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Lesson #1

From Freedom to Slavery

At the end of Genesis Jacob and his family moved to Egypt to be
with Joseph, who had become Prime Minister of Egypt,
second only to Pharaoh. The family settled in the land of
Goshen, the most fertile area of the northeastern Nile delta,
and there they flourished. When we turn the page from
Genesis to Exodus, 400 years flash by and Jacobs family of 70
has become a people of nearly 2 million. As security threats to
Egypt, the Israelites have become oppressed and enslaved.

In Lesson #1 we examine how all of this came to pass, and we
take a close look at the Egypt Moses knew, the Egypt that
serves as the setting for the Book of Exodus.

Sahara Desert
Nile River
Red Sea
Mediterranean Sea
In the 5
century B.C., the Greek historian Herodotus
called Egypt the gift of the Nile.

Egypt consists of 390,000 sq. mi., only 15,000 of which are arable
land, that area along the banks of the Nile River and the fertile Nile
delta in the north.
Large regions of the Sahara Desert constitute the rest of Egypts land
Egypt averages only 0.1 - 0.6 inches of rainfall each year, making it
one of the driest climates on earth.
Thus, the Nile River is the very life blood of Egypt.
Originating in the high mountains of Kenya, the Nile River flows north
over 4,000 miles, emptying into the Mediterranean Sea.
Annual inundation of the Nile brought high-nutrient silt, making the
banks of the Nileup to 6 miles on either sideextremely fertile.

Nile River
flows north
Sahara Desert
Green = fertile, arable land
(only 3.8% of total land area)

Photography by Ana Maria Vargas
What Moses called that vast and fearful wilderness (Deuteronomy 1: 19).
(96.2% of Egypts land area)

Photography by Ana Maria Vargas
Harvesting the fertile fields of Faiyum, Egypt (3.8% of Egypts land area)

Photography by Ana Maria Vargas
In this harsh and seemingly hostile land, Egypt prospered as one of the greatest of
ancient civilizations, thriving for 2,500 years, 3000 B.C. through 500 B.C.

Egypt did not depend upon rainfall for its survival. Instead,
the Nile River provided lean aquatic protein (fish) and the
annual inundation of the Nile assured abundant crops. Rarely
did Egypt experience drought or famine. Recall the Israelites in
Numbers 11: 5 We remember the fish we used to eat without
cost in Egypt, and the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the
onions, and the garlic . . . now we are famished.
Bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north and vast
stretches of desert to the west, east and south, Egypt rarely
feared invasion by foreign peoples. For much of its history
Egypt enjoyed peace and prosperity.
The rhythm of the river divided the year into two parts: the
growing season, when people worked the land, and the waiting
season when the Nile inundated, making the land fertile once
again, a time when people had leisure to enjoy life and to
express their creativity in art, architecture and learning.

Because the Nile River flows from South to North, Egyptians
thought in terms of south/north; upper/lower, rather than
west/east. Around 3000 B.C. Pharaoh Menes unified Upper
Egypt (in the south) and Lower Egypt (in the north), establishing
trade with Asia Minor, exporting minerals, ivory, paper and
finished chariots, while importing wood, dyed wool,
fashionable clothing and other luxury items.
Ancient Egypt was truly dazzling, one of the most advanced,
and prosperous civilizations on the planet. An ancient Egyptian
may well have misquoted Gus Portokalos in My Big, Fat Greek
Wedding (2002): There are only two kinds of people in the
world: Egyptians and those who want to be Egyptians.

Egyptian History in Brief
Egyptian history is traditionally divided into three major periods (with
intermediate periods in between) and since the 3
century B.C., thirty
dynasties. The dates are approximate.

Neolithic Period (5
- 4
millennia B.C.)
Religion focuses on local gods in plant and animal form, along with various
types of totemism (the worship of sacred objects).

