Dating the Pentateuch and the Book of Exodus
via Archaeological Anomalies and Anachronisms
Please click here for this website's most important article: Why the Bible Cannot be the Word of God. For Christians visiting this website my most important article is: The Reception of God's Holy Spirit: How the Hebrew Prophets _contradict_ Christianity's Teachings. Please click here. Please click here for my latest map (21 Nov. 2009) showing the site of Israel's "crossing of the Red Sea"
in the Exodus as being at Ras el Ballah (my Baal-zephon)
12 April 2001
One of the "first" problems to be faced is that the Bible exists today in several CONTRADICTING recensions which provide "different dates" for the creation of the world and the Exodus. One often sees the date of 1445 BC for the Exodus at many Protestant Evangelical Websites. This date is based on the chronology developed in the 17th century AD by Archbishop James Ussher of Ireland, which later in the 18th centuries appears in the margins of numerous King James Version Bibles (the KJV began printing in 1611 AD). Ussher calculated Creation at 4004 BC.
The Catholic Bible is a recension of the Septuaginta believed to have been compiled at Alexandria Egypt in Greek for Jews by Jews in the 3rd century BC. Catholic scholars fix creation at 5199 BC instead of 4004 BC. Why ? Because the Septuagint gives different ages for the pre-Flood patriachs which are in CONTRADICTION to ages preserved in the King James Bible. The Rabbinical Seder Olam Rabbah calculated Creation at 3740 BC.
Professor Steibing on three different and _CONTRADICTING_ dates for God's creation of the world found in the book of Genesis as calculated by Jewish, Catholic and Protestant scholars:
"Most scholars [prior to the 19th century AD] agreed that the world was only about six thousand years old, though there was considerable disagreement over the exact date of the creation. Jewish rabbinical calculations from the Hebrew Massoretic Text showed that the world began 3,740 years before the Christian Era. Roman Catholic tradition, based on the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible, placed the creation in 5199 B.C. And most English-speaking Protestants accepted the seventeenth-century Archbishop James Ussher's calculation of the time of creation, 4004 B.C. Ussher's dates were placed in the margins of early eighteenth-century editions of the King James version of the Bible, making them seem even more authoritive." (p. 32. "The Discovery of Prehistory." William H. Steibing Jr. Uncovering the Past. New York & Oxford. Oxford University Press. 1994 [1993 Prometheus Books])
Thus Protestant Christian Evangelicals set the Exodus at circa 1445 BC using Ussher's chronology, the Roman Catholics set the Exodus at circa 1512 BC and the Jewish TANAKH's data which appears in the Jewish work called Seder 'Olam Rabbah calculates the Exodus at 1312 BC. For the 1512 BC Exodus date cf. page 190; for 1312 BC cf. p. 111 in Jack Finegan. Handbook of Biblical Chronology. Peabody, Massachusetts. Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. 1964, 1998 Revised Edition. ISBN 1-56563-143-9).
The Roman Catholic Exodus date of 1512 BC falls in the reign of Pharaoh Tuthmoses II (reigned circa 1518-1504 BC); The Protestant Evangelicals' Exodus date from the King James Version of 1445 BC falls in the reign of Pharaoh Amenhotep II (reigned ca. 1453-1419 BC); the Jewish Seder 'Olam Rabah's Exodus date of ca. 1312 BC falls in the reign of Pharaoh Horemhab (reigned ca. 1321-1293 BC), he being succeeded by Ramesses I (reigned ca. 1293-1291 BC). Note all Pharaonic reigns are from Peter A. Clayton. Chronicle of the Pharaohs, The Reign-by-reign Record of the Rulers and Dynasties of Ancient Egypt. London. Thames & Hudson. 1994. ISBN 0-500-05074-0.
***15 May 2005 UPDATE: Please be advised that I _now_ understand that a "conflation and fusion" exists of events appearing in the Bible's Exodus narratives: first, the Hyksos expulsion of 1540-1530 BCE, secondly, Ramesside Era events in the Sinai and Arabah, and thirdly, of places existing only in Late Iron II, 640-562 BCE. Mainstream scholarship understands Israel's settling of the Hill Country is Iron I, ca. 1200-1000 BCE based on archaeological findings. Why then does the Bible have an Exodus so much earlier ?
