Is the Old Testament historically accurate? What about the Exodus?

I was conversing with a friend the other day about the Bible. He said he
prefers to read the New Testament over the OT because the latter is less
historically accurate. He cited as an example the Hebrew exodus from
Egypt: he said that the Egyptians recorded everything (historical events,
that is), and there is no Egyptian (or otherwise extrabiblical) historical
record of the Hebrews being enslaved by the Egyptians. I had no answer
since I am a bit rusty on my Egyptian history. Can you
help? How would you answer to this argument?

What your friend says is true, at least to a limited extent.
What I mean is that there is no clear record in extant Egyptian sources
which confirms the Exodus account. We do have the Tel el Amarna letters,
several of which report the attacks of the “Hapiru” in Canaan which occur
at about the same time, but the identification of the Hapiru and the
Hebrews is controversial (personally, I believe they are one and the same,
but I would admit that I am biased, to some extent). There are other
tantalizing finds which support the Exodus account, such as the nature of
the destructions of Jericho and Hazor. See my book, Reasons for Belief
(www.ipibooks.com) for more details on that.

The one statement which your friend made which is patently false is that
the Egyptians recorded everything which happened. Or, to put it a bit more
carefully, we do not now have an extant record of everything the Egyptians
did. In fact, it would be fair to say that we have an extremely spotty
record of goings-on in Egypt in the second millennium BCE.

Bottom line to say that the lack of clear confirmatory evidence of the
Exodus is evidence that it did not happen is simply not a good line of
reasoning. We do have many records of Canaanites living in northern Egypt
at the time. We also know of the raids of the “Peoples of the Sea” (the
Hyskos) which may very well have led, in part, to the ouster of the
Canaanites, including the Hebrews from Lower Egypt. Clearly, the Jews were
not a powerful or influential group in Egypt at this time, and there is no
compelling reason to expect them to show up in the histories of Egypt,
which tend to focus on dynastic intrigue, external warfare and so forth.

Your friend is making the point that the Old Testament is not good and
accurate history. I would counter with the argument that the Old
Testament is the most accurate and reliable general historical account we
have from the ancient world–bar none. Again, I would refer you to the
book “Reasons for Belief” for specifics (or go to the article at this web
site, History, Archaeology and the Bible), but time and again the skeptics
have attempted to “prove” that the OT is full of myths and stories, only
to be disproved on the specifics. The skeptics, rather than acknowledge
the weakness of their arguments, simply move on to the next supposed
“mistake” in the Bible. (Nineveh, the Hittites, King David, etc…).

John Oakes


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