The Exodus from Egypt
Note: Later added comments in blue.
The 1552 Exodus
The search for an historical Exodus has been stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place. The evidence dug from the rocks has led archaeologists to date the event from the thirteenth century B.C.E. to no Exodus at all. The evidence from Egypt provides almost no support for such dating, and in Canaan it raises as many questions as it answers (Bimson 1978).
The Bible can also be a hard place to find help. The scriptural search for the Exodus gets stuck in a plethora of numbers, usually leading back to the fifteenth century. That time period fails for lack of archaeological support and still does not resolve the biblical accounts. There is a solution, however, that supports the inerrancy of Scripture and satisfies accepted archaeology and established history. The search for the Exodus ends in 1552 B.C.E.
The Exodus in 1552 B.C.E. can be determined from Scripture by back-dating from the foundation of Solomon's Temple in 968. The foundation in the fourth year of Solomon's reign can be established by moving back from the earliest historically established dates matched to the biblical record.
The founding of Samaria occurred in 880 (Kenyon 1979:16) in the sixth year of Omri (I Kings 16:23-24). The last year of Ahab (I Kings 16:29) was 853 (Thiele 1981:72-78). But how many years was it from the Temple foundation back to the Exodus?
It was more than the three hundred years to the reign of Ramses II, which is the usual archaeological solution. It was more than 480 years (I Kings 6: 1), which is the usual scriptural solution. There were 585 years from the founding of Solomon's Temple back to the Exodus, and this can be demonstrated in three proofs.
First, the individual times of the biblical events can be added together to arrive at the number of years between a 1552 Exodus and the 968 Temple foundation. Actual years are often added at one less than the time given in Scripture because the last year of a prior event overlaps the first year of the following event; this eliminates counting the same year twice. However, the years of the kings of Judah from David onward are not reduced by one year because accession reckoning was used, and the first partial year not counted. Notes on problem dating are at the end of Table A.
A. The time of 40 years for the judging of Joshua and the Elders is presumed. It can be demonstrated that the period was beyond 28 years.
B. Samson is not counted separately because he was judge during the last 20 years of the Philistine servitude.
C. Eli's first year as judge is presumed to be in the same year as the last of the Philistine servitude. The actual years read 38 instead of 39 because his last year is included as the first year of the following 20 years.
D. Upon the death of Eli the Ark of the Covenant was removed to Philistia for seven months and, when returned, remained in Kiriath-jearim for 20 years. The end of the 20 years was in the year Saul became king.
E. Many Bible versions incorrectly fill in the missing regnal formula for Saul. The existing Massoretic Text is damaged and reads, "Saul was a son of ... years when he began to reign, and he reigned ... and two years over Israel" (I Samuel 13: 1). By a process of elimination plus other Scriptures it can be established that he reigned 32 years, beginning when he was about forty. The end of the 20 years that the Ark was in Kiriath-jearim occurred seven days after Saul was anointed, and then Saul asked that the Ark be brought to him (I Samuel 13:8-10, 14:18).
F. It can be demonstrated from Scripture that David died in the year he made Solomon co-ruler. Thus Solomon's fourth year would be from either his co-regency or sole rule.
Second, an important consideration is the clear statement from Scripture:
Now it came about in the 480th year after the sons of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign ... that he began to build the house of the Lord. [1 Kings 6:1]
Where are the other 105 years to total 585?
The 480 years is an unusual number in that it represents only the time that God was with the sons of Israel in the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle was God's dwelling place on earth from the time of the Exodus until the Temple was constructed. The other 105 years are the combined time of the six servitudes, when God departed from Israel. [In 1 Kings 6:13 God says He "will not abandon my people Israel," implying He had left them before His promise to David.]
This combined time is described during the period of the judges, when
... they provoked Him with their high places, and aroused His jealousy with their graven images. When God heard, He was filled with wrath, and greatly abhorred Israel; so that He abandoned the dwelling place at Shiloh, the tent which He had pitched among men, and gave up His strength to captivity. [Psalm 78:58-61]
God departed from the Tabernacle during the time of the servitudes, and that time is not reckoned in the 480 years. The missing 105 years are illustrated in Table B.
By counting back 480 years plus 105 years from the foundation of the Temple in 968 the period again begins with a 1552 B.C.E. Exodus.
The interpretation of the "480 years" as being the total of separate periods of time does not appear to be a straightforward solution, just as its representing twelve generations each of forty years is not. However, this skip pattern can be established in Scripture and history.
