What Is the Biblical Date for the Exodus? a Response to Bryant Wood

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The date of the Exodus from Egypt has been a subject of intense scholarly discussion for decades now. Two principal dates have been staked out: the earlier one is in the 15th century, specifically 1446/7 BC, and the later date is in the 13th century, ca. 1270-1260 BC. Bryant Wood's recent article in JETS 48/3 (2005) rejects the later date, while advocating the earlier option.1 This date, he maintains, is based on "biblical" chronology, while the other view he calls "a theory." Certainly anyone who takes the Bible seriously as a source for history would naturally want to base a date on "biblical" data. Consequently, many conservative scholars are adherents of the so-called "early" date. Unfortunately for some, this date has become a sort of litmus test for one's evangelical orthodoxy. This is lamentable, because I believe that the 13th-century date is equally based on biblical evidence. Hence I feel compelled to offer a modest critique of some aspects of Wood's apology for the 15th century, because it is fraught with some serious problems.

Before discussing my objections to Wood's arguments, the ongoing debate among evangelicals needs to be placed in the broader context of the mainstream of scholarship regarding the Israelite exodus from Egypt. During the 1980s and 1990s, a number of influential studies appeared by scholars who either questioned or rejected the Bible's version of Israel's origin as a nation in Egypt. Biblical historians J. Maxwell Miller and John H. Hayes conclude: "[WJe hold that the main story line of Genesis-Joshua . . . [the] entrance into Egypt, twelve tribes descended from the twelve brothers, escape from Egypt, complete collections of laws and the wilderness ... is an artificial and theologically influenced literary construct."2 A more radical claim was made by Robert Coote who avers that "[t]he writers of ancient Israel knew little or nothing about the origin of Israel," and concerning the era of the "exodus, conquest, or judges," he declares: "[T]hese periods never existed."3 Also, recently Thomas Thompson has referred to the exodus-wilderness events presented in the Bible as "a theological and literary creation."4 These troubling conclusions were reached by historians, archaeologists, and biblical scholars known as historical minimalists, because they treat the Bible as containing only a minimal amount of historically reliable material.

In the face of challenges from those who treat the Bible so cavalierly, and because of the serious consequences to biblical history and theology, I have tried to concentrate my research on making the best case possible to support the authenticity of the Exodus narratives. In my book Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition,5 both dates were presented in an even-handed way, and I did not commit to either date. It seemed trivial to be preoccupied with when the exodus occurred while the real issue being debated is whether it happened at all! An unexpected thing happened, however. Professor Alan Millard, who wrote a blurb for the dust jacket of the above-mentioned book, observed: "Egyptologist James Hoffmeier's fresh study of long-known evidence and new discoveries in which he has had a part effectively demonstrates the remarkable agreement between the Hebrew story and the circumstances of the thirteenth century B.C." Initially I bristled at the thought, because I was not trying to support a date but the event, and at that time I was inclined toward the early date. As I thought about Millard's comment and reconsidered the evidence I had presented, however, I began to realize that he had a point, because the Egyptian archaeological evidence and the biblical data converged at the 13th-century date, the date Wood rejects.