The Bible and Archaeology: Archaeology and the Book of Exodus—Exit From Egypt - Part 2

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Archaeology and the Book of Exodus—Exit From Egypt - Part 2

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The golden calf

After crossing the Red Sea, the Israelites made their way to Mount Sinai. The account of Israel's appropriation of a golden calf to worship was long questioned by secular scholars. They noted that bull-worship was common in both Egypt and Canaan, but not calf-worship. However, in 1991 a statue of a silver calf was found in an excavation of ancient Ashkelon on Israel's coast. Authorities dated this calf to more than 100 years before the Exodus.

When Aaron shouted to the people, "This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!" (Exodus 32:4), he knew well how popular calf-worship was. Four centuries later, almost the same words were uttered by King Jeroboam when he made two golden calves and told the people, "Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!" (1 Kings 12:28). In Biblical Archaeology Review, an extensive article on the discovery of the silver calf notes: "The Golden Calf worshipped at the foot of Mt. Sinai by impatient Israelites (Exodus 32) may have resembled this statuette" (March-April 1991, p. 1).

The eating of quails

During their wilderness years the Israelites complained to God that they had only manna to eat: "Now the mixed multitude who were among them yielded to intense craving; so the children of Israel also wept again and said: 'Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!' " (Numbers 11:4-6).

This list represents one of the 10 major murmurings of the Israelites against God and Moses (Numbers 14:22). God decided to give the people what they asked for: "Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall eat, not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, but for a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have despised the Lord who is among you, and have wept before Him, saying, 'Why did we ever come up out of Egypt?' " (Numbers 11:18-20).

The next day quail descended on the Israelite camp to a depth of 12 inches. These fowl were common in biblical times and remain so in the Middle East. They are migratory birds that fly at the end of the European summer to the Sinai peninsula, where they remain for six months.

"The old world quail . . . a small, mottled brown game bird about 18 cm. (7 in.) long, is the only member of the [pheasant] subfamily . . . that is migratory. The routes of migration run from southern Europe, along the eastern Mediterranean coast, through the Sinai Peninsula, to Arabia or West Africa. The quails travel southward in the late summer and northward in early spring (the time of the Israelite exodus from Egypt) . . . As recently as the early decades of the 20th cent[ury], migrating quails were killed by Egyptians at the rate of two million annually; in 1920 a kill of three million was recorded" (The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1988, Vol. 4, pp. 4-5).

The miracle of God was to bring these quails to the Israelite camp and deposit them in huge numbers in that precise location.

False prophet

When the Israelites began their final journey to the Promised Land, they passed through the land of the Ammonites close to Moabite territory. They needed passage through this area to enter Canaan by way of Jericho. But King Balak of the Moabites refused to let the Israelites enter peacefully. He resorted to a known pagan prophet of the times, Balaam, to prevent them from entering his land.

"Then he sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor at Pethor, which is near the River [Euphrates] in the land of the sons of his people, to call him, saying: 'Look, a people has come from Egypt. See, they cover the face of the earth, and are settling next to me! Therefore please come at once, curse this people for me, for they are too mighty for me'" (Numbers 22:5).

Apparently, Balaam's renown was such that a Moabite king would pay a considerable sum for his services. In 1967 archaeologists digging up the remains of Deir Alla, an ancient Ammonite city on the east bank of the Jordan, found an inscription that mentioned Balaam, the son of Beor. The 16 lines of an incomplete inscription on a wall turned out to be part of one of Balaam's prophecies, in language similar to that is recorded in Numbers.

The Bible describes God's censure of Balaam. One night God forbade him to curse the Israelites. Disappointed, he told Moabite messengers he could not help them. "So Balaam rose in the morning and said to the princes of Balak, 'Go back to your land, for the Lord has refused to give me permission to go with you' " (verse 13).

Later God forced Balaam to prophesy of Israel's blessings and victories. "Then he took up his oracle and said: 'The utterance of Balaam the son of Beor . . . who hears the words of God, who sees the vision of the Almighty, who falls down, with eyes wide open: How lovely are your tents, O Jacob! . . . God brings him out of Egypt; he has strength like a wild ox; he shall consume the nations, his enemies; he shall break their bones and pierce them with arrows' " (Numbers 24:3-8).

