RAMESES II WAS NOT THE PHARAOH OF THE EXODUS!

In this post I will be excerpting the section of the late biblical scholar and linguist Dr. Gleason L. Archer’s book Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, where he provides a somewhat lengthy refutation of the claim that Rameses II was the Pharaoh of the Exodus, which would place this miraculous event around 1290 BC.

How can 1 Kings 6:1 be accepted as accurate if Rameses the Great was Pharaoh of the Exodus?

1 Kings 6:1 states, “Now it came about in the four hundred and eightieth year after the sons of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel,….he began to build the house of the LORD” (NASB). Since Solomon’s reign began in 970 B.C., his fourth year would have been 966. Four hundred and eighty years before 966 comes out to 1446 or 1445. (There may have been a rounding off of numbers here, but essentially the time locus of the Exodus would have been between 1447 and 1442, if 1 Kings 6:1 is correct.) This would have been early in the reign of Amenhotep II, who according to the usual estimates reigned between 1447 and 1421. (Some more recent discussions of Egyptian chronology tend to lower these dates by a few years, but they have not yet been generally accepted as valid.)

The most-favored date for the Exodus in scholarly circles is about 1290, or quite early in the reign of Rameses II (1300-1234). In most of the popularizations of the Exodus drama, such as Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments,” the late date theory is assumed to be correct. The principal arguments in its favor are as follows:

1. The Israelites are stated in Exodus 1:11 to have labored as slaves in the building of the city of “Raamses“–which presupposes that there was already a King Rameses for this city to have been named after.

2. Since the Hyksos Dynasty was in charge of Egypt at the time Jacob migrated into Egypt–at least according to the Jewish historian Josephus–and since the Hyksos may not have seized power much before 1750 B.C., the 1445 date is precluded. Exodus 12:40 testifies that the Israelites sojourned in Egypt for 430 years, a subtraction of 430 from 1750 would come out to 1320–which is much closer to the time of Rameses II in the Nineteenth Dynasty than to the period of Amenhotep II of the Eighteenth Dynasty.

3. The early chapters of Exodus presuppose the proximity of the royal residence to the land of Goshen up in the Delta, whereas the capital of Egypt in the Eighteenth Dynasty was five hundred miles further south, in the city of Thebes. But Rameses built up Tanis in the Delta as his northern capital and as the base of his military expeditions against Palestine and Syria.

4. The archaeological evidence of the destruction levels in key Palestinian cities like Lachish, Debir, and Hazor points rather to the thirteenth century than to the early fourteenth century, as the early date theory would require. Furthermore, the extensive explorations of surface sites in the various tells throughout Transjordan carried on by Nelson Glueck indicate that there was no strongly entrenched, sedentary population to be found in Moab, Heshbon, or Bashan, such as is indicated in the Mosaic campaigns of conquest against Sihon and Og according to the record of Numbers 21 and Deuteronomy 1.

5. The failure of the Book of Judges to mention any Egyptian invasions of Palestine during the late fourteenth and thirteenth centuries is a strong indication that those invasions were already past history by the time of Joshua and the Israelite conquest of Canaan.

These five arguments present an impressive case for the inaccuracy of 1 Kings 6:1. If the Exodus actually took place around 1290 B.C., then the figure should have been 324 years rather than 480. Some Evangelical scholars who adhere to the late date theory point out that 480 may be an “artificial” number, intending to convey no more than that there were about twelve generations intervening between the Exodus and the temple (thought of as 40 years each, because of the prominence of the number 40 in the lives of leaders like Moses and Joshua). But the true average length of generations is 30 years rather than 40, and so we may perhaps correct the total number to 360 rather than 480 (so R. K. Harrison, Old Testament Introduction, pp. 178-79).