The earliest timed prophecy in the Bible, for example, occurred when God spoke to Abraham and said, "Your descendants will be strangers in a land(s, plural) that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years." (Genesis 15:13; Acts 7:6). The Hebrew translation is correctly "lands," but translated by presumption as "land" in English. The 400 years consisted of two periods of time in two different lands, as tied together by Amos (5:26-27; also Acts 7:43).
The first period was 215 years in Egypt (Josephus Antiquities 11 15:2) from 1766 to 1552 B.C.E. The period of 430 years (Exodus 12:41) was from Abraham's covenant and entry into Canaan until the Exodus (Exodus 12:41 [LXX]; Galatians 3:17), not just the time in Egypt.
The second part of the 400 years was 185 years of the Assyrian/Babylonian captivity from the fall of Samaria in 722 to Cyrus' decree of release in 538 B.C.E. The Northern Kingdom of Israel had received the "firstborn" rights through Ephraim (1 Chronicles 5:l; Genesis 48:17-20; 1 Kings 11:31-32), and thus represented Abraham's descendants. The prophecy was fulfilled exactly by adding the separate times. Other prophecies also fit this pattern of multiple periods. Some interpretations of Gabriel's prophecy to Daniel (9:24-27) split off the seventieth week into the future.
Third, Paul told us, "for a period of about forty years He put up with them in the wilderness. And when He had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, He distributed their land as an inheritance [-all of which took about 450 years]. And after these things He gave them judges until Samuel the prophet" (Acts 13:18-20).
These 450 years were the time of the judges, from the entry into Canaan until the death of Eli, when Samuel became prophet. The additional forty years mentioned by Paul refers to the time from Samuel's becoming judge until David was anointed in 1023 (I Samuel 16:13-14). The period from the foundation of Solomon's Temple back to the Exodus was again 585 years, again beginning in 1552; see Table C.
1552 and Probability
The pattern of the sabbatical years also supports a 1552 Exodus. The sixteenth century Exodus adds sabbatical years that reckon into later prophecy. [The sequence of Sabbatical Years is found HERE.]
The first sabbatical year was 1499. This is determined by counting forward from 1552, forty years for the time in the wilderness, seven years at war, and the first six years of crops. After that there were seventy sabbatical years during the time of the judges and seventy sabbatical years during the time of the kings.
The seventy years of desolation for Jerusalem prophesied by Jeremiah were decreed because the Jews had not observed seventy sabbatical years (2 Chronicles 36:21). The seventy years began when the land lay fallow on the siege of Nebuchadnezzar in 588 (2 Kings 25), and ended in 519, which was the 141st sabbatical year. Seventy sabbatical years were observed during the time of the judges, but the seventy were not observed during the time of the kings.
Sabbatical years are recorded in 162 B.C.E. (I Maccabees 6:49-53; Antiquities XII, Ch. 9), 134 B.C.E. (Antiquities XIII 8:1), 36 B.C.E. (Antiquities XV 1:2), and 70 C.E. (Babylonian Talmud, 'Arakin 11b). These years fall in exactly the same seven-year pattern as 1499 and 519 (Wacholder 1973; 1983). Thus, 1499 is a correct possible sabbatical year relative to the historically established pattern.
Since the Exodus and sabbatical years are tied together by a fixed number of years, 1552 falls in a sequence of possible years for the Exodus, at seven-to-one odds. The surrounding six years on either side are not possible years, and any other year supported for the Exodus must follow in seven-year intervals before or after 1552.
In 1552 B.C.E. the Exodus on Abib 15 fell on Friday, March 27. This is the correct day of the week, since Abib was a twenty-nine day month in that year, and the following Zif 15 was a Saturday. This Saturday preceded the first week of manna and the first Sabbath rest (Exodus 16:1-13). The Exodus must fall on Friday if Abib was a twenty-nine day month, and on Thursday if a thirty-day month. The Exodus on the correct day of the week also occurs, with a probability of seven to one.
The 1552 Exodus is confirmed with additional forty-nine to one odds if the jubilee year sequence can be identified. Ezekiel (1: 1-2) mentions a thirtieth year parallel to the fifth year of Jehoichin's exile in 593 B.C.E. This year falls exactly in the thirtieth year of the eighteenth jubilee from a 1552 Exodus. With the sabbatical cycle and the day of the week the probability in support of 1552 is seven times seven, or forty-nine to one. If the jubilee cycle is substantiated this can be increased to seven times forty-nine, or 316 to one. However, due to uncertainties in present knowledge of the early Israelite calendar, these odds should be reduced somewhat. [For a discussion of the evolution of the Jewish calendar, click HERE.]
