The Historical Credibility of Exodus

While decades ago, scholars had placed the events of the Exodus, based on timelines established in the Bible, and chronologies of Egyptian history, to have taken place during Egypt’s 18th dynasty, a great number of scholars have pointed out that a gross error in chronology has been made in calculating the dates of Egyptian history. This new information essentially reduces the Egyptian chronology by centuries. This revised chronology takes the life of Moses and the events of the Exodus from the 18th dynasty to the 12th dynasty. And there is plenty of circumstantial evidence in that dynasty to support the biblical records.

Who Was the New King?

Exodus 1:8 (NIV) says, “Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt.” Who was this Pharaoh—the title used for the king of Egypt, similar to the Romans’ use of Caesar or the Russian Czar.

One of the last kings of the 12th dynasty was Sesostris III. His statues depict him as a cruel tyrant quite capable of inflicting harsh slavery on his subjects. His son Amenemhet III, who ruled for approximately 46 years, is described as an equally disagreeable character. It is believed that Moses was born near the beginning of Amenemhet III’s reign.

A Mom for Moses

Amenemhet III had a daughter whose name was Sobekneferu. It is known that she had no children. Having no children, we can logically conclude why the daughter of Pharaoh came down to the river to bathe. She would have been there taking a ceremonial ablution—the act of washing parts of the body or sacred containers—and praying to Hapi, the god of the Nile, who was also the god of fertility. Having no children, she would’ve needed to make offerings to such a god. So, when she found the beautiful baby Moses there, she would have considered it an answer to her prayers (Exodus 2:5–6).

This would have made Moses the heir to the kingdom of Egypt. However, before he had the chance to rule, he chose to side with the people of Israel by killing an Egyptian taskmaster and had to flee from Egypt because Amenemhet III sought to have him put to death. This left a vacuum on the throne because now Amenemhet III had no male successor. This is why Sobekneferu ascended to the throne and ruled for 8 years as Pharaoh. But when she died, the 12th dynasty died with her and was succeeded by the 13th dynasty.

Placing Israel in Egypt

Using the revised chronology of Egyptian history, the end of the 12th dynasty of Egypt would be dated to the 15th century BC, which according to 1 Kings 6 and the timeline of Solomon’s reign (he ascended to the throne about 970 BC, thus his fourth year would have been 966 BC, 480 years after the Israelites left Egypt), places the event of the exodus around 1446 BC. This coincides quite well with history, which shows that slaves lived at Kahun (then called Goshen) and built the 12th dynasty pyramids.

Here’s another interesting discovery made by Egyptologiest Flinders Petrie: “Larger wooden boxes, probably used originally to store clothing and other possessions, were discovered underneath the floors of many houses at Kahun. They contained babies, sometimes buried two or three to a box, and aged only a few months at death.” This is explained in Exodus 1.

Another striking feature of Petrie’s discoveries was the fact that these slaves suddenly disappeared off the scene: “It is apparent that the completion of the king’s pyramid was not the reason why Kahun’s inhabitants eventually deserted the town, abandoning their tools and other possessions in the shops and houses… The quantity, range, and type of articles of everyday use which were left behind in the houses may indeed suggest that the departure was sudden and unpremeditated.” Nothing could better fit the biblical record found in Exodus 12.

The Pharaoh of the Exodus

There are records of slavery during the reigns of the last rulers of the 12th dynasty—Sesostris III, Amenemhet III, and Sobekneferu. With the death of Sobekneferu, the 12th dynasty came to an end. A period of instability followed, as 14 kings came and went in rapid succession, the earlier ones probably ruling in the Delta before the 12th dynasty ended. Kings of the 13th dynasty had already started to rule in the north-east delta and, when the 12th dynasty came to an end, they filled the power vacuum and took over the whole kingdom, firmly establishing this new dynasty.

Now, this new ascension led to a great deal of in-fighting for control of the kingdom, fierce contention among themselves, resulting in the rapid succession of rulers we see, and the anarchy that followed. This only settled down when Neferhotep I took the throne and restored some stability, ruling for 11 years. And it is this man that is believed to the Pharaoh whom Moses confronted… the Pharaoh of the plagues, the Pharaoh of the exodus, and the Pharaoh who was buried at the bottom of the Red Sea by the crashing of the waters that had been parted.

According to Manetho, a 3rd century BC Egyptian historian and priest, Neferhotep I was the last king to rule before the Hyksos occupied Egypt “without a battle.” What did he mean by without a battle? Where was the Egyptian army? It was at the bottom of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:28). This is why Neferhotep I’s mummy has never been found, where so many others have. 

The Plagues

In the Leiden Museum in Holland, there is an Egyptian papyrus from that is a copy of a much older manuscript, dated around the 13th dynasty. Here’s what it says:

“Nay, but the heart is violent. Plague stalks through the land and blood is everywhere… Nay, but the river is blood. Does a man drink from it? As a human he rejects it. He thirsts for water… Nay, but gates, columns and walls are consumed with fire… Nay but men are few. He that lays his brother in the ground is everywhere… Nay but the son of the high-born man is no longer to be recognized… The stranger people from outside are come into Egypt… Nay, but corn has perished everywhere. People are stripped of clothing, perfume and oil. Everyone says ‘there is no more.’ The storehouse is bare…  It has come to this. The king has been taken away by poor men.”

About the Author

Danny Saavedra

Danny Saavedra is a licensed minister who has served on staff at Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.