However, careful examination of the case for the late date theory shows that it is incapable of successful defense in the light of all the evidence. Not only does 1 Kings 6:1 unequivocally affirm the 1445 date for the departure of the Israelites from Egypt (the whole theory of symbolical or artificial numbers in matters of dating in the Old Testament has no objective support whatever), but so does Judges 11:26. This contains a question put by Jephthah to the Ammonite invaders who laid claim to the Israelite territory east of the Jordan: “For three hundred years Israel occupied Heshbon, Aroer, the surrounding settlements, and all the towns along the Arnon. Why didn’t you retake them in that time?” Since the probable date of Jephthah was about half a century before King Saul, Jephthah’s parley with the Ammonites must be dated around 1100 B.C. His remarks therefore imply a conquest dating back to about 1400, which fits in perfectly with a 1445 Exodus. Since this is a casual reference to chronology and adduces a time interval apparently well known to Israel’s enemies and acknowledged by them, it carries special credibility as evidence for the early date.

Nor is this the only corroboration of 1 Kings 6:1. In his speech at Antioch Pisidia, the apostle Paul affirms in Acts 13:19-20: “And when He had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, He distributed their land as an inheritance–all of which took about four hundred and fifty years. And after these things [i.e., after the division of the land to the Twelve Tribes] He gave them judges until Samuel the prophet” (NASB). Quite clearly the interval included the first departure from Egypt to take possession of the Holy Land, all the way to the end of Samuel’s career, as the prophet who anointed David as king. In other words, about 450 years elapsed between the Exodus and the establishment of David in the Holy City of Jerusalem: 1445 to 995 B.C.

Thus it turns out that if the 1290 date is correct, then we must condemn as inaccurate at least two other passages in Scripture besides 1 Kings 6:1 itself; and the Bible then loses all claim to complete trustworthiness in matters of historical fact–even the major events of the history of Redemption. It is therefore of particular importance to examine the case for the accuracy of the 1445 date indicated by these two passages from the Old Testament and the one from Acts 13.

First, as to the reference to the slave labor of the Israelites in the city of Rameses in Exodus 1:11, it should be noted that even by the late date theory this would have to be regarded as an anachronism (i.e., a later name applied to the city than the name it bore at the time of their taskwork in it). The reference to this work project occurs before any mention of the birth of Moses, and Moses was eighty years of age by the time of the Exodus event. It would have been impossible for Moses to have been born after the commencement of Rameses’s reign in 1300 B.C. and then be eighty years old ten years later! Consequently the city in question could not have borne the name “Raamses” back in the period referred to by Exodus 1:11. Therefore its evidential value for the late date theory is fatally undermined. It should also be observed, however, that even though a later name was inserted in place of the original name of the city that was current in Moses’ time, this furnishes no more difficulty than to refer to Kiriath Arba as Hebron, even though narrating an event that took place there prior to its change of name. Nor would a history of England be justly accused of inaccuracy if it spoke of Constantius I of Rome making a triumphant march into “York” back in a day when it was called “Eboracum.”

Second, as to the argument that there could not have been a 430-year interval between a Jacob migration in the Hyksos period and a 1445 Exodus, we freely admit the force of this objection. If the Hyksos rule began around 1750 B.C., a 1445 Exodus would be out of the question. But we hasten to add that the textual evidence of both Genesis and Exodus make it quite certain that it was a native Egyptian dynasty that was in power back in Joseph’s day; it could not have been Hyksos–Josephus to the contrary notwithstanding. Consider the following facts:

1. The reigning dynasty looks down with contempt on Semitic foreigners from Palestine and forbids such to eat at the same table with Egyptians (Gen. 43:32: “The Egyptians might not eat bread with the Hebrews; for that is an abomination unto the Egyptians”). But the Hyksos themselves had originally come down from Palestine into Egypt, speaking a Semitic language like theirs. (Thus their first king was named Salitis, representing the Semitic term sallit; they named their cities in Egypt Succoth, Baalzephon, and Migdol, all good Canaanite names.) It is therefore inconceivable that they would have regarded other visitors from Palestine as an inferior breed of humanity. But the ethnic Egyptians certainly did so, as their literature abundantly testifies.

