30 July 2013

The Exodus is a myth

Ancient Israel as a kingdom with a defined territory renowned throughout the ancient world is nothing more than a myth believed by only a minority of those called Hebrew in the first century CE (the Pharisees and their followers), before the catastrophic events of the Great Jewish Revolt of 66-73 CE, the Kitos War of 115-117, and the Bar Kokhba War of 132-135 CE.

Contrary to the account of the Torah, the Canaanite-speaking Hebrews were not invaders from outside, neither from Egypt nor from Mesopotamia, but rather arose as a people in situ from among the city-states which dotted the region.  They were not “wandering Arameans who went down into Egypt and became slaves”, though they almost certainly were at least semi-nomadic.

The earliest mention of an entity referred to as Israel is on the Merneptah Stele of 1207 BCE describing that Pharaoh’s victory over a number of enemies in the Levant, including Gezer, Yanoam (Tell el-Na’am), and Ashkelon.  Written “Isiriar”, the hieroglyphs on the stele indicate a semi-nomadic Canaanite tribe in the hills of Canaan among Canaanite cities.  All the material remains of early “Israelite” settlement in the hills is of Canaanite origin, the only significant difference being a total absence of pig bones.

By contrast, the Torah describes how the children of Israel, aka Jacob, grandchildren of the “wandering Aramean” who travelled west from “Ur of the Chaldees” went down into Egypt and became slaves, then escaped after their god sent ten plagues that devastated their oppressors, only to be chased by the army of the unnamed Pharoah which was drowned in the Red Sea.  This is the pivotal event of the Torah, the only scriptures accepted as such by all Hebrews, Samaritan and Jew, at the turn of the era.

As inspiring as the story is, it never happened.  It couldn’t have happened, except maybe in an alternate universe.  Aside from the utter dearth of physical evidence of such a stupendous migration (2 million+ people) despite over a century of search, there is simply no room in the verified, recorded, objective, empirical history for it to have occurred.

After more than a hundred years of searching, archaeologists abandoned the fruitless and futile task of seeking physical remains of the Exodus and the 40 years wandering in the Sinai.  Even with all that effort, none had been found.  When infrared photography from satellite proved North Africa was once a lush, well-watered rainforest and that the Arabian peninsula was once a verdant landscape criss-crossed by dozens of rivers, the hopeful tried that. 

Despite the fact that scientists were able to chart the course of Arabian rivers that had not existed for tens of millennia and that these techniques had been able to identify Neolithic campsites used once by a small band of hunters, nothing was found.  In truth, the Sinai could not possibly support two million plus persons for even a short time, much less forty years, even with divine intervention from multiple deities.

Now we can explore why the historical record doesn’t have any room for The Exodus.

Two of the oldest, and once most widely-respected (as they still are by fundamentalist and evangelical Christians, especially in America, and by Orthodox Jews) timelines of Biblical chronology are the rabbinic timeline produced in the 2nd century CE called the Seder Olam Rabbah and the chronology published in the 17th century by the (Anglican) Church of Ireland’s Most Rev. James Ussher called Annals of the Old and New Testaments.

The Most Rev. James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh in the Church of Ireland, was a very learned man who used his wide and deep knowledge of scripture and ancient history from authors contemporary to their time (or near so) to create a timeline of the events of the Christian Holy Bible and a little ways beyond.  This timeline, published separately in 1650 and 1654 and as a whole in 1658, is called the Annals of the Old and New Testaments.

In case you’re wondering, by the way, Ussher dated Creation to the eve of 23 October 4004 BCE in the Julian calendar (or 21 September 4004 BCE in the Gregorian calendar) which is where that date comes from.  The rabbinic chronology, sanctified by its inclusion in the Talmud, gives the year 3761 BCE.  Ussher’s chronology runs to the end of the Great Jewish Revolt of 66-73 CE, a bit of a misnomer since the Samaritans joined in. 

The rabbis give the same dates for that penultimate event, which is probably a good thing for them since the war was very well documented.  Unfortunately for the rabbis, they didn’t always choose to date events according to empirical fact; their dates don’t enter our version of space-time reality until the conquest of the Levant by Pompey the Great in 63 BCE.  They even misdate the Hasmonean Revolt three decades late.

