Seminary Program

This is where we post the essays from many of our Universal Life Church Seminary students. When students finish a ULC course, they write a comprehensive essay about their experiences with the course, what they learned, didn't learn, were inspired by, etc. Here are their essays.

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Monday, May 02, 2011

Biblical Egyptology

Dating Exodus

John Ozanich D.D.

“And I have said, I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt unto the land of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, unto a and flowing with milk and honey.  (Exodus 3:17)

            From the Old Testament, God describes to Moses the world into which He will deliver the Israelites from Egyptian bondage.  Dating the Exodus event has proven to be one of the most elusive mysteries of mankind.  Current mainstream archaeology has surrendered to the notion that Exodus is a mythical story enamoring Jewish idealism and providing a creation mythos for the nation of Israel.  Like all branches of science, however, opinion is in perpetual flux due to continuously incoming data and refinement in understanding.  Two sliding scales particularly exacerbate the dating of Exodus with their continuous re-adjustment to newly discovered facts.  One scale being the timeline associated with Egypt and the other being all timeline adjustments made regarding other cultures in the surrounding area.  The Bible itself gives us no solid date reference on which we can rely in regards to the events of Exodus though some minor clues are given which have a bearing on dating.  God’s description of the Canaanite area in which He promised to bring the freed Israelites in Exodus (3:17) describes a land in which Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites simultaneously occupied the region of present day Israel.  This may be noteworthy due to the fact that the Amorite Dynasty is believed to have fallen by 1550 B.C.  Numbers (21:13-27) tells of the Israelites putting the Amorites to the sword and overtaking several of their cities.  This would seem to imply a continued strong dynastic presence and thus make the 15th century date relevant.  Placing Exodus at or before the 15th century puts Exodus at the start of the 18th Dynasty of Egypt or before it.

            Genesis 37:28 tells us, “Then Midianite traders passed by; so the brothers pulled Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver.  And hey took Joseph to Egypt.”
            Historical review of the going prices of slaves in and around Egypt at the time tells us that twenty pieces of silver for a slave would be the going rate around the 1500 BCE era.  The price increased to 30 shekels around the last quarter of the second millennium BCE.  This again places biblical reference any time during or prior to the 18th Egyptian Dynasty.
            “And these are the names of he sons of Israel, who to Egypt.”  (Exodus 1:1).
            The Hebrew name for Egypt is Mitzrayim.  The name is unusual because the –yim suffix is plural.  Mitzar would be the singular form of the name.  Around the 18th Dynasty of Egypt and the Hyksos occupation of Lower Egypt, the Egyptians themselves referred to Egypt as a plural, Tawy, due to the divided kingdom.
            "And the Egyptians made the people of Israel serve with rigor. And they made their lives bitter with hard slavery, in mortar, and in brick, and in all kinds of service in the field; all their service, which they made them serve, was with rigor." (Exodus 1;13-14)
            Consensus among scholars is that there was no slave conscription before the 18th Egyptian Dynasty.  No records exist of any such action.  Prior to the 18th Dynasty, slaves were captured or purchased for domestic use.  Forcing Israelites to serve as brick makers appears to have occurred uniquely around the 18th Dynasty.

            The primary biblical clue cited for the dating of Exodus comes from Kings 6:1, “And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign over Israel, in the month Ziv, which is the second month, that he began to build the house of the LORD.”  Archaeological evidence places the construction of the Temple of Solomon at around 960 BCE.  Back dating this by 480 years gives us an approximate year of Exodus around 1440 BCE – still within Egypt’s 18th Dynasty.

            The most solid archaeological evidence we have in respect to dating is the discovery of the Merneptah Stele.  It contains the earliest known Egyptian reference to the people of a place called Israel.  The stele commemorates the victory of Pharaoh Merneptah (1213 – 1203 BC) over Libu and Meshwesh Libyans and their sea allies.  The last two lines of the stele make comment that prior to defeating the Libyans, Merneptah also defeated Ashkelon, Gezer, Yanoam and Israel.  The stele itself has been dated to around 1209 BCE.  Thus, the nation of Israel was presumably firmly established by that time.

            Frustratingly, Egyptian records offer no help.  Thus far, no record found offers a comparative storyline to the Israelite claims of Exodus though it is believed that this is not surprising since it would be highly unusual for Egypt to record the defeat of a pharaoh as potentially embarrassing as Exodus claims.  Additionally, Egyptian records are vague and difficult to correlate to what might have been descriptions of the ten plagues of the Bible, which God inflicted on Egypt for refusing to release His people.  Natural events, which may correlate to the plagues have been identified and attempts made to correlate them to the plagues but none have been broadly accepted.

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