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Riaan

The Moses Puzzle

332 posts in this topic

On 11/30/2017 at 6:14 PM, jaylemurph said:

... We all interact with our favoured fictions in different ways.

--Jaylemurph

 

 
I agree with you about differences. 
 
There was a 200 to 600 year period of oral storytelling about the Exodus event, before Judeans wrote down the secondary sources that were used in their bible.  Those hundreds of years of oral-retelling (= hearsay)  would twist the original details, in a wide variety of ways that modern researchers try to de-mythologize.  Therefore a lot of different opinions are available, today, about the Exodus. 
 
Some primary Egyptian source material can be regarded as peripheral to the original Exodus event.  But modern researchers disagree about:  when the oral-retelling period started; when Judean oral-retelling was converted into writing; and the length of the oral-retelling period.   
 
Among the relevant primary Egyptian sources, I include Egyptian Amarna letters that discussed Egypt's "garrison troops" (pitati) ca. 1350 BC.  Egypt required its vassal rulers in the Levant to arrange full provisions for the "pitati" troops, BEFORE Egypt would dispatch these garrison troops to defend the individual vassal rulers. 
 
A similar "provisioning" circumstance occurs in the bible (i.e. in secondary sources), to create support for people who are called "Levites" in the bible.  Levite communities existed inside each of the Israelite tribes.  And the bible claims there were pre-established rules about Levites:  the Levites would "own" no Israelite territory; but would be supported by tithes from the Israelite and Judean tribes among whom the Levites were living.   
Numbers 18:24 - "For the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer up as a heave offering to the Lord, I have given to the Levites as an inheritance; therefore I have said to them, 'Among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance.' "

Deuteronomy 18:1, 2 - "The priests, the Levites - all the tribe of Levi - shall have no part nor inheritance with Israel; they shall eat the offerings of the Lord made by fire, and His portion. Therefore they shall have no inheritance among their brethren; the Lord is their inheritance, as He said to them."
The different numerical sizes of these two paramilitary forces (pitati and Levite) had an affect on the Levant, AFTER the Amarna era.  In the Amarna era (ca 1350 BC), the numbers of pitati troops that Egypt sent to the Levant sent were too little, too late.  But biblical Levites (at least according to the bible) arrived with an overwhelming numerical superiority over the local bad-guys, and eventually achieved control of the Levant.
 
At some proto-historic time, a Levite shrine was established at Shiloh ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shiloh_(biblical_city ) , which tied all the Israelite and Judean tribes together.  Priests at the Shiloh shrine maintained their own interpretation of events that had occurred in Judea's oral-transmission era, before the Torah story was officially composed in writing. 
 
These biblical details about mandatory provisions for Levites are often under-appreciated if - as Richard Friedman proposes - the Levites were a major component of the people who had emigrated from Egypt in the original Exodus event that was memorialized in the bible.

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4 hours ago, atalante said:

There was a 200 to 600 year period of oral storytelling about the Exodus event, before Judeans wrote down the secondary sources that were used in their bible.  Those hundreds of years of oral-retelling (= hearsay)  would twist the original details, in a wide variety of ways that modern researchers try to de-mythologize.  Therefore a lot of different opinions are available, today, about the Exodus. 

  >>Well, that's based on the assumption there was some sort of historical event to talk about. There's not much legitimate evidence to that end. And, frankly, the overweening desire to force the Bible into a historical document so as to further fringe positions strikes me as unseemly for a serious scholar.
 
Some primary Egyptian source material can be regarded as peripheral to the original Exodus event. 
 
>>I'm going to trust Kmt's knowledge about this. As far as I know, he's refuted the position that it actually happened several times and has confirmed there are no source materials that refer to the alleged exodus of the Jews.
 
But modern researchers disagree about:  when the oral-retelling period started; when Judean oral-retelling was converted into writing; and the length of the oral-retelling period.   
 
>>And modern researchers also disagree that the event ever even happened, and you look awfully biased if you literally won't even admit detractors to your position exist.(Again, I've never seen Kmt make such an obvious logical fumble.)
 
Among the relevant primary Egyptian sources, I include Egyptian Amarna letters that discussed Egypt's "garrison troops" (pitati) ca. 1350 BC.  Egypt required its vassal rulers in the Levant to arrange full provisions for the "pitati" troops, BEFORE Egypt would dispatch these garrison troops to defend the individual vassal rulers. 
 
