Saturday, August 15, 2009

Who were the Ancient Israelites? A Multidisciplinary search for Answers

Image Caption: "Parting of the Red Sea", during the alleged emigration of ancestors of Jewish people, made famous by the biblical legend. Click on the image for enlargement


Over the years, this has become an age-old question: Who were the ancient Israelites, really? In what capacity did they actually exist, or what not, and do biblical stories around their eponymous ancestors and rulers reflect actual events?

This is actually a topic that came to attention quite a few years back, and to this day, the topic is controversial as ever. Part of the reason it is controversial, is the religious loyalties of elements both within and outside academia, that said persons want to defend. The other, which like the just-mentioned, probably goes without saying, is apparently longstanding identity/racial politics which certain camps are intent on passionately defending.

On the academic front, say for example—Egyptology, those who do not wish to shake up long held traditional narratives—usually highly romantic portrayals that have become cemented in many minds, with the aid of the likes of Hollywood—of what went down in ancient Egypt (Kmtnwt), and are perhaps in part inspired by biblical narratives, are also very reluctant to look at the subject at different, perhaps refreshing and more sober, angles. Whatever the camp, these ideologues generally share in common, resistance to re-examining their prevailing perceptions/preconceptions in the face of ongoing inflow of strongly substantive material, which challenge said viewpoints.

On February 23rd of 2005, the present author opened the matter in a discussion forum outlet with the following notes:

It is of interest that some consider Israelite origins in Kemet (aka ancient Egypt) as one that compares to fantastic stories of “extraterrestrial involvement in pyramid building”. In fact, such claims ignore the multidisciplinary approach that points to such connections. The thing that sets the study of Israelites apart from most other ethnic groups, is that it is one that relies intimately on the Biblical [i.e. narratives] origins as factual account of its heritage. As such, one can’t really determine the origins of Israelites and their Kemetian connection without correlating Biblical references to archeological evidence. Indeed the fact that “Israelites” spent the bulk of their pre-Exodus years in Kemet with virtually no evidence suggesting their existence in Canaan prior to that, should omit notions of its close ties to Kemet as being farfetched. Moses as a central figure in the Jewish tradition, was supposed to have been raised and brought up in the Egyptian royal household, and as a royalty would have received the finest education available to an Egyptian. Needless to say, that this would mean that his perspective on ancient history before his time would have been deeply influenced by his Egyptian education, his research libraries would have been in Egyptian temples, even his world view would have been more likely Egyptian than Canaanite or Mesopotamian. As such, the solution to learning about true Israelite origins lies more so in Egyptian history than Asian:

Correlation of Biblical chronology to that of dynastic Egypt.

The reconstruction of chronology of Dynastic Egypt as used by the Kemetians themselves, is in fact not a simple matter in Egyptology, and it has been done on the basis of archeological evidence like inscriptions, which provide information on certain dating, like Sothic dates. In order to understand correlation of Genesis chronology to that of Dynastic Egypt, the Egyptian dating system had to be understood from the Egyptian perspective, and then interpreted into the standard solar calendar. This would be essential to putting the time frame of Israelite departure from Kemet in its proper historical and political context. 

Available inscriptions that help in this process include Egyptian Kings Lists:

  • The Table of Abydos.

  • The Table of Sakkara.

  • The Table of Karnak.

  • The Palermo Stone.

  • The Turin Papyrus (Turin Canon)

  • Manetho Lists.

  • Then comes Genesis chronologies from Masoretic version, Septuagint version, and Samaritan version.

  • References to Mesopotamian King lists also become handy,...

  • well as the Egyptian Solar, lunar and Sothic calendar, which contrasts with the Mesopotamian calendar and lunar cycles. (Sothic calendars and dating comprises works of Egyptologists like Alan Gardiner, Theodore Oppolzer, Edward Meyer, Edward Wente and Charles Van Siclen, W.G. Waddell, and others)

Kemetic Cosmology

Detailed study of Egyptian religion (sources like Wallis Budge, provide a good insight on this) is also a useful piece of information in getting to the bottom of where the Israelite culture originates, and of course, the understanding of the timeline and influence of Asiatic neighbors in their new found home also provides insights on how these blended with original Egyptian traditions to give rise to the Israelite identity as we know it.  



Linguistically speaking, the original Isrealites spoke Egyptian, and evidence suggests that their appearance in Canaan occurred suddenly in late 14th century, not after several centuries of evolution from tribes of Semetic-speaking nomads .

Other Archeological Evidence outside the Bible


Interestingly the first non-biblical or archeological evidence of reference to the name Israel comes from Egyptian stele of Merneptah, dating to the later half of the 13th century B.C. Thereafter the Egyptians never used the name again, and indeed the next non-biblical reference to Israel comes after almost 400 years, completely bypassing the reigns of David and Solomon. This second evidential occurrence takes the shape of the Moabite Stone, discovered in 1868. It was attributed to King Mesha of Moab and provides details of conflicts between his kingdom and Israel. Mesha himself is mention in “2 Kings 3:4”.

Sources: Gary Greenberg—President of Biblical Archeology Society of New York, and member of American Research Center in Egypt, the Archeological Institute of America, the Society of Biblical Literature, and Egypt Exploration Society. References come from The Moses Mystery: African origins of the Jewish people., which itself builds on from hard work of many well known Egyptologists, some of whom are mentioned above, as well as Biblical scholars. - Abstract ends here

Here, in our search for answers, biblical scholar Gary Green's work, the aforementioned " Moses Mystery: African origins of the Jewish people" will be heavily relied on. He offers thought-provoking, if not compelling arguments, which is something that many can perhaps agree on, regardless of what isle of the debate they are on.


The question then arises, as it indeed had in the past, as to whether holders of Abrahamic faiths find it disturbing, the very prospect of their religions ultimately tracing their origins in the Nile Valley, or having "Kemetian" and "Mesopotamian" roots over the course of the molding of those faiths?

There is a rather obvious answer to this question: it’s a matter of reconciling extra-biblical reality with biblical interpretations, and the fear of the outcome becomes the issue here. This fear in turn translates into the superficial issue of whether the Israelites were ethnically and culturally "Kemetian" as opposed to "Mesopotamian". Even though staunchly an adherent to the principle of intellectual guidance by objective reality, the present author—as a person who comes from a family background characterized by guidance via a faith which draws from Abrahamic belief—can understand this feeling.

It is not a matter of attack but a fact that, religion is taught to us very early on as one that is intolerant to questioning. These are supposed to be divine words, as we are told, and its questioning can only mean the questioning of the "Almighty" one. At any rate, tracing origins of distant generations is usually handled enthusiastically and energetically, but somehow when the same is applied to the Israelites, it becomes a rather uncomfortable issue to some. The Jews, needless to point out, are a group that identifies ethnicity and faith as one.

Contemporary Jews, heavily reliant on Biblical interpretation of their history, claim a history that takes us back to a time when notable great "civilizations" or social complexes (like "Kemet") were thriving. So in essence they are claiming a separate tradition, which one would expect to be in tune with its contemporaries, in terms of record keeping. There is no reason to deny so, after all, we have clear portraits of long-lived ancestors which Israelite tradition bring to us.

As Greenberg put it, upon looking at the supposed contemporaries like "Kemet" and "Mesopotamia", it dawns on one that both had characters/kings listed which proceeded from a mythological to a historical period, with the succession of true kings accurately recorded. The earliest kings usually belonged to a mythological period, often having extraordinary life spans of thousands of years. Historians were however, able to separate the lists into mythological and historical portions.

Biblical chronology (which again, early Israelite history is reliant on) also begins in the mythological period, with its characters also enjoying extraordinary life spans, and it continues well into the historical era, late into 2nd millennium B.C. However, even at this historical stage, people named in this later time still seem to occupy a mythological status, living extraordinary life spans, often hundreds of years than any believable human life span. Add to this, the fact that none of the people named have turned up in any records as actual rulers among either the Hebrews or any other Semitic-speaking communities.

The apparent reason for this peculiarity of Biblical chronology in comparison to its self-professed contemporaries like say, ancient Egypt and "Mesopotamia", is that actual Israelite history as a separate entity is relatively much more recent, and does not reach as far back as the aforementioned cultures. The socio-ethnic entity of "Israelite" must therefore have been an outgrowth of some other preexisting culture that is not known to us as being that of the "Israelites", and real evidence available points to "Kemet". 

Examining the significance of the Merneptah Stele - It is a very big deal...and here is why:

Merneptah Stele utterance [translated into English]:

The princes are prostrate, saying: Mercy!

Not one raises his head among the Nine Bows.

Desolation is for Tehenu; Hatti is pacified;

Plundered is the Canaan with every evil;

Carried off is Ashkelon; seized upon is Gezer;

Yanoam is made as that which does not exist;

Israel is laid to waste, his seed is not;

Hurru is become a widow for Egypt!

