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The Patriarchs & the Exodus

The Patriarchs & the Exodus


While I was doing research for Genesis 4–11, I got sidetracked on the topic of the patriarchs, and made a note to come back to read more on it. I initially only intended to write about Gen 2–3 (Eden) and 4–11 (Cain, Noah, Babel, and things in-between). After following up on that note to myself, I decided to expand my research into a third article.

While I cannot possibly cover every detail of interest here, I will first look at concerning issues in the patriarchal narratives in a light similar to Gen 2–11, then the exodus narrative, then how the two narratives relate to each other.

The Patriarchs

Many readers note the tonal difference between Gen 1–11 and the rest of the book. The early chapters are a quick series of shorter narratives, built from a common set of tropes found throughout ancient Near Eastern myths. The stories are etiologies; they serve to explain where this thing came from, or why things are this way. Characters act within those stories, but we receive very little detail about their lives outside those stories.

In contrast, the rest of Genesis focuses on four generations of men and their immediate families — Abraham (aka Abram), Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph — whose stories are not so ‘mythological’. Readers familiar with their stories may notice that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are frequently mentioned together in the Bible, while Joseph, whose own story is the longest of the four and has the largest narrative impact (bringing Jacob and his twelve sons’ families into Egypt), is rarely mentioned in tandem with the other three.

One of the most obvious irregularities in the patriarchal stories that readers notice is a certain story that is told three times. Gen 12.14–20 and 20.1–18, 21.22–33 and 26.6–33 tell how Patriarch settled in Country and told King that his wife was his sister because he feared King would kill him. In the first two, the patriarch is Abram/Abraham, while the third concerns Isaac. The latter two stories are nearly identical. (I’ll return to the first story, Gen 12.14–20, further below.)

This is not a ‘like father like son’ string of coincidences, for the broader details are identical, the cast of secondary characters is the same, and each story functions as an etiology for the place-name ‘Beersheba’. Whether one was the original and the other an intentional rewrite, or whether both evolved out of an earlier version, is irrelevant at the moment; the fact is we have the same story told twice.

Abraham’s version of the story is also interrupted by the birth of his son Isaac and the exile of his son Ishmael. By itself, this suggests that the two stories — one of Abraham and Sarah in Gerar, the other of Isaac and Ishmael — are themselves from two different traditions about Abraham. This suspicion is bolstered when we see that Ishmael and his mother flee to Beersheba (21.24), which doesn’t receive that name until after they flee (21.31).

Another discontinuity is found regarding Jacob’s son Judah (patriarchal namesake of the southern kingdom). Everything from Gen 37 onward concerns Jacob’s son Joseph. Yet chapter 38 abruptly swerves sideways to tell a different story: Judah failed to uphold the levirate marriage custom for his daughter-in-law Tamar, so Tamar tricked Judah into impregnating her, which led to the birth of twins.

Many modern commentators consider Genesis 38 to be an intrusive addition to the larger Joseph story (Genesis 37–50).1

Gen 38’s awkward placement (takes place after most of Gen 39–45, but is found before that) was recognized by ancient interpreters as well, who danced around the issue by moving the chapter’s story later into the Joseph narrative. But the larger problem with this story is a matter of chronology. Joseph was gone in Egypt about twenty-four years, and when he reunites with his family, they all move down to Egypt to be with him. Yet, Judah has left his father’s household to make his own in another region of Canaan, and three full generations pass while he is living there. (Gen 46.12 adds a fourth generation, the sons of one of Judah’s twins.) Joseph’s story in Gen 37–50 cannot be completely reconciled with Judah’s story in Gen 38. Instead, it must have come from another source.2

The Exodus

Like the stories of the flood, and the patriarchs, the exodus narrative involved a cluster of traditions that grew in separate directions, until they were eventually combined by the authors of the Torah. These different traditions can be detected — as with the two flood stories in Gen 6–9 — by differences in the writing style and themes.

