Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A People in Search for a History, Pt. 5

The Exodus

Ask anyone in my generation about the exodus and a movie  immediately comes to our minds. Yeah.
Charlton Heston. Yul Bryner. Towering waves. A romantic triangle between Moses, Rameses, and Nefertiri. Huge armies and spectacular panoramas of Egypt. If that was the exodus, any thought that this exodus actually happened seems silly. It's a movie, for goodness sake!

   But if you saw the movie as I did on the big screen rather on television last Easter season, you may remember the producer and director Cecil B. DeMille stepping out on a bare stage to speak to movie-goers about the background of the story. (This preamble is usually skipped on TV.)

   I was vaguely aware of the biblical story before seeing DeMille and the movie, and I remember thinking: There's more here than I remember from Sunday school. Fifty years later when I watched the entire film again, this time on DVD, I was again intrigued by what DeMille knew of Moses that the Bible does not relate.

   Where did he get the additional information?

   Some of it came from Josephus Antiquities, Book II some from Philo Judaeus Philo. Today as we read these texts, the first impression is that there is a lot of hype, literary license, and a clear apologetic purpose.  But there is also information that cannot be accounted for by creative license, filling in the sparse narrative of the biblical narrative, or by allegory (Philo). There are pieces that are intended to be read as factual and which seem to have required sources outside the Bible.

   What were those sources?

   Jospehus refers to several of his sources in Contra Apion. They include a quotation from an Egyptian priest-historian Manetho writing from about 300 B.C. (see Josephus' quote of Manetho Manetho). Egyptologist Dr. Donald B. Redford writes in Pharaonic King Lists, Annals and Day Books (Benben Publications, 1986) "we may with confidence postulate for the material in his history a written source found in the [Egyptian] temple library, and nothing more." But we can postulate that, and infer that written sources were purely Egyptian without dependence upon the biblical account.

  Josephus also includes a reference to Chaeremon of Alexandria (mid-first century A.D.) who, as a Egyptian historian, wrote about the Egyptian history of Moses. His account of Moses and Manetho's agree sufficiently to say that they are the same story, but they differ in significant details so that we may infer they depended upon different sources.

   Josephus and Philo may have been DeMille's sources, but they were not the only ancient writers to mention Moses. Wiki Moses  It turns out that Moses and the exodus is a very durable story in ancient history. It is true that Greek and Egyptian writers portray Moses as a mythical or legendary character. BUT THE CORRELATION IN THE CORE OF THE STORIES POINT TO A LITERAL PERSON AND TO THE EXODUS AS A HISTORICAL EVENT.

Before Moses

   Here we return to the biblical account and to the history of Egypt.

   The book of Exodus begins with the backstory of the people of Israel in Egypt. Sometime after Joseph brought his family to Egypt during the time of Asiatic  (Hyksos) migration in the early 2nd millennium B.C. a new king came to the throne who "knew not Joseph." ("Knew not" may mean had no respect for rather than did not know about.)
8 Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph. 9 And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we: 10 Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land. (Exodus 1)

   This would have been after the Egyptians under Pharaoh Ahmose I (reign 1570-1546) expelled the Hyksos Pharaohs and the Asiatic people of Avaris in 1550 B.C. At that time Ahmose I and Thutmose I (reign 1520-1492)  in several campaigns north along the coast of the Levant pursued the Hyksos as far as the Euphrates River in Syria and sought to make the borders of Egypt firm against any reinvasion of the Hyksos.

   Much of the focus of the Pharaohs in the years after the expulsion of the Hyksos was defensive. They feared the return of the Hyksos. It is understandable that the Egyptian Pharaohs would have seen any remaining Asiatics in Egypt, including the people of Israel, as potential enemies.

