The Exodus Case


The Exodus and the 40-year trek through the desert is a scientifically proven fact of something that really happened.

The series under the theme The Bible, Word of God continues with a number of articles about the Exodus. First we pay a visit to the region where the wanderings through the desert took place, then some facts are presented about the pre-Exodus period, followed by a determination of the exact site where God handed over the Ten Commandments. And finally an attempt is made to draw parallels between what happened at the time and what is now happening in our society, some 3,500 years later, in the series “The Competition of Altars”. This does not end the series of The Bible, Word of God, and it will not, as long as the author is given time to live, for the Bible is an inexhausable source of knowledge.

1 - The historicity of the Exodus narrative
As regards the Bible as an historical book I would like to draw your attention to the book of Exodus. Archæology professor Carol Redmount writes in the authoritative “Oxford History of the Biblical World” # 1998 : «« The historicity of the Exodus narrative is a complex issue. Clearly, significant portions are not and were never intended to be historiographic. Yet the overall intent of the narrative was historical, despite nonhistorical elements in its compilation. In this context it is important to remember that the biblical writers’ conception of history, particularly within what was primarily a theological document, differed from our own. (…) The biblical Exodus account was never intended to function or to be understood as history in the present-day sense of the word. Traditional history, with its stress on objectivity and verifiable, detailed facts as the building blocks of historical understanding, is a modern obsession.


(She then concludes:) The biblical text has its own inner logic and consistency, largely divorced from the concerns of secular history. Over time, various hands shaped and edited the biblical narrative, combining and blending different sources and literary categories according to theological truths rather than historical imperatives. Historiographic methods alone can never do full justice to the spiritually informed biblical material; conversely, the Bible, never intended to function primarily as a historical document, cannot meet modern canons of historical accuracy and reliability. There is, in fact, remarkably little of proven or provable historical worth or reliability in the biblical Exodus narrative, and no reliable independent witnesses attest to the historicity or date of the Exodus events. »»

2 - In confirmation thereof: the commentary of Ian Wilson
She thus formulates the prevailing opinion and unfortunate disposition of the scientific establishment, to which I like to add Ian Wilson’s comments in “The Bible as History” # 1999 : «« Near the end of the 19th century, the pioneering British archæologist Sir Flinders Petrie made a fascinating discovery at Serabit el-Khadem. He found a series of inscriptions in a curious and interesting-looking pictographic-alphabetic script dating, apparently, from around 1500 BC - that is, the very time, according to our reconstruction, of the biblical wanderings in the wilderness. The inscriptions were found on a sandstone sphinx now in the British Museum, and on a number of other statues as well as rock faces in the vicinity. Their most intriguing feature is that, although written in pictorgraphs which are manifestly based on Egyptian hieroglyphs, the language itself is Semitic-Canaanite, the very tongue that Moses and his followers would have spoken. Scholars generally agree that this so-called Proto-Sinaitic script was the direct ancestor of both written Hebrew and our own alphabet. Obviously, given the still tentative dating of the Exodus to the late 16th or early 15th century BC, it would be optimistic in the extreme to claim that these inscriptions were written by Moses and


his followers. Nor is there any sign of Yahwism, for some refer to Ba’lat, ‘the Lady’, denoting the Canaanite goddess Astarte/Ashtoreth. (Elsewhere he writes:) If an Exodus dated around the Ramesses II era is accepted, the conquest of Canaan would have happened at the end of the Late Bronze Age, i.e. around 1200 BC or later. If this were the case, there can be no doubt, archæologically, that the high-ramparted, walled cities biblically described as confronting Joshua and his men would have presented no obstacle at all. For by then their walls had already long since gone. They had been tumbled back in the late 16th and 15th centuries BC. According to the conventional wisdom, this was the work of Egypt’s 18th Dynasty Pharaohs, who vigorously reduced Canaan to an Egyptian colony in order to make sure that the Canaanites would never invade them again. It is important, therefore, to proceed carefully, avoiding assumptions and trying to set the events, if indeed they happened at all, in their historical and geographical setting. »»

