Redating the Exodus and Conquest

Written by John J. Bimson Reviewed By D. J. Wiseman

Dr Bimson’s thorough re-examination of the evidence for the dating of the Israelite Exodus from Egypt and entry into Palestine must not be ignored. Some recent reviewers have tended to belittle it as though it were merely a ‘vigorously argued defence of a fifteenth-century date’ (JTS 31. 1, April 1980) or to dismiss it because of the book’s basic premise that the order of events in the biblical tradition is fundamentally historical.

A major advantage of the methodology followed here is that the current ‘consensus’ opinion for a thirteenth-century date as well as the arguments for any earlier dates have to be scrutinized afresh. Bimson shows the weaknesses of the late date in reference to Ramses (identified as Qantir) and Pithom (Ex. 1:11) which were founded earlier than the XlXth Dynasty. Strong points in his presentation are the archaeological evidence from Jericho, Hazor and elsewhere (Part Two), and his critique of the chronological data in the Old Testament (though he differs from Dr Kitchen in interpretation of 1 Ki. 6:1). Much material not readily available to the average reader without great labour is presented in a clear manner.

Only time will tell whether Palestinian archaeologists in general will accept his redating of destruction levels usually associated with the thirteenth century to the fifteenth, the ‘Bichrome’ pottery wares to the same period or the Late Bronze Age culture as ‘Canaanite-Israelite’. Much will depend on this, but whether his arguments are accepted or not Bimson has shown convincingly the weakness of some of the interpretation of archaeological evidence (especially for destruction levels) on which those who will dogmatically assert the holding of either a late or early date for the Exodus as an article of faith must necessarily depend. While he has strengthened the case for a late fifteenth-century bc conquest (end of the Late Bronze Age) the discussion is by no means closed.

Among the many useful aspects of this book is the careful listing of the occupancy of the relevant places named in the Hebrew text according to their ceramic index. Dr Bimson has more recently used this same method to effect in analysing the various theories for dating the Patriarchal era and has been able to posit a Middle Bronze I-II archaeological context for this (see his article in A. R. Millard & D. J. Wiseman (eds.), Essays on the Patriarchal Narratives (IVP, 1980).

The reviewer will not be alone in gratitude that this thesis has been published as it will need to be referred to in any serious discussion of these complicated historical and chronological problems.

D. J. Wiseman