A similar "provisioning" circumstance occurs in the bible (i.e. in secondary sources),

>>Well, no. You can't have your cake and eat it, too. You can't use the Bible /simultaneously/ as a primary and secondary source.

That's three significant historiographic errors in almost as many paragraphs; that sort of fumbling is very, very different from the exacting practices of the Classicists I know and work with. You have your facts and arguments and I don't think either one of us is likely to convert the other's opinions, so I'm going to take an exit from the part of the conversation, at least, so as  not to descend into the sniping that ends a hefty percentage of threads these days.

...Although I would be grateful if Kmt could discuss (or maybe re-discuss; this thread is pretty long, and he may have previously done this) the specific pieces of evidence used here and any others frequently brought up in such discussions.

--Jaylemurph

 

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On 12/12/2017 at 9:37 PM, jaylemurph said:

That's three significant historiographic errors in almost as many paragraphs; that sort of fumbling is very, very different from the exacting practices of the Classicists I know and work with. You have your facts and arguments and I don't think either one of us is likely to convert the other's opinions, so I'm going to take an exit from the part of the conversation, at least, so as  not to descend into the sniping that ends a hefty percentage of threads these days.

...Although I would be grateful if Kmt could discuss (or maybe re-discuss; this thread is pretty long, and he may have previously done this) the specific pieces of evidence used here and any others frequently brought up in such discussions.

--Jaylemurph

 

 
Kmt Sesh has not showed up yet.  So I will reply to you without Kmt.
 
I am not a professional historian, thus I might not have used the best phraseology.  But you seem to have a distortion of the idea I aimed to express. 
 
Previously in this topic, I linked to an article by Avraham Faust demonstrating that many biblical archaeology writers now favor a "small" Exodus event - at a date near or somewhat after Egypt's Ramesses III.  In this post I will link to one such writer:  Yehuda Rotblum, who identifies Egypt's "Shasu of Yahu" with the deity (YHWH) that eventually became Judea's monotheistic god.
 
Before reading my summary (below) of the Rotblum article, I encourage people to ask themselves a rhetorical question:  
 
Since biblical Moses stationed both himself and his Levites at Kadesh-barnea for most of a 40-year-period-in-the-wilderness - were his Levites in "Egypt" during that 40-year period? 
 c.f.  The biblical place named Kadesh-barnea was located very near the wadi-Arish, which biblical writers generally named as the dividing marker between the northeastern end of Egypt, and the southern end of Judean territory.   Moreover, Kadesh-barnea marked the northeastern end a roadway named "the way to Shur", which traveled to a string of Egyptian fortresses.  Egyptian rulers could have easily marched some soldiers along Egypt's "way to shur" AT ANY TIME during this legendary 40-year period, if Egypt truly wanted to punish Moses's people for escaping from Egypt. 
 
The following is my summary of the Rotblum article:
 
... The third [proto-Israelite] group (1170 BC) parallels the story of Moses’ migration from the Negev or Egypt; these people formed the tribe of Levi, which brought its unique religious  heritage   and    the   belief   in  one god, Yahu. 
 
.... Moses was the leader of a group from the Negev and therefore the biblical stories,  including  the   Exodus,   are     from    this    area.....a   small   group   of   people    leaving   the   Negev   Desert   could   undoubtedly leave unnoticed. Such a group with their leader, Moses, could sustain the harsh journey in the arid desert.
.....In my opinion, Mount Sinai is not one mountain but several holy mountains scattered among the Midianite’s vast territory, each one designated by a different tribe as the dwelling place of their God. This may explain the references to the many holy places that are mentioned in the Bible. Upon their migration to Canaan, the tribe's collective memory united their holy mountains into one: the biblical Mount Sinai. The biblical description fits this multiplicity,  and  maybe  the  God  of  Shasu and  the  God  of  Israel  are  one.
 
.... The numerous names for Mount Sinai mentioned in the Bible, such as Mountain of God,Mount Horev, Mount Seir, attest to this. It also fits the Bible’s reference to the different places, in the Negev Desert, from which God appeared: Sinai, Edom, Seir, and Paran.
 
Edited by atalante
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In this post I will sketch what is known about pharaonic Egypt in the Levant, during 40 years after Ramesses III settled Peleset/Philistine people along the coastal road, ca 1177 BC. 
 
There may be some oversights in the following paragraphs.  But I am trying to be accurate.  Perhaps Kmt_sesh will comment on the Egyptian events during 1177-1130 BC.
 
Egypt's control over the Levant came to an abrupt end "about 40 years" after Ramesses III settled Peleset people along the coastal roadway in that region. 
 
