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Hebrews In Egypt

The Bible records Jacob settling in Egypt, in the land called Rameses.  They became slaves to Egypt and were used to construct the Rameses city.  After 430 years of intense labor and poverty, they left.  (Genesis 47:11,27; Exodus 1:11, 12:37-40).  Is this the only explicit record of Israelites being enslaved in Egypt?  There are a couple logical questions we must ask then we can ponder any sort of evidence or support for the bible's claim.

  1. Is there Egyptian record of every people group used as slave laborers?  No.  They did not record every people group. In fact, they lumped people groups together.
  2. Is Egyptian records the only source of Egyptian history?  No.  There are other sources used to fully understand Egyptian history.
  3. Can we expect to have a complete record of Egypt over 3,000 years later? No.  In fact in more recent history, a lot of African American families do not have a complete, or any, family record just from 170 years ago.
  4. Is 'no evidence' proof of nonexistence?  No.  The Hittites had no other reference to their existence out side of the bible for the most of common history.  Scholars claimed that people group did not actually exist.  Then, later, archeological findings validated the bibles reference.  The equal possibility is that the evidence just has not been discovered yet.
  5. Is Egyptian recorded history fully accurate?  No.  Egyptians are known as revisionist; this was proven by their inaccurate account of their war with the Hittites. 
With these 5 points in mind; lets us look at what evidences or support there is for The Bible (which predominate secular historians have concluded that the bible is generally historically reliable) in relation to Egypt and Israelite history.

Jacob, father of Joseph, lived in the land of Canaan.  Joseph was betrayed by his brothers and sold to Midianite merchants who then brought him to Egypt and sold him again there.   Joseph later becomes a predominate figure in that region of Egypt.  A drought hits his father's region of Canaan and they move to Egypt as well around late 1800BC.  In Egypt where they lived was called The Land of Rameses (which was called Rowaty prior to Rameses).  For roughly 16 to 20 generations they lived and worked in Egypt and for Egypt.  As their populations grew the Pharaoh of the time wanted to reduce their numbers in fear of them teaming up with recently crushed Hyksos groups to fight against Egypt. Moses was born at this time and was hidden on away where the Pharaohs daughter discovered him and raised him (Where he gets his name "Moses" from the family of Tuthmose I).  He grew up and killed a Egyptian slave-master and he fled Egypt.  He then had an encounter with God and returned to demand the freedom of all Israelites from Egypt. The Pharaoh refused and then God sent the plagues.  The Israelite people then leave their 430 years of captivity in Egypt which may have taken place around mid 1450BC.

Israeli Life in Egypt

The city of Rameses has been discovered and has been under excavations since 1966.  There is evidences that shows it was settled around the 19th century BC by Asiatics (people groups from the east).  It was unfortified.  In the city were rectangular huts made with sand bricks (Bietak 1986: 237; 1991b: 32).  Though not all residents of the city lived in huts, there was one small villa for some sort of city official (Joseph was appointed an Egyptian official). The floor plans are identical to the Israelite houses of the later Iron Age (Holladay 1992a).  1/5 of all the pottery found at the site was of Palestinian Middle Bronze Age type (Bietak 1996: 10).

The tombs in the city were made of mud bricks in Egyptian fashion, but the contents were strictly Asiatic. Although most had been plundered, half of the male burials still had weapons of Palestinian type in them.  Not too far from the villa compound, was a unique monumental tomb labeled 'Tomb 1'. Excavators found fragments of a large statue depicting an Asiatic official. The likeness was of a seated official. It was made of limestone and exhibited excellent workmanship. The skin was yellow, the traditional color of Asiatics in Egyptian art. It had a mushroom-shaped hairstyle, painted red, typical of that shown in Egyptian artwork for Asiatics. A throwstick, the Egyptian hieroglyph for a foreigner, was held against the right shoulder. (Bietak 1996: 20-21).  In Genesis 50:26 it states that Joseph was buried in Egypt (The Land of Rameses [Rowaty]).  In other areas of the cemetery, intact skeletons can be found but in this special tomb, only a few bones were found (Bietak 1991a: 61).  Joseph asked that his bones be moved once they leave Egypt and Moses is recorded as doing so (Exodus 13:19; cf. Genesis 50:25).  It was common for tombs to be broken into to steal the valuables, but the bodies were rarely disturbed (Rohl 1995: 363).

