The Exodus (Greek word έξοδος, (Hebrew: יציאת מצרים, Modern Yetsi'at Mitzrayim Tiberian jəsʕijaθ misʕɾajim ; "the exiting of Egypt") is the story of the departure of the Israelites from ancient Egypt described in the Hebrew Bible. Narrowly defined, the term refers only to the departure from Egypt described in the Book of Exodus; more widely, it takes in the subsequent wanderings in the wilderness described in the books of Numbers and Deuteronomy.
The term is derived from Exodus 14:8 - "וּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, יֹצְאִים בְּיָד רָמָה" ("the children of Israel went out with a high hand") and Exodus 13:4 - "הַיּוֹם, אַתֶּם יֹצְאִים, בְּחֹדֶשׁ, הָאָבִיב" ("This day you go forth in the month Abib"). The term יציאת מצרים was translated into Greek as "Exodus (Greek for 'departure') from Egypt". The term continues to be used in the Passover Hagadah that was authored almost 2,000 years ago in the times of the Mishnah and is used in Jewish scholarship as in Maimonides' Mishneh Torah.
The Book of Exodus tells how Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt and through the wilderness to Sinai. There Yahweh reveals himself and offers them a Covenant: they are to keep his torah (i.e. law, instruction), and in return he will be their God and give them the land of Canaan. The Book of Leviticus records the construction of the tabernacle and the laws of God. The book of Numbers tells the Israelites, led now by God, journey onwards from Sinai towards Canaan, but when their spies report that the land is filled with giants they refuse to go on. Yahweh then condemns them to wander in the desert until the generation that left Egypt passes away. The book of Deuteronomy tells how the Israelites arrive at the borders of Canaan, where Moses recalls their journeys and gives them new laws. His death (the last reported event of the Torah) concludes the 40 years of the exodus from Egypt.
There are many well-known incidents in the story of the Exodus, but some of the most famous include: the crossing of the Red Sea; the revelation at Sinai; the giving of the Tablets of Law; the incident of the golden calf; the gift of manna in the desert; the rock of Meribah; the treachery of the Amalekites; the incident at Baal-Peor; the story of Balaam and his talking donkey; and the story of the scouting of Canaan.
The Exodus from Egypt is the theme of the Jewish holiday of Passover. On the night before leaving Egypt, the final plague inflicted by God on the Egyptians was the killing of the first-born. However, to save the Israelites, they were instructed to mark their doors with blood, so that the avenging angel would see it and know to "pass over" that house. On that night, the Israelites were instructed only to eat unleavened bread as they would be leaving in haste. This portion of the narrative is the etymological basis of the festival's name.
The stations of the Exodus is a list of the places where the Israelites rested during the Exodus. A few of the cities at the start of the itinerary, such as Ra'amses, Pithom and Succoth, are reasonably well identified as archaeological sites on the eastern edge of the Nile delta, but from that very little is certain. The crossing of the Red Sea has been variously placed at the Pelusic branch of the Nile, anywhere along the network of Bitter Lakes and smaller canals that formed a barrier toward eastward escape, or even the Gulf of Suez (SSE of Succoth) and the Gulf of Aqaba (S of Ezion-Geber). The biblical Mt. Sinai is probably the single most important locale in the story, but although it is frequently depicted as Jebel Musa in the south of the Sinai Peninsula, no evidence of the Exodus has been found there. Kadesh-Barnea, where the Israelites spend 38 years after turning back from Canaan, has been located with reasonable certainty, but its earliest occupation during the Ramesside era is centuries too late to fit the Exodus story.
The most obvious routes for travellers through the region were the royal roads, the "king's highways" that had been in use for centuries and would continue in use for centuries to come. The Bible specifically denies that the Israelites went by the Way of the Philistines, the northerly route along the Mediterranean coast. This leaves the Way of Shur and the Way of Seir as probable routes, the former having the advantage of heading toward Kadesh-Barnea. Finally there are the southern routes which depend on the identification of Jebel Musa with Sinai, but this association dates only from the 3rd century AD.
Exodus 12:37 refers to 600,000 adult Israelite men leaving Egypt with Moses, plus an unspecified but apparently large "mixed multitude" of non-Israelites; Numbers 1:46 gives a more precise total of 603,550.
If taken literally the total number involved, the 600,000 "fighting men" plus wives, children, the elderly, and the "mixed multitude," would have been two million or more, equivalent to more than half of the entire Egyptian population of around 3-6 million. The loss of such a huge proportion of the population would have caused havoc to the Egyptian economy, but no evidence of such effect has been found in the relevant time frame with the commonly held chronology. Archaeological research has found no evidence that the Sinai desert ever hosted, or could have hosted, millions of people, nor of a massive population increase in Canaan, estimated to have had a population of between 50,000 and 100,000 at the time. The logistics involved also present problems, with Eric Cline pointing out that 2.5 million people marching ten abreast would form a line 150 miles long, without accounting for livestock.
