Did the Jewish Exodus actually happen?

With respect to Cecil’s Column Du Jour, Is there any historical basis for the events of the Jewish Exodus?, Cecil made no reference to an Egyptian document that seems to concur with the Exodus, the Papyrus of Ipuwer.

This doc was suposedly found in the 19th century, although the exact circumstances I haven’t been able to find. Events described in the Papyrus seem to match those in Exodus (the plagues, for example), although the degree of match might be open to question.

Velikovsky used it as a major corroborating source. But V. was not known as a discriminating archeologist by any means; his major premise was that the Bible could be used as a seriously valuable historic document.

Other Internet references to Ipuwer seem to be religiously based and don’t question its origin or veracity, something which a real scientist would treat as most important of all.

So, I wonder about this Papyrus. Has it ever been reliably dated? To have any historical benefit at all, it would have to be about as old as Exodus. Otherwise, it might just be a modern retelling and/or hoax.

I don’t know about the papyrus, but the March 2002 issue of Harper’s magazine had a major article in it by Daniel Lazare, “Archaeology Refutes the Bible’s Claim to History,” which made the case – not terribly new in the scholarly biblical community, but new since Cecil’s 1981 article – that hardly anything in the Torah is confirmed by archaeology. That also includes Moses. Therefore there was no exodus.

Unfortunately, the article doesn’t appear to be online. A brief article summarizing his claims can be found by typing Daniel Lazare bible in Google and clicking on the cache of the first link, which I can’t get to reproduce correctly here.

Velikovsky’s interpretation of such laments was of course quite skewed. It was extremely common for court writers in those times to write “The earth is ruined!” laments for what we consider mundane events, such as the death of a ruler. These writings go on for pages describing how awful things have become since the Late Great King died. All of it completely poetic imagery and not intended to be taken seriously by amatuer science writers 3 thousand years later.

For the page cited, note how the places referenced in the papyrus jump around and apprently large parts are omitted. Note also that it relies on V.‘s interpretation of the plagues being explained by his spin of physical phenomena rather than the Hebrews’ divine view. It adds a whole extra layer of interpretation to things.

I am betting that if you read the whole text, and was aware of its context, and only knew the Exodus story and not V.s’ version you would have never linked the two. Given the immense number of people desperate to find proof of Biblical events, the fact that this document is not highly cited as such also tells you something.

It is risky to draw conclusions from an absence of evidence, especially when we are dealing with an era where there is so little evidence of anything.

We have a pretty solid record of Egyptian history (royal history)from the pyramid carvings, tomb writings, etc. But the Egyptians did not record their defeats, and their writings are self-serving. It’s not like they wrote objective history; they wrote praises of the pharoahs. It is therefore not surprising that there is no record of the embarrassment of Pharoah (son of the Sun) by a minor god of a desert tribe of slaves.

The Egyptian climate, luckily, preserved many documents, corpses, etc. So we do have a fairly clear history of Egypt.

The climate a few hundred miles northeast, in the areas around ancient Palestine, did not; we have very little documented record from there. We have pottery, the ruins of buildings, etc, but no grandly carved tombs of kings as in Egypt. Thus, the lack of evidence of the existence of Moses, Abraham, Joshua, David, Solomon, etc is not necessarily an indication that these people didn’t exist. There’s basically NO names of ANY individuals from those times that have been confirmed by archaeology; that doesn’t mean there were no people then, if you follow my meaning.

Stated another way: if we had extensive records of a population through tax lists, censuses, etc., and Moses name was no on that list, we might wonder about his existence. However, if we have NO documents about ANYONE, then the absence of documents about Moses is not indicative of anything.

I’m not going to overly defend a subject on which I’m not an expert, but I thought the point of the article was that given the archaeological evidence we do have, the events in the Torah just could not have happened in the way they are set down in the texts. So in addition to the claims of Jewish kingdoms being greatly exaggerated, the available and copious records from Egypt make a huge presence of Hebrew slaves unlikely.

This very subject has been in the news recently.

