Archaeological Support for the Exodus

In my previous blog, I challenged the claim that Moses was a fictional character, a combination of various different characters from fictional mythology. The Usefulcharts YouTube channel claimed in their video that the archaeological evidence did not support the Biblical report of Israelites leaving Egypt, travelling around the desert for decades, till they eventually reached Canaan. I challenged that statement and I pointed out that a few relevant archaeological finds do exist. In this blog, I will list some more artefacts that support aspects of the Old Testament Exodus account.

Why do people claim the Old Testament as fiction? In the 1800’s, the school of higher criticism began to claim that the Old and New Testaments recorded fairy tales. The science of archaeology had not begun at this point, so there was no physical evidence yet to pose a counter argument supporting the Bible. Today – that situation has changed. Archaeological digs are uncovering artefacts supporting many Biblical accounts. Titus Kennedy is a professional field archaeologist and adjunct professor at Biola University. He comments that:

“the degree of historical corroboration between the Bible and the artifacts that have been discovered over the last 150 years is startling, surpassing previous expectations and estimates, and continuing to astonish.”[1]

Titus Kennedy

Higher criticism has entered popular culture today. The Old Testament is viewed by people as fictional and mythological, right? Yet – archaeological digs are uncovering many artefacts from the Ancient Near East which confirm claims made in the Bible. This directly challenges the notion of a mythological Bible. The argument from silence that was made by the higher critics is being shown to be unsustainable. For example, to date the reality of 70 individuals mentioned in the Old Testament have been confirmed thru artifacts discovered by field archaeologists.[2]

Here are four discoveries that are relevant to the Moses account in the Bible:

First – the Papyrus Brooklyn is dated 17th century BC. It contains the names of domestic servants, and some of the names are Hebrew. This supports the idea that Israelites lived in Egypt prior to the Exodus under Moses.[3]

Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah. (Exodus 1:15)

Check out Brooklyn Museum for more details.

Second – Egyptian records show that the Egyptians used Semitic slaves to make bricks. The Louvre Leather Roll records the brick making quotas and potential penalties imposed on the slaves. The Leningrad Papyrus 1116A and a wall painting found in the Valley of the Nobles in Egypt show compulsory labor on public building projects.[4]

You are no longer to give the people straw to make brick as previously; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But the quota of bricks which they were making previously, you shall impose on them. (Exodus 5:7-8)

For more, refer to Leather Scroll: Quota for Brick-making, 1274 BCE : Center for Online Judaic Studies (cojs.org).

Third – the Dream Stele. An inscription was found between the paws of the Great Sphynx in Egypt. This text was from Pharaoh Thutmose IV, son if Pharoah Amenhotep II. Thutmose IV was not the natural heir to the throne due to the death of his brother, Amenhotep II’s first born son. The cause of death is not recorded in Egyptian documents. But Thutmose IV fabricates a divine promise to solidify his legitimacy as Pharaoh.[5]

You can find a translation of the Dream Stele here – Dream Stele (Sphinx Stela) | Ancient Egypt Online.

If Amenhotep II was the Pharaoh during the Exodus, his eldest son would have died during the final plague on Egypt.

[Yahweh] struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon. (Exodus 12:29)

Four – the Nomads of YHWH. In Sudan, two Egyptian temples contain reference to the “lands of the nomads of YHWH.” They are the earliest known references to Yahweh, the name of God in the Old Testament. They describe nomadic people living in the wilderness east of Egypt who were enemies of Egypt. They lived in tents. Surely, they nomads must have been living like that for a considerable period for the Egyptians to record their existence? The inscriptions are dated to Late Bronze Age, 1300 BC.[6]

For more, refer to Three Egyptian Inscriptions About Israel – Bible Archaeology Report.

The only ancients known to worship Yahweh were the Israelites, so it follows that these nomads were the Israelites prior to their settlement in Canaan after their Exodus from Egypt. The inscriptions show the Egyptians knew about them.

[Yahweh’s] anger burned against Israel, and He made them wander in the wilderness forty years. (Numbers 32:13)

Conclusion

Sure. It is easy to claim the Old Testament is fiction, but it’s becoming harder to justify that claim. If we think that, then we are ignoring an increasing amount of physical evidence that continues to be found today suggesting otherwise. While it is hard to line up an exact timeline, and difficult to match Egyptian and Israelite texts, the physical artefacts suggest a connection exists between them. They record the same events and peoples. Artefacts cannot by dismissed as mythology or propaganda. These and many more artefacts support the historicity of Old Testament accounts like the Exodus from Egypt.


[1] Titus Kennedy, Unearthing the Bible 101 Archaeological Discoveries that Bring the Bible to Life, (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2020), 239.

[2] Ibid., 238.

[3] Ibid., 48-49.

[4] Ibid., 50-51.

[5] Ibid., 58-59.

[6] Ibid., 60-61.

RESPONDblog: Do the Gospel Writers Speak the Truth?

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The Gospel writers claim to have recorded what Jesus said and did. How do we know they haven’t embellished history beyond the bounds of ancient biography as they did so? Should the Gospels be trusted or rejected as hopelessly un-historic?

 

Professor Simon Greenleaf didn’t think they were un-historic.

