Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Thera Eruption – Blowing the Top Off Egyptian Records?

[The eruption of Pinatubo in the Philippines, 12 June 1991. Relatively mild, about 1/6 the size of Thera, 1600 BCE.]

The Bible tells us that 600,000 adult Israelite men together with their families left Egypt (according to rabbinical sources) in 1313 BCE.

Many people have questioned this claim, primarily because there are no Egyptian records that make any reference to such a momentous event or to the plagues that preceded it.

Professor Israel Finkelstein in the “The Bible Unearthed” page 59 writes “in the abundant Egyptian sources describing the time of the New Kingdom in general and the thirteenth century in particular, there is no reference to the Israelites, not even a single clue”. Therefore, concludes Professor Finkelstein, the Exodus could not have happened (page 63).

The question can be asked however: How complete are the Egyptian records from this period? There is no real literature, no actual books or chronicles, which have survived from that period of Egyptian history. (Actually the Bible is by far man’s earliest chronicle.) We have only a very limited number of inscriptions that have been recovered and translated. Seemingly, studying Egyptian history is like trying to reconstruct the history of the United States based on a smattering of tombstone inscriptions and the inscriptions on a few monuments. Our primary source of Egyptian history is in fact Aegyptiaca by Manetho written c. 300 BCE. And in fact we don’t even have Manetho, we only have portions of Manetho recorded about 800 years later, by writers who quote other writers, who quoted other writers, etc. who had read Manetho!

The eruption of the Thera volcano c. 1600 BCE can help to illustrate the problem. The eruption was perhaps four times as powerful as the Krakatoa eruption in 1883. The eruption occurred 450 miles from the Nile delta with the force of a 600 megaton hydrogen bomb. There would seem to be no question that the sound, smoke, ash and tsunami had a major impact on Egypt. However there is no reference to it, “not even a single clue”, in surviving Egyptian records even though we know from geological evidence that this certainly did happen.

It therefore seems silly to draw any conclusion from the gaps in Egyptian records. Obviously, in this case an absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.


Baal Habos said...

Not bad - a Mentchlich post. Except fot this line "It therefore seems silly":.

As to the details, I don't rememebr everything from the book, but sometimes absence of evidence is valid. For example, if you were told that a Class 5 hurricane passed thru NYC yesterday, you would not believe it, right?

I believe Historicans believe the whole population of Egypt at the time was 3 million. 3 Million people leaving would leave it's Mark in some major way.

As to Thera, isn't there the Nash Papyrus (I think that's what it's called)?

jewish philosopher said...

According to rabbinical tradition, the Egyptian exile lasted 210 years total and the plagues lasted for a year. The rapid increase of the Israelite population began only after all the children of Jacob had died.

So apparently what happened is a huge shanty town of poor laborers sprang up in Goshen between about 1450 BCE to 1313 BCE followed by the devastating plagues and the emigration of the Israelite slaves. I’m not sure if this was more noteworthy than the Thera eruption. Most probably Egyptian records of both events were made at the time and have long since been lost.

I think the attitude of “there are no Egyptian records so it didn’t happen” is clearly the result of atheistic bias.

Do you mean the Ipuwer papyrus? That may be referring to Thera or the Exodus or something else.

thanbo said...

You might read "Return to Sodom and Gomorrah" by Charlie Pellegrino, a palaeontologist. He gives plausible archaeological interpretations for a number of the bible stories, albeit with some necessary date-shifting, such as the Thera explosion's link to the miracles of the Exodus.

He also has some conclusory statements about atheism, which are not necessarily so: e.g. the occasional blocking of the Jordan River by falling rocks explains Joshua & Co. crossing the Jordan on dry land - therefore, there is no need for a God to do the miracle.

My take: by the same token, you need God to make sure that Joshua & Co arrive on site on the right day, if this only happens once every few hundred or thousand years.

Aside from theological statements like that, it's a good read, including "the cities of the plain" being the Tigris-Euphrates basin rather than the Dead Sea area, since that area does have "b'erot b'erot cheimar" - natural upwellings of petroleum.

jewish philosopher said...

I’m actually reading Pellegrino’s book right now. He seems to be more of a sensational author than an eminent scientist, so I think everything he writes has to be taken with a box full of salt.

