The Store cities of Pithom and Rameses

EXODUS 1 During their Egyptian sojourn the enslaved Israelites were forced by the pharaoh to build the store cities of Pithom and Rameses (Ex 1:11). Scholars have long disagreed as to their locations, and this dispute is important. This knowledge would help to date the exodus, but uncertainty about the issue has led some historians to go so far as to suggest that this pivotal event never happened!

Possible Sites of the City of Pithom

Modern Tell er-Retaba, the most likely location, faces Sinai.' It sits on the eastern fringe of the Nile delta on the Wadi Tumilat, about 60 miles (97 km) east-northeast of Cairo. The only major, fortified city in the area, Tell er-Retaba was occupied for a long time, including the Egyptian New Kingdom period—generally thought to be the time of Israel's oppression and exodus.

Modern Tell el-Maskhuta, a few miles further east, is considered by some scholars to be the site of ancient Pithom. But this is unlikely given the fact that this city was occupied only later, during the eighteenth to sixteenth centuries B.C., during the latter part of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom and the early Second Intermediate periods., Pottery unearthed at this site leaves little doubt that Semitic people did indeed occupy this city, but they were probably related to the Hyksos, who dominated part of Egypt for a time.

Tell el-Maskhuta evidently lay abandoned from the sixteenth century B.C. until approximately 610 B.C., when rebuilding took place under Pharaoh Neco 11.

Modern Heliopolis, another proposed site, this one in Egypt's southern delta region, also is an unlikely location for Pithom. Heliopolis is referred to as On in the Old Testament (Ge 41:50; Eze 30:17; it is called Beth Shemesh elsewhere), but we have no reason to suspect that it would have been called Pithom in Exodus 1:11.

Possible Sites of the City of Rameses

This city is named for Rameses II, who lived from 1279-1213 B.c., long after the generally accepted date for the exodus. It is highly probable that mention of this name in the Bible is anachronistic (the city may not have been known by this name when the Israelites lived there). Later Biblical writers may have referred to it as Rameses because their readers knew it as such.

Qantir is the most likely location for ancient Rameses. Egyptian texts record that this latter city was located on the "waters of the Ra"—the Pelusiac or easternmost branch of the Nile River. Tanis (see discussion to follow) was on the Tanitic branch just west of the Pelusiac.

Qantir, which boasts a long history, was in the vicinity of modern Tell ed-Dab'a. It is also the likely site of an earlier Hyksos capital, Avaris. Many Semites, called Asiatics by the Egyptians, lived in this area. So it may have been a center of occupation for the Israelites, who comprised part of the Semite population. If this were the case, Israelite slave labor would have been readily available when the pharaoh of the oppression chose to build his store cities.

Tanis was once considered the best candidate for the location of Rameses, based largely on the fact that a number of statues dating from the time of Rameses-41— have been discovered here. For a long time scholars believed that Rameses II had taken a massive rebuilding program in Tanis. If this were true, and the Israelites had been involved in the reconstruction of the city then renamed Rameses, they would have labored under Rameses II around 1250 B.C., necessitating a much later date for the exodus.

Recent archaeological findings, however, overturn the suggestion that Tanis might have been the site of Rameses. Tanis has been found to be the principal residence of pharaohs living during the Twenty-first and Twenty-second Dynasties, after the time of 41 Rameses II and much too late for the exodus.' Ramesside statuary found in Tanis is now understood to have been moved there from Qantir long after the lifetime of Rameses II.

Taken From a River: The Legend of Sargon and the Story of Moses

EXODUS 2 Discovered in the Assyrian, archive in Nineveh, the Legend of Sargon recounts in fantastic language the birth, ascension and rule of Sargon of Akkad, who established his empire in Mesopotamia around 2300 B.C. Sargon II (721-705 B.c.), a later Assyrian king who sought to emulate his namesake's meteoric rise to power, probably commissioned the writing of this legend.

The Legend of Sargon resonates with a number of features also found in Moses' birth narrative (Ex 2:1-10). Sargon's mother was a high priestess (reminiscent of Moses' Levitical lineage). After his secretive birth, Sargon was placed in a "reed basket," which was "sealed with pitch" and set adrift on a river. "Aqqi, drawer of water," rescued the infant, adopted him and raised him to be a farmer. Eventually, he found favor with the goddess Ishtar and was crowned king.

Moses' and Sargon's birth accounts employ a common ancient literary motif, in which a hero is exposed to death during infancy, only to be rescued and to achieve greatness. The plot of the Sargon legend emphasizes the stunning, and often miraculous, nature of the hero's rise from obscurity to honor. In the case of Sargon II, use of the device may have been a deliberate attempt after the fact to legitimize his own power grab. The Biblical narrative, however, includes many unique features, such as the threat of national genocide, the attempt to hide the-child and his temporary return to his mother. Although the relationship between the Sargonic and Mosaic narratives is still being debated,the details of Moses' birth unquestionably signify his heroic role in God's plan. It is helpful to bear in mind that the fictional tale commissioned by Sargon II was written much later than the factual, Biblical account of Moses' early life.

YHWH: The Name of God in the Old Testament

EXODUS 3 Known by many titles in Scripture, the God of Israel has but one personal name —YHWH (the original, written Hebrew language contained no vowels). This name is commonly referred to as the Tetragrammaton, which is derived from a Greek word meaning "four letters." Virtually every aspect of YHWH (its pronunciation, origin and significance) is widely debated.

The exact pronunciation of YHWH is unknown, but many today favor "Yahweh." This conclusion is based upon theophoric names—names that contain all or part of a divine name.' Examples include Jehoshaphat ("AYHWH [jeho] judges [shaphat]") and Adonijah ("my Lord [adorn] is YHWH [jah]"). Although widely accepted, the pronunciation "Yahweh" remains uncertain. In

Exodus 3:14 God referred to himself as "I AM." The Hebrew word translated "I AM," a third-person form of the verb for "to be," is ehyeh, which looks like and may have sounded like YHWH. Accordingly, many linguists argue that the name YHWH was derived from this verb. Working from this premise, some scholars go on to argue that YHWH means "he is," "he will be" or "he causes to belt is unlikely, however, that God intended to disclose the etymology (linguistic origin) of his name in this verse. A divine name in Hebrew is seldom merely an inflection of a verb, as would be the case if this argument were true.

Frequently Hebrew texts use wordplays or puns. Some Biblical passages, for example, make their point based on the similar sounds of words in the original language (this often occurs when God is the speaker). Such puns were not intended to be humorous, clever or lighthearted, nor did they imply that a word's origin was being divulged. In Jeremiah 1:11-12, for example, God asked Jeremiah what he saw, and the prophet replied that he saw the rod of an almond tree (Hebrew shaqed). God responded by asserting that he was keeping watch (Hebrew shaqed) over his word (his revelation in Scripture). This wordplay does not suggest that shaqed ("almond tree") and shoqed ("keeping watch") are linguistically related. In a similar vein, it is possible that the similarity between the word translated "I AM"(tehyeh) and YHWH/Yahweh represents a deliberate wordplay, while not intended to address the origin of the name YHWH/Yahweh.

The context of Exodus 3 further suggests that etymology was not God's intended emphasis. Moses was worried about his response were the Hebrews to ask him with regard to his conversation with God "What is his name?" (v. 13). His anxiety implies that the Israelites tended to be skeptical and suggests that they might have been inclined to lower YHWH to the level of other gods, each of whom had a distinctive name."' AM WHO I AM" was an assertion that YHWH is the one and only true God.

As early as the Second Temple period following Israel's return from exile,the name YHWH came to be regarded as so holy that its public pronunciation was forbidden. When readers came across the name, they would say either shema (Aramaic"the name") or adonai (Hebrew "my Lord"). Following the convention within Judaism of saying "My Lord" when readers came upon the divine name, the Jewish translators of the Septuagint (early Greek translation of the OT) rendered the divine name YHWH as kuriost, Greek for "Lord." This tradition continues in many modern English translations, where YHWH is translated "Lord."


EXODUS 4 The Midianites were descendants of one of the six sons Keturah bore to Abraham some time after Sarah's death (Ge 25:1-2).Our first Biblical encounter with this people group occurs in Genesis 37:25-36, when Midianite merchants purchased Joseph from his brothers and led him off in captivity to Egypt.The text interchanges the terms Midianites and ishmaelites, suggesting either a close connection between the two groups or the possibility that the Midianites comprised a smaller group within the larger ishmaelite tribal structure (cf. the seemingly random substitution of these terms in a later passage, Jdg 8:22-26).

When Moses fled for the first time from Egypt, he settled in Midian and married Zipporah, the daughter of a Midianite priest named Reuel (Ex 2:15-21). Later Reuel (also known as Jethro) advised Moses to organize the Israelites into groups of"thousands, hundreds,fifties and tens"(18:21) for the purpose of delegating administrative and judicial responsibilities, perhaps representative of the organizational structure of the Midianite culture. Many Kenites, probably from the Midianite clan to which Jethro belonged, joined the Israelites, integrating seamlessly into their society (Nu 10:29-33;Jdg 1:16;4:11).

Not all of Israel's encounters with Midian were cordial, however. When the Israelites attempted to cross through the Transjordan during their journey toward the promised land, the leaders of Moab, and Midian dis-patched a joint delegation to the prophet Balaam, requesting him to curse the traveling band (Nu 22:1-7).Soon afterward Moabite and Midianite women enticed Israelite men to worship Baal of Peor and to engage in sexual immorality (Nu 25:1-6). As punishment for this treachery, the Lord ordered Moses to declare war on the Midianites (Nu 25:16— 18; 31:1-18). All five of the Midianite kings named in Numbers 31:8 (cf. Jos 13:21) appear as genuine, early Arabic names in extrabiblical literature of the time.

During the period of the judges the Midianites and Amalekites oppressed the Israelites by conducting raids into their territory during their harvests (Jdg 6:3-6). The Midianites successfully used domesticated camels to move swiftly during such military incursions., Gideon's miraculous defeat of Midian (Jdg 7), which was long remembered in Israel, provided a solid basis for trust in the Lord's future deliverance of his people from other powerful enemies (cf. Ps 83:9-12; Isa 9:4; 10:26; Nab 3:7).

