Egyptologists and the Israelite Exodus 15 from Egypt
James K. Hoffmeier
Early Egyptologists were steeped in interest in biblical history and in particular the Hebrew exodus story. Edouard Naville and W.M.F. Petrie were among the early pioneers. Of interest to early Egyptologists was the geography of the exodus and the route of the Hebrew departure from Egypt. By the mid-twentieth century, Egyptology’s love affair with Old Testament matters had soured, but this allowed the discipline to develop as its own science.
Over the past decades, Biblical scholars have largely been swept into the current of historical minimalism, leaving Israel’s origin story on the dust heap of history. This development serves as a pressing call for Egyptologists to return to the debate to bring data from Egypt to bear on historical and geographical matters. Indeed some have responded in constructive ways.
This chapter examines interaction between Egyptology and the exodus narratives and then reviews some of the newer archaeological, toponymical, and geological data from Northeastern frontier of Egypt that shed new light on the biblical narratives.
|The Egyptian Origins of Israel: Recent Developments in Historiography
The Bible’s portrayal of the children of Israel entering Egypt during a time of famine in Canaan, followed by a period of enslavement, and then a glorious exodus from Egypt under
|the leadership of Moses was largely viewed as reflecting historical reality in the field of biblical scholarship through much of the twentieth century. While biblical scholars debated the particular written sources behind the tradition and their reliability, the general picture was accepted as accurate.
In North America, the influence of W.F. Albright and his students, especially G. Ernest
|J.K. Hoffmeier (*)
Divinity School, Trinity International University, Deerfield, IL, USA e-mail: [email protected]
Wright and John Bright, contributed to this consensus. Not only did these scholars affirm the historicity of the sojourn–exodus tradition, but they also were convinced that the footsteps
T.E. Levy et al. (eds.), Israel’s Exodus in Transdisciplinary Perspective, 197
Quantitative Methods in the Humanities and Social Sciences, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-04768-3_15,
# Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015
of Joshua and the conquering Israelites could be traced through numerous archaeological sites in Israel. From the 1930s to 1970s Albright–Wright synthesis dominated the English-speaking academy. This solid superstructure began to experience fissures when Thomas Thompson (1974) and John Van Seters (1975) authored influential studies that weakened the scholarly foundations for historicity of the Genesis Patriarchal narratives established by the Albright school. Thompson and Van Seters were dismissive of the parallels drawn between Near Eastern social and legal texts and the Genesis narratives. And so began the slide down the slippery slope towards historical minimalism with the redefining of historiography that continued in the following decades until it reached the court of David and Solomon. The 1980s saw the rise of skepticism towards the Israelite conquest of Canaan and a dismissive rejection of the Torah’s stance that the Hebrews
came from Egypt. In place of the traditional view, new models began to appear that explained Israel’s origins as an indigenous development in the land. Some of the chief proponents of these views are Niels Peter Lemche (1985), Go¨sta Ahlstro¨m (1986), Giovanni Garbini (1988: 127–132), Israel Finkelstein (1988, 2006: 41–65), and William Dever (2003: 1–74). If there is no evidence of a new people who conquered the land coming from outside of Canaan, they reasoned, then it seems unlikely that Israel originated in Egypt as the Pentateuch would have us believe. Consequently, Robert Coote (1990: 3) declared concerning the exodus and conquest, “these periods never existed.” For Lemche, the lack of evidence of the Israelites in Egypt was enough reason for him to jettison the biblical tradition. He has opined that “the silence in the Egyptian sources as to the presence of Israel in the country” is “an obstacle to the notion of Israel’s 400 year sojourn” (Lemche 1988: 31).
It is fair to say that these statements of biblical scholars reflect a general skepticism of the last 25 years towards the Israelite origins as a people in Egypt.
The purpose of this chapter is not to further review the recent scholarly trends in the field of Old Testament studies, but rather to examine how Egyptologists have regarded the sojourn and exodus tradition. From the outset allow me to observe that I have not found the same level of skepticism among present-day Egyptologists towards the Egyptian origin traditions of the Bible as there is among Old Testament scholars and Syro-Palestinian/biblical archaeologists. Before examining the current situation, let us review the history of Egyptology and its relationship to Old Testament studies, particularly, the question of the historicity of the Israelite sojourn–exodus narratives.
