Dating the Exodus: Another View
From KMT, Summer 1994
Omar Zuhdis article on dating the Exodus (KMT, Summer
1993) was interesting, informative and well argued. Unfortunately,
relying on particular biblical passages to the exclusion of other
contradictory biblical claims is fraught with pitfalls and Mr.
Zuhdis argument rests upon some fatally flawed assumptions.
These assumptions are that
1. we can rely on the biblical claim that there were 480 years from
the Exodus to the fourth year of King Solomons reign, (1)
2. we can rely on the biblical claim that Israels sojourn in
Egypt lasted 430 years, (2) and
3. that the fourth year of Solomons reign can be anchored to
From these assumptions Zuhdi argues that the Exodus occurred in 1446
B.C., during the reign of Amenhotep II, and that Joseph served under
Senusret III (1878-1841 B.C.). While Zuhdi devotes his article to
demonstrating why such conclusions are consistent with Egyptian
history, he simply asserts that his three main assumptions are
correct, without any evidence that they are so. Lets take a
closer look at the chronological problems associated with biblical
chronology and the dating of the Exodus.
THE START OF SOLOMONS REIGN
Assuming arguendo that the year 480-year period is a
legitimate chronological calculation, there is still a major problem
in anchoring that period to the year 966 B.C. as Solomons
fourth year on the throne. First of all, biblical chronology dates
Solomons fourth year to 1017, (3) and, if we are going to
accept the legitimacy of earlier chronological calculations, we must a
fortiori accept the legitimacy of the later chronology. This
gives us respective dates of 1497 B.C. for the Exodus and 1927 for
the start of the sojourn, which time frames are specifically rejected
by Zuhdi in the course of his argument.
Second, there is not a shred of archaeological evidence corroborating
this date. (In fact, there is not a single piece of archaeological
evidence corroborating even the existence of David or
Solomon.) Independent of biblical chronology, we just dont know
when King Solomon reigned.
Third, the date of 966 B.C. is arbitrarily chosen by advocates of an
Exodus during the reign of Rameses II, and it is based upon the
assumption that the 480-year period is erroneously calculated. The
argument of these scholars, who represent the majority viewpoint on
this question, is as follows:
1. Since the Merenptah Israel stele (ca. 1240 B.C.)
depicts Israel as a nation without a territory, it shows Israel in a
pre-Conquest stage and the Exodus must have occurred within a
reasonably short time prior to that date; (4)
2. 1 Chronicles 6 shows that there were twelve generations from the
Exodus to King Solomon, and, therefore, the biblical Redactor must
have mistakenly assumed that there were forty years to a generation
(forty years being a popular biblical duration);
3. Forty years per generation, however, is too long, and twenty-five
years is a more-reasonable estimate, giving a gap of 300 years (12 x
25) for the period between the Exodus and the fourth year of Solomon.
Unfortunately for Egyptologists and biblical scholars, if we follow
the biblical chronology for the start of Solomons reign, the
Exodus date would be 1317 B.C. (5) The problem with that is that it
make Moses and the monotheistic King Akhenaten childhood
pals and bosom buddies, jointly raised in the royal court and
corevolutionaries in religious reform. (6) Since biblical scholars
and Egyptologists are absolutely close-minded about accepting any
connection between these two monotheistic thinkers, regardless of the
evidence, a date of 1317 B.C. proved most embarrassing.
Therefore, because the goal was to place the Exodus in the reign of
Rameses II, the biblical chronology for the start of Solomons
reign was discarded, and scholars arbitrarily pushed his starting
date forward by about fifty years. (7) It is from this process that a
date of 966 was established for the fourth year of Solomons
reign. If the date 966 is chosen on the basis that the 480-year claim
is in error, then it seems reasonable to anchor that 480-year period
to the date of 966 B.C.
THE 430-YEAR SOJOURN
The next major problem with Omar Zuhdis thesis concerns the
reliability of the 430-year claim for Israels sojourn. The
biblical text is unclear as to whether the sojourn began when Joseph
arrived in Egypt, at about his seventeenth year, or when Jacob
arrived in Egypt in Josephs thirty-ninth year. Putting that
problem aside, though, there is a more-difficult barrier to overcome.
The 430-year period encompasses only four generations. The line of
descent from Jacob to Moses is: Levi, Kohath, Amram and Moses.
According to Exodus 6:16-20, Levi lived to the age of 137 years,
Kohath to the age of 133 years and Amram to the age of 137 years. But
Levi and Kohath were among those who entered Egypt with Jacob. (8)
Assuming that Kohath was an infant when he arrived in Egypt, and that
he fathered Amram in his final year, and that Amram fathered Moses in
his own final year, there would be a maximum-possible sojourn of 350
years from Jacobs arrival? (9) If we begin twenty-two years
earlier, with Josephs entry, we still only reach a maximum
period of 372 years. We must also note the highly improbable
likelihood that Kohath and Amram both waited until their final year
of life to father their respective sons, indicating that the sojourn
was considerably shorter than either the 372 or 350 years allowed as
a maximum duration.
THE 400-YEAR BONDAGE OF ISRAEL
The problem of the length of the sojourn leads us to a related
matter, the length of the Hebrew bondage. The enslavement must of
necessity be shorter than the sojourn. It began sometime after the
death of Joseph, in the reign of a king who knew not
Joseph entered Egypt in his seventeenth year and Jacob arrived there
in his sons thirty-ninth year. Since Joseph lived to be 110,
the period of bondage must have started either ninety-three or
seventy-one years after the start of the sojourn, depending on
whether we start the sojourn with Joseph or Jacob.
