— Was the Exodus a real historical event? Did Moses Really Exist? Were the Israelites ever in Egypt? Non-Biblical historical evidence of the Exodus —
With Exodus: God And Kings set to hit theaters in December 2014, there will no doubt be many discussions regarding the Biblical account of the Exodus and whether or not it was a real historical event. Is there any non-Biblical, historical evidence for the Exodus? This article will show from archeological and secular historical sources that the answer is a resounding “yes.”
The Timing of The Exodus In Ancient History
The Israelite enslavement in Egypt and the Exodus took place during the Middle Kingdom of ancient Egypt, which would be the eleventh twelfth and thirteenth dynasties. This period came to an abrupt end when the Hyksos, foreign Asiatic invaders, swept in and rapidly took over Egypt, ruling for the next 400 years. So what allowed this conquest to take place? It was that Egypt was ravaged by a series of disasters and plagues just prior to the Hyksos invasion. And this is recorded in the Ipuwer Papyrus, an ancient poem written by an Egyptian scribe named Ipuwer, who records the aftermath of the plagues upon Egypt and the sweeping conquest of the Hyksos. The document also known as “The Admonitions of An Egyptian Sage”, was originally translated by famed archeologist A.H. Gardinder. Russian Scholar Immanuel Velikovsky, in his book Ages In Chaos, made the connection that the Ipuwer Papyrus confirms much of the historical account of the Exodus as recorded in the Bible.
One historian, who disagreed with many of Velikovsky’s conslusions, still writes:
The synchronism, however, is still valid, and Velikovsky was quite right to connect the two accounts [the Biblical Exodus and the events of the Ipuwer papyrus]. But, rather than simultaneously describing the same plagues, it appears that Moses recorded Act I of the drama: the devastation of Egypt and the escape of the Israelites at the hand of the Lord; and that Ipuwer described Act II: the conquest of Egypt by the Hyksos on the heels of the Exodus. Velikovsky identified the Hyksos as the Biblical Amalekites whom the Israelites battled in the desert at Rephidim after crossing the Red Sea. That provides a further link between the two accounts. (source).
There has been much controversy surrounding the Ipuwer Papyrus (as there is with much of the ancient historical evidence that confirms the Bible). But in this instance, the majority view on both sides were not entirely correct. What the papyrus records is the invasion of the Hyksos which took place on the heel of the plagues of the Exodus. So it is not a parallel account of the Exodus but rather a reflection on the judgments of the Exodus in light of the invasion that followed. But in its description, there are startling descriptions that are completely in line with the Biblical account.
The Similarities From Secular History
Looking at the Ipuwer papyrus alongside Scripture reveals startling similarities:
Right after the Israelites left slavery, The Lord appeared to them in the wilderness. The Bible records God’s presence as causing a great deal of earthquake and volcanic activity:
And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly. – Exodus 19:18.
PAPYRUS 2:11 The towns are destroyed. Upper Egypt has become dry…
PAPYRUS 3:13 All is ruin!
PAPYRUS 7:4 The residence is overturned in a minute.
PAPYRUS 4:2 …Years of noise. There is no end to noise.
PAPYRUS 6:1 Oh, that the earth would cease from noise, and tumult (uproar) be no more.
Plague of Blood
Thus saith the LORD, In this thou shalt know that I am the LORD: behold, I will smite with the rod that is in mine hand upon the waters which are in the river, and they shall be turned to blood….And the LORD spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and stretch out thine hand upon the waters of Egypt, upon their streams, upon their rivers, and upon their ponds, and upon all their pools of water, that they may become blood; and that there may be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood, and in vessels of stone. And Moses and Aaron did so, as the LORD commanded; and he lifted up the rod, and smote the waters that were in the river, in the sight of Pharaoh, and in the sight of his servants; and all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood. And the fish that was in the river died; and the river stank, and the Egyptians could not drink of the water of the river; and there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt. – Exodus 7:17-21.
PAPYRUS 2:5-6 Plague is throughout the land. Blood is everywhere.
PAPYRUS 2:10 Men shrink from tasting — human beings and thirst after water.
