Biblical Egyptology Course
Richard A. Helmersen
The question about the existence of evidence supporting the Biblical Exodus was dealt with exhaustively in this course. When I underwent theological training thirty years ago, I was taught that there was absolutely no evidence outside of the Bible supporting the Exodus. That was the prevailing view among intellectuals of the day, but Dr. Federspiel has done a good job of updating my knowledge on the subject, and I would have to agree with him that there is indeed substantial evidence supporting aspects of the Biblical account. He did not give absolute proof of the Exodus, but there is certainly a preponderance of evidence that something approximating the Biblical account took place nearly three thousand five hundred years ago.
Although I was told there was no extra Biblical evidence supporting the Exodus, I accepted its existence as both a matter of faith and with the knowledge that the Bible was not written as a fictional account but was attempting to be factual and was taken very seriously by Jews, Muslims, and Christians. Though I had been taught that the first eleven chapters of Genesis were essentially tribal myth and not to be taken literally, from Abraham on there was extra Biblical support and archeology has supported the facts quite well. Numbers may have been exaggerated or numerological schemes, but there was support for the existence of the people and places discussed in the text. Because the Exodus is included in the part of the Bible dealing with history and was taken by the Hebrew people as factual, I have always accepted the basic facts of the story. That does not mean that I accepted all the events as literally true, as they were recollections of people passed down through the centuries, of a heroic past. We in the modern world often exaggerate the exploits of our ancestors, and I expected no less from the Children of Israel, however in the basic facts, I always thought there must be general truth, which would include their arrival in Egypt several hundred years before the Exodus, and the leadership of a person named Moses to take a group of Semitic people out of that land. It didn't need to look like the Hollywood version of the story to be generally true. There may have been a relatively small number of Jews leaving Egypt and settling in Palestine for the story to be true in my mind. Dr. Federspiel has convinced me that my assumption was indeed correct and something indeed happened. Furthermore, although it appears that a great deal of Egyptian history was lost to internal squabbling, fighting, wars, and natural disasters, enough circumstantial evidence exists to support the presence of quite a large number of Semites in Egypt who arrived in Jerusalem.
I was interested to discover that a staff was found in Jordan of Tuthmoses IV –Moses II inscribed with Egyptian hieroglyphic writing and Graham Phillips presumed it belonged to Moses. Though it is not proof, it is an interesting theory which I feel needs further study. Certainly it proves that Egyptian and Semitic people had contact with each other in the area of modern day Israel .
One thing that appears certain is that Moses was a real person. He is referenced by both Manetho and Artapanus. Manetho states that the Egyptians "troubled by calamities, in order that the divine wrath might be averted, expelled the foreigners…their leader said to have been Moses." If a pagan Egyptian priest living three hundred years before the Common Era has a record of a person named Moses who was kicked out of Egypt to appease the gods, Moses probably existed. Moses is a popular Egyptian name, not Hebrew. It is doubtful that the Hebrew authors of the story would have made up the name from thin air. Just the fact that they were able to come up with an Egyptian name for their hero suggests some knowledge of Egypt . To have an Egyptian pagan priest confirm the basic facts of the story is more than an interesting coincidence. It suggests that the basic events of the story actually took place and had a significant impact on Egypt.
Remember that Manetho was remembering an event that took place more than a thousand years before his time. We don't remember trivial events that long. Something significant must have taken place. As a matter of fact, with the evidence of an Egyptian priest, I am convinced that the Exodus was more significant an event than I had originally thought. My expectations for the Exodus were small. I figured a small number of people left Egypt and settled in Palestine . I really downplayed the plagues in my mind, being the recipient of a liberal theological education. After looking at the evidence submitted by Dr. Federspiel, I am forced to accept the possibility that even the plagues and miracles may have some validity. If the plagues were recorded and remembered for a thousand years in Egypt, they must have happened and Moses must have been credit for them.
Furthermore, it seems quite likely that the military defeat in the " Reed Sea " may have happened too, as that would be significant reason the remember Moses.
It is too bad that a fire destroyed the Alexandria Library and anti pagan fervor during the Christian era, lead to the destruction of so much material in Egypt. It is also too bad that early European Archeologists collecting samples from ancient Egypt were so sloppy that they destroyed priceless papyri codices and fragments. Because so much material has been forever lost, we will never have the full picture of Moses and the Exodus, however to say there is no evidence that survives today appears to be far from the truth. We have a great deal of circumstantial evidence preserved by Josephus and Eusebius. Furthermore, there is possible archeological evidence being unearthed today, though our understanding of the hieroglyphs makes it very hard to interpret. With time and further work on interpreting of Egyptian Hieroglyphs, it seems certain that the existence of Moses will be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
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