2. Joseph is obviously uneasy about his family admitting to the Egyptian authorities that they were shepherds as well as cattle raisers. (Gen. 46:34 states quite plainly: “For every shepherd is an abomination unto the Egyptians.”) But this could scarcely have been true of the Hyksos, who were so closely associated with sheep-herding in the recollection of the later Egyptians that they (like Manetho) construed the name “Hyksos” to mean “Shepherd Kings.” During their era certainly there could have been no reproach attachable to the raising of sheep.

3. The Pharaoh “who knew not Joseph” came to power a considerable interval after Joseph’s death and after his family had already settled in Goshen. Therefore we are warranted in assuming that this new Pharaoh was a Hyksos rather than a native Egyptian. This emerges from his concern expressed in Exodus 1:8-10 as to the alarming population growth of the Hebrews, whom he states to be “more and mightier than we” (NASB). The population of Egypt was unquestionably much larger than the two million or so Israelites (who only became that numerous by the time of the Exodus, many years later). But for the leader of the warrior caste of the Hyksos, who dominated the native population only through their superior military organization (something like the Spartans as they kept the more numerous Helots and Messenians subject to their rule), this would not have been an exaggerated apprehension. Because of the steadfast loyalty of Joseph and his family to the Egyptian government, a Hyksos monarch might well have feared that they might make common cause with a native Egyptian uprising (“Let us deal wisely with them, lest they multiply and in the event of war, they also join themselves to those who hate us, and fight against us” [v.10]). It was at a later time, then, after the Hyksos themselves had finally been expelled from Egypt by Ahmose–who however left the Hebrews undisturbed in Goshen because of their consistent loyalty to the native Egyptians–that Amenhotep I of the Eighteenth Dynasty adopted the oppressive policy of the Hyksos rulers. Amenhotep I also was uneasy at the phenomenal growth of the Hebrew population in Goshen and tried to discourage this growth by hard labor and, finally, by the time of Moses’ birth, by infanticide. If it is at v.13 that this Eighteenth-Dynasty oppression begins, then we must understand the Hyksos as having compelled the Israelites to work on the storage cities of Pithom and Raamses. In this connection it might be pointed out that the name “Raamses” itself may have been of Hyksos origin. The father of Rameses II was “Seti,” which means “Follower of Seth” or “Sutekh,” the Egyptian equivalent of “Baal,” who was the patron god of the Hyksos dynasties. A great many of the Hyksos royal names ended likewise in “Ra,” the name of the sun god of Egypt (names such as Aa-woser-Ra, Neb-khepesh-ra, Aa-qenen-ra, etc.), and Ra-mose (a name already current in the Eighteenth Dynasty, by the way) means “Born of Ra.” (Ra-mes-su, the Egyptian spelling of Rameses, actually means “Ra has begotten him.”) But it is most significant that Rameses II went to great effort and expense to restore and build up the old Hyksos capital of Avaris, even though he named it after himself. At all events, nothing could be more unlikely than that Joseph and his family moved into Egypt during the Hyksos period. Hence this objection to the 1445 Exodus is without weight.

Third, the argument that an Eighteenth Dynasty Pharaoh would have kept his royal residence far down (or up) the Nile, five hundred miles away from Goshen, also proves to be untenable in the light of the inscriptional evidence. We offer the following data:

1. Thutmose III, the probable “Pharaoh of the Oppression,” erected two red granite obelisks in front of the temple of Ra (or Re, as it is more usually vocalized today) in Heliopolis, describing himself as “lord of Heliopolis.” This city was at the base of the Delta, and therefore hardly remote from Goshen. It is fair to assume that up in the Delta he had frequent need of slave labor for his building projects, especially in view of the barracks and military installations that had to be erected in the Delta as a base of operations against Palestine and Syria (which he invaded no less than fourteen times).

2. An Eighteenth-Dynasty scarab has been found that refers to the birth of Amenhotep II as having occurred in Memphis, likewise at the base of the Delta. From this we must assume that at least part of the time Thutmose III must have maintained a palace in Memphis.

