Scholars vigorously debate the date of the Exodus. Most are split between two different views: the late date and the early date. Hoffmeier notes, “Most biblical scholars and archaeologists accept one of these two dates.”
1. EARLY DATE: Pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty (1550–1298 BC)
Many conservative scholars hold to the early date for a number of reasons:
First, this is the preferred date from Scripture. 1 Kings 6:1 says that there were 480 years before work commenced on the Temple in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign. Hoffmeier writes, “Solomon’s fourth year falls on or around 967/6 BC.” This brings us to 1446 BC for the date of the Exodus. Moreover, Judges 11:26 states that 300 years had passed from the Exodus until Jephthah’s rule.
Second, this date is supported by some archaeological evidence. A few findings have been discovered:
2. Hittite treaties from 1600 to 1400 BC match the biblical covenant (Ex. 19:8; 24:3b, 7b; Josh 24:16–18, 21, 24).
3. Egyptologists and biblical scholars have discovered a broken Egyptian statue pedestal with hieroglyphic name rings. On one of the rings, they believe that they’ve found the name “Israel.” This column dates to 1,400 B.C.
Third, the Hyksos dynasty makes sense of the Exodus account (Ex. 1:8-10). The Hyksos invaded the Egyptians around 1700 BC. They were an Asiatic people, who took over the eastern Nile Delta.
1. New King: Exodus reads, “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Ex. 1:8 NASB). If this was the Hyksos dynasty, it would make sense of this statement. They would’ve been an invading group that wouldn’t have known about Joseph.
2. Egyptians were outnumbered: The unnamed Pharaoh said, “Behold, the people of the sons of Israel are more and mightier than we” (Ex. 1:9 NASB). It is unlikely that the Egyptians would say this about the Hebrews, but the Hyksos could very well say this.
3. They feared the Hebrews would ally with their enemies: The unnamed Pharaoh said, “They will multiply and in the event of war, they will also join themselves to those who hate us, and fight against us and depart from the land” (Ex. 1:10 NASB). The Hyksos feared that the native Egyptians would take back over, and they were worried that the Hebrews would ally with them.
2. LATE DATE: Pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty (1298-1187 BC)
Let’s consider a number of claims from the advocates of the late date.
CLAIM #1: Moses mentions the store-cities of “Pithom” and “Raamses” (Ex. 1:11).
Because Ramesses II ruled from 1240 to 1224 BC, scholars believe that this must favor a late date. Hoffmeier writes,
The Stela of Merneptah, the son and successor of Ramesses II, records the only known mention of Israel from ancient Egypt. This reference suggests that by 1208 BC when this inscription was carved, the Israelites were already in the land of Canaan. Working backwards from this datum, the exodus would have taken place no later than 1250 BC and not before 1270 BC, a two-decade period during the reign of Ramesses II.
A stela is a stone column that records the conquering of a ruler. Merneptah was the son of Rameses II, and his stela records his victory over the Canaanites and Syrians (1212-1209 BC).
RESPONSE: First, “Raamses” and “Ramesses” are not identical names, so we shouldn’t be certain that this is describing the same person. Second, if this is the same person, it does not prove the same time. Ramesses II presupposes a Ramesses I, which would fit an earlier date. Third, Moses used the name Raamses to refer to this territory earlier in Genesis –far before Ramesses took over (Gen. 47:11). Moses (or a later editor) may have changed the names of these cities (Qantir and Tell er-Retabeh) to modernize them with their later names (Pithom and Raamses). Fourth, the chronology doesn’t fit with the late date. The Jews began working on Rameses’ store-city before Moses was even born. The Jews were oppressed (Ex. 1:11), their population increased (1:12), their sons were killed (1:16), and then Moses was born (2:1). Moses was 80 years old at the time of the Exodus (Ex. 7:7; ~1,260 according to the late date). Wood comments, “Since Rameses II was 25 years of age when he began his rule, the Israelites built the store city called ‘Rameses’ before Rameses II was even born!” Therefore, this evidence for the late date doesn’t fit the chronology.
