(NOTE: This is a draft version of Chapter One of The Moses Mystery and due to the publisher's subsequent copyediting and minor revisions this text may vary slightly from the published version.)
Who were the earliest Israelites? Where did they come from and under what
circumstances did they rise to power in
The bible tells us that the Hebrew nation originated with Abraham, in
Unfortunately, there is not a shred of evidence outside the bible to corroborate these claims.
Currently, biblical scholars recognize three possible scenarios explaining Israel's rise to power in Canaan: 1) the "conquest" theory: that Israel came in from the outside and conquered the land; 2) the "peaceful settlement" theory: in which it is argued that Israelites entered gradually, settling in the sparsely populated areas of the central highlands; and 3) the "peasant revolt" or "social revolution" theory: that Canaanites rose up against their overlords.
Despite this wide range of disagreement, there are certain related matters,
consistent with the biblical account, upon which there is virtual unanimity.
The consensus holds that prior to the Hebrew monarchy,
How do we know, independent of the bible, that
Even if we assume that the bible derives from earlier sources yet to be
discovered, it still describes events that occurred more than a thousand years
before its completion. In those ancient times few peoples had a strong
tradition of historical writing and perspective. Much of what passed for
history consisted of myth, legend, and rumor, elements of which are pervasive
throughout the biblical text. (Herodotus, widely considered the father of
historical writing, dates to the fifth century BC—approximately the same time
that the early books of the bible were edited into their final form—and draws
substantially on myths and rumors for much of what he records.) Though several
nations had written records in the second, third and fourth millennia from
which modern historians can draw conclusions, there is no evidence that
Quite simply, where a group of people lived in the sixth century BC, and what language it spoke, and what it believed about its historical roots a thousand years earlier, does not, absent independent corroboration, prove where it lived a thousand years earlier, what language it originally spoke, and what took place in its formative years. Certainly, little in the biblical text would be outside the knowledge of learned Hebrew scribes in the sixth century BC. Furthermore, the many anachronistic phrases in the early books of the bible point to a very late editing. This is not to say that in this later time the Hebrews did not speak a Semitic language or strongly identify with Semitic culture. We just do not know that this was always so.
In this book I offer a radical new solution to the puzzle of
This king's monotheistic religious reforms triggered massive resentment throughout the country. Less than two decades after Akhenaten’s death Pharaoh Horemheb launched an aggressive counter-revolution aimed at suppressing all memory of the hated predecessor. Akhenaten's loyal followers suffered greatly. They were removed from office, stripped of honor and property, and in many instances banished from the country. These persecuted Egyptians united together, rose in rebellion and formed the House of Israel.
The pharaoh Akhenaten, ninth king of the Eighteenth Dynasty ruled
Another target of the king's wrath was the popular god Osiris, Judge of the Afterlife. Under Akhenaten, the Osirian funerary practices so central to the Egyptian way of life were purged of all polytheistic symbolism. After Year 5 of his reign, the plural form for "god" no longer appeared in any writing of that time. In keeping with his proscription against graven images, the scribes substituted phonetic spelling for those anthropomorphic and theriomorphic signs used in script.
Akhenaten's monotheism did not take root and
Modern Egyptologists learned of Akhenaten’s existence only in the late nineteenth century, when teams of archaeologists visited the ruins of an unidentified city in an area now known as Amarna. These remains were what were left of the king's demolished capital city. On some of the walls, portrayed in an artistic style considered an unusual departure from traditional Egyptian portraiture, they found the deformed image of an unknown pharaoh and his beautiful queen. The hieroglyphs indicated that this strange monarch was named Akhenaten, a pharaoh of whom they had no prior knowledge.
Continued exploration of this city produced a number of informative discoveries. These included the famous Amarna letters, stone tablets containing vivid reports of the turbulent state of foreign relations in the time of both Akhenaten and his father, Amenhotep III. In other Egyptian cities excavators discovered not only other structures attributed to this reign but also many of the stones transported from Akhenaten’s capital city, some with fragments of revealing text. Before long, a sketchy profile of this monotheistic revolutionary took shape.