The answer is very surprising and has been preserved for almost 2000 years in the writings of an Egyptian priest/historian called Manetho. He wrote a history of Egypt in the 3rd century BCE for his Hellenistic Greek overlord Ptolemy II. He noted that TWO EXPULSIONS occurred in Egypt's history, of Asiatics. The first was of the Hyksos of the mid 16th century and then another in the Ramesside era. He understood that the Hyksos fled to and settled at Jerusalem, but that 500 years later (Josephus' reckoning) "their descendants" reinvaded Egypt, resettling at the town they had been expelled from earlier called Avaris. After 13 years of "lording it" over the eastern delta, the Ramessides expelled the Hyksos' descendants a SECOND TIME, and they eventually again settled at Jerusalem. The Jewish historian Josephus (1st century CE) was adamant that the 16th century expulsion was the Exodus based on the Bible's chronology and furious that Manetho had said the Exodus was preserved in a Ramesside expulsion! Modern archaeology has established the Israelite settlement of the Canaanite Hill Country from Galilee to the Negev as portrayed in the Bible, was in Ramesside times. Please click here for my article on Manetho vs. Josephus on the Exodus. If Manetho is correct, that Avaris was resettled by Canaanites in Ramesside times, and expelled again, perhaps this answers the "great mystery" ? Why is the pottery of the IRON IA settlements Canaanite in appearance and not Egyptian ? The answer: 13 years was too short a period of time for the reinvading Canaanite descendants of the Hyksos to adopt Egyptian potting techniques. They cast their Canaanite pots in Egypt and still were casting them in the Canaanite manner when they settled AGAIN near Jerusalem in the Hill Country. Not until Egypt abandoned Canaan circa 1130 BCE under Ramesses VI was the land open for conquest, by Philistines and Israelites (Please scroll down to the "19 June 2005 Update" at the end of this article for the details).
My "original" article from 2001 (with internal revisions and deletions of 18 June 2005):
The Pentateuchal narratives mention several cities, towns and villages, some of which have been identified and excavated by archaeologists. Archaeology has revealed that some of these places were either abandoned or not in existence in the historical time frames of the biblical narratives. This brief article will note what archaeologists found and conclusions are drawn regarding not only the historicity of the biblical texts, but also when they were composed. I am not attempting to account for every site mentioned in the book of Exodus, I am focusing in on the "archaeological anomalies" which are useful in the dating of the text.
Tradition claims the Pentateuch, which includes the Book of Exodus, was written by Moses ca. 1446 BCE (cf. 1 Kings 6:1 for the date of the Exodus, favored by some Conservative Scholars). The archaeological evidence suggests otherwise, the text appears to be no earlier than the 6th-5th centuries BCE, as the rest of this article will attempt to demonstrate.
Against the notion of an Exodus occurring ca. 1446 BCE as suggested by 1 Kings 6:1, is the fact that the annals of Pharaoh Rameses III record the arrival of the Pelest, identified as the Bible's Philistines, ca. 1175 BCE. The Pentateuchal narrator understands that the Philistines were in Canaan in Abraham's days, the 3rd millennium BCE and that they would have opposed the Exodus pentration of Canaan via the coastal road from Egypt called "the way of the Philistines." This anomaly reveals that the Pentateuchal account would have to have been written at some point in time after the national memory had forgotten when the Pelest had arrived. Perhaps 100/200 years would need to elapse.
A serious problem exists in extracting archaeological evidence to date the Book of Exodus by, in that there is no agreement on any of the sites in Egypt mentioned in the text.
The first place mentioned in the Book of Exodus is Pithom a so-called "Store-city" built by the Hebrew slaves in Egypt (Ex 1:11). Scholars are not in consensus today as to Pithom's location. Several places are under consideration. Wei noted that three different proposals have been made, identifying Pithom with Tell el-Maskhutah, Tell el-Retabeh, and Heliopolis (Egyptian Innu, Hebrew On). Edouard Naville, an Egyptologist who excavated at Makhutah (1885) argued that inscriptions he found suggested that pr`itm (House of Atem/Atum) indicated the site was Pithom (a religious name) while the civil name was Tkw(t), or Succoth.
Gardiner has argued for Pithom being at Retabeh/Ratabah, those who favor Ratabah as Pithom, prefer to see Maskhutah as Succoth, still others favor Retabeh to be Rameses (Vol. 5. p. 377. Tom F. Wei. "Pithom." David Noel Freedman. Editor. The Anchor Bible Dictionary, New York. Doubleday.1992).
As noted by Wei, Uphill's suggestion of Heliopolis being Pithom was based on the notion a temple existed there dedicated to Tum (Atem/Atum), but this has been challenged by Gardiner who says that Re-Harakhti was the god being honored, not Tum.
