It is never easy to admit you are wrong, but when it is necessary, it must be done. Most of all, I want to make sure my supporters are given accurate information to the best of my abilities. So if I feel I am wrong, then I feel like I am lying if I do not change my view and be open about it.
I am sure a lot of people enjoyed the documentary and found it convincing. I obviously did when I decided to make it, but after talking it over with Egyptologist David Falk I admit there were a lot of things I overlooked. On the surface, when I was reading the scholarly literature, things did seem to line up. Early date Exodus supporters and some who were unsure on the date, who reviewed my video also seemed to think it was a plausible case. However, after further research, I feel as though this is the wrong time period for the Exodus. I’m sorry if this upset anyone.
This doesn’t mean I think the Exodus never happened. The internal evidence that was presented in the documentary will appear again in an updated version. But the external evidence I presented is not evidence for an Exodus and I’ll explain why.
Abandonment of Avaris:
This is the most important issue. Whenever the Semites left Avaris (if at all) is the most likely time period to suggest an exodus took place. When you read Bietak’s work, on the surface it does appear Avaris was abandoned in the Thumoside period:
“A strong case can be made out for the continuity of a part of the population of Avaris of the Hyksos after the political break caused by Ahmose’s conquest of Avaris and his destruction of the Hyksos kingdom. The comparative study of material culture of the late Hyksos Period and the Early New Kingdom at Tell el-Dabʻa and Tell Hebwa shows unbroken continuity right up to the Tuthmosid period” (Bietak 2011: 32).
“The pottery production with its specific blend of Middle Bronze Age and Egyptian typology continued nearly unbroken into the time of the Tuthmosides, which indicates that the population of the Hyksos Period was still around, perhaps to some extent also used for military service” (Bietak & Forstner-Müller 2011: 29).
The problem is these quotes are only talking about the royal palace complex. The whole site of Tell el-dab’a has unbroken continuity up until midway through the Rameside period (supporting the late date). The temple precinct was much bigger than the area of the Egyptian palace/administrative building, which continued on until the Amarna Period when it was briefly destroyed (most likely due to Akhenaten’s reforms).
“After the conquest of Avaris by Ahmose the town was first abandoned, except for the precinct of the temple of Seth where an unbroken activity till the Amarna Period can be observed. This temple seems never to have been abandoned” (Bietak & Forstner-Müller 2011: 29).
However, shortly after the temple was reconstructed.
“We have palaces indicating at least part-time royal presence and we have the temple of Seth, which was obviously destroyed in the Amarna Period and rebuilt in the restoration period under Tutankhamun and Horemheb” (Bietak & Forstner-Müller 2011: 30).
Most importantly, the surrounding material culture does seem to continue on until the Rameside period. So the Semites who remained there after the Hyksos period were still there through the Thutmoside and Amarna period. But midway through the Rameside period, Tell el-dab’a (Avaris area) is left in ruins and replaced by cemeteries.
Bietak says there was “a Western Semitic population living in the eastern Delta for quite a length of time, from the late 12th Dynasty (ca. 1830 BC) until the Ramesside Period” (Bietak 2015: 31).
“Traces of big enclosure walls, abutting the northern entrance tower of the Hyksos palace, show that the activity at the site did not cease after the Hyksos Period (Fig. 31). These walls were only preserved in their very lowest brick courses due to agricultural activity. They may date to the end of the Hyksos Period or to the New Kingdom. The fortress walls from the time of king Horemheb found at ‘Ezbet Helmy may be a hint that these walls could be part of this fortress. To this period may also belong a round well with a diameter of about 4 m (Fig. 29/Fig. 32). It cuts into the remains of the Hyksos palace and produced from its filling sherds of Marl D of the late 18th Dynasty/Ramesside Period. From the time afterwards, when everything was in ruins we have evidence of scattered Ramesside burials and burials of domestic animals such as dogs, sheep and goats which may have been connected with pastoral activity in this region” (Bietak, Math, Müller, & Jurman 2012: 45)
“The place was abandoned after the reign of Amenhotep II and resettled by Horemheb, who constructed a huge fortress with buttresses encompassing the harbor. He also reconstructed the temple of Seth, thereby laying the foundation for PI RAMESSE, which became the royal residence during the 19th Dynasty. From this period, only the enclosure wall, magazines, and tree pits of the temple of Seth are preserved. Major parts of Avaris served as a site for the cemeteries of Pi Ramesse during the Ramesside period. The tombs have been largely stripped bare and destroyed by agricultural activity of the last hundred years. After a long hiatus, the site shows traces of a large settlement of the Persian period, with remains of houses and a temple” (Bietak 2012: 8)
This data suggest the Semites of Avaris were around until the Rameside time, after which the area was left in ruins and large areas were replaced by cemeteries. Since the material culture of the whole site doesn’t break until the Rameside period, there could not have been an Exodus under Amenhotep II. The whole Avaris site would need to show evidence of abandonment, not just the Thutmoside palace. So in actuality, the data supports a Rameside Exodus, not an earlier date.
