We are both pleased and honoured to welcome as May 2013 Author of the Month, Riaan Booysen. Please join Riaan on the AoM Message Boards this month, to discuss his new book Thera and the Exodus, in which he researches and makes the case linking two ancient volcanic eruptions on the Mediterranean island of Thera (modern Santorini), with the biblical story of the Exodus. It’s fascinating work and reading that demands attention.
When I became interested in ancient history, I had no knowledge of anything relating to the Exodus apart from what is written in the Book of Exodus. However, due to the miracle of the Internet, Wikipedia and the relative ease of obtaining just about any book one might want through on-line stores, it was possible to steadily build up a background on what the general theories are and what these theories are based upon. This was specifically true of the biblical Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. Those of you already familiar with some of these theories may glance at the title of my book and think, “Oh no, that theory has long been rejected by scholars!” Similarly, when you read about links between the Israelites and the Hyksos or the work of authors like Ahmed Osman1, Graham Phillips2 and David Rohl3, which I make use of, you may again think that any work involving the ‘crank’ theories put forward by these authors must likewise be regarded as baseless. However, the methodology I used in my research was to first of all list as many of the ancient records about the Exodus I could find, then to assess how others like Osman, Phillips and Rohl interpret these records and finally to develop my own version of these events.
Early accounts of the Exodus
Arguably the most important extra-biblical account of the Exodus comes from the Egyptian historian Manetho, who relates that a king called Amenophis was advised by his oracle, also called Amenophis, to clear his country of the lepers and impure people who were within Egypt’s borders at that time. This expulsion led to a revolt against the king under the leadership of a priest called Osarsiph, whom Manetho identifies as Moses4. Osarsiph sent ambassadors to the shepherd kings in Jerusalem who had long before been driven out of Egypt by Tefilmosis (Ahmose), inviting them to return to Egypt and join him in his war against Egypt. They complied and Amenophis, facing the combined armies of Osarsiph and the foreigners from Jerusalem, as well as the plague which was ravaging his country, retreated into Ethiopia with the entire Egyptian army and a large percentage of the Egyptian population. There they remained for a ‘fatally determined’ 13 years. Cheremon’s account is less detailed but supports some aspects of Manetho’s account, while Lysimachus reports that the king in question was named Bocchoris and that the leprous people revolted under Moses and plundered and burned down the temples of the Egyptians. Africanus and Artapanus both acknowledge that the Jews had revolted under the leadership of Moses. That an oracle had played a role in the expulsion of the leprous Jews from Egypt is confirmed by Cheremon, Lysimachus, Artapanus, Justin, the Koran and indirectly also by Josephus himself in his Antiquities of the Jews.
The evidence sought
In order to verify whether Manetho’s account of the Exodus is true, one needs to validate several aspects of the biblical Exodus in this context.
Can a foreign people living in Egypt for hundreds of years be identified (according the Book of Exodus the Israelites had been present in Egypt for hundreds of years, first as free people and later as the slaves of the Egyptians)?
Can the pharaoh and his oracle be identified, and is there evidence of this pharaoh having been present in Ethiopia for 13 years?
Was there ever an Egyptian prince whose circumstances match those of Moses?
Was there ever a period of such extreme chaos and social upheaval in Egypt?
Do any Egyptian records of the Exodus exist?
Can the biblical plagues be linked to an eruption of the volcano on Thera?
