While Jewish and Christian believers in the Bible accept the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt as an article of faith, archaeologists relate to the event from the standpoint of physical evidence. But ironically, this archaeological evidence can lead to diametricallyopposed conclusions.
For instance, Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University claims that the Exodus never happened. He explains this in his book, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts, which he co-authored with American colleague Neal Asher Silverman. This stands in stark contrast to Mikra mul Archiologia (Bible vs. Archaeology), a book by Daniel Moshe Levy and Joseph Rothstein, two Israeli archeologists who say that the Exodus did indeed happen, and just as the Bible says it did. There are many historical sources for the biblical text which have aroused great interest. The unnamed Pharaoh of the Book of Exodus is believed to belong to a different dynasty than formerly thought; a plague involving “the death of the firstborn” is found in an ancient Egyptian writing; and the story of Moses’ childhood appears in an Egyptian legend.
“Thirty dynasties are mentioned in ancient Egypt,” Levy said on Israel Radio. “They are divided into four periods—the Early Dynastic Period, followed by the Middle Kingdom, the New Kingdom and the Late Period. Most Israeli archeologists place the Exodus from Egypt at the time of the New Kingdom or the Late Period. That would be between the 15th and the 18th dynasty, or 1400-1200 BC. But in this period there are no archeological finds that relate to the Exodus. That’s why some archeologists say that the Bible is wrong.”
To compensate for this apparent lack of archeological evidence, Levy and Rothstein’s book describes a “lost tribe” dating to the 4th Dynasty (around 2500 BC). This is based on evidence of some 3,000 Egyptian graves that are different from others during that period. The skulls are not typical of Egyptian skulls of the time which have a long, extended structure, but rather are broader in form. In addition, these graves were found in a separate area, away from other graves.
“Along with the graves, clay fragments were discovered that are usually only found in Canaan,” Levy explained. “Also, archeological finds suggest that these people were wealthy and culturally advanced in earlier times, but had become poorer in later generations. If you see the children of Israel in this lost tribe, then their disappearance from later Egyptian archeological evidence can be explained by the Exodus from Egypt.”
The book tells of an Egyptian legend from the 12th Dynasty about a 4th Dynasty Pharaoh. The story is reminiscent of Pharaoh’s fear that the Israelites would become so numerous that they would overrun his kingdom, prompting him to throw the newborn sons of the Israelites into the Nile (Exodus 1).
“A priest tells Pharaoh about a horrible woman who carries children in her body who will rule over his empire in the future,” the legend says. “When Pharaoh hears this he falls ill. The priest comforts him by saying that this will not happen in his time but in his son’s.” Eventually, the children of this woman are saved.
Levy and Rothstein’s book also mentions an Egyptian inscription which describes the 5th dynasty Pharaoh Unas: “The Pharaoh Unas will stand trial before the One whose name is hidden, on the day the firstborn were killed.”
These are just a few examples of the archaeological evidence presented by the authors that support the biblical narrative. The book is not yet available in English translation.
By Aviel Schneider – israeltoday.co.il – electronic June 2012 edition