Here’s an overview: http://www.jewsweek.com/society/011.htm

and here’s the text of an LA Times article: http://detnews.com/2001/religion/0104/27/religion-212248.htm

“The absence of evidence doesn’t mean
evidence is absent.” Carl Sagan

The Egyptians had shredding machines about dangerous
and untoward stuff - they ate it for dinner.

“The winners write history.” (whoever said it.)

Last point, in all the articles I have read lately about
Israel and the Palestinians, NYT, CNN etc.,
not ONE mentioned the fact that the ARABS had just
lost another WAR!

Is the evidence “absent” - seemingly not - the alleged
domicile of “Palestine” has been leveled. That is my
definition of a war lost.

I cannot recall last when the “loser” dictated the terms
of the realignment - “peace”.

This is not a position on this bit of international affaires,
but a “left-brain” analysis that Dr. Sagan would have

While I do not accept the Bible as the final word,
it has held up with reference to ancient cities mentioned,
and their locations.

                          Good Health and Success

Meanwhile, back at the OP…

This doc, if original, datable and verifyable, may be the only corroborating evidence (tho weak at that) for any Exodus events. That’s why I think it bears further scrutiny by us.

SOME of the historical and geographical references in the Bible have held up. SOME. I’d be surprised on a personal level if it was even all that many.

Anyway, as Hal indicated, some geographical accuracy in the Bible doesn’t vouch for accuracy on other matters.

Tom Jefferson said approximately,
"Would you want even three farthings (1/4 of a penny) judged
by what passes for “religious reasoning?”

I realize I am talking to the “converted”, but there is one
point worth considering - people over the last 5 thousand
years - technology aside - were as skeptical and sarcastic
as 2002.


Most did not believe in the “parting of the sea”, "manna from
heaven (there-aint–no free-lunch!), or most of the Moses
saga. I won’t touch the “thinking” in the NEW Testament.

What they mighty have accepted was that Mo’ was a
charismatic leader who stuttered, but who offered that
“vision-thing” of a better life - elsewhere.

Let’s accept that our progenitors were “materialists”, same
as us, and would not turn over “all-their-worldly-goods” to
some fruitcake without some evidence of a plan.

Yes, Virginia, the Bible is a “travelogue”, so it’s not hard to
believe that they got the geography right most of the time.
You don’t need a satellite to make an accurate map. Desert
people are pretty good trail-brazers or their DNA would have
ground to a halt in B.C.

Last thing, did you catch the story that the oldest writing is
now from Egypt- 150 years older than the Sumer cuneforms?

The point is that ancient Sumer is in “IRAQ”, and we write
“history”, and Iraq is going to be annihilated in October, 2002,
and Eqypt is an alley.

That’s the skinny in New York.

                           See ya,

“What they might have accepted was that Mo’ was a
charismatic leader who stuttered, but who offered that
“vision-thing” of a better life - elsewhere.”

Sounds very reasonable, if we assume/accept that Moses existed. But I don’t see any evidence for that yet.
Likewise with the ‘travelogue’ angle. There are real places mentioned in the Bible. Even if all the places mentioned are real, though, it doesn’t prove that anything else mentioned therein is real- even the less supernatural stuff (‘Moses existed,’ as opposed to ‘a great flood happened’). Yes, it’s possible that there was a Moses and an Exodus (or a historical equivalent, whatever his name may have been); however, I’d need to see some non-Biblical evidence to lend it real credibility.

I’m not sure what you meant by the last thing or two you said. I’m not sure I buy into people’s ancient skepticism. I find they’re still remarkably gullible. I suppose it’s a matter of opinion, but anyway…

  1. During WWII, the Pope (Pious) issued a statement to the
    world powers to do this and that.
    Stalin (Jo of USSR), issued his own statement:
    “How many divisions does the Pope have?”