Redford has noted that pr`itm in Egyptian doesn't refer to a city or town, but to a temple estate (pr = house of `itm = Atum/Tum/Tem). Outside of the Bible the earliest appearance of a town resembling Pithom, is in Herodotus' History (composed ca.450-425 BCE ?), where he mentions Patumos, a town in the vicinity of the canal begun by Pharaoh Necho II and completed by Darius which leaves the Nile near Bubastis and links up to the Red Sea via Wadi Tumilat. Redford, a prominent Egyptologist, has argued that the Pentateuch's Egyptian geography is drawn from Saitic times, the 26th Dynasty by a Post-Exilic author-
"We cannot escape the conclusion that the narrative genealogy, like the tabular, reflects a sixth to fifth century placement of peoples and states. It is essentially the view of the world that the Jews carried with them into Exile, slightly modified by their descendants who returned to their native land three or four generations later...The Egypt that shows through in the Table of Nations is the Egypt of Psammetichos I and his descendants, the 26th Dynasty. To contend that the Hebrews must have been familiar with Egypt from high antiquity is to belabor a truism. But the POST-EXILIC EDITOR was publishing for his contemporaries; and the Egypt he felt obliged to explain for them was the Nilotic power of his own time." (p.408. Donald B. Redford. Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times. Princeton, New Jersey. Princeton University Press.1992. ISBN 0-691-00086-7 pbk)
A French Pilgrimess (some say Spanish), rendered variously Egeria or Etheria (ca. 396 CE) mentions Pithom as a place she visited. Her comments are important in placing the location of Pithom so I have quoted at length a portion of her description of her Journey from Sinai to Goshen via Clysma (modern Kolzum near Suez).
"Now although I had been acquainted with the land of Goshen ever since I was in Egypt for the first time, yet [I visited it again] in order that I might see all the places which the children of Israel touched on their journey out from Rameses, until they reached the Red Sea at the place which is now called Clysma from the fort which is there. I desired therefore that we should go from Clysma to the land of Goshen, that is, to the city called Arabia, which city is in the land of Goshen. The whole territory is called after the city, the land of Arabia, the land of Goshen, although it is apart of Egypt. It is much better land than all the rest of Egypt. From Clysma, that is from the Red Sea, there are four desert stations, but though in the desert, yet there are military quarters at the stations with soldiers and officers who always escorted from fort to fort. On that journey the holy men who were with us, clergy and monks, showed us all the places which I was always seeking in accordance with the scriptures; some of these were on the left, some on the right of our path, some were far distant from, and some near to our route. For I hope that your affection will believe me [when I say], as far as I could see, the children of Israel marched in such wise that as far as they went to the right, so far did they turn back to the left; as far as they went forward, so far did they return backward, journeying thus until they reached the Red Sea. Epauleum was shown to us from the opposite side, when we were at Migdol, where there is now a fort with an officer set over soldiers to maintain Roman discipline. These escorted us thence, according to custom, to another fort, and Baal-zephon was shown to us, when we were at that place. It is a plain above the Red Sea, along the side of the mountain which is mentioned above, where the children of Israel cried out when they saw the Egyptians coming after them. Etham also was shown to us, which is on the edge of the wilderness, as it is written, also Succoth, which is a slight elevation in the middle of a valley, and by this little hill the children of Israel encamped. This is the place where the law of the Passover was received. The city of Pithom, which the children of Israel built, was shown to us on the same journey at the place where, leaving the lands of the Saracens, we entered the territory of Egypt; the same Pithom is now a fort. The city of Hero, which existed at the time when Joseph met his father Jacob as he came, as it is written in the book of Genesis, is now a come, though a large one--a village as we say. This village has a church and martyr-memorials, and many cells of holy monks, so that we had to alight to see each of them, in accordance with he custom which we had. The village is now called Hero; it is situated at the sixteenth milestone from the land of Goshen (Goshen=Gesse), and it is within the boundaries of Egypt; moreover, it is a very pleasant spot, for an arm of the Nile flows there. Then, leaving Hero, we came to the city which is called Arabia, situated in the land of Goshen (Gesse), for it is written concerning it that Pharaoh said to Joseph, "In the best of the land of Egypt make thy father and breathren to dwell, in the land of Goshen, in the land of Arabia."
