The date of the exodus (Exodus 12)

According to 1 Kings 6:1 temple construction began during the fourth year of Solomon’s reign (conventionally dated to ca. 965 B.C.), which is also specified as being 480 years after Israel’s exodus from Egypt. Based upon this date, the exodus would have occurred around 1445 B.C. (the “early date” view).

In contrast, some historians date the exodus to approximately 1260 B.C. (the “late-date view”). They believe that the number 480, above, symbolizes 12 generations, each averaging 40 years in duration. By substituting 25 years for 40 years on the grounds that this is a more realistic figure for a single generation, they reduce the interval from 480 to approximately 300 years. Various other dates for the exodus have been suggested, but most have garnered little support among scholars.

Several lines of Biblical evidence support the early date view:

  • Acts 7:29-30 records that Moses spent 40 years in Midian, and Exodus 2:23 and 4:19 suggest that the pharaoh of the oppression, who sought Moses’ life, had died before Moses’ return to Egypt. Thotmose III reigned for more than 40 years. If his son, Amenhotep II, was the pharaoh for the exodus, his rule (mid-fifteenth century B.C.) corresponds to the early date for the exodus.
  • Thutmose IV followed Amenhotep II. In an inscription called the Dream Stele, Thutmose IV implied that the “firstborn” son of Amenhotep II died before ascending to the throne. Some scholars have speculated that this son may have been a victim of the tenth plague.
  • As recorded in Judges 11:26, Jephthah (ca. 1100 B.C.) claimed in a message to the Ammonite king that Israel had already been in the land for 300 years. This suggests that the conquest must have taken place around 1400 B.C. and that the exodus had occurred at approximately 1440 B.C.
  • The “late date” would require compression of the judges’ activity into 170 years, while the “early date” allows for 350 years, a more reasonable time frame in light of the number of individual judges presented in the book of Judges.
  • Under the late-date theory, Israel entered the land between 1250 and 1220 B.C. But these dates are uncomfortably close to that of the Merneptah’s Stele. This monument describes Israel as a people defeated by Merneptah (either ca. 1232 or ca. 1207 B.C.). It is difficult to see how this monument could match the late date for the exodus, since the stele implies that Israel was well established in the region now called Palestine by the date of Merneptah’s victories. Using the late-date view, the Israelites at that time would still have been in the wilderness or just beginning their conquest of Canaan.

Opponents of the early date argue that archaeological evidence at key sites dating from the fifteenth century B.C. does nor match what the Bible records about the conquest. Most archaeologists would even argue that there is little evidence placing Israel in the land of Canaan prior to the twelfth century B.C. Proponents of a fifteenth century B.C. exodus, on the other hand, argue that some reinterpretation of archaeological data is necessary. Still, archaeological evidence supporting a later date for the exodus and conquest is widely regarded as being scanty.

Unfortunately, no single theory completely harmonizes  archaeological evidence with Biblical claims. Until more definitive interpretations of archaeological findings are forthcoming, it is best to hold, as most historians do, to an earlier date for the exodus on the basis of the Biblical chronology descrbed above.

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