The easiest place to find these disparate traditions are in the ‘plagues of Egypt’. The narration around each plague is formulaic: Yhwh instructs the prophet, Pharaoh is warned, the plague happens, Pharaoh remains unmoved, repeat. The formula changes inconsistently between different paragraphs. If the narrative is laid out, and we split it into two columns according to the contrary formulas, we discover they had two versions of the same story, with different lists of plagues. My review of the text following this method gave me the two following lists, which I’ll call Source A and Source B.

Source A

Source B

Staff turns into a snake

Nile River turns to blood

All waters in Egypt turn into blood





Livestock diseased


Thunder and hail



Death of the firstborn

There are some things to note about these two lists. First, their overlaps are not surprising, since they’re evolving from a common ancestor story. The boils are ‘the most poorly attested’, found only here in Source B.3 (I would include the snake-staff in this statement, since it is the first in Source B’s formula.) Second, there is some muddying of their unique features, but this should be expected from Exodus’ author seeking to edit them together into a single story. Third, the plague of darkness from Source A does not closely follow the formula from its source, suggesting it was added to Source A later than the others, but before Source A and Source B were brought together.4

Psa 78 has a list of plagues very similar to Source A, though there is debate whether verse 45 portrays the ‘flies’ and ‘frogs’ as two plagues closely related or as a single plague, and whether verses 49–51 portray ‘destroying angels’ as the agents of God’s wrath in killing the firstborn, or whether the angels are a distinct plague. The late Psa 105 also has a list close to Source A; it lacks the diseased livestock, but places the darkness at the top of its list. The fragmented Dead Sea Scroll 4Q422 contains a list of plagues closer to the canonical version of Exodus, though it appears to be missing the boils, and the darkness is in the middle of the list, rather than near the end. Josephus, at the end of the first century CE, has a list almost identical to the canonical version, missing only the plague of flies after the frogs and before the gnats/lice.

The different accounts in Psalms 78 and 105, however, suggest that in ancient Israel there was no standard order for these plagues and that not all traditions agreed that there were ten plagues.5

The evidence available in Gen 2–11 places the Torah’s authorship during or after the Babylonian period in Judean history. The texts above show how traditions about the exodus were still in flux even as late as the second century BCE, with Source B showing the widest divergence.

most scholars separate the plague account into an original two or perhaps three sources […] and they posit that one or more of these had a seven-plague tradition before they were combined and redacted and a final number of ten was achieved.6

Some biblical texts put an unusual spin on the plagues: Israel was the target of God’s wrath because they committed idolatry while in Egypt. Ezek 20.5–10 recaps the familiar exodus narrative, but before the Israelites are rescued, God commands them to give up their ‘detestable things’ and the ‘idols of Egypt’. The only allusion to the plagues is when God threatens to ‘pour out my wrath’ on Israel ‘in the midst of the land of Egypt’ for refusing to give up their idols (verse 8). Deut 7.15 mentions how Israel suffered ‘all the evil diseases of Egypt’, which are identified as the plagues which God threw against Egypt (Deut 28.58–60; cf. Exo 15.26).7

Deut 28.58–60 comes at the end of a long chapter where God warns the Israelites of worse and worse punishments that will come upon them if they persist in breaking the divine law. These punishments include some similar to the exodus plagues: disease (verse 21), boils (27,35), midday darkness (28–29), and locusts (38). The rest of the chapter, and the parallel Lev 26, describe war, famine, fire, slavery, exile, family deaths, cannibalism, scavenger animals, and attacks by wild animals. These kinds of threats are held by prophets over various kingdoms and kings (e.g. Jer 16.1–4; Ezek 5.17; Nah 3.15; Joel 1–2).

These dangers are not unique to biblical literature. After the Code of Hammurabi (circa 1754 BCE) lays out its law code, the Babylonian king initially warns that future kings who break his law will suffer famine, darkness, and exile. He then invokes various gods to contribute disaster to the kingdom: Belit will devastate the land, Ea will stop rivers and bring famine, Adad will bring drought and famine, Zamama will turn day into night, Nintu will stop births, and Ninkarak will bring disease.

The vassal treaties of Esarhaddon, a king of Assyria, bind his subjects to an oath to serve the laws of his kingdom. If they violate this oath, ‘all the gods of every land’ will bring down terrifying punishments: Anu, Sîn, Nergal, and Gula will bring diseases, Shamash will bring darkness, Ninurta will bring scavenger birds, Belet-ili will stop births, Adad will bring drought, locusts, famine, and cannibalism, one god (name unknown) will bring wild animal attacks. Esarhaddon’s threats even include the following:

May all the gods who are named in this treaty tablet reduce your soil in size to be as narrow as a brick, turn your soil into iron, so that no one may cut a furrow in it. Just as rain does not fall from a copper sky, so may there come neither rain nor dew upon your fields and meadows, but let it rain burning coals in your land instead of dew.8

This is very close to Deuteronomy (cf. Lev 26.19–20):

Deuteronomy 28.23–24

The sky over your head shall be bronze, and the earth under you iron. Yhwh will change the rain of your land into powder, and only dust shall come down upon you from the sky until you are destroyed.

If this is the right track to follow, it appears the exodus plagues may have grown from a common Near Eastern motif of threatening environmental and social disasters against a kingdom for refusing to do what the gods ordered them to do.

Moses is mentioned by name just twice in biblical texts predating the Babylonian exile: Jer 15.1 and Micah 6.4. The former — written during the Babylonian period, but before the exile — is unsurprising. The prophet Micah was active more than one hundred years before Jeremiah, in the Assyrian period, but the reference to Moses in Micah 6.4 is regarded as ‘a late addition’,9 since chapters 5–7 show evidence of being added to the book during the post-exilic period.10 Amos and Hosea, from the Assyrian period, both refer to the exodus story, but neither of them mention Moses. Hosea briefly speaks of ‘a prophet’ who led Israel out of Egypt (12.13).11

There is some evidence of Moses’ identification as a military commander which, though impossible to reconcile with the biblical narrative, was nevertheless used by Judean authors in the first century CE.12 Moses’ birth story is also widely recognized as lifted directly from legends about the birth of Sargon of Akkad, a king of Assyria from the 23rd century BCE (a full thousand years before Moses would have lived).

My mother, the high priestess, conceived me, in secret she bore me. She set me in a basket of rushes, with bitumen she sealed my lid. She cast me into the river which rose not over me.13

This story is almost identical to Exo 2.2–3, and it has been noted the absence of the father and the ‘careful construction’ of the basket work within Sargon’s birth story, but not Moses’.14 This birth story of Sargon of Akkad was circulated during the rule of Sargon II, king of Assyria in the eighth century BCE (fifteen centuries later). As was found in Gen 2–11, this information requires that Moses’ birth in Exo 2 was invented during or after the Assyrian period.15

Beyond these, there are many other examples of discontinuity within the biblical exodus narrative that we can point out. Num 22 has two versions of the story of the Moabites hiring Balaam to prophesy against Israel. Exo 25.10–22 and 37.1–9 contradict Deut 10.1–5 on when the ark of the covenant was made, and who made it. As the list of discontinuities keeps building, it is amply demonstrated that the exodus narrative — with its many alternate traditions sitting beside each other — evolved in many different ways over a long time, such that the Torah could not have been written by anyone involved in the events portrayed.

Further Discontinuities

As the product of scribes in the Babylonian or Persian period, the Torah conveys a single grand narrative: God made the world (roughly seven thousand years ago, according to the Hebrew Bible), then after twenty generations he chose a man, Abraham, to be the forefather of a mighty nation to live in the land of Canaan, and they emerged several generations later, after they had been made slaves in Egypt and God rescued them and gave them a divine law to follow.

The first hint that something is ‘off’ about the relationship between Genesis and Exodus is that Joseph’s death is repeated. The opening of Exodus is pointing readers over to the end of Genesis, to remind them of ‘how we got here’. This kind of ‘doubling’ is a sign within other parts of the Torah that different traditions are being combined; it shouldn’t be necessary if all five books of the Torah were designed to be read together. It is comparatively easy to find the seams of alternate traditions within each the patriarchal stories of Genesis and the plague traditions of Exodus. Something harder to notice is that the two narratives do not sit together that well. Once one clue is discovered, others start to become more obvious.

