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Period: Egypt, Exodus, Land

Summary

There is at least a four-hundred-year gap between the last chapter of Genesis and the first chapter of Exodus. The Egyptian records are also silent about relations with Israel. While this makes historical reconstruction somewhat conjectural, a thirteenth-century exodus seems most likely.

Connections assumed between Egypt and Israel in this period usually include:

  • the appearance of Egyptian names in early Israel, for example: Moses, Hophni, Phinehas, Miriam, Assir (from "Osiris"), Hur (from "Horus"), and Merari
  • the statement that Hebrews assisted in the construction of Pithom and Rameses (Exod 1:11), store cities that most likely were built for Rameses II (1290-1224 B.C.E.)
  • Rameses' father, Seti I, probably the new king who "arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph" (Exod 1:8); this would make Rameses II the pharaoh of the Exodus
  • the Merneptah Stele, the earliest extra-biblical reference to Israel, dated 1213-1203 B.C.E.
  • in Numbers 20-21, Edom and Moab's refusal of entrance to Israel; archaeological investigations indicate that these kingdoms arose in the thirteenth century.

The route of the exodus remains obscure, as do the location of Mt. Sinai, the precise identity of the body of water the Hebrews passed through ("Red Sea"/"Sea of Reeds"), and the actual number of Hebrews participating.

The Hittite/Assyrian treaties of the fifteenth to thirteenth centuries B.C.E., while no longer seen as a model of the biblical covenants, have illuminated the place of treaties/covenants in the ancient Near East. Most important is the recognition that the Sinai covenant was not a treaty between equals. Rather, it was unilateral--that is, one party (God) was more powerful and bestowed the treaty as an act of benevolence. Thus, the covenant is a declaration of a relationship established by God as a gift. In keeping with such a relationship, Israel is expected to respond in terms of faithful obedience.

Joshua and Judges present differing pictures of the occupation of Canaan. In Joshua, the Hebrews, under Joshua, conquer the whole land quickly as the result of three campaigns. The presence of the priests suggests a liturgical giving of the land to Israel by God. Judges portrays the occupation as a gradual settlement of individual tribes in the uninhabited areas of Canaan, living side by side with the Canaanites and merging through intermarriage. Archaeology somewhat favors the Judges' version. Perhaps there are elements of both.

AUTHOR: Mark Throntveit, Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament