It was the beginning of epic story. The cry of Hebrews in Egypt, was heard by God and he decided to deliver them from Egypt and take them to the land that flows milk and honey. God intervention in the world was a turning point in the Bible. One man Moses was chosen to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt through the parting waves at Red Sea and into the promise land.
For years Archaeologists have been searching the evidence behind the story:
- What caused the Ten Plagues?
- Did the parting of red sea leave any traces behind?
- Where exactly in Mount Sinai?
- Who was Moses?
Gradually new evidence is emerging that shed light on the life of Moses, the real places, the actual events and the very people behind the earliest chapters of the greatest story ever told.
In Exodus it is written you shall keep the feast of Unleavened bread for on this day i brought your house out of Egypt. The story of Exodus has been been told and retold for centuries. It is the foundation of the Jewish faith and Moses himself is seen by Judaism, Christianity and Islam as the founding father of “monotheism” the belief in the one and only God.
For well over a century explorers have been looking for evidence of Moses and the Exodus. It is only recently that the evidence has started to come to light and adds a historical touch to the biblical story. At first Archaeologists come in the desert of Egypt had very little to show for their efforts. For example the Bible says that before entering the promised land, all 600,000 Hebrews wandered in the wilderness of the Sinai desert for 40 years. Such a massive movement of people should have left traces behind.
Archaeologists have found that cooking remains in the form of charred bones and pottery can survive for thousands of years. And yet no such evidence has emerged of such mass wandering of people’s. As a result some experts jumped to a startling and controversial conclusion.
If you excavate in Egypt and if you don’t find any remains which could be combined with Israelite, so the conclusion is no Israelite ever dwelt in Egypt. After a 150 years of Egyptian Archaeology, There are still no remains of Israelite to be shown.
If the Hebrews were never in Egypt claim the skeptics, then Moses’s birth, the 10 plagues, the parting of red sea, even the 10 commandments never happened.
So Where Did The Story Come From?
According to some scholars, they were composed by Jewish scribes for theological reasons and written down very late in the history of Israel sometime between 7th and 3rd centuries BC.
But the lack of archaeological evidence may be due to something else altogether. The difficulties digging in areas mentioned in the Bible. One of them is the vast immense of Sinai desert. The outbreak of the 6 days war between Egypt and Israel in 1967 interrupted Archaeological work in the Sinai for more than a decade. But since the advent of peace in the 1980s Archaeologists have returned to the site.
One of the more remote but promising Archaeological sites in the Sinai, is the mountain of Serabit El-Khadim. The mountain is a two hour drive across difficult and often treacherous terrain.
Near the top of the mountain is a network of caves openings, they are actually mines gouged out in the search of a precious stone “turquoise”. It was mined by slaves from all corners of the Egyptian empire. Some of the slaves were clearly not Egyptian but Semitic and possibly even Hebrew.
The mountain is yielding even more secrets to modern Archaeologists. Skeptics claim that the story of Moses and the Exodus could’t be believed because it was written down very late in history but the sheer amount of graffiti found on the mountain written by slaves themselves is forcing scholars to consider a remarkable possibility. Below are the images of Graffiti left by the mine workers. It was written in Hebrew.
The tendency has been to somehow reduce the Hebrews to a subhuman status that somehow they couldn’t have written. It wasn’t too much later they would develop the scribal skills to record but if we can find common workers able to catch their names on stone then surely there’s no problem for the Hebrews to record things which were very important to them.
The Discoveries on the Mountain Serabit El-Khadim have raised new hopes amongst biblical scholars.
If the Hebrews were in Egypt and indeed if Hebrews could write then perhaps the story of Moses was true after all.
Where Did It All Begun? The Story Of Hebrews in Egypt.
The story begins in the Delta region of Egypt where most Hebrews had settled in search for food and water. As they prospered their numbers multiplied. But according to the Bible, this worry Pharaoh the King of Egypt who decided to enslave the Hebrews.
Skeptics say there are no official records of Hebrew slaves in the Delta. This is true but in reporting the story the Bible adds small but telling details peculiar to life in the Delta which later scribe making the story up in Jerusalem couldn’t known.
