Sunday, February 25, 2007

Egyptian Conspiracies

Someone on TFSG brought up the question of whether the ancient Egyptian government could have conspired in such a way to destroy the evidence of a large Hebrew slave population and Exodus, thus explaining the apparent lack of corroborating evidence for the story as it is recorded in the Torah.

This is how I responded:


"While conspiracy theories are fun, if they have nothing behind them but speculation then there's no reason to give them credence unless you're already convinced otherwise.

If the Torah's account is taken as literal, it would, first of all, conflict with the estimated population figures that Egyptologists give for the New Kingdom which is 3-4 million - total. If the Hebrews then made up ~3 million of that number then the entire social situation would have been wacky and Egyptian history - as it is currently understood - would be mostly nonsense from that period.

Furthermore, after a series of events which lead to the death of a good portion of the Egyptian population - at least one firstborn from every household - not to mention the rest of the plagues - and the exodus of 75% of the population as it existed before Moses came back - there would have been a tiny fraction of the pauperized population still living in Egypt. That massive depopulation would have required massive societal restructuring (as virtually the entire working/servant class had escaped) as well as a huge shrinking in economic output and military prowess. Egypt would have been a shadow of its once powerful self.

None of this occurs in any historical record, nor is there any archeological evidence even remotely suggesting it.

I cannot conceive of a realistic method by which the leaders of Egypt could simultaneously destroy the evidence of millions of people living over hundreds of years, leave no record (historical or archeological) of a depopulation and subsequent societal restructuring - all the while staving off foreign interest in conquering their land with a much reduced military might.

The whole idea is simply absurd.

Mix all of that in with the up front claims of miracles and other supernatural wonders and it becomes obvious that we are not dealing with a realistic portrayal of historical events.

Now, that said, I do believe that _something_ happened and that the story is predicated on real events. The exact nature of those events I am not sure about but I suspect they hold a similar relationship to the Torah's record as the Trojan War has with the Iliad.

As I said earlier, myths were common in every civilization. Why should we presume that Israel was an exception?

32 comments:

B. Spinoza said...

excellent points

Baal Habos said...

I thought I commented. Must have gotten eaten by cyperspace.

What have the Egyptians been saying about this for the past thousand years? After all, if it's a Muslim country, and according to Rabbi Maroof, Muslims and Christians acceptance of the Pentateuch adds credence to it's veracity, what to the Egyptians themselves think?

Resh Lakish said...

BHB,

The present population of Egypt completely lack cultural continuity with Ancient Egyptian culture, so what they say has more to do with a general Arab Muslim take on thing rather than a cultural memory of things as they happened.

woodrow said...

I am reading The Miracles of Exodus by Colin Humphreys, and he has an interesting explanation of the whole 600,000 thing. He says that there has been a mistranslation: when the Torah says 600 thousand, it means 600 "clans" or "trips"-- that is, groups of 10 or 15 men.

Orthoprax said...

Woodrow,

So when, in Bamidbar for example, when they count each tribe separately and it adds up to over 600,000, what does that mean?

jewish philosopher said...

I don't think there's an Egyptian conspiracy, but there are almost no Egyptian documents from 3,000 years ago. Why don't we find the Thera eruption in Egyptian records? Because the records are so sparse, apparently.

And any populatoin figures from 3,000 years ago are merely guesses.

Orthoprax said...

JP,

If the Torah's account is true then you would have to find all the kinds of evidence I listed in my post - which are not found. Documentation is only the tip of the iceberg.

"And any populatoin figures from 3,000 years ago are merely guesses."

Yes and no. They are educated guesses, but even if the population of the New Kingdom was _double_ that of the collective consensus of Egyptologists then you'd still be left with all the same issues.

jewish philosopher said...

The Thera eruption undoubtedly had an effect on the eastern Mediterranean area similar to a nuclear war. Yet there are no Egyptians records of it. This seems to prove conclusively that our records from that era are very sparse indeed.

Orthoprax said...

JP,

This is an awful argument you are trying to push. First of all, in that first wikipedia article you sent me it clearly states that there is a general consensus that since Egypt was far away from the event it wouldn't have been significantly affected and therefore we wouldn't necessarily expect written records.

And secondly, the event left (literally) tons of evidence for its occurrence. By radiocarbon dating they've managed to narrow it down to within a thirty year span and the local towns being buried under ash and preserved to modern day doesn't hurt either.