For several previous centuries, New Kingdom Egypt had used Beth Shan as its regional administrative city, to coordinate Egyptian rule in the Levant.  The city Beth Shan had been extensively rebuilt by Egypt's pharaohs Seti I and Ramesses II.  Archaeologists have called this 19th dynasty reconstruction levels VIII and VII of Beth Shan.  The next higher level (Beth Shan VI) corresponded to Egypt's 20th dynasty, which included Ramesses III. 
 
There were two roadways that Egypt could use to reach Beth Shan from the eastern side of the Nile river delta:  a coastal roadway, which Egypt called "the Horus military road"; and an inland roadway that was called "the way to Shur". 
 
The inland roadway to Beth Shan (a.k.a. the way to Shur) played an important role in Egypt's eventual withdrawal from the Levant.  Shur is a biblical Hebrew word that means "wall".  The so-called "way to Shur"  (i.e. to the "wall") extended northeast from a string of Egyptian fortresses that ancient Egypt called "the wall of the prince". This string of Egyptian fortresses protected the eastern border for the delta region.   
 
After passing across the wadi-Arish, the northern part of this inland roadway to Beth Shan was typically called (in the bible) by a different biblical name - "the way of the Patriarchs".  Thus for practical purposes, the wadi-Arish served as a north-eastern border of Egypt.  I am not aware of any ancient Egyptian name for this inland roadway from the delta region to Beth Shan; but an ancient Egyptian name probably did exist for this inland roadway.
 
Three springs exist near the place where the "road to Shur" intersected with wadi-Al-Arish, and they are located in a triangle in a relatively well-watered area:  Ein Kudeirat, Ein Kedeis, and Ein-Muweileh.   Of the three, Ein Kudeirat has the most prolific water supply.  In 1914 C.L. Wolley visited the region, and reported that this triangle region was the only place in northern Sinai where a substantial population could be sustained for a period of time.  Ever since 1914, this triangle region has been accepted as the location that the bible calls Kadesh-Barnea.  The following topographic map shows this somewhat-watered inland region of northwest Sinai.  http://www.bibleorigins.net/Kadeshbarneamap.html
 
Climate change had a large affect on Egypt's lifestyles during 1182 BC to 1100 BC.  Before this climate change, New Kingdom Egypt had maintained domination of farming communities in the Levant for the previous 300 years.  But during 1182-1100 BC, both the Levant and Egypt's homeland endured a prolonged climate change.
 
Egypt's homeland farmers suffered from a shortage of grain crops in the period 1182-1100 BC.  A quote about Egypt's grain shortage, and rising Egyptian prices of grain in that period, comes from:  http://s2.zetaboards.com/SisterTrek/topic/705854/1/
(5) WHEN CIVILIZATION COLLAPSED: DEATH OF THE BRONZE AGE - 11 October 2001
From the time of Ramesses III (c. 1182-1151 B.C.E.) through that of Ramesses VII (c. 1133-1127 B.C.E.), the price of emmer wheat in Egypt gradually rose to eight (or, for a time, 24) times its earlier price. Not until the reign of Ramesses X (c. 1108-1098 B.C.E.) did the price drop, but even then it remained twice what it had been at the beginning of the 12th century. During this period, the government also sometimes failed to pay grain and other food rations owed to artisans who cut and decorated the royal tombs. The craftsmen staged strikes at least six times between about 1154 B.C.E. and 1106 B.C.E. because their grain allotments were months in arrears.
Egypt abandoned its control of the Levant during this 80-year period of climate change.  Pharaoh Ramesses VI (who reigned ca.1145-1137 BC) is regarded as the last pharaoh who tried to continue Egypt's activity in the Levant.  But to be more specific, artifacts from Ramesses VI have only been found in the extreme south of the Levant, at Egypt's copper mining complex in southern Sinai. 
 
Archaeology at Beth Shan (Egypt's main administrative city for the Levant) sheds some light on events while Egypt was withdrawing from the Levant.  Archaeologist Amihai Mazar identified 1140-1130 BC as the date of a non-violent transfer of power at Beth Shan, in the following paper (see page 166).  "Lower level VI" had occurred before the 1140-1130 BC transition; and "upper level VI" occurred after the transition. 
 
