I received an e-mail recently asking what I thought of a new documentary called Patterns of Evidence: Exodus produced by Timothy Mahoney in 2015 (See film trailer). I had not seen it, and I was curious to learn if apologists actually had something new to say.
I ended up suffering through about two hours of repackaged arguments, many of which I thoroughly considered and rejected decades ago.
The documentary is largely based on the book, Exodus: Myth or History? (St. Louis Park, MN: Thinking Men Media, 2015) by David Rohl, whose book cover describes him as an “Egyptologist, historian and archaeologist specializing in the historical relationship between Pharaonic Egypt and the Bible.”
Otherwise, Rohl is known for espousing other theories that are not widely accepted by most scholars.
Ron Wyatt’s The Exodus (1998) and Simcha Jacobovici’s The Exodus Decoded (2006)—see Dr. Chris Heard’s excellent critique here )— are also part of this genre.
GENERAL STRUCTURE OF THE DOCUMENTARY
Patterns has this general structure found in other apologetic documentaries:
A. A documentary filmmaker professes to seek the “truth” in a fair-minded and “scientific” way.
B. Skeptics of biblical historicity are interviewed.
C. Advocates of biblical historicity are interviewed.
D. The conclusion claims that the evidence favors C.
This is a fairly routine approach found in the written works of Lee Strobel (e.g. The Case for Christ ) among others.
We can trace this style of apologetics at least as far back as Simon Greenleaf (1783-1853), the Harvard Law professor who put the Bible on trial, and called witnesses in his The Testimony of the Evangelists, Examined by the Rules of Evidence Administered in Courts of Justice (1846). The verdict was predictable: The Bible is historically reliable.
The problem is that most of these documentary filmmakers often don’t have enough expertise to know which expert is offering good information. Mahoney cannot read any ancient languages that are crucial to evaluating some of the claims made, nor does he have the mastery of archaeology and Near Eastern literature necessary to detect the nonsense that Rohl offers him.
In reality, Mahoney did not evaluate carefully even the very archaeological artifacts and reports that he displays for the camera. He omits a lot of countervailing material (e.g., the Amarna letters, as I will explain).
To his credit, Mahoney admits that he is not an expert. I also will credit him for at least admitting that the majority position among scholars is the one his documentary opposes. But this will not save his documentary from some of the fatal flaws that were obvious to me upon first viewing.
Patterns argues that there is compelling evidence that the Exodus took place around 1450 BCE. Mahoney contraposes that date for the Exodus to the one favored by scholars who think that something closer to 1250 BCE is more plausible if there were an Exodus at all.
The latter date is based on the mention of Ramesses in Exodus 1:11. The fact that a city has the same name as Ramesses II, who was known as perhaps the greatest builder of all the pharaohs, means that whoever wrote Exodus 1:11 was writing no earlier than the time of that ruler.
In the standard chronology, Ramesses II reigned from approximately 1279 to 1213 BCE, and so the author of Exodus 1:11 cannot be thinking of events around 1450 BCE.
Even if Exodus 1:11 alludes to Ramesses I, who reigned for perhaps 2-4 years in the 1290s BCE, then the Exodus cannot be earlier than the latter’s reign. Otherwise, a city named Ramesses would have no significance in 1450 BCE.
However, the problem with setting the Exodus at the time of Ramesses II is that most educated Christian apologists know that archaeological evidence for many crucial personages and events is lacking at that time in both Egypt and in Palestine. For example, Jericho would not have been a standing city at that time, and so that would refute the destruction of Jericho told in Joshua 6. Patterns admits as much.
To circumvent these problems, Patterns redates some events, and even entire archaeological eras. For example,Rohl redates the start of the reign of Ramesses II to 943 BCE (Exodus, p. 164), which would make him a contemporary of David and/or Solomon.[i]
1 Kings 6:1 says that Solomon’s 4th year, which is assumed to be about 967 BCE, occurred 480 years after the Exodus, and that gets us to 1447 BCE for the Exodus.
In any case, Patterns argues that if we set the Exodus around 1450 BCE, the archaeological evidence will match the biblical story very well.
The film also claims that Jacob and Joseph were living in Egypt during the Middle Kingdom (apx. 2055-1650 BCE in the conventional chronology) period of Egypt.
Patterns specifically claims that the Pharaoh whom Joseph served was Amenemhat III (apx. 1860-1814 BCE in the standard chronology; Rohl proposes 1678-1631 BCE in Exodus, p. 85.)
For our purposes, I will concentrate on the following specific claims made in Patterns to support the historicity of the Exodus and Conquest stories.
A. There is archaeological evidence that Israelites did live and were enslaved in Egypt in the Middle Kingdom.
B. The presence and status of Jacob and Joseph in Egypt has archaeological support.
C. The plagues inflicted upon Egypt have archaeological support.
D. The conquest narratives have archaeological support, and more specifically
the destruction of Hazor by the Israelites.
WHAT’S OLD IS NEW AGAIN
The documentary tries to convince viewers that it offers something new or that has not really been discussed by scholars before. It does not.
In fact, I still assign articles from the 1980s about these very issues in some of my Old Testament classes featuring some of the claims and individuals interviewed in Patterns. These items include:
John J. Bimson and David Livingston,
"Redating the Exodus," Biblical Archaeology
Review 13 (5, September/October, 1987) 40-53, 66-68.
Baruch Halpern, "Radical Exodus Redating
Fatally Flawed," Biblical Archaeology Review
13 (6, November/December, 1987) 56-61.
John J. Bimson (and M. Bietak's comments),
"A Reply to Baruch Halpern's 'Radical Exodus
Redating Fatally Flawed,” in BAR November/
December, 1987"Biblical Archaeology Review
15 (4, July/August, 1988) 52-55.
Professor Baruch Halpern, whom Patterns did not interview, demonstrates effectively how Bimson actually would disregard and/or contradict what the Bible says to arrive at his earlier dating for the Exodus.
There is not much in Patterns that we have not considered before, and what is new (a Berlin pedestal fragment that POSSIBLY mentions Israel) will not be of much help in establishing the historicity of the Exodus or Conquest.
Much of this material is already in James K. Hoffmeier’s book, Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).As mentioned, the main source for Mahoney’s documentary is David Rohl’s Exodus: Myth or History? (hereafter Exodus).
ISRAELITES IN EGYPT?— THE BROOKLYN PAPYRUS
Patterns tries to establish the historicity of the Exodus by showing that there is archaeological and historical evidence that the Israelites lived in Egypt right before the Exodus.
For some of its main evidence, Patterns appeals to A Papyrus of the Late Middle Kingdom in the Brooklyn Museum (Brooklyn, New York: The Brooklyn Museum, 1955) edited and translated by William C. Hayes. See Brooklyn Papyrus.
The papyrus contains a list of names of many individuals who are slaves, and Patterns claims that 70% of those names are Semitic.
Indeed, Patterns (at apx. 12:56) seemingly equates finding Semites in Egypt with finding Israelites. There are many problems with this equation.
First, one must understand that “Semites” refers to people that speak a Semitic language, and this is a definition that even Patterns accepts, albeit inconsistently.
However, the vast majority of ancient people that spoke a Semitic language in either the Middle or Late Bronze Ages in the Near East were NOT Hebrews or Israelites.
These would include all the people of Mesopotamia who spoke Akkadian (Babylonian or Assyrian), and the people that spoke some sort of West Semitic dialect. One fact not disclosed in the documentary is that we have no attestation of a distinctive Hebrew language until about the tenth century BCE.
Therefore, in terms of statistical probabilities alone, finding Semites in Egypt means that you are far more likely to encounter non-Hebrew Semites than Israelites/Hebrews.
