One of my favorite stories in the Bible was always Joseph. Perhaps it was due to my obsession with all things Ancient Egyptian or maybe it was simply because the story of Joseph feels like a complete story unlike many others in the Bible. In the story of Joseph we are given huge amounts of information, there is a lot of emotion to the text, and in the end, redemption for all.
As a teen, I also became aware that there was no historical evidence for the story of Joseph and later Moses. No evidence that there were ever slaves in Egypt. No evidence of plagues, years long famine, or Joseph himself. Now, it is true that so many things have been lost to annals of time, yet it would stand to reason that if the Israelites had resided in Egypt for nearly five-hundred years, they would have left something behind. Especially considering that according to the story, Joseph was already capable of reading and writing before he was sold into slavery and it must be assumed that other people in his family knew as well.
Recently I watched a documentary on Netflix (Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus) in which a man who claims to be loosely Christian explored the story of Joseph and Moses, searching for historical evidence. Without going into great lengths of detail what I took away from the documentary was two things. The first is that if the story took place in the time period that the Bible seems to claim (the time of Ramses) there is absolutely no evidence for the Biblical Joseph or Moses. However, the second point was brought up that maybe we have been dating everything in archaeology wrong and these events could have happened much earlier, not during the time of Ramses, to which there is some vague loose evidence that could be related to the Biblical Israelites. Because of this weak evidence the filmmaker concludes that the Egyptian calendar needs to shift in order to accommodate Biblical history. It should be added that there was not a single archaeological expert or historian anywhere in the documentary who actually believed the Exodus story was anything more than religious contrivance. There were even religious experts who stated that they believed it was nothing more than a morality tale, a fiction.
This is the kind of stuff that, when I was a Christian, I grasped hold of. Why? Because it made the thing that I do desperately wanted to be true, just a bit more credible. Yet, everything we know about Egyptians says that they would never have allowed an Israelite to become second-in-command to the Pharoah. The Pharoah was a god as were those close to him. Sure, people from foreign lands were allowed to live, work, and make a fortune in Egypt, but second-in-command is proposterous.
A more likely scenario: The Exodus did occur well before we think and on a much smaller less miraculous scale. The actual Exodus might have taken 200 or more years before Israel finally formed rather than the claimed 40 years of wandering. Chances are Joshua did not conquer those cities but a series of Hebrew leaders might have led campaigns. And a thousand years later, the Torah writers relied on a condensation of history with facts and myths. Perhaps Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and Joshua were several people. But all civilizations have a origin often based on a conquering hero. In addition, the Hyksos who invaded Egypt and the land could have been responsible for in part creating the turmoil that set the Middle Kingdom into chaos and descent, allowing the Hebrews to set free. Probably a series of famines and wars that tore Egypt from the prosperous Middle Kingdom.
Or it could all be completely fabricated. A myth for a new religion to explain why they were special and chosen and were wandering around in a desert.
Now, don't get me wrong, I do think that there were events in the Bible that are more or less historically accurate. We know Babylon existed for example and have record of man named Daniel. What we don't have a record of, beyond the Biblical account, is the lion's den miracle. That is the weird dichotomy that I always chose to ignore when I was a Christian. Historical moments laced with magic, for that is what it should be considered. Just as I wouldn't accept Dicken's fictional account of workhouses without evidence to back it up, nor will I accept Biblical accounts without their own evidentiary treatment. If there is no archaeological proof of one of the greatest stories in the Old Testament then I must assume, until other evidence is brought to light, that it is just that--a story.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.