Early Egyptology and the Hebrew Sojourn/Exodus Tradition
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Egyptology was considered by many to be the handmaiden of biblical studies, especially as it related to the stories in the Pentateuch. Abraham’s encounter with a pharaoh in Genesis 12, Joseph’s service in the court of pharaoh, and the narratives about Moses and the exodus were subjects of scholarly interest. It was certainly the hope of many that excavations in Egypt might provide direct or background information on the times, locations, events, and historical figures involved in the biblical narratives.
The Egypt Exploration Fund (now Society), that publishes the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, was founded in 1882. In the Memorandum of Association, the EEF actually stated that one of its purposes was “to make surveys, explorations … for the purpose of elucidating or illustrating the Old
Testament narrative, or any part thereof, insofar as the same is in any way connected with Egypt.”
accounts of David and Solomon, see Miller (1987, 1991: 28–31) and Garbini (1988: 21–32).
Because of the prominence of the Delta in the Pentateuchal stories, it was the focus of some of the early surveys and excavations. Two of the early Egyptologists to excavate under the auspices of the EEF were Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie and Edouard Naville. The lesser known Naville was Swiss and a professor at the University of Geneva (Lesko 1997: 113). The interest of these scholars in the biblical history is well reflected in the titles of some of their early excavation report. Two of Naville’s earliest ones were The Store-City of Pithom and the Route of the Exodus (1885) which dealt with his excavations at Tell elMaskhuta and The Shrine of Saft El Henneh and the Land of Goshen (1887). The latter excavations were undertaken in 1885 at several sites: Saft elHenneh, Khataanah-Kantir, and Tell el-Retabeh, all located in the eastern Delta and the Wadi Tumilat (Naville 1887). Meanwhile, Petrie’s early work took him to San el-Hagar (biblical Tanis), Tell el-Yehudiah, and Tell el-Retabeh (20 years after Naville) (Petrie 1888). His interests in biblical history are also seen in the title of one of his publications, Hyksos and Israelite Cities (Petrie 1906a). The same year Petrie published a major monograph on his explorations in Sinai called Researches in Sinai and devoted chapter XIV to “Conditions of the Exodus” (Petrie 1906b). In the same volume, two chapters (XVI and XVII) were written by C.T. Currelly of the Royal Ontario Museum in which some possible locations for Mt. Sinai are examined. Five years later Petrie (1911) published his Egypt and Israel, which devoted two chapters to the sojourn and exodus.
Also during the first two decades of the twentieth century, the French Egyptologist Jean Cle´dat conducted surveys and some excavations in North Sinai and along the Isthmus of Suez during the second decade of the twentieth century (Cle´dat 1919: 210–228; Cle´dat 1920: 203–215). While his surveys and excavations were primarily Egyptological in nature, his publications reflected his interest in the exodus story. A section of one article is called on “le passage de la mer rouge” where he attempted to identify the toponyms of Exodus 14:2 (Cle´dat 1919: 201–228). Clearly many of the early Egyptologists were interested in the problem of the Israelite sojourn and exodus as reflected in the title of an article published in the Irish Church Quarterly in 1908 by L.E. Steele, viz., “The Exodus and the Egyptologist.”
In 1922, Sir Alan Gardiner, the renowned Oxford Egyptologist, wrote a very sharply worded critique of Naville and others that he thought were naı¨vely using the Bible to find the Delta sites associated with the exodus story (Gardiner 1922: 203–215), followed by another in Journal of Egyptian Archaeology (Gardiner 1924: 87–96) that was a response to an article by Naville in the same volume of JEA (Naville 1924: 18–39). T.E. Peet, who was Brunner Professor of Egyptology at University of Liverpool, likewise rebuked Egyptologists whom he accused of being unduly influenced by the Bible in their Egyptological research or who were overly zealous to prove the historicity of the Old Testament narratives based upon questionable evidence (Peet 1922: 5–7). Naville took umbrage at Peet’s charge that his suggestion that Tell el-Maskhuta was Pithom was the result of “guesses of early explorers, bent on finding biblical sites at any cost” (Naville 1924: 18). Additionally Naville demurred with Gardiner’s classification of the Exodus narratives being “no less mythical than the details of creation recorded in Genesis. At all events our first task must be to attempt to interpret those details on the supposition that they are a legend” (Gardiner 1922: 205). The comparison of Genesis 1–3 with the Exodus narratives, Naville thought, was an invalid one and that they were not of the same literary type. In his rejoinder to Naville, Gardiner pointed out that he was misquoted, noting that he never used the phrase “all the story of the Exodus” (Gardiner 1924: 87). As it turns out this phrase had been accidentally or intentionally added by Naville. Thus Gardiner was not claiming that the entire Exodus narratives should be written off as legendary, although some elements in them appeared fanciful to him. Naville further took exception to Gardiner claiming that religious conservatism was compromising scholarly research (Gardiner 1922: 203–204). Naville charged that it was “Gardiner who introduces the religious element, which should be entirely left aside. He is strongly biased, not by religious conservatism, but by the opposite tendency and its conclusions” (Naville 1924: 18).