At first, his reputation soared. Historians hailed him as "the first
individual," a religious reformer, a great thinker, witness to the truth,
a magnificent poet, an artistic revolutionary, even the forerunner to Moses.
But, even the most aggressive advocates of a link between Moses and Akhenaten
still adhered to the Semitic model of
Sigmund Freud, in Moses and Monotheism, argued that Moses was an Egyptian noble who followed the Atenist beliefs of the heretic pharaoh. He even identified Aten with Adonai, a name Hebrews use for God. On the issue of the Hebrew people, however, he could only speculate as to how Moses came to be the leader of Semitic tribes. He suggested that Moses must have served as an Egyptian governor who became sympathetic to the Hebrew plight.
Thomas Mann, in his novel Joseph the Provider, reflected much of the speculation in the early years of Akhenaten's discovery. He made Akhenaten the pharaoh who elevated Joseph to the position of Prime Minister of Egypt. In all other respects, though, he adopted the traditional biblical account.
In recent years Akhenaten's luster has worn thin. Today, Egyptologists dismiss him as a voluptuary, an intellectual lightweight, an atheist, ultimately a maniac. They sharply reject any connection between Akhenaten and Moses. Summing up the view of most Egyptologists, Donald B. Redford, Director of the Akhenaten Temple Project and one of the chief students of the Amarna Age (as Akhenaten's reign is known), writes: "A vast gulf is fixed between the rigid, coercive, rarified monotheism of the pharaoh and Hebrew henotheism; which in any case we see through the distorted prism of texts written 700 years after Akhenaten's death" One historian after another, when reciting the history of Akhenaten's monotheism, adds similar disclaimers.
This sentiment, so widely endorsed, raises, at least to me, a question. If the view we have of early Hebrew religion is distorted through the prism of texts written seven hundred years after the death of Akhenaten (i.e., the bible, which received its present written form no earlier than the sixth century BC) how can it easily be concluded that the original religious views of Moses were any less a rigid, coercive, rarefied monotheism than that of Akhenaten's?
The pharaoh responsible for waging the campaign against Akhenaten's memory
was Horemheb, who came to the throne about fourteen years after Akhenaten's
death. He demolished Akhenaten’s buildings, erased the heretic's name from
monuments and persecuted the remnant of Akhenaten's following. Those holding
any form of public office or important position were denounced as corrupt and
ineffective. He removed them from office, punished many of them and, in some
cases, banished them from
Horemheb had no royal blood. A popular general, he came to the throne when the royal bloodline ended. He also left no blood heirs. In the year before he died, he appointed RamessesĘI, another military figure, as his coregent. Ramesses outlived Horemheb by less than three years and during his brief reign he appointed his son, Sethos I, as coregent. Egyptologists mark the death of Horemheb as the dividing line between the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Dynasties of Egypt.
In this book I will argue that Moses was the chief priest of the Aten cult
and that at the time of Akhenaten's death Moses fled from
Moses' actions brought the nation to the brink of civil war. The
confrontation ended with a negotiated truce that guaranteed the insurgent army
safe passage out of the country. This negotiated truce and safe passage out of
As the centuries passed, like most immigrant groups, the refugees identified
increasingly with the language, culture, and traditions of their new neighbors.
At the same time they lost touch with their own roots. As the biblical authors
wrote repeatedly, Canaanite culture had a powerful pull on the Israelites and
they frequently succumbed to its enticements. Despite unrelenting apostasy,
however, one truth remained with them. In
This new model of
Within academic circles these questions provoke heated argument. There is nothing inherently implausible about dating the Exodus to just after the end of Horemheb's reign. Doing so, though, raises a host of problems for those who would deny a connection between Moses and Akhenaten, and most modern scholars do deny such a connection. Consequently, all popular solutions to the Exodus problem carefully place a chronological wall between these two innovative thinkers.