All lands together, they are pacified;

Everyone who was restless, he has been bound.

Grammatical evidence aspect of the Stele inscription:

—All the other names mentioned here were associated with sovereign territories EXCEPT for "Israel". "Israel" is the ONLY name here that is written with a hieroglyphic sign [for the determinative] denoting "people", rather than with a determinative sign denoting "nation" or "city", usually represented by a circle enclosing a cross.

Dating aspect of the Stele inscription:

—It dates back to the 13th century BC. The name 'Israel' does not appear at any time before or during this period, and no less importantly, anywhere else but on Egyptian archaeological record. This Stele inscription is the FIRST extra-Biblical record ever, of Israelites.

—While the name Israel reappears after this Stele inscription, it doesn't happen until about almost *400* years later, as noted in the intro notes. 

The Political Affiliation aspect of the Stele inscription:

—It appears in the 13th century BC on a stele dedicated to Merneptah, who is part of the Rameside Dynasty. Indication in the Bible, as noted by the mention of Pi-Rameses, suggests that emigration of Biblical Israelites occurred sometime in the Rameside era—the city was named so under Rameses II rather than Rameses I, but the described events and particulars—wherein this "Pi-Raameses" is mentioned in the bible—point to an earlier time frame than the reign of Rameses II...which is understandable, when it is taken into consideration that the Hebrew bible was edited into its final form c. 6th century BC onwards.

Overall, what these distinct aspects (above) of the Stele inscription convey can be outlined as follows:

  1. That a socio-ethnic entity known as "Israel" existed that far back in antiquity, i.e. 13th century BC.

  2.  "Israel" as a reference to a people without a specific sovereign territory of their own yet, says that they must be new arrivals to Canaan. This is further supported by the fact that the name Israel appears nowhere before the time in question.

  3. They were seen as a potent foe around this time by ancient Egyptian authorities; otherwise, they likely would not have been mentioned at all in the inscription.

    This also tells us that they had enough time to become militarily capable to some extent, likely as part of an armed coalition formed with other Levantine groups, but not enough to have carved out a territory of their own. Hence, they likely appeared suddenly in Canaan sometime in late 14th century BC, as noted in the intro post.

  4. The concordance of the appearance of Merneptah's inscriptional Israelites—without a specific territory—in the 13th century BC with the biblically-invoked emigration of Israelites from the Nile Valley, sometime in the Rameside period, forms a basis of a strong correlation that places the said inscriptional Israelites in the Nile Valley before their appearance in the Levant. This thus tells us where they came from.
Gist: The inscription directly informs us about the existence of Israelites as a people that far back in antiquity [although not quite as far back as modern Jews or communities of people who follow Abrahamic belief systems would rather have it to be], as well as the socio-political status of the Israelites in Canaan in the 13th century BC, while it indirectly tells us where they came from prior to this timeframe, and when they likely appeared in Canaan.

Given the above-mentioned points gleaned from a single inscriptional evidence, it would be outright unreasonable to dismiss this evidence as 'fringe evidence', as had been done so in the past, as directly witnessed by the present author.

So then, what of the question: Is it safe to assume that "Israelite Kingdoms" are unconnected to Merneptah's inscriptional Israelites?

Well, it goes back to one of the points made above; to recap:

"The concordance of the appearance of Merneptah inscriptional Israeliteswithout a specific territory yetin the 13th century BC with the biblically-invoked emigration of Israelites from the Nile Valley sometime in the Rameside period, forms a basis of a strong correlation that places the said inscriptional Israelites in the Nile Valley before their appearance in the Levant. This thus tells us where they came from."

It cannot be overemphasized, the unique peculiarity of the bible serving as the Israelite-accounting of Israelite history, and hence, "Israelite tradition". For this reason, it would be almost intellectually suicidal not to use biblical account for comparative analysis with extra-Biblical evidence, within a *multidisciplinary* framework.

Many would agree that only a singular historical lineage of Israelite genesis exists in "Israelite tradition", as denoted by biblical account. Whether one dismisses the bible as being pure myth or not, has no bearing on this fact. Contemporary people today who view themselves as Jews, regardless of their diverse socio-political affiliation, as well as unique sub-cultures and respective sub-histories within the larger Jewish culture, are all supposed to converge to this one lineage—i.e. "Israelite tradition", which again, is essentially biblical accounting of Israelite history.  

Jewish history all converge on this tradition, at least to the point where the bible finishes off Isrealite history—denoting this singular historical lineage. To this end, the present author knows of no other Israelite tradition that is independent of this [biblical] tradition. The relevance of this will become clear in ensuing passages.

Analysis by correlation:


Given the above mentioned concordance between Merneptah inscriptional Israelites and the biblical Israelites, there is no reason to assume that "Israelite Kingdom", whose various political figures are mentioned in the bible, has no relationship with the Israelites mentioned in the Merneptah Stele.

Both the Biblical Israelites and the Merneptah inscriptional Israelites are situated in Canaan.

There is no evidence of two disparate unrelated Israelite historical lineages anywhere at anytime; therefore, the burden of proof lies squarely on the party who advocates such a relationship between the said inscriptional Israelites and the Israelite polity that appears on archaeological record by around the 9th century BC.

To the extent that the original Israelites only came to being after the Nile Valley immigrants went onto the Levant, whereupon they would form a social confederation called "Israelites" with in situ Levantine inhabitants, it would be absurd to say that "Israelite origin was primarily a Eurasian one".

It would be intellectually irresponsible to skip this basal population emanating from the Nile Valley (who would essentially serve as "proto-Israelites"), and go onto talk of Kingdoms which only appear on record some time around the 9th century BC or so as some sort of vindication that "Isrealites ought to be deemed primarily of Eurasian origin"; it borders on intellectual ineptness, if one is that much unobservant, such that he/she cannot take note of the glaring time gap, wherein it should be conceivable that a series of various socio-cultural and associated demic events must have occurred.

However, note above, that the mention of "time gap" is highlighted. Why is that important? Let's explore...

What could account for this relative "dark age" or time gap between the first appearance of 'Israel' and its the next appearance on archaeological record? Surely the Bible, even with its shortcomings in giving readers details of events during certain time frames between the "Exodus" and formation of the first Israelite Kingdom, does go out of its way to mention several Israelite political figures purportedly living within this time gap, even though the figures themselves don't actually show up in archaeological record in the said time gap.

A possible 'snapshot' explanation was alluded to by Greenberg in this piece:
When the Israelites came out of Egypt, the people brought with them the many stories about Egyptian gods and goddesses, stories they believed to be true histories of their country. But because the Israelites were militantly monotheistic, with a strong prejudice against the god Osiris, the deities were transformed into human ancestors. As with any immigrant group, after centuries of immersion in new cultures and surroundings, the settlers adopted the traditions and beliefs of their new neighbors, often integrating their old beliefs with the newly learned traditions. And as the biblical prophets make clear, over and over, Canaanite culture exerted a mighty force over the Israelites.

The Egyptian deities, already transformed from gods to heroic human ancestors, came to look less and less like Egyptians and more and more like Canaanites. Atenist religious views melded with local traditions. Over the centuries numerous political and religious feuds developed, and old stories were retold in order to favor one group over another. Then came conquest and destruction. Most of Israel disappeared from history after the Assyrian conquests. Those Israelites remaining were captured by Babylon and force-fed Babylonian culture and history. Shortly thereafter, the Hebrews were liberated from Babylon by the Persians, and close culture contact between the two nations existed.

The rivalry with corresponding aggression and destruction marked a chaotic period, wherein Israelites amongst themselves and against other groups, struggled to survive and attain political domination, making record keeping quite difficult.

Hence, under such situations of relative chaos, any sparse and scattered reference to a questionably intact social group under the "Israelite" banner would have had to go up against greater odds against survival for the ages to come. Many of us are already familiar with the said "conquest and destruction" part of Israelite history, undertaken by Assyrians first, to be followed by the Babylonians.

Some unobservant folks talk of "Jews"—as a pre-existing well defined socio-ethnic entity—in ancient Egypt prior to the possible departure of Israelite forebears from the Nile Valley and then onto the Levant. The absurdity of such claims stems from the fact that no such entity existed in Dynastic Egypt at the time frames in question...nor do we come across any Egyptic literature or any other concrete evidence attesting to some monotheistic foreign Ammu-affiliated group that existed therein, even under the Hyksos leadership.

However, we do learn about a relatively discernible monotheistic inclination of the Amarna era leadership, that is distinct from ancient Egyptian spiritual belief systems of earlier periods. Certainly during this period, no monotheistic group inhabiting the Levant comes to mind, which is where the Israelites would locate by the 13th century BC. To this end, one can justifiably treat the following lines, as a recap from the citation above, as reasonable assessments:
When the Israelites came out of Egypt, the people brought with them the many stories about Egyptian gods and goddesses, stories they believed to be true histories of their country. But because the Israelites were militantly monotheistic, with a strong prejudice against the god Osiris, the deities were transformed into human ancestors.