PAPYRUS3:10-13 That is our water! That is our happiness! What shall we do in respect thereof? All is ruin!
Plague Upon Cattle
Behold, the hand of the LORD is upon thy cattle which is in the field, upon the horses, upon the asses, upon the camels, upon the oxen, and upon the sheep: there shall be a very grievous murrain. And the LORD shall sever between the cattle of Israel and the cattle of Egypt: and there shall nothing die of all that is the children’s of Israel. And the LORD appointed a set time, saying, To morrow the LORD shall do this thing in the land. And the LORD did that thing on the morrow, and all the cattle of Egypt died: but of the cattle of the children of Israel died not one. – Exodus 9:3-6.
PAPYRUS 5:5 All animals, their hearts weep. Cattle moan.
Plague of Hail
And the Lord said unto Moses, Stretch forth thine hand toward heaven, that there may be hail in all the land of Egypt, upon man, and upon beast, and upon every herb of the field, throughout the land of Egypt…. So there was hail, and fire mingled with the hail, very grievous, such as there was none like it in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation. And the hail smote throughout all the land of Egypt all that was in the field, both man and beast; and the hail smote every herb of the field, and brake every tree of the field…And the flax and the barley was smitten: for the barley was in the ear, and the flax was bolled. – Exodus 9:22-25; 31.
PAPYRUS 4:14 Trees are destroyed.
PAPYRUS 6:1 No fruit nor herbs are found…
PAPYRUS 2:10 Forsooth, gates, columns and walls are consumed by fire.
PAPYRUS 10:3-6 Lower Egypt weeps…The entire palace is without its revenues. To it belong (by right) wheat and barley, geese and fish.
PAPYRUS 6:3 Forsooth, grain has perished on every side.
PAPYRUS 5:12 Forsooth, that has perished which yesterday was seen. The land is left over to its weariness like the cutting of flax.
The Ipuwer papyrus describes the destruction of crops as happening suddenly, where the food that was seen “yesterday” was then destroyed without warning – indicating a catastrophe took place, which lines up with the Scriptural account of God’s supernatural judgment destroying them. Additionally, both the Bible and the papyrus specifically reference flax which was one of the most commonly-used crops in ancient Egyptian society and a critical part of their economy. Thus the loss of flax crippled the empire.
The Plague of Locusts
Else, if thou refuse to let my people go, behold, to morrow will I bring the locusts into thy coast: And they shall cover the face of the earth, that one cannot be able to see the earth: and they shall eat the residue of that which is escaped, which remaineth unto you from the hail, and shall eat every tree which groweth for you out of the field: And they shall fill thy houses, and the houses of all thy servants, and the houses of all the Egyptians; which neither thy fathers, nor thy fathers’ fathers have seen, since the day that they were upon the earth unto this day. And he turned himself, and went out from Pharaoh. And Pharaoh’s servants said unto him, How long shall this man be a snare unto us? let the men go, that they may serve the LORD their God: knowest thou not yet that Egypt is destroyed? – Exodus 10:4-7.
PAPYRUS 6:1 No fruit nor herbs are found…hunger.
Notice that the locusts were sent to finish the destruction started by the hail. And both were to the end that there was no food left in Egypt.
Slave Uprising In Egypt – Slaves Spoil The Egyptians
God prophesied to Moses that after the tenth plague, when every firstborn son in Egypt would be killed, Pharaoh would finally relent and permit the nation of Israel to leave the empire. But with that, the Egyptian people, forced to submission by God’s cataclysmic judgments, would give their jewelry to their former slaves. This is described in both the Bible and secular accounts:
And it came to pass, that at midnight the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle. And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead. And he called for Moses and Aaron by night, and said, Rise up, and get you forth from among my people, both ye and the children of Israel; and go, serve the LORD, as ye have said. Also take your flocks and your herds, as ye have said, and be gone; and bless me also.
And the Egyptians were urgent upon the people, that they might send them out of the land in haste; for they said, We be all dead men. And the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneadingtroughs being bound up in their clothes upon their shoulders. And the children of Israel did according to the word of Moses; and they borrowed of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment: And the LORD gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they lent unto them such things as they required. And they spoiled the Egyptians. – Exodus 12:29-36.
