by Stephen Caesar
Fortress Blocked Coastal Exodus Route
Moving on to the Book of Exodus, a discovery made by Israeli archaeologist Trude Dothan has demonstrated why the Israelites, after having escaped from Egypt, took a circuitous route through the desert of Sinai, rather than straight up the coast, where there had been a well-traveled road for centuries. In her excavations at Deir el-Balah in southwestern Israel, Dr. Dothan and her colleagues uncovered "not only a cemetery full of archeological treasures, but also a hidden city, a fortress, and a reservoir-all more than 3,000 years old."(1)
Dothan's team unearthed a huge Egyptian fortress which would have stood squarely in the path of the fleeing Israelites had they taken the usual route along the Mediterranean coast of the Sinai Peninsula. Judging by the style of the architecture and a clay seal found amid the ruins, Dothan was able to date the fortress to the second half of the 14th century BC.(2)
Further evidence as to the date of the fortress came in the fact that the mighty structure "was built...in a manner strikingly like fortresses shown on the relief recorded by Pharaoh Seti I (reigned c. 1318-1304) on the walls of the Amon Temple at Karnak, far up the Nile. This relief, from about 1300 BC, depicts the ancient route from Egypt to Canaan, a well-traveled road known to the Egyptians as the Ways of Horus. There is more than simply a resemblance between our fortress and the details of the map-the relief provides an almost exact blueprint of the kind of structure we were uncovering."(3)
Dothan's discovery has greatly contributed to our knowledge of the truthfulness of the Exodus account of the Israelites' flight from Egypt: "Once we discerned the meaning and function of the settlement at Deir el-Balah, we were able to understand a passage in the Bible that has long puzzled scholars. It is believed that during the reign of Ramses II (the successor of Seti I) the Israelite Exodus from Egypt took place. But the route chosen by the Israelites is rather cryptically described: ‘And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt.' (Ex. 13:17). As the Bible observes, this route to the Promised Land was far shorter than the route the Israelites eventually took. But our excavations at Deir el-Balah revealed the wisdom of this choice, for by escaping into the desert, the Israelites avoided the powerful fortresses of the very pharaoh from whom they had fled."(4)
Extra-Biblical Mention of David
Probably the most sensational find in recent years was the first non-biblical mention of the dynasty founded by King David. Before this discovery, critics had made the claim that King David was a fictional hero created by Jewish priests during the Babylonian Exile to give their people a sense of national identity. Now, that theory disintegrates. The discovery was made in 1993 during excavations at the ruins of Dan (Judg. 18:29) led by Dr. Avraham Biran, director of the Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem. An inscription, dating from only 150 years after David lived, was discovered amid the ruins of Dan, written by a Syrian (Aramaean) king who claimed to have slain a king of the House of David. Shocked by this overt evidence, Bible critics tried to claim that the King David mentioned in the text was a fictional figure. In response to this, Dr. Lawrence Stager of Harvard remarked: "It's like saying today 150 years after Lincoln, there was no Lincoln."(5) Even Time magazine, never a friend of the Bible, stated: "The skeptics' claim that King David never existed is now hard to defend."(6)
(to be concluded)
Stephen Caesar is pursuing his master's degree in archaeology at Harvard University.
He participated in that institution's excavation at Ashkelon in June and July of 2000.
1. Trude Dothan, "Gaza Sands Yield Lost Outpost of the Egyptian Empire," National Geographic 162, No. 6 (1982), p. 740.
2. Ibid., p. 740.
4. Ibid., pp. 762-763.
5. "Biran at Ninety," Biblical Archaeology Review 25, No. 5 (1999), p. 74.
6. Michael Lemonik, "Are the Bible's Stories True?" Time, 18 Dec. 1995, p.68.