EXODUS – MYTH OR HISTORY? is the climax of thirty years of personal research by David Rohl into the history and chronology of the Ancient World.
David has journeyed all over the Middle East to gather the evidence for what many regard as one of the most important discoveries of the 20th century … now come to fruition in the first decades of the new millennium. He has managed to do what no-one has been able to do before – synchronizing the biblical narrative with the physical evidence revealed through the last two centuries of archaeological endeavor. At last the true historical setting behind the scriptural account of the Israelite Sojourn in Egypt, the Exodus under Moses, and the Conquest of the Promised Land by an Israelite army, led by Joshua, is uncovered in the bones and stones of the Bible lands.
It is important to stress that this is a very different book to David’s A Test of Time (published in the USA as Pharaohs and Kings). That international bestseller focused on Egyptian chronology and was fairly complex in its arguments. For years people have been asking for a book on the New Chronology as it relates to the Bible, but one which is not burdened with the complexities of chronological revision. In other words, a book which clearly establishes the historicity of the Old Testament narratives without all the complicated stratigraphy and mathematical computations – a book which simply exposes the weaknesses of the conventional negative view of the Bible compared to the very positive model being offered by the New Chronology. And that is what Exodus – Myth or History? is all about. But it also benefits from this simplification of the chronological data by making the story much more dynamic and hard hitting. The arguments and evidence seen in this light are very powerful and convincing, precisely because they are not immersed in academic techno-speak or the minutiae of scholarly discourse.
Exodus – Myth or History?
History Becomes Myth
So how on Earth did we get to the position that the Old Testament is about as historical as Aesop’s Fables? The fact is that we have arrived here as a result of cutting edge archaeology – including detailed ground-survey work in Israel, precise excavation of key biblical sites such as Jericho and Pi-Ramesse (biblical Raamses in the land of Goshen), and a much more critical analysis of the evidence unearthed by the archaeologist’s trowel.
It is now absolutely clear that there never was a large population of Israelite slaves in Egypt during the Late Bronze Age (the time of the 18th and 19th Dynasties) when many biblical historians place the Sojourn and Exodus. Jericho was already an abandoned ruin at the time Joshua and the Israelite tribes are supposed to have attacked the city and burnt it to the ground. The majority of the cities destroyed by the Israelites according to the book of Joshua were either no longer in existence or continued to prosper throughout the Bronze Age to Iron Age transition – the very time cited by scholars as the era of the Conquest.
In recent years a number of leading Israeli academics have gone on public record to express their view that there was no migration of Semites from Ramesside Egypt to Canaan and that no violent conquest of the Promised Land took place as described in the Bible. Moses and Joshua never existed. The Israelites had always been indigenous to Canaan and only gradually emerged from within the Canaanite population to form the Jewish nation.
And so, with such authoritative pronouncements, the Bible became myth – at least within academia. The general public, on the other hand, heard but were reluctant to concede this unpalatable truth. Devout Christians and Jews fell back on their faith as the sole defense for their holy book – but they were nevertheless uncomfortable in the knowledge that scholarship had declared the basis of their faith nothing more than a fairy tale. A schism thus developed between science and historical research on the one side, and the Judeo-Christian religions on the other.
Then along came a new breed of young scholars armed with a startling and revolutionary solution: the Bible was not myth, and previous generations of academics had got it’s dating wrong. Led by David Rohl, these revisionists argue that the Sojourn, Exodus and Conquest had not taken place in the Late Bronze Age (when, rightly, there was no evidence for such events) but in the Middle Bronze Age, centuries earlier. For fifteen years there has been uproar over this radical theory, but now it is time to place all the cards on the table and review both the conventional and revisionist theories side by side to see which makes the strongest case.