The majority view dates the Exodus to the middle of the reign of Ramesses II, at least seventy to eighty years after Akhenaten's death and outside the range acceptable for the "Atenist" model. In support of this position proponents argue that the Exodus must have occurred close in time to the onset of the previously mentioned Canaanite settlements in the twelfth and eleventh centuries BC.
In the previous century most scholars believed that the Exodus occurred sometime during the reign of Merneptah, successor to Ramesses II, but an archaeological find attributed to that pharaoh's reign (see below) necessitated that the Exodus precede him. Also in favor of Ramesses II being the pharaoh of the Exodus is that there were many years of peace in the latter part of his sixty-seven years of rule. Such a condition suggested a likely time frame in which to allow the Hebrews to wander in the wilderness without Egyptian retribution.
Perhaps the most important piece of evidence cited in favor of Ramesses II
as the pharaoh of the Exodus is the biblical claim that when the Pharaoh
ordered the enslavement of the Hebrew people he set them to work at the city of
"Raamses". Scholars uniformly accept that the biblical city of
"Raamses" corresponds to the Egyptian city of
What makes Pi-Ramesse intriguing is that the city didn't receive that name until the reign of Ramesses II. Prior to that time it was known as Avaris, which had been the capital city and stronghold of the earlier Hyksos kings. Biblical scholars argue that if the Hebrews worked in the city of "Raamses" and that name first came into existence during the reign of Ramesses II, then the Exodus must have come no earlier than the reign of this pharaoh. Additionally, based on the Merneptah victory stele (see below) scholars recognize that the Exodus had to occur prior to the reign of Pharaoh Merneptah, the immediate successor to Ramesses II. Such a sequence of events, say the scholars, indicates that the Exodus could only have happened in the reign of Ramesses II.
That argument has a number of flaws. First, according to the bible, the pharaoh who set the Hebrews to work on "Raamses" could not have been the pharaoh of the Exodus. His actions occurred before the birth of Moses. The Exodus occurred in Moses' eightieth year. Ramesses II only ruled for 67 years. His reign wasn't long enough to encompass both the birth of Moses and the Exodus.
Second, again according to the bible, while Moses was in exile from
Third and most important, the bible connects the city of "Raamses"
with Joseph, who placed his father and his brethren, and gave them a possession
Following the logic of the biblical scholars, Joseph would have had to have lived in the reign of Ramesses II. Since the pharaoh of the enslavement acted after Joseph died both the pharaoh of the enslavement and the pharaoh of the Exodus would have to have been successors to Ramesses II, even more objectionable.
What these conflicts show is that the author of the biblical passages
referring to "Raamses" wrote at a time when the city of
Against the idea of placing the Exodus in the reign of Ramesses II, critics
note that Ramesses II was a strong military leader who had a significant
For the Hebrews to have avoided an Egyptian reprisal so soon after the
Exodus would have required a much weaker
Interestingly, if the Exodus represented a rebellion by the remnants of Akhenaten's following, it would explain why there are no public Egyptian records of the confrontation between the two sides. The pharaohs meant to wipe out any record of Akhenaten's existence. To memorialize any such confrontation in public displays, even those claiming victory over the heretic, would only help perpetuate memories of the hated king. This does not mean that private reports or disguised accounts didn't exist, and in later chapters we will examine evidence of what these other records had to say about this affair.
There are also some strong minority opinions about the date of the Exodus,
all of which place it well before the reign of Akhenaten. One such theory,
partially based on powerful volcanic eruptions in nearby
The year 1450 is also troublesome for other reasons.
Another theory, once widely held but now much less
so, holds that the Exodus corresponded to the expulsion of the Hyksos kings at
the start of the Eighteenth Dynasty, a date in the mid sixteenth century BC.
The Hyksos were Asian chieftains, probably of Semitic background, who, between
the eighteenth and sixteenth centuries, ruled considerable portions of Egyptian
territory. Josephus, the Jewish historian of the first century AD, was the
first to identify the expulsion of the Hyksos with the Exodus and for much of
later history his argument was influential. The problem with such an early
date, though, is that it creates a post-Exodus period of over three hundred
years in which
Dating the Exodus is problematic because evidence of its occurrence appears exclusively
in the bible, and what little it tells is contradictory. Exodus 12:40-41, for
example, places the Exodus 430 years after the start of Israel's sojourn in
Egypt (i.e., from Jacob's arrival) whereas Genesis 15:13-14 indicates that four
hundred years transpired from the birth of Isaac to the end of the bondage.