Archaic Period (3100-2686 B.C.)
and 2
The forces of nature become personified; local deities become
anthropomorphized; Pharaoh becomes the incarnation of the god Horus,
giving legitimacy and absolute authority to Pharaohs rule.

Egyptian History in Brief, cont.

Old Kingdom (2686-2181 B.C.)
through 6
Theological system of heliopolis (sun worship) develops, as does the
worship of the sun god, Ra. Pharaoh evolves into the son of Ra.
Construction of the great pyramids begins: the Step Pyramid of Zoser, the
Great Pyramid of Khufu and the Sphinx. Technology is highly developed:
the Great Pyramid towers 481 feet; it contains over two million blocks of
stone, many weighing over fifty tons; and its volume can contain the
cathedrals of Florence, Milan, St. Peters in Rome, and St. Pauls and
Westminster Abbey in Londonall at the same time. Yet, the joins between
its blocks are nearly invisible, true to 1/50
of an inch, and the four corners
of the structure are so perfectly aligned North, East, South and West, that
errors on modern compasses can be corrected against them, even today.

Egyptian History in Brief, cont.

Intermediate Period (2181-2133 B.C.)
through 10
Concept of the ba (soul or psyche) develops, and along with it judgment
after death. The worship of Osiris as god of the underworld emerges.

Middle Kingdom (2133-1786 B.C.)
through 12
The sun god, Ra, merges with a minor Theban god, Amun. The cult of
Amun-ra develops.

Egyptian History in Brief, cont.

Intermediate Period (1786-1567)
through 17
The 13
through 17
Dynasties saw over seventy kings in rapid succession,
with an accompanying bloated bureaucracy. The weakening of a strong
central government allows a group of Asiatic people called the Hyksos
(foreign chiefs) to invade Egypt and control it for nearly 100 years. The
Hyksos introduced bronze-working, horse and chariot, and advanced
weapons of war.
Joseph comes to power as Prime Minister during the Hyksos period,
explaining in part why a young Hebrew would move easily within the upper
echelons of Egyptian power, which was controlled by foreigners from the

Egyptian History in Brief, cont.

New Kingdom (1567-1085 B.C.)
through 20
Amonhotep I drives out the Hyksos c. 1530 B.C., unifies the state and vastly
improves the economy.

Tutmose I (1526-1508) embarks on a strong expansionist strategy, reaching
the 3
cataract in the south and the Euphrates River in the north.
Following our biblical dating system, it would be Tutmose I, a native
Egyptian, who orders the drowning of the Hebrew babies.

Queen Hatshepsut (1504-1482), following the brief reign of Tutmose II
(1508-1504), becomes co-regent with Tutmose III, who is still a child. She
reverses the expansionist policy.
In our dating, Hatshepsut would be the princess who fishes Moses out of
the Nile.

Egyptian History in Brief, cont.
New Kingdom (1567-1085 B.C.), cont.
through 20
When Tutmose III (1482-1450) comes of age, he becomes very aggressive,
expanding Egyptian territory to the 4
cataract. He also embarks on an
aggressive building plan, erecting many impressive buildings, including
Karnak Temple, as part of his imperialistic policy. In our dating, Tutmose III
would be the Pharaoh of the oppression.
Amunhotep II (1450-1425) continues his fathers policies. In our biblical
dating, Amunhotep II would be the target of the ten plagues. He is not
killed at the Red Sea: Exodus 14: 28 says that The water flowed back and
covered the chariots and horsementhe entire army of Pharaoh that had
followed the Israelites into the sea. Interestingly, Amunhotep IIs mummy
was discovered in 1898 in the Valley of the Kings.
His son, Thutmose IV (1425-1412), is referred to in A Divine Oracle through
a Dream, his first-born son who dies prematurely at 13 years of age.

Egyptian History in Brief, cont.

