This is the “Introduction” to the book The Mystery of Israel in Ancient Egypt: The Exodus in the Qur’an, the Old Testament, Archaeological Finds, and Historical Sources
Not only Jewish and Christian lay believers have shown exceptional interest in the sojourn, exodus, and settlement. Scholars have been investigating every aspect of each of these episodes of the history of the Israelites. Thousands of popular and academic books and articles have been and are still being published and many scholarly lectures, seminars, and conferences have been organized to address every detail of these events. The scholarly interest in these triangular events may be divided into theological and historical. It is the historical aspect of these events that concerns us in this book.
While theologians are interested in the religious significance and implications of the sojourn, exodus, and settlement, historians’ main concern is the historical value of these incidents. The question for the historian is not what these events meant in religious terms but rather whether they occurred at all and if so whether they occurred as the Bible describes them. Ultimately, historical research into the sojourn, exodus, and settlement has significant implications for the theology of these episodes.
The investigation of the historicity of the sojourn, exodus, and settlement was boosted from the late 19th century by the growing amount of information unearthed by archaeological excavations in Egypt, Palestine, and Jordan, in particular, and the Near East, in general. Historians needed no more to rely only on the Bible and other ancient Jewish sources as their only sources. Scholars interested in the historicity of Biblical events finally have in archaeological finds independent sources. The Biblical account, thus, started to be examined in the light of the new data. In the eyes of many, a totally new field of research has thus developed: “Biblical archaeology.”
We will be examining the Biblical account and archaeological finds. But this book’s main new contribution to the literature is its detailed investigation of the Qur’anic story of the exodus and its demonstration of the harmony of this account with external evidence. This book is a modest attempt to create what might be called “Qur’anic archaeology.”
This book does not follow the trend common among scholars of trying to rationalize miracles and present them as normal events to convince the disbeliever and the skeptic reader that they did occur. It rather focuses on determining the historical contexts within which miracles took place. It is true that history consists, largely, of normal and natural events, but miracles also have influentially contributed to what history came to be and they will continue to do so. The crossing of the sea was one of those miracles without which the history of the world would have been totally different.
We need to explain some of the stylistic choices in the book. Each Qur’anic verse has been followed by a combination of two numbers identifying its sura or “chapter” and its position in that chapter. For instance, the combination 28.3 refers to the 3rd verse of the 28th chapter.
We have consulted some English translations of the Qur’an, but the translations used are ours. We always use our own translations of the Qur’an because translation is an act of interpretation, reflecting the translator’s understanding of the text.
Square brackets have been used to enclose explanatory texts that are needed to clarify the translation. Alternative texts, such as the English meaning of a term that is cited in its Arabic origin, are enclosed in round brackets.
A number of different printing styles are used in the book. A special font has been used for the Qur’anic text and another for Biblical passages. Roman transliterations of Arabic terms are in italics.
Let’s now take a quick look at the contents of the book. Chapter 1 presents the story of Joseph’s entry into Egypt in the Bible and the Qur’an. It then discusses some of the problems in the Biblical account.
In Chapter 2 we first explain why the absence of any mention of Joseph and Moses in ancient non-scriptural sources has no implication for the historicity of these characters and their stories. The chapter then uses the Bible, the Qur’an, and information from archaeological finds and historical sources to date the entry of the early Israelites into Egypt and identify the area where they lived. We also discuss the nature of the high position that Joseph held.
The story of Moses, and thus the exodus, according to the Bible is summarized in Chapter 3. This chapter also discusses problems in the Biblical account. These consist of discrepant passages, unrealistic claims, and statements that contradict established facts.
Chapter 4 first reviews the Qur’anic story of Moses. It then discusses a number of Biblical claims that are not supported by the Qur’an.
In Chapter 5, references in the Biblical account of the exodus that can be used, with the help of archaeological findings, to date that event are examined. The chapter also considers Biblical inconsistencies and discusses which references are more likely to be accurate.
Identifying Pharaoh according to the Qur’an is the focus of Chapter 6. The Qur’an contains information that allows us to identify this Pharaoh unambiguously.
Chapter 7 then studies in detail an important character in the Qur’anic story of the exodus called Hāmān. A Persian Hāmān is also mentioned in the Bible, but the chapter shows that the Egyptian Hāmān was historical whereas the Biblical Hāmān is unhistorical and the result of changing the story of the original Hāmān in the editorial work that the Biblical text went through over the centuries.
How Moses prepared the Israelites for the exodus and how they left Egypt are the subjects of Chapter 8.
In Chapter 9, the limited information in the Qur’an about Moses and the Israelites after the exodus is covered. The chapter also examines the earliest mention of the Israelites in an ancient record and its ramifications for the exodus.
Chapter 10 examines the Biblical and Qur’anic stories of Pharaoh’s massacre of Israelites infant males at the time of Moses’ birth. It also discusses the Qur’anic statement that Pharaoh ordered a second massacre of Israelites males after Moses’ return to Egypt. The chapter concludes with a critical study of a misleading approach that reduces many historical stories, scriptural and non-scriptural, to motif works.
In Chapter 11, we discuss the various names given to the Israelites in the Bible and the Qur’an. We show how the Biblical term “Hebrew” is a misnomer that was used by the Biblical authors for a certain purpose. We also discuss the different etymologies that the Qur’an and the Bible give to the term “Jew.”
Chapter 12 summarizes the findings of this book, telling the story of the exodus using the Qur’an and archaeological and historical sources.
The book has two appendices for reference. Appendix A compiles the longest accounts of Moses’ story from various Qur’anic chapters.
Appendix B lists the Kingdoms of ancient Egypt. It gives a chronology for all Periods and the Dynasties that are more relevant to the book. It also contains a listing of all Pharaohs of the 19th Dynasty, which is when the exodus took place.
For the reader’s convenience, the book has three indexes for Qur’anic verses, Biblical passages, and general names and subjects.
Copyright © 2008 Louay Fatoohi and Shetha Al-Dargazelli
All Rights Reserved