Then later in its history, a palace complex was built on top of the huts and villa.  Also, the statue of the Egyptian official was defaced. Around this point in history the Hyksos (Egyptian term for "foreign rulers" and general reference to Asiatics) begin taking control of a portion of Egypt and actually ruled for 108 years.  Once they were expelled, the new Pharaoh did not know Joseph or his people like the Hyksos did. This is also recorded in Exodus 1:8.  Which also ushered in the oppression and loss of wealth (Exodus 1:9-12).  The Pharaoh Tuthmosis III's regular war campaigns suddenly stopped in Egyptian history after the Exodus event.

The Exodus Event

The Ipuwer Papyrus is a highly controversial and contested find.  It details calamities and ordeals that Egypt experienced during the reign of a unnamed Pharaoh.  When considering points 2 and 5 the only issue is the dating of this find.  It commonly has a broad range of dating from 2200BC to 1700BC; 500 years is a broad range.  But the name, Ipuwer, was still used around 1500BC.  The name aside, given the vast date range, the one thing that can be said is the date is far from known; thus, with the name, could have been a witness to the Exodus event.  The calamities described and the severity of them do not happen often which would make it odd, given the details, that they occurred multiple times, as described, in Egypt.

The claim of 'contradictions' would assume that The Ipuwer Papyrus is true to disprove the Exodus account.  But what is proven is Egyptian revisionist track record. Also the document is written from the Egyptian perspective so logically you can not assume it should not contradict it for it to be true.  Even in modern witness testimony in court, some degree of discrepancies are expected but do not negate the truthfulness of what does correlate.  A Pharaoh that gets embarrassed by slaves and foreigners would not get accurately recorded on purpose unless it was by his rival Egyptians.  In this case, the whole nation clearly suffered and was brought to shame.  That would also explain a lack of record during this time.  It is also interesting to note that Hatshepsut was being erased by Tuthmosis III which was his own step mother, why? 

Some claim it was just a poem but this does not account for the ironic similarities between it and the account recorded in Exodus.  Secondly, if for the sake of argument, it was just a poem; how then is it not a poetic recording a historic event?  It was not an 'end time' apocalyptic writing either as it became optimistic of the future of the nation after this event. 

The descriptions in the writing are every interesting:
IP1 "“The plunderer is everywhere, and the servant takes what he finds." IP2: "[hearts] are violent, pestilence is throughout the land, blood is everywhere, death is not lacking... the river is blood, yet men drink of it. Men shrink from human beings and thirst after water... Indeed, gates, columns and walls are burnt up,...Egypt has become an empty are few" IP3 "Gold and lapis lazuli, silver and malachite, carnelian and bronze… are fastened on the neck of female slaves." IP4 "Trees are destroyed and the branches are stripped off" IP5 "If I knew where God is, then I would serve Him... all animals, their hearts weep; cattle moan because of the state of the land. Indeed, the children of princes are dashed against walls, and the children of the neck are laid out on the high ground...that has perished which was yesterday seen. The land is left over to its weariness like the cutting of flax...“Slaves (who have now been freed) are throughout the land." IP6 "No fruit nor herbs are found Oh, that the earth would cease from noise, and tumult (uproar) be no more." IP7 "Behold, the fire has mounted up on high. Its burning goes forth against the enemies of the land." IP9 "The land is without light."
After reading that; take time to read the details in Exodus 7:14-13:16

The ten plagues are possibly witnessed; fire, child death, drinking bloody water due to the Nile turning to blood, slaves being freed, pillaging, loud noises and plants stripped (locus horde?), and darkness... When the majority of a nations laborers are suddenly taking all the food and wealth to hit the road, following multiple national catastrophes; of course it would be perceived as evil, they would be vilified and thought of as enemies; Egypt in the 15th Century BC would feel victimized. Hatshepsut, Moses step mother and wife of Tuthmosis II, is also erased from history by Tuthmosis III probably due in part to this historic national embarrassment.

Archeological finds in the slave town of Kahun revealed two interesting details.  An oddly large amount of infants and young people were buried under houses and the town itself, described by the archeologist, seems to have been suddenly abandoned.  This can support what is described in Exodus 1:16 and Exodus 12:30-34.  Pharaoh killing the babies would have been due to a concern not to repeat the history with the Hyksos growing in numbers and power and retaking parts of Egypt like they did in previous history; this may have occurred only a generation after expelling them out of Egypt; after their 108 year reign was brought to an end.