Shortly after these events Balaam, greedy for money (2 Peter 2:15), helped the Moabites induce Israel to sin. Not surprisingly, he perished after the defeat of the Moabites and Midianites (Numbers 31:8).

The restored text discovered in Deir Alla reads: "Inscription of Balaam, son of Beor, the man who was a seer of the gods. Lo, the gods came to him at night and spoke to him. According to these words, and they said to Balaam, son of Beor thus: 'There has appeared the last flame, a fire of chastisement has appeared!' And Balaam arose the next day and he could not eat and he wept intensely. And his people came to him and said to Balaam, son of Beor: 'Why do you fast and why do you weep?' And he said to them: 'Sit down! I shall show you how great is the calamity! And come, see the deeds of the gods! . . .' "

These words are strikingly similar in detail to the biblical account. Apparently the memory of what happened to this seer remained in the memory of the Ammonites and was recorded in their version.

Archaeologist Andre Lemaire, who pieced together the incomplete script, wrote: ". . . The inscription from Deir Alla, dated to about the middle of the eighth century B.C. and written on the wall of what may have been some kind of religious teaching center, is very likely the earliest extant example of a prophetic text. The principal personage in the Deir Alla text is the seer Balaam, son of Beor, well known to us from the stories in Numbers" (Biblical Archaeology Review, September-October 1985, p. 39).

Here we have another biblical figure who cannot be related to myth.

The route from Egypt

Another source of scholarly controversy concerns the route the Israelites took to enter the Promised Land. "The Bible is very specific in its list of places along the final stage of the Exodus route taken by the Israelites on their way to the Promised Land. Yet it is this very specificity that has made it vulnerable to criticism from some scholars. Many of the places in question, they say, did not exist when the Exodus is said to have occurred" (Biblical Archaeology Review, September-October 1994, p. 5).

Yet three lists showing the very route the Israelites took to enter Canaan have been found in Egyptian monuments.

Numbers 33:45-49 describes the Israelites passing through Ijim, Dibon Gad, Almon Diblathaim, Nebo, Abel and finally the Jordan. The route the Egyptians took to supervise this area, which they ruled for many centuries, includes eight places, of which six appear in the same sequence mentioned primarily in Numbers 33: Melah, Ijim, Heres-Hareseth (mentioned only in Judges 8:13), Dibon, Abel and the Jordan.

Charles Krahmalkov, a professor of ancient Near Eastern languages, speaks of the accuracy of the biblical account: "In short, the Biblical story of the invasion of Transjordan that set the stage for the conquest of all Palestine is told against a background that is historically accurate. The Israelite invasion route described in Numbers 33:45b-50 was in fact an official, heavily trafficked Egyptian road . . ." (Biblical Archaeology Review, September-October 1994, p. 58).

Thus, archaeology, notwithstanding scholarly criticism, confirms another part of biblical history. GN


  • Lena VanAusdle
    @wndrush I'm not sure what you want to know about Canaan, but Easton's Bible Dictionary says this about it "(1.) The fourth son of Ham (Gen. 10:6). His descendants were under a curse in consequence of the transgression of his father (9:22-27). His eldest son, Zidon, was the father of the Sidonians and Phoenicians. He had eleven sons, who were the founders of as many tribes (10:15-18). (2.) The country which derived its name from the preceding. The name as first used by the Phoenicians denoted only the maritime plain on which Sidon was built. But in the time of Moses and Joshua it denoted the whole country to the west of the Jordan and the Dead Sea (Deut. 11:30). In Josh. 5:12 the LXX. read, "land of the Phoenicians," instead of "land of Canaan." The name signifies "the lowlands," as distinguished from the land of Gilead on the east of Jordan, which was a mountainous district. The extent and boundaries of Canaan are fully set forth in different parts of Scripture (Gen. 10:19; 17:8; Num. 13:29; 34:8). (See CANAANITES.)"
  • wndrush

    can you help about canaan?
    just tell me about canaan, i need to know about it

  • Durango

    Also read Exodus 13:17 -- that is the verse I was referencing earlier but didnt have the exact passage --

    it says that the Israelites were not to go through "the way of the land of the Philistines because --

    they were instead led through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea -- and the Pharoah thought he had them trapped at Etham.