If the sojourn lasted 430 years, then the enslavement couldnt
have lasted more than 359 years. (11) And if the sojourn lasted at
most 372 years, as argued above, then the bondage of Israel
couldnt have been more than 270 years in duration. But Genesis
15:13-16 indicates that the period of bondage lasted 400 years. Do we
follow the Genesis chronology or the Exodus chronology?
THE GENESIS CHRONOLOGY
Next, we come to a number of problems associated with the Genesis
chronology. The Book of Genesis contains a chronology of birth and
death that begins with the creation of Adam and ends with the death
of Joseph. Counting from the date of Creation, one can determine in
what year each generation was born and in what year each died.
Although the bible doesnt explicitly give the date of Creation,
Jewish tradition supposedly celebrated since Moses gave the
Genesis chronology to Israel dates Creation to 3761 B.C.
Counting from that date establishes Josephs birth and death
dates as 1564 and 1454 B.C. (plus or minus two years.) (12) These
dates place Josephs birth after the historical time-frame for
the expulsion of the Hyksos from Egypt, and his death in the final
years of Thutmose III. Since the king of the enslavement knew
not Joseph, we must assume that it could be neither Thutmose
III nor his successor, Amenhotep II, both of whom would have known
Joseph. Since we must also allow for an eighty-year period from the
birth of Moses (after Josephs death) to the Exodus, we cannot
date the Exodus any earlier than about 1374 B.C. This brings us to
either the tail end of the reign of Amenhotep III or the early years
of his son, Akhenaten, depending upon which Egyptian chronology one follows.
It might be argued that the Genesis chronology is unreliable because
it begins with Creation and the Flood, and those events are mythical
at best. However, Egyptian and Babylonian king-lists also merged
together historical dates with mythological ones, and no scholars
object to using the historical portions of those lists for their
chronological purposes. Furthermore, however unreliable the Genesis
chronology may be, it is unlikely the author would have dated
Josephs death to a time after the Exodus occurred.
THE GENESIS DATE FOR THE EXODUS
Finally, we come to the date of the Exodus established by the Genesis
chronology. Genesis 15:13-16, which indicates that the bondage would
last for 400 years, is somewhat ambiguous about when the 400 years
begin. The text implies that it began with the birth of Abrahams
son, Isaac. But Isaacs birth preceded Josephs by over a
century, and the enslavement had to occur well after Joseph was born.
This contradiction was already recognized as early as the First
Century A.D., when the Jewish historian Josephus wrote that the
alleged 430-year sojourn began when Abraham arrived in Canaan, and
that the Egyptian sojourn lasted only 215 years. (13) As a member of
a priestly Jewish family, Josephuss remarks can be understood
as representing traditional biblical scholarship of his time. The
Josephus view, however, is not as illogical as it may seem. Canaan,
for the most part, was frequently thought of as part of the Egyptian
sphere of influence. Also, the year Abraham arrived in Canaan, he
also traveled to Egypt, and perhaps the reference to a 430-year
sojourn originally referred to Abrahams arrival in Egypt.
Recognizing that the enslavement was nowhere near 400 years in
duration, we can date the Exodus to 400 years from the birth of
Isaac, which, according to the Genesis chronology, took place at
about 1715 B.C. (plus or minus two years). This gives us an Exodus
date of about 1315-1313 B.C., a date that is traditionally accepted
among orthodox Jews as when the Exodus took place.
A Genesis date of ca. 1315 B.C. for the Exodus brings us full circle
to the problem of the 480-year period with which this discussion
began. Following the scholarly tradition of converting the 480-year
period into twelve generations of twenty-five years each, or 300
years, and adding those 300 years to the biblical date for
Solomons fourth year, gives and Exodus date of 1317 B.C.
Allowing for the two-year margin of error gives us a near-perfect fit
between the two dating mechanisms. We will have to leave it to
biblical scholars and Egyptologists to wrestle with the problem of
how this Exodus date affects the relationship between Moses and Akhenaten.
1.1 Kings 6:1.
2.. Exodus 12:40.
3. The dating of Solomons fourth year to 1017 B.C. is based on
the chronology of the Judean kings from Solomon to the destruction of
the Temple. Based on the lengths of reign for each of the successive
kings (as chronicled in I and 2 Kings), the period in question is 430
years long, and there is abundant evidence that the destruction of
the Temple occurred at about 587 B.C.
4. On the Israel stele, Israel is the only nation
mentioned that has a determinative signifying people, as
opposed to land.
6. Although there are a number of differences of opinion among
Egyptologists as to the precise dating of the latter part of the
Eighteenth Dynasty (falling during the last years of the Fourteenth
Century B.C.), all acceptable chronologies place Akhenatens
seventeen-year reign in the middle of the Fourteenth Century.
7. To get around the problem of biblical chronology, it is often
argued that portions of the reigns of some of the Judean kings must
have been coregencies.
8. Genesis 46:11
9. 137 + 133 + 80 = 350. There are eighty years from the birth of Moses
to the Exodus.
10. Exodus 1:8
11. 430-71 = 359.
12. The bulk of the Genesis birth-death chronology is in Genesis 5
and 11, but there is a contradiction in the text concerning the birth
of Shems son that creates a two-year margin of error.
13. Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 11:318.