Grave of Lambs:
This was one issue that was immediately pointed out to me as soon as the documentary went public. Initially, I thought the lambs would have been roasted whole (Exodus 12:8-10) and then buried with care so as to not break any bones. Having myself been to a pig roast I have seen a whole pig roasted and then the meat was taken off. At the end of the night, all that was left was mostly a skeleton. But now I believe this is unlikely.
First, the lamb graves were made after the Thutmoside palace was already abandoned (Bietak 2006: 123-136). Exodus 12:29-32 suggests the Pharoah would need to be at that palace (with his family) if this is when the Exodus took place. You cannot bury Passover lambs in an abandoned palace while the Pharaoh was supposed to be residing there.
Second, the lambs would likely have not been buried as whole skeletons. It would have been very hard to burn all the flesh off the bones while the skeletons were whole (Exodus 12:10).
Third, the royal family of the 18th dynasty resided as Thebes, roughly 500 miles away from Avaris (Tyldesley 2001: 18-19). If the Pharoah awoke in the night to find his oldest son dead and could he call for Moses that night (Exodus 12:30-31), this would not suggest the Exodus took place during the 18th dynasty. Now it’s possible the Pharaoh was in the north at the Thutmoside palace of Avaris, but it is unlikely his son would be there with him.
Fourth, Exodus 12:30 says there was a great cry in the city that night because of the tenth plague. During the 18th dynasty, the only Egyptian part of the city was the palace/administrative building.
So given that the Pharaoh was with his son, the whole city cried out, and the Pharaoh could call for Moses that night, the events of Exodus 12 actually do fit better with a Rameside date, when the capital of Egypt was at Pi-Ramesses, about two kilometers from the Avaris site. Moreover, the grave of lambs doesn’t really support a Passover.
Amenhotep II’s slave raid:
In the documentary, I mentioned Amenhotep II brought back a massive amount of slaves in his ninth year. This seemed like good evidence for an Exodus in that it seemed odd Egypt needed a giant new slave workforce. However, there are issues with this.
First, an issue that bothered me before the documentary was published was how was Egypt going to transfer thousands of people back to Egypt? If Egypt had a sizeable portion of their army drown in the reed sea, that means you have fewer troops to fight in Canaan. If Egypt returned with thousands of prisoners of war, chariots, and weapons, that means there were sizeable fighting forces already in Canaan that Egypt was up against. If you have already been devastated by plagues and lost a sizable portion of your army, the odds are not in your favor.
Exodus 14:7 says all the chariots of Egypt went after the Hebrews and v23 says all the horsemen drowned in the reed sea. If Egypt only had infantry left over it is unlikely they would have been able to take on chariot armies in Canaan. Even if you think Exodus 14:7 is hyperbolic and Egypt didn’t lose all their chariots, it still doesn’t make sense to go on a campaign immediately after losing a portion of your army.
But wait, you might say. Didn’t Egypt need slaves and urgently after Israel had left? Egypt had no choice, they had to campaign in Canaan. As stated above, Bietak shows the Semite material culture of Avaris didn’t end until the Rameside period. This is a key issue for me because whenever the site of Avaris was abandoned is the most likely time when the Hebrews left Egypt.
Plus, it really was not unusual to campaign in Canaan despite Egypt already controlling this area at the time. Thutmose III’s 2nd, 3rd, and 4th campaigns appear to only be moving through Canaan to collect tribute (Grimal 1994: 214).
Despite Pritchard and Vandersleyen saying the 9th year campaign was in November, Dr. Falk looked at the primary sources (he originally thought it would have been a March campaign) and realized it would have begun in September (Krauss 2006: 375). That meant the Egyptians were not campaigning through the winter months.
So Amenhotep II’s ninth-year campaign was not launched during an unusual season and it was not unusual to remain in Canaan during a campaign. Without these support facts, it doesn’t make Amenhotep II’s ninth-year campaign seem all that desperate, so it minimizes the case for the Exodus. Furthermore, if Egypt was really desperate they should have gone up to campaign in the summer right after the Exodus, not waited until the fall. However, the issue still remains that if your army was severely weakened you would not be campaigning.
