Month: March 2015

The Exodus in the Qur’an, the Bible, and History (Part 2):

Alleged Evidence Against a Historical Exodus

There are several arguments regularly cited, even in reputable textbooks and scholarly works, for regarding the Exodus as largely unhistorical (though not necessarily lacking a historical core).  A popular presentation of these arguments is laid out in Israel Finkelstein’s and Neil Asher Silberman’s popular book, The Bible Unearthed[1].  Because the assertion that the Exodus tradition conflicts with archaeological evidence is so common, it is appropriate to first address these arguments and show why they are misplaced.  I have summarized these responses from Kitchen.

1. No records of the Israelites in Egypt

The most common argument against the historicity of the Exodus is that ancient Egyptian records do not attest to a large group of Israelites in Egypt.  The Egyptians were meticulous record-keepers, yet there are no records of the Israelites in ancient Egyptian papyrus documents, temple walls, or tomb inscriptions.  Similarly, there are no records of the plagues or of the drowning of the Pharaoh’s army.  Additionally, the border between Egypt and Canaan (the biblical term for ancient Palestine) was closely controlled during the New Kingdom period, when the Exodus is usually assumed to have happened.  If a great mass of fleeting Israelites passed through these border fortifications, a record should exist, just as we do have a record of the escape of a small group of Edomite slaves.  The only mention of Israel is the Merneptah Stele (c. 1208), which mentions the Israelites as a group existing in or around Canaan.

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The Exodus in the Qur’an, the Bible, and History (Part 1):

The Exodus and Wilderness in Tradition and History

I am starting a new series of articles, in which I will be presenting gems in the Qur’anic account of the Exodus and Wilderness traditions that come to light when it is studied against the background of history and archaeology, particularly in biblical studies and Egyptology.

By the “Exodus,” I am referring to the story of the miraculous deliverance of the Israelites (or Hebrews) from slavery in ancient Egypt under the leadership of Moses.  This story forms the basis for the Israelites’ obligation to adhere to the Torah in Judaism (Exod. 20:2-3), and as we will see, serves as a model for the nascent Muslim community in the Qur’an.

By the “Wilderness” (a.k.a. “Wandering” or “Sinai”) tradition, I am referring to the story of the Israelites’ sojourn in the deserts of the Sinai peninsula (and to a lesser extent, northwestern Arabia and Jordan) for forty years following the Exodus.  It is in this setting that the Torah was revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai, and many famous incidents occurred such as the Israelites’ worship of the Golden Calf, the divine provision of the quail and manna, the springs of water from the rocks, and so on.  In the title of this series, I am using the term “Exodus” more broadly to allude to the Wilderness tradition as well.

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