PAPYRUS 3:2-3 (gold and jewels) are fastened on the neck of female slaves.
PAPYRUS 4:2 Forsooth, great and small say: I wish I might die.
PAPYRUS 5:14f. Would that there might be an end of men, no conception, no birth! Oh, that the earth would cease from noise, and tumult be no more!
The Papyrus describes men fleeing the cities in tents, even as Israel fled Egypt and abode in tents as they journeyed.
PAPYRUS 10:2 Men flee. . . . Tents are what they make like the dwellers of the hills.
The Scriptures show that a “mixed multitude” of Egyptians fled Egypt with the Israelites Their first brief stopover was at a place called “Succoth,” which, in Hebrew, means “tents” or “booths.” (Exodus 12:38).
Enter the Hyksos
As the Egyptian Empire was crumbling the door was open for a foreign invasion. This is what the Ipuwer Papyrus is truly highlighting – the subsequent invasion by the Hyksos that followed the Exodus.
PAPYRUS 3:1 Forsooth, the Desert is throughout the land. The nomes are laid waste. A foreign tribe from abroad has come to Egypt.
PAPYRUS 15:1 What has happened? — through it is to cause the Asiatics to know the condition of the land.
PAPYRUS 14:11 Men — They have come to an end for them selves. There are none found to stand and protect themselves.
PAPYRUS 12:6ff. Today fear — more than a million of people. No seen — enemies — enter into the temples — weep.
In Scripture, the Hyksos were identified as the Amalekites. 17 days after exiting Egypt, the Israelites encountered the Amalekites and fought a battle against them. The Amalekites were on their way to conquer the ravaged and weakened Egyptian empire.
“The land is utterly perished and none remains…The sun is veiled and shines not in the sight of men…The river is dry…the earth is fallen into misery…foes are in the east and Asiatics shall descent into Egypt.” (source).
The El-Arish Shrine
In Wadi El-Arish Egypt, an ancient shrine made of black granite was discovered in 1860 that also provides historical evidence for the plagues of the Exodus. The shrine describes a time of great darkness in Egypt followed by the death of a Pharaoh in the water.
The Plague of Darkness
And Moses stretched forth his hand toward heaven; and there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days: They saw not one another, neither rose any from his place for three days: but all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings. – Exodus 10:22-23.
PAPYRUS 9:11 The land is not light…
The plague of darkness is also referenced on the El Arish shrine:
SHRINE: The land was in great affliction. Evil fell on this earth…It was a great upheaval in the residence….Nobody left the palace during nine days, and during these nine days of upheaval there was such a tempest that neither the men nor the gods could see the faces of their next. (source).
The literary style places the shrine in the times of the Middle Kingdom, similar to the timing of the Exodus. Not only does the shrine confirm the plague of darkness as described in the Bible, it even confirms the location of the final battle between Pharaoh and the Israelites:
SHRINE: His Majesty (here the words are missing) finds on this place called Pi-Kharoti. (source).
And it was told the king of Egypt that the people fled: and the heart of Pharaoh and of his servants was turned against the people, and they said, Why have we done this, that we have let Israel go from serving us? ….But the Egyptians pursued after them, all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, and his horsemen, and his army, and overtook them encamping by the sea, beside Pihahiroth, before Baalzephon. – Exodus 14:4-9.
Pi-ha-hiroth, is another name for Pi-Kharoti. The Hebrew use of “ha” simply means “the.” So the exact location where the Red Sea crossing is listed in the Bible, is supported by an ancient shrine that is over 3,000 years old. The shrine also confirms the fate of Pharaoh and his armies at the Red Sea:
“…but the Naos of el-Arish, a shrine found on the border between Egypt and Palestine, records that “his majesty of Shou” gathered his armies to fight “the companions of Apopi,” the god of darkness. Neither the king nor his army survived: “Now when the majesty of Ra-Harmachis [fought] with the evil-doers in this pool, the Place of the Whirlpool, the evil-doers prevailed not over his majesty. His majesty leapt into the so-called Place of the Whirlpool..”