These questions are addressed in detail in my book. It is shown that the only foreigners to have been present in Egypt for hundreds of years were the race called the Hyksos. To summarize, Manetho refers to the Hyksos as the Shepherd Kings, which Josephus acknowledges as being the forefathers of the Israelites. The pharaoh in question is readily identified as Amenhotep III, who had a trusted advisor called Amenhotep, the son of Huy. The presence of Amenhotep III in Ethiopia is well attested by numerous statues and monuments in Ethiopia erected in his honour, indicative of a prolonged stay in that country. As pointed out by Graham Phillips, the only historical person whose circumstances match those of the biblical Moses is Crown Prince Tuthmosis, the firstborn son and heir to the throne of Amenhotep III. Amenhotep III and his son Akhenaten belong to the so-called Amaran era. It is well documented that a plague ravaged Egypt during the Amarna era (it ultimately led to the demise of the Hittite nation after the Hittites were allowed to capture infected Egyptian soldiers), and that Egypt was in ruins after the Amarna era is attested by Tutankhamun’s Restoration Stele. Of key importance is the Egyptian texted referred to as the El Arish Shrine Text. In this text it is related that Egypt suffered nine days of violence and tempest during which no man could see the face of another, matching the seven days of darkness and totally impaired sight recorded by Ginzberg in his Legends of the Jews. The text tells the story of a King Shu whose country was invaded by the children of Apep and evil-doers, following which King Shu and his attendants ‘departed to heaven’. His son, Geb, “sent messengers to summon to him the foreigners and Asiatics from their land”, matching Manetho’s description of Moses sending ambassadors to Jerusalem with the same message. The sudden disappearance of King Shu and his court is shown to be the Egyptian equivalent of the biblical drowning of the Egyptian army in the sea (it vanished overnight) and Manetho’s claim that the Egyptian army had retreated into Ethiopia. King Shu and his son Geb are identified through their deeds as Amenhotep III and Crown Prince Tuthmosis.
The sudden disappearance of the army of the mightiest nation in the Middle East at that time would be akin to the entire USA army and all governmental institutions departing to Canada, leaving all its military bases deserted and the USA open to invasion by countries south of the border. It would have reverberated in ancients legends throughout time and is even recorded in the mythical legend of the fall of Troy, in which Memnon’s army was changed into birds that flew away, “that great host vanishing with their king”.
The Queen of Sheba and Nefertiti
David Rohl presents compelling evidence that the biblical kings Saul and David were the Amarna contemporaries Labayu and Dadua. He then moves the Amarna era later in time to the conventional era of Israel’s United Monarchy, ca. 1000 BCE. In my book I show that he should have done the opposite instead, moving the rather tenuous dating of the United Monarchy to ca. 1350 BCE to match the well-dated Amarna era. When this is done, Saul, David, Solomon and Solomon’s fabled Queen of Sheba become Amarna contemporaries. Josephus calls her the Queen of Egypt and Ethiopia and in the Koran it is stated that she ruled a country where the sun was worshipped (i.e. the Aten, which was Egypt’s sole god during the Amarna era). In my book I endeavour to prove that ‘Sheba’ does not refer to a country but rather to Sheba, the name of David’s fiercest opponent.
The only Egyptian queen of any note during the Amarna era was Nefertiti and as such she becomes the prime candidate for the biblical Queen of Sheba. It is argued that she was a daughter of Bethsheba and Uriah, a Hittite, who was sent to Yuya in Egypt (the biblical Joseph, according to Osman) for protection against David. The Arabic document called The History of the Queen of Sheba confirms that she was raised by a vizier who had fallen out of favour with his king, but was reinstated and promoted to the level of grand vizier by the king. This matches the biblical account of Joseph having served his Egyptian master, being imprisoned but later becoming the most powerful man in Egypt second only to the king himself.
With my revised dating of the reigns of Saul, David and Solomon, the so-called Megiddo Ivory, which depicts an Egyptian queen visiting a Canaanite king, can now be linked to Nefertiti as the Queen of Sheba visiting Solomon. The crown of the queen is similar to the crown worn by Nefertiti depicted on her famous bust, the musician on the ivory is shown with hair woven into tresses as depicted on Amarna scenes of female musicians and referred to in the Arabic document, and the queen’s offering of wine and flowers to the king matches an often depicted gesture of devotion by Nefertiti.
The Megiddo Ivory depicting a Canaanite king on a cherubim throne visited by an Egyptian queen
Although I am certainly not the first to suggest a link between the biblical plagues and an eruption of Thera, I do add information that is perhaps not commonly known or put into the right context. The first of these plagues, which I refer to as Plague 0 following the Koran5, is the Flood. It is shown that the two most famous floods in Grecian legend, the floods of Ogygus and Deucalion, are both associated with the Exodus and occurred roughly 200 years apart. These floods could only have been caused by the tsunami created by eruptions of Thera and in biblical tradition were remembered as the walls of water which collapsed on the Egyptian army during the fabled ‘parting of the sea’ event.
