This is the 2nd part of a response to an article that was sent to me via Twitter entitled Leading archaeologist says Old testament storeis are fiction. (Yes, that’s the actual title of the article.) That article was sent to me in the midst of a Twitter firestorm of responses to an article I shared entitled 5 Uncomfortable Facts Atheists Need To Hear by Barak Lurie, a former atheist. (You can read my responses to the firestorm here, here, and here.)
The opening sentence of this article, posted on Sunday, March 28, 1993, says: “ABRAHAM, Jacob, Moses, King David, and King Solomon in all his splendour, never existed, a 15-year study of archaeological evidence has concluded.” My previous post addressed the question of Is There Archaeological Evidence for Abraham?. This post is going to help address the question of whether there is any evidence for Moses. I will address the topic of David and Solomon in my next blog.
My previous post started with the following, which I feel is worth repeating as it helps to put the question of whether there is any archaeological evidence for Moses in perspective.
One thing to understand is that archaeology will not corroborate every detail of history. As J. Warner Wallace points out in his article Why Doesn’t Archaeology Corroborate Every Detail of the New Testament Accounts?:
But what are we to say to those who argue the Biblical archeological record is incomplete? The answer is best delivered by another expert witness in the field, Dr. Edwin Yamauchi, historian and Professor Emeritus at Miami University. Yamauchi wrote a book entitled, The Stones and the Scripture, where he rightly noted that archaeological evidence is a matter of “fractions”:
Only a fraction of the world’s archaeological evidence still survives in the ground.
Only a fraction of the possible archaeological sites have been discovered.
Only a fraction have been excavated, and those only partially.
Only a fraction of those partial excavations have been thoroughly examined and published.
Only a fraction of what has been examined and published has anything to do with the claims of the Bible!
Old Testament scholar James Hoffmeier (who specializes in issues of Old Testament historicity and archaeology) says:
As a field archaeologist myself, I am keenly aware of how little has actually survived from the ancient past, owing to natural forces, such as moisture in many forms, deflation, and earthquakes, as well as human impact in the form of later occupation (in ancient times), reusing earlier building materials, human destruction (war and burning), and modern development (urban and agricultural). Realistic expectations about what archaeology can and cannot do for biblical studies must always be kept in mind.
Peter S. Williams quotes in his article Archaeology and the Historical Reliability of the New Testament:
As Nelson Glueck states, on the one hand “It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever contraverted a biblical reference”, whereas on the other “Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or exact detail historical statements in the Bible.”…
Likewise, Joseph Free confirms: “Archaeology has confirmed countless passages which had been rejected by critics as unhistorical or contrary to known facts.”…
And as Lee Strobel observes:
In trying to determine if a witness is being truthful, journalists and lawyers will test all the elements of his or her testimony that can be tested. If this investigation reveals that the person was wrong in those details, this casts considerable doubt on the veracity of his or her entire story. However, if the minutiae check out, this is some indication – not conclusive proof but some evidence – that maybe the witness is being reliable in his or her overall account
With this understanding in place, let’s talk about Moses.
The claim is correct: there is currently no archaeological evidence for Moses. But again, refer to the rules of archaeology above. Even more so, there is no concrete evidence for the Exodus. Scholars debate over when it happened, if it happened, what route they would have taken, etc. Josh and Sean McDowell devote an entire chapter (20 pages) to the Historicity of Exodus (chapter 19) in the updated version of Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth For a Skeptical World, which presents a fair examination of the data regarding this. One of the things they point out is:
As was stated earlier, we should not expect to find historical (literary or archaeological) proof for Israel living in Egypt; environmental factors make preservation of ancient written materials from the Nile Delta unlikely. Additionally, Egyptians might never have written about the Hebrews. Richard Freund has studied ancient Egypt for many years and has become convinced
that they [Egyptians], like the Stalinist regime of the former Soviet Union, were concerned with controlling the information flow, had an overarching perspective on their cumulative history, and were indeed experts on public relations. I cannot imagine that they would have advertised in their written or pictorial history their need to enslave anyone to create the marvelous institutions of Egypt. In addition, as with many other peoples in antiquity, the recorded history of the Egyptians was the history of elite indigenous Egyptians,
excluding any “foreigners/peoples” that may have populated Egypt in any particular period.