As with any immigrant group, after centuries of immersion in new cultures and surroundings, the settlers adopted the traditions and beliefs of their new neighbors, often integrating their old beliefs with the newly learned traditions. And as the biblical prophets make clear, over and over, Canaanite culture exerted a mighty force over the Israelites. - G. Greenberg
Exemplary cases in point, conquest by Assyrians and Babylonians. And so,..
The Egyptian deities, already transformed from gods to heroic human ancestors, came to look less and less like Egyptians and more and more like Canaanites. Atenist religious viewsmelded with local traditions.

Over the centuries numerous political and religious feuds developed, and old stories were retold in order to favor one group over another. Then came conquest and destruction.

Most of Israel disappeared from history after the Assyrian conquests. Those Israelites remaining were captured by Babylon and force-fed Babylonian culture and history. Shortly thereafter, the Hebrews were liberated from Babylon by the Persians, and close culture contact between the two nations existed. - G. Greenberg
It would be absurd to assume that newly arrived migrants from the Nile Valley would have moved into the Levant, a region that was already by then known for strong rivalry between different already-established groups and polities, and yet not be influenced to any considerable degree.

It is either that, or else one assumes that Israelite forebears were never in Egypt and thus, that they had been situated in the Levant all which case, it is the burden of the advocate, to produce Israelite existence prior to its first appearance on archaeological record! The same scrutiny would apply to any notion that they came from elsewhere other than the Nile Valley and the Levant.

As a matter of a discussion, one observer notes that:
Per Hebrew pov everybody descends from Noahh and Abraham fathered several nations. The Hebrews are from an eponymous ancestor `Eber. The Israelites are Ya`aqob's progeny who started as an extended family of 70 persons from 12 sons of Ya`aqob. While in Egypt these 12 nuclear families would become clans known as the 12 Tribes of Israel as they increased in number from a big family of 70 individuals into tribe of 600,000 fighting men aged 20-50(?) their women and pre-military age children as their post-military age males.

At least this is the reckoning they have of themselves and they readily admit they only
became a people in Egypt. Thus there was no entity Yisra'el before Egypt.
Surely a big family of 70 eventually swelling into around 600,000 people or more, and thereby assuming an identity as "a people" in their own right within 'Egypt', which is supposedly distinct from that of the remaining society, would not have gone unnoticed by either the locals or authorities of 'Egypt'. It is remarkable that no record either from said tribe or 'Egyptians' of the time has surfaced.

The notes above from the observer seem to have been intended to serve as a remedy for the apparent lack of documentation of an entity linked to the Israelites, prior to the mention of those inscriptional Israelites, and if they had only evolved into a people while they were in Egypt, and not "before Egypt", as the observer above admits, then one cannot insist that said "people" were of "Eurasian origin" (since no such entity existed either outside of or before the development of Egypt).

The same observer goes onto to say:
Per midrash (oral history eventually written down) a small contingent of Israelites left Egypt before the mass exodus and were totally anihilated. This madrash was extant hundreds of years before he Merneptah stele was uncovered. I see the midrash and the stele as mutual evidence of both's veracity—the midrash says all of these pre-Exodus Israeltes were wiped out and Merneptah claims to have exterminated YSRL.

I present the above under the assumption that Hebrew literature plays some part in an approach that is multi-disciplinary. If not I retract it.

It's the broacher of this thread's call as to whether or not Hebrew literature falls in bounds as relevant primary documentation. Either way I will respect that call.
The Israelites mentioned in the Merneptah Stele show every indication that they would have been formed around emigrants, who could have only come from the Nile Valley. So, if by "Exodus", one means mass migration, then the Merneptah inscriptional Israelites could not likely have been "pre-Exodus" Israelites. Those inscriptional Israelites were in Canaan, as the Merneptah Stele describes them.

Merneptah's Stele implies that the Israelites, while not yet in possession of a nation state of their own, would have nevertheless been established in Canaan, as they not only seemed to have already created an identity for themselves as "Israelites", but also seemed to have been noticed by Egyptian authorities, as a force that needed to be dealt, which would have been a far cry from a small group of emigrants, whose motivation for said emigration is not even identified in the above. There is no evidence that Israelites as people existed in the Levant before the late 14th century BC.

The points below also elaborate on why the inscriptional Israelites could not have been "pre-Exodus" Israelite immigrants.

Thus far, no authenticated dispute has been brought to attention, where the lack of  tangible evidence is concerned, and can be summerized as follows:
  • Evidence lacks in supporting the idea that there was such a people called Israelites contemporaneous with either predynastic Egyptians or at anytime prior to the Rameside Dynasty.

  • Evidence lacks that there was such a people so-called inside Dynastic Egypt in the aforementioned times. The Hyksos were clearly not Israelites, and don't resemble anything that Israelite traditions, aka Biblical accounts, claim them to be. Forget about the Habiru, there is no evidence that they constituted a people and/or one which would have designated themselves as such, much less to be equated with the Hebrews.

  • No evidence of any foreign element in Dynastic Egypt up until the Rameside era, which were deemed to be monotheistic.

  • No evidence of some monotheistic group in the Levant from the predynastic times through to the Rameside era.

  • No evidence that the 12 tribes, as described in the Bible, ever existed, much less came from southwest Asia in predynastic times into the Nile Valley.
However, as thus far demonstrated, there are several indications that Israelites as a people, were formed in the Levant shortly after emigration of their forebearers from the Nile Valley. Up until then, they were not always in the Levant...and if they had come from some place other than the Nile Valley, then the burden of proof would be on the advocate, to tell us where they did come from, when and represented by what tangible evidence. One is often treated with recitations of "sacred" traditions, like this, as offered by that one observer:
This is a certainty that the Israelites themselves left on record in their sacred Hebrew literature:
"A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous."
This is recited at the Passover table each year with the comment "—from this we learn that Israel became a distinct nation in Egypt. This appears in all texts of the Haggadah, i.e., the story of Passover, recited in every observant Jewish home be they German, Moroccan, Spanish&Portugese, Ethiopian, Russian, Indian, Polish, Yemenite, etc.
It is a given that biblical or biblical-inspired accounts say that, but where is the tangible extra-biblical evidence of an Israelite nation within another nation that happens to be Dynastic Egypt?

Of course, Jewish biblical accounts cannot be ignored in any multidisciplinary search for Israelite origins, that is—first as a people, and then as a polity, down the ages, for reasons already noted, but its limitations and precise role in this multidisciplinary approach has to be recognized. With that in mind, we continue with more notes from the aforementioned observer:
Yes, the midrash is explicit that members of the tribe of Ephraim left the Nile Valley at least a generation before the 12 tribe confederacy did and they were completely wiped out.

The Merneptah stele states that YSRL's seed is no more. But we know that Israel did indeed have seed after Merneptah's time.

Either Merneptah exaggerated or the midrash was developed as a result of the knowledge that a portion of Israel was exterminated after having left Israel.
Two points to note about the midrash's account of a tribe of Jews leaving the Nile Valley:

First, it would be a little too coincidental for the Ephraim tribe to also call themselves "Israelites", as an original name for a people who did not exist before they appeared in the Nile Valley, since the "Israelites" that the bible emphasizes in the so-called "Exodus", happen to be the lineage of the 12 tribes, unless the insinuation is that the biblical "Exodus" Israelites were paying homage to the Ephraim tribe when they adopted the same name

Secondly, as noted above, there is no other mention of the "Israelites" in archeological record and outside of the bible, prior to its mentioning on the Merneptah Stele! The Merneptah Stele, in the very nature of how reference is made to the Israelites therein, coupled with the age of the Stele, has the effect of putting constraints on what could be objectively deduced about those Israelites.

For instance, and time again, the forebears of the inscriptional Israelites would not have been in Canaan long enough to have had a state of their own, but not in short enough of a time either, so as to have become a potent enough of a group, for them to be both acknowledged as a threat to the then big nation-state as ancient Egypt and by name, no less in a territory (Canaan)—marked by intense rivalry at the time, such that they would have even been around long enough to be noticed by the ancient Egyptians.

The above-mentioned same characteristic constraints would also implicate the inscriptional Israelites as the most likely candidates of any "Exodus" that can best related to the biblical "Exodus', for reasons already stated above. The observer cited above, argues that the inscriptional Israelites would have likely been the same Ephraim tribe group that left "at least a generation before the 12 tribe confederacy", and refers to them as "pre-Exodus Israelites". This suffers from a number of issues:

The Merneptah Stele making a reference to "pre-Exodus Israelites" as opposed to what would have been "post-Exodus" Israelites, places the "Exodus" date at a much later date, well after Merneptah's period, during which time, the Israelites yet again disappear from archeological record—the aforementioned "dark age" period—for a considerable amount of time, and by the time they do appear again, the name is associated with a kingdom.