Although most scholars seem to identify the Plague of Darkness as the result of a severe storm, the description of this plague in Ginzberg’s Legends of the Jews and the biblical description of the Plague of Boils being caused by soot from a furnace descending upon Egypt, leave no doubt that this ‘plague’ was caused by the ash cloud of a volcanic eruption descending upon Egypt.
While the first nine plagues of the Exodus can all be explained in terms of natural phenomena, the tenth, the Plague on the Firstborn, has no natural explanation. I contend that the death of the firstborn was the result of an edict announced by Amenhotep III on the advice of his sacred scribe, that all firstborn in Egypt should be sacrificed in fires in order to appease the anger of the gods and bring the plague in Egypt to an end. The first in line to be sacrificed would have been Crown Prince Tuthmosis (Moses), but he was saved from the fire in the nick of time and escaped, an event remembered in biblical tradition as the ‘burning bush’ episode. The authors of the Book of Exodus certainly wanted to create the impression that the Egyptians were completely unaware of the impending disaster regarding their firstborn children and woke up one dreadful morning to find all of them dead. This was certainly not the case. In the Legends of the Jews it is recorded that the Egyptians knew well in advance what was coming and many of them attempted to hide their children. In the end the army was sent in to enforce the sacrifice. In other words, the sacrifice occurred on the instruction of Amenhotep III.
It seems to be a generally accepted view that it was Akhenaten, a son of Amenhotep III, who staged a religious revolution in Egypt, turning his back on the all the gods of Egypt in favour of the Aten, the sun god. In my book I show that this was not the case. The revolution against the priesthood of Amun was the direct result of the failure of the sacrifice of the firstborn – the plague continued to decimate the Egyptian population unabatedly. Amenhotep hastily instated his son Akhenaten as his deputy ruler in Egypt and left for Ethiopia, leaving his trusted half-brother Ay to look after the inexperienced young king. Most likely under direct instruction of Moses, Amarna was left untouched while the rebels and foreigners looted the rest of Egypt until the Egyptian army eventually returned to Egypt 13 years later. The loot taken from Egypt was the source of Solomon’s fabled wealth, supposedly collected as tribute from neighbouring states.
It is crucial that the dating of the eruptions of Thera derived through historical accounts be validated by science. The latest radiocarbon dating of the eruption of Thera is 1613 BCE, which is significantly earlier than the reign of Amenhotep III, ca. 1350 BCE. However, Tsunami deposits at Crete show clearly distinguishable remnants of solidified volcanic ash which had been re-deposited by a second tsunami. It is argued that the first eruption occurred during the reign of Ahmose. This eruption weakened the defences of the Hyksos and allowed Ahmose to overpower them. The second eruption occurred about 200 years later, this time washing away the Egyptian defences in the Nile Delta and low-lying parts of Egypt, culminating in the events described above. It is shown that if these two eruptions had indeed occurred as proposed, a dating discrepancy of about 80 years exists between the radiocarbon dating and the conventional dating of the Egyptian chronology. This implies that either the eruption date of 1613 BCE must be revised, which is possible as the carbon reservoir in the proximity of an active volcano may be different from what it was in Egypt at that time, or that the reign of Amenhotep III must be moved earlier in time to about 1450-1410 BCE.
Titbits from the book
- Artapanus records that the Pharaoh “…having given the name Apis to a bull, commanded the troops to found a temple for him, and bade them bring and bury there the animals which had been consecrated by Moses, because he wished to bury the inventions of Moses in oblivion.”
- The burial of the first Apis bull was performed at a cemetery in Saqqara during the reign of Amenhotep III. Artapanus’ record therefore not only links both names to Amenhotep III, but also confirms that Moses, by whom the Apis bull was consecrated, was indeed Prince Tuthmosis, who as high priest of Ptah assisted his father during the burial ceremony.