Mentioned above was the story of Judah and Tamar, and its discontinuity with Joseph’s story. Another obstacle to Joseph’s story is that the new pharaoh has no idea who Joseph was (Exo 1.8). Egypt’s pharaohs appointed their successors as coregents in their final years. Joseph ruled over all Egypt, second only to the pharaoh (Gen 41.39–45). Our historical knowledge of Egyptian politics makes it difficult to accept that the new pharaoh never knew the highest member of his predecessor’s court. Textual criticism of Gen 50 also suggests the narrative concluded with Joseph and his brothers traveling from Egypt to Canaan to bury their father, where Joseph’s brothers remained, while only Joseph returned to Egypt. The story has been redacted to keep all twelve sons of Jacob in Egypt.16

Jerusalem’s temple was built circa 970 BCE, four hundred eighty years after the exodus (1 Kings 6.1), which puts the exodus around 1450 BCE. However, the enslaved Hebrews built the city Pi-Rameses (Exo 1.11) before Moses’ birth (2.1–2), who led the escape from Egypt when he was about eighty years old (Deut 29.5; 34.7). Rameses was built around 1290 BCE. This requires the impossible situation where the Israelites escaped their enslavement a century and a half before they built a city while slaves.

The Israelites also could not have escaped Egypt when fleeing to Canaan, because Egypt controlled Canaan.

The dates provided by the Bible for the exodus and conquest are impossible. […] During that era, the mighty Eighteenth Egyptian Dynasty was at the height of its power. Under King Thutmoses III, Egyptian armies pushed northward through Canaan and established a provincial border region for the Egyptian Empire. […] not a single biblical author expresses any awareness that there ever had been an Egyptian empire in Canaan.17

In a more general sense, there is also a large division of the ethos in Genesis from the one in Exodus. The former is actually quite inclusive of different ethnicities, cultures, and religious expressions, with God extending favor to the patriarchs all the same. The latter is extremely exclusive, heavily discouraging intermarriage with non-Israelites, and prescribing very strict cultural and religious practices. The patriarchs interact positively with various people from Canaan, while the Israelites are instructed to expel the Canaanites without mercy, or in some cases slaughter entire tribes.18

Finally, the biggest dilemma of all is that, after decades upon decades of searching, archaeologists and historians have found zero evidence of millions of slaves suddenly leaving Egypt all at once and conquering Canaan forty years later.19 This would be the equivalent of the entire population of Chicago suddenly leaving their city, walking across Illinois and invading Iowa, yet somehow leaving behind no trace of their presence. This is an insurmountable problem for the historicity of the exodus. Attempts to connect characters or events in Exodus to figures or events of history — the Ipuwer Papyrus, Akhenaten, the Hyksos, etc. — have all been in vain, for they come from the wrong time period, or have none of the right details, or both. This is still the case even if we reduce the number of the escaped slaves from the millions to mere thousands.20

Rival Origin Stories

What we’re left with is a tangled web of traditions, of patriarchs and of an exodus. Details within either story don’t fit together, and the two stories don’t fit with each other. Where did these two origin stories come from, then?

It has long been recognized that the traditions about the patriarchs as the ancestors of the Israelites were at one time independent from the tradition placing the people’s origin in Egypt, its exodus from there and the subsequent conquest of Canaan as their new homeland.21

The ‘Deuteronomistic History’ — the Book of Joshua on through the Books of Kings — regularly portrays the exodus as the true beginning of Israel.22 This is the time when God first truly reveals himself to the world by carving out a nation for his own designs. That the exodus tradition was not a universally accepted backstory for Israel is seen, for example, in the Books of Chronicles.

The Chronicler presents a picture of undisturbed continuity of settlement stretching from ‘the children of Israel’, that is, the sons of Jacob, to the time of David’s reign, when already in their earliest days the people are settled throughout their broadest territorial reaches (I Chron. 13.1–5). The period between Jacob’s sons and David, which according to the conventional picture of Israel’s history includes the sojourn in Egypt, the exodus, the wandering in the wilderness, the conquest, and the unstable period of the judges, is not included in the Chronicler’s historical portrayal, but is rather ‘bridged upon’. […] severance from the land, whether in the beginning of Israel’s history or in its later phase, is reduced to the minimum. The tie with the land is an undisturbed continuity23

It may help to show a specific instance of this. First Chronicles 7.20–29 lists nine generations between Ephraim and Joshua. Israel’s enslavement happened during Ephraim’s generation, and concluded during Joshua’s. However, this genealogy depicts those nine generations living in the central highlands of Canaan, where Ephraim’s tribe is supposed to settle after the exodus. Ephraim’s sons (or grandsons) Ezer and Elead ‘came down’ from Canaan’s highlands to raid cattle in Gath’s lowlands (7.21), and Ephraim’s granddaughter Sheerah built cities located in the highlands (7.24). This obscure passage in the genealogy reveals a tradition where no exodus ever took place because Ephraim and his descendants always lived in Canaan.24

The exodus is not found in any biblical literature until the eighth century BCE. The first references come from Hosea and Amos, both prophets in the northern kingdom Israel. This suggests the exodus tradition may have originated there.25 Of particular interest is the way Hos 11–12 actually exhibits the exodus. Chapter 11 outlines the broad strokes of the story, but repeatedly draws attention to Israel’s constant idolatry. Chapter 12 argues that Israel’s idolatry takes after Jacob’s flaws: he supplants his brother, he wrestles with the god El and begs for mercy, he flees to Aram where he must work for a wife.26 In other words, Hosea pits Jacob against Moses, patriarchal tradition against prophetic tradition.

The prophet, of course, is Moses, but if he is designated by his function and not by his name, it can only mean that it is the function that here is at stake. Hosea, himself a prophet and affirming his belonging to the line of prophets (see v. 11), does not oppose two personalities of Israel’s past but two conceptions of Israel’s identity. […] the only real “ancestor” is the prophet, the one who has called Israel into existence. No other biblical passage illustrates it more clearly: the Jacob story and the Moses story originally represent not two consecutive chapters in Israel’s history but two rival legends of Israel’s origins.27

This rivalry between the two stories, or at least a separation between them, is seen throughout the older literature in the Hebrew Bible. No psalms connect the two, not even ones surveying Israel’s past, except for the late Psalm 105. When the Book of Ezekiel does invoke both traditions, it never joins them together. Likewise, Micah 7 mentions the exodus (verse 15) and Abraham (verse 20), but without any connection between them. And so on.28

Perhaps one of the earliest attempts to unify the two traditions is Deut 26.5–9, which refers to the Hebrews’ ancestor derogatorily as ‘a wandering Aramean’,29 most likely in reference to Jacob (cf. Gen 25.20). There is no mention here of Abraham, Isaac, or the twelve patriarchs. This may indicate the author of Deuteronomy was working with a tradition where the identity of Israel’s chief ancestors was in its primitive stages, before Jacob himself had been identified as Abraham’s grandson.30 Yet, as in Hos 11–12, this text sees Israel’s present fortunes as a reversal of their ancestor: he ‘wandered’ into Egypt and got his descendants enslaved, while they have their freedom in a new homeland.

As the two traditions were joined together during the Babylonian exile (587–538 BCE) or the Persian period (538–330 BCE), redactors sought to harmonize them. Where the two narratives were previously irreconcilable alternatives — the one having Israel’s chief ancestors settle in Canaan and remain there all the way to the rise of the monarchy, the other having Israel’s ancestors immigrate to Egypt, where they were enslaved and had to return to Canaan — they were edited to fit together, both theologically and thematically, though this created new contradictions. This is most obvious with Exodus’ claim that God first revealed his name ‘Yhwh’ to Moses, and that he was known to the patriarchs only as the Canaanite god ‘El’, which contradicts large portions of Genesis where God does reveal himself by the name ‘Yhwh’ to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and they ‘call on’ that name.