With the work of these pioneer Egyptologists, the search was on for the Biblical cities associated with the exodus. Unfortunately, Gardiner’s strong condemnation of those whom we might call “Biblical Egyptologists,” I believe, cast a pall for decades over serious investigation of biblical history by Egyptologists. Since the 1930s there have been only a few Egyptologists in Great Britain who actually integrated their work with biblical studies in general and in particular with the exodus tradition. One notable exception to this trend was a small book written by Alfred Lucas in 1938 called The Route of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. Best known for his classic book, Ancient Egyptian Materials and Industries (1926), Lucas’s book is still available in print in the fourth edition, revised by J.R. Harris (1962/1989). Although Lucas spent most of his career analyzing artifacts and materials from which they were made, he believed that his 40 years in Egypt gave him a basis to offer some insights into the biblical exodus story. Quite aware of the harsh tone of the debate about the location of the cities of the Exodus, Lucas pledged to follow the dictum of the chemist Robert Boyle who said: “a man may be a champion for truth without being an enemy of civility: and may confute an opinion without railing at them that hold it” (Lucas 1938: 8).
It seems that the heated debate of the 1920s has been ignited once again in the past few decades as more recent archaeological discoveries are being scrutinized along with even greater skepticism towards the Bible. The sage advice followed by Lucas is certainly appropriate today in the polarizing debate between historical minimalists and maximalists over the origins of Israel. In this dispute, Egyptologists, whom one would expect to have something to say on the subject, for the most part have been strangely silent. In fact, it was the
intent of the “Egyptology and Ancient Israel” section of Society of Biblical Literature, which I established in the early 1990s, to provide a forum where Egyptologists and biblical scholars could meet to discuss matters of mutual interest.
One important question that emerges from this discussion is why have Egyptologists had so little to say on the subject of Israel’s origin as presented in the Bible? In a sense, the rather harsh debate of Gardiner and Peet with Naville, I believe, had a chilling effect on scholarly integration of Egyptology and biblical studies for several generations of Egyptologists. Gardiner cast a giant shadow over the field of Egyptology for more than five decades. Who then would dare enter the arena of
Hebrew-Egyptological investigation for fear of being criticized by him or to be accused of having a religious agenda by other scholars.
There is, of course, a positive side to this debate from the 1920s and that is that Egyptology was able to emerge as a discipline of its own, independent of the limited interests of the biblical historian. A perusal of major Egyptological journals shows that articles are scarcely found that deal with the Bible in general or the sojourn–exodus in particular.
In a sense, Gardiner and Peet did for Egyptology what William Dever did for SyroPalestinian archaeology in the 1970s and 1980s by establishing it as a discipline in its own right apart from the interests and limitations of biblical archaeology (Dever 1992: 354–367). Dever’s more recent proposal that there be a dialogue between Syro-Palestinian Archaeology and biblical studies to produce a new biblical archaeology is a model that would work well, I believe, for the disciplines of Egyptology and biblical studies. As such, Old Testament scholarship could utilize Egyptian material where appropriate without hijacking the discipline. Unfortunately, there has been too little dialogue between the two disciplines for reasons that will be explored below. If those who are trained in the various specializations of Egyptology are not a part of the conversation, then, regrettably, biblical scholars who are not qualified to use Egyptian data will do so (as sometimes happens) in a way that will not do justice to Egyptian sources, resulting in poor integration with the Bible.
In Germany the kind of acrimony witnessed in Briton among Egyptology and biblical studies in the early twentieth century did not occur. There were some Old Testament scholars who worked Egyptological materials. Albrecht Alt (1883–1956) is a leading example. His doctoral dissertation from 1909 bore the title “Israel und A¨ gypten” (Fritz 1997: 79). Although he is generally recognized as a Hebrew Bible scholar, his work on historical geography demanded that he work with Egyptian toponym lists and other Egyptian sources. In his article on the “Die Deltaresidenz der Ramessiden” (Alt 1954: 1–13) he was one of the first continental scholars to recognize Qantir as the location of ancient Pi-Ramesses (see Chap. 8). He wrote a monograph on the Hyksos Die Herkunft in neuer Sicht in 1954.
