)
This time period was characterized by famine, an expected result of the plagues described in the book of Exodus. This famine was limited to the Nile valley (Grimal, page 139)---as the Bible's narrative would lead one to expect. There was anarchy and a struggle for political power. Egypt's foreign trade ceased and Egyptian mining in the Sinai peninsula "also seems to have been abandoned" (Grimal, page 139). The nation of Egypt had obviously suffered a severe blow---as one would expect from what the Bible tells us of the events accompanying the Exodus.
The match between the Bible's narrative of the Exodus and the secular history of Egypt at the end of the Old Kingdom might possibly be brushed aside as coincidence were it not for the fact that this match happens at the right date according to modern Biblical chronology.
Dr. Aardsma's chronology places the Exodus 2447+/-12 B.C. The current "standard" chronology of Egypt places the end of the Old Kingdom---when the evidence discussed above says the Exodus happened---around 2200 B.C. The difference of 247 years between these two dates is close enough for such ancient times to regard the dates as the same. Uncertainties of a few hundred years in historical/archaeological chronologies are normal at such early times in the history of civilization. Nicholas Grimal notes that "The chronological span of the First Intermediate Period [which must be known to date events in the Old Kingdom accurately] is also a problem." Haas et al. have suggested, based on an extensive suite of radiocarbon dates (totally independent of Dr. Aardsma's work), that the First Intermediate Period should be lengthened by about 260 years. This would push the secular date for the end of the Old Kingdom back to around 2460 B.C., indistinguishable from Dr. Aardsma's Biblical date of 2447+/-12 B.C. for the Exodus. Pottery analysis in the Sinai Peninsula by E. D. Oren and Y. Yekuteli is also supportive of this adjustment.
Thus the qualitative match between the Bible's narrative of the Exodus and the secular history of Egypt at the end of the Old Kingdom is supported by quantitative chronology.
Evidence for the Exodus from Egypt is plentiful---as long as one has their Biblical chronology right, and thus knows to examine Egypt's history around 2450 B.C., rather than around the traditional 1450 B.C.
- Grimal, Nicolas A History of Ancient Egypt Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers Inc., 1993.
Photo Credit: Thanks to Mark James Foster for permission to use his photograph of Pepy II's Pyramid.
The foregoing article was based on the book A New Approach to the Chronology of Biblical History from Abraham to Samuel and The Biblical Chronologist Volume 2, Number 2. Further details and references can be found there.