A scarab from pharaoh Ramesses IV is the last New Kingdom object found at Beth Shan (stated on page 177 in the above paper).  After this 1140-1130 BC transition time in the 20th dynasty, Egypt continued maintaining its fortress at Kharoub (Haraba) on Egypt's coastal Horus military road, near the wadi-Al-Arish (see page 178 in the above-linked paper by Mazar). 
 
For more details about the Egypt's New Kingdom settlements near Kharouba/Haraba: see Goren, et.al. 
 
After Canaanites at Beth Shan revolted, Egypt was continuing to support its military installations (Kharouba/Haraba) where the wadi-Al-Arish empties into the sea, on the Horus military road.  Consequently  Egypt would also have an ongoing need to defend the inland roadway ("the way to Shur") near the wadi-Al-Arish.  
 
Some kind of Egyptian military presence was needed near Kadesh-Barnea (i.e. the place where the inland road crossed the wadi-Al-Arish) both before and after the 1140 BC revolt by Canaanites at Beth Shan.   i.e. If the inland roadway to Egypt was not controlled, then bad guys could simply bypass all the forts along the Horus military road, and waltz into Egypt unopposed. 
 
Quite intriguingly, this Kadesh-Barnea place is where the bible says Moses (and his Levites and Israelites) camped for nearly 40 continuous years, beginning immediately after Moses convinced a biblical pharaoh to "Let my people go".  
 
 
 
 
Edited by atalante

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In my recent posts I have proposed that Kadesh Barnea was inside the borders of Egypt at 1400 BC, 1300 BC, and 1200 BC.  

But archaeology has demonstrated that Judean king Solomon built a border fortress at that spot (Kadesh Barnea), ca. 1000 BC, to protect the southern border of Solomon's own Judean state.  I expect this change of political affiliation for Kadesh Barnea was not adequately emphasized by the biblical-historians that composed Documentary source materials, which were incorporated into the Torah/bible after 1000 BC.     

 

quoting fromhttp://pmrb.net/blog/2015/08/29/a-view-on-richard-elliott-friedmans-work-a-response-to-skeptics/

What Skeptics Usually Forget About History

One of the things that many people forget, especially skeptics who approach timidly to Bible scholarship, is that history is not a clear-cut given. Yes, we have documents, archaeological findings, and so on. On the “exodus” stuff, though, we don’t have much, except what we have in the Hebrew Bible. Skeptics obviously feel frustrated, as most scholars, to be sure.

Let me add to the discussion that Friedman is perfectly aware that the “exodus” as told by the Biblical book Exodus could not have happened. This is something he has underscored both in his famous popular book as well as by other scholars and archaeologists in the field as William G. Dever and Amnon Ben-Tor.

The archaeological evidence regarding Ancient Israel without a doubt collides directly with the Biblical accounts. No ancient Hebrew army attacked Neguev, Siho, Jericho, Ai, or the kings of Hasor. Simply speaking, the destruction of these towns and cities took place either before or after the time-period when the “exodus” apparently took place (1275-1208 B.C.E.).

William G. Dever calls “proto-Israel” the society that emerged, not from an attack of people foreign to Canaan, but from Canaanites themselves. This apparently occurred in the same time-period when Egypt was going through economic tough times, and debilitated the vassal monarchs in Canaan. They probably taxed either monetary contributions or labor-force from the poor. The Canaanites revolted against the kings of the area, and established an egalitarian society free from Egyptian rule. That is as much as the archaeological evidence shows us. Without a doubt, Friedman knows this. After all, he recommended Dever’s book Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From? (which I also wholeheartedly recommend).

So … where does an “exodus” fit in all of this?

The problem is that history is not merely excavating and inferring from what you dig up, nor is it believing a document is “historical” when it seems believable, and “unhistorical” when it seems too fantastic. Documents also must be evaluated and qualified, especially in a specific context and in light of other evidence we have available.

Here is where there is a strong debate by scholars and by archaeologists regarding the possibility of an “exodus” event in the past.

OF COURSE the “exodus” could NEVER have happened in the way told in Exodus!  As a bishop explained once, by the sheer number of Ancient Israelites in the desert claimed by Exodus for a period of 40 years, the Sinai should have ended up fertile! Friedman knows this.

Yet, this is not all. Bible scholars are historians. Again, their duty is not to “tell us” exactly what happened from just reading a document. Nor is he merely going to declare a document to be “believable” or not. As historians themselves will tell you, it is extremely rare to find a document that will tell you exactly “what happened”. This is true, not only of the documents which have survived in the Hebrew Bible, but of other documents and archaeological artifacts as well. For example, as everyone knows, when Sennacherib carried out the siege of Jerusalem, you will have many versions of the story. One of them will tell you that King Hezekiah took effective measures against a potential invasion, there is another similar story but with an angel helping the Israelites, while Sennacherib’s prisms will tell you another very different story.