A similar situation exists today. The number of people who speak Arabic, a Semitic language, is over 100 million by most estimates. Whereas the number of Jews is about 14 million worldwide. Therefore, encountering non-Hebrew Semites is the norm worldwide, and that is one reason why automatically equating Israelites or Hebrews with Semites in Egypt is already statistically misguided.
In fact, the very pages displayed (at apx. 51:13-51:25 in Patterns) from that Brooklyn Papyrus shows that, if anything, these are NOT Israelites or Hebrews.
Anyone who has studied Semitic and Israelite onomastics (naming practices) would see that many of those names are compounded with pagan gods, such as Anat, Ba‘al, and Rashpu (Resheph).
However, NONE of the names have the most distinctive marker of Israelite Yahwistic names, which is the use of Yahweh, or some form thereof (e.g., Yahu, Yah, etc.). See Professor Jeffrey Tigay’s excellent discussion of these names here.
|The Moabite Stele (9th c. BCE)|
In fact, we do not find an undisputed instance of the name YHWH until the ninth century BCE in The Moabite Stele now housed in the Louvre in Paris.
This late occurrence is odd because the Bible says that Yahweh was the name that began to be used during Adam’s generation (Genesis 4:26) and was used by the Patriarchs (see Genesis 12:7-9, in contradiction to the statement in Exodus 6:3).
Rohl (Exodus, p. 135) describes the names on the Brooklyn Papyrus misleadingly as “biblical names,” when they are better described as “cognate” with biblical names or the “equivalent” of biblical names.
Rohl’s reasoning is akin to finding the Spanish name Guillermo in a list of slaves, and inferring that it must be a specific American named William because the two names are cognate or equivalents in different languages. William can be used by Americans, Irish, Scottish, Australians and other Anglo-phonic speakers.
That is also why pointing to names such as munahhimat (which is cognate with the biblical Menahem) will not help much.
In fact, we find something closer to the biblical Hebrew vocalization in the name munahhimu at Ugarit (flourished in the 14th century BCE) in the northern coast of Syria.[ii] But you don’t see Rohl using that as proof that those Semitic people in Egypt were mainly from coastal Syria rather than from Haran.
One needs names that are distinctively Israelite, not ones that both Israelites and non-Israelites can have.
If the documentary were to find names compounded with Yahweh or one of its forms, then it would really have something that would make the scholarly world pay attention. But it does not.
Therefore, it is far more likely that we are dealing with West Semitic people who ARE NOT Israelites in that Brooklyn Papyrus.
JACOB’S HOUSE IN EGYPT?
Patterns claims that the existence of Jacob is evidenced at Tell el-Dab‘a, the site of the ancient Egyptian city of Avaris in the delta region (on the Pelusiac branch of the Nile).
Tell el-Dab‘a has been excavated by the Austrian archaeologist, Manfred Bietak, since 1966. The site has archaeological remains ranging from about 2000 BCE to 1400 BCE.
A house was found that is similar to what is found in “north Syria” in what is designated as Area F1 stratum d/2, and dated by Bietak to the “end of the 12th Dyn[asty] = ca. 1800 BCE.”[iii] It is described as a Mittelsaal Haus (German for “Middle Hall” because it consists of a hall or courtyard surrounded by rooms), a style that can be found in some parts of Syria.
Rohl makes the bald assertion (at 28:19) that, since Jacob was from north Syria, then he must have had a house like the “Syrian” one found in Egypt.
Making this sort of leap is not only absurd, but also contradicts biblical evidence. What Patterns needs is something that shows that ONLY JACOB could live in such a house. The Bible states that Jacob settled in Goshen, which is too large an area to pinpoint the house of Jacob without more specific evidence.
Otherwise, it is akin to finding the remains of a cabin in Illinois and declaring that it must be where Lincoln lived without any further evidence of a specific presence of Lincoln in that cabin.
A lot of people lived in cabins in Illinois, even in the vicinity of Lincoln, and so it is a leap to say that a cabin must be that of Lincoln because that is the type of house in which Lincoln would live.
Furthermore, Patterns completely disregards what the Bible says concerning the pattern of habitation that Jacob actually preferred. The family of Jacob represent themselves as shepherds (Genesis 47:3) and Jacob preferred tents as is amply attested in the following passages:
When the boys grew up, Esau was a skilful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents.
And Laban overtook Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country, and Laban with his kinsmen encamped in the hill country of Gilead
So Laban went into Jacob's tent, and into Leah's tent, and into the tent of the two maidservants, but he did not find them. And he went out of Leah's tent, and entered Rachel's.
But Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built himself a house, and made booths for his cattle; therefore the name of the place is called Succoth. And Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, on his way from Paddan-aram; and he camped before the city. And from the sons of Hamor, Shechem's father, he bought for a hundred pieces of money the piece of land on which he had pitched his tent. There he erected an altar and called it El-El'ohe-Israel.
Note that the Hebrew bayit (בית) translated as “house” in Genesis 33:17 does not necessarily refer to a structure such as the one found at Avaris, but could refer to a dwelling of various types.
The word bayit also can refer to a social unit, rather than an architectural structure, as when Noah is told to "Go into the ark, you and all your household [beyteka/ ביתך ]...” in Genesis 7:1.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE NUMBER 12
In a later archaeological layer called Stratum G/4, excavators found a structure described as a “palace.” Rohl says that this “much grander residence was constructed over the Mittelsaal Haus” (Exodus, p. 107). He claims that this is “Joseph’s palace” (Exodus, p. 108, Figure 82).
Rohl (minute 29) believes that this palace at Avaris has features that would be improbable unless they are connected to Jacob and Joseph. These features are the existence of:
A. Twelve tombs
B. Twelve pillars that support part of the house.
Rohl thinks these 12 architectural features are related to the 12 sons of Jacob. But there are a number of flaws with those equations.
|Rohl's reconstruction leaves out at least 20 other tombs|
Let’s begin with the twelve tombs. Rohl apparently has not read the most comprehensive report (in German) on these tombs by Robert Schiestl.[iv]
There are clearly more than twelve tombs, but Rohl arbitrarily has chosen 12, and they are not all grouped together in the same stratum by Schiestl. If one goes by the numbers assigned by Rohl, then Schiestl has assigned the following strata to them:
Stratum d/1.1: Tombs 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11
Stratum d/2: Tomb 12
Even if we were to assign Tomb 12 to the same stratum as the other 11 tombs, there would still be the problem that those tombs are part of a larger group of tombs assigned to that stratum.
|Basic stratigraphy of Tell El-Dab'a|
In fact, I count at least 21 tombs that are part of stratum d/1.1. Rohl shows only some of the other tombs but does not label them (small group circled to the right of Rohl’s tomb 11).
One has to listen very carefully to even notice that he is ackowledging the existence of other graves. At around 29:27 in Patterns, Rohl says that “archaeologists found twelve main graves” [emphasis mine] and this one word, “main,” apparently allows him to ignore all other graves, including the ones circled in my photo above to the right of his tomb 11.
And there are also other ways you can group them. Schiestl divides all tombs in that area into four different groups. Rohl just picked and chose 12 of those tombs for no other reason than that he wanted 12 to match the 12 sons of Jacob.
There are human remains in some of them, and Rohl does not explain which of Joseph’s brothers they would be. For example, in the tomb Rohl designates as 8 (FI m/19-Grab 22), the remains of an individual, 17-18 years old, were found (Schiestl, Tell El-Dab ‘a XVIIII, p. 355).
In Rohl’s tomb 2 (FI l/19-Grab 1), the remains of 2 adult males and one “mature” female were found (Schiestl, Tell El-Dab ‘a XVIIII, p. 340).
Again, which of Jacob’s sons or family members would they be?