The first misunderstanding that arose out of the early interpretation of the biblical texts occurred centuries ago when scholars took the passage which introduces the Exodus narrative too literally. There the biblical author (or his redactor) identified one of the store-cities built by Israelite slaves as ‘Raamses’. It had been known since Classical times that the greatest of the pharaohs was named Ramesses – a king of the 19th Dynasty according to the scholar-priest Manetho who had produced a chronicle of Egyptian history under the instructions of Ptolemy II (c. 270 BC).
In those much simpler days of Victorian Egyptological research it was a straightforward matter to link the city named Raamses in the Bible with Ramesses II, and so this king was declared the stubborn adversary of Moses and oppressor of the Israelites. We have all seen Yul Brynner in the role of Ramesses the Great to Charlton Heston’s Moses in Cecil B. DeMille’s Hollywood epic – but there is simply no evidence to support this now well-entrenched assumption. Ramesses II was not the Pharaoh of the Exodus, nor were any of the pharaohs of the New Kingdom.
The ‘land of Ramesses’ is mentioned in the book of Genesis, many generations before any king named Ramesses reigned in Egypt. When the Bible states that Joseph settled his father, Jacob, ‘in the land of Ramesses’ centuries before the city of Pi-Ramesse (‘the Estate of Ramesses’) was built by the 19th Dynasty pharaohs, this statement is clearly recognized by scholars as an anachronism. The biblical redactor has amended the text to locate that part of the Egyptian delta in which Jacob settled in terms of the geography or toponymy of his own day. In other words the people living in the time of the biblical redactor or editor would have known the location of Ramesses but probably not its older name of Goshen. So the redactor helps out his readers by editing the text to give the ‘modern’ toponym of Jacob’s Egyptian home.
The mention of the city of Raamses in the book of Exodus, on the other hand, is treated as sacrosanct and as direct historical evidence for the time of Exodus. In their determination to find any chronological anchor-point between Egypt and the Bible, many scholars simply dismiss the possibility that this is also an anachronistic addition made by the redactor. But what if it is? What if this is precisely the same type of ‘updating’ as was performed in the book of Genesis with its ‘land of Ramesses’? Then, as Professor Bob Bianchi put it, ‘the whole edifice of the conventional scheme comes crashing down’.
As we have seen, archaeologists have found no evidence for a large population of Semites living in the 19th Dynasty royal city of Pi-Ramesse – but beneath the expansive southern quarter of that Ramesside foundation lies a much older city which was almost entirely made up of Semites from Canaan.
So could the huge city of Avaris, lying beneath Pi-Ramesse, be the place where Jacob settled and from where Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt? That is what we will be investigating in later chapters of this book. In the meantime we need to expose that other major issue – the incorrect identification of the pharaoh hiding behind the Egyptian king Shishak, described in Kings and Chronicles as the plunderer of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem.
According to I Kings 14 and II Chronicles 12 ‘Shishak, king of Egypt, came up to Jerusalem with twelve hundred chariots, sixty thousand cavalry and countless infantry made up of contingents of Libyans, Sukkim (western desert scouts) and Kushites (from Sudan). This huge army besieged the Israelite city before entering to plunder the Temple of Yahweh and the royal palace of their treasures. This all happened in the fifth regnal year of king Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, five years after the death of Solomon himself in 931 BC, according to biblical chronology (supported by Assyrian synchronisms).
Ever since Champollion deciphered the hieroglyphs in 1822 and travelled to Egypt to test out his work in 1829, it has been assumed that the biblical pharaoh Shishak must be one and the same as the 22nd Dynasty founder, Shoshenk I – an Egyptian king who did indeed campaign in Canaan. However, there are numerous and decisive reasons to reject this identification.
Shoshenk I did not campaign against the Kingdom of Judah where Egypt’s erstwhile enemy, Rehoboam, ruled in the biblical story. Instead Shoshenk marched into the Kingdom of Israel where his erstwhile ally, Jeroboam, ruled. This is a complete contradiction. Whilst the biblical Shishak defeated Judah and no mention is made of a campaign against Israel, Shoshenk avoids entering Judah and heads into the territory of Israel. Moreover, Shishak plundered Jerusalem and Shoshenk does not even mention this important prize in his list of defeated/subject cities. Apart from the similarities of name, there is nothing to connect Shoshenk with Shishak. So is there another king who might fit the bill rather better as the biblical Shishak?