The Location of Midian

Genesis 25:6 tells us that Abraham sent Keturah's sons "to the land of the east," although this text does not define the boundaries of Midian. Passages that associate the Midianites with the Moabites, however, suggest that both groups lived in the southern part of the Transjordan.The Midianite soldiers also fled in this direction after Gideon's victory. Evidence from ancient scholars such as Ptolemy, Josephus and Eusebius, as well as information from classical and medieval Arabic geographers, indicates that the Midianite homeland was on the Gulf of Aqaba.This would place Midian in northwestern Arabia, one proposed site of Mount Sinai.

Archaeology of Midian Excavations east of the Gulf of Aqaba have uncovered large, walled towns and numerous villages dating to the Late Bronze and early Iron Ages. A distinct variety of bichrome (two-colored) pottery, with motifs similar to those found on Mycenaean ceramics, seems to have been manufactured locally during the thirteenth through twelfth centuries B.C.' This distinctive type of pottery also has been unearthed at Timna, a mining site a few miles north of the gulf; a Midianite shrine was discovered on the same site. Whereas the painted motifs suggest a connection between the Midianites and the Greek world, the method of manufacturing compares with that used in Egypt. From this and other factors scholars have surmised that, rather than being an impoverished,dis-organized, nomadic people, the Midianites seem to have developed a well-organized society, conducting trade with foreign nations and productively engaging in copper mining, smelting and ceramic production.

The Soleb Hieroglyph

EXODUS 5 In Exodus 5:2 the pharaoh scoffed,"Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go?" It is not clear whether this pharaoh had never heard of Yahweh or whether he was simply dismissing him as the insignificant god of an enslaved people. Amazingly, though, one of the first references to Yahweh besides those in the Bible has been discovered in an Egyptian temple.

The Eighteenth-Dynasty pharaoh Amenhotep III (c. 1390 — 1352 B.c.) built this temple at Soleb, in upper Nubia along the western bank of the Nile.This temple was dedicated to Amenhotep III, who was viewed as a divine king associated with the god Amon.lts hieroglyphics memorialize Amenhotep III's domination of foreign peoples; subjugated peoples are depicted with their arms bound behind their backs.The historical accuracy of his claims is doubtful, given that Egyptian pharaohs routinely made such boasts, whether or not they were true. Although long-lived and otherwise successful, Amenhotep III was not a notable warrior.

Even so, one remarkable inscription at the Soleb temple speaks of"the land of the Shasu, (those of) Yhw." The term Shasu refers to Bedouin peoples of the Levant (the region encompassing Syria and the area now known as Palestine). Scholars almost universally acknowledged that Yhw refers to Yahweh,the God of Israel. But what might be the significance of this inscription for Old Testament studies? Evidently Amenhotep III was aware of a land in the Levant peopled by "Shasu" who worshiped Yahweh.This is not to imply that all Shasu were Israelites; the pharaoh may have been using a generic or shorthand term.

If the Shasu of the inscription were indeed the Israelites, the implication is that the exodus from Egypt to the Levant (Syria/Palestine) occurred prior to the time of-- Amenhotep III.The traditional date for the exodus is understood to be approximately 1445 13.C.,1 or a little more than half a century prior to the reign of Amenhotep III. As with other such discoveries, however, we do well to treat this "evidence" cautiously. The Soleb inscription does not unambiguously refer to Israelites, and some have argued that the Shasu who worshiped YHWH were simply a small Bedouin group.

The Egyptian Priests and Their Snakes

EXODUS 7 The Bible frequently records particular events without explaining how they happened. Exodus 7, for example, reveals that Egyptian magicians mimicked Moses' changing of his staff into a snake "by their secret arts" (v. 11).This could mean that they employed supernatural power and actually changed staffs into snakes. The Bible, however, does not explicitly state whether or not supernatural agents, either divine (Nu 22:21ff.) or demonic (Dt 18:10 —11;Job 2:7), were involved.

The majority of scholars believe that the Egyptians used mere trickery on this occasion. Throughout the ancient world pagan priests regularly deceived gullible people (e.g., a priest would hide in a large, hollowed-out idol and speak for the god).So the Egyptians could have used sleight of hand (analogous to modern stage magicians performing tricks with animals). Evidence also reveals that Egyptians regularly practiced a method of snake charm-ing that allowed them to put snakes into a kind of catalepsy, whereby they would remain as stiff as a rod until awakened. This trick is still practiced in Egypt today.

It is helpful to recognize that the purpose of this Biblical text was not to debunk Egyptian magic but to show that the power of Israel's God was greater than any power Egypt possessed. When Moses' snake swallowed the Egyptians' snakes, the event predicted disaster for the pharaoh. A representative snake from Israel's God had defeated one of Egypt's national symbols—the serpent—an animal considered sacred in Lower Egypt where Moses' confrontation with the pharaoh was taking place.

The Pharaoh of the Exodus

EXODUS 8 The Bible describes the exodus in great detail but eliminates mention of the one fact that would have proven most helpful in linking the event to a particular time period in Egyptian history: the name of the reigning pharaoh. Most researchers believe the pharaoh of the oppression and exodus to have been either Rameses II (c. 1279-1213 B.c.),Thutmose Ill (c.1479-1425 B.c.) or Amenhotep II (c. 1427-1400 B.c.).

Rameses II

Rameses II remains a popular candidate,' primarily because the earliest evidence for Israelite settlements in the Holy Land come from the early twelfth century B.C. Also, the name of the store city Rameses (Ex 1:11) fits well with a pharaoh by this name. But little evidence suggests a conquest of Canaan during this period. And the dates for Rameses II are too late for a conventional reading of the Old Testament that places the exodus at around 1445 B.C.2 Also, the Biblical use of the name Rameses for the store city could be anachronistic; the text may use a later name for the location, known to a later reading audience.

Thutmose III

Thutmose III was a child pharaoh whose early years were overshadowed by the influence of the princess Hatshepsut, who acted as his regent, in effect taking upon herself the role of pharaoh. Some have identified Hatshepsut as the pharaoh's daughter who discovered baby Moses in the Nile (2:5-6), but this is pure speculation.

After Hatshepsut's death, Thutmose III proved to be a formidable warrior, conducting 17 military campaigns and consolidating Egyptian control over the Levant (Syria-Palestine). Thutmose maintained on the walls of the temple of Karnak at Thebes a record of events from his first campaign on. Some historians have suggested that he perished with his chariot corps while pursuing the Israelites into the Red Sea.

Amenhotep II

Amenhotep II inherited from Thutmose III a kingdom at the zenith of its power. Amenhotep excelled in running, rowing, archery, chariotry and equestrian arts, boasting on the Elephantine Stele (an inscribed stone monument) that his strength was greater than that of any other king who had ever lived. He also was an expert in warfare, demonstrating reckless gallantry in battle. Amenhotep received tribute from Mitanni and Babylon, as well as from the Hittites. A brief campaign in Galilee during his ninth year as pharaoh is his last recorded military operation.

The dates most widely accepted for Amenhotep's reign (1427-1400 B.c.) are too late for an exodus of around 1445 B.c. Some historians suggest that Thutmose III was the pharaoh of the oppression since he is said to have been the first pharaoh to build a store city at the site only later known as Rameses. If so, his son Amenhotep II could still have been the pharaoh of the exodus.

Others hypothesize that Amenhotep's lack of military activity during the latter part of his reign may have resulted from a military catastrophe during the exodus. And some historians speculate that because Amenhotep II's successor (Thutmose IV) was not his firstborn or heir apparent, his first-born son may have died during the final plague. The archaeological evidence for a conquest of Canaan during the reigns of either Thutmose III or Amenhotep II is scanty. In fact, some argue that the end of the Middle Bronze Age (c. 1550 B.c.) looks much more promising as the setting for the conquest of Canaan, though this paradigm would place the exodus much earlier than the Bible seems to indicate and is difficult to reconcile with our current understanding of Egyptian chronology. It is impossible to be dogmatic about the identity of the pharaoh of the exodus, but Thutmose III and Amenhotep II remain the most likely candidates.

The Hyksos and the Exodus

EXODUS 8 The Hyksos, foreign rulers in Egypt from approximately 1637 to 1529 B.C., were of Semitic origin and thus related to the Israelites) For this reason some Biblical historians have tried to establish a connection between the Hyksos and the Israelites. Three different theories seek to tie the history of the Hyksos directly to the Biblical record of Israel in Egypt.

Theory One: A Hyksos Pharaoh Promoted Joseph

Proponents of this view assert that the Hyksos ruled Egypt at the time Joseph was sold into slavery. The Hyksos, they surmise, being ethnically and linguistically related to Joseph, would have been inclined to empathize with him and promote him to power.This theory impacts the proposed date structure for the lives of the patriarchs, who are conventionally reckoned to have lived during the late third and early second millenniums B.C. It requires adherents to espouse the "late date" for the exodus (late Bronze III Age, c. 1250 B.c.), in order to build in sufficient time for Israel's sojourn in Egypt.

Apart from basic problems with this date in terms of the exodus,; this theory seems incompatible with the Biblical narrative.The Bible records only that the pharaoh promoted Joseph because of the young man's exceptional ability; his ethnicity is never mentioned as a factor.The Bible also presents the ruling class as Egyptians who instinctively reacted with scorn toward foreign shepherds (see Ge 46:28-34).

Theory Two: A Hyksos Was the Pharaoh of the Oppression

Adherents to this view propose that a Hyksos pharaoh enslaved the Israelites. Although advocated by some scholars who see this as a good chronological match with the Biblical account, this conjecture makes little sense.The Hyksos as Semitic foreigners were no doubt keenly aware of their tenuous control over a large, native Egyptian population. Why would they have persecuted a group they would have viewed as natural allies? Exodus 1:8-10 in fact shows that the pharaoh of the oppression shared the Egyptian hatred toward Semites in general.