3 - Some arguments in dating the Exodus
Let us now ponder the facts. Panin, who made his biblical chronology based on the internal logic of the biblical text, situates the Exodus in the period of 1468 to 1428 BC, which perfectly agrees with the findings of Flinders Petrie, who is sometimes called the father of Palestinian Archæology. It proves that the conventional wisdom - that the destruction of the walls of Jericho was the work of the Pharaohs - is wrong. How could it be optimistic in the extreme to claim that these inscriptions were written by Moses and his followers? Carol Redmount says: “The hypothesis dating the Exodus to the mid-sixteenth century puts paramount importance on historical data and relies the least on biblical narrative.” She continues: “The second hypothesis dates the Exodus to the fifteenth century BC and stems from a literal reading of the biblical narrative.” This would agree with the position of eminent scholar James Hoffmeier (1), who concludes on the basis of epigraphic evidence and data from recent excavations in Egypt: “Despite the problem of placing the Genesis Patriarchs in a precise historical context, and even a denial by some scholars that these figures ever existed, they seem to fill in a period covering the nineteenth through mid-sixteenth centuries, a range followed by scholars who accept the essential historicity of Genesis.” So far as concerns the dating of the Exodus.

4 - Discoveries by Sir Flinders Petrie
Now I would like to discuss the fascinating finds made by Sir Flinders Petrie (18531942), on display in the British Museum, which are a few specimen that belong to a very large number of epigraphs and graffiti in at least seven Wadis plus a mountain, the Serabit el-Khadem, that are all located on the Western side of the Sinai Peninsula closest to Egypt. The el-Khadem site, that was visited by Petrie, contains a large graveyard with inscriptions and is situated in a barren inaccessible region that in the 19th century was still called by the Arabs the Turbet es Yahoud or ‘graves of the Jews’. While the Egyptians always buried their dead in the plain or in a valley, this extensive graveyard sits on the top a 700 foot high mountain. The work involved in bringing the bodies here for burial would have been immense, but this is not uncommon for the Israelites. Who else would be buried here on a desolate mountain in the Sinai except for those ancient Israelites killed by the wrath of God? This was discovered by Carsten Niebuhr (not his son Barthold) in 1761, 8 years after the excentric Irish bishop Robert Clayton made his discovery of similar inscriptions on rocks and cliffs at one of the Wadis, then reported in the Journal of the Franciscans of Cairo. In “Voyage en Arabie” (Travel to Arabia) Niebuhr refers to Cosmas, surnamed Indicopleustes (Indian navigator), who recorded these graves and their inscriptions in the middle of the 6th century. Cosmas is one of the most valuable geographical writers of antiquity. He was an acute observer and vivid describer and his good faith is unquestionable. His observation, proven to be correct by the linguistic research of