Egyptologists and the Exodus: 1930s to the Present
To be sure, there were Egyptologists who occasionally wrote on the problem of the Israelite sojourn and exodus from the 1930s to the end of the twentieth century. Alfred Lucas has already been mentioned.
In Germany Wolfgang Helck produced a major work on the interconnections between Egypt and the Near East in the third and second millennium (Helck 1971), but this does not deal directly with the exodus. He did write an important article that argued that Hebrew writing Rameses corresponds to the Egyptian (Pi-) Ramesses (Helck 1965: 35–48) in response to the linguistic problems raised by Donald Redford on the correlation (Redford 1963: 408–418).
Siegfried Herrmann who authored Israel in Egypt (1973), a small monograph dealing with the sojourn and exodus, is another German
scholar of our times who has used Egyptian sources to explicate the narratives in Exodus.
These European scholars, however, were primarily Hebrew Bible scholars who had some training in Egyptology and used the materials in a responsible way, but they would not identify themselves as Egyptologists.
The late Manfred Go¨rg (d. 9/2012) who was trained in Hebrew exegesis and Egyptology was the most prolific German scholar of our time to deal with Egyptian sources and the Old Testament. He has penned scores of articles dealing with Hebrew words that might be of Egyptian etymology and connecting Egyptian toponyms to biblical place names. Many of these articles are published in Biblische Notizen and in the monograph series, A¨gypten und Altes Testament, both of which Go¨rg edited. This series has been one venue where biblical issues and Egyptology have been discussed. In neighboring Switzerland, Othmar Keel has successfully employed Egyptian (along with other Near Eastern) iconography in his studies of Hebrew symbolism, but his studies tend to avoid historical questions (Keel 1978; Keel and Uelinger 1998).
Pierre Montet, the French excavator of San elHagar from 1928 to 1956, believed that he had discovered both Zoan/Tanis and Rameses of Exodus 1:11 and the Ramesside capital, PiRamesses. He authored a book entitled, Egypt and the Bible, in which he presented his understanding of Egyptian data bearing on the Hebrew Scriptures and devotes a chapter to Moses and the exodus (Montet 1968: 16–34).
Bernard Couroyer and Henri Cazelles were also French biblical scholars who were well versed in Egyptology. They wrote on the exodus traditions as well as some other topics where Egyptian sources were brought to bear on the Bible. In addition to teaching Hebrew and Old Testament, Couroyer taught Coptic and Egyptian for more than 30 years (Puech 1997: 10), and he wrote a number of articles dealing with the book of Exodus including “La re´sidence ramesside du Delta et la Ramse`s biblique” (Couroyer 1946: 75–98), “Quelques e´gyptianismes dan l’Exode”
(Couroyer 1956: 209–219), and “Un e´gyptianisme biblique”: Depuis la fondation de l’E´gypt (Exode, IX, 18) (Couroyer 1960: 42–48). An acknowledgement of his contributions in Egyptian-Hebrew studies, a memorial volume in his honor, was published under the title E´tudes E´gyptologiques et Bibliques (Sigrist 1997).
Cazelles worked competently with Egyptian materials. His most important contribution to the exodus tradition is his article “Les Localizations De L’exode et La Critique Litteraire” (Cazelles 1955: 346–358). It offers an excellent analysis of the toponym cluster in Exodus 14:2 and the Egyptian geographical names found in Pap. Anatasi III that describes the marshy areas on the eastern frontier.
Also in recent decades, my own mentors from the University of Toronto, the late Ronald Williams and Donald Redford, have included in their publication dossiers a number of important articles, dictionary entries, and books on Egypt and the Bible, some of which deal with the Exodus. One of William’s seminal studies is “‘A People Come Out of Egypt’: An Egyptologist Looks at the Old Testament” (Williams 1975: 231–252). Williams wrote a number of articles in the Hastings Dictionary of the Bible including entries touching subjects in Genesis and Exodus, i.e., “Asenath,” “Nile,” “On,” “Pharaoh, “Plagues of Egypt,” and “Raamses, Rameses” (for his complete bibliography, see V. Williams 1983: 127).
