Did the Exodus lead to the Hyksos Invasion?
Was Egypt completely destroyed by the events of the Exodus?
Published: 29 October 2020 (GMT+10)
In the article Can we understand Egyptian chronology before the Exodus? by Gavin Cox and Gary Bates, two commenters wrote in questioning our view that the Exodus occurred sometime during the New Kingdom’s 18th dynasty. They cited a revised chronology by the now deceased David Down who said in his book Unwrapping the Pharaohs that Egypt was left in a weakened state after the Exodus which allowed the Hyksos to invade Egypt. For example, an extract from Perry H. read:
It doesn’t make sense that the Pharaoh of the exodus was from the 18th Dynasty, Egypt was destroyed by the plagues and their army drown [sic] in the sea. You know that 18th - 20th Dynasties were among the strongest in Egypt’s history. But if you put the Exodus at the time just before 2nd Intermediate Period of the Hyksos, it makes sense that the Hyksos could have easily conquered Egypt at that time. Also as far as historical synchronism the Pharaoh that took the treasure from Jerusalem, Shishak, fits much better as Thutmose III from the 18th Dynasty, than Shoshenq I of the 22nd Dynasty.
I (Gary) replied (an extract):
We like David Down and used to carry his book until it was shown to us how demonstrably wrong his chronology was. Moreover, he strongly subscribed to the chronologies inspired by the atheistic Jew, Immanuel Velikovsky. See these articles by Patrick Clarke who effectively dismantled this view.
Clarke called the Down Chronology the Velikovskian Inspired Chronology or VIC for short, which I will use from now on. Also see this article that comprehensively demonstrates that Shoshenq 1 is the Shishak of the Bible.
Then Dreme O. countered with:
You asked where in the Bible does it say Egypt was destroyed and not able to quickly recover. I believe that Deuteronomy 11:4 affirms Perry’s understanding. I trust that Deuteronomy was written near the end of the 40 years of wandering. Apparently, Egypt was still destroyed 40 years after God smited [sic] them. “And what he did to the army of Egypt, to their horses and to their chariots, how he made the water of the Red Sea flow over them as they pursued after you, and how the LORD has destroyed them to this day.” Deuteronomy 11:4,
I replied more comprehensively as response follows:
|Pre 3200 BC||Predynastic/Prehistory|
|3200–2686 BC||Early dynastic Period||1st–2nd|
|2686–2181 BC||Old Kingdom||3rd–6th|
|2181–2055 BC||1st Intermediate Period||7th–10th|
|2055–1650 BC||Middle Kingdom||11th–12th|
|1650–1550 BC||2nd Intermediate Period/Hyksos||13th(?)–17th|
|1550–1069 BC||New Kingdom||18th–20th|
|1069–664 BC||3rd Intermediate Period||21st–25th|
|664–525 BC||Late Period||26th|
|525–332 BC||Achaemenid/Persian Egypt||27th–31st|
|332–30 BC||Ptolemaic/Greek Egypt|
|30 BC–641 AD||Roman & Byzantine Egypt|
Remembrance of the Exodus and the Hebrews’ deliverance from Egypt is as pivotal in Judaism as it is for Christianity. The verse you cite is indicative of that. Many times the Scriptures have passages like Deuteronomy 6:12 which says:
“then take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
With the verse you cited, a good principle is to ‘read what the text says, no more and no less’. And it specifically talks about a victory and destruction over Pharaoh’s army. It does not say Egypt was destroyed. God did enough with the plagues to display His power and to finally get Pharaoh to release the Hebrews. I could simply leave it there as that is a definitive response showing the verse you cite only talks about the army. But I will explain some more for the purposes of understanding what Egypt was like at that time.
To suggest that the Hyksos merely walked in and took over a destroyed Egypt, sounds reasonable on the surface but it is a simplistic idea that will appeal to those who really don’t know much about Egypt at the time of the events. I was also convinced about this, until I started studying and understood more about Egyptian culture.
Remember that earlier, Scripture talks about God hardening Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 4:1). There are several significant things I can point to that indicate that it was the army, or the particular army that was chasing the Hebrews that was destroyed, and that the whole country was not in a state of such economic collapse that it suffered irreparable harm making it prone to invasion.
