How should Christians react to the "consensus of experts" that there was no Exodus or Conquest as recorded in the Old Testament?
To begin with, the "consensus of experts" is a consensus among secular scholars, not among conservative Christian and Jewish scholars. Christians should not blindly accept such anti-Bible pronouncements, but rather challenge them. This particular charge arises from poor scholarship on the part of secular scholars and an argument from silence. The claim that there was no Conquest is a result of the misinterpretation of archaeological data concerning Jericho and Ai.
Regarding Jericho, British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon, who excavated the site in the 1950s, claimed the destruction of the city happened in 1550 BC, 150 years prior to the Conquest. In 1400 BC, the Biblical date of the Conquest, Kenyon claimed there was no occupation at Jericho. Since there was an apparent disagreement between archaeology and the Bible, scholars concluded that the account of the capture of Jericho described in Joshua 2–6 never happened. My research has shown that Kenyon was wrong in her dating and the destruction in fact occurred in ca. 1400 BC. Once the date is corrected, the archaeological data line up perfectly with the Biblical account: strongly fortified city (Josh. 2:5, 7, 15; 6:5, 20), attack occurred shortly after harvest in the spring (Josh. 2:6; 3:15; 5:10), siege was short (Josh. 6:15), city walls collapsed (Josh. 6:20), city not plundered (Josh. 6:17–18), city burned (Josh. 6:24), houses built against the north city wall not destroyed reminiscent of Rahab's house (Josh. 2:15–22; 6:17, 22–23) (see Bryant G. Wood, "Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho?" Biblical Archaeology Review 16.2 : 44–58).
Regarding Ai, through a series of blunders, scholars accepted the identification of et-Tell, ca. 10 mi. north of Jerusalem, as the site of Joshua’s Ai. At et-Tell, however, there was no occupation at the time of Joshua leading scholars to claim that the Biblical account in Joshua 7–8 is fictional. From 1995 to 2000, the Associates for Biblical Research, under my direction, excavated a small fortress at Khirbet el-Maqatir 1 km. (.62 mi.) west of et-Tell which meets all of the archaeological and geographical requirements for Ai set forth in Joshua 7-8: small fortress (Josh. 7:5; 8:29), occupied in the late 15th century BC (Biblical date of the Conquest), gate located on the north side (Josh. 8:11), smaller than Gibeon (Josh. 7:3; 10:2), destroyed by fire (Josh. 8:28); hill to the north suitable for a military command post (Josh. 8:11), shallow valley to the north in clear view (Josh. 8:11–14), an ambush site to the west (Josh. 8:9), east of Bethel (= El Bireh) (Josh. 7:2), near Beth Aven (= Beitin) (Josh. 7:2) (see preliminary reports by Bryant G. Wood in Israel Exploration Journal 50 :123–30, 249–54; 51 : 246–52).
Because scholars were led to believe that the accounts of Jericho and Ai were unhistorical, they declared that the Conquest as recorded in the book of Joshua, as well as the Wilderness Wandering and the Sojourn in Egypt, was a story made up to explain the origin of Israel and to give the nation a history. In order to explain how Israel came into being, archaeologists have replaced the Biblical account with their own myth that the Israelites did not come from outside, but were indigenous to the land of Canaan. The archaeological evidence, when properly interpreted by sound scholarship, demonstrates that the detailed information in the Old Testament concerning the Conquest is an eyewitness account of actual historical events.
The claim that there never was an Exodus from Egypt stems from the argument that Egyptian records do not speak of such an event. This is an argument from silence and is not based on reality. Surviving Egyptian records were, for the most part, propagandistic records carved in stone extolling the accomplishments of the Pharaohs. An event that demeaned Pharaoh would never be recorded. Writing was believed to be sacred, giving reality to the statements being recorded. If an event was not recorded, then it never happened. (See Gerald Wheeler, “Ancient Egypt’s Silence about the Exodus,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 40 : 257–64.)
Where would one expect to find these detailed Egyptian historical records that critics say do not record anything about the Exodus? The most likely place would be Rameses where the Israelites lived during the Sojourn (Gen. 47:11; Exod. 1:11) and where they left from (Exod. 12:37; Num. 33:3–5). Rameses has been excavated from the mid 1960s until the present by an Austrian expedition under the direction of Egyptologist Manfred Bietak. After more than 40 years of excavating, the Austrians have not found a single shred of a historical document from any time period, let alone detailed historical records from the time of the Exodus. The argument is fallacious.
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