Assuming the exodus happened–where and when?

They traveled from Etham, and turned back to Pihahiroth, which is before Baal Zephon: and they encamped before Migdol (Numbers 33:7 WEB).

Before I move on to more about the books I have been reading by James Hoffmeier and Robert Gnuse, I want to stop and deal with something that interests me: the geography and date of the sea crossing episode of the exodus.

Hoffmeier is doing archeological work on the series of forts just east of the Nile Delta that ancient Egypt maintained to guard against invasion from the north.  He has excavated one at Tell-el Borg.  Just a few miles on from there is one that he is probably correct to identify as Migdol.  There is also an old canal trace in the area.  So he is pretty certain that Pi-hahiroth is right there too. (Pi-hahiroth seems to mean “the mouth of the canal”.)  The other place name in Numbers 33:7/Exodus 14:2 is Baal-Zephon.  This is a little less certain.  But one can read a papyrus fragment from the time as referring to the Ballah Lakes as “the waters of Baal”.  This makes it likely that Baal-Zephon was a feature in the same area.

Hoffmeier proposes that the sea crossing took place across the shallow end of the Ballah lakes where the lake merged into wetlands.

The map is from here and available on Bing images.

I have to admit that I do not find this compelling.  The poem in Exodus 15–probably our oldest account–describes not only that the chariots and horses became mired in mud, but that water swept them away.  I guess this could have happened if there was some kind of tidal wave or tidal surge that brought the Mediterranean waters inland.

But there is a scenario that (to me) makes better sense of the language that says the horse and the driver or rider were thrown into the sea.  On the map above, you will notice an inlet between the open sea and the paleo-lagoon.  There is a point of land east of Hebua 1 and across the water from that is a place called Kedua.

Carl Drews, whose specialty is atmospheric and oceanic studies, has proposed a crossing to Kedua.  His proposal is online here.  He includes the following map, which shows his reconstruction of the geography of the area in -1250.

Figure 3. Reconstruction of the geography Southwest of Pelusium

He has also written a fun-to-read book, Between Migdol and the Sea: Crossing the Red Sea with Faith and Science.  The first chapters are historical fiction.  The rest of the book combines science, auto-biography and biblical studies.  In spite of the popular nature of the work, I think Drews has a serious proposal.  His computer models show that a very strong east wind could have made a passage with water on both sides that would have catastrophically closed in on the Egyptians when the wind dropped.

Both fundamentalists and skeptics have criticized him.  So that gives him some credibility in my eyes.

What does not make sense to me is what good it would have done Moses to get across there, since there were just more Egyptian military posts up the coast.  In -1250 at the peak of Ramses II’s power, this would surely have been a suicidal move.

However, I have proposed that Moses led the people out in the early 12th century, around -1188 when there was civil war in the transition between 19th and 20th dynasties.  This relates to Pharaoh Setnakht’s Elephantine Stele and the reflections on the rise of his father by Ramses III.  Some of what we thought he knew about this era was upended in 2000 by the discovery that Chancellor Bay was already dead before the civil war.  Also Breasted’s old translation of the Harris Papyrus may be misleading.  See here.

If the exodus happened during the confusion of a civil war, (and maybe the threat of some kind of foreign intervention) the scenario would have been that Moses had the support or neutrality of one Egyptian faction.  So he just had to get away from the other faction.  In that case an escape to Kedua might have made sense.

By the way, according to this article Israel Knohl, in a book still untranslated from Hebrew, has also put the exodus events in the transition of the 19th to the 20th dynasty.

About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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3 Responses to Assuming the exodus happened–where and when?

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.

  2. Carl Drews says:

    Pastor David Corder –

    Thank you for your book review of “Between Migdol and the Sea.” I am glad that you found my book fun to read as well as interesting to a biblical scholar! When the scientific paper was published at PLoS ONE in 2010, it left a theological and exegetical vacuum in its wake. The “Migdol” book provided a good vehicle for explaining the harmony of Christian faith and science, and for explaining how the crossing fits into the history and geography of the Exodus.

    I propose that Moses and the Israelites traveled straight south from the site later known as Kedua after crossing the yam suf safely across the Kedua Gap (see Figures 7-2 and 11-1). As you pointed out in your blog, during Egypt’s New Kingdom there was indeed a series of fortifications along the northern (Mediterranean) coast of Sinai, and these forts are mentioned in Exodus 13:17-18. After the sea crossing, Moses could quickly dash across the Ways of Horus military road and be in the clear through southern Sinai.

    I place the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt in 1250 BC. Your date of 1188 BC occurs after two important milestones: the destruction of Hazor in 1220 BC, and the Merneptah Stele in 1210 BC. Most scholars attribute the destruction of Hazor to Joshua, and the Merneptah Stele is the first known inscription to mention Israel as a people group. Someone else could have destroyed Hazor, but the Israel inscription is hard to understand coming before the Exodus. Nevertheless, the chronology of the Exodus is a fascinating puzzle, and new scholarly contributions are always welcome.

    Carl Drews

    • Carl Drews,

      Thank you very much for reading and replying.

      Our positions are a little different–compared to the minimalists, though, not so much.

      My date for the Exodus has the disadvantage of having to claim that not all Israel came out of Egypt with Moses. I agree that Israel probably destroyed Hazor sometime in the second half of the rule of Ramses II and that Merneptah attacked Israel. So if all the tribes were still in Egypt that would be impossible. However, I wonder if all the tribes had fully united yet. Only three tribes are mentioned in the genealogy in Exodus 6. And only 10 tribes are mentioned in Judges 5.

      You may be right. But I am attracted to the possibility that there is information about the Exodus in Pharaoh Setnakhte’s Elephantine inscription and the Great Harris Papyrus. As always I have more questions than answers.

      I did enjoy and appreciate the Migdol book.

      David Corder

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