Is there any archaeological evidence that confirms the Biblical account of a large presence of Hebrew slaves living in Egypt? Many secular historians and scholars are quick to say no. In our Family Worship Guide for Exodus chapter 6, we considered the proposal of British Egyptologist David Rohl, who believes that such archaeological evidence does indeed exist, but that most scholars have simply not noticed it because they are looking in a time period that is two or three centuries too late! He suggests that the traditionally accepted timeline of secular Egyptian history needs to be shifted about 200-300 years from what the majority of mainstream scholars believe. And when this is done, he says that the archaeological evidence will suddenly corroborate with the Biblical timeframe of an Exodus date in the 1400s BC.
Here is one example of how the Egyptian history and archaeology begin to synchronize perfectly with what we would expect to see after reading the Biblical text. The ruins of the ancient Egyptian city of Avaris lie underneath what was later known as the city of Ramesses. According to Mr. Rohl, around the time that the Bible records Jacob and his family moving down to the land of Goshen in Egypt (around 1700 BC), the site of Avaris experienced a sudden influx of Semitic people. Archaeology reveals that this Semitic community began relatively small, with at least one house exhibiting Syrian-style architecture (like what Isaac and Jacob would be familiar with, since their wives came from that area). These settlers were shepherds (which was not an Egyptian occupation); and according to Manfried Bietak, the head of the Austrian archaeology team that has dug at Avaris for years, these Semitic immigrants seem to have settled in the area with a special privileged status granted by Pharaoh himself. Doesn’t this seem to closely represent Jacob’s family of shepherds, settling in the land of Goshen in Egypt, with the blessing of the Pharaoh that Joseph worked for?
A large Egyptian-style palace was later built over the site of this “Syrian” house, where an important government official lived. In the garden outside of this palace, there are 12 tombs. (Think about it: Jacob had 12 sons!) One of these tombs is unique among the rest, because it was a pyramid tomb. Obviously, therefore, the person buried in that tomb was a man of high influence in Egyptian government. Inside this tomb was a giant statue of a man with yellowish skin and red hair (which is how Egyptians portrayed foreigners – that is, non-Egyptians), wearing a multi-colored coat. Who does that remind you of in the Bible? Joseph, of course! It is probable, therefore, that this palace was the home of Joseph, the great vizier of Egypt who was second only to Pharaoh himself.
But there’s more! When Bietak and his team uncovered this pyramid tomb, there was nothing in the burial chamber. No pottery, no jewelry, no coffin, no bones. Grave robbers? No! Grave robbers would take jewelry and trinkets, but not pottery – and certainly not the body! The body would only be removed if someone was relocating it with reverence. Now think: when Joseph died, he ordered that his descendants were to take his remains with them when they left Egypt; and they were to re-bury them in the Promised Land. And that’s exactly what the Bible says they did! So if this was indeed Joseph’s tomb, we shouldn’t expect to find a body there!
Bietak’s excavations at Avaris show that as time went on, the Semitic shepherds who had previously enjoyed the favor of the king eventually ended up in a deteriorating condition. Research in the graves from these later times in Avaris indicate that the population suffered from malnutrition, and that the adults were hardly living past their early 30’s. Among the adults who were buried there, the majority were adult women. And when it came to the burial of infants and children, there were far more of these than is usually found in archaeological research. The typical infant/child burial rate back then was 25%; but at Avaris, these burials soared to 50%! What could all this mean?
According to Mr. Rohl, “the Bible provides the answer. The opening chapter in the Book of Exodus tells us that the Egyptians first enslaved the Israelites, then culled the male infants because the slave population was getting too large and Pharaoh perceived this as a threat. Obviously, in archaeological terms, this would mean an increase in infant burials and a skew in the adult population in favor of females.”
Although all these details strikingly mirror what we would expect to see according to the Biblical account, most Egyptologists fail to see the connection. But why? Because these scholars follow the standard Egyptian chronology, and they have already established in their minds that the Exodus must have happened in the 1200s BC, around the time of Pharaoh Ramesses II. Therefore, from their perspective, these Semitic settlers at Avaris can’t be the Israelites, because – according to their chronology – they are centuries too early to be the Israelites! So once again, we see that the majority of scholars fail to find any corroborating evidence for the Bible – simply because they are looking for it in the wrong time period! But when you use a 1400s BC Exodus date, which is what the Biblical text supports; and when you rework the Egyptian chronology according to David Rohl’s proposed model – then suddenly everything harmonizes, and we find amazing corroborations with the Biblical account, at the very time that the Bible says that we should expect to see it!
For a more detailed study on the subject of archaeology, Egyptian chronology, and the authority of the Biblical narrative of the Exodus, filmmaker Timothy Mahoney has produced an excellent feature documentary on the subject, called Patterns of Evidence – Exodus. You can learn more about the film at ChristianFamilyReformation.com/patterns.
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