As archaeologists and theologians sift through the dust of history, reaping long-lost rewards, there is one that has eluded their grasp; evidence of the Exodus. For us believers, the testimony in scripture is more than enough. The bible’s books of Moses, the Pentateuch, is just as old as many other ancient manuscripts that are taken seriously by the scholarly world. However, is there extra-biblical proof, even the faintest traces, of Moses’s mission from God to save the Israelites from slavery and the terrible plagues that followed? It seemed for the longest time that the consensus was a resounding “no”. When considering Egyptian records, dates just didn’t match up and so researchers encountered a host of problems; there were no Semitic people in slavery that fit the era (Jews belong to this group), the Pharaohs’ life and death were accounted for in a far less dramatic fashion, and most importantly, there was no mention of cataclysmic events like water turning into blood or mass deaths of the first-born child, events that would be very difficult to forget.
Some have inferred that the Egyptian dynasty of Exodus would not have wanted such a shameful defeat to be remembered, and that may be a sound theory in light of human nature, as it happens today. Still, one would think that due to the magnitude of this event, there would be something. Enter the Ipuwer papyrus, a manuscript found in the early 19th century, and later translated into English by Egyptologist Sir Alan Gardiner in 1909. What he uncovered was an ancient poem called “The Admonitions of Ipuwer”, that poetically seems to chronicle a terrible event in Egypt’s kingdom.
Here are some excerpts, chapters are in Roman numerals:
– Indeed, poor men have become owners of wealth, and he who could not make sandals for himself is now a possessor of riches.
– Indeed, [hearts] are violent, pestilence is throughout the land, blood is everywhere, death is not lacking, and the mummy-cloth speaks even before one comes near it.
Indeed, many dead are buried in the river; the stream is a sepulcher and the place of embalmment has become a stream. – II
– Would that there were an end of men, without conception, without birth! Then would the land be quiet from noise and tumult be no more. Indeed, [men eat] herbage and wash [it] down with water; neither fruit nor herbage can be found [for] the birds, and [. . .] is taken away from the mouth of the pig. No face is bright – VI
– Behold, the fire has gone up on high, and its burning goes forth against the enemies of the land.
– Behold, things have been done which have not happened for a long time past; the king has been deposed by the rabble.
Behold, he who was buried as a falcon [VII/1] [is devoid] of biers, and what the pyramid concealed has become empty.
Behold, it has befallen that the land has been deprived of the kingship by a few lawless men.
The manuscript eerily mirrors Exodus from the point of view of the Egyptians, and goes on to reveal one of the greatest parallels in the details of a bloody river, “Indeed, the river is blood, yet men drink of it. Men shrink from human beings and thirst after water. Indeed, gates, columns, and walls are burnt up, while the hall of the palace stands firm and endures.” – II. All of this appears to be an eyewitness account of the aftermath of the Ten Plagues that God sent against Egypt for refusing to free Israel from slavery.
Even other Egyptologists, many of whom disagree that the poem details Exodus, cannot shake the similarities. Roland Enmarch, author of a new translation of the text, does admit that while he doesn’t believe it is literal, there are parallels to Exodus; the river of blood and frequent mention of servants abandoning their subordinate status (e.g. Ipuwer 3.14–4.1; 6.7–8; 10.2–3). Also, the poem speaks of the king (Pharaoh), who would be naturally protected or “concealed” by a Pyramid at death, is nowhere to be found. Could this be because he and his army were destroyed in the Red Sea when trying to pursue Moses? (Exodus 14:24-30, 15:4)
Here are some scriptures from Exodus for reference:
– 12:35-36 …and they requested from the Egyptians, silver and gold articles and clothing. And God made the Egyptians favour them and they granted their request. [The Israelites] thus drained Egypt of its wealth.
– 7:20 …all the waters of the river were turned to blood.
– 7:24 And all the Egyptians dug around the river for water to drink; for they could not drink of the water of the river.
– 9:23-24 …and the fire ran along the ground… there was hail, and fire mingled with the hail, very grievous.
What about the date issue? Some believe that the biblical date of 1446 BC is erroneous as there had been no evidence of Hebrew people in Egypt at that time, but since 1966 archaeologists like Dr. Manfred Bietek have made discoveries; graves with wall paintings left over from the period that are actually Semitic in design. An even more recent movement has begun among secular and religious historians alike, calling for change in the entire Egyptian dating system in light of new evidence. Peter James’s “Centuries of Darkness” argues that the current timeline of Egypt is based on unfounded evidence and guesswork, resulting in swathes of empty chronological space.
So is the Ipuwer manuscript speaking of the Exodus after all? No one can say for sure just yet, and admittedly I am an amateur in the subject, still wrapping my head around as much as possible. However, one thing we can trust without a doubt is the faithful word of Jesus Christ, the son of God; “For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light…” – Luke 8:17. Amen.
o Translation of Ipuwer Manuscript-
o Comments and Exodus comparison by Rabbi Mordechai Becher-
o Archaeology of Dr. Manfred Bietek-
o Peter James, historian, on Egyptian chronology