WHERE IS ANYTHING EXODUS IN THE BOOKS OF THE PROPHETS?
Absent in Judges, the earliest that traces of the Exodus story can be discerned is the eighth century, in the writings of the biblical prophets:
The earliest mentions are in the prophets Amos (possibly mentioned it) and Hosea (certainly mentioned), both active in 8th century BCE Israel. In contrast, Proto-Isaiah and Micah, both active in Judah at much the same time, never do mention anything. It thus seems reasonable to conclude that the Exodus tradition was important in the northern kingdom in the 8th century, but not in the southern kingdom of Judah.
Evidently by this time, the southern kingdom Judeans had not adopted the Canaan-conquest foundational myth of Exodus, which makes sense since Joshua was significantly a northern kingdom hero.
Joshua evidently was originally a Semitic “god of salvation” remade into a patriarch; hints of his esteem as a god can be seen in the Joshua cult of the Samaritans and Dead Sea Zadokites, as well as the New Testament Jesus.
ABSENT EGYPTIAN RECORD
We have seen that there exists no real evidence of the Exodus story in the Bible until the time of the prophets at the earliest, and no evidence for Moses until even later at post-Exilic times (end of Babylonian exile). Nor is there any extra-biblical record of this supposedly historical occurrence.
Literalist apologies for why there exists no specific Egyptian documentation of the extraordinary and miraculous Exodus events include that people suffering so would not be interested in writing these events down, as they scrambled to stay alive—and to protect their beloved and innocent children, undoubtedly, who were being slaughtered mercilessly by Yahweh.
The Truth is just the opposite. All over the world people have felt compelled to chronicle their suffering, and the Exodus story itself is a record of Israelite misery. And if this were true, the Exodus story would not have been written down by those who purportedly experienced the distress; Therefore the Exodus story must be fictional.
Another excuse by believers for the lack of a corroborative historical record is that the Egyptians naturally would be humiliated completely and try to erase such a resounding defeat from their memories and history.
This is impossible to believe, as by the 10th biblical plague, for instance, the country would be completely decimated, and refugees would be fleeing to other parts, where they assuredly would tell others about suffering that had happened to them. Of course, the believers would say that it might be that nobody survived to escape and tell anyone. In this case, there would also not be anyone to pursue the fleeing mass of slaves.
Moreover, such reasoning does not take into account the Egyptian outposts such as in Canaan and elsewhere, which certainly would be aware that everyone in their country was either dead or enduring a horrendous calamity which likewise would have destroyed the economy, including as far as these very colonies.
The bottom line is that these numerous devastating supernatural events would have reverberated well into the Near and Middle East, and possibly farther, into India and even China. The Bedouin and other travelers through the Sinai also likely would have heard about a mass of two to three million people camping “in the desert” for 40 years, and the flight with the Isrealites of so many laborers from Egypt would have destroyed the economy as well.
THE IPUWER PAPYRUS
Even though it has been contended that the Egyptians were too “humiliated” by the Exodus to include it in their written records, some researchers have pointed to the Egyptian text called the Ipuwer Papyrus as “probably a description of these events.”
The Ipuwer Papyrus, also called the “Admonitions,” describes the usurpation of wealth from the Egyptians to their slaves; hence, it is similar to the biblical story that the Hebrews were given the “unimaginable” riches of the Egyptians to take with them on their journey to the Promised Land. It remains difficult to explain how the Hebrews could carry all that booty—and who would give it to them, since most of Egypt was dead.
The papyrus has been dated either to several centuries before the Exodus supposedly happened, possibly between 1850–1600 BCE, or to the 13th century at the latest. Current scholarship also avers that some of the text may be as old as the time of the pharaoh Khety I (c. 2130–2080 BC
First, there is no consensus as to its date, much less what it contains as “history.” Second, because of its earliest assessed date, the text would predate the era of Moses by centuries and thus could not be relating the Exodus tale.
The Ipuwer text is directed at the sun god and names foreigners as bedu or Bedouins, typical Asiatic hordes, like the shasu and ‘apiru. The Egyptians had been dealing with these “vile Asiatics” for over a thousand years before the Exodus purportedly happened. To reiterate, during this time period before the purported Exodus there were numerous ingresses and exoduses by Asiatics from the east, who came and went countless times over the centuries.
The Ipuwer papyrus’s writer appears to be lamenting the destruction of the scribe’s country by these alien Asiatics, whom some have surmised were the Hyksos. They were the Semitic peoples who occupied part of Lower Egypt during the second millennium BCE. Christian apologist Dr. Stephen C. Meyer avers that the lamentations refer to the “second intermediate period when the Hyksos rose to power.”
Since this text was composed evidently over a period of centuries, it may be part of a genre of “lamentations,” like similar texts of the Egyptians and Sumerians. In this regard, German Egyptologist Dr. Ludwig D. Morenz (b. 1965) comments:
In respect of their content and form…the “Admonitions” are strikingly close to the Sumerian city laments (Quack 1997), and, from Egypt itself, to the laments for the dead…. In the “Lamentation over the Destruction of Sumer and Ur,” the decline of the land and its (capital) city is bewailed first, while that of the cities follows.
Morenz further surmises that, as had these earlier Sumerian writings, the Ipuwer text serves as propaganda to justify a power shift from Memphis to Hieracleopolis. The changeover occurred at the end of the Old Kingdom, around 2150 BCE, many centuries before the alleged historical Exodus.
There are lamentations in the Bible as well, with an entire book by that title bemoaning Jerusalem, like the Sumerian texts lamenting a city. For decades since various pagan lamentations texts were discovered, there has been within academia a debate about whether the biblical version drew directly from Mesopotamian compositions or represents an independent manifestation of a “broad literary tradition of laments.”
