Thursday, March 26, 2015

Moses - A Rant on Historical Placement

We each have our pet peeves. Some of us have many. One of mine is Moses and the Exodus. Oh, not the man and the event themselves, but how they are treated. I suppose the rant I'm about to go off on could apply to the art of writing fantasy, but this is really just a rant.

One part of how Moses is treated that irks me is that he is rendered into a character of fiction, created generations later when the Jews came out of Babylon. I have frequently encountered people who know beyond any doubt that the books of Moses were fabricated long after the time they are supposed to cover. They remind me of the people who doubt that Shakespeare wrote the plays that bear his name. I prefer to look at history and textual analysis much as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had Sherlock Holmes look at crime. First you must gather your evidence. A lack of evidence for something does not mean it is or isn't true, it means you don't know. And that is what a lot of people base their analysis of ancient texts on - a lack of knowledge.

The question of when the five books of Moses were written cannot be answered. To answer the question, we would need to have definitive proof. There is a major flaw in the way some people look at history. They grab hold of the first instance of something and then claim it must date from that time. We know that the Jews assembled their religious texts after they left Babylon, but from what? The camp that claims they made it all up, or wrote down the garbled oral histories have no proof of their assertions. The texts as presented claim something entirely different.

But there is another camp out there that further confuses the issue. Some religious fanatics take these ancient texts as an accurate and complete history of those days. They really have no evidence for that either. In fact, their desire to take these books of religious texts and events as literal and exact history has resulted in the historical nature of these events being called into question when the archaeology does not line up.

On the other hand, if you take the historical accounts at face value, consider that they were written by many people over a great span of time and may not be complete, either due to mistakes while copying or through omission of some important document, then you can be free to place the events where the archaeology indicates. Radiocarbon dating places the destruction of Jericho between 1617 and 1530 BC. If that is the biblical destruction it means that Moses and the entirety of the events in the five books he authored must occur before that. It means that the events of the Exodus did not occur in the 18th, 19th, or 20th Dynasties of Egypt. Akhenaten did not influence Moses and Ramses II was not the Pharaoh of the Exodus.

Not only is there not proof for these ideas, there is evidence against it. These three Dynasties are some of Egypt's most prosperous times. Ramses was a great builder and conqueror. In all the tombs and documents from this time, there is not one mention of foreign slaves. There is no evidence of any great disaster or loss of work force. There is nothing. Not one shred of historical or archaelogical evidence. In truth, the only link between the Exodus and Ramses II is the mention in the Bible that the Hebrew slaves built the cities of Pithom and Ramses. There is no evidence that the city and the Pharaohs of that name are linked. The text could also have been changed when the name of the cities changed to help the text remain relevant.

Which brings us to some of the clues that demand an Egyptian origin for Moses. First, not one Pharaoh is named. The only two Egyptians named are Potiphar and Asenath. Some oral traditions also give us the names of Moses's adoptive mother, Bithia, and Potiphar's wife, Zuleikha. But not one Pharaoh. In Egypt, as long as people speak your name, your soul lives on. Omitting the names of the Pharaohs the various biblical figures interacted with is a tremendous insult to them. It is something only an Egyptian would think of. The authors of later histories did not hesitate to name the Pharaoh who sacked Jerusalem. Add to that the completely Egyptian name of Moses. It means 'son of'. Ramses means 'son of Ra'. I've surmised that Moses originally had a longer name, but he dropped the name of the god his adoptive mother gave him. Which is interesting because it then makes him the 'son of the god with no name'.

These are just a few of the textural hints that add together to place the original composition of the books of Moses at a time when the traditions of Egypt were fresh. Also, as a prince of Egypt, Moses would have been literate, possibly in multiple forms of writing. So there is much more evidence that the books of Moses were written before the fall of Jericho than after the return from Babylon.

And there is another piece of evidence that further ties it all together. In the text that our English Bibles have been translated from, one of four surviving copies of the books of Moses, there is a line missing. In the King James translation we are led to believe that the Children of Israel sojourned in Egypt for 400 years. The missing lines restates that and says that from Jacob's arrival in Egypt to Moses is 250 years and Abraham to Moses is 400 years. When you look at Egypt 250 years before Jericho, you find archaeological evidence of a Jacob in Egypt. It is the right place and the right time. There is no proof it is him and it is claimed that Jacob (or Yakub as it is more properly rendered) is a common name. Yet the timing is startling.

Looking more closely at the events of this period of Egyptian history show that not only does this fit, it fits very well. This was during the Second Intermediate Period. The Hyskos began arriving in 1800 BC, ended up in control of things, and then were kicked out. There were there about 250 years. Jericho falls right after that, just as the end of the 17th Dynasty won back and reunified Egypt under native rule again. It is not a well documented period, but how plausible is it that the events in Exodus, occurring to the ruler of the Delta region, would bring about his downfall and make it possible for the later unification. This period also shows the instability that the Exodus story indicates. The Second Intermediate Period started off with the 13th dynasty in control of all of Egypt. The Pharaohs were the Asiatic Hyskos, which would explain why the Pharaoh would put Joseph in charge. Before the end of the dynasty, they lose control of the south. What are called the 14th, 15th, 16th, and 17th dynasties are competing concurrent kingdoms. The change in dynasty also fits with Exodus and a Pharaoh who didn't know them enslaving the Hebrews.

When you put all the pieces together, it becomes clear that the statements that the Hebrew Bible only dates to the return from Babylon are false. While that may be the oldest known dating, they say this without a shred of proof and ignore the evidence in the text. Those that continue to pit Moses and Ramses irk me to no end. No only is the dating wrong, and Ramses never had any setbacks during his reign, but the events don't fit the story. Ramses II had been born before his grandfather became Pharaoh. Seti I only ruled for a few short years before his son became Pharaoh. The traditional story of Ramses and Moses being raised together could not have happened. Ramses II took the throne only a little over 30 years after Tutankhamun died. Moving the Exodus late in the Second Intermediate Period solves all the issues that surround trying to link it to Ramses II. Not to mention that Ramses was 200 years after the destruction of Jericho.

I have similar comments to make about Britain's King Arthur, which rather than misplaced in time is misplaced in location which gives rise to erroneous reinterpretations. By starting at the right points things just make sense. In the case of Moses means looking at the period before the archaeological dating of the destruction of Jericho (roughly 1550 BC). In the case of Arthur it is moving him from London to one of the other major political centers of the day, probably Carlisle. But in both cases, a simple change to the story as commonly understood, a change that is not rooted in the original story, but which removes virtually all the objections science and verified history to the story, changes it from improbably to probable. While we then have the question of how the Hebrews/Israelites/Jews maintained the text for a thousand years until we know with certainty that it existed, none of the details of the story are far fetched or unlikely. On the contrary, by placing Moses in the Second Intermediate Period, the story fits with the times and makes perfect sense.

So that pretty much covers why pitting Moses with Ramses and claiming the post Babylonian Jews made it all up irks me. There are too many things that modern science has proven are accurate for this to be a complete fiction. Anyway, I think that about covers the rant.