  2. If we had to take the book literally, then we would believe
    that men have one LESS rib than women!

    There are a finite amount of skeptics in the 21st century
    just as in 1250 B.C. My research indicates that 100%
    of Bible readers accept the “rib” thing. “Put it in the Book,
    and it must be so, right?” Eat all the pizza you want and
    lose weight with the Silver Bullet diet pill.

  3. The latest Biblical research - yes, there is such a thing -
    concludes that though the Bible says 600,000 men left
    Egypt in the Exodus, (not counting women, children or
    slaves, all of which the Bible commentaries mention as
    tourists), the real number is 20 thousand total.

  4. What is a fact is that the ancient Hebrews created the
    alphabet - (Alef + Bas), so that they could teach the new
    generation nice stories. From small beginnings…
    The Greeks came and appropriated it, added vowels, and
    gave it to the Romans, who added four letters, and
    here we are! Wait, some claim the Phoenicians
    next door helped alot.

Expecting people who write books to be literal and accurate,
is like waiting for a "politician" to speak the whole truth.

Exodus 12:37:
"The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Succoth. There were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. "

Numbers 1:45-46:
"All the Israelites twenty years old or more who were able to serve in Israel’s army were counted according to their families. 46 The total number was 603,550. "

1 Kings 20:15:
“So Ahab summoned the young officers of the provincial commanders, 232 men. Then he assembled the rest of the Israelites, 7,000 in all.”

Slightly different estimates, eh? I agree that accepting the Bible literally is foolish given that it’s littered with mistakes like that. But still, the fact that we can’t take it literally doesn’t mean we have to interpret it- and even if it does, how do we interpret these kinds of things?
I have to repeat my earlier statement- I still need to see actual, independent evidence. I know there’s Biblical research, but perhaps especially in this area, research is a little bit of…shall we say an X factor?
The fact that our alphabet is partially based on Hebrew doesn’t prove the other things involved, for example.
And I still don’t get all the stuff about Egypt being an alley and whatnot.

Welcome to SDMB, wex10024.

The SDMB has a few practices that help preserve order in this barnyard. For example:
[ul][li]We usually try to keep a single thread confined to a single topic. If the subject wanders greatly, start a new thread on the new topic. The topic of this thread, as described in detail in the OP, is (paraphrased) “What’s all this I hear about the ‘Papyrus of Ipuwer’?” Sorry if the header didn’t make this clear, but I was trying to reference a closely-related Cecil column.[/li]
[li]When you make a factual claim in SDMB, you will probably be asked to back it up with a reference, preferably a cite from a Web site. Without such references, we may assume you are giving opinions instead of facts. So prepare your URLs before completing the post.[/ul][/li]Like this:




Short and sweet:

Ipuwer was a guy, not a place, and an Eqyptian at that.

Probably a Priest there.

He wrote his stuff FOUR HUNDRED years after the alleged
events occured. Huh?

Cite: read his Papyrus under its title on the web.

The guy I really admire is Immanuel Velikovsky, who was a
friend and also lived in Princeton, N.J. with Al Einstein.

Al wrote in the margin of the book Manny gave him to review,
Worlds in Collision - “unsinn” Ger. for horseshit. He told Manny
to stop hypothicating, and start predicting". Manny did - about
Venus, Mars and Jupiter.

It took a few years, but U.S. space probes confirmed his
“historical reconstructions” of upheavals - cataclysms.

Have a nice weekend.


Haven’t thought of Velikovsky in years. IMHO, the “degree of match” isn’t merely open to question. Here’s an example of how the Admonitions of Ipuwer reads without the commentary. Doesn’t read at all like Exodus, does it? Except of course that both accounts involve bad times.

wex, did you read the links that rsa posted above? It explains how the prevailing view nowadays is that the Exodus story never happened. It’s even accepted by Conservative Judaism, if that’s the right term, and explained in their Chummash, which I guess is like a Cliff Notes for the Jewish Bible that’s available in their synagogues. A quote from the article:

No we wouldn’t. We would have to accept that Adam had one less rib, not that all his male descendants did. Unless, that is, you can find evidence that the Bible mandates Lamarckian inheritance.