This question is for Douglas Jacoby and John Oakes. I was conversing with a friend the other day about the Bible. He said he prefers to read the New Testament over the Old Testament because the latter is less historically accurate. He cited as an example the Hebrew exodus from Egypt; he claimed that the Egyptians recorded everything (historical events, that is), and there is no Egyptian (or otherwise extrabiblical) historical record of the Hebrews being enslaved by the Egyptians. I had no answer, since I am a bit rusty on my Egyptian history. Can you help? How would you answer this argument? -- Javier Monzon
Douglas Jacoby replies:
I think you’re probably not the only one rusty on your Egyptian history! The Egyptians recorded what they wanted to record, and like modern regimes, can be expected to have avoided bad press. As a rule, ancient civilizations manipulated the media, never recording anything shameful or disgraceful. Further, there are plenty of Egyptian records mentioning slavery of foreigners, and in particular of Semitic peoples, so his other objection holds no water, either. Stand firm!
Please refer to the chapter on history and archaeology in my book Genesis Science & History (available at this website). At this website, check also Q&A 0214 and the article on "Egyptian Plagues."
John Oakes replies: What your friend says is true, at least to a limited extent. What I mean is that there is no clear record in extant Egyptian sources which confirms the Exodus account. We do have the Tel el Amarna letters, several of which report the attacks of the "Hapiru" in Canaan which occur at about the same time, but the identification of the Hapiru with the Hebrews is controversial. (Personally, I believe they are one and the same, but I'd admit that I am biased to some extent). There are other tantalizing finds which support the Exodus account, such as the nature of the destructions of Jericho and Hazor. See my book Reasons for Belief (www.ipibooks.com) for more details on that.
The one statement which your friend made which is patently false is that the Egyptians recorded everything that happened. Or, to put it a bit more carefully, we do not now have an extant record of everything the Egyptians did. In fact, it would be fair to say that we have an extremely spotty record of goings-on in Egypt in the second millennium BC.
Bottom line: To argue that the lack of clear confirmatory evidence of the Exodus is evidence that it did not happen is simply not a good line of reasoning. We do have many records of Canaanites living in northern Egypt at the time. We also know of the raids of the "Peoples of the Sea" (the Hyksos), which may very well have led, in part, to the ouster of the Canaanites, including the Hebrews from Lower Egypt. Clearly, the Jews were not a powerful or influential group in Egypt at this time, and there is no compelling reason to expect them to show up in the histories of Egypt, which tend to focus on dynastic intrigue, external warfare and so forth.
Your friend claims that the Old Testament is not good and accurate history. I would counter with the argument that the Old Testament is actually the most accurate and reliable general historical account we have from the ancient world--bar none. Again, I would refer you to the book Reasons for Belief for specifics, but time and again the skeptics have attempted to "prove" that the OT is full of myths and stories, only to be disproved on the specifics. The skeptics, rather than acknowledge the weakness of their arguments, simply move on to the next supposed "mistake" in the Bible (Nineveh, the Hittites, King David, etc).
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