I believe the specific texts of Genesis 15:13-16 and Exodus 12:40, 41 firmly refute the notion of Israel’s stay in Egypt being only 215 years, and instead clearly establish that they lived in the land of Egypt for 430 years. Passages like the abbreviated genealogical lists in Exodus 6 and Paul’s comments in Galatians 3:16-18 that seem to affirm a shortened stay in Egypt can easily be explained in a different fashion that doesn’t do violence to the passages themselves or the clearer texts of Genesis 15 and Exodus 12.However, with that stated, I believe archaeological evidence is an area that soundly refutes the 215 year theory and solidifies the 430 year sojourn in Egypt. It is also an area where I found little comment among the proponents of the 215 year theory except to make mention of the dubious archaeological revisionism
by researcher, David Rohl.
Israel lived in the historical matrix of the ancient near east. They were a real, historical people who crossed paths with many real, historical nations surrounding them. Even though archaeology often involves drawing interpretive conclusions that may or may not be exact, there is enough available historical data that researchers can be certain of many facts that help piece together the history of the time frame in which Israel lived. This is certainly true regarding the 18th Egyptian dynasty where much of the early chapters of Exodus, as well as the exodus itself, takes place. Thus, when we study the historical background and culture of this time in Egypt’s history, the research we glean can enlighten our understanding of the biblical record of Israel’s sojourn and exodus.
The first place to begin in examining the historical data is fixing a date for the exodus. If we can establish a date for the exodus, then we can synchronize the history of Israel as it relates to the Egyptian history around the time of the exodus. There are two debated periods scholars claim Israel left Egypt. The late date favored by liberal scholars and critics is 1280 B.C., and the early date favored by most evangelical, Bible believing scholars of 1445/46 B.C. I don’t have the time to trace the debate between the two perspectives, but suffice it to say for my purposes, I take the early date for very good reason. When we examine the biblical chronologies and then look at the history of the pharaohs during this time, there are specific, historical individuals we can identify with the biblical record and the date of 1446 best explains all the biblical data as it crosses the historical data.
The proponents of the 215 year theory seem to me to favor the date 1491 B.C. as established by Bishop James Ussher’s chronology outlined in his book, The Annals of the World. It also seems to be the chronology older commentators like Matthew Henry and John Gill favor as well when they attempt to argue for the 215 year theory. Ussher’s date for the exodus assumes the 215 year theory is true, which is problematic in my mind, because it wrecks havoc of what we know to be true of Egyptian history that has been uncovered since Ussher, Henry, and Gill wrote their commentaries. As much as I praise God for James Ussher and the contribution he left with his Annals of the World, I believe the archaeological evidence helps to sharpen the biblical chronologies and betters their accuracy than what Bishop Ussher concluded.
So how do we get 1446 B.C. for the exodus?
Beginning with scripture, if we turn to 1 Kings 6:1, we read that Solomon began to build the temple after the 4th year of his reign. The record of Kings states at that point it was 480 years since the exodus. We know from secular sources like Chaldean solar records that the date for Solomon’s 4th year was approximately 966 B.C. Add 480 years to that date and we get 1446. Additionally, in Judges 11:26, Jephthah speaks of Israel possessing the land by his time for 300 years. Subtracting 40 (for the wilderness wanderings) from 1445 (assuming a year or so before the wilderness wanderings began) and then 300 in light of Jephthah’s comment, we get 1105 B.C. Tallying up the reigns of the judges, and the kings Saul and David following Jephthah up to Solomon, is roughly 140 years give or take as we calculate for round numbers. So here we have two chronological markers in the biblical text that help us to establish the date of 1446 B.C. for the exodus.
Now, we can attempt to synchronize the biblical events as recorded in the book of Exodus with what we know of the 18th dynasty of the Egyptian empire. There are four key Egyptian individuals important to the Exodus account we can identify with a great measure of certainty: The pharaoh who didn’t know Joseph (Exod. 1:8), pharaoh’s daughter who rescued Moses (Exod. 2:5), the pharaoh who died, allowing Moses to return to Egypt (Exod. 2:23) and then the exodus Pharaoh himself (Exod. 5ff.).
The king who didn’t know Joseph. The most possible candidate for the pharaoh who didn’t know Joseph is the Hyksos rulers. The Hyksos were a non-native Semitic people who managed to gain control of Egypt’s ruling class. They displaced the native Egyptians for nearly a century and a half. Eventually, Ahmose and his brother, led a rebellion against them and regained control of the government. Ahmose became the first pharaoh of the 18th dynasty.
There are three good reasons we identify the Hyksos as the king who did not know Joseph. First of all they were not Egyptians, so they would not have known of how Joesph served Egypt as one of the highest officials in pharaoh’s court. They didn’t know him because they weren’t from Egypt. Next, the Egyptian cities of Pithom and Raamses were built by enslaved Hebrew labor. According to all available evidence, those cities were built before the 18th dynasty. In fact, Ahmose destroyed the city of Raamses after he became pharaoh and it wasn’t occupied until a couple of hundred years later. Third, the king feared the Israelites would join the Egyptians and rebel against them (Exod. 1:9, 10). If the Israelites were originally on friendly terms with the native Egyptians, and the Egyptians (“our enemies”) had been displaced out of the territory, it is easy to see why the Hyskos would fear them as a potential military threat.
Pharaoh’s daughter who rescued Moses. Hatshepsut was more than likely the Pharaoh’s daughter who rescued Moses out of the river (even though some evangelical scholars cautiously use the word “possibly”). She was the only surviving daughter of Thutmose I, and thus the only daughter who could have found Moses in the brush. Modern day feminist laud Hatshepsut because she was a strong willed woman and dressed like a man (see photo above). She took over the throne of Egypt upon her husband’s death (Thutmose II) and reigned 22 years. Thutmose III took her place upon her death and reigned 32 years alone, which is important as I will note shortly.