Theory Three: The Expulsion of the Hyksos and the Israelite Exodus Are a Single Event

The Egyptians ultimately drove out the Hyksos after a protracted campaign during the latter sixteenth century B.C. The theory of the exodus based on this reality asserts that the story of the Hyksos' expulsion is simply the Egyptian version of the Israelite exodus account (i.e., the two narratives relate the same events from diametrically opposed perspectives—each presenting Israel's departure from Egypt as a victory for its side).This view, which necessitates a very early date for the exodus, does work well with the chronology of Jericho, in that this city is widely regarded to have suffered major destruction at the end of the Middle Bronze Age, not long after the expulsion of the Hyksos.

Nevertheless, this position is open to serious challenge.The stories of the Hyksos' expulsion and that of the Israelites' exodus have nothing in common, except that in both cases a large group of foreigners departed from Egypt.The Egyptians drove out the Hyksos during a lengthy military campaign, while the Biblical exodus took place during a period of weeks, involving no military action whatsoever until the very end, after the Israelites had already left Egypt.

Any attempt to tie the Hyksos directly to the Biblical narrative ultimately falters. In all probability Hyksos rule relates to Israel's history only indirectly in that it gave the Egyptians a seemingly good reason to hate and distrust all Semites.

The Rosetta Stone and the Deciphering of Hieroglyphs

EXODUS 9 In 1799 Napoleon's soldiers discovered an inscribed stone near the town of Rosetta on the Nile delta (see the delta region in the upper left of the "Egypt" map on p. 346, just south of the Mediterranean Sea). Known as the Rosetta Stone, this stele helped to solve the mystery of the Egyptian writing system known as hieroglyphics, thereby providing the key to understanding much of the Egyptian history and culture recorded on ancient monuments.

Originally inscribed to honor Ptolemy V Epiphanes (203-181 B.c.), this stone is divided into three sections called registers, each of which contains the same text but in a different writing system (hieroglyphics, demotic and Greek). At the time of its discovery only the bottom, Greek register could be read. It described how Egyptian priests, in gratitude for how Ptolemy had endowed their temple, declared him to be a god and ruler of Egypt for-ever. Soon several scholars isolated the royal names mentioned in the stone's hieroglyphics on the basis of their Greek equivalents. The most exciting breakthrough in decoding the stele's hieroglyphics, however, occurred when a historian named J.E. Champollion realized that the writing included symbols not only for letters but also for syllable-like sounds and even for entire words. Champollion announced in 1822 that he had substantially solved the riddle. Since then Egyptologists _have steadily enhanced our knowledge of hieroglyphics and, as a consequence, of ancient Egypt.

The Palace of Rameses

EXODUS 10 During their Egyptian sojourn the Israelites lived at Rameses, whether or not the city was called by this name at the time or only later' (Ge 47:11; Ex 1:11; 12:37). Various Biblical references suggest that a royal residence was located nearby:

    • Pharaoh's daughter, who regularly bathed in the Nile River, with the help of her slave girl discovered the infant Moses in the water in a "basket among the reeds" (Ex 2:5; Ac 7:20-21).

    • Moses, after having been reared in the palace as a prince, easily wandered to the area where the Israelites were laboring (Ex 2:11).

    • The Israelite foremen were able to meet face-to-face with Pharaoh (5:14-15).

    • Moses often held audience with the pharaoh during the plagues, and there is no indication that he had to travel any great distance to do so.

Critics once believed that the royal residence was located in Memphis, the administrative capital of Egypt approximately 75 miles (121 km) southwest of the site of Rameses.

Excavations have revealed, however, that the region where Rameses was likely located served as an important commercial and military center.2 During the 1990s an enormous royal compound was discovered on the southern bank of the eastern branch of the Nile River. Used throughout the Eighteenth Dynasty (c. 1550-1300 B.c.), the compound consisted of a fortress and a palace. The fortress was constructed on a 230 foot by 150 foot (61 x 46 m) platform approximately 100 feet (30.5 m) from the riverbank. A ramp on the east side led to a gate in a fortification wall, providing ready access to the river. The palace, south of the fortress, boasted thick walls, storage magazines (areas for storing weapons), corridors and even bathrooms. Both structures were located inside a walled compound that included a temple, workshops and a military camp. Moses probably meandered the halts of these buildings, and the pharaoh quite likely mobilized his 600 chariots to pursue the Israelites from this location (14:7).

A Breakdown of Ancient Egyptian History

EXODUS 11 It is helpful for understanding the history of ancient Egypt to divide this enormously protracted time span into shorter, more manageable segments. Following the lead of a third-century B.C. Egyptian historian named Manetho, Egyptian history is typically divided into 30 dynasties.

Pre-Dynastic Egypt (prior to 3000 B.c.)

During this era regional societies and cultures began to emerge. Agriculture, pottery making and the construction of stone monuments were well established by the end of this period: Loose confederations eventually gave way to more centralized power.

Archaic Egypt (First and Second Dynasties; 3000-2700 B.c.)

Meni (or Menes), a semi-legendary ruler from southern Egypt, established the First Dynasty. Memphis became the capital city,, and the pharaohs were preoccupied with holding together their extensive kingdom. Hieroglyphics, the distinctive Egyptian style in art and writing, became well established.

Old Kingdom Period (Third through Sixth Dynasties; 2700-2160 B.c.)

The pyramids and the great sphinx were built, the study of medicine flourished and works such as the Proverbs of Ptahhotep were produced., Pharaohs ventured outside Egypt on military campaigns to the Sinai and Libya.

First Intermediate Period (Seventh through Tenth Dynasties; 2160-2010 B.c.)

Central authority collapsed, dynasties competed and local lords held sway in various areas. This period produced significant works of pessimistic literature.

Middle Kingdom Period (Eleventh and Twelfth Dynasties; 2106-1786 B.C., overlapping the First Intermediate period)

The pharaohs reestablished central authority, and Joseph's administration brought much Egyptian land under the pharaoh's direct control (Ge 47:13--26). Some historians, in fact, suggest that Joseph played a significant role in bringing about the end of Egyptian feudal power.

Second Intermediate Period (Thirteenth through Seventeenth Dynasties; 1786 — 1550 B.c.)

Centralized authority again collapsed. Dynasties Fifteen and Sixteen were Hyksos (ruled by Semitic rulers who took control of Lower—northern —Egypt).The relationship of the Hyksos to the exodus is much debated.

New Kingdom Period (Eighteenth through Twentieth Dynasties; 1550-1069 B.c.)

Established by Ahmose, who drove out the last of the Hyksos,the powerful New Kingdom became an empire reaching through Canaan into Syria. Each of the two greatest pharaohs of this time, Thutmose Ill (c. 1479-1425 B.c.) and Rameses II (c.1279 —1212 B.c.), has been suggested as the pharaoh of the exodus. Although Thutmose Ill fits reasonably well with Biblical chronology (Jdg 11:26; 1Ki 6:1), Rameses appeared too late for this scheme.

Third Intermediate Period (Twenty-first through Twenty-fifth Dynasties; 1069 —656 B.c.)

A considerably weakened Egypt entered this era. At times there were rival pharaohs, and in other instances outsiders ruled. Even so, vigorous rulers did come to power, including the Libyan pharaoh Sheshonk I (c. 945 — 924)—the Shishak in 1 Kings 14:25.7

Remaining ancient Egyptian historical periods include the Saite-Persian period (Twenty-sixth through Thirtieth Dynasties; 654-332 B.C.; a "Thirty-first Dynasty" is sometimes included), the Ptolemaic period (332 — 30 B.c.) and the Roman period (after 30 B.c.). During the Roman period Egyptian power was briefly ascendant again under Saite rulers (who ruled from Sais, in the western delta). Hoping to curb the rising power of the Babylonians and the Medes, the Saite Neco II (c. 610-595 B.c.) drove his army north through Israel, defeating and killing King Josiah of Judah in the process, (2Ki 23:29). Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon' defeated Neco II at Carchemish (605 B.c.) and drove him back into Egypt. No longer a formidable power, Egypt was annexed into the Persian Empire by Cambyses in 525 B.C. The subsequent fall of the Persian Empire to Alexander the Great led to the Greek takeover of Egypt in 332 B.C. After Alexander's death in 323 B.C., Ptolemy I (a Greek general) seized Egypt, and his dynasty ruled until the death of the last Ptolemaic ruler,the famous Cleopatra VII (c.52 —30 B.c.). After that, Egypt became a Roman province.

The Date of the Exodus

EXODUS 12 According to 1 Kings 6:1 temple construction began during the fourth year of Solomon's reign (conventionally dated to c. 965 B.c.),, which is also specified as being 480 years after Israel's exodus from Egypt. Based upon this date, the exodus would have occurred around 1445 B.C. (the "early date" view).

In contrast, some historians date the exodus to approximately 1260 B.C. (the "late-date" view). They believe that the number 480, above, symbolizes 12 generations, each averaging 40 years elo in duration.By substituting 25 years for 40 years on the grounds that this is a more realistic figure for a single generation, they 10.1 reduce the interval from 480 to approximately 300 years.Various other dates for the exodus have been suggested, but most have garnered little support among scholars.

Several lines of Biblical evidence support the early date view:

  • Acts 7:29-30 records that Moses spent 40 years in Midian,3 and Exodus 2:23 and 4:19 suggest that the pharaoh of the oppression, who sought Moses' life, had died before Moses' return to Egypt. Thutmose III reigned for more than 40 years. If his son, Amenhotep II, was the pharaoh of the exodus, his rule (mid-fifteenth century B.c.) corresponds to the early date for the exodus.

  • Thutmose IV followed Amenhotep II. In an inscription called the Dream Stele,Thutmose IV implied that the"firstborn" son of Amenhotep II died before ascending to the throne. Some scholars have speculated that this son may have been a victim of the tenth plague.

  • As recorded in Judges 11:26, Jephthah (c. 1100 B.c.) claimed in a message to the Ammonite king that Israel had already been in the land for 300 years. This suggests that the conquest must have taken place around 1400 B.C. and that the exodus had occurred at approximately 1440 B.C.

