Fareeda Ahmad – UK, The Review of Religions, October 1996
One of the most elusive historical figures to exist today is the Exodus pharaoh, the cruel tyrannical figure who enslaved the Israelites during their sojourn in Egypt. Of him it can justifiably be said, ‘they seek him here they seek him there, the archaeologists seek him everywhere’. To be strictly fair, it is a vacancy that has only recently cropped up. The Pharaoh had been identified, wrapped up (quite literally) and presented to the world in the last century as Ramesses the Great, son of Seti the first, of the 19th Dynasty. The minds of Biblical archaeologists having now been swayed due to factors I will explain shortly, a considerable gap has been left in Biblical History and a series of Pretenders to the Throne have been bought forward for public acclaim, each with his own background and new theory. In this series of articles it is these theories that we hope to examine. I start with the theory of a Volcanic Exodus taking place under the auspices of the pharaoh Tuthmosis the third, one that is gaining considerable popularity and due mention in the media.
I am basing my discussion on two books in which the theory is presented; The Exodus Enigma, by lan Wilson (1985) and Return to Sodom and Gomorrah by Charles Pellegrino (1994).
I will also use the evidence for the Exodus as presented by the two religious sources available to us; the Holy Bible and the Holy Qur’an. It is the story of the great Prophet Moses (as), who is brought up in the Egyptian court and who God sends with warnings and signs to the disbelieving and arrogant Pharaoh, who has set himself up as a god.
Signs Given to Prophet Moses by God
At first glance one thing comes to mind, despite many similarities, in the Biblical account the signs are more profuse and elaborate and it is the differences in the two accounts rather than the similarities that provide us with vital clues about the actual events.
In the Holy Qur’an the audience that Moses (as) has with the Pharaoh is described on several occasions. From these accounts we can glean much of the background to the event. The Holy Qur’an mentions nine signs amongst which are years of drought and scarcity. Again with reference to timespan, Allah instructs the Israelites to build a township, something which would take years rather than days.
According to Biblical commenters, the Bible contains two accounts or sources of the signs, one in which Aaron is playing a prominent role and the other in which Moses (as) is the key player and Aaron is not mentioned. Hence, the signs of the staff, frogs and mosquitoes are shown by Aaron whilst the death of livestock, the sign of hail and the three days of darkness are due to Moses (as). Two other notable points are seen, firstly the sorcerors of the pharaoh are able to match the signs of staff, blood and frogs but fail in their attempt to match the mosquitoes. Secondly, the effects of the signs are felt differently by the Israelites and Egyptians. The Egyptian livestock die whilst those of the Israelites survive and while we are informed of the Egyptians suffering from a plague of boils, no mention is made of the Israelites suffering in a similar way. We are told that the land of Goshem is free from the plague of hail and during the three days of darkness, ‘Where the Israelites lived there was light for them’. Clearly then, the Bible makes a distinction in the way that the wrath of God is felt by the Egyptians and how the Israelites are safe from it. In the end the Israelites are led into the Sinaii desert by the Lord having the appearance of a pillar of fire.
This brings us to the convenience or suitability of an Exodus/Volcano Theory, the origin of which is seemingly two-fold:
- The convenience of ascribing a set of catastrophic events to a single cause.
- The description of the Lord as a pillar of fire.
The latter description, noticeably absent in the Holy Qur’an, is so similar to the sight of a volcanic plume that Biblical scholars being aware of this were actively on the lookout for a suitable volcano.
