The Dating of the Exodus
There is a great deal of debate as to the dating of the Exodus. Some scholars, based on archaeological evidence, place the Exodus in the 13th century BC. Others, citing both Biblical and extra-Biblical evidence, place it in the 15th century BC. To support the later dating, scholars like John Currid cite the massive building projects that took place in the 13th and 14th centuries BC. They also note that one of the greatest of the builders was Rameses II, who reigned between 1290 and 1224 BC, who built a new capitol city in his honor, named Pi-Ramesse (“Domain of Rameses”). Exodus 1:11 records that the Jews were used to build the cities of Pithom and Raamses. It is also important to note that it was not until the 13th century that Egypt lost its control over Canaan as a province. There are also Egyptian reliefs that depict the Israelite conquest of Canaan that date between 1224 and 1214 BC.
The most convincing evidence, though, places the Exodus in the 15th century BC. Scholars like Keil and Delitzsch begin with the termination of the 70 year exile, which took place in the first year of Cyrus’ sole reign (536 BC). Thus, dating backwards, the captivity began in 606 BC. According to the chronologies in the book of Kings, Judah was carried into captivity 406 years after the year the building of Solomon’s temple began, placing its beginning in 1012 BC. 1 Kings 6:1 also tells us that the building of Solomon’s temple began 480 years after the Exodus from Egypt, placing it at the year 1492 BC. Their dating concurs with the traditional Christian and Jewish chronologies which date the Exodus. This also concurs with archaeological evidence which shows that the likely date of the destruction of Jericho was in the early 1400s BC.
How do we understand this earlier dating of the Exodus in light of modern archaeology? First, archaeology is not an exacting science, but a lens through which to view history. Archaeological facts are largely the result of educated deductions and scientific hypotheses, not divine revelation. In terms of the specific evidence, Exodus 1:11 speaks of the building of tAnK.s.mi yrE[‘ (store cities), not capitol cities. There was likely a store city of Rameses already in existence when Rameses II build Pi-Ramesse. With respect to Egyptian influence over Canaan, Israel would not have been considered a kingdom by the Egyptians until the enthronement of Saul. Given the upheaval in the land during the time of Joshua’s conquest and the time of Judges, the point where Egypt would have lost all of it’s influence in the land would coincide with the later accounts of the judges or that of Samuel, where some sense of identity was firmly established in the land.
To set this event in its larger context, it is worth recognizing what is going on in the world surrounding Egypt and the wilderness at the point of the Exodus. Assuming an early date of 1492 for the Exodus to have begun, the city of Sparta would be formed two years into the Israelite wilderness wanderings. In addition, the nations of Athens (1556 BC), Troy (1546), and Thebes (1493) had been founded at this point. What would later become the Olympian Games (then called the Panathenaean Games) also had its beginnings during this era (1495). The Areopagus was established in 1504 BC, and in 1493 Cadmus is credited with bringing the 15 Phoenician letters into Greece, which gradually changed in form to become the Romans letters used predominantly in Europe and America today. Though these events may not seem to bear very heavily upon the Biblical text, it is important to note that this era was a time when civilizations were being born and establishing themselves. Growing up in the Pharaoh’s household, Moses would have been aware, particularly of the politics of these (largely Greek) new nations. Who better than one trained in such legal codes to receive and teach the Law of God to God’s people? Who better to organize God’s people into a nation than one who had watched nations form?