  • The "late date" would require compression of the judges' activity into 170 years, while the "early date" allows for 350 years,a more reasonable time frame in light of the number of individual judges presented in the book of Judges.

  • Acts 13:19-20 assigns about 450 years to the period between Joshua's conquest of Canaan and the judgeship of Samuel, a time frame that does not fit the late-date view.

  • Under the late-date theory, Israel entered the land between 1250 and 1220 B.C. But these dates are uncomfortably close to that of Merneptah's Stele. This monument describes Israel as a people defeated by Merneptah (either c. 1232 or c. 1207 is difficult to see how this monument could match the late date for the exodus, since the stele implies that Israel was well established in the region now called Palestine by the date of Merneptah's victories. Using the late-date view,the Israelites at that time would still have been in the wilderness or just beginning their conquest of Canaan.

Opponents of the early date argue that archaeological evidence at key sites dating from the fifteenth century B.C. does not match what the Bible records about the conquest.' Most archaeologists would even argue that there is little evidence placing Israel in the land of Canaan prior to the twelfth century B.C. Proponents of a fifteenth-century B.C. exodus, on the other hand, argue that some reinterpretation of archaeological data is necessary. Still, archaeological evidence supporting a later date for the exodus and conquest is widely regarded as being scanty.

Unfortunately, no single theory completely harmonizes archaeological evidence with Biblical claims. Until more definitive interpretations of archaeological findings are forthcoming, it is best to hold, as most historians do, to an earlier date for the exodus on the basis of the Biblical chronology described above.

The Northern route theory

EXODUS 13 The itinerary of Israel's travels from Egypt to Mount Sinai (Ex 14-19; Nu 33) is little more to us than a list of obscure place-names. We know that the company moved from Rameses to Succoth,then on to Etham on the edge of the desert before proceeding to Pi Hahiroth, near Baal Zephon and Migdol. From there the procession passed through the Red Sea, stopping afterward at Marah and Elim; beside the Red Sea once again; alongside the Desert of Sin; at Dophkah, Alush and Rephidim; and in the region of Mount Sinai.' As specific as this itinerary is, interpreting it is much more difficult because no one knows the identities of many of these ancient place-names. In addition, there is confusion about the point at which the company crossed the Red Sea, as well as about the identity of the sea itself! Numerous routes have been proposed.

One theory argues for a more northerly exodus route, suggesting that the"sea"the Israelites crossed was actually Lake Sir-bonis on the Mediterranean coast and that Mount Sinai was located in the northern Sinai Peninsula, perhaps synonymous with one of the mountains now named Jebel Helal, Jebel Kharif or Jebel Magharah. But God had explicitly prohibited such a route (Ex. 13:17), which would have led up the Mediterranean coast into Philistia.2 This theory is not widely held at this time. See also "The Route of the Exodus:The Southern Route Theory" and "The Route of the Exodus:The Arabian Route Theory."

The Southern route theory

EXODUS 13 A widely accepted view of the route of the exodus holds that Israel escaped Egypt near what is now the Wadi Tumilat and headed south into the Sinai peninsula. Before considering the viability of this route, however, it helps to consider two realities about the eastern delta during the New Kingdom period.

  • The Egyptians fortified their northeastern frontier (the land between the Gulf of Suez and the Mediterranean Sea) to prevent waves of Asiatic migrants from Syria and Canaan from entering Egypt.The heaviest fortification was in the north, along the Mediterranean Sea, which provided the primary means of access into Egypt. For hundreds of years the Egyptians had struggled to bar the door to these alien peoples, and their recent experience with the Hyksos had only increased their fear and hatred of "Asiatics" (i.e., Semites)

  • A series of water boundaries between Egypt and the Sinai extended up from the Gulf of Suez to the Bitter Lakes and Lake Timsah. North of Lake Timsah travelers encountered a series of marshy bodies of water (now dry) called the Ballah Lakes. Evidence exists that a canal system extended from Lake Timsah to the Ballah Lakes and on to the Mediterranean.This system would have created a series of water obstacles in the isthmus between Egypt and the Sinai.

These considerations aside, according to this second theory the Israelites' itinerary would have been as follows:

  • Rameses is presumed to be on the site of Qantir in the eastern delta.

  • Succoth, the first stop, is near modern Tell el-Maskhuta. Located at the eastern end of the Wadi Tumilat, southeast of Rameses, Succoth reflects the Egyptian name, Tjeku. Each of these names refers both to a central fortress and to the general region around it.

  • Etham is the next proposed site, but no such place is known in this vicinity. In addition, Etham under this scenario is notoriously difficult to locate, According to this theory the Israelites arrived here before the crossing of the Red Sea, while we know from Numbers 33:7-8 that they passed through the "Desert of Etham" immediately after the Red Sea crossing.

  • Pi Hahiroth was near Baal Zephon and Migdol.These three names are obscure, but some scholars suggest that Pi Hahiroth, because it can be translated "mouth of the canals," was located on the northern edge of Lake Timsah where it joined the canal system. Thus the name could relate to the canal system in the region north of the Gulf of Suez.

  • After leaving Pi Hahiroth, Israel according to this paradigm crossed the Red Sea.According to Exodus 14:21 a strong east wind blew all night long, dividing the sea to allow the Israelites but not the pursuing Egyptians--to cross.To complicate the situation,the identity of the Red Sea itself is disputed.

  • Having crossed the sea the Israelites headed to Mount Sinai. If the Red Sea was in fact Lake Timsah or the northern tip of the Gulf of Suez, Mount Sinai was probably Jebel Musa ("Mountain of Moses") in southern Sinai.

  • The other locales leading up to the mountain (Marah, Elim, Dophkah and Rephidim) would, according to this theory, all have been in southwestern Sinai. Again, it is vital to recognize that locating any or all of these sites is at this point a highly speculative endeavor.

Of the three routes mentioned (see articles on the other two theories), this one is the most widely espoused, but it too has a number of serious difficulties., For a depiction of the exodus route that is based on the "southern route" theory (with minor variations; many different routes have been proposed).

The location of the Red Sea

EXODUS 13 The identity of the Red Sea itself is disputed.The Hebrew name for this body of water is yam suph.The word yam means"sea" and suph means"reed."The Septuagint (early Greek translation of the OT), however, translates suph as "red."Thus it is unclear whether the reference is to the Red Sea or the Reed Sea. Still, there is no evidence that people ever called any body of water in the Suez region the Reed Sea. The only specific use of yam suph in the Old Testament is found in 1 Kings 9:26, where the reference is to the Gulf of Aqaba on the eastern side of the Sinai. Some historians argue that the Israelites considered all of these bodies of water together (i.e., the Gulf of Aqaba; the modern Red Sea; the Gulf of Suez; and the string of bodies of water extending northward from the Suez, including the Bitter Lakes and Lake Timsah) to be the yam suph. If so, a lake between the Suez and the Mediterranean Sea could have been considered part of the greater yam suph.This would appear, however, to be an unwarranted assumption because no evidence exists that the Israelites considered these diverse bodies of water together to constitute the yarn suph.

Today, many believe that the most likely candidate for the Red Sea would appear to have been Lake Timsah—although other lakes and the northern tip of the Gulf of Suez also are possibilities.There are, however, significant problems with this interpretation, and an alternative viewpoint places the yarn suph in the same place at which 1 Kings 9:26 puts it: at the Gulf of Aqaba)

The wind set-down hypothesis

EXODUS 13 The crossing of the Red Sea is a remarkable Old Testament miracle. The Biblical narrative relies on the water's having been shallow enough that a powerful east wind blowing all night could have pushed it back, yet deep enough that pursuing chariot forces would have drowned when the waters ultimately closed in. The Bible specifically records that God used nature (the east wind) to effect this miracle, and any credible explanation must factor in that natural phenomenon.

A shallow marsh (as some have proposed) would not have sufficed, because even if one night of wind could have dried it out so that chariots would have become mired in the mud, no one would have drowned in such shallow water.

Physicist Colin Humphreys suggests that a phenomenon known as "wind set-down" satisfies the Biblical account. This occurs when a strong, steady wind blows along a lengthy body of water that is fairly long relative to its width.The water level drops significantly on the windward side, while a wall of water is pushed up on the lee side. If wind continues to blow across the length of the sea, the drag of the water causes a gap to open up and expose the sea floor. The phenomenon is observed today in various bodies of water around the world when wind conditions and the layout of the water are right.

Among the candidates for the possible location of the Red Sea, only the Gulf of Aqaba' could have allowed such wind set-down to occur, since the body of water needed to be long and narrow relative to its length in order for this phenomenon to have taken place.The east wind the Bible describes could have been either a northeast or a southeast wind (ancient Hebrew has no specific word for either). Since the Gulf of Aqaba is oriented northeast to southwest, a northeast wind would have pushed the waters down along the Aqaba.

Humphreys also suggests that the name Red Sea could be accounted for by the red coral that grows in the Gulf of Aqaba, whereas the name Sea of Reeds could be explained by the growth of reed plants around the northern shore.

In contrast, the lakes north of the Gulf of Suez are too small for such a large wind set-down of water, and the Gulf of Suez is oriented in the wrong direction. A northwest wind would have been required for a wind set-down in the Suez.

Models of relating science to theology and the Bible

The Arabian route theory

EXODUS 13 The view that the Israelites traveled through Arabia is founded on two presuppositions: that Mount Sinai was not in the Sinai peninsula but rather in Arabia' and that the only body of water clearly identified in the Old Testament as the Red Sea or yam suph is the Gulf of Aqaba.

This theory agrees with the "southern route" hypothesis that Rameses was Qantir and that Succoth was Tell el-Maskhuta. From that point on, however, the proposed routes are entirely different.

    • The Arabian theory discounts the bodies of water and fortifications in the Suez area, assuming that the Egyptian pursuit did not begin until after Israel had entered the Sinai peninsula.

    • This system postulates that Israel would have followed the Darb el-Hajj, a trade route linking Arabia to Egypt that proceeds in a nearly straight line from just north of the Gulf of Suez to the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba. However,since the Sinai was considered Egyptian territory, the Israelites probably would have hurried during this part of the march in order to quit the pharaoh's domain before he changed his mind. If so, their journey to Arabia would have taken them to the northern edge of the Gulf of Aqaba.

    • The next stop on this itinerary would have been Etham.There is, in fact, a Mount Itm (also written as !them or Yitm) at the northeastern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba. Exodus 14:1-4 (cf. Nu 33:7) states that the Israelites "turned back" after nearing Etham to give the Egyptians the impression that they were lost. It is conceivable that the column actually rounded the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba, then did an about face on the western side of the gulf.Thus the Israelites would have been on the western side of the northern edge of the Gulf of Aqaba at the time they were nearly overtaken by the Egyptians. The procession would from that point have crossed the Red Sea (Gulf of Aqaba) after the parting of the waters.

    • This third theory places the Israelites, after having crossed the sea, just south of Mount Itm in what the Bible calls the "Desert of Etham" (Nu 33:8). This desert could have been the area near Mount Itm northeast of the Gulf of Aqaba. This region is also referred to as the Desert of Shur (Ex 15:22).

    • From here Israel would have headed south, along the western edge of Arabia, on the eastern side of the Gulf of Aqaba/Red Sea. Marah could have been the oasis at modern al-Malha.

    • Elim, where there were "twelve springs and seventy palm trees" (15:27), could have been Ainuna, an area where similar conditions existed.

    • Israel again set up camp by the Gulf of Aqaba/Red Sea (Nu 33:10),then moved on to the Desert of Sin (Nu 33:11), where the wanderers encountered an unusually heavy dew (see Ex 16:13-14. This phenomenon would suggest that they had moved east into the higher elevation of the Arabian Hisma, where the dew would have tended to be heavier.

    • From there the Israelites would have traveled to Dophkah before proceeding to SInai, which according to this theory was most likely the volcanic Mount Bedr.

This third theory represents an intriguing interpretation of the exodus itinerary, though little serious work to date has been done to confirm it.

Horses and Chariots in Ancient Warfare

EXODUS 14 The use of horses and chariots revolutionized warfare in the ancient Near East. Scholars generally agree that the horse was introduced into the area during the late third millennium B.C. and had become prominent in Canaan by the early second millennium.

The development of the chariot soon followed, but scholars disagree about the history of its invention. Horses and chariots are mentioned in the Mari, tablets (eighteenth century B.c.), and the Kassites and the people of Mitanni (seventeenth century B.c) were renowned for both horse breeding and chariot technology. In fact, the Kassites developed specialized and precise vocabulary for chariot components, and the Mitannian maryannu comprised a group of chariot experts.

In all likelihood foreigners introduced horses and chariots to the Egyptians (mentioned in ch. 15) during the Hyksos period (eighteenth to sixteenth centuries B.c.). During the subsequent New Kingdom period (sixteenth through eleventh centuries B.c.) horse-drawn chariots were often used in warfare and religious processions—and sometimes even served as portable thrones. Reliefs and paintings from Egypt portray both Seti I and Rameses III standing in chariots, drawing their bows against enemies. Chariots have also been found among relics in Eighteenth-Dynasty tombs, such as those preserved with relation to King Tutankhamen.

The early chariot's design permitted two people standing abreast—a driver and an archer—to occupy the small platform. The axle was made of wood, and rawhide held the frame together. Wheels were fastened to the axle with linchpins of wood or bronze. The draft pole extended to the rear of the chariot, was secured with rawhide bindings and was attached to the horses' yoke with straps.

Since horses were primarily used in ancient times to pull chariots, the term rider mentioned in Exodus 15:1 probably refers to the chariot driver. The song's boast that the God of Israel had hurled the horse and charioteer into the sea dramatically portrays the manner in which the power of God bested the most technologically advanced tool of warfare available during that time.

Alternative theories about the Exodus

EXODUS 16 The Israelites' exodus from Egypt is a key focus in the Old Testament,as well as an early, vital component of Biblical salvation history. The significance of this historical event is confirmed again and again throughout the Biblical canon. Numerous passages, beginning within the Pentateuch, refer to this pivotal event in God's dealings with his people. For example:

    • A prologue introducing both Old Testament recitations of the Ten Commandments (Ex.20:2; Dt.5:6) reminded Israel of God's faithful actions during the exodus.

    • The exodus provided the basis for demanding proper treatment of strangers and impoverished individuals living in Israel (Ex 22:21; 23:9; Dt 24:17-18).

    • Israel's annual cycle of feasts recalled events associated with the exodus (cf. Ex 12:26-27; Lev 23:42-43; Dt 16:1).

    • The experience afforded the Israelites the confidence they needed to wage war (Dt 20:1).

In addition, Israel's departure from Egypt for the promised land, along with the numerous miracles associated with that event, served as the basis for the nation's call to holiness (Nu 15:40-41) and for the evaluation of her actions (Dt 6:20-25), the principal theme of many psalms (e.g. Ps 78; 80; 81; 105; 106; 136) and an inspiration underlying many of her deepest prophetic hopes (Isa 11:16; Jer 11:3 —5; 23:7-8). In profound ways this event provided the very foundation for Israel's spiritual and national life.

Despite the importance of this occurrence, a number of problems remain. The exact date, as well as the precise location and route of the exodus, are disputed.' The silence of Egyptian literary records concerning this momentous event, as well as of the circumstances leading up to it, is perplexing, yet undeniable. Because archaeological evidence for the exodus is fragmentary and limited and contains large gaps, some scholars go so far as to question the historicity of the exodus and suggest alternative theories concerning Israel's origins. None of these hypotheses, however, can be demonstrated archaeologically or can boast the slightest Biblical basis.Theories that have been posited include the following:

    • A small group of "proto-israelites" departed from Egypt, entered Canaan and attracted followers from the local population. This group eventually became the nation of Israel.

    • Nomads gradually emigrated from various places into Canaan and coalesced around a common (but mythical) story of an exodus, complete with accounts of miraculous elements.

    • The Israelites were Canaanite peasants who banded together, revolted against their overlords and created "Israel" out of a mythical history.

    • Indigenous tribal groups within Canaan formed a people during the decline of Egyptian supremacy in the region.

Despite all the conjecture, many solid facts do support the reality of the exodus account.The Biblical record accords unparalleled significance to the event, and numerous details conform well to the cultural and political situation in Egypt during the New Kingdom period.For example,the Bible accurately depicts known labor conditions, proper names, governmental structures, royal theology, geography, magical practices, craftsmanship and artistic conventions of Egypt during the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries B.c.3 Although these facts cannot in and of themselves verify the reality of the exodus, they definitely support God's own ancient Biblical testimony through his servant Hosea:"When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son" (Hos 11:1).

The Amalekites

EXODUS 17 The Amalekites, whom the Israelites encountered for the first time in Canaan (Ex 17:8), are a relatively obscure people group in the Old Testament. Unlike many other groups mentioned there, no reference to this nation has been found in any extrabiblical material. All that is known of these people comes from the Bible.

According to the genealogical record (Ge 36:12), Amalek was the son of Eliphaz and the grandson of Esau. In Numbers 24:20 the seer Balaam referred to the Amalekites using the enigmatic title the "first among the nations.", Their geographical range was vast, extending from the Valley of Jezreel to the Arabah of Arabia. This suggests that they were a migratory people.

Because of the Amalekites' cruelty to Israel, God commanded his people in Deuteronomy 25:19 to blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven (this is the only nation so condemned in the Bible). Despite this divine ban Amalekites reappeared intermittently throughout Israel's history:

    • During Gideon's day Amalekite raiders appeared in Jezreel (Jdg 6:33), later to be defeated along with the Midianites.

    • Saul spared Agag the Amalekite king (1Sa 15:8-9), a costly act of disobedience that led to Saul's downfall.

David, in contrast,treated the Amalekites harshly (1Sa 27:8— 9).They raided his camp at Ziklag,4 but he appears to have bested them in the exchange (1Sa 30:1-20).

The Hyksos and the Old Testament

EXODUS 18 The Hyksos, whose name means "rulers of foreign countries," filtered into Egypt during the Middle Bronze Age when Egyptian authority was weak and decentralizing. They entered Egypt during the latter part of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom period (c.1800-1650 B.c.) and settled in the eastern delta region. Nothing is known about their origin,but their racial identity was mixed (mostly Semitic).

During the eighteenth century B.C. the Hyksos captured the Egyptian administrative capital at Memphis' and soon established their own capital at Avaris (identified as modern Tell ed-Dab'a. In Upper (southern) Egypt, however, Hyksos power remained limited because Egyptian princes retained control of Thebes.

According to the Egyptian priest-historian Manetho (third century B.c.), the Hyksos established the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Egyptian Dynasties. Hyksos rulers,who controlled most of Lower (northern) Egypt for about one hundred years, used Egyptian titles, and their culture reflected a blending of Egyptian and Semitic cultures. The Hyksos introduced military innovations to Egypt, perhaps including the compound bow as well as new types of daggers, swords and battle-axes. They used horses and chariots and also may have introduced the war chariot to Egypt.

Pharaoh Secienenra of the Seventeenth Egyptian Dynasty (whose capital was Thebes' in Upper—southern—Egypt) attempted to eliminate Hyksos rule but was mortally wounded in combat (his mummy shows that his face was struck with a battle-ax). His successor, Kamose, led a campaign into the eastern delta and attacked the Hyksos capital, Avaris, apparently failing, however, to capture it. Three years later Ahmose, the younger brother of Kamose, ascended to the throne and successfully expelled the Hyksos from Avaris. (A temple at Abydos depicted on its walls painted scenes of Ahmose's victory over the Hyksos.) Ahmose established the powerful Eighteenth Dynasty and reunited Upper and Lower Egypt.

Interestingly, the Hyksos are not mentioned in the Bible, nor is there any known connection between this people group and the Biblical patriarchs. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to assume that the Israelites lived in the eastern delta (i.e., Goshen) during the period of Hyksos domination. The hatred the Egyptians held for Semites after the Hyksos expulsion would have served as an appropriate context for Egyptian enslavement of the Semitic Israelites and the resulting harsh labor forced upon them.

The Location of Mount Sinai

EXODUS 19 Scholars continue to debate the location of Mount Sinai,putting forth arguments in support of the following locations:

A Southern Sinai Location

The traditionally recognized site of Mount Sinai is Jebel Musa ("Mountain of Moses") in the southern Sinai Peninsula.This identification was first made in the fourth century A.D. in the pilgrimage journal of a woman named Egeria.

Nearby is a broad plain called er-Raha, the only place in southern Sinai that could have accommodated all the migrating Israelites. But this area has little water.

A Northern Sinai Location

Those who believe Mount Sinai is located in the northern Sinai Peninsula offer two principal arguments:

    • The Israelites' movement was slowed by children and live-stock (see Ex 12:37-38). According to Deuteronomy 1:2 Mount Sinai is an eleven-day journey on foot from Kadesh Barnea—probably modern Tell el-Qudeirat in northern Sinai) This would place Mount Sinai in the northern Sinai Peninsula, roughly 60 miles (97 km) from Kadesh Barnea.

But Deuteronomy 1:2 reveals that the average traveler could complete the trip this quickly. This suggests a location considerably farther than 60 miles away. Camp locations along traditional trade routes were often more than 30 miles apart. If anything, Deuteronomy 1:2 excludes locating Mount Sinai at less than 200 miles (323 km) from Kadesh Barnea.

    • Moses requested permission for Israel to make a three-day journey into the desert (Ex 5:3). Assuming that the Israelites intended to travel to Mount Sinai, the mountain had to be within a three-day trek of Egypt. However, Exodus 5:3 says nothing about an intention of going to Sinai.

An Arabian Location

A third possibility is that Mount Sinai is in the Arabian Peninsula. Most interpreters have long dismissed this theory, but Colin Humphreys recently revived it, and the hypothesis offers intriguing possibilities.The main arguments are:

    • Midian, where Moses lived after his initial flight from Egypt (2:15), was in northwestern Arabia., Because the Midianites ranged over a large area (Jdg 6:1-6), Moses need not have lived in Arabia per se.However, the fact that some Midianites had left their homeland is not pertinent; the text states that Moses lived "in Midian" (almost certainly northwestern Arabia), not"among Midianites."

    • Moses first encountered God at Mount Sinai while shepherding Jethro's flock in "the far side of the desert" (Ex 3:1; some versions say"west of the desert"or"behind the desert"). Moses must have guided Jethro's flock from Midian toward the east, since the Red Sea formed Midian's western boundary. Midian was located in the low, coastal area of western Arabia called the Tihama, an extremely hot region during the summer. Just east is a desert named the Shifa, and behind that is the Hisma, with a higher terrain and numerous oases. Shepherds routinely escaped the heat by moving up into the Hisma; this may be what Exodus 3:1 describes.

    • According to Exodus 19:16-18 and Deuteronomy 4:11, Mount Sinai blazed with fire, was enveloped by a huge plume of cloud or smoke and shook violently as in an earthquake. Flashes of lightning and sounds like trumpet blasts also occurred. The description fits a volcanic eruption. The emission of hot gases from fissures can produce trumpet-like sounds, and observers have reported seeing massive electrical displays emanating from volcanic clouds. No volcanoes are known to have erupted during that period in the Sinai Peninsula, but Arabia has many volcanoes.

One volcanic mountain in the western Arabian Peninsula, Hala al Bedr (Mount Bedr), is according to this theory a particularly promising candidate for ancient Mount Sinai. It is isolated and could have been described as in Exodus 19:12. Volcanically active during that period,the mountain sits at one end of a large, table-shaped mountain (about six miles—ten km—in diameter) called Tadra.

Tadra, large enough to have accommodated the Israelite camp (v. 2), sits in a fertile basin called al-Gaw, with numerous wells and relatively lush flora.The Israelites' eleven-month stay (Nu 10:11) would have been impossible unless the area had access to water (see also Ex 19:14).

Other arguments supporting this theory are:

    • Demetrius, a third-century B.C. Jewish historian, made this connection.

    • The apostle Paul stated that Mount Sinai was in Arabia (Gal 4:25).

As always, caution is necessary. Archaeology is not an exact science, and archaeologists have not fully investigated the possibility of an Arabian location for Sinai.

Ancient Altars

EXODUS 20 In the ancient world altars played a key role in the religious practices of many people groups. Any surface consecrated for the purpose of making sacred offerings would have been considered an altar. Biblical altars are of special interest in the context of these notes (features of altars to other gods were often similar [e.g., horns were common], but discussion of such elements is beyond the scope of this brief article).

The Hebrew noun mizbeah, translated "altar," is derived from the verbal root zbh (meaning "to slaughter"). God's people frequently built altars on the site of a theophany or divine appearance (e.g., Ge 12:7; 35:1,7). Theologically, altars provided a meeting place between God and humanity, an intersection between heaven and Earth. They defined the spaces in which God caused his name to dwell and at which human beings might thereby call upon that name (Ge 13:3-4; 26:25; Dt 12:11; 1Ki 8:22-54).

The special sanctity of the Israelite altar is reflected in the Biblical injunction to build it of uncut stones (Ex 20:25). This sanctity is also reflected in the fact that altars to the God of Israel were ascended via a sloping ramp rather than by a series of steps in order to prevent their defilement by the exposure of human nakedness during the priestly ascent (v. 26). Note that, although Aaron and his descendants did serve at stepped altars (see Lev 9:22; Eze 43:17), these priests were instructed to wear linen undergarments (see Ex 28:42-43; Lev 6:10; 16:3-4; Eze 44:17-18).

Constructed primarily of stone, dirt, wood or metal, ancient altars of all kinds ranged from the relatively simple to the elaborately complex. Prominent characters in the Biblical narratives, including Noah (Ge 8:20), Abram (Ge 13:4), Isaac (Ge 26:25),Jacob (Ge 33:18-20) and Moses (Ex 17:15), appear to have constructed simple stone altars. Complex altars were built in conjunction with more elaborate sanctuaries,whether portable (e.g., the tabernacle)2 or fixed (e.g., the temple).

During the Old Testament period the slaughter of animals in the Israelite context took place near, rather than on, the altar (note the exception of Ge 22:9). Moreover, certain Israelite altars were used to offer grain, wine, oil and incense, sometimes in addition to animal sacrifices.

The tabernacle (not yet constructed at the time represented by Ex 20) would contain an altar of bronze and another of gold. The bronze altar would be built of acacia wood, overlaid with bronze. It would stand in the courtyard, would be used specifically for burnt offerings and would have the following dimensions: 7.5 feet (2.3 m) long by 7.5 feet wide by 4.5 feet (1.4 m) high (27:1-8). The altar of gold (to be built of acacia wood and overlaid with gold; see 30:1-3) would be used for offering incense within the sanctuary and would have these dimensions: approximately 1.5 feet (.5 m) long by 1.5 feet wide by 3 feet (.9 m) high.

The bronze altar was to be hollow and fitted with four rings and two poles or staves, making it lightweight and portable. Apparently both altars were to be filled temporarily with earth and stone at each Israelite encampment (cf.20:24 —25).

Four horns, protruding from the four corners of the bronze altar, were to serve as the locations on which animal blood was to be applied to effect purification from sin (cf. 29:12). Similarly, priests were to place blood on the horns of the golden incense altar to purify it (Lev 4:7). It appears from Amos 3:14 that removal of these horns would invalidate an altar. Due to their intrinsic holiness, the horns of the altars were used to provide asylum for those who sought refuge, except in the case of intentional homicide (cf. Ex 21:14; 1Ki 1:50 —51; 2:28-34).

A golden incense altar and a permanent bronze altar (30 ft x 30 ft x 15 ft; 9.1 m x9.1 m x 4.6 m) were also to be prominent fixtures in Solomon's temple (1Ki 6:22).

Slavery and Labor Law in the Ancient Near East

EXODUS 21 The practice of slavery extends back into the fourth millennium B.C. and is attested widely throughout virtually all documented time periods of the ancient Near East. The institution likely originated when ancient peoples took prisoners of war and was later extended in other ways, such as enslavement for debt or for having committed a crime. Slaves, like livestock, were viewed as a form of property and were used as collateral and in dowries,as well as passed on to heirs.

Laws regulating slavery have been preserved from many ancient cultures (including those of Sumer, Nuzi, Babylonia, Assyria and Israel).The Babylonian Code of Hammurabi (eighteenth century B.c.) reveals much about such laws.According to this code slaves received some rights but clearly held a diminished status compared to the rest of society. This code limited debt slavery to three years and permitted slavery to be imposed upon negligent landowners and even spendthrift wives! Free citizens and slaves could intermarry, according to Old Babylonian law. Evidence dating to the first millennium B.C. also reveals that some slaves actually owned houses and land.

When we compare slavery laws in the broader ancient Near East to those of the Bible, both similarities and differences surface. The Old Testament regulated slavery, but the institution itself was never questioned (the same applies to the NT). Even so, limitations placed on slavery often were rooted in the Israelites' personal experience as slaves in Egypt (Dt 15:15):

    • Unlike foreign slaves in Israel, who could be retained indefinitely (see Lev 25:44-46), a Hebrew slave (male or female) was to be released during his or her seventh year of servitude.

    • The slaveholder was obligated to supply a departing Hebrew slave with ample provisions for a successful reentrance into society (Dt 15:12-15).

    • Exodus 21:5-6 records a rule (paralleled in Dt 15:16-17) concerning slaves who opted to remain with their masters for life. Such a slave was to have an ear pierced, a marking that demonstrated his or her voluntary life-long servitude. Such markings on the ear, along with the practice of branding the skin, were also seen in Assyria.

    • Exodus 21:7-11 addresses the issue of a father selling his daughter into debt-slavery (presumably to become the wife of the buyer or of the buyer's son), a practice that also occurred in Assyria during the first millennium B.C. The buyer was not free to sell the girl outside of Israel should he choose not to keep her; he was obligated either to adequately provide for her needs or permit her to go free. Thus the Old Testament law protected not only the virtue of the young woman but also her socioeconomic situation.

    • Old Testament rules governing a female captive of war (Dt 21:10-14) seem harsh to a modern reader but were actually quite humane according to ancient standards, by which such women would in most other contexts have become the slave-concubines of enemy soldiers.The Hebrew rules required a captive woman to shave off her hair and trim her nails but also permitted her a month to mourn her situation (during this time the soldier who had captured her was not allowed sexual relations with her).This provision protected the captured woman from rape and gave the Israelite soldier a month-long "cooling-off" period, during which he could decide whether or not he truly wanted her as his wife. If he opted not to marry her she was allowed to go free.

Such laws demonstrate the Bible's alignment with the broader Near-Eastern cultural idea of slavery while, in most cases, uniquely circumscribing the limits of the practice in order to ensure more humane treatment of slaves in Israel.

The Zukru festival

EXODUS 23 Exodus 23:14-19 describes Israel's three primary annual festivals., Advocates of the Documentary Hypothesis have argued that Late Bronze Age Israelites would not have been sophisticated enough to have organized such elaborate celebrations as those described in the Pentateuch. Instead, these scholars suggest that the descriptions of these festivals come from a priestly source developed during the post-exilic period (sometime after 536 B.c.). However, archaeologists are now in possession of a complex literary work from the Syrian city of Emar that contradicts this theory.

A large tablet from Emar, predating the Pentateuch's descriptions of the festivals, intricately describes that city's zukru festival. This elaborate commemorative celebration, which was to be conducted every seven years, required a full year of preparation! This tablet gives detailed instructions concerning the specified offerings to the city's 70 deities: which animals were to be offered to which gods, how many animals were to be sacrificed, who was to donate each animal,the precise date of each offering and the manner in which it was to be presented. Instructions for the procession of the deities' statues are included, with particular focus on Dagan (the chief god of Emar).

Thus we know that ancient people already adhered to complicated, written instructions for cultic rituals during the Late Bronze Age.3 The Biblical descriptions and instructions concerning Israel's festivals fit well into this scenario.

The Urim and Thummim

EXODUS 28 God used various methods to guide the ancient Israelites, including the Urim and the Thummim.The high priest carried these objects in his "breastpiece of decision" and used them in seeking God's will (Ex 28:29-30). Reliance on this unique means of revelation (Nu 27:21; Dt 33:8) seems to have ceased after David's reign, although an attempt to revive the practice occurred during the postexilic period, in the fifth century B.C. (see Ezr 2:63; Ne 7:65).

The Urim and Thummim may have been small metal objects or stones or sticks inscribed with symbols, possibly the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet based on the fact that the first letter of Urim (aleph) and the first letter of Thummim (tau) are the first and final letters of this alphabet, respectively.

Most likely,as Biblical passages imply,the Urim and Thummim were cast as lots in order to obtain yes or no answers from God. Casting of lots is widely attested in the Bible (cf. Lev 16:8; Nu 33:54; Pr 16:33; Ac 1:26). But two passages suggest that asking God a series of questions and using a process of elimination to determine his answers yielded more subtle revelation, such as a person's hiding place or a complex battle strategy (see 1 Sa 10:20-22; 2Sa 5:22-24). Some Biblical historians believe that the high priest would disclose an oracle and that the Urim and Thummim would be used to confirm its truth.

The Installation of Priests at Emar and in Israel

EXODUS 29 Cuneiform tablets dating to the fourteenth through thirteenth centuries B.C. detail the rituals for installing the storm god's high priestess in Emar, a Bronze Age' city in Syria.2 When a former high priestess died,the daughter of a local family was chosen by lot to replace her.This young woman was anointed with sacred oil and, on the next day, followed festive singers and sacrificial animals to the storm god's temple. At the entrance to the temple courtyard her head was shaved and all of the city's numerous gods reconsecrated.

Following her actual installation on the third day, the newly initiated high priestess participated in a ritual procession to sacred sites throughout Emar, receiving in the process gold jewelry, a sacred headdress, aromatics and an abundance of food items. Storm god-related sacrifices and feasts continued for a total of seven days, culminating in the presentation of the high priestess as a bride to the storm god.

In a similar way, new priests of Israel were anointed with oil and received sacred garments to wear. Accompanied by multiple sacrifices,3 the consecration ceremony for each new Israelite priest and of the altar also took place during a seven-day period.

Significant differences nevertheless existed between the two cultures' priestly installation rituals. Whereas the storm god's newly installed high priestess was shaved at the temple entrance, the novice Biblical priests were ceremonially washed at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting:, And, unlike the Emar rituals, the Biblical instructions expressly forbade any recognition of other deities.

The most notable difference between the two traditions, however, was the hereditary nature of the Biblical priesthood. Rather than selecting successive priests by lots the God of Israel personally designated that Aaron and his male descendants were to represent him perpetually as his priests.Although ancient Israel in many ways shared with surrounding nations a common cultural milieu, its unique priestly rituals and laws marked the Israelites as a distinctive, special people—the chosen, covenantal people of the Creator God!

Ancient Craftsmanship

EXODUS 31 Since prehistoric times artistic people have used both natural resources and materials acquired by trade to create beautiful artifacts and then passed along their techniques to others. As ancient technology advanced, the materials used included the following:

    • Clay.Sun-dried or kiln-fired clay was the most common material used both in large-scale building projects and in crafting vessels for daily, household use. Mass production of mud brick (e.g., Ge 11:3; Ex 1:11-14) enabled ancient craftsmen to create monumental feats of architecture.

As early as Neolithic times (c. 8000 B.c.) potters crafted fired-clay pottery. The invention of the potter's wheel in approximately 4000 B.C. rendered pottery-making so widespread that archaeologists are able to infer dates of archaeological strata based solely upon the designs and material characteristics of pottery sherds)

    • Stone. Stonemasons and sculptors used quarried stones in monumental construction projects, as well as in statuary. They utilized iron picks for rough shaping, then hammers and chisels for the finer work of reliefs and inscriptions. Jerusalem's temple and royal palace were constructed of large limestone blocks" cut to size and trimmed with a saw" (1Ki 7:9).The prized "Siloam inscription" celebrates the astonishing achievement of stonecutters who carved a tunnel through rock to divert the spring waters of the Gihon into Jerusalem (cf. 2Ch 32:30).

Artisans also worked with precious and semiprecious stones to create cylinder seals (stone cylinders engraved in intaglio—engraved or incised figures in stone depressed below the surface so the impression yields an image in relief—and used in ancient Mesopotamia to roll impressions on wet clay), amulets (charms or ornaments, often inscribed with magic incantations or symbols to protect against evil), pendants and inlays.Ornamental stones were typically finished in a rounded form,with smooth and polished sides and engravings (Ex 28:11,21).

    • Wood. Used structurally for building flat roofs, doors and columns (1 Ki 7:1-8), wood was also used decoratively in such building projects as the Jerusalem temple,the interior of which was paneled in carved wood and overlaid with sheet gold (1Ki 6:15-20). Wooden furniture for sacred or royal use also was frequently overlaid with gold or inlaid with ivory (Ex 25:10-11; 1Ki 10:18;Am 6:4). Carpenters used such tools as chisels (Isa 44:13), hammers (Isa 44:12; Jer 10:4), workman's hammers (or mallets; Jdg 5:26), axes (Isa 10:34) and measuring lines (25a 8:2).

Metal. Ancient peoples principally used copper, silver, lead and gold prior to the introduction of iron. Naturally occurring copper, used since 3200 B.C., was later alloyed with other metals like tin and arsenic to achieve differing levels of hardness and flexibility.The Israelites learned ironworking from the Philistines (1Sa 13:20).3 Iron was the material of choice for tools and weapons (e.g., 1Sa 17:7; 2Ki 6:5-6), bronze for large sculptures and pillars (1Ki 7:15-16) and gold for overlays and jewelry (e.g., Ge 24:22; Ex 25:17-18; 28:11-13; Jdg 8:24).

The two most common techniques in metalworking were casting and hammering. Casting was preferred for the process of crafting multiple similar objects like tools. Molten metal was poured into a mold, which took the shape of the cavity as it solidified. Hammering was used for shaping earrings, appliqués, sheet overlays—and idols (Isa 44:12).

    • Textiles. Women spun wool and linen cloth by hand or spindle (Ex 35:25; Pr 31:19). Tombs discovered at Beni Hasan contain pictures both of horizontal ground looms and of vertical looms. Evidence of warp-weighted looms (looms that use weights to hold the warp tight for weaving) has been established at such sites as Beth Shan, Gezer and Ekron,4 where loom weights (weights that hold the warp threads in tension during weaving) have also been recovered.

Plants were the source of most dyes (e.g., indigo for blue and henna for red), but the most famous and expensive dye, Phoenician purple, was made of pigment from the murex snail. Fabrics like those worn by the high priests were richly embroidered (Ex 28) and sometimes finished with fringed hems (Nu 15:38; Mt 23:5). Metal needles stored in ivory boxes found at Hazor and Megiddo attest to the arts of sewing and needlework.

The Golden Calf

EXODUS 32 In art and legend gods were frequently represented by animals thought to symbolize the attributes of a particular deity. In the overall religious experience of the ancient Near East, for example, bulls and bull calves were associated with strength, virility and kingship.The bull was regarded as the earthly form or representation of the heavenly god, embodying physical strength and the procreative power found in nature.

Several religious cults in Egypt (that of Apis being the most prominent) worshiped the bull and calf. Deification of a live,"sacred" bull was initiated during the First Egyptian Dynasty and continued throughout ancient Egypt's long history. Bull cults of the Nile delta, which existed at the same time and location as the Israelites' sojourn in Egypt, were dedicated to Horus, the"god of heaven."