CLAIM #2: Advocates of the late date focus on the existence of Edom (Num. 20:17-20) and Moab (Num. 22:1-4).
These late date scholars claim that this land was uninhabited from 1,800 to 1,300. Therefore, the Exodus must have occurred after this time; otherwise, the Jews wouldn’t have bumped into these people.
RESPONSE: This is an argument from silence. Arguments from silence only work if we would expect to find remains in history. However, nomads or semi-nomads could have guarded this small stretch (the King’s Highway) without leaving many remains. A nomadic people occupying this land wouldn’t leave much behind historically. Moreover, Archer notes that several discoveries have been made, which imply that this land was occupied at this time. For instance, they have found black pricked ware, vases, oil Basks, scarabs, toggle pins, tombs, and temples dating to the period when people supposedly didn’t live! This “evidence has been trickling in” slowly but surely, and it demonstrates that arguments from silence can be easily overturned by archaeological discovery.
CLAIM #3: The cities of Lachish, Bethel, Debir, and Hazor all have burned layers in them dating to the second half of the 13th century.
RESPONSE: Let’s consider each city one by one:
Jericho: Since Jericho was destroyed roughly 40 years after the Exodus, this helps us to date the Exodus. Originally, Garstang argued that there was no evidence of Akhenaten’s reign in the city or tombs, there is no reference to Jericho in the Amarna letters, and there are no scarabs after Amenhotep III, while there is an abundance of scarabs from earlier Egyptian kings. A later archaeologist, Kenyon, argued for a later date. Neither argument is certain.
Hazor: This city was destroyed by 1,250 BC. But, archaeologists have discovered that it was destroyed earlier as well in the Late Bronze II era. Dyer notes, “Thus if two destructions were in this period, how does one know which is to be associated with the Exodus?” The Bible may record this first destruction in Joshua 11:11 and the second destruction in Judges 4:2-3, 23-24, when Deborah and Barak destroy Jabin –king of Hazor. Wood observes, “If the 1320 BC destruction at Hazor is assigned to Joshua, where is the city that the Jabin of Judges 4 ruled, since Hazor was not rebuilt until the time of Solomon?”
Moreover, a close reading of Joshua 11:13 reveals that the Israelites only burned three cities (e.g. Jericho, Ai, and Hazor). Therefore, the destruction of these other cities should not be held as important to the dating.
CLAIM #4: The evidence of 1 Kings 6:1 (which says there was 480 from Solomon’s fourth year, 967 BC) is a symbolic number –not to be taken literally.
Late date scholars argue that 480 is a symbolic number of twelve 40 year reigns.
RESPONSE: The fact that this is dated so specifically (e.g. “fourth year… the month of Ziv… the second month…”) implies a literal number. This seems like a specific dating –not a symbolic one. Moreover, when we compare the genealogies from the exodus to Solomon, we find that there are actually 19 generations –not 12. Wood comments “the use of the number is always associated with an elapsed period of time in the history of Israel and never as a generation.” The question here is this: Which should be our primary source for dating the Exodus –the biblical text or archaeology? The primary source should be the Bible, because archaeology is fragmentary and ever changing. We should trust the eyewitness testimony of the authors of Scripture, who wrote concerning these events during that period.
CLAIM #5: Archaeologists have found remains from a new population in the central hill country that date from 1,200 to 1,000 BC.
RESPONSE: The materials from this find (Iron Age I) are consistent with an earlier people group (Late Bronze Era). This means that people must have been in the land for some time before these remains were buried. Mazar writes,
The settlers had no traditions of their own in the realm of architecture, pottery, crafts, and art. These were adopted from their Canaanite neighbors. . . . Later, when the manufacture of such objects began in the settlement regions themselves, the Canaanite tradition continued to make itself felt in the forms of the tools and vessels.
Young and Wood comment that this follows perfectly with an early date of the Exodus, because the Israelites would have arrived in Canaan in 1406 and would have followed their previous lifestyle for some time (Num. 14:33), until they settled down in one place.