References to Exodus in the Bible and Qur’an
(a) The Holy Qur'an - 9 Manifest Signs 1. The rod turns into a serpent (Al Araf: ch 7, v 108) 2. Sign of the hand turning white (Al Araf: ch 7, v 109) 3. Years of Drought and scarcity of fruit (Al Araf: ch 7, v 131) 4-8 The Storm and the Locusts and the Lice (Al Araf: ch 7, v 134) and the Frogs and the Blood 9. Parting of the Sea (Al Shu'ara: ch 26, v 64) (Al Dhakhan: ch 44, v 25) (b) The Holy Bible - Exodus 1. The staff turns into a serpent (Exodus 4:5) 2. The hand of Moses turns leprous white (Exodus 4:6) 3. The 10 Plagues of Egypt The water turns to blood (Exodus 7) The Plague of Frogs (Exodus 8) The Plague of Mosquitoes (Exodus 8) The Plague of Gadflies (Exodus 8) The Death of Livestock (Exodus 9) The Plague of Boils (Exodus 9) The Plague of Hail and Lightning (Exodus 9) The Plague of Locusts (Exodus 10) The Plague of three days of darkness (Exodus 10) The Death of the first born (Exodus 12) 4. The Lord as a Pillar of fire (Exodus 13:21) 5. Parting of the Sea (Exodus 14:21-23)
Development of the Theory
As early as 1873, the Exodus events were related to volcanic activity by an Englishman called Charles Beke. He conjectured as to the possible volcanic nature of Mt. Sinaii and finding no evidence of this gave up. Early this century the idea was given credence by the German scholars H. Gunkel, Eduard Meyer and by the English scholars John Garstang and Canon W. J. Phythian Adams. A connection with Mount Thera was made by John G. Bennet in 1925, when he witnessed a small burst of volcanic activity there. The leading Egyptologist, Dr. Hans Goedicke from John Hopkins University, Baltimore, developed the idea and delivered a much publicised lecture on 3rd May 1981 connecting Mount shifting the capital from Thebes to the Nile Delta and it was there that the Israelites were settled in Egypt.
This opinion was further confirmed when Pierre Montet (1920’s) discovered an apparently new city with the greatest collection of Ramesses monuments outside of Thebes. This was called Tanis. Tanis was equated with Pi-Ramesses, a city the Israelites built from scratch while Ramesses II was the Pharoah of the oppression. However when research was begun, Tanis was found to be a city built in the 21st dynasty and the reason that it had Ramessid monuments from the 19th Dynasty was that they had been transported from the real Pi-Ramesses when it had become impossible to continue there due to silting from the Nile.
Ramesses II places the Exodus in the 13th century B.C. and according to Wilson, this date is inconsistent with other events described in the Bible. According to the Bible, the Israelites spent 40 years wandering in the desert after the Exodus before proceeding to capture the Promised Land by a rapid and rather brutal capture of the flourishing and fortified towns of Jericho, Ai, Hebron, Gideon and Hazoor etc. Modern Archaeology has shown that these towns were destroyed between 1550-1450 B.C. (Middle Bronze Age), which means that if the Exodus had taken place in the 13th century B.C., Joshua and his companions would have found nothing more than ghost towns in which they could have walked in without a fight. The Israelite conquest of Canaan is therefore better fitted to an earlier Exodus.
Again according to the Torah dates, the period between the settlement of Canaan and the institution of the monarchy was covered by a succession of judges whose reigns totalled 350 years and ended with the coming of the Philistines (1194 – 1163 BC), even if we do not take this number literally this again supports an earlier Exodus date, to give the Israelites enough time to wander for 40 years and then capture Canaan and become strong in order to challenge the Philistines.
In the 1970’s the real city of Ramesses was discovered (by Prof. Manfred Bietak and colleagues) and instead of being a brand new city as thought, Pi-Ramesses was located at Avaris the capital of the Hyksos invaders of Egypt, of the 17th and 16th centuries BC. For Wilson, this one tenuous point seems to be definitive, since the city was not built from nothing, it did not require the kind of extensive work described in the Bible. In addition whatever city the Israelites built, the reason that it is referred to in the Bible as the city of Ramesses is simple. As has been found many times, Ramesses II had an unfortunate habit of writing his name on other people’s monuments and similarly if a new city had been built it could easily have come to be known as the city of Ramesses when he came to power. Thus the reference to Pi-Ramesses is anachronistic.
Wilson believes that the Israelites came into Egypt some time after the 1900’s BC and that during the Hyksos reign in Egypt (1700 – 1550 BC), they rose to greater status. The Hyksos were expelled from Egypt by the great ruler Amose (1550 – 1525 BC) who began a new era in Egyptian history, the 18th Dynasty. Previous kings were now called Pharaoh’s, militancy grew, tombs of kings were less ostentatious and hidden in the Valley of Kings.