(Freund, DTB, 56)
Evidence pg 468
Granted, there is no smoking gun proof but there are circumstantial shreds of evidence that gives plausibility to Exodus. Space does not allow me to cover all the following in detail, so I can only give a quick summarization. From textual evidence (The Wisdom of Merikare, the Prophecies of Neferti, the Story of Sunhe, and Beni Hasan), it can be shown that there were Semites in Egypt and that they posed a problem in the land. From archaeological evidence (The Memphis and Karnak Stelae, pottery and weapons, ancient script, and Raamses), it can be shown that Israelites living in Egypt is plausible and that “people like those described in the book of Exodus did in fact live in Egypt.” And those are just the ones that Josh and Sean McDowell talk about.
You can read about some of this in this article Were Hebrews Ever Slaves in Ancient Egypt? Yes. In regards to the Exodus, it points out:
The absence of evidence of a sojourn in the wilderness proves nothing. A Semitic group in flight wouldn’t have left direct evidence: They would not have built cities, built monuments or done anything but leave footprints in the desert sand.
The Institute for Biblical and Scientific Studies, in their extensive article Biblical Archaeology: Evidence of the Exodus from Egypt, lists the Merneptah Stele, Execration Texts, the Inscription of Khu-Sebek (called Djaa), The Story of Sinuhe, The Hyksos, Store Cities of Pithom and Rameses, Jacob-El, the Expulsion of the Hyksos, The Sinai, Middle Bronze Age Destruction, Jericho, AI, and Hazor, as well as Egyptian Topographical Lists from Thutmose III, Amenhotep II, Amenhotep III, Seti I, and Ramses II, with further information from The Amarna Letters, Ugaritic Texts, The Philistines and the settlements.
Josh and Sean McDowell conclude with a rapid-fire of quotes from archaeologists:
In fact, even without the extrabiblical evidence there is enough contained in the Bible to make the story believable. John Bright notes the biblical data alone should be enough to clearly establish the presence of Israel in Egypt:
Although there is no direct witness in Egyptian records to Israel’s presence in Egypt, the Biblical tradition a priori demands belief: it is not the sort of tradition any people would invent! Here is no heroic epic of migration, but the recollection of shameful servitude from which only the power of God brought deliverance. (Bright, HI, 121)
Provan, Long, and Longman believe this is one reason why we can believe the biblical account has been transmitted accurately:
Indeed, a clear indication of this retention is that the biblical tradition has as one of its central emphases—and though unflattering, it governs both Israelite religion and ethics—that Israel was in the beginning a slave people in Egypt. This does not look like the kind of tradition that a people invents about itself.
(Provan et al., BHI, 80)
If it didn’t happen, why tell such a humiliating story? “Nobody else in Near Eastern antiquity descended to that kind of tale of community beginnings.” (Kitchen, OROT, 254)…
Even critical scholar William Dever concedes, “I do think . . . that behind the literary tradition there must indeed be some sort of genuine historical memory; but it is unfortunately not accessible either to the text scholar or to the archaeologist.” (Dever, HTCI, 31)
Finally, we conclude our discussion in
agreement with Alan Millard of the Univer-
sity of Liverpool:
The history of religions, literary criticism and other forms of study applied to the Hebrew books has led to a variety of hypotheses about the story. On one view, a small group escaped from Egypt and joined related tribes in Canaan or a separate group (the Kenites), who worshipped Yahweh at Sinai, introduced their religion to tribes in Canaan and “converted” them; or, a variety of folk-stories have been woven together, with little or no historical basis; or there was no Exodus and the whole is a pious fiction. Lacking any trace of Joseph, Moses, or Israelites in Egypt, many have concluded they were never there. Yet no pharaoh would boast of the loss of his labour force on a monument, and administrative records on papyrus, leather or wooden tablets which might have registered such events would perish rapidly in the Delta’s damp soil. It is equally unlikely that a camping crowd would leave recognizable remains from a semi-nomadic life in the Sinai Wilderness and in Transjordan. The absence of
evidence is not, therefore, evidence of absence!
(Millard, Exodus, 112)
Evidence Pg 478-479
The other points of the article are responded to: