“If two million people wander in a desert for forty years, you’d think that at least something would be found to support it.” This sentiment that I read recently is one that many have shared for quite a few years now. Many folks have been wandering about, searching for evidence of this amazing account presented in Scripture as real-world history, but so far, nothing has been unearthed at the traditional time and place. As one Egyptologist stated, “We can find it in the holy books, but we cannot find it in the ground.”
And this really is a problem for the historicity of Old Testament accounts. True stories are found in real-world history. In this instance, there ought to be no reason why archaeologists cannot find some evidence of millions of people wandering about that particular wilderness region.
But the good news is that we actually can find this evidence in the ground, when we get these events placed at the correct date on the timeline. We know wherethese things took place, but we have been very far away from when they took place.
This is my third article in a series presenting the argument that we have been off on the chronology of the early Old Testament events by an entire millennium, due to a very early copy error of a single digit in I Kings 6:1.1 This is an extraordinary claim that at first seems completely unthinkable. However, as we have argued, the easy way to test this hypothesis is to see if adding an entire millennium into the account adds confusion to confusion (which it certainly should, if this hypothesis is mistaken), or if it instead brings clarity out of confusion. This article again demonstrates that this chronological adjustment results in a continued harmony between biblical events and secular history and archaeology.
In the previous article we saw that following the insertion of one thousand years into biblical chronology before the time of Samuel on back, we come across three against-all-odds synchronisms, lining up the Exodus account with ancient Egyptian history. At just the time when we would expect it with our adjusted chronology (middle of the third millennium B.C.), and at just the place we would expect it (Egypt) we suddenly find an extremely long reigning Pharaoh (ninety-four years), immediately followed by an extremely short reigning Pharaoh (one year), immediately followed by the nation of Egypt falling into utter chaos (collapse of the Old Kingdom.) All of this meeting the requirements of the biblical account, and nowhere in all of history do we ever again have such a lineup.
The Bible tells us that over 600,000 men, not counting women and children, came out of Egypt in a mass exodus under the leadership of Moses. Following the events of the ten plagues brought by God upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians, the children of Israel are finally given permission to leave, and a mixed multitude of millions of people begin their journey into the wilderness, setting out toward the Promised Land.
It would be utterly impossible for this many people to cross the desert between Egypt and Canaan and leave no material evidence of their presence. If a similar-sized group of modern families were led on an expedition from Egypt to Israel today, the trail of discarded beverage cans and bottles alone would be sufficient to know of their existence, and to discern their trail, even thousands of years into the future.
Now the Israelites did not have soda cans and water bottles, but they did have something even better to leave a trail– vessels made of pottery.
So the people took their dough before it was leavened, having their kneading bowls bound up in their clothes on their shoulders.-Exodus 12:34
Pottery- A Durable and Distinct Record
Fragments of broken pottery, or “shards”, would have been often discarded along the way, leaving an extremely durable and distinct record of the Israelite’s presence. Fired pottery shards are one of the most useful finds in archaeology. They are essentially indestructible when left to the elements. They do not rust or decay, and having no value or worth, are likely to be left lying where they were initially tossed aside. They also give a distinguishable record of a group of people– archaeology has shown that the composition, design, and decoration of pottery vessels change from one culture to another, and from one time period to another. So pottery shards can be used with a very high degree of precision to identify when, and by whom, the pottery vessels were originally made.
Attempts have been made to locate “Exodus pottery” within the Sinai peninsula, the area of the wilderness wanderings. And (as is becoming a pattern now) it has been impossible to find any shards due to the Israelites dating to the second millennium B.C. However, if we look in the middle of the third millennium B.C., at the very time we would expect to find it with our adjusted chronology, the case is very much different.
Has any pottery been found in the Sinai peninsula that would identify with Israel coming out of Egypt during the middle of the third millennium? When inserting our “missing millennium” do we find confusion on top of confusion, or do we find clarity? Let’s first identify what the characteristics of this pottery should be. In the book, The Exodus Happened 2450 B.C.,2 Dr. Gerald Aardsma explains four identifying characteristics– four signatures– which must be satisfied by pottery shards if they were used by the Israelites at the time of the Exodus. We want to be able to unambiguously identify pottery vessels actually used by the Israelites at the time of the Exodus. I will be using a good bit of detail from Dr. Aardsma’s book in the rest of this article.
We are looking for pottery that should be found in ancient campsites in the Sinai desert. The Exodus pottery would be a distinctive pottery made and utilized by Israel while living in the northeastern delta region of Egypt, on their way to Canaan, and in Canaan once they had conquered it and settled there. When they left Egypt, the pottery they carried with them would have included some amount of Egyptian pottery as well. These people had been living among the Egyptian culture for many years, and we know that there were Egyptians mixed among them when they made their exit out of Egypt.3 So the Exodus pottery shards should be predominantly of a characteristic non-Egyptian pottery style, but with an admixture of characteristic Egyptian pottery of that same time period. The Egyptian shards must be of a style which was in use in Egypt at the time of the Exodus– the end of the Old Kingdom and beginning of the First Intermediate period. And finally, the non-Egyptian shards (Israelite shards) must be of a style which afterwards came to be dominant in Canaan due to the Israelites eventual conquest and occupation of Canaan. This period is labeled a number of different ways by archaeologists, including Middle Bronze Age I, Intermediate Bronze Age, or Early Bronze Age IV, depending on the preference of the archaeologist. (According to archaeologist Rudolf Cohen, the variety of names given to this period demonstrate the disagreement among scholars as to whom the people of this time were.4) Anyhow, the non-Egyptian shards must date to this period in Palestine.
So to re-cap, we are looking for four signatures of Exodus pottery. The first is where Exodus pottery will be found— in the Sinai desert between Egypt and modern Israel. The second specifies what Exodus pottery will be like— predominantly non-Egyptian (Israelite) with a mixture of Egyptian shards. The third and fourth specify when the Exodus pottery will date to— the end of the Old Kingdom and beginning of the First Intermediate period for the Egyptian shards, and the middle Bronze Age I / Intermediate Bronze Age / Early Bronze Age IV for the non-Egyptian (Israelite) shards.
Significant surveys of the Sinai peninsula were conducted in the 1960s and 1970s. The most important survey for our present discussion was conducted by Eliezer Oren from 1972 to 1982 on behalf of the Ben Gurion University. Oren’s research resulted in the following discovery:
Egyptian pottery has been identified among the finds of the North Sinai survey conducted by the Ben Gurion University in the seventies. The Egyptian shards were found together with pottery typical of the Intermediate Bronze Age in Israel at 45 campsites of the period discovered during the survey.5-Archaeologist Ram Gophna
This quote shows three out of the four signatures we are looking for with our Exodus pottery. The remaining signature regards the time period for the Egyptian pottery. Concerning these Egyptian shards, Oren recorded that they were, “typical of Upper and Middle Egypt sites of the 4th and 6th dynasties and of the beginning of the First Intermediate Period.”6 They went on narrowing down the dates of the campsites they had discovered “to the beginning of the Middle Bronze I period, i.e., to the period of time that in Egypt coincides with the end of the sixth dynasty and the beginning of the First Intermediate Period…”7 This is exactly what we are looking for to meet the requirements for the fourth signature of Exodus pottery.
The shards discovered bear witness to the passage of the Israelites from Egypt to Canaan in 2450 B.C.
Let’s not miss what these archaeologists are saying:
- The survey was conducted in the Sinai peninsula.
- Israelite pottery has been found.
- This pottery is mixed with Egyptian pottery.
- The Israelite pottery dates to Middle Bronze Age I.
- The Egyptian pottery dates to end of the Old Kingdom, and the beginning of the First Intermediate period.
All of this is in line with our adjusted chronology. I suggest that our modern day wandering around trying to find the wilderness wanderings can now cease.