The Canaanites also venerated bulls. El, the chief god of the Canaanite pantheon (officially recognized list of gods), was referred to as the"heavenly bull." Baal, the storm god, was likewise associated with the bull on account of that animal's fertility.' Artistic traditions from Canaan depict gods as riding on bulls, which had become living pedestals emblematic of kingship and power over nature.

The golden calf was Israel's first foray into syncretism, the combining of faith in the one true God with pagan traditions. In taking this step, God's chosen people exchanged his glory—the true, manifest Presence of God—for the image of a bull—a false representation of God's presence (Ps 106:19-20). The Israelites had tragically fallen prey to cultural influences from Egypt (from which they had departed) and Canaan (where they would settle). God's people were unwittingly associa ing their God with the gods of the nations.

It is important to recognize, as hinted above, that the Israelites believed they were acting with piety. Everything they saw in the world around them suggested that God would find such idol-worshiping both acceptable and pleasing. His people were in their own minds attempting to honor him by representing him as the chief of the gods. But the reality was that they were compromising his uniqueness and incomparability—a trend that would continue to haunt them until after their eventual return from Babylonian captivity. God's nature cannot be represented by inanimate objects or by anything else in all creation (Dt 4:15-19; Isa 46:5 —9). The cry of the exodus deliverance,"Who among the gods is like you, 0 LORD?" (Ex 15:11), would be belied again and again by idolatry — Israel's colossal stumbling block.

Anatolia and the Hittites

EXODUS 33 Exodus 33:2 includes the Hittites in the listing of people groups Israel was to conquer (cf. Dt 7:1;Jos 3:10).This gives readers the impression that the Hittites comprised a local culture in Canaan. In fact, the term Hittites usually refers to a people group based in central Anatolia (modern Turkey) who controlled a sizable empire during the second millennium B.C. Thought to have entered Anatolia around 2300 B.C., the Hittites were Indo-Europeans (like the Greeks), not Semites (like the Israelites, Assyrians and most Canaanites).

Hittites lived in Canaan as early as the time of the patriarchs (cf.Ge 23:10) and still inhabited the region as late as the time of David, as indicated by the presence of Uriah the Hittite in David's army (2Sa 11-12). Possibly these"Palestinian" Hittites were simply dispersed members of the Anatolian Hittite populace. On the other hand, there might have been two separate "Hittite" peoples in the Old Testament: an indigenous Canaanite population in the region only much later known as Palestine and the remnants of the Hittite empire in Anatolia (cf.2Ki 7:6),In fact, these two groups may have been unrelated and the use of the common name purely coincidental.

The capital city and center of Hittite power was in central Turkey at Boghazkoy (named Hattusa by the Hittites). A large archive containing tablets in Akkadian, Hittite and other languages has been discovered there) This archive library includes a wide variety of materials, including letters, military instructions and laws.2 In addition, Hittite prayer and ritual texts reveal a great deal about their religion.

Hittite history may be divided into three distinct periods:

    • Old Kingdom Period (c. 1600-1400 B.c.): The two greatest kings of this era were Hattusili I and his successor, Mursili I (mid-sixteenth century B.c.(.These rulers dramatically increased the size of the Hittite kingdom, expanding in particular toward Syria and Mesopotamia, defeating the Hurrians and sacking Babylon around 1531 B.C. After the assassination of Mursili I, the kingdom declined into factionalism and weakness. Another Hittite king,Telipinu, attempted to put an end to palace strife by creating rules for succession.

    • Middle Kingdom Period (c. 1400— 1340 B.c.):Tudhaliya II reinvigorated his people, but the Hittites continued to be troubled by their enemies, particularly those from the north.

    • New Kingdom/Empire Period (c. 1340 —1200 B.c.): The Hittite Empire returned to its former glory with the accession of Suppiluliumas I, who extended Hittite power to the south, defeating the Hurrian kingdom of Mitanni in Syria. Thus the Hittites became the major power in the north and a counterpoint to Egypt, the principle southern power. Around 1275 B.C. the Hittite king Muwatalli fought one of the most famous battles of antiquity at Kadesh against Pharaoh Rameses II —ending in a draw. Hittite power dwindled and finally died out around 1200 B.C. as a result of unknown calamities that overtook much of the world at the end of the Bronze Age.

At the height of their power, the Hittites exercised control over a vast area extending from the Aegean coast to Damascus (cf. Jos 1:4). Although they held no direct sway over the Holy Land,the Hittite presence in Canaan would have been felt by Israel because geopolitical realities placed the region as a buffer zone between the Egyptians and the Hittites.

The Hittite Ritual

EXODUS 34 Ancient cuneiform texts attest to Hittites worshiping hundreds—and possibly even thousands!—of deities., One of these texts, a four-columned tablet discovered in southeastern Anatolia and dated to the Late Bronze Age, contains instructions for the Hittite ritual of establishing a new temple for a goddess of the night.

Interestingly, aspects of this ritual are similar to those God established concerning the tabernacle's construction (Ex 25-40). For example:

    • Both procedures involve adorning the place of worship with precious metals and gems.

    • Both specify the use of bronze utensils, altars and washing basins. + Both stipulate finely woven curtains to serve as doorway screens.

    • Both assigned priests special clothing and required that they engage in ceremonial washing rituals.

    • Both had corresponding characteristics related to sacrificial rites.

Despite these parallels, a number of differences illustrate unique aspects of Israelite religious practices.The Hittite text commanded workers to fashion a statue of their goddess. The priests were instructed to lure the goddess into the temple with food and gifts, and efforts were undertaken to make the idol holy. In contrast, Yahweh:

    • Forbad the Israelites from fashioning images (20:4; 34:17).

    • Did not need to be sanctified by human ritual; he consecrated his own tabernacle, as well as his priests (29:43-44;40:9-15).

    • Did not need to be provided with food or clothing; rather, he cared for his people's needs (Dt 29:5).

    • Chose to dwell among his people (Ex 29:45-46). He did not ask or need to be enticed—he both pronounced his own coming and made his presence known in the tabernacle (25:8; 40:34-38).

Even so, it is important to recognize that the Israelites followed customs common in their day. This helps us to keep the Bible in perspective as an ancient book written within—and expressing reality as it was lived within —a historical context. It also assures us that the priestly rules in the Old Testament are truly ancient (second millennium B.c.), as opposed to relatively late (around the fourth century B.C., as some scholars argue).

The Tabernacle and the Ark

EXODUS 40 The tabernacle, a portable sanctuary that served as the center for Israelite worship until the building of Solomon's temple, was known by various terms in Scripture. Each name highlighted an aspect of its function:

    • It was commonly known as the "sanctuary" (some translations say "dwelling") because God had chosen to live there among his people (Ex 25:8).

    • God held audience with them in the"Tent of Meeting" to accept their sacrifices and forgive their sins (28:43).

    • As the "tabernacle of the Testimony," it housed the tablets of God's covenant with his people (38:21).

The tabernacle's layout and construction resembled ancient Egypt's portable pavilions and military encampments. On Mount Sinai God had handed Moses an architectural blueprint for this transportable sanctuary (25:9), and craftsmen gifted by the Holy Spirit executed the work precisely as specified (31:1-11; Heb 8:5).

A rectangular enclosure of white linen curtains formed an outer court (Ex 27:9ff.) in which priests offered sacrifices on a four-horned altar of acacia wood overlaid with bronze.2 All accompanying utensils were fashioned of bronze, as was the laver—a bowl on a base in which the priests washed their hands and feet (30:17-21).

The tent began as a wooden, latticework frame,allowing for easy assembly and disassembly (see 26:15 —30), over which were draped multilayered coverings of finely woven blue, purple and scarlet cloth embroidered with representations of cherubim (angelic figures). A layer of goats' hair covered by a double layer of tanned leather skins formed a protective roof/covering (40:1-14). The completed structure was 45 feet long by 10 feet (13.7 x 3 m) wide by 10 feet high.

Inside the tent were two areas separated by a veil: the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. Articles of furniture graced the interior of the Holy Place. All were fashioned with rings through which poles could be fitted for transport—and for elimination of the possibility of defilement of these holy objects by human touch.

A gold-overlaid table was set with 12 loaves of bread for the priests to eat once each week to commune with God and enjoy his hospitality on Israel's behalf (Lev 24:8 — 9). Opposite the table was a golden lamp-stand, the base of which branched out in-to seven shafts holding almond-blossom-shaped lamps. Almond blossoms, petals and calyxes (the green outer whorls of flowers) ornamented each branch.The arboreal design and floral adornment of the lampstand, which was kept perpetually burning (Ex 27:20), recalled the burning bush through which God had manifested himself to Moses (3:2-3). Marking the boundary of priestly ministration at the veil stood a gold-overlaid incense altar on which burned a perpetual sacrifice of aromatic incense (30:1-10).

Separated from the Holy Place and concealed by a cherubim-embroidered veil was the Most Holy Place,the inner sanctum housing the ark of the covenant (26:31-34).1 he cherubim symbolized the Garden of Eden, where such angelic creatures had been stationed to guard the way to the tree of life (Ge 3:24).

The ark, a chest of acacia wood overlaid inside and out with gold, was about 3 feet long by 2 feet wide (.9 x .6 m) by 2 feet high. A golden molding adorned its cover.On either end of its lid rose two cherubim crafted of beaten gold. These figures faced each other, their wings outstretched to shelter the ark as though under a canopy. The ark represented God's footstool (1Ch 28:2) and the cherubim his throne (1Sa 4:4; Isa 37:16).

Inside the ark were placed the stone tablets of the covenant (Ex 25:21), a jar of manna (16:33) and Aaron's staff (Nu 17:10). The tablets of the Law reminded the people that God would enforce the terms of his covenant with them. On the annual Day of Atonement the blood of sacrificial animals was to be sprinkled on the ark's lid, covering the tablets defining the terms the people had transgressed (Lev 16:14-16; 30).

After the craftsmen had completed work on the tabernacle, God's glory that had rested atop Mount Sinai descended to fill the sanctuary and lead Israel into the promised land (Ex 40:34-38). The tabernacle served as a "portable Sinai" from within which God continued to dwell among his people (29:45-46).