Exodus 1:14 And The Egyptians made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and bricks
Although farmers in the Delta are no longer in bondage, houses are still built in the traditional way. Mud and water are still mixed together and allowed to dry to make bricks. It was a common building technique in the Delta but not in Jerusalem unless the Jewish scribes had an eyewitness account to go by, they wouldn’t pick up on this details.
In Jerusalem the architecture’are all made up of the stones and so if the writer did not know his facts, he might have assumed based on local experience that they would have built buildings out of stones because that’s what you do in the in the hills of Judea.
And the Bible narrative even slips in an even more impressive detail… the mad bricks were used to build Pharaoh cities amazing the Bible actually names them. Exodus 1:11 (” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses. (English Standard Version Bible)).
Are there Cities called Pithom or Raamses in Egypt?
There are no city called Pithom or Raamses exist in modern Egypt. But there was a Pharaoh called Ramesses The Second in biblical times who ruled between 1290 – 1224 BC and Egyptian records say he built his capital city in the Delta. He called it the house of Ramesses.
Where was it?
At turn of the century Archaeologists began searching the Delta for the remains of the great city. Then in the 1930s excavators digging in Tanis in the northeast of the Delta seem to find what they were looking for.
Could this be the city built by the Hebrews? The ruins were impressive enough, the statues and the inscriptions were Ramesses the Second. There was just one problem! The date was out by at least a hundred years. Fragments of pottery found in the Delta showed that the city was founded around 1100 BC. And Yet it is known by then the Hebrews had left Egypt and were settled in the promised land. There is an ancient Egyptian inscription now in the Cairo Museum lists a number of nations attacked by the Egyptian in 1220 BC one of them is Israel. By 1100 BC the Hebrews could no longer be in Egypt, the Archaeologists were mystified. The slide below shows the ruins found in the Delta belonging to King Pharaoh Ramesses II
The solution to the paradox came from a geological survey of the Delta. It revealed a branch of the Nile which dried up back in the 12th century BC. Perhaps the capital Ramesses was originally on the Nile but when salted out it lost its harbor and so the city was moved to Tanis where there was a harbor.
A further clue that the city was not originally in Tanis came when local farmers took Archaeologists to some unusual remains in the middle of one of their fields. 30 miles away from Tanis in a city called Qantir. Two large feet, the remains of a statue. Close by there was a base with inscription revealed that it was part of a temple to Ramesses II. Perhaps this was the store City built by the Hebrews.
The area has been under excavation by German and Austrian Archaeologists; they unearthed temples, palaces and houses and mapped out an area of 20 miles square. The excavated area was the location of vast city. First called Avaris /Ramses (The house of Ramses).
If the Bible is right, then it was in Avaris not Tanis that the Hebrews built the store city of Ramses. But is the Bible historically accurate on this point? The very fact that Ramses capital city was later abandoned then moved to Tanis, suggests it is accurate. If the stories about Moses and Exodus were written at a much later time as some critics have suggested, then one would have expected the Bible to refer to Egypt’s capital as Tanis, the very fact it calls it Ramses a city that after 1000 BC no longer existed. It is hard to believe that the biblical writers would have known that for 400/500 years after it had been abandoned.
As the Hebrews continue to multiply further, the Bible says that Pharaoh ordered the midwives to kill every newly born Hebrew boy. But one mother hid her baby in a basket of Bulrushes in the Nile. The baby was found by Pharaoh daughter who adopted him and raised him in the palace.
Many experts have dismissed this episode as folktale copied from a very similar story from Babylon now in modern Iraq. Local myth says that Sargon a legendary King of Babylon was also found in a basket in a river. But if this were true then one might expect to find echoes a Babylonian words in the original Hebrew story and yet there are none.
The name Moses is Egyptian. It means “One who is born”. Moses grew up in Pharaoh court but he never forgot his roots says the Bible. One day he spied an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew, he looked to see if there was someone watching when he saw nothing he killed the Egyptian. Fearing for his own life, Moses fled into the wilderness. It was in the desert out of the midst of a burning bush Moses first heard the voice of God.
Then the Lord said, ” I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings. And i have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey….” Exodus 3:7-8
The burning bush episode marks a dramatic shift in this story.
(part 2 coming up soon)