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Evidence for the Exodus

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Question:  Hi. I am doing some research and am curious if any ancient Egyptian records describe the Passover in Exodus 11 when all the firstborn children and animal died in the last plague. I would love to know more about the Bible and historical evidence recorded outside it. I don't remember hearing of any recordings about this event. From the little I do know about the Egyptians, I know they kept good records. I found this site and thought maybe this would be the best place to start. Thank you for your time.

Response:  As you are no doubt finding out, the theory and practice of ancient history is a complicated and sometimes confusing thing. In contrast to modern history, where there are frequently many documents through which the historian has to cull, and with more coming to light every day (even from centuries before), ancient history is generally much more limited in terms of sources, so little has survived. For example, Thucydides' History is our main source for the Peloponnesian War, a period of some thirty plus years in the fifth century B.C., and, while there is other evidence, his is really the only extensive chronicle of that war. The Egyptians (in keeping with other peoples) may have "kept good records", but not much of these has survived. Even the Romans, whose "Tabularium" (central records office) still survives off the forum in Rome, have seen almost all of their official documentation destroyed, despite the fact that they ruled our western world as recently as 16 centuries ago. The sad fact is that unless something was carved in stone and that stone was buried (so as to have the inscription not effaced with the passage of time), there isn't much left. There are exceptions, like the temple at Medinet Habu, for example, where there are extensive pictures and hieroglyphics, but that is much later than the Exodus. I have some comments on these matters in "Exodus: Hardening Pharaoh's Heart" at the site (just click the link). The most widely held traditional view is that Amunhotep II was the Pharaoh of the Exodus, but due the extreme problems of ancient chronology and the incomplete nature of the Egyptian records, this would be difficult to prove even among those who accept the biblical record as correct (as I do). For some perspective on the dating of the Exodus and chronological matters in general, see part 5 of the Satanic Rebellion series ("Specific Chronology of the Seven Days of Human History").

Beyond this, I would suggest a good "historical" commentary on Exodus, or a good "Study Bible" which talks about these issues from an introductory point of view. I generally recommend M.F. Unger's Commentary on the Old Testament for the former, and The NIV Study Bible for the latter. For more general histories of Israel, you might try Leon Wood's A Survey of Israel's History (Zondervan); John Bright's A History of Israel gives the more politically correct view of things (i.e., non-acceptance of the biblical narrative). Also, any good "survey" or "introduction" to the OT will also address these issues: try E.J. Young's Introduction to the Old Testament. I'm afraid you will find that most secular ancient histories will not give you what you are looking for vis-a-vis the Bible, since they consider it a flawed source (pretty ironic, in my view). And one last word: beware of conclusions based upon "archaeological data", since a potsherd can be taken as evidence to prove just about anything in clever hands. Another place to check - and I'm sorry I don't have a copy so can't tell you whether it's there or not - would be Cambridge Ancient History, a multi-volume set of the history of the ancient world, which would, if covered, give you a good start on helpful bibliography. Lastly, check out the biblical dictionaries and encyclopediae in your library (e.g., Interpreter's Dictionary, Anchor Bible Dictionary, Hastings' Encyclopedia of the Bible). These will give you the main arguments and possibly some useful bibliography as well.

Please also see the following link:  The Route of Israelites in Crossing the Red Sea.

Hope this is helpful,

Yours in Jesus Christ,

Bob Luginbill


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