There are many gaps in the long history of Egypt; some of them intentional, since they didn’t use to register their defeats.
But in any case, it is true that in the period commonly attributed to Moses there is nothing that matches the Exodus narrative. If we stick to that period.
Let me explain
- In the times of the powerful pharaoh Amenemhat III (12th dynasty), a group of Asiatic people settled in the Delta, with centre in Tell el-Daba. For years, they used Canaanite ceramic and raised Asiatic long-haired sheep; so, it seems their economy was based on shepherding. Also, a good amount of weaponry has been found in their tombs.
- Years later, pharaohs became weaker and weaker, so it is not farfetched to imagine that those pharaohs might get wary of those thriving and belligerent Asiatic people in the Delta. As a matter of fact, in that period, something rather shocking happened in the Delta. In those times, infant mortality was high: between 20% and 30% of burials were of children younger than 18 months; but in this period, the amount of little boys dead rocketed to 65%. We don’t know the reason.
- At the same time, the papyrus Brooklyn 35:1446 records a decree by pharaoh Sobekhotep III (13th dynasty) for a transfer of 95 slaves; half of them have Semite names (Menahem, Issachar, Asher, Shiphrah, etc.). In this period there was no military campaign in Canaan, so where did those Asiatic slaves came from? Also, the number of female slaves is much higher than male slaves, by 3 to 1. Would this have anything to do with the high number of little boys dead and buried in the area of the Delta?
At face value, all this seems to fit with the narrative in Genesis and Exodus:
- In the times of a powerful pharaoh, Jacob’s clan (and their Asiatic sheep) moves from Canaan and settles in the Delta.
- A later pharaoh becomes paranoid and decides to enslave this Asiatic people
- and also to kill a good number of male babies.
But, alas, most modern scholars place the Bible narrative over 200 years after the times of Amenemhat III or Sobekhotep III.
The last pharaoh of this 13th dynasty was likely Dedumes or Dudimose. I say likely, because this period is a bit chaotic and we know relatively little about it and about this pharaoh.
There is a stele by Dudimose that mentions the military official Khonsuemwaset, who was also his son. This stele is interesting for two reasons.
- One, that, since Dudimose apparently died with no heir, his son must have died before him.
- And two, that the pharaoh’s son is depicted with gloves, an element that in Egypt was an indication that the person was the commander of the cavalry; this is evidence that there were horses and chariots in Egypt before the Hyksos. But, for some reason, its use didn’t become widespread until years later.
There is an Egyptian work of literature called Admonitions of Ipuwer that most historians date around this period. If so, it may indicate that, for some reason, the end of this dynasty sunk Egypt into chaos; the work mentions the Nile turning into blood, plagues, fire and ashes falling from the sky and destroying the earth, death, slaves running away, social disorder, poverty, famine and Asiatics invading and sacking.
This seems to fit with what Manetho wrote about certain pharaoh Tutimaeus in his book Aegyptiaca, frag. 42, 1.75-79.2:
“In his reign, for what cause I know not, a blast of God smote us; and unexpectedly, from the regions of the East, invaders of obscure race marched in confidence of victory against our land. By main force they easily overpowered the rulers of the land.”
Flavius Josephus’ quotation from his book Against Apion (Book 1, section 73) is very similar:
“Under a king of ours named Timaus (Tutimaeus) God became angry with us, I know not how, and there came, after a surprising manner, men of obscure birth from the east, and had the temerity to invade our country, and easily conquered it by force, as we did not do battle against them.”
It would be very tempting to connect all of this information to the narrative in the book of Exodus. After all, we have a pharaoh with chariots whose firstborn son dies before him, and after him the country is devastated and extremely weak: it receives a blast of God because God is angry at them, the Nile turned into blood and other similar images are mentioned, their slaves run away and the country is so impoverished and its army so weak that an Asiatic people, the Hyksos, conquer Egypt easily, with no battle.
However, most scholars today place the narrative of the Exodus about 300 years later than this, in the times of Ramses II. It almost sounds like circular reasoning: “If the exodus happened, it must have happened in the times of Ramses II; but in the times of Ramses II no exodus happened, so, the exodus never happened.”
There are more parallelisms. For example, few years after all these events, an army was besieging the city of Jericho when, suddenly an earthquake collapsed its walls, allowing this army to enter and burn the city. This fits perfectly with the Bible story, but, again, it happened about 300 years too early.
A few scholars (and not all of them believers) have suggested that perhaps we are looking for historical and archaeological evidence in the wrong period; so, they have proposed that we should revise our traditional chronology for ancient Egypt.
After doing that shift, the parallelisms between the Bible and historical and archaeological findings are striking to say the least.
I don’t mean that I believe in this proposal; I am not totally convinced, but I think it is a reasonable approach. And you don’t need to believe in God or in the divine inspiration of the Bible in order to accept the possibility that the Bible narratives are based on real events. I feel that this field of knowledge is too overloaded with personal passionate ideas that make it difficult to have a rational approach. And I think that when people say that there is no evidence whatsoever for the Bible narrative of the Exodus they are going too far.