3. In an inscription set up by Amenhotep himself (translated in Pritchard, ANET, p. 244), he recalls how he used to ride out from the royal stable in Memphis to practice archery near the pyramids of Gizeh. W. C. Hayes (The Scepter of Egypt, 2 vols. [Cambridge: Harvard University, 1959], 2:141) concludes that Amenhotep must have maintained large estates at Perwennefer, a large naval dockyard near Memphis, and that he resided there for extended periods of time. So much for the theory that Eighteenth-Dynasty kings resided only at Thebes.

Fourth, the archaeological evidence of thirteenth-century destruction levels at cities like Lachish, Debir, and Hazor, mentioned in the narrative of Joshua’s conquests, fails to furnish any decisive evidence that Joshua’s invasion in fact took place in the thirteenth century. In the turbulent, unsettled conditions that characterized the period of the Judges, such as the total destruction meted out to Shechem by Abimelech the son of Gideon, episodes of this sort must have been frequent, even though our scanty records do not permit any specific identification of the victorious aggressor in most instances. As for the date of the destruction of City IV in Old Testament Jericho, even though the collapsed walls may have been erected considerably earlier than 1400 B.C. (as Katherine Kenyon deduced from the sherds discovered in the earth-fill), these walls may still have been the same at those that fell before Joshua at the time of the Israelite conquest. After all, the walls that now surround Carcassonne in France and Avila in Spain were erected many centuries before our present era–yet they still stand today. But their earth-fill must contain artifacts and sherds coming from several centuries ago, rather than from the late 1900s.

But more significant for dating the Fall of Jericho to the end of the fifteenth century is the fact that the associated cemetery (contemporaneous with City IV) yielded numerous Egyptian scarabs bearing the name of Eighteenth-Dynasty Egyptian kings, but none of them later than Amenhotep III, in whose reign (1412-1376) the capture of Jericho would have occurred, according to the early date theory. Over 150,000 sherds were discovered in City IV, according to John Garstang’s published reports, but only one piece was found of the Mycenean type. Since Mycenean ware was introduced into Canaan soon after 1400, we are forced to conclude that City IV was destroyed before the early fourteenth century. Concerning this, John Garstang wrote:

“We are aware that varying opinions have appeared in print which conflict with our interpretation of the date of the fall of Jericho about 1400 B.C. Few such opinions are based on first-hand knowledge of the scientific results of our excavations; while many of them are devoid of logical reasoning, or are based upon preconceptions as to the date of the Exodus. No commentator has yet produced from the results of our excavations, which have been fully published in the Liverpool Annals of Archaeology, any evidence that City IV remained in being after the reign of Amenhotep III…. We see no need therefore to discuss the date as though it were a matter for debate” (The Story of Jericho [London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott, 1948], p. xiv).

Perhaps it should be added that the reference to iron implements as part of the booty taken from Jericho, according to Joshua 6:24, is no decisive evidence that the city fell during the Iron Age (twelfth century and thereafter). In fact the contrary is the case, for during the Iron Age iron objects would hardly have been mentioned with gold and silver as valuable booty, for by the Iron Age this metal had come into common use. Yet iron itself was known and used long before 1200 B.C. in the Near East, for iron objects have been found at Tell Asmar dating from about 2500 B.C. (Oriental Institute Communications, ASOR, 17:59-61). The Hebrew word for “iron” is barzel, corresponding to the Babylonian parzillu, and it was probably derived from the ancient Sumerian language, which spells the word for “iron” as naAN.BAR (Deimel, Sumerisches Lexikon, Heft 2).