Wilson believes this is the real setting for the Exodus. Tuthmosis I was a descendant of Amose the liberator, he died leaving no male heir but a daughter, Hatshepsut, whom he proclaimed Pharaoh before his death. Hatshepsut married and ruled with Tuthmosis II, her half-brother and the son of Tuthmosis I from a secondary marriage. He died young and was succeeded by Tuthmosis III, his son by a concubine who ruled with his step-mother Hatshepsut. The partnership was quite uneven with Hatshepsut playing a dominant role; she dispatched Tuthmosis away for military training and continued to rule as Pharaoh from Thebes for about 20 years. She adopted the guise of a man, establishing trade with the Minoans and using enforced labour. After her death, Tuthmosis defaced and erased all mention of her from monuments and buildings.
Wilson continues his discussion with another important link with this time — the eruption of Mount Thera. He begins with the work of Syridon Martinos (1930’s) who was investigating the destruction of many Cretan towns from that time. The presence of pumice there suggested seismic activity, which Martinos believed had occurred in Minoan times compatible with Hatshepsut and Tuthmosis. He published his conjectures in Antiquities in 1939, in which he also suggested that massive tidal waves (Tsunami’s) would have been generated by the sea based volcano and may have caused strange dislocation of masonry at some Cretan sites. Martinos’ work led him to Thera in the Aegean where he proceeded to discover an underground Minoan city, buried ten times deeper than Pompeii. The city shows a civilisation from before the Greeks which was incredibly advanced, with multistory buildings and running water and the basis of the legend of the lost city of Atlantis. Pottery and art may be used to date the eruption; they are seen to be contemporary with paintings in the subjects of Tuthmosis III and Queen Hatshepsut and belong to the category Late Minoan 1A. Martinos’ original conjecture was proved wrong. The eruption could not be held responsible for the destruction of the Cretan towns which according to their pottery (1B) had been destroyed a generation later. The theory was modified to suggest that the towns had been destroyed by invaders but only because they had been so weakened by the Theran eruption.
With reference to the known or documented effects of recent volcanic eruptions e.g. St. Helens 1980, Mt. Pelee 1902, Tambora 1815 AD, Krakatoa 1883 AD, Wilson proceeds to explain how he thinks that the ten plagues of Egypt can be linked to volcanic activity. The volcanic ash cloud could be responsible for the plagues of insects and frogs (who have been seen to swarm and behave strangely in the build up to an eruption) and the ash cloud would appear as a rain of hail. Death of live-stock would be due to asphyxication and the presence of volcanic ash (red iron oxide) in the water would cause the rivers to turn red. Skin irritation in the form of boils and sores would occur when people came into contact with the ash. Huge ash clouds would blot out the sun and cause daytime darkness, the pillar of fire as mentioned is the volcanic plume and the death of the first born is seen as a ritual sacrifice to appease the gods.
Yet another Biblical event has also been linked to this explosion and that is the parting of the Sea, And with a blast of thy nostrils the waters were piled up. The floods stood straight like a wall (Exodus 15). The exact location of this miracle is not known, the Hebrew Yam Sup, was often wrongly translated as ‘Red Sea’ but is know understood to be ‘Reed Sea’ and refers to Northern Egypt’s papyrus marshland on the Nile Delta which was guarded by sentries. As Goedicke explained in his lecture, this description in Exodus is almost identical to the way that a Tsunami striking Java after Krakatoa was described. Although fairly gentle on the ocean, a rising and falling wave of about 3 feet. (Tsunami) is reflected upon reaching the shore and is compressed and enhanced by the reduced distance between the water and seabed A Tsunami would be able to reach the Nile Delta in 60 – 90 minutes, and a precursor to such a wave is the withdrawal of the sea for several hours. In support of his theory, Goedicke put forward a reference from the rock temple of Hatshepsut, (Speos Artemis), the inscription here talks of battling against Asiatics, the rest is translated by Gardiner as ‘such has been the guiding rule of the father (of my fathers) who came at his appointed times’, a passage which has been controversially translated by Goedicke as ‘Such was the directive of the Primeval Father (literally Nun, the primeval water), who came one day unexpectedly.’
