Evidence for the Exodus

The Ipuwer papyrus, also known as the ‘Admonitions of Ipuwer’, is a controversial  composition, written by a royal Egyptian scribe of the same name,  that describes starvation, drought, death, and violent upheavals in ancient Egypt.   Currently housed at the National Archaeological Museum in Leiden, Netherlands, the papyrus consist of 17 complete and incomplete columns of writing with the back containing hymns to the god Amun.

While the origin of acquisition is obscure, the papyrus was in the possession of the Greek diplomat and merchant Yianni Anastasiou who claimed that it was discovered at Memphis in the Saqqara region. 

Historians date the copy from the early 2000s to the 1500s B.C. believing it to be from an earlier work that possibly dated from circa 1550 to 1292 B.C.  Since the work is not complete, it is not only difficult to interpret but also presents problems in determining the events it describes. There is one intriguing interpretation of this text proposed by Dr. Immanuel Velikovsky who brought up a theory that the papyrus is a source of evidence for the events of the Exodus, from the Old Testament.

Scholars usually agree that the Exodus events would have taken place at some point around the New Kingdom of Egypt (circa 1573 BCE). “The contents of this papyrus” according to Dr. Velikovsky, “ have an oddly familiar ring to those who know their Old Testament”  Plague is throughout the land – Blood is everywhere – The river is blood – gates, columns and walls are consumed by fire – cattle moan – the land is not light. Literary analyses would put the original, of which the Leiden papyrus is a copy, at some time during the Egyptian Middle Kingdom and the very beginning of the turbulent Hyksos period.

Dr. Alan Gardiner agrees with Velikovsky’s chronology in the sense that the papyrus text tells us about both a civil war and of an Asiatic occupation of the Delta. The two periods in which this might be possible were the dark age that separated the sixth from the eleventh dynasty, and the other is the Hyksos period.  Dr. Gardiner leans toward the theory of the invasion of Hyksos to explain the events in which this papyrus alludes.

The Bible states that the Israelites occupied the land of Goshen, a major area within Lower Egypt, in the Nile Delta region.  During the first half of the second millennium B.C., Egypt was divided into two areas:  Upper Egypt in the south ruled by native Egyptians and Lower Egypt in the north, inhabited and governed by foreigners originally from Canaan.  The Hyksos, aka the Shepherd Kings, were believed to be Hebrews who migrated from the land of Canaan.  

This is the area in which Joseph was sold into slavery and where he eventually relocated his family during the seven year drought (Exodus 8:22, 9:25) and, the land in which the Hebrews became slaves when the Egyptians recaptured the land from the Hyksos.  The Hyksos pharaoh gave Joseph to wife Asenath, the daughter of the priest of On.  On was not only the home of Joseph but the traditional place to which the baby Jesus was taken by his earthy parents when they fled from Herod.

Is it possible then that the Ipuwer Papyrus is an eyewitness account of the divine punishment and suffering described in Exodus? Some may find it’s references identifiable but like the predictions of Nostradamus,  it is debatable.  Some people are more than willing to read what they want to believe into anything they read. I have always found the predictions of Nostradamus to be so vague as to mean anything and nothing at all.  However, the Hyksos reference in the papyrus does peak my interest.

While many archaeologists and scholars continue to peddle the notion that there is no evidence of the biblical account of the Israelites’ sojourn in or Exodus from Egypt much has been discovered to prove the biblical account found in the early chapters of Exodus. The Ipuwer Papyrus is only one illustrative piece of a very large archaeological picture.

One of the most important discoveries that relate to the time of the Exodus is the Merneptah stele which dates to about 1210 BC. Merneptah, the king of Egypt, boasts that he has destroyed his enemies in Canaan. He states: Plundered is the Canaan with every evil; Carried off is Ashkelon; seized upon is Gezer; Yanoam is made as that which does not exist; Israel is laid waste, his seed is not.  The word “Israel” here is written in Egyptian with the determinative for people rather than land, implying that Israel did not have a king at this time, making it the time of the Judges.  The text also implies that Israel was as strong as the other cities mentioned, and not just a small tribe.

Before the discovery of the Merneptah stele scholars placed the date of the exodus and entry into Canaan much later. They are now forced to admit that Israel was already in Canaan at the time of Merneptah. Israel was big and strong enough to challenge Egypt in battle. This stele puts a terminus ante quem date of 1210 BC for the exodus (McCarter 1992, 132).

The Story of Two Brothers is an Egyptian text dating to circa 1225 BC, that relates the story of a young man falsely accused of adultery by the wife of his older brother after he rejected her advances. In the 12th Dynasty Egyptian tomb of Khunum-hotep (1890 BC) is pictured a caravan of 37 Asiatics arriving in Egypt trading black eye paint from the land of Shutu, the leader of which is named Ibsha and bears the title “ruler of foreign lands” from which the name “Hyksos” is derived. The land of Shutu is probably an ancient term for Gilead. The Ishmaelites who took Joseph down to Egypt came from Gilead through Dothan (Genesis 37:25).

In the 13th Dynasty there were a number of Asiatics serving in Egyptian households. One text lists 95 servants from one Theban household with 37 of the names being Asiatics, of which at least 28 were females, one of which is a woman named Sekratu  related to “Issachar.” In another place an Asiatic woman is called “Asher,” and another Aqaba which is related to “Jacob.” This may indicate that some of the tribes of Israel were in Egypt at this time.  

In the Book of Sothis  is a specific time when Joseph  rose to power under the Hyksos  king Aphophis who ruled 61 years. The Book says that Aphophis was at first called Pharaoh, and that in the 4th year of his kingship Joseph came as a slave into Egypt. Aphophis appointed Joseph Lord of Egypt and all his kingdom in the 17th year of his rule, having learned from him the interpretation of the dreams and having thus proved his divine wisdom (Manetho 1940, 239). Halpern has concluded, “Overall, the Joseph story is a reinterpretation of the Hyksos period from an Israelite perspective”

While the Bible does not need confirmation from secular historians, and Christians do not require extra-biblical accounts in order to believe the Bible, it is interesting that independent records of biblical events exist—records with remarkable parallels to the biblical accounts.

Source:  Does the Ipuwer Papyrus Provide Evidence for the Events of the Exodus?, Ancient History; Biblical Archaeology Evidence of the Exodus from Egypt,  Institute for Biblical & Scientific Studies

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