Redford has been even more prolific over the past 50 years on integrating Egyptian data with matters related to Israel’s origins. His monograph on the Joseph story remains a standard work on Genesis 39–50 after 40 years (Redford 1970), and Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times (1992) includes a major treatment of
Israel’s origins. His essays related to the Israelite sojourn and exodus have been very influential (Redford 1963, 1987, 1997, 2009), especially among minimalist leaning biblical scholars as he has argued that the geographical terms in the Exodus narratives point to the Saite Period (seventh century) and that the exodus story may be an adaptation of the Hyksos expulsion story that was applied to the Israelites. The linguistic, textual, and archaeological questions he has raised have not been ignored by Egyptologists, but have been thoughtfully answered (Helck 1965: 35–48; Kitchen 1998: 65–131; Hoffmeier 1997, 2005). The works of Williams and Redford have left their impact on the field of Hebrew Bible and Israelite history, and their careful and critical use of Egyptian materials has influenced me greatly.
Another distinguished Egyptologist who has written on matters related to the Israelite sojourn and exodus over the past 50 years is Kenneth Kitchen, a lonely voice among British Egyptologists. He is known in Egyptological circles as the leading Ramesside Period expert due to his seven-volume compilation of
Ramesside Inscriptions (Blackwell), along with the Ramesside Inscriptions Translated and Annotated: Notes and Comments (Blackwell) that is still in progress. Drawing decades of work with Ramesside Period materials, Kitchen has written extensively on the Hebrew sojourn and exodus in his books (Kitchen 1966: 57–72, 1977: 75–91, 2003: 241–312) and countless articles dealing with questions related to background, chronology, and authenticity. He sees the setting of the exodus narratives as being the Ramesside Era. Although too many to cite, several of his articles stand out and are worthy of mention, such as “the Exodus” in the Anchor Bible Dictionary 2 (1992), “The Tabernacle—a Bronze Age Artifact” (Kitchen 1993: 119–129), and “Ancient Near Eastern Studies: Egypt,” in The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies (2006). In collaboration with Paul Lawrence, Kitchen has recently produced a magisterial three-volume magnum opus, Treaty, Law and Covenant in the Ancient Near East (Kitchen and Lawrence 2012). Exceeding 1,000 pages in length, Volume 1 offers transcriptions and translations of every known law code and treaty text from the third through the first millenniums B.C., be they Sumerian, Eblaite, Akkadian, Hittite, Egyptian, Hebrew, or Aramean. The texts serve as the database for comparative study of biblical law and treaty texts (Volumes 2 and 3). Setting aside theories about the biblical text such as sources and their dating, Kitchen rather compares the ANE data directly to the biblical forms and concludes that the thirteenth century form of treaty texts best compares with the legal materials of Exodus and Deuteronomy.
My study, Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), was written from an Egyptological perspective to address the origins of Israel debate of the 1980s and 1990s since the historical minimalists who were setting the agenda were biblical scholars, biblical historians, and Syro-Palestinian archaeologists. Egyptologists, for the most part, have not been heard from in the 1980s and 1990s. There are a few exceptions. Unfortunately, by avoiding this interdisciplinary discussion, Egyptologists have allowed biblical scholars who are not trained to work with Egyptian texts to do so, often resulting in unwarranted conclusions. For example, Go¨sta Ahlstro¨m (1986: 40), the biblical scholar, proposed that the hieroglyphic writing of “Israel” in the Merneptah Stela—despite the use of the people determinative—should refer to a geographical entity, not an ethnic group. Subsequently, Lemche (1998: 37) has expressed that “it is remarkable that other scholars have not taken up Ahltro¨m’s interpretation.” There is good reason why this interpretation was not embraced by scholars familiar with Egyptian orthography. No Egyptologists would ever read the signs of a foreign ethnic entity () as indicating a foreign land, but a people group. Ahlstro¨m is forced to propose an error in the text and then emend it to fit his theory!
One critic of Ahltro¨m’s theory, the late Anson Rainey (1991: 93), pointed out that this “simply demonstrated that Biblical scholars untrained in Egyptian epigraphy should not make amateurish attempts at interpretation.” Rainey, though primarily known as a Semitist, an expert in the Amarna Letters, and a specialist in historical geography was trained in Egyptology by
- J. Polotsky. Rainey periodically entered the debate about the origins of early Israel, which included his analysis of the Merneptah reliefs at Karnak that presents a pictorial counterpart to military campaigns recorded on the “Israel” Stela (Rainey 2001: 57–75). Rainey’s recent Bible atlas, already a classic, contains excellent treatment of the New Kingdom, in particular the Amarna Age and Ramesside Periods, as background to the origins of Israel, and his transcriptions, transliterations, and translations of Egyptian execration texts and toponymic lists are foundational to the understanding of the geopolitics of the Late Bronze and Iron Age when the Israelites first appear in Canaan (Rainey and Notley 2006: 58–121). He also investigates the toponyms of Egypt and Sinai from the Bible, which he maintained were based on “collective memories and legendary elaborations” … but that “such a powerful folk memory with so many ramifications can hardly be a strictly pure invention” (Rainey and Notley 2006: 118). He concluded by remarking that the geographical data in the exodus and wilderness traditions “does embody considerable geographic information” (Rainey and Notley 2006: 118).
|the papers of the six participants, only three of whom were Egyptologists: Frank Yurco, James Weinstein, and Donald Redford. Yurco was the only one to present a positive case for using Egyptian evidence in understanding the origins of Israel, even proposing that Amun-her-khepshef, the eldest son of Ramesses II and Queen|
While it is my contention in this chapter that Egyptologists have been for the most part silent during the debate of the 1980s and 1990s, some have engaged in the discussion in several multiauthored books which have included some Egyptological perspective on the exodus (some discussed already above). A seminar was held at Brown University in 1992, and its proceedings were published as Exodus: The Egyptian Evidence in 1997. This 112-page book contained Nefertari, might have been the crown prince who died in connection with tenth plague (Yurco 1997: 57–75). He believes that this prince’s death can be fixed to the period between 1259 and 1249 B.C., a date for the exodus within the thirteenth century B.C. as proposed by Kitchen.
In the new Oxford History of the Biblical World (1998), Carol Redmount, an Egyptologist from University of California at Berkeley, wrote the chapter on the sojourn and exodus. Unfortunately, she uncritically accepts the views of historical minimalists about the nature and dating of the biblical materials to the late monarchy or exilic and postexilic periods (Redmount 1998: 79–121). Contrary to the views of many scholars who have examined the Egyptian backgrounds of the Exodus 1–14, Redmount claims “What is immediately striking about the earlier portions of the Exodus saga is the lack of distinctively Egyptian content and flavor, despite the Egyptian” (Redmount 1998: 87). Had Redmount consulted the works of Williams, Kitchen, and Hermann cited here, not to mention my Israel in Egypt, she would have been introduced to a wealth of Egyptian
1998 also saw the appearance of a volume from the Irene Levi-Sala Annual Research Seminar held the preceding year. It was called The Origin of Early Israel—Current Debate and was organized by Eliezer Oren who also edited the volume. The ten participants included eight biblical scholars and SyroPalestinian Archaeologists, a classicist, and a lone Egyptologists, Kenneth Kitchen. It is curious that this seminar, usually held at Ben
Gurion University (Beer Sheva), did not attract any of the fine Israeli Egyptologists.8
Finally, a collection of essays called Ancient Israel was published in 1998 by Biblical Archaeology Society and edited by Hershel Shanks. This book was revised and updated by different authors in 1999. It has a chapter on the sojourn and exodus that was originally written by Nahum Sarna, an excellent commentator on the book of Exodus (but not an Egyptologist), and was updated by Shanks.9 These recent studies illustrate how Egyptologists, in my judgment, have not been sufficiently engaged in the origins of Israel debate even though Egypt does play a crucial role according to the biblical tradition.
What Do Egyptologists Really Think About the Exodus?
Despite these studies, the reality is that Egyptologists seem to show little interest in integrating their materials with biblical studies in general or with the exodus narratives in particular. In response to a rather negative seminar paper of Redford’s in 1986, Manfred Bietak, the Austrian excavator of Tell el-Dab‘a (Egypt), made a remarkable and telling rejoinder. He said, “Being an Egyptologist I feel somehow embarrassed to comment on problems surrounding the theme of ‘the Exodus’” and then he proceeded to say, “I do not necessarily share Professor Redford’s pessimism” (Bietak
1987: 163). So, what is behind this
7 (Hoffmeier 1997: 138–140). Interestingly, my book is listed in a “Select Bibliography” at the end of the chapter, and it offers the following annotation: “A detailed examination of the biblical account of the Exodus incorporating recent textual, historical, and archaeological scholarship, which concludes that the main points of the narratives are plausible” (120). It is not clear whether this is the conclusion of the author or the editor. Regardless, nowhere in Redmount’s chapter is there evidence that Israel in Egypt was considered in drawing her minimalist conclusions.