the 19th century, is that the inscriptions were the work of the Israelites exercising themselves during their stay in the wilderness in their newly acquired art of writing, and thus followed with the ardour of a new student in a quiet school. Niebuhr noted that the tomb inscriptions contained no mention of any of the Egyptian gods that are found on virtually all Egyptian tombs, and he was astonished at the wonderful preservation of the inscriptions upon the ‘soft sandstone’ some of them quite perfect, exposed as they were to the sun, the air and the ravages of heavy storms during the lapse of more than three millenia. This is astonishing, to say the least. I know nothing of the exact conditions of the Serabit el-Khadem (shown in The Times Atlas of the World) and elsewhere in this desert environment, but every photograph I have seen in a picture atlas of the Sinai desert makes me suspect - which is no more than a guess - the highly corrosive effects of the natural Sinai environment. If so, God may have wanted to preserve the weather-beaten graveyard and its inscriptions, and the Exodus sandstone inscriptions engraved elsewhere, as proof of the veracity of the narrative, here described in Numbers when God struck the people after they had devoured the quails (Num. 11:34): “So they called the name of that place Graves of Craving (Kibroth Hattaavah), because there they buried the people who had yielded to craving.” Sandstone could be the rock-equivalent of the ayate fibre used for the cloth bearing the miraculous picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico, now 470 years old, which inexplicably has been preserved throughout the ages (2), while ayate normally rots away in twenty years. And this is not such an odd comparison for is not it twice said that the garments of the people of God did not wear out during their stay in the desert? (Deut. 8:4; 29:5) Niebuhr found numerous engravings of quails in the cemetery. The tombstones actually depict these birds standing, flying and apparently even trussed and cooked, as can be seen in Charles Forster’s book of 1862, “Sinai Photographed”. Dr Stewart made many plaster casts or squeezes that were brought to England. They were later photographed or etched and appear in Reverend Forster’s book. (3) The inscriptions record that the Israelites succumbed to gluttony in eating the quails that God had miraculously provided, as translated on page 84: “The apostates smitten with disease by God, by means of feathered fowls. Smitten by God with disease in the sandy plain (when) exceeding the bounds of moderation. Sickening, smitten by God with disease; their marrow corrupted by God by means of the feathered fowls. The people, given over to destruction, cry aloud. God pours down deep sleep, messenger of death, upon the pilgrims. The tomb is the end of life to the sick, smitten with disease by God.” The translation could be checked with a trilingual inscription, shown in the photo section of the book, that in 1860 was found in a cave on the Maghara mountain by Pierce Butler, which lies 18 kilometers South of the Serabit el-Khadem.

5 - Answer to Ian Wilson’s commentary
First: it can be doubted whether the artefacts brought home by Petrie from the Serabit elKhadem are representative. Probably they were taken away because they were very exceptional, just like the famous Pharaoh Merneptah Stela which Petrie found in Thebes and that is dated to the late 13th century, the time of Gideon, which Stela is now on display in Cairo, mentioning the expectation: “Isirar (Israel) is laid waste and his seed is not.”


Finally I would like to answer the comment by Ian Wilson, already quoted: “Nor is there any sign of Yahwism, for some (inscriptions) refer to Ba’lat, ‘the Lady’, denoting the Canaanite goddess Astarte/Ashtoreth.” If we accept that this inscription, found in the temple of Serabit, translates into Ba’lat or Baalat (4), which is the feminine form of Baal, it does not necessarily mean that it is the ‘Canaanite’ goddess Astarte. Because the term was also used as from the middle third millennium BC in Akkadian and Ugarit as an epithet, signifying mistress, lady or sovereign (DDD dict.). Thus the term proves nothing regarding the land of Canaan in particular, and it could very well have agreed with the concept of Shekina in the meaning of God’s consort. (5) Like Shekina, Baalath could also have been used to indicate the overt manifestation of God’s Glory, as happened with the miraculous Red Sea crossing or the burning bush revelation. The term Baal in the meaning of Lord is used in the Book of Judges after Gideon died, which was in the year 1195, or 234 years after the Exodus. “As soon as he died the children of Israel again played the harlot with the Baals, and made Baal-Brith their god.” I stress the word again. Here, in Judges (8:33, 9:4), is mention of the masculine form Baal-Brith synonym of El-Brith (9:46), to be rendered as Lord of the Covenant.

6 - An earlier expedition
Stewart’s expedition to the Serabit el-Khadem graveyard was preceded by another expedition to the Peninsula by professor Lottin de Laval who went elsewhere in the Western part after being commissioned by the French government. The first Exodus inscriptions he found were near a place the Arabs used to call “The Wells of Moses”. He took home 300 squeezes of the most important finds, recorded in his book: “Voyage dans la Peninsule arabique du Sinai et l’Egypt émoyenne” (Voyage in the Arabic Peninsula of the Sinai and the outer Egyptian region). In his concluding remarks De Laval writes: “It is virtually impossible that a people so intelligent, so persevering as that of the Hebrew nation, would not have left in the indelible granite of the Peninsula of Sinai a single monument of their Exodus, as a way to thank God for being able, in the midst of so much misery and danger, to have reached a safe heaven and liberty.” I will end this discussion of the Sinai graffiti with three translations from Forster’s book, which is representative of many more interes-