And, lastly, as I said before, actual documentation is just the tip of the iceberg. If there were no documentation but archeological records on a similar scale to what we find for this eruption then I would take the Exodus as far more likely.

alex said...

"...Egypt would have been a shadow of its once powerful self // None of this occurs in any historical record, nor is there any archeological evidence even remotely suggesting it."

Well, there *is* that disputed Ipuwer papyrus.

And there's also the fact that the Bible has very little to say about Egypt (military-wise) for hundreds of years after the exodus. Not proof, but it does "remotely suggest" something.

"I cannot conceive of a realistic method by which the leaders of Egypt could simultaneously destroy the evidence of millions of people living over hundreds of years..."

Concerning *this* part I can. How about any other of your readers?

Orthoprax said...

Alex,

Fine, if you want to say that I hyperbolized a bit that's ok. I don't think the things you mention are anything significant in the face of everything else we know, do you disagree?

The Ipuwer Papyrus is dated way before the Exodus is supposed to have occurred. And the lack of mention in the Bible doesn't mean that Egypt wasn't around and kicking. The historical and archeological record certainly shows it to have retained its might.

jewish philosopher said...

Frankly, I find your argument very weak.

You basically seem to say "If it's not in the Egyptian documents, it didn't happen." Well we know Thera happened, and it's not in the documents. Thera was about four times the size of Krakatoa and 450 miles from the Nile Delta. Don't you think you'd notice an 800 megaton thermonuclear bomb exploding 450 miles from your house? Would your house still be there? (The largest test so far conducted has been of a 50 megaton device.)

Apparently the Egyptian records are very poor. I wouldn't draw any conclusions from them.

Resh Lakish said...

You basically seem to say "If it's not in the Egyptian documents, it didn't happen."

Are you intentionally ignoring what OP wrote, or are you just dense?

As OP said, more than once, "actual documentation is just the tip of the iceberg." Documents and written evidence make up only a tiny amount of total archeological evidence.

Just because something is not recorded in written Egyptian accounts does not mean it did not happen. But if there is a total lack of any archeological evidence of any kind for an event(any kind of material culture, remains, etc.), and a purported event goes against pretty much all the evidence about a certain time period, we can say it is unlikely.

Orthoprax said...

JP,

"You basically seem to say "If it's not in the Egyptian documents, it didn't happen.""

It only seems that way either because you didn't read my post or any of the responses I've made to you or simply you do not understand what I've written or maybe you just refuse to answer a real argument instead of a favorable strawman.

For the last - and final - time. Lack of documentation of the specific event is only the tip of the iceberg. I'm talking about the lack of any evidence - be it historical, documentary or archeological of the entire shebang from Joseph until post-Exodus which would have required stuff to happen on large scales which we have no corroborative evidence to support.

jewish philosopher said...

Besides documentary evidence, what evidence do you expect to find of the Exodus? Hail stones from the plague of hail?

Egypt did not have to totally collapse after the Exodus. Did Germany and Japan totally collapse following WWII?

And the population estimates of ancient times are just speculation. You have no hard evidence that there only a few million Egyptians in 1300 BCE.

jewish philosopher said...

I'm sorry, but to me this appears to be just another straw man argument against Judaism.

jewish philosopher said...

The most you can claim is that the population estimates of ancient Egypt made by archeologists contradict the Bible. OK, so the estimates are wrong. Are archeologists infallible? Do we have any way of independently testing their estimates?

Orthoprax said...

JP,

You're a joke. If you're going to respond to my post then respond to my post. If not then you should just stay quiet.

jewish philosopher said...

No better answers? Disappointing. You must be fasting.

Anonymous said...

The Egyptians viewed the purpose of recordeing history as glorifying the Pharaoh, It was not an attempt to record facts. Thje Egyptians attempted to erase any trace of the reign of Akenhaten beacuse he experimented with a form of monotheism. Ramses II seems to have erased the names of the real builders of many monuments, and inscribed his own to take creadit for their building. He tried to turn the Battle of Kadesh into a great victory, when he barely escaped with his life. The Exodus would have embarrased the Egyptians no end. it would have not been ut of character for them to attempt to erase any trace. Moreover, I seem to recall reading about various inscriptions and papyrri that describe darkness, slaves becoming masters, etc.

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

Yes, it's true that the Egyptians have a reputation of doctoring history - but look what a crappy job they did for even simple jobs like crossing out someone's name. We still managed to outwit those grand plans.

