Did the Exodus Really Happen?
(Deut. 16:1-3) This memorial became a vital part of the practice of
the Israelites. It was upon the observance of the Passover that Jesus
instituted the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:15) and in His sacrifice Jesus became “our
Passover” (1 Cor. 5:7).
In the spring
of 2001 David Wolpe, considered the “rabbi” of Sinai Temple, the largest
conservative Jewish congregation in Los Angeles, made history by stating during
a Passover sermon:
...Virtually every modern
archaeologist who has investigated the story of the Exodus, with very few
exceptions, agrees that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way
it happened, if it happened at all (Tugend, Tom. “L.A. Rabbi Creates Furor by
Questioning Exodus Story” Jweekly.com May 4, 2001).
Many scholars and archaeologist
hold similar views. This has led many too...
Abandon faith or
Refuse to consider biblical teaching at all.
Wolpe claimed, “it doesn’t matter” if it really happened
or not (Wolpe).
I. It Matters a Great Deal.
The Exodus was promised to Abraham long before it took place (Gen.
15:13-14; Acts 7:6).
became the focal point of Israelite history and the point back to which all
successive generations looked for their national identity.
The Exodus prophetically foreshadowed Jesus’ own time in Egypt when His
family escaped from Herod (Hos. 11:1; Matt. 2:15).
Jesus affirmed the reality of events crucial to the Exodus, including...
giving of the Law (John 7:19).
(John 6:31-32), and...
messianic prophecies about Jesus (John 5:45).
disciples recounted the Exodus as a historical fact (Acts 7:36; 13:17; Heb.
3:16; Jude 5).
compared baptism to the crossing of the Red Sea—proclaiming Jesus as the “rock”
that sustained the Israelites (1 Cor. 10:1-4).
the Exodus didn’t happen the gospel itself is a myth!
Patterns of Evidence: Exodus. There have been many attempts
to resolve these issues, but some recent work has proposed an intriguing theory
with which serious students of the Bible should become familiar.
A. In August
of 2015 filmmaker Tim Mahoney released a documentary entitled Patterns of
Evidence: Exodus (Thinking Man Films, 2014, Film).
by Kevin Sorbo with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli
President Shimon Peres, notable Egyptologists, archaeologists, professors, and
even David Wolpe.
film traces over a decade of Mahoney’s personal travel and investigation to uncover
the true nature of the evidence for the Exodus.
acknowledges his own belief in Jesus, but sets out to objectively consider the
evidence related to this issue.
first part of the two-hour film Mahoney takes the viewer through the arguments and
evidence offered by the majority of scholars dismissing the historicity of the
expresses his own discouragement at that point in the face of such seemingly
The last portion of the film, however, offers a collection of
evidence that establishes a compelling theory which, (if valid) forms patterns
of evidence that not only demonstrate the historicity of the Exodus but
have the potential to radically alter the traditionally accepted chronology of
much of ancient history.
The “New Chronology” Theory.
major figure in this investigation is Egyptologist David Rohl—a professed
1995 Rohl published a book and a three-part documentary featured on the
Discovery Channel entitled Pharaohs and Kings: A Biblical Quest (New
York: Crown Publishers, 1995).
these works and in the years that have followed Rohl has argued that anomalies
in traditional Egyptian chronology have added more than three hundred years to
the timeline of history affecting how we date many events in the ancient world.
to Rohl, this has unnecessarily pushed back the dating of events that correlate
precisely with the biblical record. Mohoney interviews Rohl throughout his film
about his (so-called) “new chronology” theory.
The Problems in Dating.
first problem rests in an assumption. Exodus 1:11 records that before the Exodus
the Israelites were compelled to build the storage cities of “Pithom and
Raamses” (Exod. 1:11), also spelled “Rameses” (Exod. 12:37).
II was one the most important Pharaohs of Egyptian history, constructing
colossal buildings and monuments and waging major campaigns into Lybia, Nubia, and
against the Hittites as far as Kadesh in Syria.
name of the storage city mentioned in Scripture led many to assume that Rameses
II must have been the Pharaoh of the Exodus.1 As a result, many
dated the Exodus to his reign, traditionally dated from 1279–1213 BC.
while history has preserved an abundance of information about his reign, it
does not preserve evidence of biblical plagues, the Exodus, or the destruction
of his army in the Red Sea during his reign.
Mahoney and Rohl offer two compelling pieces of evidence that challenge
this identification of Rameses II as the Pharaoh of the Exodus.
Stele. What has long been considered the oldest reference to “Israel”
outside of the Bible is found on a granite inscription memorializing the deeds
of Merneptah II, the son and successor of Rameses II.
listing kingdoms Merneptah conquered it lists Israel.
Rameses reigned more that 60 years, Merneptah reigned for less than ten years
after his father’s death (1213-1204 BC).
That would not allow enough time for Israel to be an established
nation in Canaan by his time. Note: The hieroglyphs use determinative
indicating an ethnic group rather than geographical territory, but this doesn’t
fully resolve the problem.
Berlin Pedestal. In recent years an artifact has come to light that predates
the Merneptah inscription by 130 years but also includes Israel in a similar
18 inch granite block housed in Berlin was once part of the pedestal of a
statue dating to the dynasty before Rameses.
makes it clear that Rameses II could not have been the Pharaoh of the Exodus if
Israel existed in Canaan as a nation well before his reign.
Mahoney draws attention to an important detail in the Biblical record
that comes when Solomon began to build the temple in Jerusalem.
Kings 6:1 records that this work began, “in the four hundred and eightieth
year after the children of Israel had come out of the land of Egypt, in the
fourth year of Solomon’s reign” (NKJV).
is widely agreed that Solomon began his reign in the year 970 BC.
fourth year of this reign would be 966 BC. So 480 years before this would place
the Exodus at 1456 BC, some 200 years before the time of Rameses II.
if scholars look to the time of Rameses II for the Exodus it is no wonder they
don’t find evidence!
