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Ralph Ellis

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Other Articles by Ralph Ellis on this web site

The Biblical exodus inscribed on an ancient Egyptian stele

by Ralph Ellis

 

Eager Scribes

Chris Ogilvie-Herald, co-author of "Giza, the Truth" was poking around the library of the Egypt Exploration Society one day, when he happened upon a copy of a booklet, by Ritner and Foster, regarding an inscription on an Egyptian stele of Ahmose I. Chris' prime interest was the meteorology of Egypt, but knowing my interest in the Hyksos period, he popped a copy in the post to me as well. It was rather fortunate that his eagle eye had spotted the pamphlet, because it was to lead to a whole new avenue of research for me.

The book "Jesus, Last of the Pharaohs" was primarily a comparison between the Hyksos exodus out of Egypt and the Israelite exodus out of Egypt. To me, the parallel texts were far too close to each other to be the result of coincidence; they had to be one and the same event. The only real problem with the whole thesis, however, was the fact that outside the biblical type texts, there is little or no historical evidence for the Israelite exodus. Even some Jewish historians have been inclined to regard the biblical exodus as a fable inspired by ancient myths and some eager scribes.
So the arrival of the pamphlet from Chris was quite an extraordinary and fortuitous event. My eyes were immediately drawn to a few paragraphs in the translation of the Stele, for they were familiar - but why should the long lost scribblings of an ancient Egyptian scribe appear familiar to me? 
It was temporarily a little baffling. Was this quote something I had read about regarding the Hyksos pharaohs in Egypt? Was it from the many Egyptian text books that littered my office? Then the penny began to drop; I had seen these paragraphs before, not in a book on Egyptology, but in the Bible.

I was somewhat taken aback, for this biblical quotation detailed the events that occurred during the biblical exodus of the Israelites. Here was, quite possibly, the historical evidence for the exodus that had been sought after by so many people for so long. The "Tempest Stele", as it came to be known known, had been translated and poured over by Egyptologists and historians alike for over 30 years, yet nobody seems to have noticed the fact that a large section of the text was identical to sections in the Torah, Bible and Koran. It seemed impossible that these people had not spotted it before, but there again, perhaps they were not in the right frame of mind to accept such a finding even if it were noticed.

 

Ahmose

The Tempest Stele was erected by the pharaoh Ahmose I at the beginning of the eighteenth dynasty of Egypt, which equates to about 1550 BC. The stele derives its dramatic title from the great storms that it details, which evidently struck Egypt during the reign of Ahmose I. Climatically speaking, southern, or Upper Egypt can be thought of as being in the midst of the Sahara desert, and although the occasional desert thunderstorm will create a flash flood every decade or so, the area is otherwise bone dry. Ahmose's account of a raging nationwide tempest of rain continuing without cessation and being louder than a waterfall at Aswan, can therefore be considered to be highly unusual in this region.

... now then ... the gods declared their discontent. The
gods [caused] the sky to come in a tempest of r[ain], with
darkness in the western region and the sky being unleashed
without [cessation, louder than] the cries of the masses,
more powerful than [...], [while the rain raged] on the
mountains louder than the noise of the cataract which
is at Elephantine.

This was certainly a notable occurrence, it was not only worthy of an Egyptian stele being cut to record these events, but was it also worthy of a sacred scroll being written too? Was the Israelite equivalent of the stele the second book of the Torah - Exodus?

The biblical plagues have often been dismissed as being far too late, chronologically speaking, to be coincident with a stele being written by Ahmose I. But for various reasons detailed more fully in the book "Jesus, Last of the Pharaohs", I believe that the biblical exodus was much earlier than currently thought. In essence, I agree with the first century historian Josephus when he says that the Israelite exodus was, in fact, the exodus of the Hyksos peoples from Egypt. The Hyksos exodus has been determined as being in the reign of Ahmose I, which would therefore place the biblical exodus at just the right time for the biblical plagues to be coincident with the Tempest Stele.

The biblical plagues have a similar theme to that which has been translated from the Tempest Stele:

... a thick darkness, without the least light, spread itself
over the Egyptians; whereby their sight being obstructed,
and their breathing hindered by the thickness of the air ...
under a terror least they be swallowed up by the dark
cloud ... Hail was sent down from heaven, and such hail it
was, as the climate of Egypt had never suffered before ...
the hail broke down their boughs laden with fruit.

Doppleganger

This brings us to the rather interesting translation of the Tempest Stele, which accords so well with the biblical account, indeed it appears to be a direct quotation from the Bible. There are a number of biblical quotations and similarities inscribed on the Tempest Stele and one of them reads as follows:

Then his Majesty began ... to provide them with silver, with
gold, with copper, with oil, and of every bolt [of cloth] that
could be desired. Then his majesty made himself comfortable
inside the palace.

In the Bible, an exact equivalent of the description above is to be found. During the exodus the Bible says:

This is the offering which ye shall take of them; gold, silver,
and brass [copper]. And cloth of blue, and purple, and
scarlet, and fine linen ... oil for the light, spices for anointing
oil and for sweet incense ... and let them make a [palace]
sanctuary that I may dwell among them.

The quotations from the Tempest Stele, that are discussed more fully in the book "Tempest & Exodus", consist of three successive sentences, plus another three in another related chapter on the same topic. Here however, I will just look at just this one similar sentence; and what we appear to have here is a section of the Bible written upon an Egyptian stele (or vice versa).

Tributes

The reference in the Tempest Stele, to tributes of gold, silver, oil and cloth, makes little sense; were these precious materials supposed to be offerings to the gods? But in the stele text, a gold offering had already been given to the gods, so what was this second offering for? The biblical version of this text gives us the vital clue to the true meaning of the Egyptian text - the biblical version is not describing an offering to the gods, but the expensive materials that were brought to Moses for the building of the mobile temple known as the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant.

This stupendously extravagant construction was a mobile copy of the standard Egyptian temple, with outer courts, an outer altar, rows of pillars and an inner Holy of Holies. The Bible describes this lavishly decorated and very expensive construction in the minutest of detail, it was certainly the centerpiece of Israelite culture, perhaps more so than even the Ark of the Covenant, which eventually resided inside it. Once the Ark and the Tabernacle had been constructed by the people, Moses made himself comfortable inside the palace (Tabernacle), exactly as the pharaoh does in the Tempest Stele.

So was this a description of the same event in both the Egyptian and the Israelite accounts? Was Ahmose I making a Tabernacle? If this was a description of the same events, however, it might initially seem that Ahmose I would then have to be a pseudonym Moses! It is highly unlikely that Ahmose I is being confused with Moses, although the name is undeniably similar - Ahmose I was not Hyksos and he did not flee Egypt as far as we are aware, thus it is unlikely that Ahmose I would have required a mobile temple as the fleeing Hyksos/Israelites would have done. As a possible explanation of the similarity between the texts, this version has too many problems attached to it and a more plausible explanation is required.

If Ahmose I was not Moses, what other scenarios are there that would make more sense of the two texts? One obvious solution would be that one of the two scribes had simply copied the text from the other; but it is difficult to see why this would have been done if the events being described did not apply to that particular political grouping.

A much more likely scenario is, perhaps, to be glimpsed from the different context of the two texts. If the texts can be understood to be accurate in some detail, it is significant that Ahmose was giving the precious materials of gold, silver, copper, oil and cloth, but Moses was receiving them. Does this small observation make more sense of the two texts? I think it does. The alternative scenario is that there were two sides to everything that was being discussed - two pharaohs, two sets of priests, two parties of advisors and two different perspectives from which the accounts of these events were eventually written.

What I am saying here is that Ahmose I had actually met his counterpart, the northern Hyksos pharaoh, and the tributes of precious materials were being passed from the Theban Pharaoh to the Hyksos pharaoh. Each side at this meeting would then have written their own, but obviously very similar, account of the proceedings. This does rather infer, of course, that Moses was either the Hyksos pharaoh himself, or, more probably, a high ranking enough official within the Hyksos royal court to accept these extremely valuable tributes. As Moses was - even by the admission of the various biblical type texts - brought up in the court of the pharaoh, an Egyptian army commander, and also a High Priest of Heliopolis, perhaps this is elevated rank is not too surprising.

Exodus

A summary of the events leading up to the exodus is perhaps required at this point. We know, from both the historical and biblical records, that the people of Egypt thought that the gods were angry during this period; clearly, both the Tempest Stele and the Bible talk of great storms deluging the otherwise arid lands of Egypt. We also know that there were tensions between the Theban pharaohs and the Hyksos pharaohs, and likewise between the Egyptian pharaoh and the Israelites; both records again speak of political / religious tensions between the two parties involved.

Furthermore, we know that both the Hyksos and the Israelites were thrown out of Egypt and that both these events involved a battle with the Egyptian army. Finally, both the entire Hyksos and the entire Israelite population embarked on an exodus towards Palestine; the Egyptian historian Manetho even indicating that the destination of the Hyksos refugees was Jerusalem.

The similarity between these two historical events is perfectly obvious and so it should not be surprising that someone should propose that they were, in reality, one and the same event. But even if they were the same event, what we are not quite so sure of is whether this exodus was initiated by a simple pitched battle followed by a hasty retreat, or whether there was some kind of treaty signed and a more orderly withdrawal initiated.