The story of a patriarch pretending his wife was his sister has three versions in Genesis. We looked at two of them, which were nearly identical, but the first one in the narrative is only broadly similar. In this one (Gen 12.10–20), Abram goes to Egypt because of a famine, and the pharaoh takes Sarai for himself; God sends plagues against the pharaoh until he sends the wronged foreigners out of his country. As with the other two, it’s irrelevant which of the three versions was the ‘original’, or which was earlier than the others.31 What matters for us is that Gen 12.10–20 deliberately foreshadows the narrative of a unified Genesis and Exodus. If Gen 12.10–20 was once independent, it has since been redacted to mirror the journey of Jacob’s family into Egypt and their later exodus from slavery. It reflects the harmonization of two distinct traditions.


Archaeological expeditions and textual studies over the past couple hundred years have pointed toward a single conclusion, and the evidence has only built up over time. The traditions of the patriarchs and of the exodus did not originate together. What’s more, the two traditions are diverse and contradictory.

This is exactly the same as we found with Genesis 2–11. An array of unrelated stories have been brought together, changing their shapes and messages in the process. Some tales were built out of tropes thousands of years old, while others had only been told for a few decades before they were taught with authority. As they were used to create a huge tapestry depicting Israel’s past, they were edited and altered, copied and rearranged. Smaller fragments were brought in, or created brand new, to cover the rougher edges.

I doubt we’ll ever fully understand where each and every piece was brought in, but scholarship has reached a point where the overall picture is undeniable. The Torah gives us myths, legends, and folklore, which cannot be reconciled with what we know about the universe, the human species, or the past of the Israelite and Judean nations. The Torah is an undeniably complex work — and, to me, endlessly engaging — but all the evidence we’ve accumulated over the last few centuries tells us that none of it is historical.


1 Esther Menn, Judah and Tamar (Genesis 38) in Ancient Jewish Exegesis, 73.

2 Menn, Judah and Tamar, 73–74; Jan Alberto Soggin, ‘Judah and Tamar (Genesis 38)’, Of Prophets' Visions and the Wisdom of Sages, 281.

3 Moshe Greenberg, Understanding Exodus, 147 fn 27.

4 Thomas Dozeman, Exodus, 244–245.

5 Marc Brettler, My People’s Passover Haggadah: Traditional Texts, Modern Commentaries, Volume 2 (ed. Lawrence Hoffman, David Arnow), 52–53.

6 Tawny Holm, ‘Moses in the Prophets and the Writings of the Hebrew Bible’, Illuminating Moses (ed. Jane Beal), 48–49.

7 Arie Versluis, The Command to Exterminate the Canaanites, 104.

8 Adapted from Erica Reiner, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (ed. James Pritchard), 539.

9 Robert Miller, ‘The Roles of Moses in the Pentateuch’, Illuminating Moses, 19.

10 Holm, ‘Moses’, 45.

11 This suggests to me that Hosea may not have known a name for this ‘prophet’, but scholars think he probably did, for different reasons. See, e.g., Karel van der Toorn, ‘The Exodus as Charter Myth’, Religious Identity and the Invention of Tradition, 120, who sees the absence of Moses’ name as showing he had ‘such stature that his name need not even be mentioned’.

12 Thomas Römer, ‘Moses Outside the Torah and the Construction of a Diaspora Identity’, JHS 9.15, 9–11.

13 E.A. Speiser, ANET (ed. James Pritchard), 119.

14 Timothy Finlay, The Birth Report Genre in the Hebrew Bible, 236.

15 Danny Mathews, Royal Motifs in the Pentateuchal Portrayal of Moses, 148.

16 Jan Christian Gertz, ‘The Transition between the Books of Genesis and Exodus’, Farewell to the Yahwist? (ed. Thomas Dozeman, Konrad Schmid), 77–78.

17 Kurt Noll, Canaan and Israel in Antiquity, 98–99 (italics original).

18 Konrad Schmid, ‘Genesis and Exodus as Two Formerly Independent Traditions of Origins for Ancient Israel’, Biblica, 188.