To formulate his theory further, Wilson talks about the traditional hindrances to the 15th century date, the fact that Moses (as) dealt with a man is explained by Tuthmosis carrying out his military training at Avaris, a garrison city. According to Wilson, Tuthmosis III often nicknamed Egypt’s Napoleon, would have been a much more forceful contender than Ramesses. In addition the 18th dynasty practice of adopting the sons of subject princes and bringing them up at court is well established. Wilson also explains that although the 13th century Exodus date was previously thought to be consistent with archaeological evidence of settlement of the lands of Edom and Moab, this evidence had now been discredited.
On the way to Canaan, Moses (as) sent envoys to the King of Edom at a time when the King’s Highway was supposedly controlled by three kingdoms. Nelson Gleuck made a survey of surface pottery at these sites in the 1930’s and declared them to be uninhabited in the middle bronze age, that is between the 19th and 13th centuries. His findings have since been shown to be wrong on the basis that he used incorrect methodology, the accepted view is that these areas did maintain a steady population.
Wilson is therefore content that this objection to the 15th century Exodus is removed and is also of the opinion that a 15th century conquest of Canaan by the Israelites makes good sense. Why, he asks, should the Egyptians destroy towns in Canaan when they were known to have benefited from the prosperity of the area, which kept them supplied with commodities while under their control. The 40 years wandering of the Jews is also explained — the Israelites were simply avoiding Tuthmosis III (1458 – 1473 BC) and his expeditions (albeit peaceful) into Canaan and his sentries on the Northern Coast.
This then is the Volcanic Exodus theory. I will put forward my objections shortly but first it is necessary to summarise the work of Charles Pelligrino.
Pelligrino in his book discusses the Exodus as just one of many Biblical stories which have been tied in to factual archaeology in previous years. His stance is that of a reluctant convert to the idea that what he hitherto had dismissed as fable may yet contain an element of truth. He begins with the work of Spyridon Martinos which he deals with in a detailed and descriptive manner, especially the discovery of a ruined mile wide city dated as 3600 years old, beneath Akrotori with a civilisation so advanced that it included flush toilets and central heating, running water and bathtubs. He says the pottery found is characterised by spirals and leafy vines which is late Minoan, he omits to mention the controversy explained by Wilson, that this pottery is proof that the Theran eruption did not destroy the towns on Crete, or that the pottery found there shows images of fishes and other sea life, a kind of acknowledgement of the eruption.
Pelligrino goes on to date the eruption. Unfortunately in the nine years since Wilson’s book the eruption has conclusively been dated to 1628 BC; this means that the explosion is now incompatible with a 15th Century Exodus date. For Pelligrino, a paleontologist who works in millions of years, the shift of time by 120 – 200 years is not a major problem, in fact he is astounded by the reactions with which his theory is greeted (one archaeologist threatening to commit suicide). He believes they should be grateful that the pottery clock has been shown to be accurate to within 3% and goes on to describe the effects of the explosion and the methodology used to date it. He uses the discovery of 1/4 inch of volcanic ash found in the Nile Delta in 1988 as definite proof that the effects of the volcano were witnessed there and that a quarter inch of ash was enough to cause havoc.
Mount Thera Whereabouts and Eruption
The Aegean Sea around Crete is unstable due to the movement of plates forming the earth’s crust. It is prone to earthquakes and features the Eastern Mediterranean’s most active volcano (an island group), Thera. According to legend, Thera was once a circular island rising a mile up out of the sea but now remains as a wasted body. Geological investigations of the sea bed show two levels of volcanic ash corresponding to staggering eruptions, one in Minoan times and one 25,000 years ago. When Thera erupted, 50 cubic miles of rock were hurled into the sky, heavier debris rained down over the Eastern Mediterranean and the lighter ash formed a canopy of atmospheric dust eventually returning as rain. The ash cloud was seen to have bisected Crete and drifted southeast. The volcanic ash spread less than 100 miles west but in Turkey and Cyprus (approx. 200 miles east) several feet of ash were deposited, suggesting a powerful squall from the west (frequently observed in Autumn) stopped it and hurled it east.