On the other hand, it's rather odd that the Merneptah Stele would make a late reference to an event that must have occurred a considerable time before Merneptah's reign, and implicate the Israelites, yet records from the very time during which those events supposedly occurred, Egyptians are amazingly silent about both the event and any existence of "Israelites"!

The above-mentioned interpretation creates a double whammy, whereby it is implied that the Israelites, living as a people in ancient Egypt, were not only unnoticed as a group by the Egyptians, but that a major event which entailed their annihilation, supposedly by the Egyptians, also went unnoticed in the actual time it was supposed to have occurred. Ultimately, this says that Israelites were essentially unnoticed before their mention on the Merneptah Stele, and that they would have also gone unnoticed during a major "exodus" event, which would have occurred well after Merneptah's reign!

In terms of "exaggeration", as charged in the observer's note, the stele could very well have exaggerated the state of affairs, but that depends on what they were trying to say in the first place. Indeed, it will be generations after generations before Israel would reappear on archaeological record...and so, if by "his seed is not", the author meant 'severely incapacitated', then perhaps that was done to some extent. However, the significance of the stele's inscription doesn't lie with the extent of its exaggerations or whether the stele is even describing an actual battle; rather, how much we can infer from the inscription, the state of Isreal at the time of making this inscription!

There's an opinion that the assessment above amounts to a "creation of an artificial idiom", presumably on the grounds that lines from the Merneptah inscription were intended to be taken literally and at face value. To this the present author's response is as follows:

If one takes the inscription too literally, when it says 'his seed is not', then it's not unreasonable to imagine that said one will likely take anyone who says something to the effect of, "we totally annihilated so and so team", too literally as well. According to that logic, the 'his seed is not' line cannot possibly be a metaphor for defeat of the enemy to the extent that the said enemy is deemed adequately incapacitated in its ability to recover and regroup, so as to become a geo-political threat and/or rival again.

That sort of mentality fails to take it into account, the fact that politically-commemorated inscriptions can, have or do resort to using exaggerated telling of accounts, when describing events that have become part of the symbol of national greatness, so as to give a grandiose air to the achievement of whatever it is, that is sought to advance the image of the head figure at hand.

The invocation of Manetho and/or  Cheremon, both historians who lived in ancient Egypt, as reliable corroborators of biblical account of the so-called exodus, is a fairly popular exercise among those who are steadfast adherents to the biblical version of Jewish genesis. As an example, the observer above notes:
Manetho writes of two royal advisors [of Ramses II] suggesting the expulsion of a population of "lepers" and such from Egypt which we infer as the origins of the Judeans of Manetho's time. He writes that those to be cast out were led by a man named Osarsif from Heliopolis who changed his name to Moses demanding of the "impure" people stationed in Avaris that they slay roast and eat the sacred animals and cease worship of the gods. The then reigning pharaoh was supposed to have fought the impure people and their foreign allies to the point of persuing those in retreat clear to the border of Syria.

Another Egyptian writer, Cheremon, tells a similar story as compared to the ones in the Torah and of Manetho. Cheremon makes Yoseph a conspirator alongside Moshe!?! This author also introduces a character who, after as a babe being born of a mother who concealed herself in a cave, delivers Egypt from the polluted ones when he grows up.

Manetho gives these royal names in his version:

0) Ramses - father of Amenophis
1) Amenophis
2) Sethos Ramses - son of Amenophis

Cheremon mentions:
1) Amenophis
2) Messene - his son

Torah tells us the Hebrews worked on the cities Pithom and Raamses. If so, the Exodus had to happen after there was a Ramses. Currently Egyptologists know of these successive 19th dynasty pharaohs. They fit Torah, Manetho and Cheremon:

1) _Ramses I_ -1307
2) _Sethos I__ -1306
3) _Ramses II_ -1290 (as Manetho's Ramses)
4) _Merneptah -1224 (as Manetho's and Cheremon's Amenophis)
5a) Sethos II_ -1214 (as Manetho's Sethos grandson of Ramses son of Amenophis)
5b) Amenmesse co-regent w/Sethos II (as Cheremon's Messene son of Amenophis)
Seeing Manetho and Cheremon possibly using the name Amenophis for Merneptah -- of "Israel stele" fame --, their sequence otherwise fits known history though the dates are skewed by 100 years when compared with the Jewish reckoning of circa 1313 BCE (i.e., 2448 AM) as the year of the Exodus.

Still, knowing Moshe was 80 at the Exodus and 80 years before Merneptah's reign gives -1304 to -1294 for the beginning years of repair work on Pithom and Raamses which allows the latter city to be named in honor of Ramses I.
For all its chronological presentation, content in the above suffers from the same anomalies already identified above, with respect to both the Egyptian capacity to record either the presence of any such social unit as "Israelites" inside Egypt or what was supposed to be a major event, reportedly involving an Egyptian annihilation of Israelites, and the lack of congruence between biblical narrative and the state of corresponding record-keeping evidence in archeology.

In addition to the just-mentioned afflictions, reference to either Manetho or Cheremon—who are more or less contemporaries—pose a problem in its own right. For instance, Manetho himself is said to have lived sometime in the 4th century BC or sometime thereof, and so, anything about the origins would have been something related to him by the written sources available to him at the time. By around this time, the early texts of the Bible were reportedly being edited into their final form.

By Manetho's time, the Kingdom of Israel had already existed and had gone through destruction by Assyrian and Babylonian conquests. Needless to say then, by this time, Israelite biblical traditions would have already been in place, containing all the legends and accounts of the Israelite people. Manetho therefore, cannot tell us anything about the origins of Israelites, other than stories that were related to him many years after the fact and wherever its lack thereof. 

Manetho's King list on the other hand, proves to be useful, when being compared with earlier Dynastic King lists during a comparative analysis between the durations of Dynasties and the lifespans of Israelite figures of the 'Patriarchal history', as well as, when sorting out the most parsimoniously accurate dating possible for the chronology of Dynasties and events associated with them.

The midrash reportedly has an accounting for the alleged "pre-Exodus" event involving Israelities that goes like this:
When Moses was made king of Ethiopia the Assyrians again rebelled, but Moses subdued them and placed them under yearly tribute to the Ethiopian dynasty.

Now, it happened in the hundred and eightieth year after Israel had gone down into Egypt, that there arose thirty thousand men of the tribe of Ephraim, and formed themselves into companies. And they said:

"The time, mentioned by the Lord to Abraham at the covenant of the pieces (Gen. 15: 13), has arrived; we will go up out of Egypt." And trusting in their own might these men left Egypt.

They did not take any provisions with them, save what was necessary for a day's journey; they took naught but gold and silver, saying, "We shall be able to buy food of the Philistines."

As they travelled towards Gath, they met a party of shepherds and said to them, "Sell us your flocks, for we are hungry."

But the shepherds replied:

"The flocks are ours, and we will not sell them to you."

Then the men of Ephraim seized upon the flocks by force, and the shepherds made a great outcry, which reached the ears of the inhabitants of Gath, who assembled to ascertain its cause. And when the Gathites learned how their brethren had been treated, they armed themselves and marched forth to battle with the wrongdoers; and many fell from both parties. On the second day the men of Gath sent messengers to the cities of the Philistines, saying:

"Come and help us smite these Ephraimites, who have come up from Egypt, seized our flocks, and battled with us for no cause."

And the Philistines marched forth, about forty thousand strong, and they smote the Ephraimites, who were suffering from weariness and hunger, and there escaped from the death dealt out to Ephraim, only ten men.

Thus were the men of Ephraim punished for going up out of Egypt before the time appointed by the Lord.

The bodies of those who fell remained unburied in the valley of Gath, and their bones were the same bones which rose up, endowed with life, in the time of Ezekiel, as his prophecies record.

The ten who escaped returned to Egypt and related to the children of Israel what had occurred to them.

During this time Moses was reigning in Ethiopia in justice and righteousness.
Note that the Phillistines are credited as the exterminators. The Hebrew literature view of
the Phillistines is that they were an offshoot of Cretans and Egyptians: "And Mizraim begot Ludim, and Anamim, and Lehabim, and Naphtuhim, and Pathrusim, and Casluhim--whence went forth the Philistines--and Caphtorim." 

The already noted observer offers these notes apparently as material with currency to rely upon, even as there is mention of the dead coming back to life, supposedly during Ezekiel's time. If one is to stay true to the prospect of taking accounts "too literally", which—as already pointed out above—was the suggested approach the Merneptah Stele, then one would have to take the very idea of the "dead coming back to life" too literally as well. Just how believable is that idea?!

Moreover, the "pre-Exodus" Israelites are said to have actually been annihilated by the Philistines as opposed to the ancient Egyptians. This is apparently incompatible with the Merneptah stele's narrative, which speaks of an Egyptian annihilation of the Israelites. It's highly questionable that the ancient Egyptians would seize on an actual event, and take credit when the Philistines were the actual perpetrators of what is alleged to have taken place.