Even if you feel inclined to reject the Bible’s versions of the story because they are biased and its facts are changed (sometimes to be too fantastic), you cannot say that Sennacherib’s version is more “true”. Why?  Because, as it happens, his version is also biased and changed. So, we cannot “dismiss one in favor of the other”, maybe both texts have elements in them to formulate a viabletheory that best explains these texts. Friedman discusses this case in his book very well. We can also see this in Merneptah’s Stele, which claims that pharaoh Merneptah’s militia destroyed the “Israelites” (1208 B.C.E.), and yet, we know for a fact it didn’t! The hardcore job of Bible scholars, as good historians, is to qualify all of these stories, including archaeological discoveries we have available.

To summarize, just because it is in the Bible and looks fantastic does not mean that the story could not contain some core truth, and because it is not in the Bible does not mean that the story has to be “truer” than anything in the Bible.

In light of this, as much as it is tempting to dismiss the “exodus’ story”, it is not really that easy as to claim that there is no archaeological evidence, or that there couldn’t have been millions of Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years. There are other things that many skeptics are not seeing about this issue.

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Those Strange Levites!

We can try to explain the presence of the famous tribes of Israel as the result of a rebellion against those nobles and monarchs of the area. No problem there…

But at the very least, we have to recognize that among the tribes of Israel, there is a particular one we might call the “odd one” in the family, the Levites. Here are some interesting facts about them:

  • They don’t have territory.
  • They are the core of Ancient Israel’s religiosity, although for a while it was not exclusive, until the time of King Hezekiah’s and King Josiah’s reforms. The Levites were certainly favored by David and Salomon, especially the former.
  • They were paid the tithe as a religious contribution.
  • The supervision of the sacred places such as Shiloh in the North, and Jerusalem in the South were trusted to them.
  • One of the Levites (the ones in the South) claimed to be descendants of Aaron, while the Shiloh priests seemed to derive their authority from the fact that they were Mushites (Moses’ descendants).

Why is this? How can there be an explanation for these facts? We could conjecture that this priesthood was created almost as a response or as an alternative to noble-Canaanite or Egyptian religious beliefs. Yet, this seems ahistoric. Canaanites already had a polytheistic or henotheistic belief in the god El and his hosts, usually represented as a calf, and never abandoned it. Also, they introduced the belief in Yahweh, which seems to derive from the belief in Yahu, the god worshiped by the shasu, further southeast of the whole area we now know as Palestine. How is this explained?

There are further oddities we can point out regarding Levites in general. For instance, [an] unusual amount of them had Egyptian names. The name “Moses” seems to be derived from a way to name an Egyptian royal heir or king. For instance, “Rameses” (Rammsy or Rams) means “Son of Ra”, the “msy” part means “Son of”. If the legend says that Moses was an Egyptian “prince”, it seems reasonable that his name has “msy” or “ms” as its root. You may ask, “but what about the fact that he was called ‘Moses’ because he was drawn out of the waters”? Here is where the historian has to be careful. There are four things to keep in mind:

  1. The word for “drawn out” (meshitihu) is a Hebrew word. Who named him “Moses”? The daughter of the pharaoh. If this is the case, why would she name a child with a Hebrew? Would it not make better sense if the root of the word is the Egyptian “msy“?
    .
  2. Moses had an older sister, Miriam, and an older brother, Aaron (at least according to the Biblical story). These were not rescued by the pharaoh’s daughter nor did they have a privileged position in Egypt at any level. We could safely say that presumably both stayed with their Hebrew mom while Moses was growing up as an Egyptian prince. So far, so good. But here is a catch …  why do Miriam and Aaron have Egyptian names too?! “Miriam” has the Egyptian root “myr” (which means “beloved”), and “Aaron” comes from the Egyptian “aha rw” which means “warrior lion”. Why would their Hebrew mom name them with Egyptian names? Isn’t the Biblical story a bit awkward in this sense? …  An Egyptian woman naming Moses “Moses” as a Hebrew name, while a Hebrew mom names her other two children Egyptian names …  Doesn’t this make anyone scratch his or her head?
    .
  3. Isn’t it a coincidence that the “exodus” story occurs, by Exodus’ own admission, during the time of Rameses II, whose name also happens to share the same root of “Moses”?
    .
  4. Finally, doesn’t the whole story of a Hebrew mom giving birth to Moses, placing him in an ark that floated down the river to be found by the pharaoh’s daughter very strange? Why didn’t Moses’ mother do this also with Aaron before Moses? When Aaron was born, couldn’t he be also threatened by the pharaoh’s determination to kill all male newborns?