The constant biblical dialogue between the Israelites and the Egyptians would tend to infer that there was some form of discussion and possible agreement between the parties and not just outright conflict. According to the Bible, the Israelites wanted to leave Egypt, but the [Theban] pharaoh would not let them go. I think the Bible is nearly correct in this, but that the true situation was not that the [Theban] pharaoh would not let them go, but that the he would not agree to their terms. Thus the Israelites go back to the pharaoh time and time again asking if he will agree; he accedes at last, but only after there were a number of national calamities (plagues), including deaths among the Egyptian people.

So was there a negotiation between the parties and an orderly withdrawal? Was there an agreement that allowed the Israelites/Hyksos to leave Egypt on their terms, with heads held high and their pockets brimming with gold? The Tempest Stele could, just possibly, be a recording just this when it mentions the bounty of gold, silver, copper oil and cloth that was being given to some unknown party. The Theban pharaoh Ahmose I is clearly giving a king's ransom to someone, and in a similar fashion the biblical Moses is clearly receiving exactly the same items of tribute from someone. So was this two independent reports of the same event? The third century BC Egyptian historian Manetho is often derided as being an unreliable reporter, however he clearly asserts that the above scenario was historically correct for the Hyksos people and their exodus from Egypt:

The (Theban) pharaoh attacked the walls (of Avaris) with
an army of 480,000 men, and endeavoured to reduce
(the Hyksos) to submission by siege. Despairing of achieving
his object, he concluded a TREATY under which they were all to
evacuate Egypt and go whither they would unmolested. Upon
these terms no fewer than 240,000 families with their
possessions, left Egypt and traversed the deserts to Syria
[later explained as being Jerusalem].

Clearly there was an ancient tradition that indicated that the Hyksos were bought off by the Theban Egyptians with a large tribute of precious metals and materials just before their exodus from Egypt. But what of the Israelite traditions? If the Israelites were the Hyksos peoples, as the historian Josephus says, then surely their traditions should say something similar? This is not only sound reasoning, but it also seems to be remarkably correct. The biblical texts say of this same event:

Speak now in the ears of the (Israelites), and let every man
borrow of his neighbour [the Egyptians] ... jewels of silver
and jewels of gold. And the Lord gave the (Israelites) favour
in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they 'lent' them such things
as they required. And they spoiled the Egyptians.

They (the Egyptians) also honoured the Hebrews with gifts;
some in order to get them to depart quickly, and others on
account of their neighbourhood and the friendship they
had with them.

The Israelites, like their alter-egos the Hyksos, were apparently given a financial inducement to leave Egypt; and like the Hyksos, the Israelites also set off on a great exodus across hostile territory towards the city of Jerusalem. How many coincidences do we need before it is recognised that the Hyksos were the Israelites?

If the tributes mentioned in the Bible were really those that were mentioned on the Tempest Stele, then the reparations also seem to have included the expensive materials that were specifically required for the construction of the mobile Egyptian temple, known to Israelite history as the Tabernacle, and also for the construction of the Ark of the Covenant. It seems highly likely, therefore, that the gold, silver, oil and cloth mentioned on the Tempest Stele, was being donated to the Hyksos/Israelites by Ahmose I as an inducement for them to leave the country. Any nation as deeply religious as the Hyksos/Israelites would have needed a mobile temple before even contemplating their long journey across the Sinai penninsular.

An interesting comfirmation of this hypothesis can possibly be seen in another small quote from the Tempest Stele. The stele says in one passage that the Egyptian's lamps could not be lit; while in a very similar extract from the book of Exodus in the Bible, it is said that although the Egyptian's lamps could not be lit, the Israelite's could. This complete agreement between these two texts, involving such a peculiar snippet of information as the functioning of the lamps of Egypt, lends support not only to these accounts being based on the same events, but also to the radical interpretation that Ralph has drawn from it. The real reason that the Egyptian's lamps were not working, but the Israelite's were, is given in the list of tributes. One of the tributes given by Ahmose I was oil, and the Bible specifically says that the oil they recieved was both 'inscense' and 'lamp oil'. Clearly, the reason that the Egyptians could no longer light their lamps was because they had just given away all their oil to the Israelites/Hyksos.

What we seem to have in the Tempest Stele is not only an account of the biblical plagues, but also an account of the beginning of the Hyksos/Israelite exodus and how it was organised and implemented by the two parties involved in the dispute. Although the biblical and the historical accounts of the exodus both hint darkly about a great deal of looting, pillaging and murder of the [Theban] Egyptians by the Israelites/Hyksos, it can now be seen that these apparently independent Israelite and Egyptian records both strongly allude to a diplomatic agreement between the parties involved; with substantial financial reparations being given to the impending Israelites/Hyksos refugees.

 

1998 - 2001
R. Ellis has asserted his rights, in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.


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