Rohl’s 12 pillars are achieved by a similar arbitrary and idiosyncratic method. Rohl selected only PART of the total colonnade in that structure. Note his own description in Exodus (p. 107):
“This impressive building is fronted by a portico of twelve wooden columns. Passing through the colonnade, you enter a large hall, the roof of which is supported by four more columns.”
In other words, you have at least 16 columns in the description of that building. So, why select the 12 columns in the portico as symbolic of the sons of Jacob, when you have 16 columns?
|Rohl arbitrarily chooses the circled 12 columns|
Rohl also acknowledges that more columns were subsequently added to the 12 columns (Exodus, p. 107). I count a total of 30 columns in that particular section of the building. If you look at the illustration in his book, you see that he has just selected the “original” 12 as though that was sufficient to establish his symbolic interpretation.
But Rohl has not proven any symbolic value to any select part of the colonnade. He simply states it as a fact.
Nor is the number twelve unparalleled in other architectural features we can find in Egypt. For example, at Amarna, which flourished in the fourteenth century BCE, we find an architectural feature involving the number twelve that we can separate out from a larger complex. According to Dieter Arnold’s description of the neighborhoods of Amarna:
“Good examples of smaller houses are found in the ‘workmen’s village,’ 70 x 70m in size, which lies in the desert. It was divided by five narrow streets into six strips, each containing twelve separate houses” (Dieter Arnold, The Encyclopedia of Ancient Egyptian Architecture (New York: J. B. Tauris, 2003), p. 11.
So, does Rohl believe that twelve separate houses must mean that Jacob’s sons lived at Amarna?
At the Hypostyle Hall at the Temple at Karnak, “The central nave is supported by twelve huge columns which are 21 meters (70 ft) high...” according to the University of Memphis Karnak website.
|We can isolate 12 columns elsewhere|
At the sanctuary of Amenophis III (1391-1353 BCE) there is a separate section that also contains only 12 columns. Why is that not also a symbol for the 12 sons of Jacob? (Illustration at left from John Baines and Jaromír Málek, Atlas of Ancient Egypt [New York: Facts on File 1980] p. 86).
Indeed, we can arbitrarily separate out 12 columns at a number of other places. The number of columns associated with any particular structure may be due to symbolism or to the size and weight of what it supports.
Twelve can generally have other symbolic allusions in Egypt (e.g., zodiac, months in a year) in the ancient world, and it could well be that the Israelites borrowed any prior symbolism of twelve when composing their stories about Jacob. Neither Mahoney nor Rohl ever addresses that possibility.
JOSEPH’S STATUE IN EGYPT?
The remains of a tomb (logged as F/1-P19, tomb 1), which is assumed to have supported a pyramidal superstructure was found at Tell el-Dab‘a (Patterns, at apx. minutes 29-32). That tomb contained the head of a large funerary statue, and it was near the palace that Rohl identifies as Joseph’s home.
Rohl believes it is a statue depicting Joseph. For Rohl, the size and elaboration of the tomb matches Joseph’s stature in Egypt. Moreover, this statue has a hairstyle and skin tones similar to those depicting Asiatics from Syria, the ancestral home of Jacob.
Rohl describes the statue as having “flame-red” hair, and he dates it to the time of Amenhemet III, whom he identifies as the Pharaoh of Joseph’s time (Exodus, p. 117).
|Joseph's head and shoulder according to Rohl|
But it was when Rohl examined the right shoulder of this partial statue that he nearly “dropped” his camera with excitement. Why? Because: “[t]his statue was wearing an Egyptian collar and multicolored coat. I could make out the red and black stripes, plus a pigment that had disappeared which may have been cream, yellow, or light blue” (Exodus, p. 116).
This is important to Rohl because, according to many English translations, Genesis 37:3 says that Joseph wore a coat of many colors.
The first problem with Rohl’s identification is the same as in the case of identifying the house of Jacob. Rohl needs to show that ONLY Joseph would have such a hairstyle, skin coloration, or coat. He does not do that.
|The mummy of Ramesses II|
MAKE NO BONES ABOUT IT
Rohl has not read all the relevant archaeological reports very thoroughly before he constructs his grandiose theories. For example, when commenting on the supposed tomb of Joseph, he tells us (Exodus, pp. 111-112):
“But there was something very strange about this chamber...there was nothing in it. No coffin, no bones, no pottery, no mummy beads, no weapons, no gold or semi precious stone...nothing...except a few fragments of white limestone” [underlined emphasis mine].
For part of his evidence, he cites a website summary by Robert Schiestl here.
This website overview should not be confused with a more comprehensive technical report that a good scholar should be reading.
If Rohl had consulted Schiestl’s more technical and thorough report (“The Statue of an Asiatic Man from Tell el-Dab ‘a, Egypt,” Egypt and Levant 16 [2006), he might have learned that at least one of his claims is outdated, and his whole interpretation very dubious.[vi]
In that article (p. 135), Schiestl tells us: “Bone fragments from the burial chamber can be assigned to two individuals, an adult male and a mature female.”
Again, Rohl claims that the 12 tombs associated with the palace are directly related to the 12 sons of Jacob, but the fact is that this tomb originally might have had more than one individual.
Even if we say that each of Jacob’s sons could have been buried with his wife or wives, it is still shows that Rohl is factually incorrect in his claim that no bones were found in that tomb. It shows a lack of thoroughness of research for this self-proclaimed expert.
Yet another problem is Rohl’s assumption that the limestone head was originally associated with the tomb in which it was found.
The fact is that parts of this statue were found in at least three different tombs. According to Schiestl: “Fragments from tombs p/19-Nr. 1 (head, fist, fringe of garment, frag- ments of seat and base), p/21-Nr. 1 (right shoulder), o/20-Nr. 11 (left foot).” In more schematic form:
p/19-Nr. 1: Head, fist, fringe of garments, fragments of seat and base
p/21-Nr. 1: Right shoulder
0/20-Nr. 11: Left foot
Tomb p/19, Nr. 1 is the one Rohl assumes to be the original location (even if Rohl is aware of fragments found at the other tombs), but Schiestl is not so sure. Here is what Schiestl states (p. 135):
“While this tomb remains a very good possibility for the original location of the statue, tomb p/21-Nr.1 of stratum d/1, discovered 20 m to the east one year later, would also qualify.”
|Look at at the stratigraphy again|
A further complication is that tomb p/19-nr. 1 is from a different stratum (d/2) than tomb p/21-Nr. 1 (Schiestl, Tell El-Dab ‘a XVIII, p. 84: “p/19 Nr. 1 in Str. d/2 datiert und p/21-Grab 1 in Str. d/1”).
If parts of the statue were moved to other tombs from the tomb Rohl assumes to be the original location, then it is at least possible that the opposite also happened. Parts of the statue were moved to Rohl’s favored location from other tombs.
In any case, those are the types of details that Rohl’s poor research either overlooks or does not adequately address before making his grand pronouncements about the identity of the person buried there.
Equally uncertain is the stratigraphy of the tomb in which the statue was found. Rohl wants to associate it with Joseph’s palace. Bietak (“The Center of Hyksos Rule,” p. 100), however, says:
“It is unclear whether this tomb belongs to the Syrian-style ‘middle hall’ house (Mittelsaalhaus) or stratum d/2...which could be considered a predecessor to the palace of the early thirteenth Dynasty in the stratum above (i.e., d/1), or if this early tomb actually belongs to the palace.”
If it belongs to what Rohl calls “Jacob’s house,” not “Joseph’s house,” then it is difficult to see why this would be Joseph’s tomb.
The ancestors of Joseph preferred to be buried in caves according to the Bible (Genesis 23:9, 50:13), and even Jacob was eventually taken back to Canaan to be buried in a cave.