Egyptian records of military defeats extolled the courage and might of the pharaoh over and above his defeated army, as in the cases of Amenhotep II at Mareshah in southern Palestine and Ramses II at Kadesh, and that could be the case here. When the pharaoh leapt into the Place of the Whirlpool, he was thrown high into the air with great force and ascended to heaven. In other words, he lost his life.” (source).
This once again harmonizes with the Biblical account. In Exodus 15, Moses sings a song in tribute to The Lord over the victory in the Red Sea:
Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the LORD, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea. – Exodus 15:1.
So while the Egyptian version has Pharaoh “leaping” (a more heroic action), the Bible records that the crashing of the Red Sea upon the Egyptian army sent Pharaoh flying into the air before plunging to his doom.
Ancient Secular Historians
Cornelius Tactitus (56 AD – 117 AD) was considered one of the greatest historians of the ancient Roman Empire. In his treatise entitled Histories, he details the history of the Exodus as a factual event:
Most writers, however, agree in stating that once a disease, which horribly disfigured the body, broke out over Egypt; that king Bocchoris, seeking a remedy, consulted the oracle of Hammon, and was bidden to cleanse his realm, and to convey into some foreign land this race [The ancient Israelites] detested by the gods. The people, who had been collected after diligent search, finding themselves left in a desert, sat for the most part in a stupor of grief, till one of the exiles, Moyses by name, warned them not to look for any relief from God or man, forsaken as they were of both, but to trust to themselves, taking for their heaven-sent leader that man who should first help them to be quit of their present misery.
They agreed, and in utter ignorance began to advance at random. Nothing, however, distressed them so much as the scarcity of water, and they had sunk ready to perish in all directions over the plain, when a herd of wild asses was seen to retire from their pasture to a rock shaded by trees. Moyses followed them, and, guided by the appearance of a grassy spot, discovered an abundant spring of water. This furnished relief. After a continuous journey for six days, on the seventh they possessed themselves of a country, from which they expelled the inhabitants, and in which they founded a city and a temple.
Moyses, wishing to secure for the future his authority over the nation, gave them a novel form of worship, opposed to all that is practised by other men. Things sacred with us, with them have no sanctity, while they allow what with us is forbidden. (Histories, Book V, III).
While missing most of the details, Tactitus, who unapologetically disliked the Jewish people in his writing, nevertheless confirms that the Jewish people were in ancient Egypt and because of “a disease” which ravaged the nation, were expelled and sent to the desert. And he correctly identifies Moses as their leader and their “novel form of worship” – which is significant because much of the Mosaic Law given in the Bible was done with God emphasizing that the Israelites were supposed to be different and separate from the pagan world in spiritual matters.
Diodorus of Sicily
Once we are about to give an account of the war against the Jews, we consider it appropriate, before we proceed further, in the first place to relate the origin of this nation, and their customs. In ancient times a great plague occurred in Egypt, and many ascribed the cause of it to the gods, who were offended with them. For since the multitudes of strangers of different nationalities, who lived there, made use of their foreign rites in religious ceremonies and sacrifices, the ancient manner of worshipping the gods, practised by the ancestors of the Egyptians, had been quite lost and forgotten. Therefore the native inhabitants concluded that, unless all the foreigners were driven out, they would never be free from their miseries. ..
The leader of this colony was one Moses, a very wise and valiant man, who, after he had possessed himself of the country, amongst other cities, built that now most famous city, Jerusalem, and the temple there, which is so greatly revered among them. He instituted the holy rites and ceremonies with which they worship God; and made laws for the methodical government of the state. He also divided the people into twelve tribes, which he regarded as the most perfect number; because it corresponds to the twelve months within a whole year. He made no representation or image of gods, because he considered that nothing of a human shape was applicable to God; but that heaven, which surrounds the earth, was the only God, and that all things were in its power. But he so arranged the rites and ceremonies of the sacrifices, and the manner and nature of their customs, as that they should be wholly different from all other nations; for, as a result of the expulsion of his people, he introduced a most inhuman and unsociable manner of life. He also picked out the most accomplished men, who were best fitted to rule and govern the whole nation, and he appointed them to be priests, whose duty was continually to attend in the temple, and employ themselves in the public worship and service of God.
