Reviewing Egyptologist James Hoffmeier’s "Israel in Egypt"

The Israelites leaving Egypt
by David Roberts

Dear Readers of Escaping Christian Fundamentalism blog:  It is my contention that one can prove the supernatural claims of Christianity as false simply by demonstrating that the stories told in the first five books of the Bible are pure fiction.

Here is my line of thinking:

If the Exodus story can be demonstrated to be outright fabrication, or even, highly embellished, then what does that say about the reliability of other stories in the first five books of the Old Testament?  If the Exodus is a fabrication or even a highly embellished story, then why should we trust the Bible’s stories of the Creation, the Great Flood, the Tower of Babel, or of Abraham and the other Patriarchs?  And if it can be demonstrated that the Old Testament is untrustworthy, why then should anyone believe that the New Testament is trustworthy, when Jesus and the authors of the New Testament believed that the first five books of the Old Testament, the Torah, had been dictated by God himself to Moses…a man who if minimalist scholars are correct…never existed!

If a person named Abraham is only a nationalistic invention of a sect of ancient Canaanites,  a people living in ancient Palestine for thousands of years prior to the alleged Exodus; a sect of Canaanites who eventually came to refer to themselves as Hebrews/Israelites, as many modern archeologists suggest is the case, what does that say about Jesus and Paul?

Jesus and Paul both believed that Adam, Abraham, the other Patriarchs, Moses, the Exodus, the Passover were all real people and real events!  And if Jesus and Paul believed fictitious people and fictitious events were real historical figures and real historical events, then this is proof positive that Paul was not guided in his writings by an all-knowing (holy) spirit and Jesus was not the all-knowing Creator of the universe.  It proves that both Paul and Jesus were fallible men; men who were very, very mistaken.

My Christian opponents over on Theology Web are highly critical of me because they do not believe that I have read enough “scholarship” to discount their supernatural-based ancient superstition.  To demonstrate my willingness to look at both sides, I intend to read evangelical Christian scholar and Egyptologist James Hoffmeier’s (a “maximalist”) book Israel in Egypt and compare it to Finkelstein and Silberman’s (“minimalists”) The Bible Unearthed.  I will then do a series of reviews here on this blog. 

Today I looked at some of the reader reviews on Amazon about Hoffmeier’s book.  Here is one that I found very interesting:

I picked up a copy of Hoffmeier’s extremely well researched work directly after I finished reading Finkelstein and Silberman’s: The Bible Unearthed. What a contrast!!! In The Bible Unearthed, the authors flatly refute the Exodus tradition with one fell swoop. Their knowledge of archaeology is very impressive and they convincingly show that there is no physical evidence for an Exodus.

Enter James K. Hoffmeier. Prof. Hoffmeier states from the very beginning of his book that there is in fact no archaeological or physical evidence to prove that the Exodus tradition is true. However, he continues to say that he is able to provide indirect evidence that is indeed convincing. Hoffmeier begins his book by first explaining to the reader the types of Biblical Scholars/Archaeologists that exist. Firstly there is the “maximalist” camp. This group ascribes a high level of confidence to the biblical narrative and hence is convinced that much of its content is historical. Conversely, the “minimalist” camp treat the bible as a collection of stories with little or no hitorical significance.

Hoffmeier claims that the “minimalist” camp has been destructive and has introduced far too much skepticism into the area of Biblical Archaeology and Scholarship. Hoffmeier then contends that his book is a beacon amongst the sea of skepticism with particular focus on the Exodus tradition.

Although Hoffmeier’s research contains hundreds of references, it seems that his position is not a scientific one. At no point does he criticise or point out the short-comings of the biblical stories but rather he assumes that they are accurate and hence he builds a fortress of speculation around them. His indirect evidence includes Egyptian writings and inscriptions. He asserts that Joseph could have existed and risen to power in Egypt based on the fact that there are a number of Egyptian writings that confirm foreign leadership in Egypt. He claims that most plagues expressed in Exodus may have occured “naturally” as a result of the periodic flooding of the nile. He claims that the inundation could have easily explained the first five plagues reported in Exodus. This is wild speculation and has never been reported elsewhere in history or to this very day. Hoffmeier also conveniently skips over the problem of Moses leading 600,000 men plus an inordinate number of women and children through the wilderness undetected by the enemy and able to sustain themselves for forty years. Finally, Hoffmeier doesn’t even dare go into detail about the parting of the Red (Reed) sea and the many problems surrounding this event.

Overall, I believe that Hoffmeier is gravely concerned about the amount of evidence that is currently being accumulated which discredits the historicity of the Bible. His attempt at presenting convincing evidence for the Exodus tradition is weak at best. There is no doubt that his book is well researched, however it fails to deal with many issues that are very problematic with respect to the wanderings of the Israelites. As far as readability is concerned, Hoffmeier’s book is very dry and I would be hesitant to recommend it to a lay person with little experience in the areas of Biblical Archaeology and Scholarship. I believe that the true value of this book is in its presentation of the “other side of the coin” when dealing with the Exodus tradition. I would therefore recommend that enthusiasts read it along side The Bible Unearthed and reach their own conclusions with respect to this contentious topic.


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