Moses and Archaeology
by Rick Dack, Founder and Director of Defending the Bible Int’l.
(All images and text are owned/purchased by Defending the Bible Int'l. and cannot be used without permission)
The Hyksos: These first persecutors of the Hebrews (ca. 1700-1570 B.C.) introduced the war chariot, the compound bow and the sickle sword. There are three theories about where they came from. The first and less likely is the idea that they were Indo-European's. The second theory is that they were Hurrians (not Semitic) and the third is the traditional view that they were Semites. These originators of the Hebrew bondage, ruled the northern part of Egypt and were expelled from Egypt by Ahmose I. There is evidence of Hyksos occupation at Tell El-Dab'a (Stratum F) and ending with the excavations of Stratum D2. Archaeology has also revealed that the Hyksos buried their people in the fetal position and were involved in human sacrifice.
Goat forelegs: Exodus 29 and Levitcus 7 speak of the sacrifice on the altar of a goat. The right forelegs of some goats were discovered at Tell Qiri (dated to the 12 century B.C.). Goat, a common name for any of eight species of cloven-hoofed, horned mammals that are closely related to the sheep and ram.
Brick making: The act of brickmaking was discovered on a painting in the tomb of Rekhmire (Vizier). This painting was created during the reign of Thutmosis III (1504-1450) who's son, Amenhotep II, was a co-regent for 3 years before his death. This depiction is the only one of it kind from the Early New Kingdom period, the time period in which Moses lived.
Memphis and Goshen: Memphis is where the Pharaoh of the Exodus (probably Amenhotep II) was born and spent most of his time reigning from. Goshen is where Amenhotep II encountered Moses and Aaron.
The Plagues of Egypt
Plague One
“So the Lord said to Moses: "Pharaoh's heart is hard, he refuses to let the people go. Go to Pharaoh in the morning, when he goes out to the water, and you shall stand by the river's bank to meet him; and the rod which was turned to a serpent you shall take in your hand. And you shall say to him, 'The Lord God of the Hebrews has sent me to you, saying, "Let My people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness"; but indeed, until now you would not hear. Thus says the Lord "By this you shall know that I am the Lord. Behold, I will strike the waters which are in the river with the rod that is in my hand, and they shall be turned to blood and the fish that are in the river shall die, the river shall stink, and the Egyptians will loathe to drink the water of the river." – Exodus 7: 14-18.
As shown by the text, this was a public display to show the Pharaoh the power of the Hebrew God but was this the only reason for this plague or was the event intended for more than a ruler with a hardened heart? In the book, "Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament" John Currid points out that some of these events pertaining to the 10 plagues of Egypt were an attack against particular deities of Egypt. If this is true, what gods specifically are we addressing? Plague one was addressed specifically to a Nile god and the biblical writers clearly understood the plagues in this manner (Currid). This god known as Hapi was considered to be the god of vegetation and rebirth (David), this god is also sung of in hymns as the one "who comes to nourish Egypt" or as the one who "bringing sustenance is rich in food and is the creator of every good thing. Hapi is portrayed in the physical form as a bearded man with breasts and a hanging stomach (showing fertility) and this god is even mentioned in the Pyramid Texts as Hapi, which is the divine name of the Nile. The god Hapi and the river itself were synonymous.. by becoming blood, this river was rendered powerless to bring life and fertility to the land, with no fertility the God is rendered powerless (Aling). Currid points out that this "fertility" not only affected the water supply but that it had an obvious affect on the inhabitants of the water. If the Nile has turned to blood the staple of the Egyptian diet , which is fish, would die out. A further point should be made that the Hebrew Gods intent was to show Egypt that only Yahweh can supply Egypts needs and not a useless pagan deity with limited power (Currid).
Plague Two
Hekat, the one who helped the Egyptian god Osiris rise from dead and who's earliest cult center (Elephant Nome) (Watterson) is the god of the second plague. What characteristics if any would lead to this conclusion? As Hapi is portrayed as a god of Fertility so does Hekat follow in this line of belief.. Hekat is believed to have assisted as a midwife in the births (the goddess of childbirth) (Aling) and a creator goddess of the human race which follows the belief attributed to her in relation to fertility (Currid), but what does this have to do with the biblical account? The frogs of Exodus 8: 1-6 is a direct attack on Hekats other responsibility and that is the "control" of egypts frog population by protecting the frog eating crocodiles. This attack by the Hebrew God was shown by the over population of frogs, alluding to the inability of Hekat to control the rapid regeneration and it's a simple mockery of her function (Aling). Yahweh was also showing that he, not Hekat, had control over regenerative powers. This theme is the sovereignty of God over fertility, over Egypt, over deities and over all other things (Currid).