Late Period (1085-332 B.C.)
through 30
Animals, once regarded as emblems or symbols of the gods, become objects
of venerationespecially the crocodile and the cat. (Perhaps this explains
why the only mention of cats in the Bible is in Baruch 6: 21, and it is
Hellenistic Period (332-20 B.C.)
The cult of Isis spreads outside of Egypt. Cleopatra commits suicide. Egypt
becomes part of the Roman Empire under Caesar Augustus, as we approach
New Testament times.

Egyptian Religion

Religion played a major role in ancient Egypt throughout its
history. At the time of Moses, Egypt had a fully developed,
polytheistic religious system that included a pantheon of
over eighty gods. Although difficult to generalize, the
primary gods were related something like this:

Egyptian Religion
(sun god)

Shu Tefnut
(god of air) (goddess of mist)

Geb Nut
(god of earth) (goddess of sky)

Osiris Isis Seth Nephthys
(god of the dead) (wife of Osiris) (enemy of Osiris) (wife of Seth)

(son of Osiris/Isis)

Egyptian Religion

As we shall see, Ra, Shu, Geb, Osiris, Isis and Horusthe left side of
the family treeplay an important role in the Exodus story. At the
time of Moses, this Egyptian pantheon of gods had a history and
theology as fully developed in its day as Christianity is today.

Karnak Temple, Luxor, Egypt. St. Peters, Vatican City, Italy.

That God created us and loves us is not an historical claim; it is a
statement of faith.

That 603,550 Hebrew men (plus women and children) left Egypt at a
particular time in history and spent an entire generation in the Negev
wilderness, then attacked and conquered the land of Canaan is an
historical claim.

As Rabbi David Wolpe, named in 2012 the most influential rabbi in
America by Newsweek Magazine, wrote in 2001:

A tradition cannot make an historical claim and then
refuse to have it evaluated by history.

1. There is no historical or archaeological evidence to suggest that
the Israelites lived in Egypt in large numbers between 2,000
1,400 B.C., the period of the Patriarchs through the Exodus,
certainly nothing approaching the epic story reported in
2. There is no historical or archaeological evidence whatsoever to
suggest that two million people left Egypt and wandered
through the Sinai wilderness for forty years. Indeed, if two
million people left Egypt and headed toward the land of
Canaan walking ten abreast, they would form a line stretching
150 miles!
3. Although archaeologists have found ample evidence of other
people living in the Sinai who predated the Israelites, it is
highly improbable that nearly two million people could dwell in
the Sinai for an entire generation without leaving a single
pottery shard, Hebrew carving or trash heap.

4. Doubts about the Exodus are not based primarily on the lack of
historical or archaeological evidence in Egypt or in the Sinai,
however; rather, they are based upon the study of settlement
patterns in Israel itself, a field that has been probed much more
deeply than the Exodus.
5. Extensive surveys of ancient settlements in Israel make it clear
that no great influx of people occurred between 1,500-1,000
B.C. It is not the lack of evidence for the Exodus, but the arrival
in the land of Canaan that suggests that the Exodus was not a
literal historical event, at least not on the scale of the biblical
6. If two million people who lived in Egypt for 400 years suddenly
flooded into Canaan, one would expect to find massive
evidence to support the event (their dishes, pottery and tools,
for example, would look very different from similar Canaanite
items, as would their art work, architecture and building
methods). In fact, there is not a shred of evidence to suggest a
sudden population increase in Israel during this period.

Given the nature of Jewish oral
tradition, it seems probable that
there were some enslaved Israelites
in Egypt who escaped and made their
way into the land of Canaan, planting
the seed of a growing tradition which
developed over time as the Jewish
people shaped their own national
identity and story. Indeed, the
Pentateuch (Genesis through
Revelation) did not reach its final
form until post-exilic times (after the
Babylonian captivity, 586-539 B.C.),
1,000 years after the Exodus story.

Questioning the historicity of the Exodus in no way undermines
Scripture or diminishes its message; rather, such questioning
highlights the literary nature of the text, viewing the Exodus as
a story of redemption, writ on a grand scale.