As for the often-cited negative findings of Nelson Glueck concerning the nonexistence of sedentary occupation in the Transjordan during the fifteenth century B.C., the most recent (though unofficial) reports indicate that sherds that Glueck could not identify he did not mention in his survey–and some of them may well have been from that period (cf. H.J. Franken and W.J.A. Power, “Glueck’s Exploration in Eastern Palestine in the Light of Recent Evidence,” VT 9 [1971]: 119-23). In the last thirty years an increasing number of excavated sites have testified to urban centers that flourished during the supposedly unoccupied era. Thus G. Lankaster Harding reported in the Biblical Archaeologist for February 1953 the discovery of an ancient tomb in Amman containing numerous artifacts (black-pricked ware, button base vases, oil flasks, scarabs, and toggle pins) dating from about 1600. In his Antiquities of Jordan (1959, p. 32), Harding described characteristically Middle Bronze pottery and other artifacts found at Naur and Mount Nebo. In 1967 a sixteenth-century tomb was discovered in Pella (ASOR Newsletter, December 1967). Under a runway at the Amman airport a Late Bronze temple was uncovered in 1955. The excavations at Deir Alla by Franken and those of Siegfried Horn at Heshbon have shown that the pottery of Transjordan was quite dissimilar to contemporary pottery produced on the West Bank; since Glueck was unaware of this fact, an important margin of error entered into his calculations (cf. E. Yamauchi’s article in Christianity Today, 22 December 1971, p. 26).

The site of Ai is usually identified with Et-Tell, which according to the archaeological evidence was unoccupied between 2200 B.C. and 1200 B.C. or a little afterward. There are many reasons for rejecting the identification of Ai with Et-Tell, but since its period of nonoccupation agrees neither with the early date nor the late date theory, it hardly seems worth discussion. W.F. Albright’s suggestion was that the account in Joshua 7 was garbled and that it was Bethel itself that the Israelites captured and destroyed rather than Ai. But Albright failed to explain how the observers from Bethel were able to descry the pretended flight of the Israelites from the charge of the Aites (Josh. 8:17), or how the inhabitants of both cities could have taken part in the pursuit. The true location of Ai has yet to be discovered, but until further excavation reveals a Late Bronze level of occupation (which is entirely possible) Et-Tell has no bearing whatever on the dating of the Conquest.

On the other hand, the archaeological data from the Wadi Tumilat (ancient Goshen) is quite decisive against a Nineteenth-Dynasty date for the events of the Exodus. In the Nineteenth Dynasty, Rameses II carried on extensive building in that area occupied formerly by the Hebrews. This cannot be reconciled with the situation of exclusive Israelite occupation during the Ten Plagues. The details of the plague of flies, the plague of hail, and the plague of darkness make it clear (in Exod. 8:22; 9:25-26; 10:23) that the Hebrews were exempted from these afflictions in the region that they inhabited. This strongly suggests that no Egyptians were living at all in Goshen during this period, in view of the fact that all the Egyptians had to bear the brunt of these three plagues. But back in the days of Thutmose III and Amenhotep II of the Eighteenth Dynasty, there was no Egyptian building activity in the Wadi Tumilat at all–so far as the present state of our knowledge goes.

As far as the fifth argument for a 1290 date is concerned, that the Book of Judges contains no references to the Egyptian invasions of Seti I and Rameses the great in the land of Canaan, this turns out to be of little weight. The Book of Judges is equally silent concerning Egyptian invasions of Palestine that took place after the death of Rameses II and prior to the establishment of the Hebrew monarchy. His son Merneptah records in the so-called Israel Stela (on display at the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo) an allegedly devastating invasion in 1229 throughout the land of the Hittites, Yanoam near Laish-Dan, Gezer near the Valley of Aijalon, Ashkelon in Philistia, and also against the Horites and the Israelites themselves. This would have to have occurred in the time of the Judges, even according to the late date theory.

