If you’re like me, you’ve probably had no idea there is an ongoing dispute in scholarly circles as to the dating of the Exodus. In what is known as “The Academy”, Biblical scholars contend with each other regarding this important date. They go back and forth in their elite, peer-reviewed journals with one scholar citing such and such evidence and another scholar alluding to something contrary. It’s quite the intellectual battle that most people, not in the know, have no clue about.
Actually, the dispute has some interesting aspects. The date of the Exodus isn’t as set in concrete as most laypeople in evangelical circles may suppose. The most prominent date of the deliverance of the Jews from the bondage in Egypt for most of us comes from 1 Kings 6:1:
In the four hundred and eightieth year after the people of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second month, he began to build the house of the Lord.
From this passage you’d suppose the date should be uncontroversial. The verse tells us that from the time the people who became the nation of Israel left Egypt, until this point at which Solomon began building the temple, was 480 years. Straightforward right?
There are a couple of other Biblical references that appear to contradict this. One that certain scholars use comes from Exodus 1:11, which describes the slavery of the Israelites and one of their specific building projects:
Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses.
The implication in this verse is that in the building of these two cities for grain storage, the one was named for the pharaoh at that time, i.e. Raamses. It doesn’t necessarily say that in the text, but certain scholars run with that.
The other “proof text” for this same set of scholars comes from the time that Jephthah was one of the judges. In Judges 11:26 Jephthah argues with the king of the Ammonites as to how God gave Israel her land, and this pagan king has no claim to it. He says:
“While Israel lived in Heshbon and its villages, and in Aroer and its villages, and in all the cities that are on the banks of the Arnon, 300 years, why did you not deliver them within that time?”
That statement of 300 years more or less correlates with the time that Raamses was pharaoh in Egypt. So, you can see there is a set of potentially conflicting dates.
Since the Bible does not ultimately contradict itself, there is surely a valid explanation for this. I don’t know what it is, and I don’t think any scholars on either side of this debate know either.
What the conflict produces, however, is what’s known as an early date for the Exodus and a late date. Using the 480 year figure produces an early date of about 1146 BC, i.e. a 15th Century date. Using the Raamses and Jephthah argument, scholars determine the late date of about 1200 BC, i.e. in the 13th Century. This creates a difference of somewhere between 150 and 200 years difference between the early and late dating of the Exodus.
Within these same “Academy” circles are those who have a high view of the Bible and those which think it’s myth or folklore. The scholars who believe that the Bible provides accurate, historical information are known as Maximalists. The ones who think the Bible’s narrative and information is of no use and should be ignored are called Minimalists.
Maximalists generally hold to the early date of the Exodus in the 13th Century; whereas Minimalists generally hold to the late date in the 15th Century. For evangelicals you’d think that would be clear-cut, i.e. we’d all be Maximalists.
But, that’s not the case. There are Maximalists, i.e. evangelicals, who hold to the late date. Why? Another factor that comes into play between and within these two camps is archeological evidence. Basically, the Minimalists say that unless the physical evidence of archeology determines something, then the narrative is false. Maximalists agree that archeological evidence is very important, but sometimes it’s simply not available. As such, they don’t agree that Scripture should be rejected.
This has become a rather complex scholarly argument over the years. One of the interesting facts that has come out is that the Minimalists who made archeological finds over the years didn’t couple many of them together; in neglecting to do that, they missed connecting certain dots that comprise a greater understanding of the whole picture. That picture by and large supports what the Bible says.
I have no doubt that the Bible is true, inerrant and infallible. I’m also learning that the actual proof for its veracity hasn’t all yet been found. There are many who are quick to dismiss the Bible because of its theological bias. Interestingly, however, the same people who do that readily accept other ancient works from that time period that originate in surrounding pagan nations to Israel which are thoroughly theological in their perspective, i.e. kings giving credit to their gods for victory in battle , etc. It’s the Minimalists generally who will accept those pagan descriptions as true history but say the Bible cannot be used for that purpose. Obviously there’s bias at play.
The bottom line for me is that there will always be those of us who revere the Word of God, and there will be those who do not. That’s’ what it ultimately comes down to. In the end there are two types of people in the world: saved and unsaved; believers and unbelievers.
Where any of us stand as to the Word of God determines our eternal fate. Which of these two types of people describe you? Are you for God or against Him?