Hebrew University professor Abraham Malamat has proposed that the Bible often refers to 600 and its multiples, as well as 1,000 and its multiples, typologically in order to convey the idea of a large military unit. "The issue of Exodus 12:37 is an interpretive one. The Hebrew word eleph can be translated 'thousand,' but it is also rendered in the Bible as 'clans' and 'military units.' There are thought to have been 20,000 men in the entire Egyptian army at the height of Egypt's empire. And at the battle of Ai in Joshua 7, there was a severe military setback when 36 troops were killed." Therefore if one reads alaphim (plural of eleph) as military units, the number of Hebrew fighting men lay between 5,000 and 6,000. In theory, this would give a total Hebrew population of less than 20,000, something within the range of historical possibility.
1 Kings 6:1 dates the Exodus 480 years before the construction of Solomon's Temple1 Kings 6:1. Equating the biblical chronology with dates in history is notoriously difficult, but Edwin Thiele's widely accepted reconciliation of the reigns of the Israelite and Judahite kings would imply an Exodus in 1447 BCE, during the reign of pharaoh Thutmose III (1479-1425 BCE).
In the mid-20th century it had become apparent that the archaeological record contradicted the biblical chronology. The mummy of Thutmoses III was discovered in 1881, and Egyptian records do not mention the expulsion of any group that could be identified with over 2 million Hebrew slaves, nor any events which could be identified with the Biblical plagues. In addition, digs in the 1930s had failed to find traces of the simultaneous destruction of Canaanite cities c.1400 BCE as described in the Book of Joshua, and in fact Jericho, the first city to fall to the Israelites, was uninhabited at that time and for centuries after. The mounting lack of evidence led William F. Albright, the leading biblical archaeologist of the period, to propose an alternative, "late" Exodus around 1200-1250 BCE. His argument was based on the many strands of evidence, including evidence of destruction at Beitel (Bethel) and some other cities from around that period, and a distinctive round-collared jar which, in his opinion, was to be identified with in-coming Israelites.
Albright's theory enjoyed popularity around the middle of the 20th century, but has now been generally abandoned except by some conservative Christians who believe that the Exodus narrative is historically reliable. The arguments against the Albright date include:
With the collapse of the Albrightean case for a "late" Exodus, number of authors have advocated an "early" Exodus, prior to c.1440 BCE.
According to this view, the Israelites and the Hyksos are separate groups of people, and the first Exodus from Egypt occurred before the expulsion of the Hyksos. As a result, this interpretation of the exodus does not suffer from the difficulties that come from identifying the Israelites with the Hyksos rulers of Egypt. This book advocates the High Egyptian Chronology, which dates the reign of Thutmose III to the time period from 1504 BCE to 1450 BCE rather than the time period from 1479 BCE to 1425 BCE that it occupies in the Conventional Egyptian chronology. Sivertsen also argues that the mummy from the Deir el-Bahri cache in the Valley of the Kings that was labeled as Thutmose III is actually the mummy of a different person. As a result, it is possible that the second exodus occurred in 1450 BCE (which is close to the traditional early date of 1447 BCE) and it is also possible that the reign of Thutmose III ended at the time of this exodus.
David Rohl's 1995 A Test of Time attempts to reconcile Biblical and Egyptian history by shortening the Third Intermediate Period of Egypt by almost 300 years, making the 13th Dynasty pharaoh Djedneferre Dudimose (Dedumesu, Tutimaos, Tutimaios) the pharaoh of the Exodus. Rohl's theory, however, has failed to find support among scholars in his field.
There are numerous difficulties with views that equate the Israelites with the Hyksos. There are obvious differences between Egyptian history in the period of the Hyksos and the story told in the Torah: the Hyksos were in Egypt for only a little over a century, against the 400 years described in the Bible, they left Egypt as defeated foreign rulers rather than as fleeing slaves, and the Pharaoh Ahmose pursued them across northern Sinai and into southern Canaan, where their arrival c.1500 BCE (if the Exodus story of 40 years of Wilderness wandering is followed - Ahmoses's own account implies a much shorter period, and he obviously was not lost in the Red Sea) would leave a 250-year gap before the first appearance of proto-Israelite artefacts in the archaeological record. Nor does the Bible story give any impression of the fact that Egypt had more than one Pharaoh at this time, the Hyksos 15th dynasty ruling in the Delta, the native Egyptian 17th dynasty in the Nile valley to the south, with the 16th dynasty as a line of petty kings on the margin.
An alternative "early" date links the Exodus with the eruption of the Aegean volcano of Thera in c.1600 BCE, on the grounds that it could provide a natural explanation of the Biblical "Plagues of Egypt" and some of the incidents of the Exodus, notably the crossing of the Red Sea.
Most archaeologists, including Israel Finkelstein, Zahi Hawass, Ze'ev Herzog and William G. Dever, regard the Exodus as non-historical, at best containing a small germ of truth. In his book, The Bible Unearthed, Finkelstein points to the appearance of settlements in the central hill country around 1200 BCE, recognized by most archaeologists as the earliest settlements of the Israelites. Using evidence from earlier periods, he shows a cyclical pattern to these highland settlements, corresponding to the state of the surrounding cultures. Finkelstein suggests that the local Canaanites would adapt their way of living from an agricultural lifestyle to a nomadic one and vice versa. When Egyptian rule collapsed after the invasion of the Sea Peoples, the central hill country could no longer sustain a large nomadic population, so they went from nomadism to sedentism. Dever agrees with the Canaanite origin of the Israelites but allows for the possibility of a Semitic tribe coming from Egyptian servitude among the early hilltop settlers and that Moses or a Moses-like figure may have existed in Transjordan ca 1250-1200.
In his Antiquities of the Jews and Against Apion, Josephus recounts a distorted tale supposedly from Manetho, identifying the expulsion of the Jews both with the Hyksos, and with the expulsion of a group of Asiatic lepers, led by a renegade Egyptian priest called Osarseph. It appears this tale is a conflation of events of the Amarna period, of the earlier Hyksos expulsion, and events throughout the 19th Dynasty.
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the great deliverance wrought for the children of Isreal when they were brought out of the land of Egypt with "a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm" (Ex 12:51; Deut. 26:8; Ps 114; 136), about B.C. 1490, and four hundred and eighty years (1 Kings 6:1) before the building of Solomon's temple.
The time of their sojourning in Egypt was, according to Ex. 12:40, the space of four hundred and thirty years. In the LXX., the words are, "The sojourning of the children of Israel which they sojourned in Egypt and in the land of Canaan was four hundred and thirty years;" and the Samaritan version reads, "The sojourning of the children of Israel and of their fathers which they sojourned in the land of Canaan and in the land of Egypt was four hundred and thirty years." In Gen. 15:13-16, the period is prophetically given (in round numbers) as four hundred years. This passage is quoted by Stephen in his defence before the council (Acts 7:6).
The chronology of the "sojourning" is variously estimated. Those who adopt the longer term reckon thus:
|From the descent of Jacob into Egypt to the death of Joseph||71|
|From the death of Joseph to the birth of Moses||278|
|From the birth of Moses to his flight into Midian||40|
|From the flight of Moses to his return into Egypt||40|
|From the return of Moses to the Exodus||1|
Others contend for the shorter period of two hundred and fifteen years, holding that the period of four hundred and thirty years comprehends the years from the entrance of Abraham into Canaan (see LXX. and Samaritan) to the descent of Jacob into Egypt. They reckon thus:
|From Abraham's arrival in Canaan to Isaac's birth||25|
|From Isaac's birth to that of his twin sons Esau and Jacob||60|
|From Jacob's birth to the going down into Egypt||130|
|From Jacob's going down into Egypt to the death of Joseph||71|
|From death of Joseph to the birth of Moses||64|
|From birth of Moses to the Exodus||80|
During the forty years of Moses' sojourn in the land of Midian, the Hebrews in Egypt were being gradually prepared for the great national crisis which was approaching. The plagues that successively fell upon the land loosened the bonds by which Pharaoh held them in slavery, and at length he was eager that they should depart. But the Hebrews must now also be ready to go. They were poor; for generations they had laboured for the Egyptians without wages. They asked gifts from their neighbours around them (Ex. 12:35), and these were readily bestowed. And then, as the first step towards their independent national organization, they observed the feast of the Passover, which was now instituted as a perpetual memorial. The blood of the paschal lamb was duly sprinkled on the door-posts and lintels of all their houses, and they were all within, waiting the next movement in the working out of God's plan. At length the last stroke fell on the land of Egypt. "It came to pass, that at midnight Jehovah smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt." Pharaoh rose up in the night, and called for Moses and Aaron by night, and said, "Rise up, and get you forth from among my people, both ye and the children of Israel; and go, serve Jehovah, as ye have said. Also take your flocks and your herds, as ye have said, and be gone; and bless me also." Thus was Pharaoh (q.v.) completely humbled and broken down. These words he spoke to Moses and Aaron "seem to gleam through the tears of the humbled king, as he lamented his son snatched from him by so sudden a death, and tremble with a sense of the helplessness which his proud soul at last felt when the avenging hand of God had visited even his palace."
The terror-stricken Egyptians now urged the instant departure of the Hebrews. In the midst of the Passover feast, before the dawn of the 15th day of the month Abib (our April nearly), which was to be to them henceforth the beginning of the year, as it was the commencement of a new epoch in their history, every family, with all that appertained to it, was ready for the march, which instantly began under the leadership of the heads of tribes with their various sub-divisions. They moved onward, increasing as they went forward from all the districts of Goshen, over the whole of which they were scattered, to the common centre. Three or four days perhaps elapsed before the whole body of the people were assembled at Rameses, and ready to set out under their leader Moses (Ex. 12:37; Num. 33:3). This city was at that time the residence of the Egyptian court, and here the interviews between Moses and Pharaoh had taken place.
From Rameses they journeyed to Succoth (Ex. 12:37), identified with Tel-el-Maskhuta, about 12 miles west of Ismailia. (See PITHOM.) Their third station was Etham (q.v.), 13:20, "in the edge of the wilderness," and was probably a little to the west of the modern town of Ismailia, on the Suez Canal. Here they were commanded "to turn and encamp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea", i.e., to change their route from east to due south. The Lord now assumed the direction of their march in the pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night. They were then led along the west shore of the Red Sea till they came to an extensive camping-ground "before Pi-hahiroth," about 40 miles from Etham. This distance from Etham may have taken three days to traverse, for the number of camping-places by no means indicates the number of days spent on the journey: e.g., it took fully a month to travel from Rameses to the wilderness of Sin (Ex. 16:1), yet reference is made to only six camping-places during all that time. The exact spot of their encampment before they crossed the Red Sea cannot be determined. It was probably somewhere near the present site of Suez.
Under the direction of God the children of Israel went "forward" from the camp "before Pi-hahiroth," and the sea opened a pathway for them, so that they crossed to the farther shore in safety. The Egyptian host pursued after them, and, attempting to follow through the sea, were overwhelmed in its returning waters, and thus the whole military force of the Egyptians perished. They "sank as lead in the mighty waters" (Ex. 15:1-9; comp. Ps. 77:16-19).
Having reached the eastern shore of the sea, perhaps a little way to the north of 'Ayun Musa ("the springs of Moses"), there they encamped and rested probably for a day. Here Miriam and the other women sang the triumphal song recorded in Ex. 15:1-21.
From 'Ayun Musa they went on for three days through a part of the barren "wilderness of Shur" (22), called also the "wilderness of Etham" (Num. 33:8; comp. Ex. 13:20), without finding water. On the last of these days they came to Marah (q.v.), where the "bitter" water was by a miracle made drinkable.
Their next camping-place was Elim (q.v.), where were twelve springs of water and a grove of "threescore and ten" palm trees (Ex. 15:27).
After a time the children of Israel "took their journey from Elim," and encamped by the Red Sea (Num. 33:10), and thence removed to the "wilderness of Sin" (to be distinguished from the wilderness of Zin, 20:1), where they again encamped. Here, probably the modern el-Markha, the supply of bread they had brought with them out of Egypt failed. They began to "murmur" for want of bread. God "heard their murmurings" and gave them quails and manna, "bread from heaven" (Ex. 16:4-36). Moses directed that an omer of manna should be put aside and preserved as a perpetual memorial of God's goodness. They now turned inland, and after three encampments came to the rich and fertile valley of Rephidim, in the Wady Feiran. Here they found no water, and again murmured against Moses. Directed by God, Moses procured a miraculous supply of water from the "rock in Horeb," one of the hills of the Sinai group (17:1-7); and shortly afterwards the children of Israel here fought their first battle with the Amalekites, whom they smote with the edge of the sword.
From the eastern extremity of the Wady Feiran the line of march now probably led through the Wady esh-Sheikh and the Wady Solaf, meeting in the Wady er-Rahah, "the enclosed plain in front of the magnificient cliffs of Ras Sufsafeh." Here they encamped for more than a year (Num. 1:1; 10:11) before Sinai (q.v.).
The different encampments of the children of Israel, from the time of their leaving Egypt till they reached the Promised Land, are mentioned in Ex. 12:37-19; Num. 10-21; 33; Deut. 1, 2, 10.
It is worthy of notice that there are unmistakable evidences that the Egyptians had a tradition of a great exodus from their country, which could be none other than the exodus of the Hebrews.
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