He lived in the 19th century, practiced law throughout his life, held the Royal Professorship of Law and Dane Professorship at the Harvard Law School, and played a major part in forming Harvard’s coveted reputation. The London Law Journal of 1874 said of Greenleaf, “It is no mean honour to America that her schools of jurisprudence have produced two of the first writers and best esteemed legal authorities of this century…Judge Story…and…Professor Greenleaf.”[1]

 

Greenleaf believed that the New Testament Gospel writers would be taken as reliable witnesses in a court of law. Their writings should be viewed as historic. Greenleaf proposed five tests that led him to that conclusion:

 

Greenleaf Test #1 – Are the Witnesses Honest?

Do they honestly say what they believe to be true? The Gospels show many instances of the writers’ openness and sincerity. Historians sometimes call this the criterion of embarrassment.

The writers deal with such uncomfortable situations such as:

  • The many failures of Jesus’ disciples.
  • The occasional harshness of Jesus’ teaching.
  • Jesus’ anguish as he faced his own death.

Greenleaf concluded the gospel writers were, “good men, testifying to that which they had carefully observed and considered, and well knew to be true.”[2]

 

Greenleaf Test #2 – Do the Witnesses Have Ability?

Did they have the opportunity to observe the situations they record? How well were they able to evaluate what they had seen and researched from other eyewitnesses? What about their ability to remember things?

Peter (Mark), John and Matthew had many opportunities to observe these events first hand. All three claim to have seen the resurrected Christ.

Luke was a physician and Matthew a tax collector. Both occupations required exactness in evaluation and reporting.

There’s no reason to question their mental abilities.

“the writings…indicate…mental vigour, as well as cultivated intelligence. The Gospels…reveal that elegance of style and lofty imagery which are invariably characteristics of intellectual depth and culture. The ‘ignorant fishermen’ idea is certainly not applicable to the Gospel writers…”[3]

 

Greenleaf Test #3 – Are there Sufficient Numbers of Witnesses and are they Consistent?

Greenleaf reports that the number and authenticity of the witnesses would satisfy any court.

“There is enough of a discrepancy (their own form and style) to show…no previous concert among them…[yet] substantial agreement as to show that they all were independent narrators of the same great transaction.”[4]

 

Greenleaf Test #4 – Does the Testimony of the Witnesses Conform to Our Experience?

This might be where things get tricky. After all, the Gospels report various miraculous events, culminating in the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Who’s seem a real miracle in their lives?

It turns out, MANY people have experienced what they believe are miracles. Craig Keener has done one of the biggest studies into miracle claims of all sorts in every human culture, and has come to this conclusion on miraculous physical healing:

“Hundreds of millions of people worldwide claim to have experienced or witnessed what they believe are miracles. Eyewitness claims to dramatic recoveries appear in a wide variety of cultures, among Christians often successfully emulating models of healings found in the Gospels and Acts. Granted, such healings do not occur on every occasion and are fairly unpredictable in their occurrence; yet they seem to appear with special frequency in cultures and circles that welcome them.”[5]

 

Greenleaf himself urges an attitude of following the facts to their conclusion, even if the testimony is unusual. On the Gospel reports of Jesus healing miracles, he states:

“In every case of healing, the previous condition of the sufferer was known to all; all saw…restoration…these…were facts, plain and simple…comprehended by persons of common capacity and observation.

If they were separately testified to, by different witnesses…the jury would be bound to believe them”[6]

These witnesses were credible.

 

Greenleaf test #5 – Does the Testimony of the Witnesses Coincide with Contemporaneous Facts and Circumstances?

There are various instances where the Gospel writers clearly speak accurately about the geography, history and social factors at work in their day.

For example:

1 – The Pavement

Jesus trial before Pontius Pilate is reported to have occurred in an area known as “the Pavement.”

“When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha.”[7]

If the pavement is fabricated, maybe the whole trial is?

But there’s good evidence to suggest that the pavement is not fabricated, because the archaeological evidence suggests it has most probably been located.[8]

 

2 – The Pool of Bethesda

This is mentioned in John chapter 5 with reference to a healing miracle of Jesus. This pool is apparently not referenced by any other historical document, yet was excavated and identified recently.[9]

 

 

In summary, dishonest witnesses tend to be guarded in what they say, avoiding detail that might reveal them as dishonest. Yet the Gospel witnesses are refreshingly open with details that are cross checked with what else scholars have learned about life in those days.

 

The evidence suggests therefore that the Gospel writers speak the truth.

 

 

Image courtesy of http://www.pexels.com.

[1] Cited in Ross Clifford, Leading Lawyers’ Case for the Resurrection, (Edmonton: Canadian Institute for Law, Theology, & Public Policy, Inc), 43.

[2] Clifford, 45.

[3] Cited in Clifford, 46.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Craig S. Keener, Miracles The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic), Kindle Edition, 2012, Loc 5814.

[6] Cited in Clifford, 48.

[7] John 19:13, NRSV.

[8] Pavement Stone at Fortress of Antonia, Bible History, http://www.bible-history.com/past/jesus_trial_pavement.html, accessed 26th July 2017.

[9] The Bethesda Pool, Site of One of Jesus’ Miracles, Bible History Daily, http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-sites-places/jerusalem/the-bethesda-pool-site-of-one-of-jesus%E2%80%99-miracles/, accessed 26th July 2017.