Plague Three
Plagues three and four both involve flying insects as Gods judgment against Egypt. Its believed that the word kinnom of plague 3 is gnats and other possibilities are vermin, lice or maggots (Currid). The purpose of Plague 3 (Exodus 8:16-19) according to Dr. Charles Aling and John Davis was a two-fold attack. The first part brought discomfort to the egyptian population and the second was a mockery of the personal cleanliness of the egyptian priests as some priests would bath 10 times a day. According to A. Rosalie David's book The Ancient Egyptians temple entry had a strict code to follow regarding rules of cleanliness. The priests several days before entry to the temple had to purify themselves by chewing natron and fumigating themselves with incense and on the day that they were to enter the temple, they had to wash themselves, cut their finger and toe nails and shave all of their body hair (David). This practice was even performed on the cult statue where its clothes and make up was removed it also was sprayed with incense and was offered natron for the cleansing of its (statues) mouth (Watterson). But it must be pointed out that this plague was not directed at a specific god or goddess of Egypt but in a limited sense toward the priests personal hygiene. The only insect associated with the Egyptian gods was the dung beetle, which was associated with the solar cult but not associated in any direct sense with plague 3.
Plague Four
The fourth plague was aimed at the population of egypt bringing discomfort to the land, people and eventual disease. This "swarm" of stinging flies or mosquitoes (arob) (Currid) of Exodus 8:20-32 covered the land with an unprecedented numbers of flies. There was no specific "fly god" of Egypt except perhaps the god, Kheprer, symbolized by the flying beetle (Currid) though this conclusion my be speculative. It should be noted that the "boils with blains" or skin anthrax of plague six could be a direct result of plague four (Aling).
Plague Five
The attack on the fertility figures of Egypt continue with plague 5. This attack was specifically targeted toward the domesticated animals of the land. The ancient Egyptians had bull cults such as Buchis (sacred bull of Hermonthis) and Neuis (Heliopolis) and bulls were even equated with the Egyptian gods, Ptah and Re. Female deities such as Isis who was depicted wearing cow's horns on her head and Hathor who was given a bovine head for her task of protecting the king were prominant but the most sacred of all the ancient bull "figures" was Apis. (Currid) Only one bull at a time was regarded as Apis. This bull was kept in a sacred stall south of the great Temple of Ptah at Memphis (Watterson). Plague 5 as some critics may assert was simply a random telling of irrelevant events but that is illogical given the passage in Exodus 9:3. These animals listed in this verse run from most important to least important, the order is as follows: cattle (The cattle were associated with agricultural wealth), horses (associated with a military role, chariots), asses (the chief beasts of burden), camels, oxen and the least important being sheep. This fifth of the ten plagues was not directed at any specific gods and there is no evidence of a horse, ass or camel deity. This attack was on the economic security of Egypt. (Aling).
Plague Six
Though the sixth plague (possibly skin anthrax) (Aling) for a time was associated with Imhotep, the vizier of Dynasty 3, who was equated with healing and medicine, it wasn't until later that he was deified, much too late for the exodus to be connected with him, but this plague could've been directed at the Egyptian goddess Sekhmet, the lion headed deity of plagues. This goddess was responsible for the epidemics in Egypt but she also had the power to heal those who were visited upon by pestilience. The priests of Sekhmet, one of the oldest medical fraternities in antiquity, included doctors as well as veterinarians (Currid). It should be noted that there may be a connection between plagues 4 and 6. This theory says that the flies of plague 4 bring the disease (boils with blains) that would eventually manifest itself in plague six. (Aling)
Plague Seven
The hail and thunderstorms of the seventh plague was an assault upon the crops of Egypt. This crippling of the Egyptian economy whose agricultural activity amazed many was also directed towards the responsible parties of that productivity, namely the Egyptian god Re and the other solar deity Osiris who was directly connected with the grain (Aling). John Currid also points out that Nut (the female representative of the sky and personification of the vault of heaven) may have also been a target of Yahweh as well as Shu (the supporter of the heavens who holds up the sky) and Tefnut (the goddess of moisture). (Currid)
Plague Eight
The "sons of robbery" as the Egyptians call the activity of the locusts/grasshoppers is plague 8. This remark shows the deep distain for the arrival of the locusts, this plague again was aimed at the crippling of the Egyptian economy. There is no evidence of any locust deity that was worshipped by the Egyptians (Aling) but Currid points out that there may be a connection between a minor deity known as Senehem, who was the divine protector against ravages of pests, but a problem arises in the sense of why Yahweh would attack such a subordinate deity? The answer may lie in the fact that many deities could have been the target, since in a basic sense they may have the same general function or equation. This conclusion may be supported by the Tanis Steele from the reign of Taharqa (Dynasty 25) which speaks of a "fine field, which the gods protected against the grasshoppers." (Currid)
Plague Nine
As darkness filled the land of Egypt heralding the 9th plague it was probably the intent of Yahweh to confront the chief deity of Egypt, Amon-Re. This Sun God's "rising" in the east symbolized new life and resurrection (Currid). Papyrus Boulaq 17 (Hymn to Amon-Re) reflects the universal reverance for this Chief God:
The Goodly beloved you to whom the gods give you praise, Who made what is below and what is above, Who illuminates the Two Lands And crosses the heavens in peace: The King of Upper and Lower Egypt: Ra, the triumphant Chief of the Two Lands, Great of strength, lord of reverance, The chief one, who made the entire earth. More distinguished that any (other) god... (Currid)
This reverance for Amon-Re quickly disappeared once the Hebrew God darkened the sun, which rendered Re powerless against Yahweh. This Egyptian god (sun) which sank into the west and didn't appear again for 3 days "became" death, judgment and hopelessness for the Egyptians. The people of Egypt had experienced eclipses before so that was no great worry and cloud cover was rare, so this pervasive darkness must've been a shock to a people waiting for a once powerful god to "rise" again.
