For the past quarter century the great majority of middle east archaeologists and ancient historians have insisted that the Jewish people left the bondage of Egypt around 1230 or 1240 BC and not earlier. It was archaeological evidence from sites such as Jericho that led to this consensus, not internal evidence from the Bible. But the "late date" for the Exodus has been a thorny and difficult issue for many.
One major difficulty has been the lack of archaeological evidence from Egypt one way or another The pharaohs left long descriptions of themselves adorning temples and tombs but these were invariably self-serving and do not usually mention famines, disasters, or military defeats. The stele of Merneptah dated at 1220 BC does mention that the Hebrews were a people dwelling in the lands to the East at that time. The great funerary monuments of Egypt on the West bank of the Nile made of limestone date back to nearly 3000 BC but Egyptian cities and palaces made of mud brick were located in the flood plains and disappeared long ago.
The 1982 edition of The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia gives and excellent summary of the various pieces of evidence used in dating the time of the Exodus. In defense of the early date, the editors call attention to details now known about the lives of Thutmose I, Hatshepsut, Thutmose III, and Amenhotep II. Their fascinating scenario fits the date of 1450 BC as the year of the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt, coinciding with the death of Thutmose III presumably by drowning. E.W. Faulstich uses careful computer analysis of ancient calendars to arrive at Abib 15, 1461 B C as the exact date of the Exodus (See his History, Harmony and the Hebrew Kings, available from Chronology Books Box 3043, Spencer, Iowa 51301 ).
Writing in the March/April 1990 issue of Biblical Archaeological Review Prof. Bryant G. Wood of the University of Toronto* has now dramatically reopened a door many thought was permanently shut. Wood has carefully gone over the available archaeological evidence about the world's oldest city Jericho which lies 670 feet below sea level 5 miles north of the Dead Sea and 5 miles west of the River Jordan The Book of Joshua describes the entrance of the people of Israel into the land after the death of Moses and the destruction of Jericho as the first Canaanite stronghold overcome by the people of Yahweh.
Tell es-Sultan---ancient Jericho---lies next to the copious spring of Elisha (2 Kings 2:19-22). It is not an impressive tell but less than 1000 feet long by 500 feet wide The main highway to Galilee rudely cuts right across the eastern edge. British explorer Sir Charles Warren dug six vertical shafts into the tell in 1867-8 without reaching any important conclusions. An Austro-German team, Sellin and Watzinger excavated in 1907, 1908 and 1911 leaving careful drawings and plans of the site. John Garstang from England worked from 1930-36 at the site concluding that Jericho had come to an end by 1400 BC. But Garstang's methods were crude by modern standards and British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon undertook her definitive study between 1952 and 1958. She concluded that Jericho had in fact been destroyed at the end of the Middle Bronze Age about 1550 BC. The archaeological evidence showed (it was soon claimed) that there was no city for Joshua to conquer and indeed the biblical account could not be true---it was only folklore and religious rhetoric. But Kenyon died in 1978 without publishing her results.
Professor Wood has now carefully examined Kenyon's files as well as the work of her predecessors. He first noted that Garstang had recorded lots of Late Bronze pottery that Kenyon said did not exist at Jericho. It seems Kenyon had acquired lots of evidence but it had never been thoroughly analyzed. Wood carbon dated a piece of charcoal and found it came from 1410 plus or minus 40 years BC. He noted that Kenyon's stratigraphy had artificially squeezed 20 separate phases into a mere 100 years. He observed that Garstang had found a continuous sequence of Egyptian scarabs at the site showing active use until about 1400 BC. Comparing the entire suite of archaeological evidence with the biblical record Wood has found that:
"Despite the fact that the area where the wall once stood is gone there is evidence incredible as it may seem that this wall came tumbling down and in the words of the Biblical account in Joshua 'fell down flat.' The pottery stratigraphic considerations, scarab data, and a Carbon-14 date all point to a destruction of the city around Late Bronze I, about 1400 B C "
Posted, September 1990.