It is more than likely that Hatshepsut adopted Moses as a potential heir to the throne. Hence the reason Hebrews 11:24 states how Moses chose not to be called “the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.” He chose his role as Israel’s deliverer over the riches and power of being ruler over Egypt. Even if we grant that it was a daughter of a lesser wife who found Moses rather than Hatshepsut, all biblical indications suggest Moses was certainly being groomed to be an heir.
The pharaoh who died. Thutmose III was co-regent with his mother, Hatshepsut, for about 22 years. Upon her death he was the sole ruler for 32 years. His reign as co-regent and as sole ruler was over 50 years. In fact, he is the only Egyptian monarch of this period who had this length of a reign. Exodus 2:11ff. records how Moses murdered an Egyptian and then fled to the land of Midian because pharaoh sought to kill him (2:15). Moses was in the desert for 40 years, but returned to Egypt upon hearing of the death of pharaoh (2:23). Thutmose III would have been threatened by Moses as an heir to his throne and Moses’ murder of the Egyptian would had been all the reason he needed to eliminate him once and for all. His long reign as pharaoh and his motivation for seeking the life of Moses makes him the best choice for the pharaoh who died. His death was just 4 to 5 years before date of 1446 B.C.
The exodus Pharaoh. Thutmose III was succeeded by his son Amenhotep II who was a brilliant military commander. The evidence identifying him as the exodus pharaoh is extensive and is too much to get into with this post. I will link a detailed article outlining the evidence at the end. Suffice it to say, the son who succeeded him, Thutmose IV, was not the heir apparent, but obtained that position due to the death of the eldest son. That is a curious fact, seeing that the pharaoh’s son was included in the pronouncement against the first born in the 10th plague (Exod. 11).
Now, how does identifying all these individuals confirm the 430 years for Israel’s sojourn in Egypt? Adding 430 years to 1446 we get approximately 1876 B.C. as the date Jacob and his family went down into Egypt to live. Joseph was around 39 when Jacob arrived (Gen. 41:46, 53, 54; 45:6) and lived to be 110 (Gen. 50:22). Thus he died 71 years after his father’s arrival in Egypt in 1805. The Hyksos came to power around 1730 B.C., so there was about 75 years of relative peace for Israel until they were enslaved. The Hyksos ruled Egypt for about 150 years until they were driven out around 1584 B.C. and so began the 18th dynasty. Moses was around 80 when the exodus took place. Added to 1446 puts his birth around 1526. The reigns of the relevant individuals, Hatshepsut, Thutmose III, and Amenhotep II, took place with in this 80 year period. Synchronizing the fixed biblical chronologies with the known Egyptian chronologies demonstrates the validity of a 430 year sojourn and creates unworkable problems for the 215 year theory.
I would encourage readers to consult a few additional works that go into much more detail on these historical matters than what I can here. Leon Wood’s classic study A Survey of Israel’s History has an extensive discussion on these matters and it is from where I pulled a lot of my information for this post. Also Eugene Merrill’s history of Israel, Kingdom of Priests, as well as John J. Davis’s commentary on Exodus, Moses and the Gods of Egyptare further sources to consider. All of them have additional footnotes to even more research. For immediate access to readers, a fabulous on-line paper by a Master’s Seminary grad, Doug Petrovich, who is establishing himself as a world class expert on the matters of the exodus, goes into considerable detail on the reign of Amenhotep II as the exodus pharaoh. It can be downloaded here:
Amenhotep II and the Historicity of the Exodus Pharaoh
Now, just to summarize all the data I outlined:
Genesis 15:13-16 specifically states Israel will be oppressed for 400 years in a land not theirs. The text states it is a specific nation, “that nation,” and it is distinguished from the land of Canaan by the use of “the Amorites” the description of the inhabitants in Abram’s day.
Exodus 12:40, 41 specifically states the people of Israel had lived in Egypt for 430 years. The language is clear and unambiguous. There are no parenthetical indicators in the Hebrew suggesting this text can be read any other way. This is why all modern translations translate the Hebrew to indicate the time of Israel living in Egypt up to that time as being 430 years. Moreover, a few of the LXX translations that add the phrase, “and in the land of Canaan” are spurious additions and are attempts by later translators to make sense of what appears to be discrepancies among genealogical lists.
In Galatians 3:16-18, Paul is contrasting two periods of time: The period of promise which entailed Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob with a period of law, that began at the giving of the law on Sinai. He notes only Abraham, not to provide a chronological marker for 430 years, but as the first and main recipient that began the period of the promise.
Exodus 6:16-20 is an abbreviated genealogical list. It is not meant to trace one biological descendant to the next, but merely to record the key individuals in the line. Jochebed was not the direct birth daughter of Levi, but a possible direct descendant, perhaps a granddaughter or great-granddaughter. The language of Exodus 2:1 notes this, as the phrase “daughter of Levi” is better translated as it is rendered in the ESV, “took as his wife a Levite woman.” Numbers 26:59 reads in the exact same way as Exodus 2:1. Additionally we come to the conclusion this list in Exodus is abbreviated due in part to the fact contemporary individuals with Moses and Aaron, according to lists in Chronicles and Numbers, have up to 10 generations from the point of Jacob’s entrance to the exodus, implying there was much greater time in Egypt than just 215 years.
And then last of all, when we consider the archaeological evidence for the history of Egypt around the time of the Exodus, the chronologies of scripture synchronized with those known from Egyptian history support a 430 year for Israel in Egypt.