Here is the issue with this section and why I was mistaken. If you research pharaohs destroying cult images you get a wealth of data on the heretic king Akhenaten, and then the one inscription from the reign of Amenhotep II. Beyond that there isn’t much. On the surface, it sounds like a similarity. Akhenaten tried to destroy the traditional religion of Egypt and Amenhotep II destroyed images of the gods. Therefore, Amenhotep’s reference to destroying idols sounds like another form of religious turmoil, similar to Akhenaten’s reforms. Additionally, if you read that only the devotees in the temples are the only ones who are only allowed to make new cult images you would find it odd that a pharaoh is destroying cult images. You then conclude it could not be that he was doing it to make new cult images.
Well, this is also not supported by the data when you dive deeper. We have inscriptions of King Tut and Ramesses III constructing new cult images:
“So his majesty deliberated plans with his heart, searching for any beneficial deed, seeking out acts of service for his father Amon, and fashioning his august image of genuine fine gold. He surpassed what had been done previously. He fashioned his father Amon upon thirteen carrying-poles, his holy image being of fine gold, lapis lazuli, [tur- quoise], and every august costly stone, whereas the majesty of this august god had formerly been upon eleven carrying-poles. He fashioned Ptah, South-of-His- Wall, Lord of Life of the Two Lands, his august image being of fine gold, [upon] eleven [carrying-poles], his holy image being of fine gold, lapis lazuli, turquoise, and every august costly stone…” (Pritchard 1992: 252).
“I fashioned thy great cult image which rests in it, (named) “Amon of Ramses-Ruler-of- Heliopolis—life, prosperity, health” ((Pritchard 1992: 216).
“I fashioned thy august cult image… I filled its house with male and female slaves whom I had carried off from the lands of the Asiatics” ((Pritchard 1992: 261).
Since a Pharaoh could be given the credit of making new cult images, he certainly could destroy older ones so new ones could be crafted. The inscription in Shaw’s book is highly fragmented (Shaw 2008: 132-133). Also, it ends with “It is he who fashioned…” This does seem to imply that Amenhotep II was not angry with the gods. So the fragmented inscription is more likely referring to Amenhotep fashioning new cult images, along with destroying old ones.
The peace treaty between Egypt and Mitanni is still peculiar, but if all the other evidence I’ve already gone over doesn’t support an early date exodus, this alone cannot be sufficient to suggest one. Additionally, there are other reasons Amenhotep II would have agreed to the treaty Amanda Podany (one of my sources) has this to say:
“…some of the features of international diplomacy would have appealed to Amenhotep II. The Mittanian ambassador no doubt got the pharaoh’s attention when he told the pharaoh that, if he agreed to the alliance, he would marry daughters of each of his “brother” kings. This wouldn’t have sounded like a signal of equality to the pharaoh. His father Thutmose III had been married to three Canaanite princesses and perhaps to a Minoan princess as well; a harem of foreigners was a sign of strength. What better way to show his subjects that he was the lord of these supposed allies than to present a parade of women arriving from the foreign powers, like so much living tribute? And of course each of the women would arrive with a huge dowry. But Amenhotep II must have made one thing perfectly clear from the start: he would never reciprocate by sending his own daughters to marry his allies. A later pharaoh put it succinctly: “From time immemorial no daughter of the king of Egy[pt] is given to anyone” (Podany 2010: 177)
She also notes Mitanni would have provided lavish gifts in exchange for gold. War in Canaan was expensive. It would cost less to trade gold with Mitanni rather than continue to fight wars in the north. Podany continues, “The king could even present this new alliance to his own people as evidence of his greatness: Look at this! It’s never happened before! Even distant kings, ones who hadn’t even heard of Egypt before, send ambassadors who bow down before Amenhotep II and bring him gifts! Just the appearance of the gifts from the foreign land, carried in processions of boats up the Nile by emissaries of the king of Mittani, would seem to provide public evidence of the pharaoh’s upper hand in this relationship” (Podany 2010: 178-179).
Podany cannot be sure this the reason Amenhotep II agreed to peace, but it is a logical explanation given what she provides. Nonetheless, this is a reasonable explanation that can account for why peace broke out. Dr. Falk adds that if Mitanni was willing to agree to peace this would allow Egypt to rule over Canaan uncontested and extract tribute from the native Canaanites without interference. If the other facts stood, one could use this abductively to argue for an exodus, but without the other data points, the peace treaty is not too significant.
