I know that some people want to say “Did the Exodus happen?” but I think it’s better to answer that later because the answer involves fallacies.
For right now, let’s look at the basis of the urban legend.
About 1896 archaeologists discovered a stele at Waset, “City of the Scepter”, known to Greeks as Thebes, east across the Nile from Karnak. It is near Medinet Habu, Valley of the Kings, and Luxor. The stele was dated to 1207 BCE in the reign of Merneptah. When it was found, people read hieroglyphics fairly well, and it leapt out at them that the stele referred to Israel.
Forty years before that was right about in the middle of the long reign – not just the life but the reign – of Merneptah’s father, Ramses II. I guess that people put this together with a supposed power vacuum in the Holy Land that resulted from a battle to a draw between Ramses II and the Hittites, and said that the Israelites would have left Egypt in Ramses II’s reign and consolidated their position in the Holy Land during the period of the power vacuum.
But archaeological research in the region of Moav in layers associated with this date for the Exodus didn’t turn up any remains that would coordinate with the seeming high level of culture that would throw up a king like Balaq who could send emissaries to a far place for a prophet. Decades later, I have trouble finding Moabite studies that don’t concentrate on the 800s BCE; if the work has been done, I guess the reports are not online.
There was another problem due to the minimal remains at Pi-Tum in the layers for the 1200s BCE. Pi-Tum was a city of the 26th dynasty, the time of the Babylonian captivity; the idea occurred that the Exodus was made up at that time.
Arguments then began that Merneptah’s stele referred to an individual who had been conquered and “his seed exterminated,” so that whoever turned out to be the ancestors of the Jews, it would not be the Israel named on the stele.
Also Ramses left no records about disturbances of nature or large-scale emigrations, not that we’ve found to date. The most that could be shown by later archaeology, was that a 19th dynasty military officer stopped at a place called Tjeku and asked the locals if they knew where some runaway slaves had gone. So supposedly the Exodus of 600,000 military-age men, besides women and children, was whittled down to a few runaway slaves who might have been killed off, but certainly never “covered the face of the earth” in a way that would frighten a Moabite king – who in any case didn’t exist at the time of Ramses.
That was the state of our knowledge up to about 1950 and archaeology, as usual, has marched on.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved