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Regular Biblical Archaeology Review contributor Mary Joan Winn Leith provides a fresh perspective on the language and imagery of the Book of Exodus by exploring ancient Egyptian iconography of power and authority. Through their acute awareness of Egyptian propaganda and art, the biblical writers and storytellers successfully inverted the very same imagery to illustrate Pharaoh’s ineptitude when confronted by Moses and the Israelite God Yahweh.
Ancient Israel’s Exodus from Egypt, rather than being a single, momentous event that can be confirmed through archaeology, should be viewed as a deep-seated cultural memory that allowed disparate groups of highland villagers and escaped Canaanite slaves to coalesce into a single people. How this story arose and why the early Israelites adopted this memory are key questions, which find coherent answers in the relationship between Canaan and the Egyptian empire of the Late Bronze Age. By fusing historical and fictional memories, the story created the necessary social context for the birth of Israel as a people.
The Israelite exodus from Egypt is clearly the most important event in the Hebrew Bible, and yet there is presently no direct archaeological evidence to support the tradition, causing some scholars to question whether it was a historical event. Archaeology, however, can provide important background material that enables the events of the book of Exodus to be visualized, and discoveries at various sites in Egypt have made it possible to identify some of the places mentioned in Exodus. In this insightful lecture, Professor James Hoffmeier of Trinity International University reports on his archaeological excavations at Tell el-Borg as well as geological work in Sinai, sharing images of Egyptian iconography and inscriptions, plans and other fascinating visual materials.