If there were no historical Moses, how can you explain that Ancient Israelites invented an “exodus” story where they chose Egyptian names for their heroes, but then decided that the Egyptian name of Moses was not really Egyptian, but a Hebrew name that happens to be close to an Egyptian name, that also happens to be close to Rameses’ name … which is just a coincidence, but was given to him by an Egyptian princess, who was the pharaoh’s daughter, but didn’t mean anything related to her father’s name, but it meant …?  …  UUGGGHHHHHHH!!!  Get my point?!

Here is when we need to account for something that clearly makes no sense, even if you want to suppose that these characters never existed.

“Moses”, “Miriam”, and “Aaron” are Egyptian names, but these are not the only Levites to have Egyptian names. Take, for instance, “Hur”, “Merari”, “Mushi”, “Hophni”, “Pinhas” (there were two of them), also Egyptian names.

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Old Israelite/Egyptian Relics?

But the deal with the Levites doesn’t end in just the names. What about the two artifacts most closely related to them? The Tent of Meetings (aka the Tabernacle) and the Ark of the Covenant?

Let’s begin with the Tent of Meetings or Tabernacle. As many scholars have pointed out, the Tent’s structure, as described in the Torah, seems to be amazingly similar to that of Rameses II’s War Tent used during the Battle of Kadesh. Here is an illustration:

War Tent of Rameses IIAbu Simel Relief, Representing the War Tent of Rameses II.

As you can see, at the very bottom you find a wall, and then there is a pathway to a reception room, and the pharaoh’s chamber, where he happened to have two winged creatures, specifically two falcons, symbolizing the presence of Horus, something remarkably similar to the two winged creatures said to be portrayed in the Ark of the Covenant. In the case of Richard A. Gabriel’s, The Military History of Ancient Israel, you find a comparison between what the War Tent and the Tent of Meetings would look like.

Rameses' War Tent and the TabernacleSource: Gabriel 2003, 96.

Now, let’s take a look at the Ark of the Covenant. Initially, many people thought that the Ark itself was more related culturally to the territories of Mesopotamia. For example, the Ark has two cherubim. The word indicates that they are from the Akkadian karibu, or Babilonian kerubim, creatures with a body of a lion, wings of an eagle, legs of a bull, and a human head. These were not only placed on the Ark, but also at the very entrance of the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem Temple. The function of the kerubim was to mediate between gods and men, and also be guardians (e.g. of the Holy of Holies or of the Tree of Life in Genesis).

Despite these outstanding similarities, other scholars are not as quick as to say that. For example, Scott B. Noegel has recently published an important study this year pointing out that if you see the structure and function of the Ark of the Covenant, they seem to resemble more Egyptian barques. Here are some of the most powerful similarities (as presented by Noegel):

  • Egyptian barques were fitted with gold-plated naos containing a divine image seated on a block throne, veiled with a thin canopy of wood or cloth.
    .
  • Many of the barques were decorated with protective “kerubim“.
    .
  • They had to be carried by priests, “the pure ones”.
    .
  • The bark gave oracles during processions.

While not suggesting that the Ark of the Covenant was a bark (which it was clearly not), what is clear is that somehow, whoever made the ark, retained the model, structure, and many of the functions that Egyptian barques had.

Given that the Ark is strongly associated with the Levites (especially the Shilo priesthood),  we can say that apparently the Levites seem to have been very much into Egyptian stuff … much more than Ancient proto-Israelites.
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And Don’t Forget Foreigners

As Friedman explains very well in his book, there are four main traditions which write the Torah and other books of the Bible that we know today: J, E, P, D. Friedman goes against current scholarship when he locates the creation of P in the time period of King Hezekiah’s reforms (following the line of thinking of Sigmund Mowinckel), and not, as most AT scholars believe, during the exile in Babylon.

Regardless of that particular difference with scholars, as he shows in his book, three of the four traditions were written by Levite priests: two by Shiloh priests (E, D), and one by Aaronid priests (P). Despite the fact that both of these traditions collided with each other often, they had some common perspectives, some not shared by J. For example, the three Levitic traditions seem obsessed about protecting foreigners. J doesn’t say anything at all about that.

Here is the P text (which, by the way, mentions the word “Torah” for the very first time in the whole Hebrew Bible):

… there shall be one law (torah) for the native for the alien who resides among you (Exod. 12:49).

Here is the E text:

You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt (Exod. 22:21).

Finally, here is the D text:

You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice … Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and in Yahweh, your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this (Dt. 24:17-18).

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The Quality of Our Sources

The whole “exodus” story (from Exodus to Deuteronomy) is a whole mixed bag of various traditions that often contradict with each other. From the modest source (J) to the most fantastic (P), stories that are often repeated (doublets), and some are even mixed in a confusing manner.

Yet, even with all of that, you can be a sort of literary archaeologist in the text, and find what seems to be very ancient texts. For example, Frank Moore Cross and David Noel Freedman have made a thorough literary “excavation” of the texts and found that the most ancient texts you find about the “exodus” story is Exodus 15, known as The Song of the Sea (sometimes also called The Song of Miriam). They could identify this song as ancient because of the use of certain archaisms that don’t seem to correspond to the styles of the traditions found in Exodus, and a poetic structure that was popular in Ugaritic poetic styles.

The Song of the Sea makes a variety of claims. One salient factor is that it only names the Israelite god “Yahweh”, without mentioning “Elohim” or making any allusion to that name anywhere to refer to the same god. In that song, it seems that Yahweh seems intimately associated with the event of the liberation of the singers from the pharaoh and his militia, often described in fantastic terms. Yet, this song never says how many people escaped from Egypt, and how such an event scared even the Philistines, Moabites, and Canaanites. Finally, the song doesn’t say that his people will inherit the whole land of Israel, instead, it says:

… You brought them in and planted them on the mountain of your own possession,
the place, oh Yahweh, that you made your abode,
the sanctuary, oh Yahweh, that your hands have established.
Yahweh will reign forever and ever (Exod. 15:17-18).

This statement, about establishing a sanctuary (habitations) for Yahweh (as it is phrases in the original Hebrew language), only appears once more in the Hebrew Bible, and that is during King Salomon’s consecration of the Temple, a place that would be administered by the Levites (1 Kings 8:13).

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One Possible Explanation …?

Sorry for the skeptics out there, but it seems (at least to me) that all of these anomalies involving the Levites (which we simply do not see in other tribes) cry out for a historical explanation.

History, like natural science, not always has all of the elements that it wishes to have. We don’t have an archaeological artifact or bones to confirm the “exodus” event. Yet, the elements offered in these Biblical texts are data, and they need theory-making so we can account for them. Saying that they are “Biblical” is not to offer a good reason to dismiss or ignore them. Bible scholarship, as history, aims at explaining as much data as possible by positing the simplest theories possible.

There is an indefinite number of possible explanations for these, but it seems to me that the simplest I have seen thus far is the one put forth by Friedman himself, and here it is:

  • There was an exodus event, but not of all of the people of Israel, but only of the Levites.
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  • The Levites are of Egyptian origins, and probably originated with a small group of workers who had to lend their labor force, and perhaps some slaves.
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  • These Levites did not pass forty years in the desert and their numbers were not very big.
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  • During their travel, they ended up in Median, a place where the shasu peoples lived, assuming their god Yahu (or Yahweh) as theirs, hence their evident cult to Yahweh.
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  • Then they ended up in Canaanite lands, and perhaps through military force, both parts reached a compromise: Levites would provide the religious backbone of these societies, and identified the god El with Yahweh (Yahweh-Elohim). In exchange, the tribes would pay the tithe to these priests.
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  • Through the influence of the Levites, and because Canaanites also identified themselves with the situation of subjugation and liberation from Egypt, they started identifying with the Levitic story of escape from Egypt.
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  • Then legends started being forged around the core story. Not only were there Levites who escaped, but the whole people of Israel escaped. This is not unlike the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States, which everyone culturally believe that they “came from the pilgrims”, even though most people in the U. S. don’t descend from them. Then, those who escaped were not just searching just Yahweh’s habitation in a Temple, but now the WHOLE land of Israel. And not only that, but the number of people who escaped from Egypt were in the thousands … then the millions … etc.  And these versions were placed in our sources.

Was there a historical Moses? Perhaps. It could best explain why a Hebrew hero had an Egyptian name. Most probably the whole story of him born as a Hebrew and then found the daughter of the pharaoh was made up as an apologetic means to make Moses more Hebrew than Egyptian. And also there may have been a historical Aaron (since there Aaronid priests considered themselves his descendants). Was there an Ark of the Covenant and a Tent of Meetings? Maybe. Did Moses do everything that the Bible said? Certainly no!  The Golden Calf episode was made up by E as a reaction to Jeroboam’s reforms, as Friedman tells us. The Ten Commandments were not originally the way that P and D tell us, given that they were elaborated from earlier commandments of J and E, and were means to religious reforms that took place centuries after Moses.

If skeptics still feel uncomfortable with this intelligent theory, then I challenge them to show a better theory that accounts for all of this. After all, in science, we don’t give up theories just because we don’t like them … we give them up when we find better theories with better explanations for the presence of the data we have at hand.  The same with history and Bible scholarship.

Again, Friedman’s theory is not an attempt to “save a story” (what in Philosophy of Science we call “saving the theory”), but rather an attempt to provide the best explanation possible to a mysterious phenomenon we have in ancient Biblical texts. Up to now, the theory that there was no exodus event at all would leave all of these factors unexplained.

See his video where he explains this in simpler terms (with jokes).

 

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References

Cross, Frank Moore and David Noel Freedman. Studies in Ancient Yahwistic Poetry. Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdman’s, 1996.

Gabriel, Richard A. The Military History of Ancient Israel. CT: Praeger, 2003.

 
 
 
Edited by atalante

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Atalante, I've been letting this go for a while but better step in. Your work is appreciated, but henceforth please refrain from posting massive walls of text (refer to Rule 2c).

At most, use  few lines from a source and then link to the source. Leave it to readers whether they want to read the whole thing.

You know, the sort of material you've been posting would be ideal for a personal blog.

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23 hours ago, kmt_sesh said:

Atalante, I've been letting this go for a while but better step in. Your work is appreciated, but henceforth please refrain from posting massive walls of text (refer to Rule 2c).

At most, use  few lines from a source and then link to the source. Leave it to readers whether they want to read the whole thing.

You know, the sort of material you've been posting would be ideal for a personal blog.

kmt sesh,
 
OK.  I usually quote only small excerpts; but I agree the excerpt in my most recent post was long. 
 
 
If possible, I would like some info about Egyptian military events in the Levant near the time of Ramesses V, who is a likely candidate for the biblical "son of pharaoh" who supposedly died in a plague.   
 
To explain the foundation legend of Iron Age Israelites (i.e. Exodus from Egypt) - two relevant dates are:  Ramesses V died ca. 1149-1145 BC; and Egypt's regional administrative city for the Levant, Beth Shan, suffered a revolt by its Canaanite citizens ca 1140-1130 BC.     
 
Egyptologists now accept that the actual Ramesses V died from smallpox, thus creating a crisis in Egypt over who should become the next pharaoh.  Ramesses V was probably succeeded by his uncle, which indicates that pharaoh Ramesses V had no male heirs, which in turn suggests that Ramesses V was young when he died.  My understanding is that this case of smallpox was the earliest such case of smallpox in recorded history.         
 
If an actual person behind the Moses legend was Egyptian, and he led a detachment of actual Egyptian troops at Kadesh Barnea for roughly 40 years (to blockade the "way to Shur" which was an entrance road into Egypt) - then roughly 200-300 years of oral storytelling among Israelites would have given "Moses" a big legend before the Exodus story was eventually set down in writing.   
 
If we presume that "an original person behind the Moses legend" was leading an "Egyptian detachment" of Egyptian troops at Kadesh Barnea for a substantial part of the era from 1170 BC to 1130 BC -- then the biblical legends are calling this period 40 years in the wilderness.  
 
Egypt's military, ca 1140-1130 BC (when Beth Shan revolted against Egypt), would need some military tactics in opposition to any Canaanites who were participating in the revolt against Egypt and blocking the roadway that Egypt used to send supplies to Egypt's regional administrative city at Beth Shan.
 
I hope this clarifies why I am interested in what ancient Egypt was doing, or planning to do, in the vicinity of Jerusalem near the time when Beth Shan's Canaanites revolted (ca 1140 BC to 1130 BC) against their previous Egyptian overlords. 
 
According to the bible, biblical-Moses planned and executed a military flanking tactic, coupled with the element of surprise, to take control of the Jerusalem vicinity. 
 
But pharaonic Egypt lost interest in the Levant at that time.  Egyptology indicates that famines of biblical proportions were plaguing actual-Egypt most of the time during 1180-1110 BC. 

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