The release of huge volumes of volcanic ash would be the longest and most impressive phase of the eruption and would have been 50 – 100 miles high or more. The eruption is estimated to have been 50 times as violent as that of Krakatoa and therefore one of the six most explosive events in the last 10,000 years. Harold Edgerton showed with his new side scanning sonar, that Thera had torn up the Eastern Mediterranean with cracks in the earth from the island up to 100 miles long. An eruption of this size would have been clearly visible in the Nile Delta, although Egypt was out of the direct line of fire. Ash was found in the Nile Delta (Daniel Stanley, 1988) and the dust cloud must have gone over the River Jordan since mud sediments 200 miles west of Tel Aviv are thick with ash.
Dating of Thera eruption
- Two ash layers were found on the sea bed of the east, one corresponding to Minoan times, the other about 25,000 years old.
- Carbon dating of charred tree stumps from the bottom of the Theran Ash layer gave a date of 1640+/- 30 years, 200 years earlier than the traditional Minoan timing.
- Claus Hammer, looking at the annual accumulation of the Greenland ice sheets has identified acidic layers due to volcanic activity corresponding to 1624 – 1664 BC.
- Peter Kuniholm, paleobotanist, has identified abnormally narrow growth rings in 17th century BC oak trees that are preserved in Irish Peat Bogs by Tannic acid. Narrow rings are located to the decade of the 1620’s.
- Core Samples of Bristlecone Pines in California (some even 5,000 years old) have enabled paleobotanists to find wood peppered with dark cells due to ice scarring from Tambora (1818 AD) and 1627 BC from Thera (indicating that the explosion in 1628 was followed by an ice cold summer).
In addition to this, Pelligrino gives external evidence of the explosion. Although none of these can necessarily be evidence of the Exodus, these include: a poem of Hesiod from the 8th century BC describing a 15 stage war between Kronus and Zeus which matches stage for stage the Theran eruption; Plato’s legend of a lost civilisation who were ancestors of King Minos and imparted knowledge to the Greeks (approx. 350 BC); Strabo’s legend of an ancient army drowned off the coast of Canaan (60 BC – 20 AD); Phoenician legend of a pharaoh’s grandson who escaped to Argos after committing murder and whose inhabitants were punished by a tidal wave (Herodutus, 425 – 484 BC), Ipuwer the Egyptian poet who was contemporary with Tuthmosis and Hatshepsut and in his lament literature speaks of devastation, blood, pestilence and a foreign bow people. Ipuwer’s account is almost exactly the same as Exodus. An overcarving inscription of unknown date on a stela of Amose I recording a storm which caused devastation. The Exodus account (Amos, Hosea and other 8th century BC prophets). And finally independant affirmation of climatic change has come from cross-referencing 1628 with histories of Chinese Emperors which are annotated with lunar and solar eclipses and indicate that year came under Emporer Chieh who had ice in summer and seven years of disorder, starvation and warring.
Pelligrino is telling the same story as Wilson but nine years later. In the meantime, the eruption is now pinpointed to a specific year and perhaps for this reason Pelligrino makes no mention of Wilson or his book all of which is aimed at a 15th century Exodus. The explosion is still supposedly contemporary with Tuthmosis III and therefore the traditional date of this Pharaoh must also be changed. Pelligrino is working with a different time scale of Egyptian history, in which the Hyksos invasion occurred in 1800 – 1900 BC, the revolt against the Hyksos and their expulsion was in 1730 BC and Tuthmosis III reigned in about 1630 BC. To test the theory, we must follow it through logically. The volcano erupted, and in the aftermath, the Exodus occurred. Wilson tabulates the Exodus effects as mentioned in the Bible and connects them to documented volcanic effects from violent eruptions in recent times. The water turns to blood through the presence of iron dioxide in the water, the animals swarm in anticipation of the eruption, the subsequent ash that falls causes asphyxication in animals and skin complaints and the waters part because water based volcanoes give rise to huge waves on the coast line.
We must now investigate whether the description in the Bible and Holy Qur’an matches that of the volcano. We find that the signs are not given in the order in which they are given in the Bible account in which a timespan of days is mentioned between the signs. The first effect that the Bible mentions is that the water turns to blood but the volcanic ash cloud cannot effect the water before it has been the cause of skin complaints, storms etc. If we were to believe the Exodus account literally then we would have to believe that after the ash passed over, the effects were staggered and in addition there is no explanation for the different effects on Jews and Egyptians, and there is no explanation for the fact that the land where the Israelites were did not suffer from darkness.