- According to Apion, Moses used to follow the customs of his forefathers, but then re-directed his prayers towards the sun-rising, in other words, the Aten.
- Justin and Cheremon both claim that Joseph and Moses were contemporaries, which matches Yuya and Crown Prince Tuthmosis, Yuya’s grandson, being contemporaries.
- The legendary Egyptian King Sesostris is identified as Tuthmosis III, based on the interpretation of his name as “You and what’s Yours the Third”, from the Greek “se” (you), “sos” (yours) and “tris” (the third), as well as the linking of the exploits of Sesostris to recorded endeavours of Tuthmosis III. Tuthmosis III was the third member of the Tuthmosid family of conquerors. It is argued that some legends about the almost-as-famous Amenhotep III were mistakenly also attributed to Sesotris, in particular those legends concerning a treacherous banquet during which some people were murdered.
- Various nicknames of the Pharaoh of the Exodus and his wife can be linked to Amenhotep III’s fabled wild bull hunt, during which he slaughtered 96 domesticated cattle which had drifted onto his land.
- The El Arish Shrine Text records that Geb had reached for the snake (the uraeus or symbol of kingship in Egypt), but it breathed its vapour upon him, causing him to burn while all those around him died. This matches my hypothesis that Moses was about to be burned as instructed by his father, but narrowly escaped death. The other firstborn children in Egypt were not so fortunate.
- The El Arish text mentions Asiatics in Egypt carrying the sceptre of Geb, which they called Degai. This matches Moses’ fabled rod or staff, which features as an instrument of magic throughout the Exodus narrative. It also mentions a mysterious box of hard stone or metal which healed Geb and can be potentially linked to the equally mysterious Ark of the Covenant, which was covered with gold and had supernatural powers.
- It is argued that following the murder of Akhenaten, Nefertiti invited those she deemed responsible for his death to a banquet and had all of the guests murdered. This is confirmed in the Arabic History of the Queen of Sheba, in which it is related that she had arranged a banquet for the purpose of killing the tyrant king (i.e. some people). This document also mentions a revolt by the populace and the military, exactly as recorded by Manetho.
- As proposed by Graham Phillips, the path through the sea on which the Israelites escaped from the Egyptian army is the narrow land bridge of Lake Manzala. It was much later in Hebrew legend that the escape along this route and the memory of the tsunamis that hit Egypt became merged to form the story of the parting of the sea by Moses.
- With the Israelites having been identified as the Hyksos, the role of Abraham as their progenitor must be questioned. It is argued that the name can be interpreted as “ab” (father) “ra’ah” (to see, shepherd) and “am” (people), in other words “Father of the seeing people” (the legendary Watchers) or “Father of the Shepherd People” (the Hyksos). It can also be interpreted simply as “Father Ra of the People”, in other words, Abraham may be linked to the Egyptian god Ra, the father of the mythical group of gods who supposedly settled in Egypt at the beginning of time.
I trust that my readers will find the book informative and exciting to read, as it presents new perspectives on many aspects of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt.
1. Osman, Ahmed. Stranger in the Valley of the Kings. London: Souvernir Press Limited, 1987.
2. Phillips, Graham. Act of God: Moses, Tutankhamun and the Myth of Atlantis. London and Basingstoke: Pan Books, 1998.
3. Rohl, David. A Test of Time. London: Century Press Ltd (Arrow), 1995.
4. Josephus, Against Apion 1.26.
5. The Koran, Surah 7.133, 136 (Pickthall).
About the author: Riaan Booysen is a South African engineer with a PhD in Electronic Engineering and several academic publications to his credit, in recognition of which he has been awarded Senior Membership of the IEEE. He has a keen interest in ancient history and has over the past 12 years devoted much of his spare time to develop new theories about the origins of the accounts of Atlantis, the Exodus and Christianity. He launched his own website to test some of these theories in 2008 (www.riaanbooysen.com). His book on the connection between the eruption of the volcano on the island called Thera in ancient times and the biblical Exodus was published in February 2013.
See his website for details of, order information, chapter summary and selected articles from Thera and the Exodus.