Digging Into The Past with

Ferrell Jenkins
Temple Terrace, Florida

Exodus and Conquest

The date of the Exodus of Israel from Egyptian bondage and of the conquest of Canaan under Joshua has been disputed. The two most popular theories are designated as the "early date" , and the "late date." The early date of the exodus, held by conservative scholars and based primarily on 1 Kings &1, is somewhere between 1440 and 1450 B. C. The late date, held by most liberal scholars, is between 1300 and 1280 B. C. There is some archaeological information regarding this matter, but its interpretation is uncertain. It is not our purpose here to give consideration to all the pros and cons of this problem. We do intend to mention two or three important finds related to the transition of Israel from Egypt to Canaan.

The life in Canaan prior to the entrance of the Israelites has been amply illustrated by the Ras Shamra (Ugaritic) tablets and other finds. While there is some problem with regard to the dating of the levels, the following can be safely stated and observed by the visitor to the mounds of Palestine:

All over Palestine there is evidence of a sharp break between Canaanite and Israelite occupation, often marked by a thick layer of ashes separating the two different cultures (MacRae, Biblical Archaeology, p. 42.)


For many years it was generally held that Jericho provided evidence of the conquest. John Garstang conducted archaeological excavation at the ancient site of Jericho during the years 1930-36. His, conclusions were presented in his popular work, The Story of Jericho, and stirred tremendous excitement all over the world. He contended that "City D" of the site represented the ruins of the Jericho of the time of Joshua. A sudden destruction of the city about 1400 B.C. was abundantly evident. This find added new strength to the early date of the Exodus. All along there have been scholars who differed with Garstang on his dating, but even these paid their respects to his work.


More recent work at the site of Jericho has brought Garstang's conclusions into question. During the years 1952-56, Kathleen Kenyon carried on work which has been summarized in her popular treatise, Digging Up Jericho. Miss Kenyon pointed out that due to the tremendous erosion there is only one point where the full height of the Middle Bronze (ca. 2100-1550 B~.C.) wall survives. "Elsewhere, the erosion has gone far below the Middle Bronze age level, except on the lower eastern side of the tell, where only miserable fragments of the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1550 1200 B.C.) houses survive" (Kenyon, Digging Up Jericho, p. 261). The walls which Garstang dated at the time of Joshua are said to belong to the third millennium. Miss Kenyon points out that several walls had been destroyed by fire and a probable earthquake. Her conclusions would actually be of value neither to the late date nor the early date of the Exodus. Miss Kenyon says, "The excavation of Jericho, therefore, have thrown no light on the walls of Jericho of which the destruction is so vividly described in the Book of Joshua" (p. 262). The wind and rain of many centuries has silently stolen the evidence that Biblical scholars would like to have.

The Merneptah Stele

One of the significant archaeological finds which tends to harmonize with the early date for the exodus and conquest is the Merneptah Stele. Merneptah was the son of Ramesses II and ruled Egypt from about 1224 to 1214 B. C. He made a campaign to Palestine in about 1219 B. C. On a large black granite stele found in his mortuary temple in Thebes, Merneptah mentions several peoples he claims to have defeated in battle. This stele contains the first extra biblical reference to Israel. The relevant passage reads:

The Princes are prostrate, saying, "Mercy!"

Not one raises his head among the Nine Bows.

Desolation is for Tehenu; Hatti is pacified;

Plundered is Canaan with every evil!

Carried off is Askelon; seized upon is Gezer;

Yanoam is made as that which does not exist;

Israel is laid waste, his seed is not;

Hurru is become a widow for Egypt!

All lands together, they are pacified;

(Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p. 378. Emphasis mine, FJ)

This record pictures Israel as a settled people already in Palestine when Merneptah made his invasion.


One could wish for more definite information regarding this period of time. While waiting - we accept the accounts given in the Bible and await further excavations which may clarify some of the problems.

July 1969