But the people of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem, so the Jebusites have lived with the people of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day. – Judges 1:21 (ESV)
12-year-old Neshama Spielman holds the 3,200-year-old ancient Egyptian amulet. (Photo: City of David / Adina Graham)
In Part One of the Thinker Update on the Egyptian Amulet Found in Jerusalem, we highlighted its discovery by 8-year-old Neshama Spielman. The artifact had to wait four years before being deciphered last month to reveal the name of Thutmose III, one of the most famous pharaohs of Egypt’s New Kingdom. In this second and final part, we will focus on the ramifications this find has for the standard views of the biblical Exodus and Conquest.
In the Bible’s account of the Israelite conquest of Canaan, the city of Jerusalem was called Jebus with its inhabitants called Jebusites. The presence of this artifact in Jerusalem joins a greater body of evidence to paint a picture of what the political situation was like in Canaan during most of Egypt’s New Kingdom – and it does not fit well with the biblical story.
The two most common dates put forward by Bible scholars for the Exodus are the so-called “Early” and “Late” dates of around 1450 BC and 1250 BC. The problem is that under standard chronology, these two options would place the Exodus during the reigns of the two most powerful pharaohs in Egypt’s history – Thutmose III of the 18th Dynasty, and Ramesses II of the 19th Dynasty.
The Bible emphasizes the severe punishment of Egypt during the Exodus, highlighted by the ten plagues, the loss of their huge slave force, and the destruction of their army at the sea crossing (among other things). The setting of Deuteronomy 11:4 is Moses’ farewell speech to the Israelites near the Jordan River just before the Conquest began, 40 years after the Exodus.
“… and what he did to the army of Egypt, to their horses and to their chariots, how he made the water of the Red Sea flow over them as they pursued after you, and how the LORD has destroyed them to this day,” – Deuteronomy 11:4 (ESV)
According to this passage, Egypt had suffered much more than a temporary setback, but rather the Exodus dealt it a blow so devastating that it left them floored for at least several decades afterward. This devastation of Egypt marks the fifth step of JUDGMENT that is part of the six-step Exodus sequence highlighted in Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus. Because this judgment step does not fit the evidence at either of the two standard Exodus dates, it is the aspect of the Exodus that is most often ignored or downplayed by proponents of the Bible.
At the time of the two standard New Kingdom Exodus dates (1450 and 1250 BC), instead of Egypt being brought to its knees by the devastation wrought by the Exodus, the archaeology shows unparalleled power, prosperity and stability. There is no indication of problems in Egypt’s economy, in the strength of its military, or in the pace of its building projects, despite being the best-recorded period of ancient Egypt’s history. The Bible has the Conquest of Canaan beginning 40 years after the Exodus. Significantly, at both standard dates large sections of Canaan were controlled by Egypt as part of their empire.
In our interview with Israel Finkelstein’s at Megiddo, he comments about the conditions in Canaan at the time of Ramesses II:
At the site of Megiddo, Israel Finkelstein speaks about the conditions in Canaan during the era of Ramesses II
The film Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus highlighted some of the strength at the time of Ramesses II, but it did not have the time to show that the conditions in Egypt and Canaan were nearly identical during and after the early Exodus date of 1450 BC, when Thutmose III and his successors ruled.
Dr. Gabriel Barkay is the director of the Temple Mount Sifting Project where Spielman found the Thutmose amulet. He had the following to say about the reign of this powerful king:
“Thutmose III was one of the most important pharaohs in Egypt’s New Kingdom and is credited with establishing the Egyptian imperial province in Canaan, conducting 17 military campaigns to Canaan and Syria and defeating a coalition of Canaanite kings at the city of Megiddo in 1457 BCE. Thutmose III referred to himself as ‘the one who has subdued a thousand cities,’ and it is known that for more than 300 years, during the Late Bronze Age, Canaan and the city state of Jerusalem were under Egyptian dominion, likely explaining the presence of this amulet in Jerusalem.”