But that is not the only problem with Rohl’s identification of that statue. Biblical scholars realize that the relevant Hebrew phrase, כְּתֹ֥נֶת פַּסִּֽים (ketonet passim), in Genesis 37:3 is uncertain in meaning. Indeed, the Revised Standard Version has “a long robe with sleeves.”
Ephraim Speiser, the respected biblical commentator, believes that “[t]he traditional ‘coat of many colors,’ and the variant ‘coat with sleeves’ are sheer guesses from the context; nor is there anything remarkable about colors or sleeves.”[vii]
Since long sleeves and multicolored attire were quite common all over the ancient Near East, then Joseph’s “coat” must refer to something more extraordinary. Speiser suggests that it could refer to some Mesopotamian ceremonial robes that had gold sewn into them or had appliqué ornaments.
Aside from the occurrences in Genesis 37, the only other time that particular Hebrew phrase (כְּתֹ֥נֶת פַּסִּֽים) is mentioned is in 2 Samuel 13:18: “Now she was wearing a long robe with sleeves; for thus were the virgin daughters of the king clad of old.”
Therefore, men and women could wear what Joseph wore, and in 2 Samuel 13:18 it seems to be connected with royalty, not with some more common multicolored or long sleeved robe.
Manfred Görg believes, on the basis of Egyptian etymologies, that the meaning is simply “dyed” (gefärbt) and he connects it to royal Egyptian (not just Syro-Palestinian) vestments. For Görg, the author was inserting an anticipatory and prophetic detail about Joseph’s future status.[viii]
In sum, it is simplistic to anchor grandiose theories and specific personal identifications on the basis of flimsy and uncertain evidence.
EVIDENCE AGAINST ROHL’S IDENTIFICATIONS
One of the greatest transgressions of Patterns is the failure to divulge crucial archaeological data when discussing the identity of the person in that so-called “Jacob’s House” or in “Joseph’s Palace.”
For example, there is important evidence that whoever lived in that palace did not see themselves as shepherds who worshipped El or Yahweh (as the Bible so identifies Jacob’s family).
One particularly egregious omission is a seal that, by Rohl’s own description, shows Baal Zaphon, a god particularly popular in Syria. Rohl displays this seal in his book, Exodus (p. 165, figure 132), but never divulges that it was found in that what he regards as “Joseph’s palace.”
|Was Joseph a worshipper of Baal Zaphon?|
Bietak’s own description of that seal is as follows: “Impression from the cylinder seal depicting the north Syrian weather-god, found in the northern part of the palace of the early 13th Dynasty, stratum d/1.”[ix]
Edith Porada, who specializes in cylinder seals, described the human figure as “a Syrian weather god.” [x] She also states that “The proximity of the weather god to the sailboat below suggests that the god shown here is a protector of seafarers.”[xi]
The Bible portrays Jacob as a worshipper of El or Yahweh. For example, in Genesis 33:20, Jacob builds an altar and calls it “El Elohe Israel,” which can be translated as “El, the god of Israel.”
Indeed, there is nothing about “Jacob’s House” or “Joseph’s Palace” that matches the shepherd or tent-centered habitations preferred by Jacob’s family according to Genesis.
On the contrary, the evidence suggests that the occupants worshipped Baal Zaphon or some other pagan deity, and valued sea trading and a warrior lifestyle. That does not sound like the biblical Jacob or Joseph.
THE TENTH PLAGUE: GRAVE MATTERS
Patterns asserts that there is evidence of the vast destructions and plagues mentioned just prior to the Exodus (see Exodus 7-12).
The film displays (at apx. 1:22:07) a grave with bodies seemingly dumped haphazardly. According to Rohl, this is evidence of some sudden death or epidemic, much like what the Bible describes. Rohl (Exodus, p. 154) states:
“It is my contention that this gruesome discovery may constitute actual archaeological evidence of the Tenth Plague of Exodus...whatever that may have been.”
Rohl suggests that it may have been bubonic plague brought by black rats because evidence of their presence was found at the site. Avaris, as a riverine port, could also be vulnerable to infected rats travelling on vessels.
Rohl not only shows himself to be an incompetent analyst of osteological materials, but he also denies what the Bible says happened.
The Tenth Plague is the death of the firstborn described in Exodus 11:4-7:
 And Moses said, "Thus says the LORD: About midnight I will go forth in the midst of Egypt;  and all the first-born in the land of Egypt shall die, from the first-born of Pharaoh who sits upon his throne, even to the first-born of the maidservant who is behind the mill; and all the first-born of the cattle.  And there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there has never been, nor ever shall be again.  But against any of the people of Israel, either man or beast, not a dog shall growl; that you may know that the LORD makes a distinction between the Egyptians and Israel.
From this passage and from Exodus 12, it is clear that:
A. The plague is effected by Yahweh (or his angel in Exodus 12:23) who strikes down Egyptian firstborn (with a sword);[xii]
B. Geographically, it affects the entire land of Egypt.
C. Socially, it affects all Egyptian social strata.
D. It does not affect Israelites.
So, does the archaeological evidence match anything like this? First, there is no evidence of any supernatural entity doing anything in Egypt. Rohl sees this problem, and lapses into this non-historical explanation:
“...it is certainly the hardest of the ten miracles to explain by means of science and climatology. But if, like me, you see the story of Exodus as a literary work based on historical events, but woven within a tapestry of epic narrative, then the legendary style would be prone to certain amounts of exaggeration and hyperbole” (Exodus, p. 154).
So, on the one hand, Rohl exerts enormous efforts to establish that the story of Jacob and Joseph are so literally historical that he can identify their houses in Egypt.
On the other hand, the plagues are mostly non-historical literary exaggeration and we should not even bother to believe most of what the biblical text actually says.
The fact is that the grave Rohl discusses provide no evidence of the biblical tenth plague if we accept his date of the Exodus as 1450 BCE.
|Rohl's evidence for the 10th Plague|
If one looks carefully at the grave shown at 1:22:07, one sees that the archaeologists have recorded their find as “F 1 P17 Grab 1,” where Grab is the German word for “grave” or “tomb.” The same record may be seen in the photo in Rohl’s book.
Since I have formal training in archaeology, I pay close attention to find spots and log records. So, I looked at how Manfred Bietak, the main the excavator, actually described the date of this find:
“Mass grave at Tell el-Dab‘a from the time of the end of Stratum G (ca. 1710 B.C.).”[xiii]
But if the Exodus is in 1450 BCE, as Patterns argues, then this mass grave reflects an event hundreds of years before that.
Even if we allow each stratum to be 100-134 years longer than the excavators allow at Tell el-Dab'a, and as Rohl might wish to do (see some of his chronological comparisons in Exodus, pp. 85 and 305), that would take us at most to 1566 BCE. Therefore, the grave would still have nothing to do with the plagues of Exodus around in 1447 BCE.
|Rohl's places the 10th Plague long before 1450BCE?|
How Patterns missed this fact or why it did not disclose Bietak’s earlier date to the audience if it did notice it, reflects either incompetence in archaeological analysis or just plain intellectual dishonesty on the part of Rohl and/or Mahoney. They should have at least disclosed Bietak’s date, even if they disagree with it.
Rohl certainly has not undertaken any serious comparison of other more historically credible cases of bubonic plague, a virulent bacterial infection caused by Yersinia pestis. The best known case is the so-called Black Plague, which killed millions in Europe around 1348-49.
According to Daniel Antoine (“The Archaeology of ‘Plague,’” Medical History Supplement 27 :101-114) this is what it was like in London: “The impact of the Black Death epidemic was catastrophic, and at its height, a contemporary observer stated that approximately 200 bodies a day were being buried.”