Rameses is four miles from the city of Arabia, and in order to arrive at the station of Arabia, we passed through the midst of Rameses. The city of Rameses is now open country, without a single habitation, but it is certainly traceable, since it was great in circumference and contained many buildings, for its ruins appear to this day in great numbers, just as they fell. There is nothing there now except one great Theban stone, on which are carved two statues of great size, which they say are those of the holy man, Moses and Aaron, raised in their honor by the children of Israel. There is also a sycamore tree, which is said to have been planted by the patriarchs; it is certainly very old, and therefore very small, though it still bears fruit. And all who have any indisposition go there and pluck off twigs, and it benfits them. This we learned from information given by the holy bishop of Arabia, who told us the name of the tree in Greek--dendros alethiae, or as we say, the tree of truth. This holy bishop deigned to meet us at Rameses; he is an elderly man, truly pious from the time he became a monk, courteous, most kind in receiving pilgrims, and very learned in the Scriptures of God. He, after deigning to give himself the trouble of meeting us, showed us everything there and told us about the aforesaid statues, as well as about the sycomore tree. This holy bishop also informed us how Pharaoh, when he saw that the children of Israel had escaped him, before he set out after them, went with all his army into Rameses and burnt the whole city which was very great, and then set out thence in pursuit of the children of Israel.
Now it fell out by a very happy chance that the day on which we came to the station of Arabia was the eve of the most blessed day of Epiphany, and the vigils were to be kept in the church on the same day. Wherefore the holy bishop detained us there for some two days, a holy man and truly a man of God, well known to me from the time when I had been in the Thebaid. He became a holy bishop after being a monk, for he was brought up from a child in a cell, for which reason he is so learned in the Scriptures and chastened in his whole life, as I said above. From this place we sent back the soldiers who according to Roman discipline had given us the help of their escort as long as we had walked through suspected places. Now, however, as the public road--which passed by the city of Arabia and leads from the Thebaid to Pelusium--ran through Egypt, there was no need to trouble the soldiers further. Setting out thence we pursued our journey continuously through the land of Goshen, among vines that yield wine and vines that yield balsam, among orchards, highly cultivated fields and very pleasent gardens, our whole route lying along the bank of the river Nile among oft-recurring estates, which were once the homesetads of the children of Israel. And why should I say more ? for I think that I have never seen a more beautiful country than the land of Goshen (Gesse). And traveling thus for two days from the city of Arabia through the land of Goshen continuously, we arrived at Tatnis, the city where holy Moses was born. The city of Tatnis was once Pharaoh's metropolis." (quoted from M.L. McCure & C.L. Feltoe. The Pilgrimage of Etheria. London. Society For Promoting Christian Knowledge. The Macmillan Co., New York. 1919)
The "city of Arabia" mentioned by the pilgrimess is a clue to locating Rameses, Pithom and Succoth. My own perusal of a map of Egypt suggests that the "city of Arabia" might be preserved in Arabic at a location called El Abbassa El Gharbiya (Gharbiya preserving Arabia ?), located at the western entrance to Wadi Tumilat. Gesse (Goshen) might be preserved in the villages of Ghazalet el Khis and el Khis, west of Gharbiya, and east of Bubastis. This is the region of Naville's Saft el-Henna, which he identifies with Egyptian land of Kes (Naville equating Kes = LXX: Gesem, MT: Goshen) from the Egyptian shrine found there (cf. p.12. Edouard Naville. The Shrine of Saft el Henneh and the Land of Goshen. London. The Egypt Exploration Fund. 1887).
The pilgrimess apparently understood the sites to lie on a line, going from west to east, they are the land of Goshen (Gesse), the "city of Arabia," Rameses, Hero/Pithom, and Succoth. It is interesting that the pilgrimess said a branch of the Nile flows near Pithom. The canal of Necho and Darius had silted up by her time, the late 4th century CE. I note that the Nile "naturally" comes to its end about the middle of Wadi Tumilat near a place called Kassassan according to Naville's map (Naville locates a "lock of Kassassan" here). An escarpment rises, stopping the eastward course of the river. This escarpment is just west of Tell Retabeh. If Retabeh is Hero/Pithom it is where the Nile ends in Wadi Tumilat. Only if the canal was maintained and kept open would Nile waters reach Lake Timsah.