Henry said...

The Thera eruption and its aftermath could account for the plagues, in which case the date of the exodus needs to be adjusted.

Independent Frum Thinker said...

Thank you for your efforts to counteract the influence of deniers. It is a service provided by very few.

jewish philosopher said...

Independent, thank you. Believe me, this is my greatest pleasure.

Henry, I know that some writers, for example Charles Pellegrino, have speculated about that, however seemingly one of the first results of Thera would have been a huge tsunami which would have killed everyone in Goshen, a low lying area on the Nile Delta. That would have cut short the Exodus right there.

According to rabbinical tradition, the Egyptian Exile began in 1523 BCE, about a century after Thera. I would venture to guess that the Israelites settled in Goshen because that area had been depopulated by the Thera tsunami.

nschuster said...

#1. The purpose of history in ancient Egypt was not to record the truth, but rather to nake the reigning Pharaoh look good. Amenhotep experiemented with a form of monotheism. His successors tried to erase any record of his reign. Ramses II took credit for most of the monuments built by his predecessors. He even erased the names of the real builders and had his own name inscribed. He claimed a great victory at the battle of Kadesh, but barely escaped with this life. He even triep to spin that fact into something positive. It stands to reason that the Exodus was a great embarrassment to the Egyptians, and they would record it. As for the lack of physical evidence, The Israelites left Al Kanfei Nesharim, in a miraculous way. They would have left typical physical signs.

#2. There is some evidence that the Bnai Yisroel where in Egypt at some point. Egyptains records record a group of Asiatic sllaves called Apuri, sound like Ivri or Hebrew. The Torah knows about Egyptian culture. There are Heiroglyphics depicting a viceroy being installed just like Yosef was. The Torah konws that the Egyptians mummified their dead, so Yosef mummifed Yaakov. According to my Egyptologist friend, the word Potiphar means household officer in Egyptian. Potiphera means priest of ra. This would have been a ligical career choice for someone who emasculated himself as Rashi states. Stafnas Paneach was one of the titles of the viceroy in Egypt.

Anonymous said...

Hopefully science and bible scholars can at some point work together. I too wondered about the Thera eruption preceeding the move to egypt and not exodus. The famine that forced them to move to egypt maybe the one that followed Thera and the idea of a depopulated Goshen from a tidal wave being available for a Pharoah to give to "settlers" parallels what the native american chiefs did in New England when the pilgrims arrived {Influenza had wiped out indian populations prior to their arrival at Plymouth}. Thera was such a big event (changed weather patterns for 5 yr.s (tree ring patterns in Turkey) blocked out most of the sun light for a year) that if for some reason it was not recorded in Eqyptian history it certainly would have left ash in tombs under construction at the time so placing the exact time with the very accurate egyptian chronology would not be difficult if someone would only do it (i.e. look for the ash particles). Thera is not the tower of smoke and flame of exodus as it's geography is wrong in addition to the wide timing problem. However there is a line of a dozen volcano's from Northern Israel to Turkey that align exactly with the path of exodus.If someone would do a PHD thesis on at least placing Thera's eruption in the Egyptian time table it would sure be a service to our understanding. Once that is done dendrology of tree rings from wood from coffins and other grave goods would give us a good idea of the environmental impact. The problems posed are far from insurmountable.

D. G. Neree said...

Thera initiated disasters in Egypt and gave the jews the setting for their exodus. Inheritor of the all but destroyed Egyptian state was Akhnaton, who founded a new religion and an new capital. Old records were destroyed to accomodate the new religion and state, their god was now Aton.

D. G. Neree said...

the official egyptian chronology is not certain.

Please consider the possibility, that Moses was adopted by the daughter of Tut-Moses and not Ramses. As is Moses name is... Moses, he would very likely be called after his adoptive grandfather.

Son of Tut-moses was Akhnaton, who inherited the Empire and during whose reign the catastrophies took place.

Afterwards, when the pentateuch was written, all the catastrophies were put in a different order by the writer, to corroborate the ir account of an all-mighty Jahweh, who defeated the Pharao.

Morover: It was not the Red Sea that they crossed, but the Shelf Sea, so the direction of their travel was different than if they would have crossed the Red Sea.

Just theorising :)