The story also implies that "Moses" was the ruler at the time of the events. Why then would Moses see the need to carry out an "exodus" out of Egypt, when it was he who was in the seat of power during an "exodus", which no less he could have capitalized on, and arranged one for the Israelite line linked with the 12 tribes? If he wanted to see the Israelities get to their supposed "homeland", then he would simply have given his blessings, and perhaps, even have assisted them in the area of food and other supplies, so that they wouldn't have to starve, as the story says they did, and would not have been compelled to provoke trouble upon themselves by attacking people along the path of their journey. The story raises more questions than answers.

Upon revisiting the notion of an Israeli nation within a nation, which happened to be ancient Egypt, reference is made to Jewish tradition that reportedly speaks of a "b nei Yisra'el" and a "'am Yisrael"
In their consciousness of self, the Israelites record their evolution from literally being 1 - b*nei Yisra'el to 2 - 'Am Yisrael with the following meanings:

1a) the Son's of Israel, a dozen male children of one man,
1b) the Children of Israel, a clan and tribal designation;

2a) a people Israel, with or without land,
2b) the nation Israel, an autonomous territorial polity.

B*nei can alternately mean "sons of" or "children of." `Am can in turn mean either "people" or "nation"

Surely there was a conscious that they were a people while in Egypt else would they have left en masse?
When addressing a question of that nature, it's perhaps useful to summarize what evidential material relates:

That Israelites became a people sometime by the late 14th BC, there is little doubt of that.

That Israelites formed a nation by 11th century BC or sometime thereof, again there is little doubt.

That there was an Israelite nation within Kemet, there is much doubt about that.

That Israelites as a society existed anywhere else prior to emigration of Nile Valley groups into the Levant, there is much doubt about that too.

Where does all of this leave us then, particularly if one reckons as follows:

The bottomline is that without Hebrew documents there is no way to place Israel in Egypt or as an exode from Egypt. Without Hebrew documents there is no foundational premise for the argument.

At the risk of sounding excessively repetitive,  let the reader be reminded that the bible like any other accounts of antiquity, starts with a mythological component that transitions into the actual historical component. The only difference, as noted in the opening passages, is that the mythological component of the bible persists even into the historical era, at a time when the history of other social complexes of that general region were more or less accurately recording actual events and historical personalities.

In other words, the mythological component of the bible takes longer to wind down than those of its contemporaries mentioned in the Bible, like say, those in either Egypt, Sumer or Babylon. The likely reason for this peculiarity has already been identified in the opening passages. One just need to be able to try to sort out the historical component of the bible from its mythological component. This is where cross-reference between multiple disciplines kick in.

Meanwhile, on the origins of the Israelites: Would have been a singular origin? Or would it have been one, whereby two groups with two different and independent genealogies subsequently converged on culture, with a later group adopting the culture of an original group? Here is one opinion on matter:
In that the Merneptah Stele refers to a people and not a country and since these people were CLEARLY wiped-out (if we to are to assume the stele is authentic) then we have to assume the possibility of the much later HISTORICAL Kingdoms of Israel and Judah deriving CULTURAL components from the earlier referenced Ysreal (possibly a small group of Aten worshippers). This is consistent with archaeologist Israel Finkelsteins summation that the people who went on to form the citizenry of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah were really in situ Canaanites and not Africans.

course additional archaeological, linguistic, genetic and historic information informs us that the Canaanites in turn were primarily of SW Asia origin.
The above is basically insinuating that two disparate Israelite groups existed in antiquity, which would have descended from separate lines of ancestry, with one independent of the other and vice versa. The only bond implied here, between said disparate groups, is the acculturation of the later societies of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, who supposedly adopted the culture of "Aten worshipers" (aka the original "Exodus" Israelites) from Egypt.

This idea would require the need for evidence of the existence of such disparate Israelite traditions that are supposedly independent of one another, and that don't converge on the biblical tradition of a singular origin for Israelites. In summary, to the extent of what extant evidence conveys...

—There is only a single Isrealite tradition, which is represented by biblical account, spanning pre-Dynastic times to the late Dynastic periods of ancient Egypt. While they are obviously different factions of Jews existing today, all these concur with one another about a common singular Jewish genealogical origin, albeit which subsequently gave way to different sibling-offshoots

—There is only a single Israelite people mentioned in the first archaeological record ever of Israel—not two.

—There is also only a single Israelite polity mentioned in the first archaeological appearance of an Israelite 'polity'—not two.

—There is only a single Israelite origin for the tribes associated with Israelites in the bible, and there is also a singular Israelite polity that arises amongst these people in the bible—notwithstanding that the bible does profess that the original polity disintegrates later on, into two polities. The polities in question would have still stem from a singular Israelite lineage, not two unrelated disparate Israelite cultural lineages.

—With regards to the application of the Merneptah stele, as an important archeological evidence for the existence of ancient Israelites, political commemorations are not expected to be unbiased or unexaggerated, and so, it is not unreasonable to assume that the events mentioned in the inscription may have been symbolically exaggerated to some extent or the other. This is different however, from what the commemoration (inscription) relates about the social state/nature of Israel at the writing of the inscription. It's highly doubtful that the inscription would treat "Israel" as a people without a state, when in fact it was not at the time of the writing, or vice versa.

As for the Hebrew biblical traditions serving as the only extant firsthand account of "Israelites" ever having lived in Egypt or their subsequent emigration out of it, it's true that information on such from an archeological standpoint is wanting. It is only the bible that outright tells us that any such thing as the "Israelites" once lived and/or emigrated out of ancient Egypt. Since the namesake "Israel" does appear in archeological record, again, there is little doubt about its existence as a social unit. This is why the bible is not thrown out in the final analysis, which in any case was never the stated intention of the ongoing search for answers; however, the explanation-power of the bible has its obvious limitations, which again have been identified in preceding notes, and so its role in any multidisciplinary study of Israelite origins and early history has to be placed into context.

The first archeological evidence tells us that Israel was not always in Canaan, and so, logic suggests that they must have arrived from somewhere else. We are faced with the prospect however, that no archeological evidence, outright tells us where they did come from then. So, the bible is looked to; however, aside from informing us of the whereabouts of the forebears of Israelites and their subsequent emigration out of Egypt, both the Egyptians and all the other contemporaries of the bible's Israelites seem to be strangely mute about the existence of any such thing as "Israelites", outside of biblical account. This cannot be a mere fluke.

The absence of any mention of Israelites in any time before the Amarna period, and before that of the Rameside Dynasty, is understandable on several fronts: The Israelites would not have been mentioned, because quite simply, no such entity as "Israelites" exited before and during the Amarna period. However the seeds for the genesis of Israelites were likely sown during the turmoil of the Amarna era, as we shall see in following passages.

Greenberg, for instance, suggests that followers of the Aten philosophy who would become subjects of prosecution, since the Aten philosophy—characterized by its monothiestic inclination, the first ever such documented spiritual phenomenon in that general region of big social complexes—did not sit well with the largely traditionalist priesthood who were part of the upper echelons of the Egyptian society then, would also serve as the likely forebears of the "exodus Israelites" who would soon settle down in Canaan. This then raises the question: Why would they not have been mentioned in the Rameside era either, that is—in the periods preceding Merneptah's reign?

As Greenberg puts forth, the reason any emphasis on the forebears of the Israelites from the Amarna period would not have been made, is that there would have been attempts to erase Akhenaten—as the principle proponent and figurehead of the Aten philosophy—out of history, during that aforementioned period of prosecution. There is evidence of this state of affairs, from remains of the systematic destruction of all things associated with Akhenaten.

This trend of systematic destruction of things associated with the Amarna philosophy would have lingered onto the subsequent periods, explaining why information on any otherwise noticeable emigration event, involving forebears of the Israelites, is meager to non-existent outside of biblical narrative. Official record-keeping around such emigration event would not have been forthcoming, i.e. in keeping with other efforts to erase the Atenists and the whole period under Atenist reign out of the narrative of official Egyptian history.

The likely reason the Israelites appear on the Merneptah stele, in light of earlier efforts to erase their forebears out of Egypt's history, is that the Israelites at that point had not only acquired a new identity, through the namesake of "Israel", but also that they would have been seen as a threat (as already noted), in some capacity or another, that needed to be dealt with.

When these last few passages above are all considered, it then makes sense why mention of Israelites either inside Egypt or their subsequent departure is not documented. The mentioning of an "Israel" on Merneptah's stele for the first time in archeological record as a social unit without a nation state yet also makes sense, in light of these assessments. If there was any such thing as "Israelites" inside Egypt, or anywhere for that matter, long before the Amarna era, then they would have been mentioned [as they would eventually] outside of the bible somewhere by any of their contemporaries, be it inside or outside of Egypt, rather than silence across the board.

