The El Arish Inscription Provides Possible Evidence for the Exodus
If there is a moment in the Book of Exodus that has captured many an imagination, it is the Parting of the Red Sea. For years, ABC would air Cecil B. Demilleâs The Ten Commandments each Easter Sunday1.
One of the most memorable scenes involves Charlton Heston (who is playing Moses)leading the Children of Israel through the parted Red Sea and over to the Sinai Peninsula. After the Israelites are safely across, the chariots of Yul Brenner (who plays Pharaoh) chase them through the water. Ultimately, the Sea closes on them and the best cavalry and chariot force in the world is lost.
It is a great film! While there are a few historical inaccuracies, it does a great job in depicting the miracles of that time!
Archeology has possibly uncovered artifacts that speak to the events described in Exodus 14.
In the 19th Century, archeologists discovered a piece of black granite in El Arish, Egypt (a town found in the Sinai). The locals were using the granite as a watering trough. When archeologists first came across it, they noticed the hieroglyphic carvings all over it. While the text was for the most part destroyed on one side, there were other parts that were still legible2 .
It would appear that this was a kind of monolith. Some researchers hold that it was erected just ahead of Persia’s invasion of the area in 525 BC. Other researchers believe the monolith4 to date sometime during the period of Ptolemaic rule (305-30 BC) over Egypt5.
Normally an object dating a 1,000 years or so after the events in question would not be viewed a significant piece of evidence. However, the inscription tells a story that seems to bear uncanny similarity to the events described in Exodus. There is serious conjecture that this is an allusion to a much earlier period in Egypt’s history. It may be an Egyptian memorial to the loss of their armies during the Parting of the Red Sea. Others vehemently debate this6 .
This is presented here for consideration:
The El Arish hieroglyph employs a technique of using the names of gods(as opposed to the actual parties involved) to describe particular events. This practice shows up elsewhere in Egypt . The Egyptian god “Shu is the designation given to Pharaoh in the account. His wife is the goddess Tefnut and their son is the earth god âGebâ.
In short, it appears to tell the story of a rebellion by a group of slaves (called the rebels or evildoers). This rebellion is coupled with a time of great plagues and even a supernatural darkness that befalls the land:
“The land was in great affliction. Evil fell on this earth; there was a great upheaval in the residence (of the Pharaoh) nobody could leave the palace during nine days, and during these nine days of upheaval, neither men nor gods (i.e., the royal family) could see the faces of those beside them.7
While disjointed at times, the text refers to an area known as the Place of the Whirlpool. Ultimately, it is at this location where Shu pursues and confronts the rebels (or fleeing slaves). The Place of the Whirlpoolâ is said to be in the vicinity of Pi-Kharoti8 . Shu and his forces apparently are lost in the whirlpool:
“His majesty leapt into the so-called Place of the Whirlpool.” 9
1) Exodus 14:9 does position the crossing of the Red Sea near a place called Pi-Ha-Hiroth (or Pi-Khiroth). This is Hebrew for the Egyptian name Pi-Kharoti 10.
2) Exodus 15:19 may imply that Pharaoh himself was killed in the Red Sea crossing. While not a certainty, this would line up with the El Arish account.
Arguments persist that this is nothing more than a metaphor or ancient folklore11. Adding to some of the discord is that a good portion of the inscription has been worn away over time or is just indeterminate.
1Source of Ten Commandments Image: http://mondo70.blogspot.com/2009/04/ten-commandments-1956.html
2 Sivertsen, Barbara; The Parting of the Sea; USA: Princeton University Press, 2009 (pages 125 â 129)
3See 19 above (page 125)
4El Arish Images sourced from: http://alain.guilleux.free.fr/ismailia/ismailia.php
7 See 19 above (page 126)
9See 19 above (page 126)
11See 27 above