Dr. Gabriel Barkay, the co-founder and director of the Temple Mount Sifting Project
So not only were things going well in Egypt at the time of Thutmose III and Ramesses II, things were going favorably in Canaan as well – the opposite of what one would expect with the Book of Joshua’s description of the Israelites openly defeating many of the cities of Canaan with no mention of the Egyptians. This is the major factor for mainstream archaeology’s skepticism about the Exodus account. When Egypt is supposed to be brought low by the Exodus, the archaeology instead shows it at its peak. When the cities of Canaan mentioned in Joshua are supposed to be defeated by the Israelites, the archaeology shows that many were empty burned out ruins (and had been for more than a century). No high walls and little to no population. On top of that, much of the region was controlled by Egypt.
Some proponents of the early Exodus date (around 1450 BC) propose the successor of Thutmose III, his son Amenhotep II, as a possible option for the pharaoh of the Exodus. They point to a decrease in military activity during his reign and a slave raid he conducted to the north that reportedly brought back more than 100,000 slaves, as indications of problems in Egypt and the need to replenish a slave force that was lost in the Exodus. However, little military activity was required after Thutmose III because he had defeated all of Egypt’s neighbors. Peaceful and stable times are a sign of power, not of weakness. Pulling off the largest slave raid in Egypt’s history would actually be the opposite of what would be expected of a devastated Egypt whose army lay at the bottom of the sea. The only way to maintain these factors is by downplaying the severity of the Judgment step that the Bible describes so severely.
A look at the larger picture of evidence for the hundred-year period of Thutmose III and the three generations who followed him on the throne, shows that this is not a good fit for the Judgment step of the Exodus:
“The Napoleon of Egypt”: 17 campaigns established Egypt’s grand empire, which stretched from the Euphrates in the north to Nubia in the south and included Canaan and most of Syria. He was also a great builder pharaoh constructing over 50 temples.
Maintained the vast empire won by Thutmose III without the need of much fighting with Egypt’s rivals, such as Mitanni, who vied for control in the northern regions. During their reigns, tribute payments from foreign neighbors continued, and peace was largely established. Building projects continued on a grand scale (including the restoration of the Sphinx) with no sign of major problems in Egypt or her empire.
Egyptologists often assign him the title of “The Magnificent” as Egypt reached the zenith of its prosperity, artistic splendor and international power. He has the distinction of having more statues that have survived to today (more than 250) than any other pharaoh; many of these were immense. Extensive building activity defined his reign including the largest temple of its day in Thebes. Little military activity was needed to maintain Egypt’s influence over foreign rivals.
So at the time of Thutmose III in 1450 BC, and for the next 100 years, Egypt was at the highpoint of its power. This is contrary to what would be expected if the Exodus happened anything like how the Bible records it.
Additionally, the Judgment and Conquest are just the beginning of the problems with the New Kingdom Exodus dates. The other steps of the biblical sequence are just as important. To correctly locate the Exodus in history, the big picture of the archaeology seen in Egypt and Canaan must fit all the major events of the biblical sequence. As highlighted in Patterns of Evidence, there are major problems for most of those steps in the New Kingdom. However, there is a remarkably strong pattern of evidence matching all six of these steps earlier in Egypt’s history. This occurs near the end of the Middle Kingdom (Middle Bronze Age), about 200 years earlier than would be expected with a Thutmose Early Exodus.
There are at least a dozen different views on the Exodus, and at least some bits of evidence can be found that support all of those views – but it is fragmented. That is why we decided to step back and emphasize the six major steps of the biblical sequence and look for a place that has evidence strongly fitting all of those steps.
The discovery of the Thutmose III amulet helps highlight the problems that arise from proposing an Exodus during his time. If the earlier pattern in the Middle Kingdom is not a coincidence, then the explanation can only be that the Exodus actually happened long before 1450 BC, or the standard view of Egypt’s timeline is off (requiring a major shift of the dates assigned to the end of the Middle Kingdom, bringing it up to c. 1450 BC ) – or some combination of the two. The early pattern of amazing evidence was featured in the film Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus and this issue will continue to be explored in future films and Thinker Updates.
Sign up for Thinker Updates to receive these weekly articles and videos sent directly to your email.