ting texts. (6) The inscriptions 10 and 41 were discovered during Dean Arthur Stanley’s expedition to Wadi Sidri (thorn) in 1853. In his book from 1856 (7), when the graffiti had not yet been deciphered, Stanley describes his visit to that place, leading up from the Red Sea: «« A stair of rock, the Nukb Badera, brought us into a glorious wadi enclosed between red granite mountains. (…) It was a sight worthy of all remembrance, before we reached this, to see, in the first break of day, the sunbeams striking the various heights of white and red, and to think what an effect this must have had as the vast encampment, dawn by dawn, in these mountains, broke up with the shout (Num. 10:35): “Rise up, O Lord! Let Your enemies be scattered and let those who hate You flee before You.” In the midst of the Wadi Sidri, just where the granite was exchanged for sandstone, I caught sight of the first inscription. A few more followed up the course of a side valley where we turned up to see [strange sight in that wild region!] Egyptian hieroglyphics and figures carved in the cliffs. (…) Of the other inscriptions, the chief part were in the next valley, Mukatteb, ‘of writing’, so called from them. »» Inscription 10: The leader divideth asunder the sea, its waves roaring. The people enter, and pass through the midst of the waters. Inscription 41: Moses causeth the people to haste like a fleet-winged she-ostrich crying aloud. The cloud shining bright, a mighty army propelled into the Red Sea is gathered into one. They go jumping and skipping, journeying through the open channel. Taking flight from the face of the enemy. The surge of the sea is divided. There is also a translation, found at a different Wadi, of the rebellion of Moses’ sister Miriam, described in Numbers 12, under: Inscription 48: Miriam, prophetess of lying lips and deceitful tongue. She causes the tribes to conspire against the pillar and prince of the people. Convoked for tumult, perverted, full of strife, the people revile the meek and generous man. They load with reproaches the blessed one of God. In the next article I will discuss certain aspects from the pre-Exodus period. Hubert Luns (to be continued)
[Published in the Dutch periodical: “De Brandende Lamp” 3rd quarter 2006 - No. 107] [Published in the Dutch periodical: “Positief” September 2005 – No. 354]


(1) “Israel in Egypt (the evidence for the authenticity of the Exodus tradition)” by James K. Hoffmeier - Oxford University Press # 1996 (p. 68). (2) There exists extensive scientific documentation on the astounding observation that the image of the blessed Virgin of Guadalope shows no signs of wear whatsoever.

“Sinai Photographed” by Charles Forster (1787-1871) (3) The first edition of “Sinai Photographed” contains Forster’s careful analysis of materials collected by the specially commissioned Sinai expedition of Captain Henry Thomas Butler and his brother Reverend Pierce Butler as well as those collected by Dr Stewart at the Turbet es Yahoud. The work also contains over 100 etchings using a process then known as glyphography to capture with great exactitude inscriptions preserved in casts under the direction of professor Pierre Victorian Lottin de Laval on his expedition to the Sinai, some of which appeared in his “Voyage dans la péninsule arabique du Sinai et l’Egypt émoyenne, 1855-59” (Voyage in the Arabic Peninsula of the Sinai and the outer Egyptian region). In particular, Forster’s study features the first published albumen photographs of ancient Hebrew writing. These 18 original mounted albumen photographs by British photographer A. J. Brown show inscriptions preserved in the casts made in the Sinai by Lottin de Laval and those from the Butler expedition. An alternative translation for Ba’lat (4) The translation offered of the inscription at the temple at Serabit el-Khadem is tenuous, to say the least. Fernand Crombette, in his discussion on the Phaistos Disk, gives an alternative and preferable translation, considering his great expertise in the field. To begin, the monument (shown twice at the temple site) would be in honour of the goddess Ba’lat, the Lady, but it represents a man… The text inscribed in the inferior part reads according to Crombette in the original tongue: “Ça Tou Dja Qou Djo Pha-ra-un Ba-lo-ti (Pharaô N Bal Hoti) Ouôini Têt”, transcribed as (Parthey’s dictionary): “The seed of Jacob (Joseph), the interpreter of the hidden things of Pharao”, which is miles away from the conventional translation. Who or what is de Shekina? (5) In origin the term Shekina was used to refer to a divine manifestation, particularly to indicate the overt manifestation of God's Glory. The Shekina has in certain applications,