Indeed there is. Ramesses II, now no longer miscast as the Pharaoh of the Exodus, was given a nickname or hypocoristicon (shortened name form) by the ordinary folk of the ancient Near East. This is a bit like ‘Good Queen Bess’ for Elizabeth I or ‘Lady Di’ for Princess Diana. In papyri and on non-royal artifacts the name of King Ramesses is written in the form ‘Sysa’ or ‘Sysw’ (the last part of his full name as pronounced in ancient times – Ria-mas-sysa or Ria-mas-sysw). The Greeks historians of later times referred to him as Sesoosis and Sesostris.
It is not difficult to see how Shishak might derive from the name Sysa, except for two difficulties raised by scholars. The first is that Egyptian S does not correspond to Hebrew (that is biblical) SH. This is, in fact, not entirely true, since the name Mose (Egyptian for Moses) is written as Moshe in the Bible, whilst Egyptian Askelan is the name of the Philistine city named Ashkelon in the Bible. However, putting this aside, we can offer a much more dynamic argument to explain the change from S to SH.
In early Hebrew writing (as in the Dead Sea Scrolls) there was no ‘pointing’ (diacritical punctuation) to indicate the value of certain letters or the position and value of vowels. These came later with the Masoretic biblical texts of the fifth century AD. As a result, the early Hebrew letter for S was exactly the same as that for SH. There was no distinction – both being represented by what we would see as a capital letter W (early Semitic sin/shin). Thus in the earliest biblical texts of Kings and Chronicles the name Shishak could just as easily have been read as Sisak or Sysak.
But what about the K ending I hear you ask? The Egyptian hypocoristicon for Ramesses – Sysa – does not end with a K as in Sysak. Here, again, we turn to the early Semitic alphabet. The Hebrew letter qoph (K) during the tenth to sixth centuries BC – precisely when the Old Testament was being compiled – was identical to the letter wav (W). Looking at the very limited number of early Hebrew texts from this era, it is extremely difficult (if not impossible) to tell the two letters apart. Thus the name Sysak might just as easily have been read as Sysw – precisely the spelling of Ramesses II’s nickname. Moreover, there may be a biblical play on words here (a fairly common practice when translating foreign names into Hebrew). Shy-shak means ‘Plunder of the treasure of the Temple [of Yahweh]’ – and that is the perfect description of Pharaoh Shishak who removed the treasures from Solomon’s Temple in the year 926 BC.
Ramesses II, known as Sysa or Sysw, is the real historical pharaoh behind Shishak – the first Egyptian king to be identified by his own (nick-)name in the Old Testament narratives. 
A New Chronology
With this startling revelation we can begin to construct a new timeline for both Egyptian and biblical history. With Ramesses II reigning in the tenth century BC (rather than the thirteenth where he is conventionally placed) we can work our way backwards to the time of Exodus.
We will use astronomy and ancient texts to fix critical points in the chronology in order to help us focus down on the precise era of Exodus – data, which uncannily matches the dates given in the Bible. The book of Chronicles tells us that Solomon began to build the temple in Jerusalem in his fourth regnal year which was four hundred and eighty years after Moses had led the Israelites out of Egypt – in other words around 1447 BC. So the Bible is clear on this. In the conventional chronology Ramesses II’s coronation is dated to 1279 BC, which is nowhere near the biblical date. So many scholars ignore the biblical chronology and place Exodus in around 1250 BC. Small wonder that they then find no evidence for Exodus and Conquest within that era in the archaeological record.
