Correspondence: New Stele Mentioning Israel
January 2, 2012
Dear Dr. Aardsma,
I just received the January/February issue of Biblical Archaeology Review in the mail, and it contains an intriguing article entitled "When Did Ancient Israel Begin?" by the editor, Hershel Shanks. I decided to email you about this because it provides possible evidence for an Exodus/Conquest in the third millenium B.C.
The article explains that a new (to us) Egyptian hieroglyphic inscription has turned up that several Egyptologists from the University of Heidelberg believe mentions Israel. There is some question about this identification because the hieroglyph for "sh" appears in the name, rather than the hieroglyph for "s". However, it is difficult to imagine another entity that would fit this name, so it probably is a variant spelling for Israel. But the amazing thing is the date that paleography assigns to this inscription. Although there is some uncertainty, it seems that the inscription dates to about 1400 B.C. --- in other words, the time frame for the conquest of Canaan, according to the 15th century Exodus theory. And yet the inscription seems to mention Israel, not as a nomadic people, but as a settled entity within Palestine, much as the later Merneptah Stele does.
Of course, Hershel Shanks cites the views of liberal scholars that there may have been multiple entries into Canaan by different tribes, starting in the 16th century B.C. He even suggests that the expulsion of the Hyksos from Egypt might have constituted part of the Exodus. However, he concludes his article by saying, "Nothing conclusive here, but much food for thought." I must agree with that assessment. But one thing is certain. If this inscription is from the 15th century B.C. and if it actually mentions Israel as a settled entity in Canaan, it falsifies both the 13th and 15th century Exodus/Conquest theories. Of course, it can be interpreted along the lines of multiple entries into Canaan by different tribes. But it also dovetails nicely with your theory of an Exodus/Conquest in the 25th century B.C., which would also postulate a settled Israel in the 15th century B.C.
Clearly, this inscription is not "smoking gun" evidence in favor of an Exodus/Conquest in the 25th century, as it probably pertains to a period about a thousand years later. But as Hershel Shanks states, it does provide much food for thought. And if a second millennium Exodus/Conquest is ruled out, the only conservative, Bible-honoring option that remains is a third millennium Exodus/Conquest.
Thank you for bringing to my attention Hershel Shanks' most recent article, which I have now read. It adds yet another piece of evidence, this time inscriptional, in support of the 2450 B.C. Exodus date, as you observe. It dovetails nicely, in this regard, with the long-known references to the "Habiru", present in written sources back into the end of the 3rd millennium B.C. (See my A New Approach... p. 97, and BC22, p. 8.)
One can only wonder how long the Biblical Archaeology community, both liberals and conservatives, will be able to continue to ignore my missing millennium thesis, as Hershel has done in this latest article. This despite publication, well over a decade ago, of the missing millennium hypothesis in Radiocarbon, a scholarly journal devoted to chronological issues. [G.E. Aardsma, "Evidence for a Lost Millennium in Biblical Chronology" Radiocarbon 37, No. 2 (1995): 267--273; Proceedings of the 15th International 14-C Conference, edited by G.T. Cook, D.D. Harkness, B.F. Miller and E.M. Scott.]
Why do you suppose this particular scholarly community is so seemingly incapable of objective scientific methodology on this issue? There is certainly nothing intrinsically difficult to grasp about the hypothesis that a digit got accidentally dropped off a biblical chronology number vital to calculating the date of the Exodus. And if the hypothesis exists, as it does, and if it is corroborated by a great body of biblical, historical, and archaeological evidence, as it is, why can it not even be mentioned alongside other hypotheses, as part of the "food for thought"? Isn't formulating hypotheses, no matter how seemingly radical those hypotheses may appear at first sight, and then evaluating them relative to available evidence, what the business of science is fundamentally all about? And isn't Hershel's title, "When Did Ancient Israel Begin?", (my emphasis) clearly in the realm of chronology? So shouldn't a published hypothesis about the chronology of ancient Israel and it's Exodus from Egypt receive at least a passing mention in such an article?
With much appreciation,
P.S. Bob, I've taken the liberty to copy our correspondence to BAR (firstname.lastname@example.org). Hershel, we welcome your thoughts on this.
Dear Dr. Aardsma,
I hope that Hershel Shanks at least publishes your thoughts in "Queries and Comments." So many odd and even ridiculous ideas get published in the correspondence section of BAR that Hershel owes you that much.
I think people have trouble with your hypothesis because it sounds so radical at first. I admit that when I first heard it, I thought it was crackpot. After all, everyone who is at all acquainted with the Old Testament "knows" that Abraham lived around 2000 BC. To move him back to 3000 BC, and to move the Exodus to 2450 BC, seems so bizarre. It's almost like moving Christ back a thousand years. Also, I think you face a major hurdle because your 2450 BC date is so original with you. People reason that just one man could not be right when virtually no other scholar has come to this conclusion. But you have marshaled formidable evidence in favor of your view, and in light of that, I really think you are correct --- in spite of the fact that you are pretty much out on a limb by yourself. Sometimes a novel approach proves to be the right one because a researcher looks at data from a new angle, rather than being influenced by others, and that is what I think you have done.
I want you to know that at least a few scholars are listening and pondering what you have said. A few years ago, I sent a copy of your New Approach... book to Dr. Greg King, who at the time was professor of Old Testament at Pacific Union College. Dr. King took the time to read your book, and although he was not 100% committal, he stated that your proposal has considerable merit. I hope others will read your books also.
May God bless you in the new year.