When Was the Book of Exodus Written?

Kevin Zuber
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The contemporary debate on the date of the exodus itself is a question mainly reserved “for those who take the biblical record seriously” (John H. Walton, “Exodus, Date of,” Dictionary of the Old Testament Pentateuch, ed. T. Desmond Alexander and David W. Baker [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003], 258–72). Broadly speaking, the issue has come down to two possible dates: an early date at the time of the later pharaohs of the 18th Dynasty (c. 1580–1321 BC) or a late date at the time of the 19th Dynasty (c. 1321–1205 BC) (cf. Kaiser, “Exodus,” 289).

Advocates of the late date point to the identity of the storage cities identified in 1:11 as Pithom and Raamses and identify the latter with Raamses II of the Nineteenth Dynasty. Late date advocates also point to certain strands of archaeological data to bolster their view (cf. Walton, “Exodus, Date of,” 263; Kaiser, “Exodus,” 289).

On the other hand, the early date is supported by two texts of Scripture. One is found in Jdg 11:26, which indicates that three hundred years had passed between entrance of the nation into the land (the conquest of the land) and Jephthah’s rule as judge. The second text is 1Ki 6:1; this verse states clearly that the exodus happened 480 before the fourth year of Solomon. If the latter is dated as 966/5 BC (cf. Davis, Moses and the Gods, 34; see commentary on 1Ki 6:1) then the exodus itself took place 1446/5 BC, a date much in line with the time indicated in Jdg 11:26 (when one adds the years between the exodus itself and the start of the conquest; cf. Nm 14:34). As for the city being named after Raamses II, the city could have been built earlier by Israelite slaves and renamed after Raamses II came to power. Then later copyists may have updated the names (even as they did with Laish, substituting Dan, Gn 14:14; see “The Presence of Anachronisms” in the section on the Documentary Hypothesis in the introduction to Genesis).

The matter of the date of the exodus is related to the question of the identity of the different kings and pharaohs in the narrative of Exodus. Since the entire time of bondage was over four hundred years (cf. Gn 15:13; Ex 12:40; Ac 7:6), it is obvious that the king who began the oppression is not the one who was alive at the time of the exodus itself. The “new king” (1:8) was probably one of the Hyksos (c. 1730–1570 BC), a Semitic people who conquered Egypt briefly in the era before the 18th Dynasty (cf. Davis, Moses and the Gods, 40, 53; Ronald F. Youngblood, Exodus: Everyman’s Bible Commentary [Chicago: Moody, 1983], 23; cf. Kaiser, “Exodus,” 305n8). The early date of the exodus places that event late in the 18th Dynasty (which ran from c. 1580–1321 BC), thus the “Egyptians” mentioned in 1:13 were those (probably pharaohs Kamose and Ahmose I, first rulers of the 18th Dynasty) who expelled the Hyksos, but persisted in the oppression of the Hebrews. The king who “spoke to the Hebrew midwives” (1:15) was most likely Thutmose I, during whose reign Moses was born (1525 BC). After Thutmose died his son Thutmose II ruled only briefly and was followed by Queen Hatshepsut. Her stepson was Thutmose III and he was the pharaoh from whom Moses fled (forty years before the exodus; 2:15) and the one whose death was noted in 4:19. His son Amenhotep II was the pharaoh at the time of the exodus itself (cf. Davis, Moses and the Gods, 42–43; Youngblood, Exodus, 24–25).

For Further Reading:

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