Now, in the revised model or New Chronology, moving back through Egyptian history (from Ramesses II’s accession in around 950 BC) we find ourselves in the 13th Dynasty as we reach that key date of 1447 BC for the Exodus. So Moses was a contemporary of a pharaoh of the little-known or understood Second Intermediate Period in Egypt. The Israelites were enslaved by a 13th Dynasty pharaoh and lived in 13th-Dynasty Avaris – the city (if you remember) occupied almost entirely by Semites. Joseph would then have been vizier to one of the last pharaohs of the 12th Dynasty. And that is where we will find him – one of the few biblical characters to leave us tantalizing archaeological evidence of his remarkable life.
Joseph the Vizier
Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob. He was sold into slavery in Egypt by his jealous brothers. We all know the story of how he rose to the highest rank in the Egyptian state by interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams. That pharaoh was Amenemhat III, the greatest king of the 12th Dynasty. During his reign Egypt suffered a terrible and prolonged famine caused by severe flooding of the Nile during the annual inundation seasons. For several years the Nile flood was four times higher than normal. Livestock was drowned, villages washed away and, most importantly, the floodwaters remained on the land beyond the time for planting, and so there was no harvest. There is evidence of a major reorganization of the administration during Amenemhat’s rule to combat the floods and famine. Land was confiscated from the nobles by the state, grain stores were built, a department of state was set up to take in the grain during the years of plenty and then redistribute it during the lean years. All this is in the biblical story of Joseph.
We even know Joseph’s Egyptian name. The Bible calls him Zaphenath-Paneah which is a garbled version of Zatenaf-paneah (modern transliteration Djedu-en-ef pa-Ankhu) which means ‘he who is called “the one who lives!”’.  Remember that Jacob believed Joseph was dead until he discovered his son had survived and prospered in Egypt. Thus Joseph’s Egyptian name is highly appropriate. And, of course, in this very period there is a vizier called Ankhu and grain stores called ‘the granaries of Ankhu’.
Towards the end of the 12th Dynasty a great canal was excavated to divert the floodwaters from the Nile into the Faiyum basin, thus preventing the worst of the high waters from reaching Lower Egypt and the delta. The canal has always been known as Bahr Yussef – the ‘Waterway of Joseph’.
In the city of Avaris – at the stratigraphical level of its foundation – the Austrian excavators unearthed a palace and tomb built for a high official of state. This man had a colossal mortuary cult statue, the limestone fragments of which survived in the chapel of his pyramid tomb. The statue depicts him as an Asiatic (Semite) with flame-red hair, yellowish skin and wearing a coat of many colours. The tomb chamber was found completely empty – no bones, no coffin wood fragments, no pottery, no mummy beads or ornaments. Grave robbers do not take away the bones of the dead – just items of value such as gold, alabaster jars and semi-precious stones. On the day of Exodus Moses had Joseph’s mummified body removed from his tomb to be taken for reburial in the Holy Land. So Joseph’s Egyptian tomb in the land of Goshen was left empty when the Israelites departed from Egypt.
Sojourn and Slavery
All the evidence from excavations in Egypt’s eastern delta has demonstrated that there was no large population of Asiatics/Semites in the region of Goshen during the Late Bronze Age/New Kingdom when many biblical historians would place Moses and the Israelite Sojourn. In the Middle Bronze Age, however, the population of Goshen was almost entirely Asiatic.
The city of Avaris began life towards the end of the 12th Dynasty when Joseph’s palace and tomb were constructed in the fields close to the modern village of Tell ed-Daba. The settlement (of Stratum H) was then small – perhaps thirty houses. But within a couple of generations (in Stratum G) this village had expanded rapidly into a town. The people lived in two-roomed houses with compounds for their domestic livestock, grain silos and baking ovens. The dead were also buried in these compounds near to the houses. Chieftains (perhaps the brothers of Joseph who gave their names to the Israelite tribes) were buried (in the garden behind Joseph’s palace near his tomb) with ivory-handled bronze daggers and ornate bronze belts. These Semites were prosperous and had done well for themselves in the years following the reign of Amenemhat III.
