Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Exodus

Was Ramses the Great pharaoh of the Exodus? The biblical Exodus of the Jews from Egypt is generally thought to date from the reign of Ramses II, though no such episode appears in Egyptian records or is linked to the expulsion of the Hyksos by Ahmose.

The Exodus was the great deliverance extended to the Israelites “ . . . on the very day the Lord brought the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their hosts,” Exodus 12:51.

“There is no surviving Egyptian source that described the Exodus. This is not surprising,” commented Nicolas Grimal, “given that the Egyptians had no reason to attach any importance to the Hebrews.”

Documents place the people known as Apiru in Egyptian records at the time of Tuthmose III. During Ramses’ reign, the Apiru were employed in the transportation of stone listed in Leiden Papyrus 348; they were further mentioned in Papyrus Harris I. As brick makers they were mentioned in the neighborhood of the royal harem at Medinet el-­ Ghurob in the Fayum. In the reign of Ramses IV, about 800 worked in the quarries of Wadi Hammamat.

“One document that could provide evidence of a newly formed kingdom of Israel is a stele, dated to the fifth year of Merneptah’s reign,” as told in New Unger’s Bible Dictionary. “Here the name Israel appears (KRI IV, 12–19). There are two further historical records: the journey of the Chosen People in the desert, which lasted forty years, and the capture of Jericho, which occurred after the death of Moses. The fall of Jericho sets the day of 1250 b.c. So the Exodus may have taken place in the early part of the thirteenth century b.c.”

Various scholars have placed Moses in close relationship with Pharaoh Ramses II and as the son of Queen Hatshepsut, who later assumed the Egyptian throne. Moses received his Egyptian education (Acts 7:22) to represent his community in the government. His education at the court (Exodus 2:10– 11) may be interpreted as he benefited from the education provided to future Egyptian state employees. Thus, he would have been with his own people during the reign of Sethos I, the time fortifications were built in the eastern delta and foundations were built for the future city of Piramses (Exodus 1:11). “Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens; and they built for Pharaoh store-­ cities, Pithom and Raam’ses.”

“It is often speculated that Jewish captives worked on the construction of Piramses,” wrote Bernadette Menu. Was this biblical spelling meant to be Piramses? Moses’s murder of the guard, his flight to the land of Midian, his marriage, his acceptance of God’s revelation, the encounter with the Burning Bush, and his return to Egypt take the dates to the first years of Ramses II’s reign. The book of Exodus has lengthy descriptive dialogue between Moses and a pharaoh. If one is to set aside the Old Testament’s chronological dates, the Exodus could be placed around 1290 b.c. rather than 1441 b.c. This would suggest the pharaoh of the Exodus was Ramses II.

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