The Evidence from Manetho
Manetho was an Egyptian historian who wrote his Aegyptiaca in the 3rd Century BCE. Modern Egyptologists rely heavily on his lists of kings (pharaohs) and dynasties. Often ignored is Manetho's connection of the Exodus with the Hyksos, which requires an early date like the one offered here. More accessible are Josephus' quotes for Manetho regarding the Hyksos of Avaris (Against Apion Book 1, section 14, HERE).
The Evidence from Egypt
The archaeological support for a 1552 Exodus is also compelling. The events in Egypt at the beginning of the eighteenth dynasty fit the biblical record, including the death of pharaoh's first-born son and the devastation of the delta by plagues. The expulsion of the Hyksos followed by the Exodus of the sons of Israel marks the beginning of the end of the Middle Bronze Age.
According to the proposed chronology Jacob entered Egypt in 1766 during a period of chaos known as the Second Intermediate Period. Joseph would have served more than one of the 76 Egyptian kings of Xois, who exercised divided rule in the western delta. The pharaoh "who did not know Joseph" (Exodus 1: 8) was likely the Hyksos, Salatis, who took control of the Egyptian delta about 1663.
The sons of Israel were "more and mightier" (Exodus 1:9) than the Hyksos, but it was a Hyksos pharaoh who oppressed the Israelites as slaves. It was a Hyksos princess who adopted Moses. The Egyptian pharaoh Ahmose drove the Hyksos from the delta, and the sons of Israel got a new taskmaster. When Moses returned to Egypt the Hyksos who sought his life were all dead (Exodus 4:19), crushed by the Egyptians. Now it was God's turn to crush the Egyptians.
The pharaoh of the Exodus was Ahmose, who became king in 1570, according to the generally accepted high chronology (Edwards, Gadd, and Hammond 1970:187, 819; Wente 1975; Casperson 1986). Ahmose was a child when he came to the throne and operated under the regency of his mother, Queen Ahotep (Harris and Wente 1980). He established the eighteenth dynasty by expelling the foreign Hyksos rulers.
The war against the Hyksos was rekindled by King Ahmose when he came of age, in about 1560. After five seasons of campaigns the Egyptians captured the Hyksos capital of Avaris (Ramses at Tell ed Dab'a) in 1556. The Hyksos retreated to Sharuhen (Tell el Ajjul or Tell el Far'ah), probably with the intent of mounting a counterattack and retaking their delta homeland. After three years the Egyptians captured Sharuhen in 1553.
This victory was immediately followed by an Egyptian campaign up the coast of Canaan to Syria, in pursuit of the fleeing Hyksos, although even this one foray north is disputed (Goedicke 1986). Ahmose then returned to Avaris to rebuild that important commercial delta city. He would have been there early in 1552 when he was confronted by a man who demanded "Let my people go!"
After the disastrous plagues, loss of slaves and army that followed, Avaris was abandoned, to be left unoccupied for over two hundred years. Ahmose returned to his capital at Thebes. He then mounted three campaigns against Cush to reestablish his southern boundary. This ended in 1549, when he turned his attention to domestic affairs, as commemorated by the reopening of the Tura Quarry. Ahmose conducted no more wars.
Pharaoh Ahmose died in 1545. His mummy was found in the cache of royal mummies found at Deir el Bahri in 1881 C.E. He had been re-wrapped by priests during the twenty-first dynasty, in the eleventh century B.C.E. These priests had rescued his mummy from a robbed tomb some five hundred years after Ahmose's death, but the location of that tomb is now unknown.
Another support for the 1552 Exodus is the abandonment of Avaris for about 250 years following the Hyksos expulsion. Avaris had been the capital of the Hyksos domination of the delta, a prosperous trade center, and a well fortified city. It would have been a desirable site for the Egyptians to refortify and occupy. But it was abandoned by the Egyptians after a short occupation (Bietak 1981). Why?
According to Scripture the delta land had just been devastated by terrible plagues against both cattle and crops; only years of famine could follow. The entire slave work force had just left in the Exodus; there was no one to rebuild the city. Ahmose had also lost part of his army in the Sea of Reeds; there was no one left to defend the city. Avaris and much of the delta was consequently abandoned.