Now how likely is it that they managed to hide all the archeological evidence that would have to exist if events on such massive scales had occurred? Millions of Hebrews living in Egypt would have left millions of artifacts. And then the necessary societal restructuring would have been something one cannot hide. There would had to have been a notable drop in population, economics, military - everything - and yet nothing like that is corroborated.

JP used an analogy above. It would be like Germany after WWII rewriting the books as if they had never lost the war - or that it was never even fought. Based on the artifacts from that period (think: massive destruction) and the history of other nations regarding how they dealt with Germany from that point on - it could easily show the lie to that attempt. History just wouldn't make any sense.

"Moreover, I seem to recall reading about various inscriptions and papyrri that describe darkness, slaves becoming masters, etc."

Do tell. If you are referring to the Ipuwer papyrus, as noted above, you should know that it has been dated far before the believed time for the Exodus.

jewish philosopher said...

I think what happened is quite simple. The Egyptian exile was brief - only 210 years and began with only 70 Israelites. From about 1420 BCE to 1313 BCE, a huge shanty town of poor Semite laborers grew in Goshen. In 1313 BCE, one year of plagues hit and all the Semites left. That was it. Like Thera, I'm sure people at the time made some written records of it and there was physical evidence as well, however it has all since been lost. Three thousand years is a long time, from when it happened until archeologists got busy. How much bombed out wreckage do you still see in Japan and Germany, a mere 60 years later? That was my point.

Just because most professors say "The Exodus never happened - where is the archeology", I wouldn't be impressed by that alone.

Orthoprax said...

JP,

Sure, why not. A shanty town of millions that had no lasting effects at all. Convenient, to say the least.

I find it rather interesting that so much of this kind of apologetics is about explaining why we see no evidence for the claims. The idea is simple - there is much in the Torah's story that is suspect and no corroborating data.

If we could pretend to be scholarly about this and you had to support your claims by providing evidence - you would be uninspiringly empty handed.

jewish philosopher said...

On the contrary.

Orthoprax said...

I'd laugh, but I know you're serious. It always comes down to the Kuzari.

Orthoprax said...

Interestingly, for the Egyptians to have a conspiracy wherein they all accepted a version of history which they would all know to be false - and then conspiringly told that lie to their children - would undermine the very supposed logical coherency the Kuzari tries to posit.

jewish philosopher said...

That's the point. I don't think that there's a conspiracy in Egypt. I think it's just been forgotten. We have almost no records from that period.

Orthoprax said...

Almost no records, you say? I think Egyptologists would disagree.

jewish philosopher said...

I'd be curious to know what exactly.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it was a combination of the Torah's story and the Egyptian account. Its honestly a case of ancient he-said-he-said. Like woodrow said, there is a chance of a mis-translation in either the Torah or the Egyptian heiroglyhics, or possibly both. Try and seek a middle ground here. First, there is no reason fot the Torah to lie, so why would they. Second, the Egyptians did have a reason to lie, this would be a major embarassment. Although there doesn't seem to be any written evidence in the heiroglyhics, remeber that all the egyptians that where with Pharoh, according to the Torah, were killed. A dent in the population, for sure, but no one left to record it.

Anonymous said...

Also, about losing their work force, isn;t that what happend to the confederates after the Civil War? it only took them about a decade to make a recovery

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

There's little reason for any mythology to lie, but that doesn't mean we take the Iliad at its word either. Gross embellishment is to be expected.

If there is a mistranslation in the Torah related to eleph then the mistake would have to have been made before the Book of Numbers was written, since it adds up the people threr and counts specifically to a number greater than 600000 men.

"Although there doesn't seem to be any written evidence in the heiroglyhics, remeber that all the egyptians that where with Pharoh, according to the Torah, were killed. A dent in the population, for sure, but no one left to record it."

Is that a joke? Every household had a member die. There were miraculous plagues. 50-75% of the total population of Egypt ran into the wilderness. Anyone left in Egypt would have been aware of what had transpired. Not only should they have been aware, as I wrote in my post, demolishing Egypt in this way should have changed the course of history.

"Also, about losing their work force, isn;t that what happend to the confederates after the Civil War? it only took them about a decade to make a recovery"

First off, I don't know why you think the South's recovery took only a decade. Secondly, no, they did not lose their work force. The blacks were no longer slaves but took on the role as sharecroppers. Thirdly, the recovery period was longer than a decade, but was still assisted by the existence of modern technology and a powerful federal government.