    It is an incredible event because - honestly for anyone alive and there at that moment it would seem to any person that there was absolutely no escape --

    who in any way would have expected for G_d to do the most incredibly impossible feat -- trapped on the shore with no place to turn and then to actually part the Red sea and to make a way of escape where there was absolutely no way to escape --

    honestly that truly is dumbfounding and shocking, especially when you look at it on a map - its amazing - its shocking to me that the Egyptians continued to pursue even after seeing that...

    It seems they couldnt deal with losing to ppl they thought they were superior to.

  • Durango

    When King Solomon built his Navy the question must be asked - where did he build his ships --

    As pointed out in my previous post 1 Kings 9: 26 shows he made a navy of ships in "Ezion- geber on the shore of the Red sea, in the land of Edom"

    Pinpointing the location of Ancient Israel -- do you really think it woul be logical that King Solomon "made a Navy of ships" ALL THE WAY ACROSS THE SINAI PENINSULA --- I dont think so

    At any rate many scholars agree that Elath and or Edom is located at the Gulf of Aqaba which makes sense when reading 1 Kings 9: 26 regarding where he made his Navy

  • Durango

    Read 1 Kings 9:26

    "And King Solomon made a navy of ships in Ezion-geber, which is beside Eloth, on the shore of the Red sea, in the land of Edom."

    ****Eloth and or Edom is commonly agreed upon by scholars to be located at the head of today's Gulf of Aqaba.**** and also located above Midian

    The Bible says the Israelites did not go by the "way of the Philistines" it says they were led by the Lord by the way of the wilderness... locate the "way of the of the Philistines" and the "way of the wilderness" and you can see the traditional site is not the authentic site.

  • Ward Shamblin

    Concerning the Exodus from Egypt:

    God told Moses that he was to return to this mountian to worship Him:

    Exodus 3:
    12 So He said, "I will certainly be with you. And this shall be a sign to you that I have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain."

    It apparantly was a three days journey from the starting point in Egypt to the Mountian where they were to worship God.

    Exodus 3:
    18 "Then they will heed your voice; and you shall come, you and the elders of Israel, to the king of Egypt; and you shall say to him, ‘The LORD God of the Hebrews has met with us; and now, please, let us go three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.’

    Exodus 5:
    3 ¶ And they said: The God of the Hebrews hath called us, to go three days’ journey into the wilderness, and to sacrifice to the Lord our God; lest a pestilence or the sword fall upon us.

    I have read that it was about 117 miles to the traditional Mt. Sinai. That would be 39 miles per day for a horse and rider. Which some say is possible. They say it is 200 miles to the new site sugested. Some say that is impossible for a horse and his rider.

    I have heard different explanations by those in favor of the new site, but I still have a problem reconciling the matter in my mind.


    Hey Durango I could not find a reference to Sinai of Arabia in Acts but found one at Galatians 4:25.

    I am an avid follower of Ron Wyatt’s adventures and I’m glad you posted the “Mt Sinai in Arabia”. I have a comment supporting Mt Sinai in the Sinai peninsula:

    Moses never uses the word “Arab” or “Arabia” at the time he wrote the Pentateuch. The words appear later in the Bible. The Galatians 4:25 reference might indeed support the view that Mount Sinai was in Saudi Arabia if the Apostle Paul was looking at a 1990 Rand McNally Atlas. However, it would not be true if he was looking at a First Century AD Roman road map. Although no actual maps of Roman Arabia exist from this period, we do possess the accounts of the contemporary travelers such as Strabo, a Greek from Pontus (64 BC to ca. AD 25). He describes the borders of Arabia as having its eastern border at the Persian Gulf and its western border at the East Side of the Nile River. This means that Strabo understood the entire Arabian Peninsula and the Sinai Peninsula to be included in First Century Arabia (Geography 16:4:2; 17:1:21,24-26,30,31; LCLVII: 309; VIII: 71-79, 85-87).