19 Noll, Canaan, 97; Israel Finkelstein, Neil Silberman, The Bible Unearthed, 62–63.

20 Finkelstein, Silberman, Unearthed, 63–64.

21 John van Seters, ‘The Patriarchs and the Exodus: Bridging the Gap between Two Origin Traditions’, The Interpretation of Exodus, 1.

22 Albert De Pury, ‘The Jacob Story and the Beginning of the Formation of the Pentateuch’, A Farewell to the Yahwist?, 53–55.

23 Sara Japhet, I and II Chronicles, 47.

24 Ibid., 179ff.

25 Karel van der Toorn, ‘The Exodus as Charter Myth’, Religious Identity and the Invention of Tradition, 113ff.

26 William Whitt (‘The Jacob Traditions in Hosea and Their Relation to Genesis’, ZAW 103.1, 18–43) argues that the verbs in Hos 12.12 are religious functions. In his view, Hosea saw Jacob as an idolator who ‘guarded’ his Aramean father-in-law’s cult, in contrast to the prophets who led Israel in monolatrous devotion to Yhwh and ‘guarded’ that proper religion. While many scholars interpret Hos 12 as seeing the Jacob origin story inferior to the exodus origin story, most of them do not share Whitt’s view on this point.

27 De Pury, ‘The Jacob Story’, 60 (italics original).

28 Schmid, ‘Genesis and Exodus’, 190.

29 Alan Millard, ‘A Wandering Aramean’, JNES 39.2, 153–155; Richard Nelson, Deuteronomy, 308.

30 Scholars realized a century ago the different geographical settings of Abraham and Jacob indicated where their respective stories originated, Abraham to the south and Jacob to the north (De Pury, ‘The Jacob Story’, 53). Similarly, it has also been recognized the earliest attestation of the exodus comes from biblical texts written in the north (Karel van der Toorn, ‘The Exodus as Charter Myth’, Religious Identity and the Invention of Tradition, 114). I find this circumstantial evidence compelling that Deut 26.5–9 connects only Jacob to the exodus tradition.

31 Gertz, ‘Transition’, 75; T.D. Alexander, ‘Are the Wife/Sister Incidents of Genesis Literary Compositional Variants?’, VT 42.2, 145–153.


  1. Anonymous28.4.23

    I think one thing worth noting about evidence for the exodus is that as scholars like Kenneth Kitchen will argue, a lot of Egypt’s writings have been destroyed throughout its history, thanks to it’s climate. He also notes that we have evidence of large groups of people moving through the Sinai Peninsula and they haven’t left a single trace. Just something to think about I think. The Egyptians also probably would’ve destroyed anything even remotely “defeating” of themselves, similar to Akhenaten.

    1. This strikes me as an essentially circular argument, from silence no less: a lot of Egyptian records were lost, so we're free to theorize that the exodus actually was mentioned in those non-extant records, which were 'lost' on purpose because they mention the exodus, therefore the Egyptian records maybe/probably/definitely did mention the exodus.

      I am also unconvinced by the suggestion the Egyptians must have intentionally destroyed all mention of an event which reflected badly on them, rather than creatively reinterpreting it to fit within their own religious sensibilities. The inclusion/admission of problematic events is something I sometimes see claimed to be a unique trait of the Bible, but this isn't accurate. We see acceptance of such events in other ancient Near Eastern literature. One of the surviving Egyptian texts which is often wrongly connected to the exodus, the Admonitions of Ipuwer, reflects very badly on the Egyptian ruler to whom the titular Ipuwer is speaking.

      There is also that, even when the Egyptians (or the Romans, or whoever else) did sometimes attempt to wipe out all mention of a person or event, they routinely failed to do so completely. The more impactful the person or event, the more difficult it was to erase it from history. Hence why we know about Akhenaten at all. It's not simply the lack of mention of any such event by the Egyptians themselves, but the lack of corroboration by any other contemporary culture, or by the archaeological record. It doesn't show up in the biblical record until the eighth century, many centuries after it allegedly occurred. That's an incredible lack of evidence for an event that would have been the single most devastating event up to that time in history (other than the flood itself).

