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archaeology

Israeli scholar says the Exodus happened – and it can be proven

While the Torah is rich with Egyptian culture, there is no mention of Hebrews, slaves or even Moses in Egyptian records

Tourists and visitors line up outside the temple of Abu Simbel at the upper reaches of the Nile in Aswan, around 1264 km (785 miles) south of Cairo, to see the dawn light up the temple's inner sanctum to mark the anniversary of Pharoah Ramses II's coronation, Feb. 22, 2014, (Photo: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)

One Israeli professor says archaeologists should look to the Torah, or the five books of Moses, for evidence of the Exodus from Egypt.

While many researchers have traditionally been unconvinced that the story of the Exodus actually happened, due to a lack of archaeological evidence to back it up, Prof. Joshua Berman from Bar-Ilan University’s Zalman Shamir Bible Department told The Jerusalem Post this week he begs to differ. 

Berman, who has researched the topic for 10 years, maintains that archaeologists have been looking in all the wrong places.

“The Torah is infused with Egyptian culture and its response to it,” Berman said. “What I find incredibly fascinating is how familiar the Torah is with Egyptian culture, suggesting that the Israelites were indeed in Egypt, and they were there for a long time, but also that the way the Torah engages with this material is what today we would call cultural appropriation – a people using the propaganda of their oppressors and making it their own.” 

In a 2020 article, Berman explained that “the case against the historicity of the Exodus is straightforward, and its essence can be stated in five words: “a sustained lack of evidence.” 

Berman noted, “Nowhere in the written record of ancient Egypt is there any explicit mention of Hebrew or Israelite slaves, let alone a figure named Moses. There is no mention of the Nile waters turning into blood, or of any series of plagues matching those in the Bible, or of the defeat of any pharaoh on the scale suggested by the Torah’s narrative of the mass drowning of Egyptian forces at the sea. No competent scholar or archaeologist will deny these facts.”

As an example of such “cultural appropriation” or adaptation of local Egyptian practices, Berman mentioned the verse, “The Lord freed us from Egypt by a mighty hand, by an outstretched arm and awesome power, and by signs and portents,” from the book of Deuteronomy.  

“When we look at inscriptions from the period of the New Kingdom, between 1500 and 1200 B.C., roughly the period of the enslavement, these expressions are routinely used to describe Pharaohs and their victories in battle, for instance, ‘Pharaoh defeated the Libyans with a mighty hand,’” Berman said. 

In support of his theory, Berman has written that Maimonides, the medieval Jewish scholar, also believed that “the Torah took forms of worship that were familiar to the Israelites in Egypt,” and that many of the customs related to temple worship, “were, in fact, adaptations of pagan practices." 

"Maimonides believed that the Torah took forms of worship that were familiar to the Israelites in Egypt and tweaked them in a way that brings them closer in line with monotheistic belief,” he said.

Berman, however, is not the only scholar who believes in the historicity of the Exodus. According to Prof. Richard Elliott Friedman, a professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Georgia and the University of California, San Diego, there is both archaeological and textual evidence that the Exodus happened. 

However, he suggests that the Exodus involved fewer people than the 603,550 males and their families that the Torah mentions. 

“Semitic peoples, or Western Asiatics, were in fact living in Egypt and were traveling to and from there for centuries. And the evidence indicates that the smaller group among them, who were connected with the Exodus, were Levites,” Friedman said. “The Levites were members of the group associated with Moses, the Exodus, and the Sinai events depicted in the Bible…So if you’re talking about the Levites rather than all of the Israelites, the argument archaeologists have made that we haven’t found evidence of Egyptian cultural influence on the Israelites is not true. It is present in the Egyptian names, circumcision practices, the teachings about aliens, and in the design of the Tabernacle.” 

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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