When reading these Scripture passages, they must also be understood in context of Egyptian culture, archaeological finds, kingly and priestly structures and so on. For example, on the last point, the Pharaoh was the living embodiment of a god. And all over the land, the temples and their priests were in place to worship and promote the plethora of gods they had, and that the Pharaoh was one of them. Note that pretty much all the Egyptian gods are related to the natural world. There was a god of the sky, the Nile, a crocodile god, a hippo god and so on. And the god ‘Maat’ would ensure there was balance (maat) in the land and amongst all of these gods. Note that the majority of the plagues were plagues against nature (weather, land, river and creatures etc.) So when I said in an earlier response that God was really battling against the gods of Egypt, this is what I meant. We should note that this is what Scripture actually says:
“For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD” (Exodus 12:12).
This was the 10th and last plague. The One, true God was showing Pharaoh and his people that their gods were false deities who had no power against the One, true God. I see them more as a warning. I suspect that Pharaoh was so stubborn because he saw the plagues upon nature as a direct undermining of his power and the overall religious and cultural rule of the country, and a possible threat to his rule. After the first nine plagues wrought upon nature did not convince Pharaoh, the tenth and final plague affected the people directly per the aforementioned Scripture verse.
Please see the following points as anecdotal reasoning against a pre-Hyksos Exodus timeline.
Was all of Pharaoh’s army destroyed?
Egypt was a large country with a lot of border lands to protect. We know from archaeological remains and writings, that it was common for them to build military encampments like forts in various places and outposts to guard their country against invaders. For example, in the south (upper Nile) they had installations to protect against the Nubian, Cushites (Sudan) and the land of Punt (probably modern-day Ethiopia). They also had military installations in the north and across the Sinai Peninsula to protect from invaders in the Levant. We know the Hebrews left through the north of the country and into this region. See the excellent Patterns of Evidence: The Red Sea Miracle DVDs.
After the Hebrews left it seems that Pharaoh made a hasty decision to chase them. If so, there is no way that there was time to assemble all the garrisons encamped elsewhere from all over Egypt. Anyone should be able to reasonably understand the implausibility of being able to gather ‘the whole army’ from ‘the whole country’ to pursue them. What country keeps its entire army in one location? Rather it was the chariots and horsemen at his disposal who were able to do this. Chariots were very expensive to make. Egypt had limited resources of wood and some of the chariots preserved in museums today show they were made of elm wood from the eastern and northern Mediterranean. Given that the Egyptian chariots formed part of Pharaoh’s elite forces (perhaps due to their expense), it might be plausible that the entirety of his chariots were located near Pharaoh’s palace at the time. Exodus 14:7 does seem to indicate it was all of his chariots which were 600 in total. But if he had chariots, why would Pharaoh need his whole army (particularly all his foot soldiers) to pursue a bunch of slaves who were not very well armed and who were primarily traversing on foot? It’s doubtful his foot soldiers could have caught them as the Hebrews had a head start. It makes sense that the whole of Egypt’s army was not destroyed, but rather it was the ‘portion’ of the army (his chariot force—the Bible says so) that pursued the Hebrews—that was destroyed. As such, Egypt was not left militarily defenseless as the entire army was not entirely decimated or completely destroyed as it was located in various places throughout Egypt. Therefore, Egypt was not vulnerable to wholesale invasion. This does not undermine in any way God’s miraculous hand destroying a marauding battalion, because ultimately He parted a sea and saved the Hebrews. That is certainly worth remembering.
The Hyksos did not ‘invade’ Egypt
The Hyksos did not take over the whole country of Egypt. If the whole of Egypt was decimated and defenceless due to the Exodus, why did they limit themselves to just the northern part of the country ruling from what was called Avaris (which was later built upon and called Pi-Rameses)? Native Egyptian rule continued over large parts of the country, although it was mainly confined to central Egypt with their capital at Thebes (modern day Luxor). So, ‘Egypt’ was never destroyed or completely subjugated by the Hyksos.