CLAIM #6: The Iron Age I altar on Mount Ebal must be the altar of Joshua 8:30-31.
RESPONSE: There are three problems with this finding. First, portions of this altar date earlier than a late date chronology would allow. For instance, two Egyptian scarabs date from 1240 BC to 1200 BC. However, the Merneptah Stele places the Hebrews in Canaan before this time. Second, this altar is not in the correct location. The Bible places the location of Joshua’s altar on the north side of Mt. Ebal, because they were gathered in the “narrow Shechem pass between Mt. Gerizim on the south and Mt. Ebal on the north” (Deut. 27:4; Josh. 8:30). Third, the size and shape of the altar doesn’t fit the biblical text, either. The excavated altar is rectangular and big, while the biblical altar was supposed to be a square-shaped and smaller (Ex. 27:1; 38:1).
CLAIM #7: The Amarna letters contain references to a group of people called the “Apiru” or “Habiru,” who invaded Palestine during the time of the late date.
During the thirteenth century BC, a text reports that the foreigners called Habiru –a word that derives from the same root as Hebrew and applies to a landless and uprooted people –were moving blocks for building projects in the Delta city of Pi-Ramesses. Tomb paintings of agricultural scenes, from field work to picking and pressing grapes, show foreigners labouring. The pictoral and textual information illustrates that the Egyptians indeed treated foreigners in the manner described in the book of Exodus.
This title is a general term for an unknown nomadic people. Advocates of the early date of the Exodus believe this could refer to the Hebrews, invading Palestine. Advocates of the late date argue the “Habiru” were just unknown nomads –not the Hebrews specifically. Which is it?
RESPONSE: This is highly debated. The Habiru appear in multiple places –not just Palestine. So, some argue that these are not necessarily the Hebrews alone. However, it is possible that the Hebrews had travelled outside the Holy Land –similar to an American being found in Mexico. Just because some were found outside Palestine, this doesn’t mean all were. Perhaps the Hebrews were spread out, or this term generally described nomadic people everywhere. The title “Habiru” is similar to the word for “Hebrew” but this was a social –not an ethnic term. It would be similar to saying, “These nomads are invading us again!” However, it is possible for both of these terms to describe the Hebrews. From an outsider’s perspective, the Hebrews were nomads –men without a country. But, from their own perspective, they were considered Hebrews. Dyer concludes, “The Amarna letters and the ‘Apiru can corfirm the early date of the Exodus but they cannot prove the early date.” Wood writes,
Since the Israelites under Deborah and Barak were able to overthrow the largest city-state in Canaan in ca. 1230 BC and the Merenptah Stela indicates that Israel was the most powerful people group in Canaan in ca. 1210 BC, it stands to reason that the ‘apiru who were taking over the highlands in the previous century were none other than the Israelites.
 Hoffmeier, James Karl. The Archaeology of the Bible. Oxford: Lion, 2008. 50.
 Hoffmeier, James Karl. The Archaeology of the Bible. Oxford: Lion, 2008. 50.
 Hoffmeier explains, “In the tomb of Rekhmire, a vizier or prime minister of Pharaoh Thutmose III (1479-1425 BC) in western Thebes, a painted scene depicts groups of foreigners making bricks.” Hoffmeier, James Karl. The Archaeology of the Bible. Oxford: Lion, 2008. 51.
 Moses was 80 years old at the time of the Exodus (Ex. 7:7), and he was 120 years old, when he died (Deut. 34:7). He spent 40 years in Midian (Acts 7:30). This means that the Pharaoh who originally oppressed the Hebrews must have reigned for at least 40 years, while Moses was in Midian. Only two Pharaohs fit this description: Thutmose III (1504-1450 BC) and Rameses II (1290-1224 BC).
 Wood comments, “Oaths, which are an important component of the biblical covenant (Exod 19:8; 24:3b, 7b; Josh 24:16–18, 21, 24), only are found in Hittite treaties from 1600–1400 BC, not in the 1400–1200 BC.” Wood, Bryant. “The Rise and Fall of the 13th Century Exodus-Conquest Theory.” JETS 48/3 (September 2005) 482.