The reference to the Lord as a pillar of light is not given in the Qur’an. In the Bible it appears in Exodus and again in Numbers, Pelligrino believes as a literary motif. Wilson regards the fact that in direction it was in front of the Israelites as literary license but omits to mention its presence continues for 40 years which is taking even literary license too far.
The effects were more dramatic in Turkey, Cyprus and Greece, therefore we expect more information from there. In Egypt if felt so strongly, why is there so little evidence to support this theory? Except for the lament poetry of Ipuwer which we are told is compatible with Hatshepsut and Tuthmosis but we are not told why.
Tsunami – giant tidal waves
In the midst of the explosion, the Israelites somehow manage to gather together and leave the city while the Pharaoh himself manages to lead an army out after them. The Israelites are stuck with no route forward over Thera to the Exodus and thus placing it within the realms of known history. The theory is set out in detail in The Exodus Enigma and Return to Sodom and Gommorah, and seems to be gaining popularity. As a consequence of this theory, not only is there a reappraisal of the Exodus Pharaoh but a change in the timeline of Pharaohs is also demanded.
The Exodus Enigma
According to Ian Wilson, there is no external evidence for the Exodus an event that is remembered by so many people even today. In the Bible, the Pharaoh of the Exodus is not mentioned by name but according to an account in 1 Kings 6:1 the construction of King Solomon’s temple was begun 480 years after the Exodus which places the Exodus within the reign of Tuthmosis the third (1479 – 1425 BC). Traditionally however, this figure of 480 (440 in the LXX version of the Old Testament), was regarded as symbolic. The Bible provides other additional clues, the Israelites were made to work as slaves building new store cities at Pithom and Pi-Ramesses.
Now if the City was the City of Ramesses, does this mean that the Pharoah in question was called Ramesses? Biblical archaeologists of the last century certainly thought so. Ramesses I only ruled for one year and therefore was not considered, Ramesses III was contemporary with the Philistines who invaded Canaan after the Exodus, therefore he could be ruled out, but Ramesses II was a favourite, a prolific builder whose name appeared on countless monuments, and who with his father, Seti I was responsible for the Reed Sea when suddenly a strong eastern wind parts the waters for them and they are able to cross, whilst the army rushes in after them. This parting of waters has been attributed to a Tsunami, a volcano based tidal wave.
Computer modelling can be used to simulate these waves, and based on these, waves piling up and crashing on the Turkish shore were up to 800 feet high and 30 miles inland. The northern coasts of Egypt would have seen 40 feet high waters crashing on the rim of the Delta. Goedicke supports his theory with a contemporary reference from the rock temple of Hatshepsut, in which a reference is made to the father of fathers, Nun, the primeval water. Goedicke’s translation is both controversial and obscure and the reference itself is unclear as to why it can only be pointed out that the water came unexpectedly but makes no mention of what it did? If Egypt suffered darkness, hail, drought, famine etc, why single out the least damaging effect that of a coastal tidal wave which would not even have come much inland and to whom the only damage attributed is the drowning of the army. In other countries affected by much more severe tidal waves, much more damage should have been done, but instead of producing evidence of it, we are told Martinos only suspected that it may have dislodged masonary at Zakros.
Pelligrino paints a charming picture of the soldiers marvelling at the exposed sea bed some 40 feet deep and coaxed into it in wonder and amazement only to be caught by the returning tide. This suggests, in contrast to Wilson’s several hours, that there was little time between the withdrawal and return of the water which Pelligrino suggests would have drained half a mile out. The fact that this was a volcanic effect and should have been accompanied by complete upheaval, darkness swarming etc. is not mentioned. Some questions arise: How were the Israelites and Egyptians coaxed in without being suspicious, especially of the sucking sound and the darkness and the storm? How were the Israelites saved from the returning waves?
It seems to me that the Tsunami explanation of the parting of the sea has done little to support the theory, with little evidence from literature to support itself and is treated as a different entity to the explosion.