As Morenz concludes: “Whatever their historical relationship may be, Mesopotamian lament literature and the book of Lamentations obviously share similar motifs, themes and images.” Hence, if it has any significance in this matter, the Ipuwer text would demonstrate the non-historical nature of the Exodus, as part of a genre.
The Ipuwer text also exemplifies very ancient messianic ideas reflected in the much later Jewish and Christian ideology. In discussing Ipuwer’s laments for instance, Breasted remarks:
The peculiar significance of the picture lies in the fact that, if not the social programme at least the social ideals, the golden dream of the thinkers of this far-off age already included the ideal ruler of spotless character and benevolent purposes who would cherish and protect his own and crush the wicked. Whether the coming of this ruler is definitely predicted or not, the vision of his character and his work is here unmistakably lifted up by the ancient sage—lifted up in the presence of the living king and those assembled with him, that they may catch something of its splendor. This is, of course, Messianism nearly fifteen hundred years before its appearance among the Hebrews.
In recalling this “golden age,” Ipuwer mourns the reign of the king under Re or Ra, reflecting the solar divinity as “savior,” a very ancient and widespread notion.
As we can see, significant “biblical” ideas find their place in much older literature, which is not “historical” but represents a genre, including lamentations and messianism. In any event, the Ipuwer papyrus cannot be said to reflect a historical account of the biblical Exodus. If there is any relationship, it may be that parts of the Exodus story started out as an allegorical and/or propagandistic lamentation such as in this type, then expanded.
Discovered in the 19th century at the headquarters of Akhenaten’s cult and written using cuneiform in Akkadian, the oldest known Semitic language, the Amarna letters date from Amenhotep III’s reign until the demise of his “monotheistic” successor, Akhenaten (14th cent. BCE).
The letters represent a cache of about 200 cuneiform tablets that address the rulers of many different regions in the Near and Middle East, including the Assyrian, Babylonian, Canaanite, Cypriot, Hittite, Mitanni, Phoenician, Syrian and Ugaritian. True to the nature of the Akhenaten cultus, the Amarna texts constantly invoked the sun as Lord, in phrases such as “the eternal sun,” “the sun, god of my father,” “my sun” and so on.
Thus, the Amarna letters are not all administrative or diplomatic, as they also contain religious ideas, such as the following solar hymn:
To the King my lord, my sun, my god, the breath of my life… your slave and dust under your feet. At the feet of the King my lord, my sun, my god, the breath of my life, I bowed down seven times seven times. I heard the words of the tablets of the King my lord, my sun, my god, the breath of my life, and the heat of your slave and the dust under the feet of the King, my lord, my sun, my god, the breath of my life, is exceeding glad that the breath of the King my lord, my sun, my god has gone out to his slave and to the dust under his feet.
This 30-year correspondence comprising some 400 letters and spanning two Egyptian kingships also involves kings and other rulers in lesser or more obscure areas such as Amurru, Beruta, Gezer, Megiddo, Qadesh, Qatna, Taanach, Zidon and elsewhere. Yet, in all this mass, we find not a single recognition of any certain Israelite presence but, instead, reference to nomadic Semitic “robbers” called ‘apiru or Hapiru/Habiru.
In all this correspondence dealing with these Levantine peoples who would have been surrounding the Israelites, there is no mention of the Hebrews in Egypt or elsewhere whatsoever, as if they did not exist or were of so little consequence as to be unrecognized.
According to some of the numerous dates assigned to the purported events of the Exodus, these letters were composed around the time of, or decades to centuries after, the date of Exodus texts. Yet, they make no mention of the horrendous destruction of the plagues and deaths, even though they highlight many other problems. They also show that the Canaan of this theorized Exodus era and even decades later was full of Egyptian influence. As Redford says,
“The occupation by Egyptian troops of Canaanite towns is well attested in the Amarna Letters and in Egyptian inscriptions.”
At this same time, Canaanites were engaged in Egypt, as they had been for centuries, including and especially those later called Phoenicians:
Asiatics are found as goldsmiths, coppersmiths and shipwrights, and one even rose to superintendent of all construction work of the king. One young Canaanite, Pas-Ba’al, possibly taken prisoner under Thutmose III [c. 1479–c. 1425 BCE], became chief draftsman in the Temple of Amun, and six generations later his descendants are still occupying this office. Scribes of Syrian extraction turn up commonly, especially in the treasury. A chief physician Ben-’anath is known, belonging to the prestigious “Mansion-for-Life.”388
Thus, the Amarna letters reveal abundantly the longtime and intimate cultural interchange between the Levant and Egypt, before and/or during the purported time of the Exodus.
ILIMILKU AND THE LEGEND OF KERET
In one Amarna letter, mention is made of a man named Ilimilku (fl. 1350– 1335 BCE), also transliterated as Milkilu, Milk-ilu or Milku-ilu, who “caused the loss of all the territories of the king.” There did exist a prominent Ilimilku, an Ugaritic high priest who wrote down the Canaanite myths of Baal and of El in the Legend of Keret found at Ugarit/Ras Shamra. The name appears to signify Ilu-milkom, or “King Ilu/El,” reflecting a common tradition of theophoric or “god-bearing” names for priest-kings.
The Legend of Keret (c. 1500–1200 BCE) describes the trials of a king—a purported son of the god El—the solution of which sounds very biblical, as a precursor of various OT tales, such as making war on the neighboring kingdom to demand a wife and booty. This tale, however, is devoid of Hebrew influence, as are the Amarna texts. In the end, it is obvious that, at the time of the Amarna correspondence, there was no significant proto-Israelite “Hebrew” people.