The Israelite campsites prior to departing from Mount Sinai would have been unstructured. At Sinai, God specified a unique arrangement of the tribes and their camps. But initially, there would not have been this order. The pottery found by these archaeologists were not found in single, enormous, individual campsites. Rather, they found discrete clusters of many sites of various sizes along an ancient roadway. The arrangement of these clusters was found to be unique, just the kind of natural organization one might expect of the tribal, pastoral Israelites. Dr. Aardsma says, “Oren and Yekutieli describe what they found as ‘clusters of sites with large settlement units at their center and smaller settlements at their margins.’ Their description seems fully compatible with the identification of the large sites as the central hub of activity for one or more of the Israelite tribes. Around the large sites were medium size sites which, they suggest, represent the living quarters of families. Around the periphery of these were small sites which they identify as the campsites of shepherds– those who watched the flocks.”8
The size of these clusters is also very suitable to the number of people the biblical account tells us were involved in the Exodus. The archaeological data suggest that individually separate and distinct encampments of the whole population were spread out along the road for a distance of roughly twenty miles, and that they covered an area in excess of four square miles. All of this is what we would expect of the Israelites at the time they first departed Egypt and headed out into the wilderness.
Broadening our perspective a little, between the Exodus and the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites, the biblical account tells of this nation spending forty years in the wilderness south of Palestine. The book of Deuteronomy tells us that they spent most of their time in and around a place called Kadesh-barnea.9
Archaeologist Rudolf Cohen spent many years working in the Negev of Israel and Palestine. Among Israeli archaeologists he has been referred to as the ‘King of the South’”. Cohen has written that nobody lived in or around these areas at any time near the established and accepted dates for the wanderings and occupation. But here again, the new biblical dates which result from the restoration of one thousand years to 1 Kings 6:1 find immediate archaeological support. Cohen observed (using data from pottery, settlements, and other archaeological finds uncovered over the last century) that there was a migration of people through the central Negev at this earlier time, displacing the previous inhabitants and, in fact, has been led to voice doubts about the conventional dates for the Exodus on this basis alone. Cohen states,
The settlement picture in the central Negev in the third millennium B.C. offers striking parallels to the description of the Israelite presence in this area as presented in the Old Testament tradition of the Exodus and Conquest. For this reason, I propose a reevaluation of the entire chronological scheme in which the Israelite settlement in Canaan is normally studied.10-Archaeologist Rudolf Cohen, 1983
We wholeheartedly agree.
In our next article we will take a look at how these pottery shards found in the third millennium show us the actual route of the Exodus, including the location of the site of the Red Sea crossing. The evidence for the “missing millennium” continues to mount.
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- Dr. Gerald Aardsma, A New Approach to the Chronology of Biblical History from Abraham to Samuel (1995): http://www.biblicalchronologist.org/products/New_Approach_book.PDF
- Exodus 12:38
- Ram Gophna, The Intermediate Bronze Age, The Archaeology of Ancient Israel, ed. Amnon Ben-Tor (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), 127.
- E. D. Oren and Y. Yekutieli, “North Sinai During the MB I Period—Pastoral Nomadism and Sedentary Settlement”, Eretz-Israel 21 (1990): 11.
- E. D. Oren and Y. Yekutieli, “North Sinai During the MB I Period—Pastoral Nomadism and Sedentary Settlement”, Eretz-Israel 21 (1990): 16.
- Dr. Gerald Aardsma, The Exodus Happened 2450 B.C. (2008): http://www.biblicalchronologist.org/products/The_Exodus_Happened_2450_BC.PDF
- Deuteronomy 1:46; 2:14
- Rudolph Cohen, Respondents. In J. Amitai, editor, Biblical Archaeology Today: Proceedings of the International Congress on Biblical Archaeology, Jerusalem, April 1984, pages 78-80, Israel Exploration Society, Jerusalem, 1984.