Surprisingly, Israeli Egyptologists have had little to say about the sojourn–exodus traditions. In a search of the Egyptological Bibliography (1822–1997), I found only a
few articles by Israeli Egyptologists that dealt with the sojourn–exodus narratives. One important contribution is by Sarah Israelit-Groll, “The Historical Background to the Exodus: Papyrus Anastasi VIII (Groll 1997: 109–115).
- For some reason, all the other chapters in this book are updated by leading scholars in their respective fields, while the Exodus chapter is revised by the editor!
- I point the readers to Bietak’s paper in this volume. It is evident from his presentation at this conference on May 31, 2013, that his work in the NE Delta and particularly at
No doubt the fact that the Hebrew Bible remains the Scriptures of Jews and Christians alike automatically casts a pall of suspicion over it as a source for historical research. My own curiosity about this matter motivated me to investigate this question. In order to get some fresh data, I conducted a small, unscientific survey among members of the International Association of Egyptologists. Working from the IAE directory, I randomly selected 125 scholars from which to conduct a survey to gauge current attitudes among Egyptologists. I received 25 responses, a 20 % return. The only criteria I used in the selection process were not to include scholars whose views I already knew through personal communication or from their writings, and secondly, I attempted to cast my net wide so as to include scholars from a wide range of countries. Although I intentionally did not send the survey to Egyptian Egyptologists as the lines too often blur between academic study of ancient Israel and modern politics, making Egyptians reluctant to discuss the Bible,11 I received responses from Egyptologists in the following countries: the United States (12), Great Britain (4), Germany (2), Belgium (2), and one each from Australia, France, Canada, Holland, Russia, Latvia, and Uruguay.
Four questions were posed:
- Have you published any studies that deal withthe Israelite/biblical sojourn and exodus story? Followed by “if not why not”? Five indicated that they had addressed the question in some manner, either in an article, section of a book, or book review, though none had engaged in a major project. Twenty answered
NO, and I was able to place their reasons in four different categories:
- No expertise in biblical studies or
Hebrew: 8 1/2
- No interest in the subject 4 1/2
- Specialization in Egyptology too narrowto venture into another field: 6
- To avoid the intensity of the debate aboutthe Bible: 1
- Do you think the early Israelites lived in Egyptand that there was some sort of exodus? Nineteen answered YES. None said NO, but four indicated that it possibly happened or that they were unsure. Only one who described himself as unsure had some 30 years before written positively about the exodus, but had grown skeptical in the intervening years. The strongest negative statement was that it was “unlikely.” Interestingly, that opinion came from Oxford, Gardiner’s old stomping grounds. And one chose not to answer the question.
Some who affirmed the historicity of an exodus from Egypt added interesting comments like “I don’t think there is any doubt about it.” Or “I see no reason why the Israelite sojourn in Egypt should have been fabricated. By the same token, I see no fundamental reason why an eventual exodus of the Israelites people could not have occurred.”
I must admit to being surprised by the largely positive response to the question of the historicity of the sojourn–exodus story, but most gave no evidence of any knowledge of the debates of the past 30 years among Old Testament scholars and biblical archaeologists on the origins of Israel. The two final questions allowed opportunities for
Tell el-Dab‘a have provided extremely valuable information about the Semitic-speaking population (including the Hyksos) living in the Delta, which could well have included the Hebrews among them.
The late Habachi Labib (2001: 119–127) wrote at some length on the sojourn–exodus in his publication of materials from his excavations in Qantir (Pi-Ramesses) in the 1950s, but his work only appeared in 2001, over 15 years after his death in 1984. Clearly in this chapter he demonstrates a rare interest among Egyptian
Egyptologists in biblical history and the sojourn–exodus tradition, but that may be due to the fact that he was a Coptic Christian.
the respondents to give their reasons for their positions and to share any ideas or theories they had. These answers were not possible to quantify, and many left these questions blank. Those who offered additional thoughts indicated that given the regularity of Asiatics, to use the Egyptian term, entering Egypt during the days of famine or draught in the Levant it was likely that the biblical Hebrews were one such group. Several sought to associate the expulsion of the Hyksos with the Israelite exodus.
Another theme that came up with some frequency was the recognition that Egypt may never be able to produce positive archaeological evidence for the Hebrews in Egypt because there were large numbers of Semites in Egypt at various times during the second millennium B.C. and it would be impossible to distinguish one group from another.