Both claims can not be true. Jacob was born in Isaac's sixtieth year. He didn't
Even if we favored one biblical claim against another, what historical event
would permit us to anchor that claim to a specific date? There is the assertion
in 1 Kings 6:1 that the Exodus occurred 480 years before Solomon started work
on the temple. This is somewhat corroborated by Judges , which suggests that Jephthah judged
However, because of the aforementioned problems with such a date, most scholars maintain that the expression "480 years" derives from a misunderstanding. According to this view, the biblical author meant to describe twelve generations of Israelites (since 1 Chronicles 6 shows twelve generations from the Exodus to Solomon) and assigned forty years to each generation. But, the argument continues, forty years are too many for a generation. A more realistic twenty-five years, say proponents of this argument, would make a better fit, giving a total span of three hundred years. Such a procedure would date the Exodus to 1270-1250, during the reign of Ramesses II, right where the majority would like it.
That there is no reference to a generation lasting forty years, twenty-five years, or any other number of years, does not dissuade proponents of this surgical reconstruction. Nor can we find any convincing proof that the biblical author meant "twelve generations" instead of "480 years." In fact, the number of years assigned to a generation is wholly arbitrary. In this case, scholars chose "twenty-five years" because it conveniently places the Exodus exactly where the majority would have it.
This solution also ignores another problem. There is no extrabiblical evidence that David, Solomon, or the vast and glorious empire over which they ruled ever existed. That a Hebrew nation existed cannot be denied, and most certainly it had a king. The name "Solomon", however, is simply an adopted title meaning "peaceable." It could be a title adopted by many Hebrew kings.
If a King Solomon ever had such an extensive kingdom as described in the bible, it seems to have escaped the notice of both its subjects and its neighbors—the Phoenicians, Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Amorites, Canaanites, Edomites, Moabites. All of these nations, so far, remain mute on the subject of this Hebrew kingdom. History contains many rumors about mighty kingdoms that never existed, but rarely does one never hear of a great kingdom that did exist. Such an ephemeral kingdom can not serve as an anchor for biblical dating.
Additionally, the date proposed by scholars for Solomon's reign conflicts
with biblical chronology. As commentators have noted, if you add up the length
of reign for each of Solomon's successors as king of
In opposition to this earlier date, historians argue that the 430 years from
the beginning of the temple to the destruction of the temple is the same
duration as the Hebrew sojourn in
Although history does not tell us of the Exodus, it does supply some help in
setting the latest possible date. The earliest nonbiblical reference to the
Commemorating Pharaoh Merneptah's victory over the combined forces of
The princes are prostrate, saying: "Mercy!"
Not one raises his head among the Nine Bows.
Desolation is for Tehenu; Hatti is pacified;
Plundered is the
Carried off is
Yanoam is made as that which does not exist;
Hurru is become a widow for
All lands together, they are pacified;
Everyone who was restless, he has been bound.
The conquests claimed have no connection to the Libyan war. They depict no historical truth. Their inclusion serves only as a poetic attempt to portray Merneptah as a grand warrior.
A curious feature of this inscription is that
This discovery caused quite a shock to the academic world of 1896, the year in which the monument was discovered. At that time most biblical and Egyptological scholars identified Merneptah as the pharaoh of the Exodus. On this new evidence historians had to date the event to an earlier time. But when?
