An historical exodus

By combining information from secular sources and from Biblical material we can reconstruct a likely historical account of the exodus events.

In the Biblical book of Exodus we have three accounts of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. The first account is that found in Judah’s Israelite history (the J Source). The second is that found in Ephraim’s Israelite history (the E Source), which was based on the Akkadian Source supplemented with the oral traditions of the northern tribes of Israel. Finally we have the Priestly account (the P Source), which seems to have relied mainly upon the E Source.

Based on these secular and Biblical sources, the historical events of the exodus from Egypt can be established as follows:

  • An unnamed Pharaoh – probably Ay (1323 BC – 1319 BC) – ordered the newborn male children of the Hebrews to be killed at birth.
  • Moses was rescued by the daughter of an unnamed Pharaoh – probably Horemheb (1319 BC – 1292 BC). He grew up in Pharaoh’s household, fled for his life after killing an Egyptian overseer, and returned later to rescue the Hebrews from Egyptian oppression.
  • After performing a number of wonders, the Hebrews left Egypt, being united under the name “Israel.” They were pursued by the Egyptian army, but escaped unharmed.
  • The Israelites were preserved in the wilderness, firstly when encountering bitter water at Massah / Meribah / Marah, and secondly through the fortuitous provision of food (probably not continuously) in the way of manna, and thirdly through the defeat of the Amalekites in war.
  • While in the wilderness, near Mount Sinai / Mount Horeb, the Israelites encountered Moses’ father-in-law, who gave him advice on delegating authority.
  • When camped there, Moses gave the people God’s commandments, as he understood them.

This set of events seems to reflect the likely conditions of the time. The miraculous elements still remain: they are a fundamental part of the story, and a vital part of all three versions of the story of the Exodus, when God rescued his people from oppression under the Egyptians, and established the nation of Israel.