Conditions then began to deteriorate, with skeletal remains in the graves showing signs of malnutrition (Harris lines in the bones). Adults were dying in their early thirties. Strangely, there were far more burials of infants (65%) than normal (25%) for this sort of ancient village society. Moreover, there were more females than males in the adult grave population. The book of Exodus tells us that the Egyptians first enslaved the Israelites, then culled the male infants because their slave population was getting too large and Pharaoh perceived this as a threat. Obviously, in archaeological terms, this would mean an increase in infant burials and a skew in the adult population in favor of females.
The town of Avaris was now a large city, a kilometer in diameter. It had become a city of Semitic slaves serving native Egyptian overlords. The archaeological evidence is overwhelmingly pointing us to one conclusion – the Semites of Middle Bronze Age Avaris are the long-lost Proto-Israelites of the book of Genesis.
Moses – Prince of Egypt
Few people (including scholars) realize that there is a Jewish tradition, outside the Bible, which names the pharaoh who raised Moses as a prince of Egypt. Artapanus was a Jewish historian of Turkish or Persian extraction working in the great library of Alexandria in the second century BC. He was commissioned by the Ptolemaic pharaohs to write (in Greek) a history of the Jews in Egypt. His original manuscript did not survive the Alexandrian fire, which destroyed the library, but fragments of his writings survive as quotations in other Classical historians’ works.
Artapanus tells us that Moses’ royal stepfather was a pharaoh called Khenophres. This is a Greek version of a rare Egyptian royal name. In fact, only one king in the entire history of Egypt bore it as his coronation name. The Greek elements of the name can be re-vocalized into Egyptian thus: Kha-nefer-re, which is the prenomen of Pharaoh Khaneferre Sobekhotep IV – the twenty-ninth ruler of the 13th Dynasty.
Artapanus goes on to relate the story of a great Kushite invasion from the south, which reached as far as Memphis. It was Prince Moses who pushed the invaders back to their homeland in Sudan before laying siege to their capital city at Kerma. A peaceful capitulation was arranged through the marriage of the Kushite chieftain’s daughter to Prince Moses. Yes, Moses had a Kushite wife before he married Zipporah, daughter of Jethro the Midianite, during his exile in Sinai. And this explains the otherwise mysterious brief reference in the book of Numbers (chapter 12) to Moses’ Kushite wife.
Eighty years after he had been born (according to the Bible), Moses returned from his exile in the Sinai wilderness to be confronted by a different pharaoh who ‘would not let his people go’. This Pharaoh of the Exodus must therefore be one of the very last rulers of the 13th Dynasty which came to an end within fifty years of Khaneferre Sobekhotep IV’s demise.
It is around this time that, according to the archaeological evidence from Avaris, Egypt suffered a terrible calamity. Scores of large pits have been unearthed in the capital city of Goshen, in which were found hundreds of bodies tossed in as if in some act of emergency interment. No burial goods accompanied the dead. Bodies lay on top of each other, face down. These people died from a deadly and virulent plague.
It is entirely possible that this is the catastrophe mentioned in Manetho, which occurred in the reign of Tutimaeus – recognized as the Greek spelling for Pharaoh Dudimose, one of the last kings of the 13th Dynasty. Manetho tells us that ‘God (singular) smote the Egyptians’ and this is remarkably similar to the God (singular) of the Israelites killing the first-born Egyptians in the Tenth Plague of Exodus.
The mass graves of Avaris, located at the end of Proto-Israelite Stratum G, were followed immediately by an abandonment of the Asiatic quarter of the city – all approximately at the time of Dudimose. The Semites simply gathered their belongings and left. Archaeology cannot tell us where they went, but the Bible does.