To even say that the Hyksos even ‘invaded’ a destroyed country is simply not correct. The Ancient History Encyclopedia site notes:
“Even today, the Hyksos are referred to as invaders and their advent in Egypt as the ‘Hyksos Invasion,’ but actually, they assimilated neatly into Egyptian culture adopting Egyptian fashion and religious beliefs, with some modifications, as their own.”1
Egyptian records indicate that the Hyksos, were, in fact, Semitic immigrants and sheepherders. How did this happen? The Hyksos period is also known as the Second Intermediate Period (IP), sandwiched between The Middle and New Kingdoms. The Middle Kingdom is a relatively ‘dark period’ of Egyptian history with not a lot for us to go on. They are called Intermediate Periods because they usually followed a time of fragmentation in the country where local rulers established their own precincts, and the whole country was not unified under a single rule. For example, many think the First IP came about due to the massive building program of the pyramids that left the treasury bare. And indeed, at the time the Hyksos were ruling northern Egypt, the Nubians were ruling in the South with the Egyptians themselves in the middle, thus the country was split into three.
Egypt rebounds quickly
If Egypt was so devastated and overrun by the Hyksos, how did it rise up again so quickly to evict the Hyksos? During the Hyksos occupation of mainly northern Egypt (lower Nile) Ahmose, the first Pharaoh of the 18th dynasty (New Kingdom) ran them out of the country and subsequent pharaohs even ruled and resided there. Therefore, Egypt still had an army during the Hyksos period, proving my earlier point about sections of the army being located in various regions of the country and not all being used during the Exodus pursuit. Even advocates of the VIC agree that the Hyksos were expelled by Ahmose and his army. So, if the entire country was invaded and ruled by the Hyksos, why would they even allow Egypt to have an army?
Egypt was a fabulously wealthy country. The annual Nile flooding provided beautiful black silt on the land which made it very fertile and able to grow an abundance of crops. This is one of the reasons biblical patriarchs went there during times of drought and famine. They also had an abundance of precious minerals including amethyst, copper, gold, emeralds and other precious stones, as well as building stone like granite. Economically, Egypt would and did bounce back pretty quickly due to great natural resources. Egypt’s periods of decline prior to the Ptolemaic and Roman invasions were self-inflicted.
Silence about Hebrews—but only while in captivity
From Egyptian records, there seems to be no mention of the Hebrew occupation while in Egypt. This is understandable if one appreciates the culture, as we would not expect them to be mentioned on tombs and temples (which is mostly what is left archaeologically). But we do start to see them mentioned in the second half of the aforementioned 18th dynasty. The Armana letters to Amenhoptep III and Akhenaten of this period reveal that the Hebrews (Habiru) were taking over lands in Canaan and other ANE areas. This is a very good indicator that the Exodus must have only occurred a few years before, because after the 40 years of wandering, they have now entered the Promised Land, and not some 100+ years earlier. Some of the lands now being conquered by the Hebrews were, in fact, Egyptian vassal states established by Pharaoh Thutmoses III, earlier in the 18th dynasty. This was the first time Egypt really expanded its borders into the Levant. It is my view that Thutmose III did this because he did not want any more foreigners taking over large tracts of his own land. ‘Better to conquer them first!’ In short, we have records of the first mentions of Habiru/Hebrew in the Levant after they have left Egypt. If they left c.200 years before the Hyksos arrived, why are there no earlier mentions of them?
Shishak is not Thutmoses III
Advocates of the VIC Exodus/Hyksos invasion theory are forced to revise future Egyptian history downward. As the first commenter mentioned, they revise Shishak of the Bible to be Thutmoses III of the 18th dynasty, and that Jerusalem is actually recorded as Kadesh on his booty list. Many scholars believe that Shoshenq I of Egypt (22nd dynasty) is the biblical Shishak. To make Shishak Thutmoses III would mean a revision of the conventional date downwards by some 500 years. In my Evidence for Hebrews in Egypt article it can be clearly demonstrated linguistically from Shoshenq’s hieroglyphs, from the places that he subjugated in the Divided Kingdom that the conventional view is correct. The Shishak/Shoshenq synchrony has been a staple of even secular Egyptologists, and one area where even they agree that there is a biblical and ancient Egyptian synchrony. But VIC advocates would need to revise the timing backwards, otherwise it destroys the Hebrew pre-Hyksos occupation of Egypt theory. Patrick Clarke has also dismantled the VIC inspired claims that Thutmoses III is the biblical Shishak.
Incidentally, the mentions of the Habiru/Apiru continue from the 18th all the way into the 19th dynasty and beyond, including the land now being called Israel. Indicating again that Israel was only recently established and not some hundreds of years before.