For all the believers in the fantasies of the other well-known Church of Ireland divine, John Nelson Darby, at the end of his work Ussher quite correctly states the predictions of the Olivet discourse were fulfilled by the events of that war, which pretty much trashes the idea that the “restoration of Israel” is a sign of the “End Times” since Darby’s Restorationism is built around the idea that the Olivet discourse has yet to be fulfilled.

While his overall dates of known events correspond to our reality, Ussher sucks at math as bad as the rabbis.  Ussher gives the date of 1706 BCE for the children of Israel going down into Egypt, while the rabbis give the date of 1522 BCE.  Ussher gives the date of 1491 BCE for the Exodus, while the rabbis give the date of 1312 BCE. 

In Ussher’s case the difference is 215 years while for the rabbis the difference is 210 years.  The Bible gives three different figures for the lengths of stay in Egypt: 400 years in Genesis 15:13, about 160 years in Genesis 15:16 and I Chronicles 6:1-3, and the third depends on whether one is looking at Exodus 12:40 in the Septuagint version, which gives 215 years, or in the Masoretic version, which gives 430 years.  Information elsewhere (Exodus 6:16-20; 1 Chronicles 6:1; 1 Chronicles 23:6-13) allows for a sojourn of no more than 350 years.

Interesting that Ussher chose the Septuagint’s figure for his chronology since the Bible he used on a daily basis as Archbishop of the branch of the Church of England known as the Church of Ireland based its translation of the Old Testament almost solely on the Masoretic version.  If they realized this, many American Christian fundamentalists with their Ussher-incorporating Schofield Reference Bibles might experience cognitive dissonance, at least until they could bring to bear the same contortionist reasoning with which they justify so many of their fallacies.

In the 20th century, Biblical archaeologist and theologian Edwin Thiele suggested a date of 1450 BCE, in the midst of the reign of Pharoah Thutmose III.  When this was proven archaeologically impossible by the second half of the 20th century, later Biblical archaeologist William Albright proposed a period of 1250-1200 BCE, but this idea too met its inevitable disavowment.

So, from the earliest proposed date to the latest, we get a space of years in which The Exodus could have occurred from 1491 BCE to 1200 BCE. 

There actually were people from Canaan who went down to Lower Egypt, beginning around 1800 BCE, but not as mendicants who became slaves and they were certainly not monotheists or even close to it.  Called Hyksos by the Egyptians, they arrived as welcome immigrants with much needed skills, soldiers, sailors, craftsman, and artisans.  From their gods and names in surviving inscriptions, it is clear they were Canaanite.

The Hyksos referred to their chief deity as Baal, and they also brought along Anath, Resheph, and Astarte, among others.  Eventually, they identified Baal with Seth, and began to worship him as such.  In Egyptian religion by that time, Seth had become the brother and archenemy of Horus, the same way that in the Levant the god Yaw was brother and archenemy to Hadad (both of whom bore the title Baal, incidentally) and that in Lower Mesopotamia the god Sin was brother and archenemy to the god Marduk.

With the slow disintegration of the Middle Kingdom, they found their way into the bureaucracy, even into the viziership.  By the 17th century BCE, they formed the most powerful petty kingdom in Lower Egypt, and arose to its Pharoahs after their numbers were swelled by their cousins bringing the chariot and the compound bow (then advanced military tech).  While the Pharaohs of the Canaanite Hyksos dynasty ruled from the city of Avaris from about 1650 BCE, native rulers continued in Upper Egypt at Thebes.

When their time was up, the Hyksos did not “escape” from Egypt; rather they were attacked and driven out by the forces of Thebes about 1530 BCE.  Their capital of Avaris was reduced to rubble.  After they fled across the Sinai, they took shelter in the fortified city of Sharuhen in the Negev, which fell after a three year siege.  Jericho was also destroyed about the same time.  Pharoah  Ahmose I already controlled the line of forts from the Delta up the seacoast to Gaza known as the Way of Horus; its terminus at Gaza became the administration center for Egypt’s Levantine territories.

In 1457 BCE, Pharoah Thutmose III conquered Djahy, roughly the same territory as Galilee, whose main city was the metropolis of Hazor.  To have a more central location from which to administer the new territories, he built a city at the junction of the Jezreel and Jordan Valleys later the site of Scythopolis and Beth Shean.

Egyptian territory eventually extended to the Orontes River, then to Anatolia and the Euphrates River and northwest Mesopotamia.  Under Pharoah Amenhotep IV/Akenaten (1351-1334 BCE), who was more preoccupied with the domestic affairs of Egypt (such as promoting worship of his monotheistic god Aten), Egypt lost their northern territories of Amurru and Kadesh to the growing Hittite Empire out of Anatolia.