   Consequently, the Pharaohs established measures to reduce and control the Asiatic (Canaanite and
Israelite) and Nubian people who had allied with the Hyksos rulers. This mural painted on the walls of the tomb of Rekhmire, the Egyptian vizier (or prime minister) in the mid-15th century B.C.E. illustrate the practice of forced labor during the reign of Thutmose III (reign 1458-1425). Center for Online Jewish Studies The painting includes both Asiatic and Nubian slaves. This is at precisely the traditional time of the exodus and is described in Exodus 1:
11 So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites 13 and worked them ruthlessly. 14 They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly. (Exodus 1)

   Moses and the Exodus

   As noted above, there is adequate reference to Moses or a Moses-like character in Egyptian sources in addition to the biblical text to conclude that Moses was a literal, historical person. There is adequate reference to conclude that he was seen by the Egyptian Pharaohs as a threat and that the Egyptians expelled him and the people of the upper eastern Nile Delta from Egypt. In other words, there is adequate evidence to affirm as historical an exodus of the Israelite people, or a portion of the Israelite people, at about the time that has been traditionally assigned to the exodus, 1450 B.C. But the exodus itself?

   The biblical account of the exodus, however, still seems exaggerated. Six hundred thousand men on foot plus women and children and baggage leaving Egypt in mass is extreme. The lack of evidence for a forty-year trek through the desert or an encampment at Kadesh Barnea for "many days," not to speak of two  million people in the desert, leaves archaeologists skeptical. The opposition from the people of Edom, a people far fewer in number than the estimated two million Israelites and the details of life and organization in the desert, leave biblical scholars puzzled. They don't seem to make sense if there were two million people. And there are other anomalies. But...

  The large numbers in the biblical text are really not a surprise. Egyptian literature ascribes equally large numbers to their own armies in various campaigns. There were four hundred-eighty thousand soldiers who laid siege the Hyksos capital of Avaris according to Manetho in Josephus:

"The shepherds [Hyksos] had built a wall surrounding this city, which was large and strong, in order to keep all their possessions and plunder in a place of strength.
Tethmosis, son of Alisphragmuthosis, attempted to take the city by force and by siege with four hundred and eighty thousand men surrounding it. But he despaired of taking the place by siege, and concluded a treaty with them, that they should leave Egypt, and go, without any harm coming to them, wherever they wished. After the conclusion of the treaty they left with their families and chattels, not fewer than two hundred and forty thousand people, and crossed the desert into Syria. (Against Apion, Book 1, section 73)
   Exaggeration? Maybe not.

   Though the numbers in this campaign, for which there is ample historical evidence, seem exaggerated to us, it is possible they are not. Ahmose's campaign against the Hyksos may well have taken the larger part of the men under arms in Upper Egypt, the Theban Pharaoh's kingdom.

   It is likewise possible that the  number of Israelites who left Egypt under Moses a century later were, in fact, "six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children" (Exodus 12:37). Manetho writes that the people of Avaris (the presumed Israelites) were aided by two hundred thousand men from those who had been previously expelled to Jerusalem (Against Apion, Book 1, section 227). Those men would have considerably increased the number of Israelites.

   Josephus continuing to quote Manetho writes that the Egyptians mustered "three hundred thousand of the most warlike Egyptians against the enemy," which in this case was the people gathered to Osarsiph, the man Josephus identifies as Moses. Three hundred thousand would not be out of line with the biblical account that states Pharaoh took "six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them" (Exodus 14:7).

   Our present knowledge of Egypt calls into question the accuracy of Manetho's history. He seems to conflate several different events, and he doesn't seem to have the kings identified correctly. Even Josephus considered Manetho's history inaccurate and an anti-Semitic polemic. But if Manetho was using numbers he found in more ancient Egyptian texts, the numbers may have reflected an older tradition, and related to the biblical account of the exodus, the numbers found in Exodus at least fit the custom of the ancient writers to insert large numbers when writing about military campaigns.

   Bottom line, the large numbers do not make the biblical narrative unhistorical any more than the large numbers make the Egyptian siege of Avaris unhistorical.

   In addition, the story of the Israelites in Sinai is plausible. If the route taken by the fleeing Israelites took them to south central Sinai, as the tradition biblical description recommends,  "they would have found a reasonably adequate water supply and a relatively comfortable climate that makes it possible to maintain a daily lifestyle suitably adapted to the conditions of the desert." Itzhaq Beit Arieh  


   Other details and sometimes lack of details in the biblical narrative of the exodus are still puzzling. Were the forty years of wandering symbolic or literal? Where did their journey take them? Is Jebal el Lawz in Arabia a better fit for Mt. Sinai than Nebal Musa in the southern Sinai? What were the Egyptians doing? Were they simply glad to get rid of the rebels? Neither the Bible nor Egyptian history give us enough information to answer those questions.