I have explained that it does not seem that the volcano fits in with the Qur’anic version and it is therefore necessary to explain exactly what events would fit the description of the Qur’an. The Holy Qur’an is talking of a series of natural disasters spread over several years; drought and scarcity of fruit are easily understood since the whole of Egyptian civilisation is so dependent on the Nile, any fluctuations can have a severe impact on the harvest. The waters of the Nile have been observed to turn red due to deposits of silt and reddish soil, insects swarm close to the banks of the Nile and their effects would be felt differently by people on lower or higher ground. The Qur’an does not mention the daytime darkness, nor the pillar of fire. The Bible and Holy Qur’an both mention the parting of the waters and in both accounts the Israelites and Egyptians fare differently. In both cases, the parting of the waters is a separate incident from what goes before. Rather than a Tsunami, it is much easier to conceive of a retreat of the tide allowing the Israelites to cross and in their haste to catch up, the Egyptians crossing upstream and being caught by the returning tide. The bigger waves would be due to a swelling of the Nile due to increased rainfall. I have no doubt that the Biblical account has been heavily influenced by ancient accounts of the Theran eruption which can explain their similarity.
We have looked at the individual effects of Thera to see how they are tied in to the Biblical account as the theory unfolds but there is another aspect, the date of eruption of the volcano. If Thera could be proved to be responsible for the Exodus, it could also be used to date the Exodus itself and place it within the reign of a particular Pharaoh. The date that has been given to Thera by geologists, scientists and others is the Autumn of 1628. Unfortunately the upheaval has been made contemporary with Tuthmosis III who was previously from the 15th century. On what basis?
Pottery found in Theran houses buried under ash by Martinos was contemporary with pottery found in tombs compatible with Tuthmosis III and Hatshepsut. At this time trading with Crete and Greece was common. A Wall fresco in the tomb of Semut, architect and foreign minister to the queen, shows a procession of Minoan men wearing kilts identical to those on Theran walls, she is therefore thought to have ruled before the upheaval. In the tomb of Rekhmire, vizier of Tuthmosis III, there is a fresco of a procession of 14 men bearing gifts from Crete, a gift bearer whose kilt has been overpainted to depict the longer more ornate Greek kilt suggests a change of leadership within his lifetime. Wilson and Pelligrino both believe that the Minoan civilisation was not completely extinct by Thera but continued for a while and that later there was a change on Crete from Minoan to Greek leadership.
This leadership has been related to the chain of events in the following way: Hatshepsut was ruling before Thera and in some way it caused her fall from grace. Tuthmosis III became Pharaoh and went to Avaris and made expeditions into Canaan, obliterating all mention of the Queen. The other possibility is that Hatshepsut died before Thera and it had nothing to do with her. If the second is true then how can the evidence from her temple be talking of the Tsunami and how can the general theory that it was the Theran disaster that brought Tuthmosis to power be fitted in? The first possibility must obviously be the most sensible but raises more questions. Is there any definite proof that Tuthmosis was in Avaris while doing military training or is it conjecture? What was the status of Tuthmosis, Pharaoh or co-regent, who was actually in power? Most of all do the Holy Qur’an and Bible suggest the Pharaoh is a subordinate military leader in a deserted garrison city, or a fully established Pharaoh in his own thriving seat of government?
I also wish to comment on the external evidence cited, I believe that the fact that Theogony echoes the Theran eruption stage by stage is only proof that at some point Thera erupted and was thereafter recorded in tradition. I am surprised that we are told that Ipuwer and Exodus are so similar they are obviously based on the same source. Why should it not be the case that Ipuwer being the older should have been the basis of Exodus? In fact none of the evidence given can link the Israelites to the Volcano.
If the aim was to prove that Thera never erupted then I might face difficulty. But here, I am presenting the facts as preserved in the Holy Qur’an I have no doubt that Thera erupted, I am simply saying that there is no reason to link the eruption to the Exodus. Thera does not need to be linked to the Exodus to have occurred and vice versa.