And how does that compare to the “mass grave” at Tell el-Dab‘a? That “mass grave” consists of perhaps 6-10 individuals in Rohl's photo, which does not make for a very impressive plague. Patterns omits Bietak’s statement that claims of bubonic plague “is speculation as there is, as yet, no scientific evidence for such a plague” (Bietak, Avaris, p. 35).
Indeed, bubonic plague does not leave any obvious marks on bone, as is noted by Daniel Antoine’ study:
“Unfortunately, plague (or any of the alternative candidates) does not appear to affect bone, and cannot be identified skeletally.” As of yet, we have no biomolecular or DNA studies that might help in the future.
Moreover, in many parts of Tell el-Dab‘a life continued as usual, and other parts of Egypt do not seem to have suffered a catastrophe contemporary with this archaeological level at Tell el Dab‘a.
That is certainly not how the Bible portrays that plague at all. It would have left thousands of mass burials all over Egypt. Rohl offers us one with maybe 10 individuals, whose cause of death is not definitively determined.
DOES IPUWER DESCRIBE THE EXODUS PLAGUES?
According to Rohl, we may have actual eyewitness accounts of the biblical plagues in a work called The Admonitions of Ipuwer, a famous Egyptian sage. Standard editions include those of Sir Aland Gardiner and Miriam Lichtheim.[xiv] There is only one manuscript of this work, which is now housed in Leiden (the Netherlands) and dated to about 1250 BCE.
In any case, Rohl believes that Ipuwer faithfully records events from about 1450 BCE. Rohl tells us:
“It seems, then, that Ipuwer was an eyewitness to a calamitous era in Egyptian history when, towards the end of the 13th dynasty, foreigners had brought the great civilization of Egypt to its knees” (Exodus, p.150).
Rohl (Exodus, pp. 150-153) lists Ipuwer’s narration of events by the following headings:
(a) First the story of the Nile turning into blood
(b) Then the destruction of the crops and the death of the livestock
(c) This leads to the ruination of Egypt
(d) And Darkness covers the land
(e) The death of the firstborn
(f) The plundering of Egypt’s wealth by its slaves
The use of temporal indicators such as “first” and “then” leads readers to believe Rohl is identifying the sequence of events as related by Ipuwer. That sequence in Ipuwer is then used to render parallels with the sequence in Exodus more credible.
Under each of these headings, Rohl offers specific quotes from the Bible and Ipuwer to establish his parallels. For example, to illustrate the first heading he provides the following parallel:
“Exodus: And all the water in the Nile turned to blood. The fish in the river died and the river stank, so that the Egyptians could not drink water from the Nile [Exodus 7:20-21].
Ipuwer: The river is blood! As you drink of it you lose your humanity and thirst for water.”
Taken by itself, the reference to the Nile being blood in Ipuwer and Exodus sounds like a great parallel.
Once you begin to examine what Ipuwer actually says in context and in comparison to similar texts from Egypt and elsewhere, the parallels begin to disintegrate quickly.
First, the sequence Rohl presents makes it look as though Ipuwer is following the sequence of plagues in Exodus.
What Rohl does not disclose is that he has artificially constructed this sequence in some part. The actual text of Ipuwer does not always follow the sequence Rohl presents. Moreover, Rohl does not tell us which edition he is using (or if it is his own translation).
For comparison, I will use the standard editions by Miriam Lichtheim and Sir Alan Gardiner that Rohl mentioned elsewhere (Exodus, pp. 150, 152).[xv] I also consulted the translation of J. A. Wilson.[xvi]
For example, under the heading (e) for the death of the firstborn, he quotes Ipuwer, in part, as follows:
“Behold, plague sweeps the land; blood is everywhere, with no shortage of the dead. Children are dashed against walls. The funeral shroud calls out to you before you come near. Woe is me for the grief of this time. He who buries his brother in the ground is everywhere...Wailing is throughout the land mingled with lamentation” [my underlined emphasis].
The two lines that I have underlined in Rohl’s translation were actually inserted there from other parts of Ipuwer, judging by the editions of Lichtheim, and the earlier standard edition of Alan Gardiner, which includes copies of the original Egyptian text. There are no ellipses in Rohl’s edition at this point to indicate an insertion.
|Compare Lichtheim to Rohl's sequence|
If one looks at Lichtheim’s edition (Volume 1, p. 155, 2.5-6), the phrase “Children of nobles are dashed against walls” is not preceded by “with no shortage of the dead” or followed by “the funeral shroud...”.
The description of children being dashed against the walls is found in Ipuwer 4.3 (and 5.6, which repeats it).
The line about burying one’s brother also is not found among the other lines in that passage in the Lichtheim or Gardiner editions of Ipuwer 2.5-9. Rohl has transferred it there from 2.13.
Now, look just at the first sentence of Rohl’s quotation under heading (e), which he relates to the TENTH PLAGUE (the death of the firstborn): “Behold, plague sweeps the land; blood is everywhere, with no shortage of the dead...”
A similar description occurs in Lichtheim’s edition (at 2.5-6) BEFORE Rohl’s FIRST PLAGUE (“the Nile turning into blood”).
In other words, if we follow Ipuwer’s own sequence, the descriptions used by Rohl to support THE TENTH PLAGUE (the death of the firstborn) come BEFORE (in 2.5-6) the descriptions he uses to support THE FIRST PLAGUE of the Nile (in 2.10). Ipuwer does not match the Bible’s sequence of calamities.
Rohl has an even bigger problem explaining the identity of the masses of people dying in Ipuwer 2.5-6, and before the river turns to blood in 2.10.
So, not only does Rohl rearrange lines to make his parallels to Exodus appear stronger than they are, but he does not even follow Ipuwer’s own sequence at times. Rohl is either engaging in blatantly dishonest scholarship or Rohl is reconstructing a sequence to his liking, but without informing the viewer/reader.
CONTEXT: WHY IS THE RIVER BLOOD IN IPUWER?
Patterns never gives its viewers enough context to explain why the river turns to blood in Ipuwer.
In Ipuwer, the phrase “the river is blood” in 2.10 alludes to the preceding events where people were being dumped into the river. Note this whole passage in context in Lichtheim’s edition (Volume 1, p. 151) of Ipuwer 2.5-9.
“Lo, hearts are violent, storm sweeps the land
There is blood everywhere, no shortage of dead
The shroud calls out before one comes near it.
Lo, many dead are buried in the river,
the stream is the grave, the tomb became the stream.”
It is a few lines after that in Lichtheim when we have the line about “Lo, the river is blood.”
So, clearly, the river being blood is a description, metaphorical or literal, about what happens when you dump countless and perhaps bleeding bodies into the river. In Exodus, it is not the dumping of human bodies that turns the river into blood. It is an instant and miraculous transformational event.
You have different stories here.
IPUWER IS EVERYWHERE?
According to Rohl (Exodus, p. 152), Ipuwer describes the plundering of the Egyptians by the fleeing Hebrews (described in Exodus 12:35-36) as follows:
“The slave takes what he finds. What belongs to the palace has been stripped. Gold, lapiz lazuli, silver and turquoise are strung on the necks of female slaves. See how the poor of the land have become rich whilst the man of property is a pauper.”
The danger in using this as a parallel to Exodus is that we can find similar descriptions of Egypt in other sources from other periods. Many of them are part of a larger genre depicting reversals of fortune in city/national laments that we can find in Egypt, Mesopotamia and Israel. Note these examples:
The Prophecies of Neferti (Lichtheim, p 143)
I show the land in turmoil
The weak-armed is strong armed...
Men will live the graveyard,
the beggar will gain riches,
The great [will rob] to live
the poor will eat bread,
the slave will be exalted.