All additional data points from the external evidence I used in the documentary were minor, and so one cannot build an Exodus case on those alone. I definitely am not concluding there was no Exodus. Dr. Falk and I agree the internal evidence of the Pentateuch still presents strong indications the Exodus is historical. The main reason I initially posited an Exodus under Amenhotep II was that I thought the material culture at Avaris ended during the Thutmoside period, but the context in some of Bietak’s papers is vague. When you read other papers you can see he is saying the palatial area was abandoned during the Thumoside period. The Semitic material culture for the whole site continues on until midway through the Rameside period. After which the area is in ruins and all that remains is scattered cemeteries. Then roughly a generation later a distinct Israelite culture (lacking pig bones) appears in the hill country of Canaan (Mazar 2003: 87; Finklestein & Silberman 2002: 107; Dever 2006: 99).
One of the things I said in the documentary was “If there was more or better evidence for an exodus in another time period that should be our primary witness.” After speaking with Dr. Falk and checking his sources we do have better evidence in the Rameside period. If I am going to tell people to follow the evidence, I need to live up to my own standard, not dig my heels in when I am wrong. I will be making a different video on the Exodus based on the research for a Rameside date. Dr. Falk was able to answer all my objections and provide correlations that fit with a Rameside Exodus (some of which have been discussed here).
I also want to be clear, I hold no grudges against early exodus date proponents (nor will I mention their names) who initially convinced me the Exodus best fits with the reign of Amenhotep II. It is very easy for people to hold resentment if they feel like they have been deceived. For example, many ex-Christians go around claiming all apologists are dishonest because, in their view, they feel apologists deceived them. I often encourage people to extend the principle of charity as much as possible and that is what I must do as well. I have no hard feelings for early date proponents who initially convinced me. It is better to believe they were advocating what they thought was true and right, not lying to me or themselves.
Bietak, M. (2006). “Nomads or mnmn.t-Shepherds in the Eastern Nile Delta,” in “I Will Speak the Riddles of Ancient Times”: Archaeological and Historical Studies in Honor of Amihai Mazar on the Occasion of His Sixtieth Birthday. United States: Eisenbrauns. 123-136.
Bietak, M. (2011). “The Aftermath of the Hyksos in Avaris,” in Culture Contacts and Making of Cultures: Papers in Homage to Itamar Even-Zohar, Tel Aviv. 19-66.
Bietak, M. (2012). Avaris/Tell el‐Dab’a. In The Encyclopedia of Ancient History (eds R.S. Bagnall, K. Brodersen, C.B. Champion, A. Erskine, and S.R. Huebner). https://doi.org/10.1002/9781444338386.wbeah15052
Beitak M. (2015). “On the Historicity of the Exodus” in Israel’s Exodus in Transdisciplinary Perspective: Text, Archaeology, Culture, and Geoscience. Germany: Springer International Publishing.
Bietak, M. & Forstner-Müller, I. (2011). “The Topography of New Kingdom Avaris and Per-Ramesses,” In M. Collier and S. Snape (eds), Ramesside Studies in Honour of K. A. Kitchen. Bolton: Rutherford 23-50.
Bietak, M., Math, N., Müller, V., & Jurman, C. (2012). REPORT ON THE EXCAVATIONS OF A HYKSOS PALACE AT TELL EL-DAB c A/AVARIS: (23rd August-15th November 2011). Ägypten Und Levante / Egypt and the Levant, 22/23, 17-53. Retrieved April 2, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/43552807
Dever, W. G. (2006). Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From?. United Kingdom: Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Finkelstein, I., Silberman, N. A. (2002). The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Isreal and the Origin of Sacred Texts. United Kingdom: Free Press.
Grimal, N., Grimal, N., Shaw, I. (1994). A History of Ancient Egypt. United Kingdom: Wiley.
Mazar, A. (2003). “Remarks on Biblical Traditions and Archaeological Evidence Concerning Early Israel,” in Symbiosis, Symbolism, and the Power of the Past: Canaan, Ancient Israel, and Their Neighbors, from the Late Bronze Age Through Roman Palaestina. United States: Penn State University Press.
Pritchard, J. (1992) Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament with Supplement United States: Princeton University Press.
Krauss, R. (2006) “Dates Relating To Seasonal Phenomena and Miscellaneous Astronomical Dates,” in Ancient Egyptian Chronology. Netherlands: Brill.
Shaw, G. J. (2008). Royal Authority in Egypt’s Eighteenth Dynasty. United Kingdom: Archaeopress.
Podany, A. H. (2010). Brotherhood of Kings: How International Relations Shaped the Ancient Near East. United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, USA.
Tyldesley, J. (2001) Egypt’s Golden Empire: The Age of the New Kingdom. Headline Book Publishing Ltd.