Low Chronological Timeline:

1890BC - Joseph is sold into slavery and brought into Egypt
1880BC - Joseph is made an official in Egypt
1870BC - Jacob brings family to Egypt due to a famine in Canaan.
1650BC - The Hyksos invade and begin their rule in a portion of Egypt (K. A. Kitchen, Ebers Papyrus).
1550BC - Ahmoses, the 18th Dynasty, begins to push the Hyksos out of Egypt
1530BC - Ahmoses completely expels Hyksos out of Egypt and enslaves early Hebrew people.
1525BC - Amuntotep kills babies to prevent a future uprising.  Moses is discovered by Hatshepsut (Ex 2:5) who is the wife of Tuthmoses II and daughter of Tuthmoses I.
1510BC - Ahmoses reign ends and Tuthmoses I takes power.
1490BC - Tuthmoses II takes control and reigns until 1485BC.
1485BC - Tuthmoses III coreigns with Hatshepsut and Moses leaves Egypt after killing a Egyptian slavemaster (Ex 2:15).
1460BC -  Hatshepsut dies leaving Tuthmoses III in full control of Egypt.
1465BC -  Tuthmoses III begins annual campaigns into Canaan
1450BC -  Moses returns to Egypt and the Exodus Event takes place. Then the Israelites move into the wilderness for 40 years and make it to Mt. Sinai and the Jordan. The nation of Israel becomes culturally defined during this time and separate from the other people groups of the region. 
1430BC - Amenhotep II, "a second son" (first son died due to Egyptian plague) of Tuthmoses III enters Canaan and captures 100,000 slaves some called 'Habiru' or 'Apiru' (recorded numbers are embellished).  'Habiru' could be the first time the Hebrews are labeled as its own people group by outside nations.
1422BC - Amenhotep II signs a peace treaty with Mitanni due to the weakened state of Egypt.
1406BC - Joshua crosses the Jordan and begins Canaan conquest (Deut 31).

Why are there not more records of the Israelites before the 14th century BC?
  1. The nation themselves did not have a defined cultural identity.
  2. They were just less important laborers and slaves in Egyptian society.
  3. Not even every Egyptian official is named or recorded; much less names of slaves.
  4. They were immersed in Egyptian culture, but Egypt grouped them generally with 'Hyksos', 'Asiatic' and 'Habiru' understood as just "ruler(s) of the foreign countries (Hyksos)" with "a group of people living as nomadic invaders (Habiru)" and "used to mean people beyond the borders of Egypt (Asiatic)"; thus they blended in with all the other people groups that fit into these labels.
  5. Keep in mind point number 4. 'no evidence' is not proof of nonexistence.
The Compelling Correlations and Explanations
  • Egypt traded with nomadic people from the east just as recorded in Genesis and Exodus.
  • Homes in The Ramses region of Egypt are identical to later Hebrew homes in east.
  • The people from the east, later called Hyksos migrated to Egypt and eventually conquered a portion of Egypt. This explains the reaction by Egypt of killing and enslaving the non-egyptians living in Egypt as recorded in Exodus. High amount of infant and children buried remains in the houses of slaves supports this.
  • Moses was adopted by the Tuthmose family; thus where he got the name Moses; Tuth-mose.
  • The only evidence of non-egyptian slaves making mud bricks is in the tomb Rekhmire who lived at the same time as Thutmoses III and the same time the Israelites were recorded as enslaved and making mud bricks.
  • The Ipuwer Papyrus descriptions are extremely similar to the Exodus account.  
  • Tuthmoses III did not die from the 10th plague (death of all first born) due to he was technically the second son because Moses would have been adopted before his birth.
  • The abrupt abandonment of slave homes support a quick Exodus from Egypt.
  • Tuthmoses III's regular war campaigns into Canaan suddenly stop may be due to losing his whole army at the Red Sea as recorded in Exodus.
  • Defacing the record of Hatshepsut by Tuthmoses III could be due to her positive relationship with Moses as being his step-mother through adoption and the embarrassment of returning to Egypt without an army after the Exodus.
  • Defacing the record of a 'Senmut' who may have been the nurse for Hatshepsut; whom would have helped raise Moses.  
  • Tuthmoses III's second son takes over because his first son would have died in the 10th plague.
  •  After becoming a defined ethnic group in the wilderness after the Exodus, Amenhotep II, "a second son" attempts to capture slaves in the east where some were called 'Habiru', strikingly similar to in word and sound to "Hebrew". 
  • Amenhotep II goes on a campaign not long after Exodus event happened to capture slaves maybe due to the lack of slaves left in Egypt due to the Exodus.  Then signs a treaty to avoid conflict probably due to a weak military due the result from the Exodus event.

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