David then locates the place where the ‘Miracle of the Sea’ took place – the so-called crossing of the Red Sea, which in the original Hebrew text actually said ‘Reed Sea’. The reality is very different from the epic catastrophe depicted in Cecil B. DeMille’s ‘The Ten Commandments’ or Ridley Scott’s ‘Exodus – Gods and Kings’.
Wanderings in the Wilderness
Two chapters are dedicated to uncovering the route of the Israelite march through Sinai from the Exodus departure point at Avaris to their arrival in Jordan prior to the invasion of the Promised Land.
David has led two expeditions with four-wheel drives into Sinai to work out where the Israelites went. Using the book of Exodus as his guide he has discovered the wells and springs, the wadis and mountains mentioned in the text. Rock carvings in the Negeb wilderness, into which the Israelites journeyed following receipt of the Ten Commandments at Mount Horeb, have been found, depicting staffs turning into snakes and tablets of stone divided into ten compartments in uncanny mimicry of the events and objects described in the story of Exodus.
At the turquoise mines of Serabit el-Khadim (‘Caverns of the Slaves’) he rediscovers the graffiti originally found by Flinders Petrie that proved Semitic slaves invented the first alphabet using Egyptian hieroglyphic signs. These hieroglyphs turn out to be the origins of our modern western alphabet.
The Israelites finally crossed the Araba and entered Transjordan. There they remained for decades whilst they prepared themselves for the invasion of Canaan. The place of that long wilderness sojourn has now been found. They camped in the rocky valley, which the Jordanians call Wadi Musa (‘Valley of Moses’) and we today know as Petra – the rose-red city of the later Nabateans. It was there that Moses’ brother Aaron died and was buried on the jagged mountain peak called Gebel Harun (after the name of the Israelite prophet in the Koran).
Conquest of the Promised Land
The final chapter in the story of Israelite origins, and the last set of chapters in this book, deals with the Conquest of the Promised Land by Joshua and the twelve tribes. As we have seen, there is no archaeological evidence for an invasion at the end of the Late Bronze Age at the close of the 19th Dynasty in Egypt. But towards the end of the Middle Bronze Age (several centuries earlier) there was indeed a series of massive city destructions. All the Canaanite population centers described in the book of Joshua as being wiped out and abandoned meet exactly that fate at this time – including the infamous city of Jericho.
Dame Kathleen Kenyon excavated the ruin mound of Jericho in the 1950s to reveal a city whose walls had collapsed and which was then burnt to the ground, lying abandoned in its two-meter-thick layer of ash for centuries. Only this city fits the story of Joshua’s Conquest. This fact alone is sufficient evidence to demonstrate when the Exodus and Conquest really took place, yet scholars continue to ignore the unambiguous archaeological picture in their preference for a mythical Bible with no Joshua and no Conquest at the end of the Late Bronze Age – all on the basis of one isolated anachronistic mention of the city of Raamses in the book of Exodus.
But Jericho is not the only city to produce evidence of the Israelite invasion in the Middle Bronze Age. The mighty city of Hazor was also attacked by the twelve tribes and burnt to the ground. Its king was put to the sword by Joshua himself. The Bible names the unfortunate ruler as Jabin – the very name of the king of Hazor found on a clay tablet in the ruins of Middle Bronze Age Hazor.
As the final act of the Conquest narrative, the Israelite tribes meet before the great tower temple of Shechem (know as the Temple of Baal Berith) where they swear an oath of allegiance to Yahweh before a great standing stone erected by Joshua. That ‘Covenant Stone’ still stands there today, at the heart of modern Nablus, before the ruins of the Middle Bronze Age temple. The Israelite Covenant Stone remains completely unrecognized for what it is – simply because the great white monolith dates from several centuries before the time of the Conquest in the conventional chronology.
Over and over again this is the sorry historical landscape in which the current consensus of biblical history and archaeology finds itself. No archaeological evidence for the Sojourn, Exodus or Conquest, no evidence for Joseph, Moses or Joshua, no Israelites and therefore no genuine biblical story – just fiction, myth and fairytale.