    2. Anonymous1.5.23

      I agree with everything you said Mark, but I’m confused as to how the first part would be “circular reasoning”. The argument simply is that Egyptian records have been lost, so one could make the argument that records of the exodus were lost along with those other records that were lost. I’m unaware of anyone who makes the argument that the records were “lost on purpose because they mention the exodus”. Maybe I’m just misunderstanding what you were saying.

      Also, David Falk makes the argument that the Israelites settled at Avaris and left Egypt from Avaris. He also says that we’ve found very few records at Avaris as well, which would just be an argument from silence, at least according to him. How would you respond to this?

    3. By circular, I mean that the argument exploits the loss of records to excuse the absence of any records which corroborate the exodus. Why don't we have these records anymore? Because they're lost. Why were they lost? Because they were evidence for the exodus. The argument assumes its conclusion—that such recorded evidence existed—in order to explain why the evidence doesn't exist.

      I am familiar with the Avaris argument via the Patterns of Evidence: Exodus documentary, which I found to be unreliable and sometimes outright deceptive. I see no value in the theory. At this point I am also, admittedly, openly biased against seeking out anything written by Falk, for various reasons.

  2. Anonymous14.5.23

    Great article! However, I have one small objection. Israel Finkelstein has been harshly criticized by other scholars for his biases and especially for his revised chronology for the dates of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Scholars like Eilat Mazar and Amihai Mazar have written books and articles critiquing Finkelstein’s claims. And also, structures like the large stone structure, step stone structure, and Khirbet Qeiyafa have pretty much debunked everything that he has said. But other than this, great article!

    1. Anonymous16.5.23

      I don’t think Finkelstein is a bad scholar, but I do think his revised dates for the kingdom of Judah is very much in critique by modern scholarship. I think his biases can get in the way of his research at times, because he’s trying to maintain his position that David and Solomon existed, but were just “legendary” and only ruled over a small territory over Jerusalem. But as new data comes to light, it seems like Finkelstein keeps on getting beaten when it comes his claims, which is one of the reasons why I think it’s problematic Mark chose to cite him. He’s not a “bad” scholar, but I would treat him with caution.

    2. Anonymous22.5.23

      Do you think his scholarship is good Mark? You obviously chose to cite the Bible unearthed, but I feel like that’s been severely critiqued a lot. I know the step stone structure, large stone structure, and Khirbet Qeiyafa are common rebuttals of Finkelstein’s work, but there’s disagreement over when to date them. And his revised dates seem to be very fringe, but what are your thoughts?

  3. Jacob Testa21.7.23

    Great article Mark!

    I was just wondering, what are your thoughts on Egyptian loan words in the Torah? Also along with that cultural names and elements in the story of the exodus, such as Moses (and I believe Aaron and Miriam) having Egyptian names and origins. And how would the Israelites have known certain Egyptian practices (in great detail) such as mummification without actually being in Egypt in the first place? Thanks!

    1. The kingdoms of Judah and Israel grew from Canaanite people-groups following the Bronze Age Collapse, and Egypt ruled Canaan before then. Even after the collapse, the two regions continued to interact extensively. Lack of a historical exodus does not mean the two regions were completely isolated from one another. The presence of any Egyptian concepts or loanwords in biblical literature is to be expected because of that centuries-old cultural influence; it's only natural it would be more noticeable in passages directly dealing with Egypt. Moses’ name may have originated as a conscious affectation of an Egyptian-sounding name, but it's a suffix without a referent, perhaps indicating lack of familiarity with Egyptian language (it means ‘son of’, with no theophoric element, e.g. Rameses, Thutmose; though Exodus gives a Hebrew folk etymology which some scholars defend). Likewise for Aaron and Miriam. Their familial connection to Moses seems to be a relatively late addition (to the tradition which even includes those two) to invent an ancient provence for the Aaronide priesthood (perhaps to justify the suppression of Mushite priests in favor of the Aaronides).