Of further interest is the death of Ahmose's first-born son (Exodus 12:29), Ahmose II, or Ahmose-ankh, in 1552. After Ahmose-ankh's death in that year Ahmose's second-born, Amenhotep I, was elevated to a coregency. Ahmose-ankh is pictured on the Masara stele with King Ahmose and Queen Ahmose-Nefretari, dated to years 17 to 22 of King Ahmose; Ahmose-ankh is described as "Eldest King's Son of the God's Flesh." He was coregent, to be succeeded on his early death by second-born Amenhotep I as coregent. This following coregency is suggested by the existence of items inscribed with the names of both Ahmose and Amenhotep I: a glass bead (Gordon 1982), a rectangular amulet in green feldspar, and a limestone stele fragment from Gebelein. From these and further considerations the coregency is virtually certain (Murnane 1977:114-15,230).
The length of this coregency is indicated by an inscription for the "First Occasion of the Jubilee" of Amenhotep I. Normally a jubilee, or Sed festival, is celebrated in the king's thirtieth regnal year, with festivities beginning in the twenty-ninth year. The jubilee monuments had been prepared ahead of time, but some were not completed, indicating the Sed festival did not occur. The presence of Thutmose I on Amenhotep I's funerary bark shrine indicates that he died suddenly before his jubilee, still in about his twenty-eighth year.
Amenhotep I became sole ruler upon the death of Ahmose in 1546, with his own death twenty-one years later in 1525. Back-dating the twenty-eight years from his last year in 1525 gives Amenhotep I's accession as coregent in 1552. In that year Ahmose-ankh died, presumably of the plague described in Scripture or the "Canaanite illness" associated with the expulsion of the Hyksos mentioned in the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus.
The Evidence from Canaan
The Rhind Mathematical Papyrus also mentions a "voice" of Seth, or "thunder," which has been linked to the eruption of Thera (Goedicke 1986:40). This catastrophic event has been further linked to the Exodus (Wilson 1985). The generally accepted date for the eruption of Thera in the mid-sixteenth century here supports a 1552 Exodus. However, recent radiocarbon dating favors a seventeenth-century event (Manning 1990), or possibly an earlier eruption. [More recently the dating from pumice at Tel el Daba'a has suggested an eruption about 1540 BCE (Schofield, Louise (2007). The Mycenaeans. p. 69.).]
[An explanation of the parting of the "Red Sea" may be explained by a major eruption of Thera at that time. If the Sea of Reeds was connected to the Mediterranean Sea the water would have receded for the Israelites to pass prior to the tsunami wave striking the Egyptians. The Thera eruption may explain the "pillar of cloud" and "pillar of fire" that went before the fleeing Israelites so they might initially travel by day or night (Exodus 13:21).]
The entry of Joshua and the sons of Israel into Canaan was in 1512. The wars following mark the end of the Middle Bronze Age. The destruction and depopulation of upland Canaan at that time is well established in the archaeological record. The destroyed area matches the biblical record, while there are no Egyptian records of any activity in upland Canaan at that time.
There is also no evidence that any of this destruction can be attributed to the fleeing Hyksos. Their main army initially retreated to Sharuhen, and then into Syria. Why else would Ahmose proceed to Syria and not into upland Canaan? The Egyptians did not have a policy of killing all the inhabitants of cities they captured; this was illustrated after the battle of Megiddo in 1482 when Thutmose III allowed his captives to live.
It would make little sense to destroy people who will pay you tribute. The motive of Egyptian revenge against the Hyksos is not supported by evidence of multiple campaigns or victory steles. All recorded Egyptian campaigns indicate that they stayed primarily in the coastal area enroute to Syria. Table D lists confirmed Egyptian campaigns interwoven with the biblical record.
The Israelites did have a policy of killing all inhabitants of the cities they captured. The Hyksos or Egyptian incursions into Canaan do not account for the depopulation of upland Canaan (Shea 1979). The Israelite death policy does account for the depopulation.
The destruction of Jericho by the Israelites occurred in 1512. A heavily burned destruction level was dated by Kathleen Kenyon to about 1560, based on her early date for the Hyksos expulsion in 1567. The destruction level was attributed, without confirming evidence, to the fleeing Hyksos or pursuing Egyptians. The destruction could, however, also be attributed to Joshua in 1512. One small area of this Middle Bronze Age city survived on the east side, near the spring; was this perhaps the wall section that contained Rahab's home?
After this destruction level Jericho was unoccupied until about 1400. This habitation was without evidence of new walls, but possibly with the reuse of existing fortifications. The actual reoccupation would have been in 1428 by Eglon, king of Moab, who "defeated Israel, and they possessed the city of palm trees [Jericho]" (Judges 3:13). This occupation ended about 1300.