   But the core of the exodus narrative, correlated as it is with Egyptian texts, reliefs, and archaeological evidence for Israel in Canaan in the centuries following the exodus, seems very probable. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

A People in Search of a History, Pt. 4

 Israel in Canaan
Pharaoh Merneptah, son of Rameses II
The people who are called Jews today show up in history 3200 years ago when we first see their ancestral name Israel on the Merneptah Stele.

Pharaoh Merneptah (reign 1213-1203 B.C.) made a short campaign into Canaan. On the stele that recorded his victories is this mention of Israel. It reads in part:
Plundered is Canaan with every evil;
Carried off is Ashkelon; seized upon is Gezer;
Yanoam is made as that which does not exist;
Israel is laid waste, his seed is not;
Hurru is become a widow for Egypt!
All lands together, they are pacified. Yinon Blog
   Scholars have debated what the reference to Israel means precisely. Does it mean that Israel was engaged and completely defeated by Merneptah, or is "seed" a reference to grain supplies that were destroyed? Is this "Israel" in the trans-Jordan east of the Jordan River or in the hill country of Canaan west of the Jordan? One scholar, Dr. Joseph Davidovits, even proposes that the stone has been mistranslated and should read that "Israel exists" rather than "is laid waste." In any case, most all agree that Israel as a people are present in Canaan in  1206 and are significant enough to be  mentioned alongside the city states of Ashkelon and Gezer.

   (In traditional Bible chronology, 1206 would be in the latter years of the period of judges.) 

   That raises a question for Bible scholars, historians and archaeologist: where did the Israelites come from?

Origin of Israel

   The biblical narrative is quite clear. The people of Israel are the ancestors of Abram (later named Abraham). And Abraham came from Ur in lower Mesopotamia (now in Iraq) in the late third millennium B.C. (circa 2100).  He migrated with his family first to Haran in upper Mesopotamia (now in Turkey). Then he moved on to Canaan where he lived as a semi-nomadic Shepherd.

   In Canaan he had a son named Isaac. This son married a woman from his extended family that remained in Haran and had two sons Esau and Jacob. Jacob married two women also from the extended family in Haran and had twelve sons. Eventually, this family, seventy in all, migrated to Egypt because of a famine in Canaan. The year was about 1800 B.C.
The travels of Abraham

   After some centuries in Egypt this family had increased greatly and were eventually seen as a danger to the Egyptians who saw them as foreigners who might take sides with the enemies of Egypt (Exodus 1:1-9).  So the Egyptians forced them to work as laborers making clay bricks to build the cities of Pithom and Rameses. (If this happened prior to the time of the Pharaoh Rameses, the name is probably a reading back into the historical memory the name of the city that replaced Zoan.) Finally, Moses a Israelite who had been adopted and raised by an Egyptian princess, took the side of the oppressed Israelites, confronted the Pharaoh, and escaped with these Israelite people into the desert finally coming into Canaan in about 1400 B.C.according to traditional biblical dating.

   It is a remarkable story. It may be the oldest continuous family narrative that we have from ancient history. The story has been made into epic movies and told to countless Jewish boys and girls and Sunday school children over many centuries. But did it really happen? What can archaeology and history tells us?

   We begin with Abraham. Is it plausible that a family, Semitic people, in Ur migrated to Canaan? Some scholars say no. See California State University, Long Beach. The author of "An Incomplete History" writes:

One problem with the Hebrew history is the dearth of good archaeological evidence to support the Abraham story, and the richness of contradicting archaeological evidence. As Gary Greenburg notes, "while it used to be almost universally taken for granted that the Patriarchs and the sons of Israel where historical figures and that Genesis mixed some basic historical truths with a variety of legends, a growing segment of the scholarly community accepts that the patriarchal stories may have no historical core at all."

   The answer from history and archaeology is that it is not only plausible but that it happened. Thousands of people left lower Mesopotamia around 2000 B.C. The reason was unrest and war in Mesopotamia. First the Guti people from the northern mountains invaded and controlled the region. After they were repulsed by the Semitic inhabitants of Mesopotamia, specifically of Ur, Mesopotamia was again invaded, this time by the non-Semitic Elamites from the east. According to the author of "Mesopotamia" the result was devastating.