The Curse of Agade in Mesopotamia[xvii]
That the kingdom of Agade would no longer occupy a good lasting residence,
That its future was altogether unfavorable,
That its temples would be shaken and their stores scattered
That is what Naram Sin saw in a dream...
Naram Sin was immobile for seven years.
 I am the man who has seen affliction
under the rod of his wrath;
 he has driven and brought me
into darkness without any light;
 surely against me he turns his hand
again and again the whole day long.
 He has made my flesh and my skin waste away,
and broken my bones;
 he has besieged and enveloped me
with bitterness and tribulation;
 he has made me dwell in darkness
like the dead of long ago.
In the Prophecy of Neferti, which is set in the reign of Amenemhet I (1991-1962 BCE), and so before the time of Joseph by Rohl’s own chronology, we see slaves exalted and the land in turmoil.
In the biblical book of Lamentations, we have descriptions that can parallel some sort of plague or famine (my flesh and my skin waste away), and there is a reference to darkness (compare the plague of darkness in Exodus 10:21-29).
The Curse of Agade, a Mesopotamian composition dated to about 2000 BCE, features a king who dreams of an impending famine, and includes the number 7 as part of its narrative. In Genesis 41, we have a king who dreams of seven years of famine (see 41:27).
Indeed, almost every feature one finds in Ipuwer can be found separately or together in these types of national/communal laments. They need not be eyewitness reports, even if they may be based on real events.
And why does it not occur to Rohl that the author of Exodus may be borrowing or adapting stereotypical descriptions from the Curse of Agade and Ipuwer, among other sources, for predominantly literary, not historical, reasons?
After all, Rohl admits: “But if, like me, you see the story of Exodus as a literary work based on historical events...” (Exodus, p. 154).
SHORT LIFE SPANS = SLAVERY?
At around 46:30-47:00 in Patterns, Rohl discusses the archaeological evidence for Hebrew slavery in Egypt. Part of his evidence is short life spans. He notes that people at Avaris lived 32-34 years, and then claims that slavery explains that.
Since I have written two books on illness and health care in the ancient Near East, I am keenly aware that life expectancies were not much past the 40s or 50s for most of ancient history. [xviii] I also have formal training in osteoarchaeology, and so I can at least look for the types of illnesses that are reflected in skeletal material.
True enough, Eike Meinrad Winkler and Harald Wilfing, who studied some of the skeletal remains from Tell el-Dab’a, noted that “as with other neolithic and Bronze Age populations the average age at death is very low.”[xix] They found the average age at death to be 30 years for females, and 34.4 for males.
But consider the following estimates for average lifespans by Manfred Kunter, who studied the skeletal remains Khamid el-Loz, an Iron Age archaeological site in Lebanon. Kunter also compared the skeletal remains at Khamid el-Loz to other places in the Near East:[xx]
Kamid el-Loz (Iron Age): 45 (males), 35 (females)
Catal Huyuk (Turkey, ca. 6000 BCE), 34 (males), 30 (females)
Lerna (Crete, ca. 1800 BCE): 37 (males), 31 (females)
Athens –Corinth (ca 450 BCE): 45 (males), 35 (females)
Therefore, living only 32 to 34 years tells you nothing about the slave status of a skeleton. There may be other indicators (e.g., weight bearing can produce damage to certain bones or spine), but Rohl’s focus on life spans that are pretty near normal almost everywhere in the Near East shows his lack of depth in the study of ancient health care.
THE CONQUEST: JABIN FOUND?
According to Joshua 11, Jabin was the king of a city named Hazor. Joshua destroyed it completely and killed Jabin. Here are the relevant verses from Joshua 11:
 When Jabin king of Hazor heard of this, he sent to Jobab king of Madon, and to the king of Shimron, and to the king of Ach'shaph...  And Joshua turned back at that time, and took Hazor, and smote its king with the sword; for Hazor formerly was the head of all those kingdoms. And they put to the sword all who were in it, utterly destroying them; there was none left that breathed, and he burned Hazor with fire. And all the cities of those kings, and all their kings, Joshua took, and smote them with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying them, as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded.  But none of the cities that stood on mounds did Israel burn, except Hazor only; that Joshua burned.
Rohl refers to a cuneiform tablet found at Hazor that bears a name, which he says (at apx. 1:41:33) is “identical” to the name of Jabin found in the Bible.
In his book, Exodus (p. 290), Rohl is even more dramatic in his retelling of what that cuneiform tablet says:
“More recently, the team led by Amnon Ben-Tor, the current head of the excavations at Hazor, found a fragment of cuneiform tablet in the rubbish heap of Yadin’s excavations. When the tiny fragment was read by Akkadian experts, it revealed the name of the king of Hazor who lived in the Middle Bronze Age palace on the citadel mound. Yes, you’ve guessed it, the king was called Yabni-Addu—in other words another Jabin.”
Rohl touts that as some sort of confirmation that the archaeological record supports the Joshua’s Conquest accounts.
When I looked at the actual publication of the tablet, I saw that Rohl is misrepresenting the evidence. The tablet was published in Wayne Horowitz and Aaron Schaffer, “A Fragment of a Letter from Hazor,” Israel Exploration Journal 42 (1992): 165-67.
Rohl’s entire claim is based on line 1 of the tablet, which reads:
This is the standard introduction in Akkadian correspondence, and simply names the addressee (“[speak”] to Ib-ni...). Ibni is the addressee. The –Addu part that he mentions is not in the actual text, but is a speculative guess on the part of editors of the text.
The actual name on the tablet is not Yabni or Yabni-Addu as Rohl asserts. He seems to have inserted a West Semitic ya- prefix where there is an Akkadian prefix (i-) and so makes it seem more “identical” than it actually is.
Furthermore, nothing is said about this Ibni being the king of Hazor or the king of anything else. The addressee could be anyone, including someone not even from Hazor.
IBNI NOT THE SAME AS YABIN
An even bigger problem for Rohl is that Ibni and Yabîn (the transcription for Jabin I will use here to represent the first yodh or –y- consonant more consistently), may not even be a form of the same name or word at all.
In fact, Rohl’s use of the word “identical” again shows his lack of linguistic expertise. The fact is Yabîn and Ibni are NOT identical if one defines “identical” as having the same letters in exactly the same sequence: i-b-n-i versus y-a-b-i-n (as vocalized in English).
If Rohl means that they have identical Semitic roots, then that is something else. In that case, cautious Semitic linguists usually say that Ibni and Yabîn are cognate or equivalents, but not that they are “identical.”
If having the same Semitic root qualifies two names as being “identical,” then Patterns should have disclosed that this is a very common root in names found hundreds of years BEFORE AND HUNDREDS OF YEARS AFTER the Conquest of Hazor. Therefore, it is useless to use it as a dating tool.
What Rohl is doing is akin to finding a letter in Virginia from the late 1700s addressed to Jorge (the Spanish equivalent of George), and then assuming the addressee must be “identical” with any particular George (e.g., George Washington). George and Jorge are too common and widespread to use as a dating tool or as uniquely identifying any one individual in the archaeological record.
Rohl actually uses the more cautious description in his caption on p. 291 of Exodus (“Linguists accept that this is the equivalent of the biblical name Jabin”), which creates an inconsistency between how he describes the name on the documentary and how he describes it in this caption in his book. Otherwise, “identical” and “the equivalent of” can have different historical implications.
I also will show further below that what he means by “linguists” is either wrong or equally uninformed.
But let’s suppose that Ibni in this cuneiform tablet is a king of Hazor. In ibni, the prefix is the –i- vowel. True enough, that –i- prefix in Akkadian is equivalent to the ya- or yi- prefix in Northwest Semitic languages.
Otherwise, Rohl’s claim that this name is “identical” to Yabin is linguistically misleading or plain wrong.