The conquest of Ai is not clear-cut in the archaeological record. The identification of Et Tell as Ai raises a problem. Et Tell was unoccupied from about 2400 to 1220, thus supporting no date for the Exodus. The use of scriptural geography and rejection of scriptural history calls this identification into question, and the ruins of Et Tell are not likely to be the ruins of Ai.
The last site to be discussed specifically is Hazor. The earliest city occupation and its fortifications date from about 1750. Some time in the sixteenth century the city was destroyed in a violent fire, also attributed to the fleeing Hyksos or pursuing Egyptians. Hazor was reoccupied in the fourteenth century, and from the Amarna letters (227:3; 228:23) it is known the city was then occupied by Canaanites. Later destruction, again by fire, is dated to 1250-1225. This has been attributed to Joshua. However, the sixteenth-century destruction of Hazor can also be attributed to Joshua at the end of that century. The destruction of 1250-1225 might be attributed to Deborah and Barak in 1313, or possibly Pharaoh Seti I, who came through the area in about 1318, if not to some later unknown event.
None of the other northern towns was burnt by fire (Joshua 11: 13). Other excavated sites that indicate a destruction level at about the time of Joshua's 1512 entry into Canaan include Bethel, Tell el Far'ah-North, Bethshan(?), Dan, Tell en Nagila, Maihata, Ashkelon, Bethzur, Bethshemesh, Gibeon(?), Shiloh, Taanach, and possibly Tell el Maza. Southern sites with destruction levels at about the end of the Middle Bronze Age include Tell Ed Duweir (Lachish), Tell el Hesi (Eglon), and Tell Beit Mirsim (Hebron). These were reportedly destroyed by Joshua.
Based on scarab distribution, the Hyksos heartland was in central and southern Canaan. This area was almost totally destroyed and depopulated. The Hyksos did not destroy themselves; many had fled north to escape the Egyptians. Joshua's destruction of those remaining towns is accurately described in Scripture.
The coastal plain controlled by the Egyptians was not ravaged, and there was only limited destruction. The following excavated sites in coastal and northern Canaan were outside Joshua's area of control and show no destruction levels at the end of the sixteenth century: Tell el Ajjul, Gezer, Tell Jerishe, Jaffa, Aphek, Tell Merorakh, Tell Megadim, Acco, Achzib, and Nahariya (Weinstein 1981).
The late entry of the Israelites into Canaan in about 1250-1225 has been used to explain the general settling of the land in about 1200. At about that time many new settlements were started in the hill country, with a new style of house and small changes in the pottery. At this time, however, the area was overrun by the Sea People. The name Palestine is derived from one of these invaders, the Peleset, or Philistines.
The Sea People were defeated by Ramses III in 1190. The first servitude of Israel to the Philistines/Ammonites (Judges 10:7) was in 1184. The Philistines brought new culture, some of which may have been adopted by Israelites. The probable restriction of grazing rights by the Philistines, on one side, and Ammonites, on the other, would have caused a partial shift of the Israelites from a semi-nomadic to sedentary life. There is, by this time, general agreement that the Israelites are on the land.
The absolute chronology of the biblical Exodus is based on establishing 968 B.C.E. as the date of the foundation of Solomon's Temple, and interpreting the biblical numbers to back-date 585 years to 1552 B.C.E. This can be done by using all the numbers of time in the wilderness, the judges (assuming forty years for Joshua), servitudes, Ark in hiding, and reigns of the first kings.
The same date can be reached by the 480 years plus 105 years of the servitudes, or using Paul's number of 450 years for the judges. A 1552 Exodus is a highly probable year based on the sabbatical year cycle and day of the week. If the jubilee cycle is confirmed, then 1552 is statistically almost the only year in which the Exodus could have occurred.
An historical Exodus in 1552 falls in line with the death of pharaoh's first-born and the abandonment of the Egyptian delta, according to the generally accepted Egyptian high chronology. The entry of Joshua into Canaan in 1512 falls in line with the generally accepted beginning of the Late Bronze Age, which is characterized by destruction and depopulation. The archaeology of that period supports the biblical descriptions.
There need be no conflict between the interpretations of tell and text. The Exodus in 1552 B.C.E. supplies a common interpretation to both Scripture and archaeology.
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Edwards, Gadd, and Hammond, Eds., The Cambridge Ancient History, 3rd Ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970, Vol. 1.
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