When it comes to the Bible's historicity and the impact on faith, there are a few things that are, admittedly, lost to time. Adam and Eve, Abraham, even Noah, if they existed, would not have left traces of themselves given how long ago they happened and the fact that these individuals were "nobodies" at the time of their existence. However, there are some events in the Bible that become a part of the greater narrative; stories in which the actors take place in or are part of the actual historical record. And these events can be investigated and compared to the archaeology of today and the written records of the times.
And there are few stories that have greater value, and therefore greater impact on faith, then the stories of the Jewish enslavement in Egypt. This is where it truly begins. The future Israel, the chosen people, the line of David, all come out of the events that take place in this story. There can be no parable, no cultural tall tale. The Ten Commandments, the Ark of the Covenant, the Ten Plagues, the burning bush (which can now be cured by antibiotics), so many iconic entities are born from this event. This one HAS to be real. This one has to have happened or the entire origin and heritage of the Jewish people, and thereby all Abrahamic faiths, is without foundation.
So did the Exodus happen?
First let's dispel a few well believed myths.
1. The Jews did not build the The Great Pyramid of Giza
The Great Pyramid of Giza was completed in 2560 BCE and took between 10 and 20 years to build. Exodus 12:41 says the Israelites had been in Egypt for 430 years. Had Joseph and company arrived in Egypt the day construction began, the Jews would have left Egypt cir 2130 BCE. The first archaeological evidence for a people that would become the Jews appears around the 12th Century BCE. A thousand years would have gone by (which is a lot more than 40 - even from a symbolic stance) before people showed up to overthrow the indigenous peoples of Canaan. Which leads to the next myth.
2. The Exodus did not happen under Ramses the Great
When you are considered a god, everyone wants their story tied to you. Ramses is a good anchor point for a story like the Exodus but not the likely candidate. First, Ramses reigned between 1279 and 1213 BCE. Now let's say that the Israelites left Egypt on the last day of Ramses life, 430 years prior places one in 1643 BCE. In this case, there is no way each of these tales could be true, even in the off chance that one was. Secondly, there is no mention of a mass exodus out of Egypt during the reign of Ramses and Ramses recorded everything. While we know he smudged the historical record, recording ties as victories and so forth, he never omitted a major event and surely a massive emigration of former slaves would not go unnoticed by the surrounding powers either.
Unless it was not a major event and went unnoticed by everyone not involved.
But that 1643 date is interesting. Many have tried to link the eruption of Santorini (circa 1627 BCE) to the Jewish Exodus by detailing how an eruption that large, one of the largest in recorded history, would have set off a series of events that led to the 10 plagues of Egypt and the famous emigration.
Mysterious ways indeed?
So perhaps the 10 plagues actually did happen? That's actually pretty cool . It lends credence to at least part of the Exodus story but it still fails to link those who claim to be descendants of slaves once held in Egypt to actual Jewish slaves held in Egypt. Not even close. And if the 10 plagues were caused by the Santorini Eruption, there is still no Pyramid connection, no Ramses connection, and still half a millennium before people archaeologists believe became the Israelites show up in the archaeological record despite smaller groups of older people showing up in the sands of Sinai.
So did the Exodus happen?
Most evidence points to the Israelities being a hodge podge of nomadic peoples that assembled for some time before showing up on the Canaanite back porch. Different tribes from different regions with different myths would have come together and coalesced into one spectacular mythos to form a common bond between otherwise strangers. It's quite possible that a flight from Egypt occurred in the middle of the 2nd Millennium. Not only did Santorini erupt but Egypt was in political disarray and something as scary as plagues sent from the gods can really lower property values. From that time period the story was likely passed down to the family or tribe that linked up with the ever growing group that would become the Israelites. Eventually this event would become a legend and in several generations, the legend of the rest of the people hearing the tale.
No Pyramids. No Ramses. No artifacts in the archaeological record. No mention in the historical record. No Israelites yet on the scene.
is nothing more
than an adopted tall tale