If Rameses is 4 Roman miles east of the "city of Arabia" (Gharbiya ?) then it is located in Wadi Tumilat, it isn't Ramesses II's "Per-Rameses" located at Qantir. Perhaps Ramesses is Tell el-Kebir to the east of Abbassa El Gharbiya ? The city of Hero is stated to be 16 Roman miles from the Land of Goshen which is encountered after the City of Arabia. Approximately 16 Roman miles east of Abbassa El Gharabiya is Tell er-Retabeh. Is Retabeh Hero ? (cf. "Sketch Map of the Eastern Delta" with Roman Mile scale appended, The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology Vol. 10, London, 1924, map plate XXXV). If Retabeh is Hero/Pithom, then Maskhutah might be Succoth. Etham on the edge of the wilderness might be the Lake Timsah area (Tim preserving Etham ?) ?
Egyptian records mention allowing bedouins to pass through the Egyptian frontier to water their flocks at the pools of Pi-tum :
"We have finished allowing the Shosu (Bedouin) tribes of Edom to pass the fortress of Merenptah which is in Tjeku to the pools of Pi-tum of Merenptah, in order to keep them alive their flocks by the goodness of Pharaoh..." (p.274. Alan Gardiner. Egypt of the Pharaohs. 1961, 1972)
Excavations by Holladay at tell el Maskhutah failed to find evidence of an occupation during the 20th/19th Dynasties, Merenptah being a Pharoah of the 19th Dynasty. Dever however, has noted that excavations at tell el Retabeh have revealed it was occupied from 20 Dynasty times onward. Sooo, Retabeh could fill the bill as being Merenptah's Pools of Pithom.
"Tell el-Retabe...was occupied in the Middle Kingdom, abandoned in the New Kingdom, then reoccupied in the 20th Dynasty and onward." (Vol. 3. p.546. Willam G. Dever. "Israel, History of, Archaeology and the Conquest." David Noel Freedman. Editor. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York. Doubleday. 1992)
My research has lead me to the conviction that Redford is correct, the Pentateuch was composed ca. the early 6th century BCE. I also suspect that the Jews of this era had no idea of where Rameses lay. The prominence of monuments bearing Rameses II's name and features scattered about Egypt, could have led them to identify just about any site as Rameses. His monuments and inscriptions found at various sites in Wady Tumilat and the Eastern Delta could have lead the Jews of the Post-Exilic era to mistakenly call these places the "Land of Rameses."
Naville found at Maskhutah a great tablet inscribed in Ptolemy II's reign, recording gifts to the god Tum of Succoth-
"These revenues which have been given to his father Tum and to the gods of Egypt, have been inscribed on this tablet before his father Tum the great living god of Succoth, on the day of the coronation of the king, when he dedicated the temple which is there..." (p.19, Edouard Naville. The Store-City of Pithom and the Rute of the Exodus. London. Egypt Exploration Fund. 1885)
If this tablet was dedicated to Tum of Succoth and found at Maskhutah, the connection is strong that this may be Succoth of the Exodus narrative.
Holladay, a prominent Egyptologist who excavated at Maskhutah in the late 1970's and early 1980's, has noted that while monuments of Ramesses II exist from the site, the pottery debris of that era is missing. The debris is of the Saitic period, from the time of Necho II (Late 7th century BCE) who initiated the building of a canal to the Red Sea according to Herodotus. These excavations revealed that the storehouses at Maskhutah which Naville (1885) thought were Ramesside, were actually Persian and Ptolemaic (Ptolemy II, 285-246 BCE). The only debris of an earlier era was the Hyksos period (before they were expelled circa 1550/1540/1530 BCE). The archaeologists came to realize that Necho probably had the statues of Rameses II carried via barges to the site by way of the canal he was constructing (ca. 610 BCE).
Holladay, accepting Naville's arguments that Maskhutah is Pithom, has arrived at the conclusion that "Pithom" could have entered the Pentateuchal narrative only after its founding by Necho, that is some time after 610 BCE. He posits that some Jewish refugees fleeing the wrath of the Babylonians after the assassination of Babylonian appointed governor of Judah, Gedaliah, ca. 582 BCE, probably came to settle at Pithom/Maskhutah and the nearby Hyksos era graves and traditions came to be associated in their minds with the Exodus under Moses. Holladay's theory makes the Pentateuch and the Book of Exodus a late creation of either the 6th or 5th century BCE, a position held by Redford since 1963 (Vol. 4. p. 591. John S. Holladay, Jr. "Maskhuta, Tell el-," David Noel Freedman. Editor.
The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York. Doubleday. 1992) If Maskhutah is Succoth, the above observations would still stand, the site was founded in Necho's days.