By 2000 B.C. the combined attacks of the Amorites, a Semitic people from the west, and the Elamites, a Caucasian people from the east, had destroyed the Third Dynasty of Ur. (Iraq: a Country Study Sam Huston State University)
   There is no record of a single mass migration. But there is textual evidence of a movement of Semitic people taking place over many years. Much of that is found in the Mari archives. More of those later.

   The natural migration route is north along the Euphrates River. It led eventually to the lands of the west-Semitic speaking people called the Amorites whose homeland was Syria and along the coast of the Levant including into Canaan.

   At the northern-most point of the route was an oasis, the city and region of Haran. Today on a google map satellite view the area is green with crops and well water from the Balikh River, a tributary of the Euphrates. In 2000 B.C. Haran was also the location of an important city, important because it was on the crossroads between Egypt and Babylon and points east. It is there that the biblical narrative tells us that Abraham's family stopped - for a time.

   Haran was a wonderful place. But just because it was rich and on a strategic crossroads, it was also a place contested by every people group from nomadic tribes to major empires. So many of the migrating people moved on from Haran.

   Is it plausible that Abraham of the biblical narrative was among those migrating peoples? Absolutely. The biblical narrative fits so well the history of this period of time and the descriptions in the Mari texts, an archive of documents found at Mari in Syria,  that Genesis reads like a primary source for the history of the time.

   Dr. Bryant Wood writes in  Biblical Archaeology that "the findings at Mari show that the Patriarchal narratives [biblical narratives] accurately reflect the socioeconomic conditions of that time and place." Bryant Wood.

   In the Jewish Virtual Library the author writes:

The picture revealed in the Mari archives, of far-reaching tribal migrations (such as those of Yaminite groups) and caravan conditions between the Euphrates region and Syria-Northern Palestine, provides an analogy for the biblical narratives of the patriarchal wanderings between Aram-Naharaim and Canaan. Mari
In other words, the Biblical narrative and the sources outside the Bible fit together. In fact, reading the whole article in the Jewish Virtual Library we find that many of the features of life for the Israelites such as covenants, patrimony, the ban, et al. were features of the society described in the Mari texts.

   [It is difficult to believe that these could be made up 1500 years later or that the authors of 600 B.C. who the New Biblical Scholars claim to be the authors of Genesis could have access to these details and have written them into the story.]

   Is it plausible that Abraham was among these migrating people?

   It is more than plausible. The detail and the correlation between the events testified to in history and the socioeconomic conditions revealed in the Mari texts make it highly likely. The Bible is history. It is the story of an ordinary individual and a family rather than a king or official, but it is history. 

   The biblical narrative says that Abraham also moved on after a period of years, though not all his family; some of them remained in Haran. Abraham's destination was Canaan.

   Canaan was not in 2000 B.C. a wilderness as it is often characterized in Sunday school stories of Abraham. In fact, a close reading of the biblical narrative in Genesis reveals that it was well populated with towns and cities that date back thousands of years, as in the case of Jericho, and the target of raids from kings to the north and east. And Canaan was on the road - we could almost call it a freeway - between the cities and Empires of Mesopotamia and Egypt.

   Canaan was also, even this early, a battlefield over which the armies of the Empires of that day sought control. We might actually see Canaan as in the very center of things rather than a land protected by it remoteness.

The Hyksos

   But Canaan was also a land dependent upon rain. No great rivers Like the Nile or the Euphrates  provided water through dry seasons. Drought would bring famine, and famine drove many of these newly arrived migrant people onward toward Egypt. So as early as 1900 B.C. Egyptian texts and art describe migrating people from the east, whom the Egyptians called Asiatics, filtering into lower Egypt and settling in the water rich delta region of the Nile River. These people would later be called the Hyksos, but ethnically they were Semites.
An earlier group of Asiatic peoples depicted entering Egypt c. 1900 BC, from the tomb of a Twelfth Dynasty official Khnumhotep II under pharaoh Senusret II at Beni Hasan.
   The Bible describes just such a migration but in miniature. It was the migration of Joseph's family to Egypt. The date was around 1800 B.C. (Genesis 45). The picture above shows what such a migration looked like.