like Jewish tales, a heathen and idolatrous overtone. She is then presented as the wife of God and heavenly queen who is supposed to bring peace on earth. Many a serious student of religion considers her as the female side of God, as his Spirit in exile who is our last refuge in this place of misery. The talmudic language of the Shekina ranges from the numinous revelation of God, as in the theophany at the Horeb, to the more mundane idea that a religious act draws man nearer to God.

Charles Forster’s decipherments (6) Instead of using or modifying the available ancient alphabets, Forster chose to make one of his own. He checked his work with the trilingual inscription from Djebel Maghara, discovered by Pierce Butler. Forster proceeded in steps. He first transliterated many of the inscriptions into Arabic characters and then transliterated them using an Arabic lexicon, but with little regard for the Arabic verb system with its ten forms. The authors of the voluminous “Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum” from 1881 pronounced Forster’s work to be silly. The Corpus offers alternative translations by Cantineau, Lidzbarski, Litman, and others, based on the idea that those inscriptions are mainly Nabatean. The Nabateans were a Semitic people of traders. Their first definite appearance was only in 312 BC. I am not in a position to pronounce a verdict on the correct translation method. But I know that many linguists are not favourably disposed to the Bible as Word of God. The “Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum” was an initiative in 1867 by Ernest Renan and was published by the Académie des Inscriptions that stood under his direction from 1881 till the end of his life in 1892. Renan was a great sceptic. His “Life of Jesus” from 1863 was immensely popular and has done great harm to the faith of the common people. In view of his disastrous views we should not expect the Corpus to be in favour of Biblical truths. Those rock engravings open an intriguing possibility; I am not at all convinced that Forster was wrong. Reference to quote of Arthur Stanley (7) “Sinai and Palestine – in connection with their history” by Arthur Penrhyn Stanley John Murray, London # 1856, many editions afterwards, this one a so-called cheap edition from 1912 (p. 55). As concerns the “Sinaitic Inscriptions”, see note A end part I, with a very interesting and detailed account of the inscriptions found in the Sinai Peninsula.


General remark on sources I started on the track of this article after having read “The Signature of God – Astonishing Biblical Discoveries” by the well known author Grant R. Jeffrey, published by Frontier Research Publ. Toronto (1996). The pertinent chapter in Jeffrey’s book is entitled “Ancient Sinai Inscriptions giving historical evidence of the Exodus” (pp. 48-68). Unfortunately I have not been able to find the book of Professor Lottin de Laval, so that the quotes are directly from Jeffrey’s chapter. The same can be said of the book of Reverend Charles Forster referred to, which book I am trying to find, but that is no easy matter! Of particular interest to me is the trilingual tablet of which a photograph is found in “The Signature of God”. I have in my possession an earlier book of Forster’s with a number of inscriptions, the whole title of which is worth mentioning: “The one primeval language traced experimentally through ancient inscriptions in alphabetic characters of lost powers from the four continents, including the voice of Israel from the rocks of Sinai and the vestiges of patriarchal tradition from the monuments of Egypt, Etruria, and Southern Arabia – with illustrative plates, a harmonized table of alphabets, glossaries, and translations” by the Rev. Charles Forster, B.D., one of the six preachers of the Cathedral of Canterbury, and rector of Stisted, Essex; honorary member of the literary society; author of “Mahometanism Unveiled”, and of “The Historical Geography of Arabia” – Richard Bentley, London # 1851.

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