I have already acknowledged that this was not a scientific survey; however, I think that it does offer some interesting insights which are offered here.
- 80 % were either not interested in matters of biblical history or felt that they lacked the expertise to offer anything concrete to the origins of Israel debate. Those who had written on the subject have produced very little.
- There was an important undercurrent I pickedup from some of the respondents. Despite the fact that most felt that the exodus was a historical event, there was a feeling that this debate has such heavy religious implications that, as one Egyptologist admitted, “I have found it difficult to have unbiased discussions,” and then he/she said, “I believe religion to be a private matter.” Another scholar said, “Like most Egyptologists I suspect, I don’t regard the whole Exodus thing as really relevant to us in a historical sense; I think it says more about the beliefs of those who are interested in it today than in ancient times.” My survey, however, suggests otherwise. In fact there seems to be the attitude that the exodus is a religious matter, not one for real Egyptologists to investigate. This disposition came through very clearly in a statement by another scholar who protested: “The absence of Egyptologists from the exodus debate is indeed a conundrum. I am detecting almost an aversion in some circles to even discussing the exodus as a serious historical event, as if to discuss it seriously somehow leads people to question your credibility as a scholar.” These two quotes perhaps offer the best testimony of what might be behind Bietak’s reference to it being an embarrassment for an Egyptologist to discuss the exodus.
Thus I see a kind of disconnect. Egyptologists, on the one hand, seem to accept the historicity of the biblical sojourn and exodus narratives, but on the other hand either have no interest in investigating it using their discipline, or feel that it is a subject to be investigated by people with a religious agenda. This sounds like we remain stuck in the quagmire of the debates of the 1920s of Gardiner and Peet against Naville. But contrary to Gardiner (1922, 1924), who did write on the sojourn–exodus traditions, and Peet who authored Egypt and the Old Testament (1922), more recent Egyptologists have avoided the topic altogether.
Gardiner and Peet, it seems to me, were concerned with a critical approach to the use of Egyptology in studying the Bible rather than a simplistic and literalistic hermeneutic. It may well be that due to acrimonious feuds of the 1920s and the antireligious bias that pervades the western academy, and a long a history of anti-Semitism in the Middle East, for the present and the near future only a few Egyptologists will intentionally design research and excavation projects in an effort to answer questions of biblical history. This is regrettable since Egyptology is a cognate field to Hebrew studies and has much to contribute, offering both background and contextual data, and it can serve an important check and balance against the excesses of biblical scholarship that uncritically uses Egyptian sources.
It is my hope that Egyptologists will take a greater interest in bringing their expertise to the dialogue with Old Testament studies and that Hebrew Bible scholars will engage in a careful study of Egyptian history and archaeology before articulating rash conclusions about biblical history.
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———. 1920. Notes Sur L’isthme De Suez. Bulletin de l’Institut Franc¸ais d00Arche´ologie Orientale 18: 203–215.
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———. 1956. Quelques e´gyptianismes dan l’Exode. Revue Biblique 63: 209–219.
———. 1960. Un e´gyptianisme biblique ‘Depuis la fondation de l’E´gypt’ (Exode, IX, 18). Revue Biblique 67: 42–48.
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———. 2003. Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From? Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
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———. 1924. The Geography of the Exodus: An Answer to Professor Naville and Others. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 10: 87–96.
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———. 1971. Die Beziehungen A¨gyptens zu Vorderasien im 3. und 2. Jahrtausend v. Chr., 2, verbesserteth ed. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz.
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———. 2003. On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
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Thomas E. Levy • Thomas Schneider •
William H.C. Propp Editors
Israel’s Exodus in
Text, Archaeology, Culture, and
Managing Editor: Brad C. Sparks
 Regarding the skepticism of the historicity of the biblical
 For a critique of these various positions see Hoffmeier (1997: chapters 1 and 2).
 I am grateful to the secretary of the EES, Dr. Patricia Spencer, for providing me a copy of the original founding charter.
 He speaks of a “dialogue” between Bible and archaeological data (Dever 1992: 358–359) and elaborates it in more detail recently (Dever 2001: chapter 3).
 For a complete bibliography of Couroyer, see Marcel Sigrist (1997: 20–28).
 This suggestion was first proposed by Ahlstro¨m a year earlier in an article which was coauthored by another Hebrew Bible scholar, Diana Edleman (Ahlstro¨m and Edelman 1985: 59–61).