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Some defenders of the Torah's historical accuracy respond to a lack of evidence for the exodus from Egypt with the claim that Egypt simply didn't make records of its negative events. For example, Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb from Ohr Somayach (a yeshiva) says: (emphasis is theirs)

Why is it that no ancient Egyptian records mention the Exodus? The answer is that the Egyptians never recorded their defeats.

Is this claim true? Can anyone cite an example of the Ancient (let's say from the era of 2000-500 BCE)? recording defeat suffered in battle? Are the only records of Egyptian losss from non-Egyptian records ?

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migrated from skeptics.stackexchange.com Jul 10 '13 at 2:40

This question came from our site for scientific skepticism.

Is that relevant? Even if the Egyptians never recorded their defeat, the common working hypothesis is that if the exodus occurred, there would be ample evidence of the Jewish people living in Egypt. There is no such evidence. It’s not only the exodus that doesn’t have any evidence, it’s the whole deal. –  Konrad Rudolph Jul 7 '13 at 23:04
@KonradRudolph I think relevancy is a matter of personal taste. Here there seems to be a notable claim ("Egyptians never recorded their defeats.") that has only a thin connection with the Old Testament and with the Jewish people in general. –  belisarius Jul 8 '13 at 4:52
@belisarius My second question was pondering ahead, like if they do record defeats but there's also missing records of some victories, a revised claim could be made like "Their records are simply incomplete." But I suppose that's diverging from the main claim to test so I'll remove it from my question. –  Gracie K Jul 8 '13 at 4:57
@KonradRudolph I understand your POV, but I don't like the idea of pre-judging intentions –  belisarius Jul 8 '13 at 11:47
To settle the suspicions of @hunter2 and all: I'm not trying to start a religious debate nor confirm ideology nor looking for this site to aid me in a debate. I also don't care to ask whether Exodos is historically accurate. It is true that the subject matter is an interest of mine; otherwise I wouldn't ask. And as such, I do come across claims, and I want to find out if their specifics are true, one way or the other. Maybe this question would be a better fit for history.SE; I personally thought this site was a good resource for the character of the question. –  Gracie K Jul 9 '13 at 4:20

2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

First and foremost, you've got to understand what it is that ancient historians mean by "records" of ancient Egypt. We do not, by and large, have accounting ledgers or encyclopedias from that time. They may have existed (well, probably not in the case of the latter) but they are gone to us. What we have instead are the objects that were left behind: sarcophagi, obelisks, the insides of the Pyramids themselves, and so on. For the same reason your local town probably doesn't have a statue on Main Street commemorating the time your country lost a war, these artifacts tend to be heavy on the wins and light on the losses.

There are also archaeological type artifacts such as the tools that were used during this time, the bodies of workers and the pharoahs, and so on, but those, too, tend not to come with instructions. As incredible as people are nowadays at extrapolating out nuggets of information from this evidence, stuff like "oh, in 3496 they lost a battle to the Assyrians" is just not going to appear in these records.

What we do have in the case of Egypt are long periods of time where there isn't a great deal of recorded history. For example, the First Intermediate Period was a time when the lights went out, so to speak. There's still a decent amount of information to be had from the period but nowhere near like what we have before and after. We can surmise from the way the art differed that there was a bit of a split in the empire during this 100 year period, but beyond that, it seems that a lot of what we know about this period of time is what folks said about it afterwards.

Add to that the fact that we've only been able to read hieroglyphics for about 180 years now and you start to get an inkling as to what we have to use.

As to the specific claims made by the Bible and the Exodus, there is just plain no way that several hundred thousand Jews lived in the Nile delta. There's simply no evidence for a group of that size. Some Egyptologists (notably Robert Breyer) think that the legends may be based on a group that was actually there, but if so they were orders of magnitude smaller than what is portrayed in the Bible and might be better referred to as proto-Jewish rather than actual members of the established tribe.

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No problem. It's all but impossible to prove a negative. –  NotVonKaiser Jul 12 '13 at 2:21
@AL There's nothing to disprove, the assumption that the Egyptians should have recorded their defeats is false. It's an anachronistic argument that doesn't take into account the propagandistic nature of Egyptian records. The argument also falsely assumes that records of defeat would stand the same changes as records of triumphs to survive to this day. Even if records of defeat existed, they wouldn't be found in the friezes in Karnak (for example); they would be written in fragile papyrus, that would have disintegrated after a century or two. –  Yannis Rizos Jul 14 '13 at 6:43

Well, in America there are plenty of monuments to the Vietnam War, which was a huge humiliating defeat for the country. Now ancient Egypt might be different. It is plausible that the Egyptians would not have wanted to record their defeats, but bare in mind that this is not the only reason why some skeptics of the biblical narrative disbelieve the Jewish enslavement and exodus. Their disbelief isn't founded entirely on the fact that there are no Egyptian recordings of it - there is simply no historical or archaeological evidence for it anywhere outside the bible, not in Egypt or in Sinai, nowhere. And the story doesn't fit into the larger historical context of the kingdoms that existed at that time. In fact, in ~1400 BC, which is roughly when the exodus is supposed to have happened, Canaan was controlled by the Egyptian Kingdom.

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