Summary of a combination of elements which indicate that the inscriptional Israelites must have ultimately arrived from Egypt, even though archeological record does not explicitly tell us so, can be laid out as follows:

Looking at...the —1) fact that Israelites appear in no record prior to the Merneptah inscription, —2)they first appear as a people without sovereign territory in the Rameside period and then much later, they appear as a people with a polity, and —3)there is only a single tradition of Israelite that comes in the form the Bible, which invokes the emigration of Israelite forebearers in the Rameside period. In the final analysis, it is about 'analysis by correlation' between tangible extra-biblical evidence and that of biblical material.

As an example, an objection to the approach described above was expressed as follows: 

To do away with one is to do away with the other unless we like cherries picked ala the Manetho is valid only where I deem him to be methodology.
To recapitulate, by Manetho's time, we are told that Israelite polities had been destroyed by Assyrian and Babylonian invasions. How then, can one rely on Manetho in learning about the origins of the Israelites? Other matters render reference to Manetho's accounts cause for cautionary consideration, for reasons that shall be identified in the following quotations. Manetho's list is useful, but not in the sense that one might imagine it to be. To demonstrate how it can prove useful, consider the following piece from Greenberg:
  • I compare Manetho’s reconstructed history with the Genesis birth-and-death chronology, demonstrating that dynasties One through Eighteen both contain virtually the same chronological history.

  • Third, I show that predynastic chronology in Genesis (from the birth of Adam to the birth Methuselah) is derived from the same source as Manetho’s chronology of the Egyptian gods, and that both are based on the Theban doctrine of Creation

    The examination shows that the Bible’s seven days of Creation derive from Egyptian theology and that the story of Noah’s Flood revolves around Egyptian calendar cycles.

  • Fourth, the precise alignment between Genesis and Manetho chronologies enables us to resolve almost every major chronological dispute about Egyptian dynastic history prior to the Nineteenth Dynasty.
At the core my study is a comparison of the many inconsistencies in the different versions of Manetho. By comparing them in each of their sources and placing them in the context of the archaeological record, I am able to reconstruct what Manetho must have originally written. The evidence shows that Manetho’s redactors made two particular errors over and over, leading to a badly mangled version of what he wrote.

First was the failure of the redactors to properly account for co regencies. Second was the constant misreading of lines of summation as descriptions of additional lines of kings, causing either dynastic totals to be double-counted or consecutive dynasties to be added together.


I also provide detailed arithmetic pattern analysis of the figures used in Manetho’s troubling Second Intermediate Period, showing how his original dynastic chronology was distorted, what chronology he originally used for the Second Intermediate Period, and how Genesis has the same dynastic date sequence as Manetho for the Second Intermediate Period.

Earlier, mention was made of the likely link between Atenist followers and those who would become the Israelites in Canaan. This is how Greenberg relates the connection:

Akhenaten’s brand of monotheism, the only one of its kind in the region at the time, and its interesting link to Israelite monotheism:

Remarkably, Akhenaten did little to counteract the foreign revolts and generally ignored his allies’ calls for help. Under his reign, Egypt’s Canaanite empire collapsed. This state of affairs continued throughout the balance of the 18th Dynasty. Although many Egyptologists assume that Horemheb, the last king of the dynasty, reinstituted much of Egypt’s authority in Canaan, no evidence to that effect exists. Indeed, shortly after his death, records depict Sethos I attempting to recapture control all along the routes leading from Egypt into Canaan.

More important than Akhenaten’s inattention to foreign affairs was the domestic religious revolution wrought in his name. Ill prepared to be king after his father’s designated heir died prematurely, Akhenaten assumed the Theban view of Amen as chief deity in Egypt. Beginning in the fifth year of his reign, life in Egypt changed. Akhenaten launched a religious revolution that had a profound impact on Egypt’s religious affairs.

This new religion held that only one deity existed, Re-Harakhty, manifest in the form of Aten, the sun disk. No other gods were to be worshiped and graven images of deity were banned. Representations of Amen, the chief deity of Thebes, were not only prohibited, but the god’s name and image were physically removed from monuments all over Egypt. Akhenaten also downplayed the role of Osiris in funeral…

…The elevation of a northern, Set-worshiping, Hyksos-appeasing pharaoh could not have occurred without some difficulty in Thebes and other parts of Egypt and its empire. Perhaps this was the sign Osarseph (Moses) waited for.

Sensing the opportunity for rebellion and a rehabilitation of the Atenist cult, Osarseph organized a military alliance aimed at overthrowing Rameses I. In the north he induced the kingdom of Shechem to join him. In the south he probably had Ethiopian contingents. And throughout the country were the remnants of the Aten cult, the displaced allies who wanted revenge. To these we must add disparate groups of resenters, power seekers, mercenaries, and opportunists, “a mixed multitude” of non-Atenists.

Osarseph launched a two-front attack, from the Shechemites in the north and his own troops in the south. Soon after, the Shechemites were stopped at the Egyptian borders, but Osarseph had a large enough force to hold his ground in the south. Eventually, the two sides negotiated a peace treaty, granting safe passage out of Egypt for Osarseph, his army, and their families.

This negotiated departure from Egypt constituted the Exodus. The civil war between the forces of Osarseph and the armies of the pharaoh appear in the Bible, along with the negotiations for safe passage, as the story of the Ten Plagues, an epic account drawing from upon Egyptian literary conventions to describe events.

Osarseph or Moses, to use the shortened form of his adopted name (Ramose or Hormose), settled his entourage in the area associated with the tribe of Reuben. As was common in ancient times, people tended to identify foundation settlements with a mythical ancestor, and in later Israelite writings this mythical ancestor came to be known as Reuben. Because this territory served as the first homeland of Israel, Reuben, according to conventional mythological grammar, came to be known as the first born son of Jacob.

Over time the Israelites in Reuben spread out into central Jordan and then across the river into the largely unoccupied hills of central Canaan, establishing many small communities throughout the land. From the hills in Canaan further settlements spread north and south.

At the same time that Israel moved into the central highlands, Canaan experienced several waves of invasion from the powerful Sea Peoples’ confederation, chief of which were the Philistines. Led by Greek warrior castes, the Sea Peoples established strong roots in this new territory and on several occasions, most notably during the reigns of Merneptah (c. 1239 -1229 BC) and Rameses III (c. 1197 - 1166 BC), they battled fiercely against Egypt itself. The pressures exerted by the Sea Peoples in Canaan and against Egypt provided the cover that allowed the Israelites to smoothly cross over to the Jordan and easily settle in the central highlands.

Despite the biblical allegations, at this time Israel had no tribal structures. They may have had influential families, political factions, and some settlements with special military strengths, but there were no tribes. As evidenced by the Song of Deborah, the subsequent tribal divisions reflected the growth and merger of territorial bases...
- G. Greenberg

It would be ridiculous to assume that this monotheism, with its roots in the Nile Valley, would continue to resemble the original religion without modifications through external influences from Canaanite neighbors of Nile Valley Israelite forebearers, and to recap: —The rivalry with corresponding aggression and destruction marked a chaotic period, wherein Israelites amongst themselves and against other groups, struggled to survive and attain political domination, making record keeping quite difficult. Hence, under such situations of relative chaos, the relative sparse and scattered reference to a questionably intact social group under the "Israelite" banner would have had to go up against greater odds against survival for the ages to come; reading Greenberg further on, we get a sense of how the Nile Valley emigrants—as major primary forebears to Israelites—would have had their original monotheistic viewpoints modified through the periods of struggle in their new found Levantine haven or refuge areas...

While Israel’s allies shared political and military allegiances, they didn’t share religious views.  In addition, many of the Egyptians who left Egypt with Moses did not subscribe to Atenist orthodoxy. The presence of Canaanite, Greek and Egyptian deities and priests within the Israelite ranks fueled dissention among the mainstream Atenists, leading to a variety of conflicts, intrigues, and schisms.

It is at about this point in history that our inquiry into Israel’s origins ends. thereafter the monarchy emerged. Under King David, a fusion of ideals seems to have taken place. On the one hand, he established the orthodox Atenist view as the central religion of ancient Israel. On the other, however, he (and Solomon after him) seems to have encouraged all the other factions to worship in their own way, as long as they recognized the fundamental supremacy of the Atenist priesthood. Much of the subsequent Israelite writing about this time revolves around these religious feuds and schisms.

Examples of a few sources that certain Israelite mythology likely draw from:



—Predynastic chronology in Genesis from Adam to Methuselah ~ shares the same source as that of Manetho's chronology of Egyptian gods, and "both are based on the Theban doctrine of Creation".

Story of Noah’s Flood ~ built around Egyptian calendar cycles.

