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Archaeology and the Exodus

by Steve Abbott

I’m not a biblical archeologist, but I have had a life-long interest in archeology in general, most of it in Africa and Europe, but I do bump into biblical archaeology frequently in my own reading. So the last two paragraphs of “Is Sinai Har Karkom?” are both significant to me. To be clear, I’ll quote each and explain following the quote:

Date switching

“Since the religious center at Har Karkom flourished at least 800 years earlier than the traditional date of the Exodus, Professor Anati proposes moving the date of the Exodus to match. That’s not a problem, he says, because whether or not the Exodus described in the Bible occurred, Har Karkom inspired the Biblical authors.

Israel Finkelstein is appalled by Anati’s date-switching.”

Observation #2:

Volcano exploded

The Santorini Caldera – photo by Asybaris

The traditional date for the exodus is set at around 1446 BCE. One interesting notion I’ve heard promulgated is that is also around the time when Thera exploded. Thera, as you may or may not know, was the ancient island (now Santorini in modern Greece) where a massive volcano (think Mt. St. Helens times at least 2 or 3) erupted and left a gaping caldera where the island used to be. The eruption was so cataclysmic it affected the entire ancient Mediterranean world and was noted in the literature of the Minoans and other eastern Mediterranean cultures of the time.

Nile ran red

Looking across the collapsed Caldera

Some biblical scholars and biblical archeologists have suggested that what caused the Nile “to run red with blood” was actually the fallout of iron pyrite from the explosion drifting down over Egypt. The timing coincides with the putative dates of the Hebrew exodus and the 10 plagues pretty squarely.

No Exodus notes

Charlton Heston as Moses

But there are also biblical scholars and Egyptologists (I just was in a seminar with one over the winter) who say there are no actual signs the exodus ever really happened. They point out that a Hebrew immigrant problem in Egypt on the scale described in the Bible would have been officially noted in the Egyptian records.

An Egyptian Chronology

The Egyptians were nothing if not copious chronologists, and none of the friezes or written records from that period mention anything about a large slave population, let alone a confrontation with a pharaoh. So there’s that for whatever it’s worth.

What language?

“Professor Hoffmeier asks, if you want to move the Exodus to an earlier date — 2200 b.c. — in what language would the tablets with the ten commandments have been written? As late as 1800 b.c. the Hebrew script — borrowed from the Canaanite alphabetic script — was still developing.”

Observation #2:

Canaanite Alphabet

I put a lot of credence in this argument. What the archeology of that period shows is the nomadic ‘Haiabrus’ (Hebrews) gradually encroaching Canaan and Philistia from the desert to the east – biblically, this would be the time of Abraham I think – and settling in the region. Almost immediately after they show up in the archeological record, the record shows them adopting the settled Canaanite culture they found when they got there, so it only stands to reason that would have included their alphabet as well.

Summary

Steve Abbott – Kayaking on the Kishon

Archeology is a notoriously scrappy field. These two ideas about the events of that time period conflict and I have no personal experience in this field to vouch for either with much confidence. But the material on the second one – the emergence of the Israelites –  has been building for years, so I suspect there’s probably something to that one.

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Elijah

Elijah