As noted earlier, there is no consensus on the Egyptian sites, Rameses being in Wadi Tumilat as suggested by Egeria vs. it being Pi-Rameses in Qantir. In favor of Qantir is Psalms' statement that God wrought his miracles in the fields of Zoan, believed to be Egyptian Denit, Greek Tanis, which is to the NW of Qantir (Ps 78:12; 43).
Other sites in the Exodus narratives are all conjectural and based on an Exodus crossing the sea (called Yam Suph) at either Lake Ballah, Lake Timsah, the Bitter Lakes or near Suez. Egeria understood the crossing to have been near Roman Clysma, near Suez. Extensive sand bars or shoals are exposed at low tides in this area as revealed in numerous 19th century maps, and tides can get up to nearly 5 feet in height at times. The sites Etham, Pihahiroth, Baal Zephon, Migdol are all unknown.
If Pihahiroth means "the mouth of the canal" as suggested by Redford, Kharru being an Akkadian word for a channel or canal (Vol. 5. p. 371. Donald B. Redford. "Pihahiroth," David Noel Freedman. Editor. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York. Doubleday. 1992), perhaps the mouth of the Persian canal constructed by Darius is being alluded to ? This canal was built by about 513 BCE, which would suggest a Pentatuechal narrative being composed or edited after that date, the late 6th or possibly the 5th century BCE (perhaps by Ezra ca. 460 BCE ?). Darius set up several stone stelae, found by archaeologists, declaring he built a canal from Egypt to the Red Sea. He inscribed these stelae in Egyptian and Persian.
The Map of Egypt made ca. 1798 by Napoleon's cartographers shows the mouth of the Persian canal to the north of Suez and the ruins of Roman Clysma, and "a Ford" (a so-called "Camel Ford" on other 19th century maps) which begins near the canal's mouth and crosses the sand bar to the Sinai side of the bay (the ford has depth markings along its course). Did the Pentateuchal narrator envision Israel using this Camel Ford in crossing the Red Sea at low tide ? (cf. map titled "Isthme de Soueys," p.574, Description de l'Egypte. Benedikt Taschen Verlag GmbH. Koln, Germany. 1994. ISBN 3-8228-8964-4). I understand that the Primary History (Genesis- 2 Kings) was composed in the Exile ca. 560 BCE. If I am correct, then Pihahiroth would NOT be "the mouth" of the "Persian" canal near Suez built ca. 513 BCE.
If the Pentateuch was written ca. 562-560 BCE, did the author know of Pharaoh Necho's attempt to build a Canal from the Red Sea to Egypt ca. 610 BCE? Could Necho have begun this canal -simultaneously- at two different locations, from the Nile's great overflow lake west of Tell er-Retabeh and Tell el Maskhutah in Wadi Tumilat and from Suez? If this possibilty is allowed, then the "mouth of the Canal" or Pi-ha-Khiroth, would refer to Necho's unfinished canal, whose mouth was in place ca. 610 BCE, some 40+ years before the Pentateuch was written.
It might be the "ship's channel" in the bay or inlet east-north-east of the port of Suez called today Birkhet el Kharira. I note that Numbers 33:7-8 renders Hahiroth instead of Pihahiroth (Hebrew: Pi-ha-chyiroth) whereas Exodus 14:2 in the Aramaic Peshitta translation by Lamsa, renders "inlet of Kheritha", stating that this inlet was dry at low tide (cf. p. 81, George M. Lamsa. Holy Bible From the Ancient Eastern Text . San Francisco. Harper & Row.  1968). Birkhet el Kharira is an area of exposed shoals at low tide, just east of and adjacent to ancient Roman Clysma, Arabic: Kolzum (cf. Map titled "Suez" 1:25,000 published 1934. London). If the "ship's channel" is the Kharru or Chyiroth, then perhaps this channel or Kharru gave the bay of Kharira its name ? Israel is portrayed as encamped by the sea (Yam Suph) near Migdol and Pi-ha-chyiroth. Migdol is a Semetic word meaning a Tower-fortress. Egyptologists have excavated a fortress, founded by Ramesses III at Kom Qolzoum (Kolzom), Roman Clysma, and the French/Spanish pilgrimess, Egeria/Etheria stated that it was at Clysma that Israel crossed the Sea.