To understand this, one must realize that Hebrew has these two different roots with different meanings:
b-y-n: “to understand to discern”
b-n-y: “to build, to create”
The root byn is called a middle-weak root because it does not always preserve that middle root consonant when it takes different grammatical forms.
On the other hand, bny is a third-weak root, where it is the last consonant that may not be preserved when it takes different grammatical forms.
These roots are vocalized very differently when they express what is called a G imperfective 3rd masculine singular (generally meaning “HE did/was doing X verb...”) form as follows:
Yibnê when it is a form of bny, and means “he built” or “he created.”
Yabîn when it is a form of byn, and means “he understood” or “he knew”:
Note these examples:
byn: Yabîn at least 18 times in the Hebrew Bible (e.g., Isaiah 6:10, Daniel 11:37)
bny: Yibnê as in Deuteronomy 25:9 and Joshua 8:30.
Therefore, Yabîn is probably not from the same root as Ibni. Indeed, for his evidence of any equivalence he cites (Exodus, p. 289; 291, n. 32) only one source: William F. Albright, The Biblical Period from Abraham to Ezra (New York, 1963), p. 102, n. 83.
Albright does state the following in that footnote: “[t]he name Yabin is an easily explicable phonetic development from a more original form Yabn(i). The name Yabn(i) itself is a typical short form (hypocoristic) of orginal Yabni-El or Yabni-Haddad.”
However, Albright, just like any other expert, must have evidence for his statement, and he provides none. Albright does not show any other example of where bny, the root he presumes to be behind Yabîn, is ever vocalized with a vowel between the second and third root consonants.
As it is, Rohl does not think Albright is right about everything. Albright supports an Exodus during the time of Ramesses, and that is regarded as wrongheaded by Rohl. Why does Rohl not critically evaluate Albright’s claim here?
Herbert Huffmon, a linguist who specializes in West Semitic names, includes names such as Ya-ab-ni-dDa-gan as part of a “large group of names with verbal elements that are third weak forms.”[xxi]
Huffmon also rightly identifies the biblical Yabîn precisely with a second-weak root (byn) in either a G or C (causative) form.[xxii] Huffmon was aided by Albright in his study of West Semitic names (more specifically from Mari in ancient Syria). Huffmon studied a much larger set of names and systematically compared names when he published his study in 1965. In other words, Rohl is depending on an outdated source.
J. J. Stamm, the Semitic linguist who wrote a standard treatment of Akkadian names, classifies names containing ibni with those meaning “the god produced/created the child” (“Der Gott schafft das Kind”), and that verb is banû, a third-weak form (bny or bnw, which corresponds to banah (בנה), from the root bny, in Hebrew.[xxiii]
On the other hand, the root bny, is vocalized as follows in the G imperfect 3rd person singular form: Yibnê in Deuteronomy 25:7 and Joshua 8:30, which is much closer to Ibni than Yabîn.
Joshua 8:30 is particularly relevant because it is from the same biblical book where we find Yabîn. But it does vocalize the root bny and byn differently.
If Patterns still thinks that Ibni is “identical” to Yabîn, then an even more “identical” name to Ibni would be the Yabni (as part of a longer name, Yabni-Ilu), found at Lachish in the fourteenth century BCE (1300s BCE), and recorded in Letter 328, line 4 of the El Amarna Letters. [xxiv]
Note that here we do have the West Semitic prefix ya- (Ya-ab-ni-ilu), and not the –i- prefix that is more characteristic of Akkadian vocalizations. Note that this occurrence of Yabni is AFTER the date of the Exodus (1450 BCE) favored by Patterns.
|Eduard Sachau found Jabin in Egypt, too!|
Another equivalent of that Ibni even occurs in an Aramaic ostracon published by Eduard Sachau (1845-1930) that is perhaps from Elephantine, a Jewish colony in Egypt from around 410 BCE. The name is transcribed as יבנה and vocalized as “Jibneh” by Sachau.[xxv] Jibneh is certainly cognate with Ibni.
This last detail is important because Rohl thinks Ibni refutes those minimalists who date these Joshua narratives even into the Hellenistic period. As Rohl phrases it:
“This discovery confirms that the source for the book of Joshua knew the dynastic name of the Middle Bronze Age kings of Hazor, which rather makes a nonsense of the minimalists’ claims that the Bible was not written until the Hellenistic Age, more than a thousand years later!” (Exodus, p. 290).
The Sachau Ostracon shows that names with the root bny were still current in the 400s BCE, even in Egypt. Therefore, the occurrence of an Ibni in an Old Babylonian cuneiform tablet does not show that Joshua was written near the time of the events it narrates.
In fact, we don’t have any actual manuscripts of Joshua (or of any part of the Hebrew Bible) before the third century BCE, a detail that Rohl and Patterns does not mention, especially as they give the impression that we are dealing with Hebrew sources transmitted to later authors from around 1400 BCE.
All that the cuneiform tablet proves is that Yabîn was a widespread name and has a long history among Semitic peoples. Ibni cannot be used as a dating tool for establishing the Conquest around 1400 BCE if it was also used around 400 BCE.
ONE OR TWO JABINS?
Mahoney never addresses the seemingly blatant contradiction that Jabin and Hazor are supposed to have been exterminated completely in Joshua 11:1, 10, and yet there is Jabin king of Hazor AFTER the death of Joshua (See Judges 1:1) in Judges 4:2.
Apologists have attempted to explain this away by saying that there were two different Jabins. However, Judges has at least one other instance where it simply repeats a story from Joshua (compare Judges 1:11-15 with Joshua 15:15-19)
Therefore, editorial problems probably better explain the occurrence of Jabin in Judges 4. Otherwise, one would have to suppose that after a complete destruction of both city and people, Hazor rose again within a few years, and installed another king Jabin. The archaeological evidence is certainly lacking for that.
That juxtaposition of Mahoney and Akhenaten is very ironic because Mahoney leaves out one of the most definitive pieces of evidence that any Israelite conquest did not happen around 1400.
Akhenaten is the chief figure in the El Amarna correspondence, a corpus of hundreds of letters between Akehnaten and rulers all over Canaan, Anatolia, and Mesopotamia dating from about 1300s BCE. See Amarna info.
These letters mention biblical places such as Hazor, Jerusalem, and Lachish. But NONE of them show that the biblical Hebrews are in possession of those cities by the 1300s BCE, as should be the case if the dating championed by Patterns is correct.
Rohl uses the same sorts of misinformed pronouncements he made about Yabîn to try to prove that some biblical figures (e.g. , Saul) are found in the Amarna letters.
Of course, it has been claimed that the Habiru/Hapiru mentioned in those letters are the Hebrews. Older Christian apologists seized on the Habiru/Hapiru as being a specific reference to the Hebrews but even Hoffmeier (Israel in Egypt, p. 124) acknowledges that most scholars now view it as a general term for refugees who live outside of urban areas, including Hebrews.
So, why did Mahoney omit discussion of the Amarna correspondence? Why did he not address that elephant in the room?
Mahoney also left out that we would expect MOUNDS and MOUNDS of archaeological debris if the estimated 1 and half million people (based on Exodus 12:37, which only counts the men) were eating every day for 40 years on the way to Canaan. Just think of how many bones of goats, sheep, and cows would be left at every place where such a large mass of people were eating.
But then, again, he might just say that this is literary hyperbole, and we should not believe the numbers the Bible gives us, except when Rohl likes them.
The only important pattern I see in Patterns of Evidence: Exodus is one displaying consistent ignorance, incompetence, deception, and/or lack of transparency.
Mahoney certainly shows his ignorance, but at least he admits he is not an expert. That still means that Mahoney has produced yet another biblical apologetic documentary where he cannot check much of anything being told to him by Rohl and other apologists.
|Rohl: Expert or Charlatan?|
Rohl, who is touted as an expert, shows himself incompetent in evaluating linguistic arguments surrounding the etymology of Yabîn.
