Patterns of Evidence: Exodus
I will admit that the first 30-40 minutes of the documentary was applause worthy. With liberal archaeology dominating the news, the internet, documentaries, and television, to have a movie of this magnitude and this quality championing the physical evidence for the Exodus is exciting. Tim Mahoney made a great movie in response the questions surrounding the Exodus but around 30-40 minutes into the movie, however, entered a man named David Rohl. SPOILER ALERT: The thesis, contents, and conclusion are for the most part a synopsis of Rohl’s book Pharaoh’s and Kings: A Biblical Quest (1996). In this book, Rohl attempts to reconfigure the Egyptian Chronology stating with Ashurbanipal’s sacking of Thebes in 664 B.C. and working backward.
The problem that Rohl’s solution causes is the amount of time between his date for the exodus (1450’s which conservatives would for the most part would agree with as 1 Kings 6.1 points to a 1446 BCE Exodus) and the fall of Thebes (664 BCE) is hardly enough time for the 10 dynasties of Egypt to reign. He does remain in the ball park with his 1450’s date with the Berlin Pedestal giving the earliest extra-biblical reference to Israel (predating the Merneptah Stele by 150 years). His truncated time table places Ramases II as the Biblical Shishak who invaded during the reign of Rheboam (1 Kings 14.25) which means there needs to be more work done with the Bubastite Portal (a record of Shoshenk I [Shishak] march into Palestine). This also calls for an overlap of the 21st and 22nd dynasties. The chronology of Egypt does not seem to be on their side.
Rohl’s revised Egyptian Chronology attempts to solve the chronological issues in Egypt, but fails when it comes to Palestine. His shortened time span between the Exodus and fall of Thebes boxes in the Amarna period, the time period of the famous letters (which are usually dated to the time of the Judges), into the beginning of the Divided Monarchy (300 years after Judges). One of the famous authors of a letter is Labayu, king of Shechem. In the Canaanite language “Labayu” means “lion”. David, in Psalm 57, a Psalm written while he was on the run from Saul, mentions that he is “in the midst of lions”. This gives rise to Rohl’s identification of Labayu with Saul, a far-reaching stretch linguistically and archaeologically if there ever was one.
His archaeological record in the past has been a bit suspect as he claimed in his book Legend: The Genesis of Civilization, to have discovered the location of the Garden of Eden and the place where Noah’s Ark landed. In this documentary, he claims to have found a statue of Joseph (if not Joseph someone whose career and life was very similar). The statue was a Semite, with a throw-stick, a colorful coat, in a palace, atop a 4 room house, at Avaris. Mahoney and Rohl both made claims that this was probably Joseph. Here are the issues however, A) as far as being a Semite, Avaris was the Hyksos Capital. The Hyksos were foreign-Asiatic-Semitic-rulers in Egypt during the 12th-17th dynastys who set up their capital at Avaris. B) the throw stick was so common to the Cannanites that they Egyptians adopted it as a hieroglyph meaning “Asiatic”. C) The colorful coat that covered the statue was not uncommon to the time period as the Beni Hasan Tomb Painting would convey. D) As aforementioned, the Hyksos set up their capital at Avaris, so a place to honor an Asiatic ruler would be expected. Chances are good that this could be any other Asiatic ruler and without any epigraphic evidence, to claim the statue was biblical Joseph is academically irresponsible. Rohl believes that they Hyksos moved into the land of Egypt to fill the power vacuum after the Red Sea event. By his reckoning this would move the Hyksos period up around 200 years from its usual chronology. Which makes more problems for him to solve than it brings clarity.
The optimistic archaeological finds between this team of Mahoney and Rohl does not end with the statue of Joseph. Their treatment of the Ipuwer Papyrus, is speculative for the most part as the poet Ipuwer is dated by most Egyptologists to well before the time of the Exodus. Maybe Mohoney and Rohl believe in the Egyptian prophecy that Ipuwer is expounding.
This movie, in my opinion, had so much potential but ultimately was disappointing. There is a certain amount of ambiguity to Archaeology as I understand it but these two made far too many claims to certainty. To cap it all off with a 4 member panel discussion hosted by a Fox news anchor, in the words of my friend Matt Bevens, “was like shooting themselves in the foot with a colt .45”.
Was there heresy taught? No. When given two conservative options, did they choose the crazy-third-out-in-left-field-option? Yeah. It might have missed the target but at least it had one.