Friday, March 18, 2016

Fact-Checking the Torah: Cross the wide -- Sinai

The modern urban legend about what happened at Yam Suf has nothing to do with the Bitter Lakes. I first heard about it something like 20 years ago when somebody sent it to me in an email claiming it was true. Fortunately I read Bible pretty well and know a bunch of other stuff, but I still did research to come up with my answer.
The claim is that chariot wheels have been found underwater at Nuweiba, Egypt and they are Pharaoh’s chariot wheels. The Egyptians chased the Israelites to Nuweiba and were drowned there.
It’s nearly 200 kilometers from Sukkot to Nuweiba, right across the rocky part of the peninsula.
Horse-drawn conveyances traveling at most 13 kilometers an hour at a gallop, would take 15 hours to make that trip. They would have caught up with the Israelites, traveling by foot and ox-cart, at a speed of 5 kilometers an hour, long before reaching Nuweiba. This is one of those algebra problems you hoped you would never see again after high school, if you’re my age.
Horse-drawn conveyances had to stop about every 30 kilometers to change horses as late as 1800 CE, or the horses would die in harness. That means even if Pharaoh’s chariots crossed Sinai, they would need at least 6 depots with at least 600 changes of teams at every depot, plus grooms plus water plus food for the grooms and the exhausted horses. They would have been large establishments, set up ahead of the chase (and how would Pharaoh know to do that?), or kept up full time. Permanent depots would have been vulnerable to the depredations of Shasu (Bedouins) and other groups who wanted their horses, so they would have to be garrisoned. More water and food and buildings.
The chariots would also have to be replaced. Since the horse-collar had not yet been invented, the chariots had to attach to the horses with systems of straps as shown in pictures from Hyksos times, and the chariots themselves had to be quite lightweight, and that means they weren’t very sturdy. The depots would have to have repair shops and extra chariots to replace the ones that broke down. More people, more food and water, more buildings. And bits of metal that would survive where other remains would not (more on that later).
It seems to be a fairly simple task to find them; go 30 kilometers from Tell el-Maskhuta and sound every 30 kilometers after that for stone walls and large settlements. Nobody has done it. If anybody ever does it, I expect them to come up empty.
This is a subject called logistics. I worked for the government for years trying to explain to people that their pet project would cost 10 times what they had budgeted unless everything was thrown away as soon as it broke. That’s not economical with large low-tech items like cars or chariots. In the 1600s BCE Pharaoh couldn’t do the math I could do in the late 1900s CE, but he would realize that at 2 horses per chariot, he had to put 1200 horses at every depot for a total of almost 10,000 horses, besides the ones he hitched to the chariots in the first place.
When I did the research, an M1A Abrams tank could travel the width of Sinai on just one tank of gas, but at Nuweiba it would become a paperweight without a depot with the right fuel. Pharaoh was in an even worse position because if he drove his horses to death, he had no way to get back home.
So “Pharaoh’s chariot wheels at Nuweiba” goes the way of Ron Wyatt’s other claims even before we perform metallurgical and radiocarbon tests to see whether the wheels are bound in iron instead of bronze, or whether the wood dates to the right time.
Neither of which tests have been performed.
Because Wyatt refused to provide a wheel for testing.
Anybody making a claim has to provide the material for testing the claim, or provide the test results. We’ll never know more about this because Wyatt died in 1999 and what has happened to his “find” is not documented, at least, not online.
By the way, it’s about 50 kilometers from Avaris to Sukkot.  After all this talk of logistics, you have to realize that Pharaoh’s chariots could not set out from Avaris and finish the chase.  The timing given in Exodus allows Pharaoh to realize that the Israelites have left Avaris; a fast rider or relays of runners could have notified commanders to turn them back.  When the Israelites showed up at Sukkot 10 hours after leaving Avaris, Pharaoh might have been there to take command, but the chariots would have been those posted at Sukkot.
It’s time to teach you what you might not know about archaeology itself, so you will understand what has gone wrong with archaeology in its claims about Torah.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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