Perhaps the Egyptian fortress is the bible's Migdol ? The Suez map made ca. 1798 by Napoleon's cartographers reveals that a great channel hugs the shoreline and if this channel existed in Ramesses III's days, Egyptian ships would be able to embark from the vicinity of the Egyptian fortress. The Ramesside fortress, perhaps abandoned ca. 562 BCE when the Primary History (Genesis- 2 Kings) was written in the Exile, may have been understood to be abandoned when the narrator had Moses and Israel encamped between it and the "ship's channel" ? The Egyptians also called their fortresses Khetam, so a conflation and confusion may have made Semetic Migdol and Egyptian Khetam two different places instead of both being the Ramesside fortress. The "Wilderness of Etham/Khetam"would then be an alternate name for the area and its fortress. In other words, the Ramesside fortress at Quolzom demarcated the easternmost boundary of Egypt at the Red Sea or Yam Suph, beyond was the Sinai.
The Exodus account suggests the sea returned to its strength in the morning, which would describe tidal actions near Suez, rather the Bitter Lakes or Lake Timsah (Ex 14:27).
"...the sea returned to its wonted flow when the morning appeared; and the Egyptians fled into it, and the Lord routed the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen and all the host of Pharaoh..." Exodus 15:27, RSV
19 June 2005 Update:
The LACK of archaeological evidence for an Exodus circa 1446 BCE and Conquest circa 1400 BCE:
Tradition has it that the Israelites were heading for Mt. Sinai, also called Mt. Horeb, understood by many to be Gebal Musa or Katharina. Archaeological surveys carried out by Israeli scholars after the 6 days war with Egypt in 1967 failed to find any evidence of 600,000 Israelite warriors and their families in the SOUTHERN Sinai (2 million souls has been estimated for this horde according to some scholars). The archaeolgical data suggested a presence in the Early Bronze Age followed by an interval of abandonment and resettlement in the Iron Age. The Exodus event is generally dated 1446 BCE by Conservative scholars and ca. 1240 BCE by Liberal Scholars. Both dates fall within the Late Bronze Age period (ca. 1560-1200 BCE) and nothing of that period has been found in Sinai or the Negeb. The Late Bronze Age graves of the thousands who perished in the worship of the golden calf at Sinai are unsubstantiated, yet graves (called Nawamis) exist in Sinai from the Early Bronze Age and Middle Bronze I, the latter being attested in the Northern Sinai and Negeb (3150-2000 BCE) !
Professor Dever :
"The Sinai Tradition...All we can say is that recent extensive exploration of the entire Sinai by Israeli archaeologists, geologists, and others has turned up virtually no Middle Bronze/Late Bronze presence in the Central or South Sinai. Our current detailed knowledge of this remote and hostile area calls into question the biblical tradition of a million-and-a-half or more people migrating there (Nu 11:21) for some 40 years (De 2:7). The barren terrain and sparse oasies might have supported a few straggling nomads, but no more than that." (Vol. 3. p. 547. Willam G. Dever. "Israel, History of, Archaeology and the Conquest," David Noel Freedman. Editor. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York. Doubleday. 1992)
"The virtual absence of remains from the Middle Bronze or Late Bronze Ages in this area [the Lower Negeb] and the rest of the Negeb contradict the 38 year Israelite settlement recounted in Exodus. Similar problems attend virtually all attempts to identify specific sites (especially Mt. Sinai) in the Central Negeb with places mentioned in Exodus." (Vol. 4. p.1064. Steven A. Rosen. "Negeb."David Noel Freedman. Editor. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York. Doubleday. 1992)
In addition to Rosen's above observation of an ABSENCE of a Late Bronze Age presence (1540-1200 BCE) of Israel in the Negev is that field surveys undertaken by the Israeli Department of Antiquities in the 1970's through 1980's FAILED to find a presence of Israel in the Hill Country of Canaan from the Galilee to the Negev in the same time period. That is to say, those scholars arguing for an Exodus circa 1446 BCE on the basis of 1 Kings 6:1 statement of 480 years elapsing from the Exodus to Solomon's 4th year have _no archaeological proof_ of Israel's presence in these areas. The Galilee to the Negev is pretty much DEVOID of any human occupation, sedentary or non-sedentary. If Israel settled in this area under Joshua circa 1400 BCE as maintained by some Conservative Bible scholars, where's the archaeological proof ?
This area -Galilee to the Negev- however, is extensively occupied beginning with Iron IA (circa 1230-1150 BCE). Seeking "archaeological proof" of the Bible's portrayal of Israel under Joshua, seizing and controling the Hill Country of Canaan from the Galilee to the Negev, most archaeologists understand this occured in Iron IA, as suddenly over 300+ villages and hamlets of stone appear in this region and in Moab too.