If the Exodus happened not much earlier than the start of Ramesses II, then
Moses and Akhenaten would become childhood pals, educated together and
receiving their religious training in the great Egyptian
The Merneptah inscription also lends support to my claim that
The inscription does not tell us what language
It should not have arrived there much earlier than the middle of the reign of
Ramesses II. Otherwise it would have likely been identified with the territory
where it was found. This suggests a time frame for its arrival within forty
years of the death of Horemheb. That time frame would be consistent with both
the biblical claim that it was about forty years after the Exodus that
It is also interesting that the very first mention of the name
The evidence, then, suggests that at a time consistent with both biblical
chronology and the "Atenist" model,
Concerning this last point, some comments about certain archaeological finds
are in order. As early as the seventeenth century BC, Semite-speaking tribes
and groups moved into the region of the
Scarabs from this era show many of the chieftains with Semitic names, two of whom were Jacob-Her and Anat-Her. Linguists do not know what the her element stands for, but Anat is a well-known Palestinian goddess. Scholars are quick to see the name Jacob on the other scarab, speculating about its connection to the biblical Jacob. That the names are similar is true, but by analogy to the Anat-her inscription, Jacob could have been the name of a Palestinian god. At most, it only proves that the name Jacob existed in ancient times. No evidence connects this Jacob-her in any way to the biblical Jacob.
In these early times the archaeological records make frequent reference to a
class of people known as Habiru or 'Apiru, many of whom were enslaved in
In any event, the Habiru were not an ethnic group. Studies of Habiru names show that they contained both Semitic and Indo-European elements. If Hebrew is derived from Habiru it would most certainly be a post-Exodus derivation, being used to describe the Israelites at a time when they were not yet settled in a territory and therefore exhibiting characteristics associated with the Habiru class. The name Hebrew, as a term for the Israelites, is not attested to until late in the first millennium.
Where do such fully developed histories come from? Does this vast amount of narrative detail suggest that the biblical authors drew upon folk histories of real characters? There is so much personality in these stories that many scholars find it hard to believe that these patriarchal families were made up out of whole cloth. One need not believe all the events occurred to be tempted by such a view.
Nevertheless, the patriarchal history is false. Consider, for example, this
problem. The Book of Genesis ends with the death of Joseph. The story picks up
in the Book of Exodus with the birth of Moses. This transition period
encompasses several generations and, allegedly, several centuries. In this time
It is precisely this gap in the history of
One feels compelled to ask: in the several hundred years during which
Furthermore, at the end of the Patriarchal history, Jacob set the stage for
massive conflict and intrigue in this period of
missing history. He denied the birthright to his three oldest sons, accusing
them of dastardly deeds. He appointed the tribe of Joseph, eleventh in sequence
of birth, as his heir designate, but, to Joseph's
dismay, the inheritance went to his younger son Ephraim rather than his oldest
son Manasseh. And to top it all off, after giving the crown to Ephraim, Jacob
then announced that the scepter shall not depart from
How did the sons and the families handle these decisions? Was there anger, joy, resistance, rebellion, acceptance? What went on in those centuries? Why should there a biblical dark ages in the eyes of the scribal redactors when everything else before and after is so clearly illuminated?
The answer is that what preceded the dark ages never existed. True biblical history begins with the Exodus and the patriarchal history is myth, pure and simple. And, in the some of the following chapters we shall set forth the exact mythological sources from which most of the patriarchal history derives.
By way of preview, however, let me briefly outline the argument. Patriarchal history draws upon Egyptian mythology. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their key family members correspond to a family of popular Egyptian deities associated with the Egyptian god Osiris. Most of the events depicted in the patriarchal accounts come directly from Egyptian literary sources and themes, and we will examine the precise mythological incidents that gave rise to the biblical sources.
If this evidence is as obvious as I suggest, the reader may well be tempted to ask why biblical scholars and Egyptologists failed to uncover these connections. There are a number of reasons for such oversights.