Scripture encompasses a variety of literary genres: it is not
simply an historical account, although historical events may
rest at its foundation.

Scripture is the story of Gods interaction
with humanity as viewed through the lens of
a living faith tradition.

An enormous amount has been written on the date of the Exodus, but
most scholars sit in one of two camps: 1446 B.C. or c. 1290 B.C. The
argument for 1446 B.C. rests primarily on the text of 1 Kings 6: 1,
which says:

In the four hundred and eightieth year after the Israelites went forth
from the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomons reign over
Israel in the month of Ziv (the second month), he began to build the
house of the Lord.

Solomons reign began at the death of his father, David, in 970 B.C.;
the fourth year of Solomons reign, then, was 966 B.C. Both of these
dates are firmly fixed by internal dating in 1 & 2 Kings and by Assyrian
chronological records independent of the Bible. If Solomon began
building the temple in the four hundred and eightieth year after the
Israelites went forth from the land of Egypt, the Exodus took place in
1446 B.C.

The c. 1290 B.C. alternative rests on Exodus 1: 11, which says:

Accordingly, they set supervisors over the Israelites to oppress
them with forced labor. Thus they had to build for Pharaoh the
garrison cities of Pithom and Rameses.

Rameses was rebuilt over the ancient city of Zoan-Tanis under
the Pharaoh Rameses II, who reigned from c. 1290 to 1224 B.C.
In addition, there is much archaeological evidence for the
destruction of numerous Canaanite cities in the thirteenth
century, evidence that many scholars suggest reflects Joshuas

For our purposes we shall adopt the 1446 B.C. date
for our study of Scripture, although much modern
scholarship supports the 1290 B.C. date, including
the work of William F. Albright, perhaps the greatest
biblical archaeologist of the twentieth century.

From a literary perspective, however, 1446 B.C. is
internally consistent with our narrative, so we shall
use it as we study Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers,
Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth and 1 & 2
Samuel. Once we hit 1 Kings, the disagreements
vanish, for all the dates fall into line.

If we hold to 1446 B.C. as the date of the Exodus, then our
story takes place during Egypts 18

Moses must have been born 1526 B.C., eighty years before the
Exodus (see Exodus 7: 7), making Thutmose I (1526-1508) the Pharaoh
who ordered the drowning of the Hebrew babies.
The princess who fished Moses out of the Nile (Exodus 2: 5-10) then
would have been Princess Hatshepsut, who later became Queen
Hatshepsut (1504-1482 B.C.).
Thus, the Pharaoh of the persecution was Thutmose III (1482-1450
B.C.), and his son Amunhotep II (1450-1425 B.C.) was the Pharaoh of
the Exodus.

Thutmose I, Pharaoh who ordered the drowning of the Hebrew babies.
This sandstone head was originally from the Temple of Amun-Ra at Luxor, Egypt.
It is currently in British Museum, London.

Hatshepsut, Princess who fished Moses out of the Nile River,
Moses adoptive mother, and later Queen Hatshepsut.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Thutmose III, Pharaoh of the persecution,
a new king, who knew nothing of Joseph (Exodus 1: 8).
Luxor Museum, Luxor, Egypt.

Amunhotep II, Pharaoh of the Exodus.
Amunhotep IIs mummy was discovered by Victor Loret in 1898 in tomb 35 in the
Valley of the Kings, Egypt. It is currently in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo.

1. What accounts for the prominent position of
Egypt in the ancient world?
2. Why did the Hebrews descend from a
favored position in the land of Goshen to
become slaves to the Egyptians?
3. Why did the Hebrews not assimilate into the
dominant Egyptian culture?
4. Did the Hebrews lose their knowledge of the
God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob while in
Egypt? If so, why? If not, why not?
5. What is the difference between historicity
and truth?

Copyright 2014 by William C. Creasy
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