Is there a "way out" for Conservative scholars ? Perhaps. They "might" argue that from 1400 to 1200 BCE Israel dwelt in tents which leave no traces of an occupation, and for unknown reasons, circa 1200 BCE, Israel began building hamlets and villages of stone. The problem ? Why would Israel wait almost 200 years before building villages ?
Professor Finkelstein on the ABSENCE of an extensive Late Bronze Age presence in the Hill Country of Canaan from the Galilee to the Negev:
"However Late Bronze Age sites are virtually absent not only in my own southern Samaria survey, but also in the surveys which have been carried out in the Galilee (Frankel 1994; Gal 1992:56), in the the hill country north of Jerusalem (Finkelstein and Magen 1993) and in the Judaean hills (Ofer 1994). In all these regions, which were surveyed by different teams, hundreds of survey days have revealed very little evidence for sedentary sites of this period, and almost no evidence for non-sedentary activity." (p. 25. "The Archaeology of Nomads, Survey Methods." Israel Finkelstein. Living on the Fringe, the Archaeology and History of the Negev, Sinai and Neighboring Regions in the Bronze and Iron Ages. Sheffield, England. Sheffield Academic Press. 1995, 2001)
For a more detailed account of the "absence" of a Late Bronze Age presence in the lands allotted the Tribe of Benjamin please click here.
Stager found fault with Finkelstein's notion that Nomads wandering the periphery of Canaan settled down in Iron IA and become sedentary. His concern was that the archaeological data suggested a massive influx of peoples and he couldn't accept that such numbers could come from the impoverished Late Bronze Age Canaanite city-states or Nomads wandering about on Canaan's periphery.
Stager provides more details on the number of Late Bronze Age vs. Iron Age sites and the estimated populations:
"The Israeli archaeologist [Finkelstein] has adapted and updated Alt's nomadic hypothesis to explain the hundreds of new settlements that have been recorded in archaeological surveys. But it is difficult to believe that all of these new founded, early Iron I settlements emanated from a single source, namely, sheep-goat pastoralism. In symbiotic relations the pastoral component rarely exceeds 10 to 15 percent of the total population. Given the decline of sedentarists in Canaan throughout the Late Bronze Age, it seems unlikely that most of the Iron Age settlers came from indigenous pastoralist backgrounds." (p. 139. Lawrence E. Stager. "Forging An Identity, The Emergence of Ancient Israel." M.D. Coogan, editor. The Oxford History of the Biblical World. New York. 1998)
"In the nine areas surveyed, 88 Late bronze Age sites occupy a built-up area of more than 200 hectares (500 acres), for an estimated total population of about 50,000. In the same areas there are 678 Iron Age I settlements, each site being a hectare or less, for a total of about 600 hectares (nearly 1,500 acres), with an estimated 150,000 inhabitants...633 or 93% of these Iron Age I sites are new foundations, usually small, unwalled villages. Most of these new settlements are located in the highlands or plateaus on both sides of the Jordan river. Settlement is especially dense in the territories of Manesseh and Ephraim in the west and in Gilead and Moab in the east, both "frontiers" having been sparsely settled in the Late Bronze Age. This extra-ordinary increase in occupation during Iron I cannot be explained only by natural population growth of the few Late Bronze Age city-states in the region: there must have been a major influx of people into the highlands in the 12th and 11th centuries BCE." (p.134. Lawrence E. Stager. "Forging An Identity, The Emergence of Ancient Israel." M.D. Coogan, editor. The Oxford History of the Biblical World. New York. Oxford University Press. 1998)
Unfortunately the lack of consensus on the identity of Egyptian places mentioned in the Book of Exodus severely limits its usefulness as far as archaeology is concerned. Whether Tell el Maskhutah is Pithom or Succoth, it came into existence in Necho's days, this suggests that the Pentateuchal account is quite late, after 610 BCE (or after 582 BCE as noted by Holladay).
The absence of archaeological evidence for any kind of a major presence (600,000 Hebrew warriors and their families, extrapolated to a million people by some scholars) in the Sinai and the Hill Country of Canaan from the Galilee to the Negeb in the Late Bronze Age (1540-1230 BCE), is a serious anomaly to the notion that the Exodus took place in the time period 1446 BCE and Conquest of Canaan circa 1400 BCE preferred by some Conservative scholars.