Rohl is ignorant of osteological studies of ancient illness, and so makes simplistic pronouncements about plagues and slavery that anyone who has undertaken a comparative study of skeletal remains should not make.
The fact that Rohl cites only Schiestl’s website summary (in Exodus, p. 117, n., 4) rather than the full archaeological report by Schiestl reflects pure indolence or a lack of due diligence.
The full reports can make a big difference, as in the case where he said there were no bones found in “Joseph’s tomb,” while Robert Schiestl says that there were bones found there.
There is deceptiveness in how Rohl has rearranged the sequence of quoted passages from Ipuwer in order to make parallels to Exodus seem stronger than they are.
There is deceptiveness insofar as Patterns claims that the Hazor cuneiform tablet bears a name “identical” to the biblical Yabîn. If it is not deception, then Rohl just shows lack of due diligence in checking what name the text actually recorded.
|Manfred Bietak, a real expert|
Rohl does not disclose evidence for the worship of pagan deities by the occupants of the structures that he attributes to Joseph and Jacob, who are portrayed as worshippers of Yahweh and El in the Bible.
Rohl does not disclose that there are many more pillars and more tombs than the ones he arbitrarly and idiosyncratically chooses and displays in the video and in his book to make archaeological features match the 12 sons of Jacob.
Ironically, Rohl does not always believe what the Bible says. Just like the “minimalists” he criticizes for denying biblical historicity, he also denies biblical historicity by arbitrarily relegating narratives to hyperbole or anachronism (as in the case of the mention of Pi-ramesses in Exodus 1:11 in Patterns at apx. 26:40-50).
A key belief by Rohl is expressed here: “But if, like me, you see the story of Exodus as a literary work based on historical events...” (Exodus, p. 154).
What this means in practice is that he decides what is historical or non-historical even when the Bible’s claims do not differ formally from each other.
This documentary, then, is a vacuous exercise to support only the parts of the Bible that Rohl has selected as having historical value, even though he could just as well make them “literary” or “hyperbolic” as the parts he does not take literally (an angel killing the firstborn, not a disease).
As is the case with all of these apologetic documentaries, the victims are viewers who rely on the “experts” interviewed in order to maintain confidence in a Bible that has very little historical basis in the Exodus narratives.
*Unless noted otherwise, dates for Egyptian pharaohs are from John Baines and Jaromír Málek, Atlas of Ancient Egypt [New York: Facts on File 1980] pp. 36-37. All biblical quotes are from the Revised Standard Version unless noted otherwise.
**My thanks to Christjahn Beck, my research assistant who helped to proofread the manuscript.
[i] I will not enter here into the absolutely nonsensical linguistic and paleographical maneuvers used by Rohl to equate Ramesses II with the biblical Shishak mentioned in 1 Kings 14:25-28.
[ii] See Frauke Grondahl, Die Personennamen der Texte aus Ugarit (Studia Pohl 1; Rome: Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, 1967), p. 343.
[iii] Manfred Bietak, “The Center of Hykson Rule: Avaris (Tell el-Dab‘a),” in Eliezer D. Oren (ed.), The Hyksos: New Archeaological and Historical Perspectives (Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Museum, 1997), p. 99, Figure 4.10.
[iv] Robert Schiestl, Tell El-Dab‘a XVIII: Die Palastnekropole von Tell el-Dab‘a. Die Graber des Areals F/I der Straten d/2 und d/1 (Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences Press, 2009).
[v] Bob Brief, Egyptian Mummies: Unravelling the Secret of an Ancient Art (New York: William Morrow, 1994), p. 184. According to Brier, the original hair coloration was determined by a microscopic examination of the roots, and is not based the red-blonde dye that was applied to make him look younger at death.
[vi] The most comprehensive official report of this area is Robert Schiestl, Tell El-Dab‘a XVIII.
[vii] Ephraim Speiser, Genesis: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Anchor Bible 1; 3rd edition; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1986), p. 289.
[viii]Manfred Görg, “Der gefärbte Rock Josefs,” Biblische Notizen 102 (2000):9-13.
[ix]Manfred Bietak, Avaris: The Capital of the Hyksos (London: The British Museum Press, 1996), p. 28, figure 25.
[x] Edith Porada, “The Cylinder Seal from Tell el-Dab'a,” American Journal of Archaeology 88 (1984): 485-488, quote from p. 485. The horned animal upside down before the human figure may be a goat, but it should not be identified as a symbol of the profession of the occupants. According to Porada (p. 487), it may symbolize a defeated enemy.
[xi] Porada, “The Cylinder Seal from Tell el-Dab'a,” p. 487.
[xii] Translations obscure the fact that the entity called the Maskhit (tyjvm;“the destoyer” or “destroying angel”) in Hebrew in Exodus 12:23 is depicted as using a sword to carry out his work (see 1 Chronicles 21:15-16).
[xiii] Bietak, “The Center of Hyksos Rule,” p. 107, figure 4.19.
[xiv] Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature (3 vols.; Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976). The story of Ipuwer is found in Volume 1, pp. 149-163. For the sake of brevity, I will just refer to this source as “Lichtheim’s edition.”
[xv]A. H. Gardiner, The Admonitions of an Egyptian Sage from a Hieratic Papyrus in Leiden (Pap. Leiden 344 recto) (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1969 [repr. 1909]).
Miriam, Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature (3 vols.; Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976).
[xvi] J. A. Wilson, “The Admonitions of Ipu-wer,” in James Pritchard (ed.), Ancient Near Eastern Texts relating to the Old Testament (Princeton: Princeton, NJ, 1969), pp. 441-444.
[xvii] Jerrold S. Cooper, The Curse of Agade (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983), p. 55.
[xviii] Hector Avalos, Illness and Health Care in the Ancient Near East: The Role of the Temple in Greece, Mesopotamia and Israel [Harvard Semitic Monographs 54, 1995]; Health Care and the Rise of Christianity (1999).
[xix] Erik-Meinrad Winkler and Harald Wilfing. Tell El-Dab‘a VI. Anthropologische Untersuchungen an die Skelettresten der Kampagnen 1966-69, 1975-80, 1985 (Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences, 1991), p. 140.
[xx]Manfred Kunter, Kamid el-Loz, 4. Anthropologische Untersuchung der Menschlichen Skelettreste aus dem eisenzeitlichen Friedhof (Innsbrücker Beiträge zur Altertumskunde 19; Bonn: Rudolf Habelt, 1977).
[xxi] Herbert B. Huffmon, Amorite Personal Names in the Mari Texts: A Structural and Lexical Study (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1965), p. 70.
[xxii] Herbert B. Huffmon, Amorite Personal Names in the Mari Texts: A Structural and Lexical Study (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1965), pp. 176-177.
[xxiii] J. J. Stamm, The Akkadische Namengebung (Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1939), pp. 139-140.
[xxiv] For the Akkadian, see J. A., Knudtzon, Die El-Amarna Tafeln mit Einleitung un Erläuterungen (2 vols.; repr., Osnabruck: Otto Zeller, 1964 ), 1:938. For the English, see William L. Moran, The Amarna Letters (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), p. 354.
[xxv] Eduard Sachau, Aramäische Papyrus und Ostraka aus einer jüdischen Militär Kolonie zu Elephantine (2 volumes; Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1911). For the transcription of Text 68, 2, line 1, see Volume 1, pp. 243-244. For the photographs of the ostracon see Volume 2, Plate 68, Text 2. Sachau notes that the ostracon was purchased at Edfu (Egypt), and so that is why I say “probably” from Elephantine based on similar finds there.