Dating an event that happened thousands of years ago can be one of the most difficult tasks any modern historian or Bible scholars can do. First, the Egyptians, Babylonians, Hebrews, and other ancient people used different calendar systems, and most were far from perfect. Although the modern calendars were based and had evolved from the ancient ones, they still do not exactly resemble them.
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The integrity of the events in writing or inscriptions can also be affected by the agenda of the scribes and editors. There is also a lack of archeological evidence to support the text. For example, the Egyptians did not record defeats in battles. This practice makes many events in the Near East hard to confirm, especially the year when the Exodus took place and who the pharaoh was at that time. Also, the Egyptians recorded and inscribed only victories in battles. The most popular of this example is the Merneptah stele which is the first inscription that mentions the nation of Israel.
Currently, there are four possible dates offered by Bible scholars with regards to the Exodus, and each one deserves a careful examination.
Ussher’s 1491 BC
In the 17th century, the Irish archbishop and scholar James Ussher (1581-1656) published the Annales veteris testamenti, also known as the Ussher chronology. The longer title is “Annals of the Old Testament, deduced from the first origins of the world, the chronicle of Asiatic and Egyptian matters together produced from the beginning of historical time up to the beginnings of Maccabees.” Which was pretty much indicative of what he wanted to achieve.
In this book, he used his knowledge of ancient language and history to come up with a chronology based on Biblical text. He then linked ancient and Biblical history and counted backward to establish the important dates in the Bible including the exact year of creation to 23rd of October 4004 BC. He also placed the date of the Exodus in 1491 BC during the reign of Thutmose II of the 18th Dynasty, who made several campaigns in Palestine, Israel, and Syria. This was hailed as a breakthrough in the 17th century, and several editions of his book were published later on until the 18th century. Ussher’s widely popular chronology was not without its critics, and it was later labeled as overly simplistic.
Thiele’s 1446 BC
Ussher’s year 1491 proposal for the date of the Exodus was moved by a professor, archeologist, writer, and editor Edwin R. Thiele almost half a century later to 1446 BC. According to him, Ussher failed to consider several factors in coming up his 1491 conclusion including the coregency of successive kings of Israel and Judah, the use of a spring and autumn calendars, as well as the accession and non-accession years of dating. He considered these factors in studying the chronology of the kings of Israel and Judah and reached to a conclusion of 1446 BC based on 1 Kings 6:1. He also established that the Jewish chronology matched that of the Assyrian chronology.
This was backed by William H. Shea, an Andrews University professor, who further suggested that Thutmose II was the Pharaoh during Moses’ time, Hatshepsut the princess who rescued Moses from the Nile, and Thutmose III as the Pharaoh, who refused to let the Israelites go. There is a great possibility because Thutmose III was an aggressive king whose foreign policy was war. However, the lack of inscriptions and other archeological records is still a problem to Thiele’s 1446 BC year for the Exodus.
Josephus and Manetho’s 1552 BC
Historians Josephus and Manetho offer an earlier date of 1552 BC during the time of Ahmose I. He reigned during the last remaining years of the occupation of the Hyksos, who both historians associate the Israelites with. Manetho, however, lived many years later than Ahmose and may have mistakenly made the association between the two groups of people. In addition, the Hyksos ruled Egypt, while the Israelites were treated as slaves.
Modern Scholar’s 1250 BC
A later date was suggested by modern scholars during 1250 BC, which falls under the reign of Ramesses II. This is supported by the archeological surveys and excavations of American rabbi and archeologist Nelson Glueck regarding Edom. He found that there was no solid evidence of Edomite settlements in the eastern bank of the Jordan River in the 13th or 14th century. The tribe was first mentioned in the Bible in Exodus 15:15, but the first the first mention of Edom in any ancient document was in the Papyrus Anastasi VI.
It was in a report to Pharaoh Merneptah (1213-1203 BC) with regards to Edom and it states: “We have finished letting the Bedouin tribes of Edom pass the Fortress [of] Merne-Ptah Hotep-hir-Maat—life, prosperity, health— which is (in) Tjeku, to the pools of Per-Atum . . . to keep them alive and to keep their cattle alive.” Numbers 20:14 records the first conflict between the Israelites and the Edomites, which makes Merneptah’s father, Ramesses II, most likely the Pharaoh of Exodus in 1250 BC.
Brier, Bob, and A. Hoyt. Hobbs. Daily Life of the Ancient Egyptians. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999
Shaw, Ian, and Betsy M. Bryan. The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000
Picture By Peter Lely – National Portrait Gallery: NPG 574, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6365600
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