Why does the archaeological record show no evidence for the origins of biblical Israel? That is the question Gary Greenberg tackles in The Moses Mystery: the African Origins of the Jewish People. Based on a detailed study of the archaeological and literary evidence, he proposes a new model for the study of biblical Israel, one that places its origin in fourteenth century BC Egypt, in the aftermath of Pharaoh Akhenatens monotheistic religious revolution.
According to Greenberg, Moses served as Chief Priest to Pharaoh Akhenaten, whose religious changes provoked a major social and governmental crisis in Egypt. Shortly after Akhenatens death, the religious establishment regained control over the government and under Pharaoh Horemheb the government launched a full scale effort to purge the Egyptian record of any reference to Akhenatens existence, an effort that included the persecution of Akhenatens associates and followers. Moses fled Egypt at this time but returned on Horemhebs death, claiming the throne as the only legitimate blood heir. This resulted in a civil war between the allies of Moses and Ramesses I, Horemhebs co-regent at the time. Moses lost and led his followers out of Egypt, an event remembered in the bible as the Exodus.
As Greenberg places the emergence of Israel after the patriarchal history, the Genesis stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, he also sets out to analyze the origins of these biblical accounts. His study shows that the patriarchal history was actually based on Egyptian mythology about the family of the god Osiris and in The Moses Mystery he shows the many parallels between the biblical and Egyptian stories.
In order to make the case for a connection between Moses and Akhenaten, it was necessary to provide a reasonable and likely date for the Exodus, a problem complicated by both contradictory evidence in the bible and the lack of archaeological evidence for the event. Greenberg proceeds by examining the birth-death chronology in Genesis 5 and 11, a very puzzling set of verses, and shows that it was derived from the Egyptian chronology of Egyptian kings. Once he shows the direct connection between biblical and Egyptian chronology, it became possible to date the Exodus to the beginning of the reign of Ramesses I, confirming the hypothesis of a relationship between Moses and Akhenaten.
Greenberg also analyzes the biblical and archaeological evidence concerning the existence of the Twelve Tribes and the settlement of Canaan. The evidence shows that the Twelve Tribes never existed and that the original core of biblical Israel consisted only of the Rachel grouping. In subsequent years the Rachel coalition merged with Canaanite and Greek settlers to form a new nation.