The history of religion shows that God’s intervention into man’s affairs is not always a trumpet blowing and cataclismic event. Often there are Signs given to man by God, so that those who wish to believe and those who disbelieve may do so. Even without this general principle, a brief look at the Qur’an shows that the events described are not those described by Wilson and Pelligrino, that the Pharaoh relents or cannot be bothered to hinder the Israelites in the midst of a world wide disaster (We know that he could be bothered and even pursued them). Pelligrino is quite candid when he says,
I have a nagging suspicion that if we had access to the ultimate archaeological tool – a time machine… and ask Tuthmosis the third what happened when Thera exploded…he would tell us about the ash and the darkness…If we were to press him about the Hebrews and Moses, we might gasp at his total, almost contemptuous lack of interest (‘A Hebrew exodus? Israelites? I don’t remember them!’) in events sacred to modern Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
The order of events in both the Bible and Qur’an are different from the volcanic events and the theory does not fit the facts in every way, but the details are not considered important and where the clash cannot be ignored, for example the mutual incompatibility of Thera Tuthmosis and the 15th century, obviously one of these must change. Hence we sacrifice the timeline of Egyptian history and pull Tuthmosis back 200 years. Both books are well written and very interesting. Pelligrino, with whom I take exception, simply believes the Muslims have inherited Biblical stories and incorporated them into the Qur’an. I believe he is being unscientific. This could only be the case if the Qur’anic stories were proved to be a derivative of the Biblical ones. As the case stands it is the Biblical version of the days before the Exodus that seems more embellished.
Furthermore, if the Qur’an were based on the Bible, it should be careful not to differ in it’s version of events and yet differ it does. Leaving aside whether Pelligrino and other scholars believe the Qur’an is written by God or the Holy Prophet (saw), it should still be treated as an older text (7th century AD), preserving a different version of events. This is easier to comprehend if we remember that the Latin Vulgate, which is of great importance dates to approximately 400 AD and that the definitive Massoretic text is from the 10th century AD.
The two books whilst presenting basically the same theory do not back each other on the question of time, I am surprised that Wilson believed Thera’s eruption was dateable to the 15th century BC and that Pelligrino believes it is 17th century and yet they quote the same evidence. In this, however it is Pelligrino who is more thorough and who covers it step by step, but it is not only the Egyptian timeline that they are chewing over — their concept of events is also radically different.
Wilson is a traditionalist, he believes the Exodus took place as described in the Bible. Pelligrino is not so simplistic. He is aware that to simply say that this happened is not enough, he believes that the Exodus question is also linked to the expulsion of the Hyksos, he regards the Biblical version as everything rolled into one dramatic account. He thinks that we are seeing the story of multiple oppressions and expulsions telescoped into one, which is also the most dramatic. This is an important point for believers of the Bible to note. This theory does not support the Bible it merely shows that the Israelites exaggerated their own importance in the chain of events in Egypt. The events that are described by Wilson and Pelligrino would mean that instead of God sending warnings to the Egyptians and allowing them time to repent, it means that Pharaoh was given only one chance and thereafter inflicted with a grievious punishment. And yet in the Qur’an the real conflict is that of an increasingly arrogant and daring Pharaoh, who despite being given both time and chances, continues to oppose God.
This then is the price that we must pay for being allowed out of the realms of fable and into factual history. We are being given a framework into which we must do our best to modify and fit our theory. Wilson and Pelligrino are well satisfied and may not understand what all this fuss is about but that is because our starting premise is different from theirs. Instead of believing that the Holy Qur’an merely contains snippets of truth passed down by oral tradition, we believe it to be the Word of God. The burden of it’s truth therefore rests with us.
We cannot say exactly what occurred but noting those guidelines given in the Holy Qur’an, it does not appear that Tuthmosis III is the man we are looking for, a co-ruling military commander, who is stationed in a garrison city who comes to power after or during a national disaster and spitefully erases memory of his predecessor. We are looking for a bona fida pharaoh, a family man with children, with great power and arrogance, in a busy and settled city. The kind of man who writes accolades to himself and who has surpassed himself in arrogance to believe that he can challenge God.
As for the explosion of Thera, in all probability it happened, but rather than propelling the Israelites out of Egypt, if it had the wide ranging climatic effect suggested to cause a change in weather and drought and famine and change of leadership it may even have been instrumental in propelling them into Egypt in search of food.