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This Article was written for and published in the bilingual Turkish magazine Consensus.
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The struggle of Moses with the Pharaoh of Egypt, who was also his brother; the deliverance of his people from slavery; the ten plagues of Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea are related in sacred texts full of miraculous events. It is an integral part of the religious beliefs of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. But what can we make of it in this scientific age with its precise chronology of history? Immanuel Velikovsky in his book written half a century ago, Ages of Chaos, has offered striking and ingenious solutions. He has presented challenging scientific explanations, which convincingly solve historical puzzles. Some recent historians have revived this thesis supported with new evidence.
Immanuel Velikovsky (1895-1979) was born in Russia to a Jewish family. He graduated from the University of Moscow majoring in ancient history and sociology, he also received a degree in medicine, and later studied psychiatry in Vienna under Wilhem Stekel a pupil of Sigmund Freud. Later he studied cosmology, astronomy, geology, mythology, sacred literature and combined these disciplines to rewrite history in a series of astonishing books. His most important theory was that there have been a number of major catastrophes that have shaped the course of history. However, due to what he termed collective amnesia, the fact that people tend to push unpleasant event into their subconscious, these events have been forgotten. Science has also tended to ignore these catastrophes, for the same reason, even though they have left signs everywhere. Modern research has tended to confirm that these catastrophes have indeed occurred. One example is the discovery of huge meteor craters in Iraq dated to 2300 B.C.. This is now believed to have caused the decline of major civilization in the Near East and to have triggered a dark age that lasted for centuries. It is believed that the Israelites migrated to the more hospital Nile delta at the end of this era. After some time a new Pharaoh who had forgotten the period when Joseph was vizier enslaved the Israelites.
According to the Pentateuch / Torah the Exodus occurred in 1447 B.C. and since Ramses was mentioned. It was assumed that Ramses II was the oppressive Pharaoh of the Exodus. Gigantic monuments of Ramsess time fortified this view in the eyes of Victorian scholars. It was assumed that the Exodus must have occurred during his time (1279-1213 B.C.). However, there is no historical evidence to support this view. Nor is there any sign of the catastrophic period mention in the Pentateuch. Ramses is also mentioned during the time when Joseph was vizier. But this was hundreds of years before the Exodus. For this reason it has been reasonably assumed that Ramses is merely a generic term and that another Pharaoh was in power at the time. Both Velikovsky and the historian David Rohl in his book A Testament of Time have designated the Pharaoh of the Exodus as Dudimose of the 13th Dynasty. It is claimed that Moses is not a Hebrew name but means prince or son in Egyptian. For example, Tutmose, son of Thoth (The Egyptian god); Amenmose, son of Amen (the Egyptian god); Ramose, son of Ra (the Egyptian god) are all Pharaohs. According to the ancient Egyptian Historian Manetho, at the time of Dudimose, Egypt met The Wrath of God and signs of a great catastrophe were recently discovered at this period. Also according to Manetho, Egypt fell week in this period and was easily conquered by the Hyksos.
According to the Pentateuch, because the Pharaoh did not release the Israelites from bondage, Egypt suffered a series of ten plagues. These were: 1) Rivers and water sources turned into blood; 2) Frogs 3) Lice; 4) Flies; 5) Disease and death of Livestock; 6) Boils; 7) Hail mixed with fire; 8) Locusts; 9) Darkness; 10) Death of the first born.
An important argument set forth by Velikovsky involves the papyrus of Ipuwer placed into the Leiden Museum in the Netherlands in 1828. This papyrus appears to relate events that occurred in the early ages of ancient Egypt. According to academicians it contains riddles or prophecies, however it openly relates a number of catastrophes that befell Egypt. The Nile turning to blood, the waters being undrinkable, the death of animals, the sky becoming dark, fires, earthquakes, hungry and destitute Egyptians are among these. If Velikovsky is correct then it disproves the contention that there is no trace of the events related in the Pentateuch recorded in Egyptian history.
The Eruption of the Santorini volcano in the Aegean Island of Thera was believed to have occurred at that age. Geologists have given such diverse ages as 1638 B.B. and 1360 B.C. for this catastrophe. Velikovsky claims that a chain of volcanoes exploded causing the plagues of Egypt. The Santorini explosion is known to have caused such radical changes such as the end of the Mycenaean civilization. It was many times more powerful than the eruption of Karakatoa in 1883, which shuck the world and caused 35 thousands deaths. At the same time mount Vesusius is believed to have erupted in a huge blast. The Santorini eruption was believed to have been a thousand time more powerful than a nuclear bomb. In the Pentateuch, it is mentioned that there as pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night to guide the Israelites in their journey. Velikovsky believes that the Sinai mountain, which is volcanic, erupted and as volcanoes appear to be pillars of smoke by day and pillars of fire by night, this would explain this enigmatic reference.
According to Velikovsky and recent theories, such volcanic eruptions would explain the darkness, and hail and lightning are known to accompany volcanic explosions of great magnitude. On a recent event, a river in America turned red. With the poisoning of waters, frogs and other amphibian reptiles would roam the land. Later they would die to create flies and lice, which would spread boils and disease. Recent discoveries of mass graves from this period in the Avaris region tend to confirm the theory of a plague.
How then can we explain the parting of the Red Sea? Velikovsky suggests that the Israelites crossed the shallow Sea of Reeds. An earthquake triggered by the eruptions caused the waters to fall back, and then to rush back to swallow the chariots of the Pharaoh.
Velikovksys claim that there are faults in standard excepted Egyptian chronology and that there is shift of a few hundred years is confirmed by a number of modern revisionist historians such as David Rohl. Rohl like Velikovsky offers hundreds of pages of evidence to support this claim. Other scholars have claimed that most of the Old Testament, including the stay in Egypt, Exodus, the fall of Jericho, the Temple of Solomon are works of fiction. Rohls answer to this claim is that the wrong period in history is sought for archeological evidence. If they went a bit further back all the evidence is there.
Great catastrophes when the Exodus occurred would have resulted in major migrations. According to both Velikovsky and Rohl, the Hyksos conquered Egypt shortly after the Exodus. Egyptian historians call these people the Amu, and both authors claim that they are the same as the Biblical Amalekite hordes which the Israelites fought with and prevailed over. They were also called the Hyksos or Shepard Kings, and according to Manetho, they conquered Egypt without resistance. Their rule which was described as cruel and destructive ended after a few hundred years after which they were driven off by Ahmoses I of the Southern Upper Egypt kingdom, which was free from their rule. Arab historians such as Mesudi, have related that the Amalekites fled from their home in Southern Arabia to conquer Egypt and Syria after violent natural catastrophes such as floods that swept away whole tribes, the decent of clouds (smoke?) and pestilence of ants. According to Velikovsky the meaning of Psalms (78:49,50) He cast upon them [Egyptians] the fierceness of his anger, wrath, and indignation, and trouble, by sending evil angels among them, should be He cast upon them the fierceness of his anger, wrath, and indignation, and trouble, by sending shepherd kings among them. Because evil angels is spelled malakhei-roim, which is close to the spelling of malakhim-roim, which means shepherd kings.
Sacred books claim miraculous powers for Moses. If as Velikovsky claims, the events that occurred at this tumultuous period had a natural cause, then in my opinion it by no means diminishes the status of a great and wise leader, who foresaw them and interpreted them as the wrath of God. The fact that Manetho mentioned that the Egyptians had suffered the Wrath of God the confirms this view.
If the theories of Velikovsky are correct, then it not only gives us spectacular new version of Biblical history, but has a message for us. If catastrophes occurred as frequently in the past as Velikovsly claimed, then we should be more prepared for such events in the future.