Genesis birth-and-death dates ~ based on the same chronology that characterizes Dynasty chronology and durations, interestingly from First Dynasty through to the Eighteenth Dynasty.

Biblical twelve tribes ~ based on stories of "Horus the Elder ruling over the twelve daylight hours while his brother Set ruled over the twelve nighttime hours", as well as infusions of other legends from the Nile Valley; e.g.—the story of the Psammatichus and the Bronze Cup in the story of the Twelve Egyptian Kings’ sacrifice in the Temple of Hephaestus.

Story of Joseph and the Silver Cup ~ draws from the aforementioned Twelve Egyptian Kings’ and the Bronze Cup in the Temple of Hephaestus, as retold by Herodotus.

Single deity worship ~ draws from Atenist concept, while Neteru personalities had found their way into human ancestors of Isrealites.

The conquest stories ~ based accounts of Sea Peoples’ invasion of Canaan, as evidenced by accounts in ‘The Song of Deborah‘.

—The ancestor Reuben, first son of Jacob ~ based on mythological grammar built around the assignment of a mythical ancestor, called “Reuben”, to the first Levantine settlement area of newly arrived Israelite forbearers from the Nile Valley .

References: Loosely based on G. Greenberg notes.

In summarizing the course of events in the Levant upon the Israelites arrival from the Nile Valley, we have as follows:

They would have first moved into southern Jordan, then to central Jordan, and then turned west to Central Canaan, where they'd locate—which would have been relatively unoccupied regions at the time. Thereafter, the newly arrived emigrants would have formed alliances with northern-city states of Canaan, some of which could very well have been Sea People strongholds, and their neighbors. Why? because Canaan at the time, would have been under Egyptian sphere of influence to some extent, likely when it wasn't at its strongest but nonetheless still present, but also prone to invasions by sections of rivaling Sea Peoples, of which the Philistines were notable.

Israelites would have capitalized on the pressure from both the Sea Peoples rivals to the south and elsewhere and the Egyptians, to form alliances with several of their neighbors and those polities to their north. This would have given them more military and political support, enough to survive as new-arrivals in Canaan. "The Song of Deborah" gives credence to the very real possibility that this is what occurred.

Simply put, the trajectory of their situation in the Levant took this direction, because it happened to coincide with a time wherein Egyptian authority would have still been present in the region though relatively weakened, but at the same time, frequent Sea People invasions were taking place in the region. So Israelites would have likely been selective in their approach to settling areas of Canaan.

Since Noah is placed in the mythological component of Israelite history, then so are his immediate descendants. Recalling...

Aside from lack of archaeological substantiation of these figures, there also other peculiar aspects about them. Note that the ‘patriarchal’ personalities such as Abraham, Noah et al. had extraordinarily lengthy lifespan. For instance, Noah was said to have been about 600 years old during the Flood, and then lived 350 years after that, giving him a total lifespan of 950. Shem lived for 600 years, Abraham lived for 175 years and Jacob about 180 years. These are just examples of the personalities mentioned in Jewish traditions.

"The Book of Genesis contains numerous genealogical trees tracing the histories and families of many nations and people. One of these contains some rather unusual information. While the other family trees just list the sequences of births, this particular tree, encompassing some twenty-six generations over several millennia, provides a chronological record of birth and death that begins with the birth of Adam at the dawn of Creation, continues past Noah’s Flood, and ends with the death of Joseph, the final event in Genesis.

The people mentioned in this chronology lived lives of extraordinary lengths. Adam, for example, lived for 930 years. And Joseph, the shortest life of all those listed, died at the age of 110. As a general rule, those born closer to Creation lived substantially longer lives than those born later.

The bulk of this chronology appears in Genesis 5 and 11. The former includes births and deaths that occurred before the Flood, and the latter, ending with the birth of Abraham, lists only births and deaths that occurred after the Flood. Other biblical passages permit us to extend the chronology from Abraham’s birth to the death of Josephs.

Because this chronology begins in the mythic period of Creation and continues through Noah’s Flood, scholars routinely dismissed it as a fabrication. Nevertheless, historians still accept that the chronology may be modeled after other Middle Eastern King lists.

Both the Egyptians and the Babylonians produced ancient king lists, and in both cultures the earliest kings belonged to a mythological period, with many of them each ruling for thousands of years. In both cultures, however, these lists proceeded from a mythological to a historical period, accurately recording a succession of true kings. Historians have had no trouble separating the lists into mythological and historical portions.

The biblical chronology, however, presents something of an anomaly. While it too begins in the mythological period, with several long-lived ancestors, it continues well into the historical era, late into the second millennium B.C., but the people named in this later time still seem to occupy a mythological status, living far longer than any believable human life span, often hundreds of years. Also, none of the people named have turned up in any records as actual rulers among the Hebrews or any other Semitic-speaking nation.

While there is much speculation and writing about the meaning and origin of this chronology, other than the belief that it is modeled after Babylonian-style king lists, no answers have yet come forward that satisfy the scholarly community. Despite the fact that it crosses deeply into the historical era, from which there is much archeological data, scholars dismiss the entire chronology as fiction. Still, while rejecting the credibility of this list, many scholars still believe that the Genesis patriarchal history (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) derives from historical memories about real people, and that the timeframe associated with those memories coincides with the second millennium timeframe in Genesis.”
- G. Greenberg

Greenberg relies on the contradictions inherent in biblical texts, as well as weighing that against archaeological evidence to come to the conclusion that the Israelite Nile Valley forbearers were not "tribal", so as to even suggest there was 12 tribes that came out of the Nile Valley. One example of this, is his examination of "The Song of Deborah":

Under Chapter 14 of the Bible Myth, The Twelve Tribes Myth and the Canaanite Conquest, we are given the following pieces...

The Song of Deborah—dating back to a century after the first archaeological record of Israel:

The Merneptah victory stele shows the existence of Israel in the late 13th century BC. From the Song of Deborah, we have a roster of the Hevrwe alliance that existed about a century after Merneptah, and it differs substantially from that of the traditional tribes. Missing from the list are Manasseh, Simeon, Judah, Levi and Gad. Although Manesseh is omitted, the roster does contain two subdivisions of that tribe, Machir and Gilead.

The poem does mention Naphtali, but the context suggests that in time of Deborah Naphtali was a Canaanite kingdom ruled by king of Hazor. From Jacob’s blessing we can assume that Zebulun originally encompassed the territory belonging to Naphtali (that is, up to the borders of Zidon), and that later Naphtali became a separate entity. This led to the subsequent insertion of Naphtali’s name into the Song of Deborah.

Reuben is also mentioned in the poem, but Reuben was not originally a tribe. It was the territory where Israel first settled after the Exodus, and for this reason Reuben was thought of as the first son of Jacob.

Historical evidence also shows that at the time of Deborah the Sea Peoples were active on the Palestinian coast and in the northern part of Canaan.

Four tribes mentioned in the Song of DeborahDan, Asher, Zebulun, and Issacharall lie across the territories dominated by the Sea Peoples and all seem to have some connection to the Sea Peoples’ confederation. Both Dan and Zebulun are clearly linked to ships, and Dan is also linguistically related to the Denyen, one of the Sea Peoples groups. Asher and Issacharalso seem to have names that share linguistic roots with the Sea Peoples tribes of Shardana and Shekelesh.

This leaves a base group of Benjamin, Ephraim, Machir, and Gilead. Neither Machir nor Gilead were among the children of Jacob, and in later times the two were absorbed under the name of Manasseh. Their presence in the list suggests that the naming of Jacob’s sons occurred at a later time.

Benjamin and Ephraim are both Rachel tribes, and the integration of Machir and Gilead into Manasseh indicates that the original Exodus group consisted primarily of a Rachel confederation.

Although the Book of Joshua describes “twelve tribes” sweeping across Canaan and establishing a powerful military presence, such a picture is inconsistent with the archaeological evidence and contradicts the viewpoints in the Book of Judges, which shows Israel to have been only a minor player on the scene, for the most part incapable of displacing the Canaanite kings and consistently subjected to Canaanite domination.

The conquest by twelve tribes is also inconsistent with the evidence from the Song of Deborah, which shows that several of the more powerful tribes didn’t yet existed.

The falseness of the conquest picture is demonstrated by the various accounts of the conquest of Jerusalem. In Joshua, it is alleged that the Judaeans couldn’t drive out the Jebusites but lived there with them “unto this day,” while in Judges I Judah is depicted as defeating the city and torching it. Elsewhere in Judges I it is claimed that the Benjaminites couldn’t drive out the Jebusites, and it was they who lived with them “unto this day.” Finally, in the story of David we learn that Jerusalem was completely in the hands of Jebusites, and neither the Benjaminites nor Judaeans were living there.

The conquest stories were propaganda accounts designed to enhance the claims of the united monarchy, and later of Judah, to the various territories brought under its dominion. To some extent, the conquest stories may have been borrowed from accounts of Sea Peoples’ invasion of Canaan.

