Much controversy has raged over the correct dating of the Exodus. In order to prove or disprove the historicity of the Exodus, the actual date purported by the Bible must be found. Among those that advocate for an actual date for the Exodus, two dates have emerged. Although there are a myriad of others, these two have gained a degree of following within the academic community. What follows is a point counter-point between two of the leading scholars for each camp: James Hoffmeier, and Bryant Wood. Hoffmeier advocates for a low chronology date of 1270 – 1260 B.C. and Woods advocates for a high chronology date of 1447-6 B.C. date. They have been offering scholarly debate in journals and I have synthesized the main points for you, the reader, to look at side by side. Enjoy!
(The notes in this post are taken from James Hoffmeier’s and Bryant Wood’s articles that are meant to be an exchange on each other’s ideas. Although I have not fully treated each article in its entirety, I have produced a point counter-point so as to get the gist of each argument.)
Exodus 1:11 And the City of Rameses:
Exodus One states that the Israelites built the store city of Rameses. Most scholars would agree that if a city in this vicinity was named Rameses, it would have been named for Rameses II, who reigned from 1279 – 1213 B.C.. This is due to the fact that Egyptian historical records show that he was responsible for building Pi-Rameses in the northeastern delta. If this city was built for Pharaoh Rameses II, then the Exodus must have happened in the 13th century.
While it is true that the store city that the Israelites built was identified was Rameses, high chronologists believe that does not necessarily mean that it was originally named that. They maintain that we have ample examples of cities being renamed and the older name being replaced in texts so that the current reader (at the time of editing of the text) understands which city is being referred to.
First Kings and the Idea of Generations:
1 Kings 6:1 states that from the time that Israel left Egypt to the time that the First Temple started to be built, 480 years, to the day, had elapsed. But those who ascribe to the low chronology see the 480 years as a symbolic date. It would appear that it is using the round number of 12 forty year periods, or generations.
Also, low chronologist identify that 1 Kings 6:1 is not the only way in which we can derive a chronology from scripture. James Hoffmeier noted that although the 1 Kings passage ascribes 480 years from the 4th year of Solomon’s reign back to the Exodus, you can come up with varying amounts of time if you add up the chronologies of the Judges, Saul, David, and the 4 years of Solomon’s reign. As a quick experiment, Hoffmeier added these years to come to a total of 633 years, it is easy to see how this date would pose a problem to the 480 year span. He also notes that the Septuagint has the passage reading 440 years instead of 480. So to base a chronology off of the 1 Kings 6:1 passage could be tenuous at best.
With 1 Kings 6:1 stating that it was 480 years from the 4th year of Solomon’s reign back to the Exodus, it seems like a specific record and not a a symbolic date. Unfortunately, the “generations” theory of the low chronology camp fails to recognize that in 1 Chronicles 6:33-37 it clearly records 19 generations passing for that time period. And since this was known in Solomon’s time, it is unlikely that they would so carelessly conclude that only 12 generations had passed. Also, since it cannot be proven from scripture that 40 years is considered a generation, it is suspect that the 40 x 12 number is purely symbolic.
Furthermore, Andrew E. Steinmann*, Associate Professor at Concordia University, has shown that the chronology of this timeframe in question can reasonably shrunk to fit the 480 years, given a more thorough understanding of Judean chronology keeping.
*Journal of Evangelical Theological Society 48/3 (Sept. 2005) p491-500
And Then There Is Hazor:
Archaeologists note that Hazor was indeed destroyed in the 15th century and again at the end of the 13th century. But the city that was destroyed in the 15th century was much smaller than the later city and could hardly be a leading city in Canaan as described in Joshua (Joshua 11:10). It seems hard to believe that Joshua would utterly destroy Hazor only to have it rise from the ashes to gain even greater prominence. It is more likely that the city of the 13th century is the one that Joshua encountered and destroyed. It is in better keeping with with Text that notes that “Hazor had been the head of all these kingdoms.”
The Low Chronologist notes that there is evidence for the Conquest of Canaan at Hazor ca. 1230 B.C.. The problem is that since this conquest layer could just as easily correlate to the destruction that Deborah and Barak brought on Hazor, there is no need to ascribe it to Joshua.
Lack of Evidence in Egyptian Records:
Low Chronologists maintain that since the conquering Pharaohs of Egypt had imperial control of Canaan from ca. 1500 – 1200 B.C., there is no record of Israel in Canaan before the appearance of the Merneptah Stela. And since the Merneptah Stela is dated to ca. 1210 B.C., there is no outside evidence of Israel as a people before this date.
Most Low Chronology Scholars will point to the fact that the earliest know reference to Israel is the Merenptah Inscription. It is roughly dated to ca. 1210 B.C. and mentions Israel. High Chronologists cry foul to this and say that this is simply an “argument from silence.” Just because there is a lack of evidence for Israel prior to that date, it does not mean that they were not there.
Also, as Clyde E. Billington points out in the Winter 2012 edition of Artifax, European Egyptologists, Manfred Görg, are becoming increasing convinced that the Berlin Pedestal contains the name of Israel. Although this inscription was probably formed ca. 1391 – 1354 B.C., the original that it was copied from was probably formed ca. 1453 – 1415 B.C.. This suggests that Egypt was well aware of a people named Israel in the 15th century B.C..
Did Pharaoh Survive the Parting Of the Sea?
Low chronologists note that while it seems like an initial problem that if Rameses II reigned from 1279-1213 B.C. and the Exodus happened in 1230B.C., then he survived the parting of the Reed Sea. But, in actuality, we see that once the Israelites had finished crossing the sea, “The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea” (Exodus 14:23). Then, while the Egyptian army was in full pursuit, “the Lord swept them into the sea” (Exodus 14:27). So, we see from a careful treatment of the text that Pharaoh may not have accompanied his army into the midst of the sea.
According to Low Chronologists, the pharaoh of the Exodus did not die in the collapse of the Reed Sea. But in Exodus 14:18, high chronologists point out that we see that God would “gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.” Of note, Psalm 136:15 includes Pharaoh in the list: the Lord “brought Israel through the midst of it…but swept Pharaoh and his army.” The pursuing army was engulfed in the sea such that “the entire army of Pharaoh” perished, “not one of them survived” (Exodus 14:28; cf. Psalm 105:11). While the text of Exodus, gives room for Pharaoh to survive, Psalms indicates that the Pharaoh may have also perished.
Editor’s Note: This is the least convincing argument since the Pharaoh of the Exodus in High Chronology terms would be Amenhotep II and he reigned from ca. 1453 – 1415 B.C.. And if the Exodus took place in 1447-6 B.C., then he too survived the collapse of the Reed Sea.
While each argument has its merit, it appears that the high chronology argues more authoritatively from scripture, while the low chronology argues more from the archaeological record. The basis of the low chronology straying from strict adherence to the chronologies of the Bible, is that, in their estimation, the chronologies and dates are not meant to be taken as a vigorous historical document. It is, instead, written in the style of the times, which did not emphasize accuracy, in modern terms, but was written for symbolic emphasis. If this can be proven, then we need not look at the chronologies as something to be used as history and defended as such.
But, unless we can prove that the authors did not intent for the chronologies and dates to be taken literally, we must err on the side of caution and treat them as such. So that is what I will be looking for in further posts on the topic. Tell me what you think: Low Chronology or High Chronology…