    Moreover, in the mid-third century BC, 72 Jewish scholars translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek (known as the Septuagint) and followed the contemporary use of the word “Arabia” when they referred to Goshen as “Goshen of Arabia” (Gen. 45:10; 46:34). While Goshen is clearly part of Egypt (Ex. 9:26), the translator imposed the third century BC geographical reality on their translation.

    Therefore, when the Apostle Paul says that Mt. Sinai is in Arabia, he is using the First century AD understanding of the word. He would be perfectly correct in placing Mt. Sinai in the Sinai Peninsula because the Sinai Peninsula was part of Arabia in his day.

    Thanks again Durango, keep those comments coming

  • Durango

    Also - can you be specific in your reply and using the Bible, trace the route the Israelites used ?

    What branch of the Red sea are you referring to? And i dont believe Wyatt state was a few days - i belive he says it was 8 days .

    The Bible say G_d led the Israelites by day in a cloud and by night by using a pillar of fire , so according to the Bible they travelled night and day being led by G_d,

    Therefore , it is not inconceivable they travelled in 8 days, especially since G_d was working miracles for them.

    And in regard to the Egyptians they were using chariots!!!- So OF COURSE they caught up with them!!!

    It is probable that G_d allowed the Egyptians to catch up with the Israelites for a number of reasons - to see what the Israelites would do and to see what the Egyptians would do, and more importantly to make his
    greatness known to the sorrounding pagan nations.

    So the Egytian chariots catching up the with the Israelites does not disprove or prove

  • Durango

    What about the book of Acts - St. Paul the Apostle says Mt. Sinai is in Arabia and so does Josephus.

    Hershel Shanks who IS a reputable scholar for Biblical Archeology Review magazine states Arabia - particularly the site discovered by Ron Wyatt is the most likely site for Mt. Sinai. Now Hershel sjanks IS an authority in middle eastern studies. He wrote the book Ancient Israel which was used in my Univeraity as well as other colleges.

    You shouldnt be so quick to dismiss that site especially since there are growing number of scholars who believe its the most likely site. Have you heard of the film and website THE EXODUS CONSPIRACY ?

    Being learned doesnt mean much but at any rate I believe you are incorrect abouy Wyatt since i do believe he did earn a degree in arceology and claasical studies.

    Moreover we know that the traditional site in the Sinai Peninsula is a fraud becauae it is based on Catholic tradition and pop culture - not any artifacts - it actually devoid of any artifacts
    so anybody visiting that site has been duped.

    You cant argue with the writings of St. Paul who says it is in Arabia and Josephus just because one doesmt like Ron Wyatt.

    Finally - historically archeological finds have been discovered accidentally ie The Deaf Sea it really is of little import "who" actually discoveered it - what matters is the site itself and whether it fits with where the Bible indicates where the location is.

    And the Bible does clearly state that Mt Sinai is in Arabia - you cant refute that fact ...honestly youvsound pretty bias but anyway

  • Mario Seiglie

    Hello Durango,

    Thanks for your question. Ron Wyatt, who has been dead now for around 10 years and was a nurse anesthesiologist, has been very discredited by many of his outlandish claims that have not been confirmed by archaeologists. The problem with the crossing to Saudi Arabia is that the Exodus out of Egypt and crossing the entire Sinai peninsula would have taken them over a month, and the Bible says it was just a few days, and the Pharaoh reached them very quickly (Ex. 12-15; Num. 33). The account in Num. 33 indicates it was the branch of the Red Sea next to Egypt that they crossed.

    All the best,
    Mario Seiglie

  • Durango

    What do you think of the Ron Wyatt Exodus Discoveries of Mt Sinia being in Saudi Arabia?

    It has even been aknowledged by the reputable Biblical Archeology scholar Hershel Shanks, who has written about it.

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