He also made them judges, for the decision of the most serious cases, and committed to their care the preservation of their laws and customs. Therefore they say that the Jews have never had any king; but that the leadership of the people has always been entrusted to a priest, who excels all the rest in prudence and virtue. They call him the chief priest, and they regard him as the messenger and interpreter of the mind and commands of God. And they say that he, in all their public assemblies and other meetings, discloses what has been commanded; and the Jews are so compliant in these matters, that forthwith they prostrate themselves upon the ground, and adore him as the high priest, who has interpreted to them the will of God. At the end of the laws this is added: “This is what Moses has heard from God and proclaims to the Jews.”
This lawgiver also laid down many excellent rules and instructions for military affairs, in which he trained the youth to be brave and steadfast, and to endure all miseries and hardships. Moreover, he undertook many wars against the neighbouring nations, and gained much territory by force of arms, which he gave as allotments to his countrymen, in such a way as that everyone shared alike, except the priests, who had a larger portion than the rest; so that, because they had a larger income, they might continually attend upon the public worship of God without interruption. Neither was it lawful for any man to sell his allotment, lest, by the greed of those that bought the allotments, the others might be made poor and oppressed, and so the nation might suffer a shortage of manpower. (Book XL, III).
This account, which dates to 60BC, provides numerous confirmation of bible passages. It, like the El-Arish shine, describes a plague striking Egypt at the time of the Exodus. It identifies the leader of Israel as Moses and then goes on to describe the many laws (i.e., the Ten Commandments) which God gave the Israelites in the wilderness, the implementation of judges and priests to lead the nation (as Israel had no King for 400 years after the Exodus until King Saul was appointed); the twelve tribes of Israel and the third commandment, which is to not make a graven image of God – since it details that the Israelites made no “..representation or image of gods..” Certainly from the perspective of one of the greatest secular historians of all time, the Exodus and Moses were quite real.
The Pharaoh of the Exodus
From the abundance of evidence that all coincides, it becomes clear that the Pharaoh of the Exodus reigned in the Middle Bronze Age (ca 1700 – 1500 BC). The ancient Egyptian historian Manetho also referenced this Pharaoh as suffering from a Divine judgment just before being conquered by the Hyksos:
Tutimaeus. In his reign, for what cause I know not, a blast of God smote us; and unexpectedly, from the regions of the East, invaders of obscure race marched in confidence of victory against our land. (source).
Tutimaeus was also known as Pharaoh Dedumose, who is credited by historians as being in power during the time of the Hyksos invasion. Thus it is clear that it was the plagues of the Exodus (which Manetho refers to as a “blast of God”) that crippled the Egyptian empire and allowed them to be conquered by the Hyksos or Amalekites, who would then rule Egypt for 400 years. This time period is also supported by the Bible in the book of Judges. During this time, there is no mention of Egypt in Scripture, which would make sense since the empire was conquered. It is not until the reign of King Solomon, 400 years after the Exodus, that Egypt is once again a factor in the Biblical account (when Solomon is visited by the “Queen of Sheba” who was most likely Queen Hatshepsut).
Trust The Bible
Lord willing, it should be clear that there is an abundance of historical evidence that not only supports the existence of Moses and the Israelites in ancient Egypt, but confirms the Exodus itself. If you are a Christian praise God that these discoveries confirm the truth the Bible has proclaimed for thousands of years. And if you are not a Christian, understand that while secular evidence is exciting, it will not save your soul. Intellectual knowledge of the Bible will not get you to Heaven. It takes faith in The Lord Jesus Christ who have His life to pay for the sins of the world. It is understanding that absent Jesus Christ, you stand condemned before God. The evidence against you – your sins you have committed through life – is abundant. Learn the Gospel and the Bible from God’s perspective and believe. The Exodus proved God’s ability to save an entire people. And the Gospel is God’s way to save everyone in the world who believes.