Significance of an Early Dating of the Exodus. Does an earlier
dating of the Exodus provide evidence supporting the biblical account? Some
would say yes, but this is where Rohl’s “new chronology” figures into
(independent of any religious objective) argues that additional corrections to traditional
Egyptian dating resolve it completely.
Mahoney does not explain details of Rohl’s Egyptian “new
chronology,” but in Rohl’s own documentary he makes his case.
Summary of Rohl’s Chronology.
Rohl first offers evidence to show that two Egyptian dynasties
have been arranged consecutively when they actually overlapped.
He then argues that an early mistaken identification was made
between the historical Pharaoh Shoshenq I the biblical Pharaoh Shishak.
Scripture, Shishak brought 12,000 chariots and 60,000 horsemen and “people
without number” against fortified cities in Judah (2 Chron. 12:2-4) and “took
away everything” from the temple and gold shields Solomon had made (1 Kings
problem is that a conquest list on a wall relief in Karnak listing Shoshenq’s
conquests doesn’t include Jerusalem and records more Israelite cities than
the biblical record Shishak offered refuge to Jeroboam before his reign as king
of the newly formed northern kingdom of Israel (1 Kings 11:40).
a Pharaoh besiege the territory of one for whom he had offered political
Rohl argues the best evidence for the biblical Shishak is
actually Rameses II.
a memorial relief of Rameses near Luxor it claims he plundered a city called
“Shalem”—the root of the name Jerusalem and an alternate name for the city (cf.
Gen. 14:18; Heb. 7:1-2).
this is correct it would change the dating of the reign of Rameses II from
1279–1213 BC to 943-877 BC.
would also move forward the dates scholars have assigned to many events in
Egyptian and Canaanite history.
Evidence with the “New Chronology.” So what evidence of the Exodus
exists if the date of the Exodus is moved back, and the chronology of events in
Egyptian and Canaanite history is moved forward?
¥ The problem
has never really been one of evidence—it is a problem of dating.
archaeology has uncovered coincide perfectly with the biblical record, but
because of the way things have been dated it has been argued that they fall far
too early to match the biblical account.
—If the “new chronology” is accurate
that is no longer the case.
of a Conquest of Palestine. What is generally known as the Middle Bronze
Age IIB period in Palestine would now fit the period of Joshua’s conquest of
During this period we find the destruction and burning of the city of Hazor
and a tablet with the name “Jabin” as a royal name (Ben-Tor).
This matches the biblical account (Josh. 11:1-11).
We find the walls of Jericho falling down and burned after the collapse,
with one section of dwellings attached to the wall left intact (Wood).
This matches the biblical account (Josh. 6:1-25).
of a Departure from Egypt. The “new chronology” would move the time of the
Exodus to a period of Egyptian history called the Second Intermediate Period.
Hykssos. At some point during this period something created severe
instability in Egypt allowing a race the Egyptian historian Manetho called the Hykssos
to take control without battle (Josephus, Against Apion 1.73).
Some have suggested this was the Israelites or the race of the Pharaoh
who did not know Joseph (Exod. 1:8).
What if instability caused by plague, death, and the destruction of its
army in the Red Sea left Egypt vulnerable after the Exodus?
The Bible says they were still “destroyed” forty years after the
Exodus (Deut. 11:3).
Ipuwer Papyrus. We have a papyrus housed in the Netherlands that likely
came from this period describing the Nile turned to blood, death everywhere, and
the servants taking possessions of the treasures of the rich.
This matches the biblical account (Exod. 7-12).
Brooklyn Papyrus. We have a papyrus that lists Hebrew names among lists of
slaves in Egypt (Hayes). These names include feminine forms of two of Joseph’s
brothers: Ashera=Asher (Gen. 30:13) and Sekera=Issachar (Gen.
30:18), ‘Aqoba, the feminine form of Jacob, and even Shiphrah,
the name of one of the Hebrew midwives (Exod. 1:15).
This matches the biblical account—Israelites were enslaved (Exod.
Habitation at Avaris. The storage city the Bible calls “Rameses” was
also known as Avaris (Aling). Excavations have shown that Avaris was the home
of Semitic peoples—not Egyptians. At some point there was a sudden departure of
these people from this city.
This is the city from which the Bible tells us the Israelites departed
when they left Egypt (Exod. 12:37).
of a Sojourn in Egypt. The “new chronology” would move the beginning of the
Israelite sojourn in Egypt to the period known as the Middle Kingdom. During
this period we find some interesting things in connection with Avaris.
“Four-Room” House in Avaris. Very early in this period there is evidence of
what archaeologist call a “four-room” house that was typical of the kind of
house found among the Israelites.
The Bible tells us that Pharaoh gave Jacob and his family a place to
dwell in Goshen—the area where Avaris is located (Gen. 47:6, 27).
of Prominent Semitic Man in Avaris. In this Semitic settlement are the ruins
of a large tomb with a statue of a Semitic man of some importance.
Bible says that Pharaoh made Joseph (a non-Egyptian) second to him over all
Egypt (Gen. 41:41-45). Was this statue Joseph?
Mahoney ends his film acknowledging that he is a filmmaker and not
an expert in these fields, but he expresses his conviction that this evidence deserves
consideration by the public.
Rohl’s “new chronology” has its critics, and only time will tell
if it withstands the test of further analysis and scrutiny.
I too am no expert, but in the face of a world quick to
dismiss biblical accounts, Christians should at least become familiar with
arguments credible scholars have made and evidence that potentially matches the
very events recorded in the inspired text.