There are no missing hundreds of years in the New Kingdom dynasties
Per the previous point, to accommodate the VIC, one has to compress the entire New Kingdom period and the 3rd IP down by some 500 years. We believe this is simply not possible. See my article on Egyptian Chronology, where I highlight how we have more information about the New Kingdom period of Egypt than any other period, for two reasons. (1) It was the wealthiest period of Egyptian history. The whole country was unified under a single rule during this time with Thebes as the capital. (2) It was the most recent period of native Egyptian rule so we have more artifacts to go on. There are no missing pharaohs so we have a complete lineage and their details are exquisitely preserved in places like the Valley of the Kings, where the underground tombs have preserved the hieroglyphs from the harsh climate.
When were battle chariots first used by the Egyptians?
In terms of needing to understand a bit more about Egyptian history, I believe this next point is rather fatal to the pre-Hyksos Exodus view. In the book of Exodus, there are nine mentions of Pharaoh’s chariots, and two in Deuteronomy. For example:
“And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen” (Exodus 14:17).
It is a well-known fact that the Egyptians had limited use of chariots prior to the arrival of the Hyksos. There seems to be scant mention of them, and where there is, they seem to be mainly used for carting materials. Furthermore, they were poorly built, heavy and prone to breakdown. The Hyksos introduced two things to Egypt that later advanced the Egyptians’ military capability. They were the single horse battle chariot 2 and the composite bow (a laminated bow made of animal horn, sinew, and wood) 3. The introduction of a yoke saddle for horses that allowed for a lightweight, strong and mobile chariot, and a much stronger and powerful bow, revolutionized Egyptian warfare. These are not seen or depicted until partway through the 18th dynasty—the very dynasty that evicted the Hyksos. The best-preserved specimens (six of them) were found in Tutankhamun’s tomb. See the picture of Rameses II (19th dynasty) riding such a chariot into battle against the Hittites and using a composite bow.
Additionally, towards the end of the book of Genesis, there are two mentions of Joseph using a chariot—when he was appointed vizier over the land of Egypt. For example, Genesis 41:43 says:
“And he made him ride in his second chariot. And they called out before him, ‘Bow the knee!’ Thus he set him over all the land of Egypt.”
So, was Joseph riding his chariot either 200 or 400 years (depending upon one’s view of how long the sojourn was) before the Hyksos arrived? Genesis 41:43 is strong evidence that the Hebrew sojourn and subsequent Exodus could not have been before the Hyksos occupation.
In short, the ‘invasion’ of the Hyksos (which wasn’t actually an invasion), has been used as a convenient and seemingly convincing anchor point in Egyptian history to ‘fix’ the Exodus. All Egyptologists try to do this—in one form or another—by trying to find an event which they can fix a well-established date to. From there, looking at the lineages and reigns of the pharaohs, they then try to calculate dates for the various dynasties either side of these accepted dates. We can deduce the biblical date of the Exodus from Scripture (1 Kings 6:1). To have the Exodus just prior to the Hyksos occupation—as per the VIC—one has to condense all proceeding Egyptian history—which follows this alleged event—downwards by hundreds of years. However, this adjustment attempts to reduce the best attested periods of Egyptian history, so is very problematic. Yet the accepted date for the Hyksos’ 2nd IP actually precedes the biblical date for the Exodus, not the other way around.
We welcome further genuine Christian research into Egyptian Chronology. It remains a controversial and contentious area, and there are literally dozens of views and ideas which only serve to highlight how difficult it actually is. However, it does not automatically mean that all views are equal when it can be shown to be demonstrably wrong. And I have just given a few reasons why it is not correct that the Exodus occurred just prior to the Hyksos occupation of Egypt.
Brand new booklet from CMI (only available in the US, UK or Canadian stores)
In our new booklet, Tour Egypt with CMI we have laid out a more complete picture as to the timing of the Exodus and even a potential candidate for the actual Pharaoh of this event. Additionally, we have provided reasons from Scripture why Joseph’s Pharaoh was not a native Egyptian. My view is that he found favor under a Hyksos pharaoh. Joseph’s family were given the best of the land. That an Egyptian would parcel off any section of their ‘blessed land’ to a foreigner is unthinkable. Therefore, when the Hyksos were expelled, then that represents the time the Bible records as when ” … there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8). Note that this says there was a new king who came to power ‘over’ Egypt. I think this was the aforementioned Ahmose I.