Nor is there any mention of the campaigns of Rameses III (1204-1172) of the Twentieth Dynasty. Inscriptions of his (published in Prichard, ANET, p. 262) record that he subdued the Tjeker (Palestinians) and burnt the cities of the Philistines to ashes. Some of the bas-reliefs on his monuments depict his triumphant progress up to Djahi (Phoenicia) to the north. In Beth-shan at the eastern end of the Plain of the Esdraelon, stelae have been discovered attesting his authority in that region. These examples show that the Hebrew account did not see fit to refer to the Egyptian invasions at any period during the time of the Judges. The reason for this silence is not quite clear, but at any rate its supposed evidence for a 1290 date for the Exodus turns out to be valueless.

John Garstang and J.B. Payne both offered the suggestion that the periods of “rest” referred to in Judges may have coincided with periods of time when the Egyptians were in firm control of the main strongholds and important highways of Palestine, thus insuring no major movements of aggression on the part of Mesopotamian invaders or Moabites or Ammonites or Philistines. Thus the eighty years of peace following the death of King Eglon of Moab would have coincided with the pacification of Canaan by Seti I and Rameses II. The quiet period after the overthrow of Jabin and Sisera by Deborah and Barak may have been the result of the firm control by Rameses III. Perhaps the references to the “hornet” sent by the Lord to drive out the Canaanites before the Israelite attack is a covert reference to the Egyptian invasions (cf Exod. 23:28; Deut. 7:20; Josh. 24:12). The hieroglyphic symbol for the king of Lower Egypt was a wasp-shaped bee. Whether or not this was the case, the fact remains that there is no specific reference to any Egyptian invasion of the Holy Land until the time of Solomon, so far as the Hebrew records go.

After this rather extensive survey of the biblical, historical, and archaeological evidence, we are forced to conclude that only the 1445 date can be sustained. It is quite obvious that the Pharaoh from whom Moses had to flee after his slaying of the Egyptian taskmaster remained on the throne until near the close of Moses’ forty-year sojourn in Midian; for Exodus 4:19 reports Yahweh as saying to Moses, “Go, return into Egypt; for all the men are dead which sought your life.” The whole tenor of the narrative in Exodus 2 leads us to believe that it was the Pharaoh of Ex 1:22 who “after many days” passed away, as mentioned in Ex 2:23. No other Pharaoh meets all these qualifications besides Thutmose III. He alone was on the throne long enough (1501-1447) to have been reigning at the time of Moses’ flight from Egypt until near the time of his return.

Thutmose’s son Amenhotep II, who doubtless hoped to equal his father’s prowess, proved unable to launch any invasion of Palestine apart from his modest campaigns in his fifth year and his seventh year–or was it the ninth year? The Memphis stela dates his first campaign in the seventh year and the second in his ninth year, but the Amada stela puts his first campaign in the third year (cf. J.A. Wilson’s footnote in Pritchard, ANET, p. 245). This suggests that some major disaster, such as the loss of his main chariot force in the Red Sea crossing (Exod. 14), was a factor in his diminished scale of foreign aggression.

As for Amenhotep II’s son and successor, Thutmose IV, the evidence of his “Dream Stela” strongly suggests that he was not the firstborn son but a younger son who would not ordinarily have been eligible to succeed him. In this text (which had apparently been somewhat damaged and then later restored) the god of the Sphinx, Harem-akht, appeared to the young prince and promised him the throne of Egypt if he would have his sand-engulfed shrine dug out and restored for worship. Obviously if Thutmose had already been his father’s oldest son, he would have needed no such promise from the god but would have automatically succeeded his father upon the latter’s decease. It is reasonable to infer from this that the oldest son of Amenhotep II was carried off by some accident or illness prematurely–such as the tenth plague.

Many other evidences could be advanced in support of the 1445 B.C. date for the Exodus and in refutation of the 1290 theory, but what has already been adduced is more than sufficient to prove the point. (See further my Survey of Old Testament Introduction, pp. 215-19; Bimson, Redating the Exodus, pp. 35-146; Leon Wood, A Survey of Israel’s History [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970], pp. 88-109.) (Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties [Zondervan Publications, Grand Rapids, MI 1982], pp. 191-198)

FURTHER READING

DID THE PHARAOH OF THE EXODUS DROWN?

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