   At that point in the biblical narrative in Genesis we are told that Joseph became powerful, second only to the Pharaoh, and that the family of Joseph, the Israelites, were given land in Lower Egypt. At that point the narrative ends. But we know from many Egyptian historical sources that in fact the Asiatic Hyksos increased in number in Egypt and by 1650 B.C. came to rule Lower Egypt and for a time most of Egypt. Their capital city was Avaris in the delta area. That is precisely where Joseph's family settled, Goshen.

   Over the next 100 years tensions between the Hyksos rulers and the native Egyptian rulers in Upper Egypt increased. War ensued and the Hyksos of Avaris were forced to retreat to Sharuhen, a city in the vicinity of present day Gaza along the coast of Canaan.  The battle is depicted in this mural and described by Ahmose, son of Abana, a soldier in the Egyptian army.

Ahmose, son of Abana, describes his part in the battles with the Hyksos:

Now when I had established a household, I was taken to the ship "Northern", because I was brave. I followed the sovereign on foot when he rode about on his chariot. When the town of Avaris was besieged, I fought bravely on foot in his majesty's presence. Thereupon I was appointed to the ship khaemmennefer ("Rising in Memphis"). Then there was fighting on the water in "P'a-djedku" of Avaris. I made a seizure and carried off a hand. When it was reported to the royal herald the gold of valour was given to me. Then they fought again in this place; I again made a seizure there and carried off a hand.  Then I was given the gold of valour once again. Then there was fighting in Egypt to the south of this town. and I carried off a man as a living captive. I went down into the water - for he was captured on the city side - and crossed the water carrying him. When it was reported to the royal herald I was rewarded with gold once more. Then Avaris was despoiled, and I brought spoil from there: one man, three women; total, four persons. His majesty gave them to me as slaves. Then Sharuhen was besieged for three years. His majesty despoiled it and I brought spoil from it: two women and a hand. Then the gold of valour was given me, and my captives were given to me as slaves. Ahmose biography

   In the battle of Sharuhen Ahmose I prevailed and pushed the Hyksos further back from Egypt and dispersed them.

   Was there an exodus from Egypt of the Asiatics? Absolutely.

   This exodus, however, is not the exodus described in the biblical narrative in Exodus. It is the vanquishing of rulers, not slaves. And it is earlier by traditional chronology than the biblical exodus by about 100 years. But it is virtually certain that among the Hyksos who were expelled and dispersed from Egypt there were some of the Israelite people. The Egyptians would not have distinguished between the Hyksos and the Israelites. They were of the same ethnic origins. They lived in the same area of Lower Egypt. And they spoke the same Semitic language. Some would have been caught up in the retreat from Egypt.

   But it is certain that not all the Asiatics were expelled. In fact, over 100 years later what look like Asiatics are pictured along with Nubians in this "famous painting from the tomb of Rekhmire, who served as Grand Vizier to two pharaohs in the 15th century BCE" which shows a large group of slaves making bricks as forced laborers for the Pharaoh. Stephen Tempest, Quora

 The 15th century is the time of the biblical exodus.

   It is significant that the dispersed Asiatic Hyksos who were pushed back into Canaan would be there, already aligned with the Israelites left in Egypt, and ready to merge with them as they came out of Egypt in a second exodus.

   But was there a second exodus? There is no extant evidence for it in Egyptian art or texts. However, Josephus quotes Manetho, an Egyptian historian writing in 300 B.C.  who indicates that an Egyptian priest named Osarsêph who after the expulsion of the Hyksos organized a revolt of the "lepers" in Avaris which was the Hyksos city in Lower Egypt. The "leper" leader (some scholars see "leper" as a metaphorical reference to people who worshiped a different God from that of the Egyptians) later changed his name to Moses.University of Chicago See lines 227-287.

   Manetho's story appeared to Josephus to be an anti-semitic rant and a fiction.  But some scholars see in it a kernel of fact. If so, Manetho may well be referring to the Moses of the biblical exodus. In that case there is a foundation for a second exodus in Egyptian history.

   We have come to the final chapter of our quest for the historicity of the exodus account. That will be the topic of Part 5 of this series.