After much back-and-forth conquest over the next several decades, the border between Egypt and Hatti (the land which the Hittites had taken over as their base) was set at Qatna. 

Between 1206 and 1130 BCE, the entire network of civilizations around the Aegean Sea, the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, and Southwest Asia collapsed.  The sites of most city-states from the period show wholesale destruction, burning, and looting.  Mycenaean Greece, the Hittite Empire, the New Kingdom of Egypt, Cyprus, Mesopotamia, Amurru, Alalakh, Ugarit, and the Assuwa confederation in western Anatolia (of which Wilusa/Ilion/Troy was the seat) disappeared.  The Late Bronze Age ended with a bang, or rather several bangs, not a whimper.

Surviving inscriptions and papyri mention the Sea Peoples, but they alone cannot account for the massive chaos and devastation.  Trade networks were disrupted, city-states vanished to be replaced by isolated villages, more hospitable places were abandoned for those more secure.

The New Kingdom of Egypt ruled the Levant (which it called Retenu) up to Qatna with no real opposition until the Battle of Djahy against the Sea Peoples in 1178 BCE.  Following the battle, Pharoah Ramesses III resettled his antagonists in the five towns later known as Philistia in the southwest of Palestine, their metropolis of Gath being the most inland.

The local population of Djahy took advantage of the situation in 1150 BCE to rise up and burn the Egyptian city at Beth Shean to the ground, immediately building a new, and Canaanite, city on top of it.  The Philistines rewarded their initiative by destroying it fifty years later.  In the meantime, in 1130 BCE, they destroyed the last major city still loyal to Egypt, Megiddo, at the time the leading city of Djahy, the previous center’s population (Hazor) having risen up and destroyed the upper city of its pro-Egyptian elite around the year 1230 BCE but leaving the lower city intact.

The dawn of the Early Iron Age saw the end of Egyptian power and influence in the Levant as well as the collapse of civilization, but it also allowed the rise of the Phoenician city-states of the Mediterranean Sea’s eastern coast.  The Phoenicians, and their Punic offspring based in the African city of Carthage, came to dominate the sea’s entire basin.  In the Levant, their cities ran from Arvad in the north to Joppa (Jaffa) in the south, not far from the Philistine city of Ekron, and included Byblos, Tyre, Sidon, Beirut, Tripoli, Dor, and Haifa.

The destruction of the Egyptian-allied city at Megiddo marked the end of Egyptian power in the Levant for the next several centuries, except for the three years following its reconquest by the Pharoah Shehsonq I of the 22nd Dynasty, 925-922 BCE.  Palestina, as it was then known to the Greeks, didn’t come under the sway of Egypt again until its conquest by Ptolemy I in 301 BCE.

Egypt ruled southern and central Palestine from 1530 BCE when they chased the Hyksos back into Palestine and northern Palestine and Lebanon from 1457 when they conquered Djahy, eventually conquering the entire Levant and part of Anatolia.  The New Kingdom ruled all these areas, except for the territory the Hittites took from them down to Qatna with the defection of Amurru, until the Late Bronze Age Collapse, with the last bit of its hold there vanishing in 1130 BCE.  Clearly, there was no room for the Israelites to escape from Egypt into the Land of Canaan because they would have just been “escaping” into more of Egypt.

In the midst of the collapse, other semi-nomadic Canaanite peoples, some previously mentioned in Egyptian records such as Edom and Moab, began to settle down and found territorial kingdoms for themselves and their posterity.  Moab established its kingdom in 1250 BCE, Edom in 1180 BCE, Aram in 1115, and Ammon in 1000 BCE.  The first two were definitely mentioned in Egyptian records, the latter being identified with the Shasu mentioned elsewhere though the Shasu are also identified with Aram.

The “Isiriar” (probably Israel) mentioned as tribal allies of the southern Palestine city-states of Gezer, Yenoam, and Ashkelon in 1207 BCE do not reappear until their king, Omri, founds the kingdom known, to outsiders at least, as Samerina in the early 9th century BCE, taking in what was once Djahy as well as the central area known in the first century as Samaria.

I submit once again that the Exodus is a myth, because there is no room for it in the historical record.  It is at best a reimagining of actual historical events involving the Hyksos.

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