Exodus Explored #2

In my previous post I began exploring Tim Mahoney’s “pattern of evidence” for the sequence of events leading up to, and following on from, the exodus of Israel from Egypt. I looked at the first three in the pattern: Arrival, Multiplication and Slavery. Now it’s time to examine the final three: Judgment, Exodus and Conquest.


The Admonitions of an Egyptian Sage (a papyrus now housed in the Leiden Museum in the Netherlands) gives a vivid, poetic description of a series of calamities suffered by the Egyptian state and the chaos which resulted. The name of the author is Ipuwer. The standard chronology places this much too early to be a description of the plagues visited on Egypt, but the revised chronology advocated by Rohl and others would place it in the right time frame.

Ipuwer writes:

Exodus film screengrab: Ipuwer

“The river is blood… Gone is the barley of abundance… Food supplies are running short… The nobles hunger and suffer… Those who had shelter are in the dark of the storm… Behold, plague sweeps the land… Blood is everywhere, with no shortage of the dead… He who buries his brother in the ground is everywhere… Woe is me for the grief of this time… Wailing is throughout the land, mingled with lamentations… The people are stripped of clothes… The slave takes what he finds… Gold, lapis lazuli, silver and turquoise are strung on the necks of female slaves…”

Some Egyptologists think this is a purely literary composition, without historical foundation. One scholar is cited as dismissing any historical reference for the papyrus on the grounds that it contradicts itself: disaster sweeps the land but suddenly and inexplicably the poor start becoming rich. But this is precisely the feature of the papyrus which links it most closely with the exodus: God inflicts plagues on the native Egyptian population and the Hebrew slaves take the opportunity to ask for (and get) whatever they want (Exodus 3.22).


Exodus film screengrab: bodies in pits

The excavation in Goshen reveals a time when bodies were tossed into pits without proper burial. Suddenly the Semitic population packed up and left. A similar patten is found further south at Kahun, where the inhabitants seem to have disappeared overnight. A scholar from the University of Manchester speaks of a “sudden and unpremeditated” abandonment.

A third century BC history of Egypt describes a foreign invasion leading to the collapse of indigenous Egyptian rule. The author says that “God smote the Egyptians” (not “the Gods”, but “God”). And the foreigners who invaded from the North conquered Egypt “without striking a blow”. How could this happen – unless perhaps Egypt had lost its army in the Red Sea?


Jericho has been excavated three times: by Ernst Sellin in the early 1900s, by John Garstang in the 1930s and by Kathleen Kenyon in the 1950s. There are several features of the excavations at Jericho which match the biblical account (Joshua 6):

  1. The city was heavily fortified. The main city wall was made of mud brick 25ft high and 10ft thick. This was protected by a steep rampart. This in turn was protected by a stone retaining wall more than 15ft high.
  2. The mud brick walls collapsed, falling down to the base of the stone retaining wall.
  3. The city was massively destroyed by fire.
  4. The walls of the buildings within the city fell before the fire.

The excavations revealed a very thick burn layer, which Kenyon attributed to enemy attack rather than the fire which would naturally follow an earthquake. Garstang and Kenyon both found jars full of grain in the houses, suggesting both that the harvest had just come in and that, if there was a siege, it was very short. In the Jordan valley harvest takes place in spring. The biblical account suggests the attack took place during the spring, since it describes the Israelites celebrating Passover once they’ve crossed the Jordan river (Joshua 5.10-12).

Ernst Sellin’s report published in 1913 shows that some houses were built on the rampart between the main city wall and the outer stone retaining wall. These houses did not collapse with the rest. Was this how the promise to Rahab given by the spies to rescue her and her family (Joshua 2.12-14) was fulfilled?

Exodus film screengrab: Jabin tablet

Excavations at Hazor (another of the Canaanite cities destroyed by Joshua in the biblical account) again reveal a massive burn layer from the same date as Jericho. In the city’s palace a clay tablet was found displaying the name “Jabin” – Jabin was the King of Hazor at the time of the conquest (Judges 4.2).

Kenyon concluded that the city had been destroyed by the Egyptians around 1550 BC (too early for the exodus according to the conventional chronology). Others say there is no evidence of the Egyptians being in the Jordan valley at this period. A revised chronology would line up the destruction of these cities with the other elements in Mahoney’s “pattern of evidence”. You can access his film here.

I find it fascinating that there is this body of evidence adding up to something very like the biblical account of the exodus. But I must emphasize that this is highly controversial. Most mainstream Egyptologists strongly resist any revision of ancient world chronology.

Rohl himself could be viewed as something of a maverick. But mavericks and outsiders sometimes have a contribution to make, particularly when a long-established theory needs overturning because it’s no longer fit for purpose. Einstein was a bit of an outsider: in 1905, the year he called his annus mirabilis, he wrote four ground-breaking scientific papers which would change the face of physics. At that time, he was working, not in a university, but in obscurity as a patent examiner in Bern. Thomas Kuhn’s seminal book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions shows how science doesn’t always move forward by small evolutionary increments. Sometimes there are major paradigm shifts. Those who have invested their careers in the ruling paradigm will resist seeing it dismantled.

Giles Frasier has written in Unherd:

…when situations seem to require some sort of paradigm shift, the rules of the old order present a block on the emergence of the new.


Is it time for a paradigm shift?

Published by markphilps

Came to faith at university while studying Russian. Brief career with the BBC. Married to Caroline. Ordained in the Church of England. Thirty-five years in parish ministry. Now retired and doing some writing.

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