The question over whether there were twelve or thirteen tribes originated in Egyptian mythology

The notion of Jacob’s twelve sons ruler over twelve territories was derived from the myths of Horus the Elder ruling over the twelve daylight hours while his brother Set ruled over the twelve nighttime hours. There was also a folk tradition indicating that at one time Egypt was ruled by twelve kings

Coinciding with the idea of twelve kings ruling twelve territories was the idea that there were thirteen sacred territories, each representing the final resting place of one of the parts of Osiris’s body. This accounted for some of the confusion over the total number of tribes.

The Evolution of the Twelve Tribes Myth

Although the twelve tribes existed only as myths, it is worth spending some time on some Egyptian traditions that may have been responsible for this belief. As noted in chapter 12, frequency of groups of twelve probably derives from the daily battle between Horus Elder and Set. This solar imagery could have been important factors that led to the idea that there was a House of Israel with twelve sons. But some other Egyptian influences may also have played a role.

One example of this, is the Egyptian story of "The Bronze Cup", after which the story of Joseph was modeled.

So, what the "Song of Deborah" tells us, by examination:

Despite the biblical allegations, at this time Israel had no tribal structures. They may have had influential families, political factions, and some settlements with special military strengths, but there were no tribes. As evidenced by the Song of Deborah, the subsequent tribal divisions reflected the growth and merger of territorial bases.

Also, recap:

The evidence suggested by the Song of Deborah indicates that the Israelies in central Canaan formed an alliance with the leaders of several northern city-states, some of which may have been Sea Peoples’ strongholds. alliance grew the entity of a “Greater Israel,” which served as the model for what later came to be known as Israel tribal confederation.

While Israel’s allies shared political and military allegiances, they didn’t share religious views. In addition, many of the Egyptians who left Egypt with Moses did not subscribe to Atenist orthodoxy. The presence of Canaanite, Greek and Egyptian deities and priests within the Israelite ranks fueled dissention among the mainstream Atenists, leading to a variety of conflicts, intrigues, and schisms.

It is at about this point in history that our inquiry into Israel’s origins ends. Shortly thereafter the monarchy. emerged. Under King David, a fusion of ideals seems to have taken place. On the one hand, he established the orthodox Atenist view as the central religion of ancient Israel. On the other, however, he (and Solomon after him) seems to have encouraged all the other factions to worship in their own way, as long as they recognized the fundamental supremacy of the Atenist priesthood. Much of the subsequent Israelite writing about this time revolves around these religious feuds and schisms.

Meanwhile, for those who express reservation about an archeological evidence of the Kingdom of Israel, it's worth noting that such evidence does in fact speak of the "king of Israel"; if that doesn't effectively spell out Israel as a nation or polity by this time, then what else would it be alluding to? One opinion is that no reference is made to "a kingdom" but rather, "house" of Omri, but let's take a look at what is said to be inscribed on stele, by the name of "Mesha" stele...

Translations of inscription on the Mesha Stele: 

I am Meš‘a, son of Kmš[yt], king of Moab, the Dibeonite. My father was king over Moab (for) thirty years, and I assumed kingship after my father. I constructed this sanctuary to (the deity) Kemoš in Qeriho, a shrine of deliverance, because he delivered me from all who would cast (me) down, and because he granted me revenge against all my enemies.

Omri was king of Israel, and he oppressed Moab (for) many days because Kemoš was angry with his land. His son succeeded him, and he said "Behold, I too will afflict Moab." During my time he said [this?]. But I took vengeance upon him and upon his house, and Israel was utterly annihilated forever.

Omri had taken possession of the whole of the land of Me(h)deba’, and he dwelt there (during) his days and (during) a portion of his son’s days—forty years. But Kemoš restored it (to me) during my days. And I built Baal-Me‘on, and I fashioned a cistern within it, and I rebuilt Kiryatayin.

The people of Gad had dwelt in the land of ‘Ataroth from of old, and the king of Israel rebuilt ‘Ataroth for himself. I did battle with the city and I captured it, and I killed all the people […] the city became (?) a possession of Kemoš and Moab. Then I removed from there its ’r’l dwdh and I dragged it before Kemoš at Kiryoth, and I settled within it the people of Šrn and the people of Mhrt.

And Kemoš commanded me, "Go, seize Nebo from Israel!" I traveled by night and did battle with them from the break of day until noon. I seized it and slew everyone within it: seven thousand m[e]n […] and women […] and maidens because they were vowed as an offering to ‘Ashtar-Kemoš. I took from there [… ves]sels of (the deity) Yhwh and I dragged them before Kemoš.

Then the king of Israel fortified Yahatz and he remained there while preparing for his battle with me. But Kemoš drove him out before me. I took two hundred men from Moab, all its elite troops (?), and I led it (i.e., this force) against Yahatz and captured it, adding it to Dibon.

I rebuilt Qeriho: the wall of the forests (?) and the wall of the hill. I rebuilt its gates and I rebuilt its towers and I rebuilt the royal palace, and I fashioned containers (?) (as) a ciste[rn for wat]er in the midst of the city. But there was no well within the city of Qeriho, so I commanded all the people, "Each one of you dig a pit in his house!" And I dug trenches (?) at Qeriho using Israelite prisoners.

I rebuilt Aroer and I constructed the highway by the ’Arnon. I rebuilt the Beth-Bemoth because it was destroyed. I rebuilt Betzer because (it was) ruins with fifty men of Dibon, for all of Dibon was obedient (to me). I reigned as king over the hundreds in the towns which I annexed to the land (of Moab). I rebuilt […Mehd]eba, Beth-Dibalthim, and Beth Baal-Meon, and I raised up there my […..] [……] the land and in Horanain he settled in her […].

Source: courtesy of Religiousstudies.Uncc.Edu

As briefly noted in the earlier passages above, much speculation have centered around the Habiru, as an entity that could have been serving as the Israelites living in ancient Egypt. There is very little in way of actual evidence to support such viewpoints. According to Greenberg:

In these early times the archaeological records make frequent reference to a class of people known as Habiru or 'Apiru, many of whom were enslaved in Egypt. The term seems to be a classification or slang expression for mercenaries, servants and outlaws, a term of derogation often translated as "people of the dust."

Many scholars see in Habiru a source for the name Hebrew and opinion shifts about on this from time to time. On the basis of complicated philological issues scholars generally reject the connection.

In any event, the Habiru were not an ethnic group. Studies of Habiru names show that they contained both Semitic and Indo-European elements. If Hebrew is derived from Habiru it would most certainly be a post-Exodus derivation, being used to describe the Israelites at a time when they were not yet settled in a territory and therefore exhibiting characteristics associated with the Habiru class. The name Hebrew, as a term for the Israelites, is not attested to until late in the first millennium.

If "Hebrew" derives from "Habiru", then it is certainly worthwhile to see the reconstruction of the etymological origin, which will be necessary to learn how it came about, and how and when it evolved into the present term.

The issue of patriarchy vs. matriarchy has also come up, with regards to whether the Israelite forebears were Egyptians, or whether they were mainly "Asiatics" who just so happened to have observed elements from the local Egyptian populace. The underlying premise of this issue, is the supposed matriarchal leaning of the Egyptian social setup, which is actually a simplistic and inaccurate characterization of the ancient Egyptian society. Rather, it was in ways, both patriarchal and matriarchal.

The ancient Egyptian monarchy, for example, was largely dominated by male figureheads, even though the system had one feature to it, namely the "heiress queen" concept of authenticating ascension to the seat of power, which some may describe as giving the Pharoanic framework a somewhat matriarchal feel to it. The priesthood who were definitely among the influential echelons of the society,  were predominantly males. There is no indication that females assumed the role of  head of household as the standard practice in mainstream Egyptian society either.

Furthermore, even if one simply dismissed ancient Egyptian society as a matriarchal one, that in itself would not rule out an Egyptian origin for the forebears of the ancient Israelites. A would-be transformation from a matriarchal to a patriarchal one could still be conceivable, in that—and as noted herein—the emigrants [to become the Israelites] would have synchronized their Egyptian traditions with subsequently acquired traditions from surrounding Canaanites.

Greenberg presented several specific Egyptian sources which strongly correlate with Israelite themes, i.e. too strong to be just mere coincidences. Of course, as already noted, Canaanite theological themes had also influenced the Israelites, such that you get themes from both the Nile Valley and Canaan. It should come as no mystery, as to why that would be the case.

*Subject to modification, should additional or new information come to attention.

—Gary Greenberg, Moses Mystery: African origins of the Jewish people, 1997.

—Translations of the Merneptah Stele.

—Translations of the Mesha Stele, courtesy of Religiousstudies.Uncc.Edu.

—Personal notes from 2005 onward, and quotations extracted from discussions of the past.

Recommended reading, containing material that may well be pertinent to the subject just discussed:  


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