 Wood writes, “A column base fragment in the Egyptian Museum in Berlin preserves three names from a longer name list. The first two names clearly can be read as Ashkelon and Canaan, with the orthography suggesting a date in the 18th Dynasty. Manfred Görg has translated the third, partially preserved, name as Israel. Due to the similarity of these names to the names on the Merenptah stela, Görg suggests the name list may derive from the time of Rameses II, but adopting an older name sequence from the 18th Dynasty. This evidence, if it holds up to further scrutiny, would also support a 15th-century BC exodus-conquest rather than a 13th-century BC timeframe.” Wood, Bryant. “The Rise and Fall of the 13th Century Exodus-Conquest Theory.” JETS 48/3 (September 2005) 489.
 Archer writes, “This statement could never have been said of the whole Egyptian race, but it might well have been said by the leader of the Hyksos aliens, whose troops may well have been inferior in numbers to the Israelites.” Gleason Archer “Old Testament History and Recent Archeology from Abraham to Moses” Bibliotheca Sacra January 1970. 24.
 Hoffmeier, James Karl. The Archaeology of the Bible. Oxford: Lion, 2008. 50.
 Wood, Bryant. “The Rise and Fall of the 13th Century Exodus-Conquest Theory.” JETS 48/3 (September 2005) 478.
 Archer writes, “If the exodus took place around 1290 (as most modern scholars suppose), and if Moses was eighty at that time, his birth took place in 1370, or a good sixty years before a Nineteenth Dynasty Rameses ever sat on the throne of Egypt. Therefore it could not have been at a city named after Rameses II (1299–1232 b.c.) that the Israelites worked (prior to the birth of Moses).” Archer, Gleason L. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. Third Edition. Chicago, IL: Moody, 1998. 231-232.
 See Nelson Glueck’s comments in Charles Dyer “The Date of the Exodus Reexamined” Bibliotheca Sacra (July-September 1983) 228.
 Archer, Gleason L. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. Third Edition. Chicago, IL: Moody, 1998. 242.
 Charles Dyer “The Date of the Exodus Reexamined” Bibliotheca Sacra (July-September 1983) 230.
 Charles Dyer “The Date of the Exodus Reexamined” Bibliotheca Sacra (July-September 1983) 231.
 Charles Dyer “The Date of the Exodus Reexamined” Bibliotheca Sacra (July-September 1983) 232.
 Wood, Bryant. “The Biblical Date for the Exodus is 1446: A Response to James Hoffmeier.” JETS JETS 50/2 (June 2007). 256.
 Wood, Bryant. “The Biblical Date for the Exodus is 1446: A Response to James Hoffmeier.” JETS JETS 50/2 (June 2007). 253.
 Amihai Mazar, “The Iron Age I,” in The Archaeology of Ancient Israel (ed. Amnon Ben-Tor; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992) 295. Cited inWood, Bryant and Young, Robert. “A Critical Analysis of the Evidence from Ralph Hawkins for a late-date Exodus Conquest.” JETS 51/2 (June 2008). 240.
 Wood, Bryant and Young, Robert. “A Critical Analysis of the Evidence from Ralph Hawkins for a late-date Exodus Conquest.” JETS 51/2 (June 2008). 240.
 Wood, Bryant and Young, Robert. “A Critical Analysis of the Evidence from Ralph Hawkins for a late-date Exodus Conquest.” JETS 51/2 (June 2008). 241.
 Wood, Bryant and Young, Robert. “A Critical Analysis of the Evidence from Ralph Hawkins for a late-date Exodus Conquest.” JETS 51/2 (June 2008). 242.
 Hoffmeier, James Karl. The Archaeology of the Bible. Oxford: Lion, 2008. 51.
 Charles Dyer “The Date of the Exodus Reexamined” Bibliotheca Sacra (July-September 1983) 240.
 Wood, Bryant. “The Rise and Fall of the 13th Century Exodus-Conquest Theory.” JETS 48/3 (September 2005) 489.