The Egyptian deities, already transformed from gods to heroic human
ancestors, came to look less and less like Egyptians and more and more like
Canaanites. Atenist religious views melded with local traditions. Over the
centuries numerous political and religious feuds developed. Old stories were
retold in order to favor one group over another. Then came
conquest and destruction. Most of
In the morass of conflict
Closely associated with the problem of the Patriarchal history is that of
the Twelve Tribes. They also originate, biblically, in the pre-Egyptian period
of Genesis, but their story carries forward from the patriarchal period to the
post-Exodus period. However, no archaeological evidence demonstrates that this
tribal coalition ever existed nor, given the alleged
It seems inconceivable that over this time, in a narrow territory, that such
a large number of people could have maintained anything such as a tribal
structure. Certainly by that time, intermarriage alone, which practice was
common in biblical genealogy, would have obviously wiped out anything
resembling clear linear family divisions. The biblical
Several factors influenced this development. As the evidence in the
following chapters develops, we will see that the original idea of twelve
tribes, or more specifically, twelve political entities, originated in Egyptian
traditions. After leaving
At first the Egyptian emigrants dwelled peacefully in southern
The most powerful and famous of these invaders was the Philistines and they
soon threatened all of
At this time, I will argue,
The Canaanite conquest served mostly as a Davidic myth to justify Judaean
control over the alliance. It relied more on tales of the Sea Peoples invasion
than it did on any Israelite actions. These conquest stories found there way
into the biblical corpus, and several verses indicate that only
It is one thing to point out that there is no evidence corroborating the
biblical account of
Chapter Two examines the famous and puzzling birth-death chronology in Genesis 5 and 11. These passages, which provide a continuous chronological link between the births and deaths of twenty-three generations, beginning with Adam at the dawn of Creation and ending with the birth of Abraham in the early part of the second millennium BC, generate much controversy. Scholars casually dismiss this chronology as worthless but in later chapters we will show that this chronology provides a highly accurate record of Egyptian dynastic history.
Chapter Three provides the background material necessary to understand Egyptian chronology and the problems associated with establishing an accurate history of Egyptian dynasties and kings.
Chapters Four through Seven cross reference Genesis chronology with Egyptian dynastic history. The evidence shows that the Genesis birth/death dates derive from Egyptian king-lists and provide an exact one-to-one correlation with the starting dates for Egyptian dynasties and for several important Egyptian kings. The correlations begin with the foundation of the First Dynasty (c. 3,100 BC) and end with the start of the Eighteenth Dynasty over fifteen hundred years later. This chronological record enables us to place the mysterious events surrounding the Exodus in their proper historical context.
Chapter Eight reviews the various problems associated with dating the Exodus from biblical data. Then using the evidence of Genesis-Egyptian date correspondences it places the biblical data into chronological context and resolves the many contradictions. The analysis places the Exodus in 1315 BC, during the coregency of Ramesses I and Sethos I. Such a date means that Moses and Akhenaten were children together, raised and educated at the same time in the royal household of King Amenhotep III.
Chapter Nine provides an overview of historical matters associated
with pharaoh Akhenaten, including the nature of his revolution, the
Chapter Ten moves from the biblical accounts of the Exodus and looks
at the event through Egyptian eyes, examining ancient Egyptian texts and the
writings of other classical historians. The Egyptian materials parallel the
biblical story in many areas but reverse the roles of Moses and the pharaoh,
making Moses the cruel ruler and Pharaoh the young child who was hidden away
and later returned to liberate his people. Reducing the parallel themes to
their essential elements we learn how Egyptian mythological and literary motifs
helped shape the biblical story of Moses. Placing the Egyptian and classical
histories alongside the biblical accounts, we learn that upon Horemheb's death
Moses launched a military campaign aimed at restoring the Atenists to the
throne but that he failed in the effort and led his followers out of
Chapters Eleven through Thirteen place the Patriarchal history in mythological perspective. The evidence shows how the early Israelites adapted Egyptian myths about the god Osiris and his family and transformed them into stories about distant human ancestors, removing them from the magical realm of Egyptian religion and placing them in the hands of the one and only god of Israel. The chapters trace most of the major events in the lives of the Hebrew Patriarchs and set forth many of the Egyptian myths and stories upon which the biblical accounts were based.
Chapter Fourteen examines the matter of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
There we find that even the biblical writers were unsure about how many tribes
existed or whether or not they conquered
Chapter Fifteen summarizes the evidence presented in the preceding chapters.