Plague Ten (Amenhotep II > 1453-1415 B.C.E.)
In order to make the case for a 10th plague, its important to provide some known historical background of a few players in this drama namely Amenhotep II, the Pharaoh of the Exodus and his family. Interesting questions arise such as, Why did Amenhotep II, who reigned 38 years, cease his campaigns after 1444? Amenhotep II bragged profusely of his military abilities so why not continue those "exploits" throughout your entire reign? As we know by history, Amenhotep II's campaigns were in 1450, 1446 and the last one which was minor was in 1444 (Palestine). Could it be that this rulers 600 chariots could've been eliminated? If so how? If this was truly the Pharaoh of the exodus and the events depicted in the Bible are true, then he would not have an army after 1446 and a limited force in 1444. If you have no army, you have no chariots and have no abilities to campaign. Now to real reason for all of this dialogue. This 10th and last plague was aimed specifically at the living god, the Pharaoh, this supposedly divine Pharaoh could not even protect his own son. Egyptologist Dr. Charles Aling points out that "Amenhotep II's son Webensenu never lived to marrying age and that Thutmosis IV, the younger brother of Webensenu, gained the title of the kings eldest son." (paraphrase) (Aling) The 10th plague may have been the direct reason for this burial. Another reason that may give more ground to this assertion is the strange body wrapped in sheep skin that was uncovered. Could this have been an attempt to resurrected a first born son killed in this final attack by the Hebrew God? The Old Testament says plainly that it was only through the blood of a lamb on the mantel of the door posts that the first born of the Hebrews were saved during the Passover of the angel of death. Could a member of this individuals family have wrapped this 1st born Egyptian in a sheep skin in a vain attempt at resuscitation? It is speculative, but interesting since this is the "only" mummy ever found wrapped in this way and this mummy looked like it died in mid-scream.
Though not all of the plagues were aimed at specific Egyptian deities its interesting that the authors mentioned above "never" mention Sobek, the water god who received worship as a patron divinity in towns nor the harvest-god, Min of Copis (Steindorff). So why weren't these deities addressed by Charles Aling or John Currid? Because Sobek and Min though similar, are not fitting the profile as would Hapi, Re, Osiris and Senehem. These afforementioned Gods were specifically targeted, they were not random attacks nor were they based upon myths but upon the known beliefs of the Egyptians and their view of their Gods abilities and actions. The Biblical text was never written to present vague indicators as some critics would suggest. It should never be assumed that the authors intent was a conspiracy of exaggeration or a tendency to stretch history to their own persuasion but to simply present the information in its purest and most basic form and let the reader decide. Investigation has never been a fear of a biblical author and in this fact we can take comfort and the skeptic a pause for concern about their unbelief.
KV35: The tomb in which Amenhotep II is buried. The tomb was discovered on March 9, 1898 by Victor Loret. Amenhotep's mummified body and sarcophagus was recovered as well as the bodies of other members of royalty (Webensenu, King Sekhnakht etc;). Ancient Egypt: The Great Discoveries.
Aling, Charles F. Egypt and Bible History (Michigan: Baker Book House, 1981)
Currid, John. Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament (Michigan: Baker Book House
company 1997)
David, A. Rosalie. The Ancient Egyptians (England: Routledge, Kegan and Paul, 1982)
NBC. Mary, Mother of Jesus, (California: 1999)
Price, Randall. The Stones Cry Out, (Oregon: Harvest House, 1997)
American Portrait Films. Hollywood: Lights, Camera, Blasphemy (Ohio:1995)
George and Seele, Keith. When Egypt Ruled the East (Illinois: Univ. of Chicago Press)
Barbara. The Gods of Ancient Egypt, (New York: Facts on File Publications,1984)