Out of Egypt: Israel’s Exodus Between Text and Memory, History and Imagination

Watch full-length lecture videos as dozens of top scholars discuss new Exodus research at a recent UCSD conference

“The closest parallel to the Book of Exodus in the ancient West is Homer’s Odyssey. Both are stories of migration—of identity suspended until the protagonist—Odysseus or Israel—reaches a home. Neither account records events of the sort that are likely to have left marks in the archaeological record, or even in contemporaneous monuments… But the Exodus is not the story of an individual; it is the story of a nation. It is the historical myth of an entire people, a focal point for national identity.”
–Baruch Halpern, “The Exodus from Egypt: Myth or Reality?” The Rise of Ancient Israel, 1991.

The Exodus sits at the heart of Israelite religion, literature and identity, and aspects of the narrative helped shape traditions in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Yet challenging textual and archaeological evidence has led some scholars to question whether the Biblical narrative reflects a single historical event or if it should be read, as Ronald Hendel wrote in Bible Review, as “conflation of history and memory—a mixture of historical truth and fiction, composed of ‘authentic’ historical details, folklore motifs, ethnic self-fashioning, ideological claims and narrative imagination.”

A recent international conference hosted by Calit2’s Qualcomm Institute at UC San Diego addressed some of the most challenging issues in Exodus scholarship. According to the Out of Egypt: Israel’s Exodus Between Text and Memory, History and Imagination website, the conference “brought together more than 40 of the world’s leading archaeologists, Biblical scholars, Egyptologists, historians and geo-scientists. In tandem, the Qualcomm Institute staged an exhibition, EX3: Exodus, Cyber-Archaeology and the Future … as an experiment in trans-disciplinary research, team science, and scholarly communication using technologies developed for the museum of the future.”

Watch the conference’s full-length lectures online for free on Bible History Daily, courtesy of conference host Thomas E. Levy, distinguished professor and Norma Kershaw Chair in the Archaeology of Ancient Israel and Neighboring Lands at UCSD. For more on research at UCSD, visit the Levantine and Cyber-Archaeology Lab.


Watch the opening remarks at the bottom of this page, and click on lecture titles in the list below to watch.

Egyptology & Exodus

*Keynote Lecture* On the Historicity of the Exodus: What Egyptology Can Contribute Today in Assessing the Sojourn in Egypt. Manfred Bietak, director emeritus, Institute of Egyptology, University of Vienna. Keynote introduction: Thomas Schneider.

Out of Egypt: Did Israel’s Exodus Include Tales? Susan Hollis, State University of New York.

The Ark of the Covenant and Egyptian Sacred Barks: A Comparative Study. Scott Noegel, University of Washington (video unavailable).

Traditions Regarding a Great Going Forth from North-East Africa: Date and Reliability. Antoine Hirsch, Canadian Institute in Egypt on behalf of Donald Redford, Pennsylvania State University.

The ‘Image’ of the Pharaoh in Judahite and Israelite Society According to the Glyptic Evidence, Stefan Münger, University of Bern.

In the FREE eBook Ancient Israel in Egypt and the Exodus, top scholars discuss the historical Israelites in Egypt and archaeological evidence for and against the historicity of the Exodus.


Archaeology & History

*Keynote Lecture* The Wilderness Itineraries: Who, How and When Did Biblical Authors Know About the Southern Deserts? Israel Finkelstein, Tel Aviv University.

Dates for the Exodus I Have Known, Lawrence T. Geraty, La Sierra University.

Egyptian Text Parallels to the Exodus: The Egyptology Literature, Brad C. Sparks, Archaeological Research Group.

Can Archaeological Correlates for the Mnemo-Narratives of Exodus Be Found? Aren Maeir, Bar-Ilan University.

The Emergence of Israel in Retrospect, Robert Mullins, Azusa Pacific University.

The Emergence of Iron Age Israel: The Question of “Origins,” Avraham Faust, Bar-Ilan University and Harvard University.


Geography & Exodus

Har Karkom: Archaeological Discoveries on a Holy Mountain in the Desert of Exodus, Emmanuel Anati, University of Lecce.

Which Way Out of Egypt? Physical Geography Constraints on the Exodus Itinerary, Stephen Moshier, Wheaton College.

Egyptology, Egyptologists and the Exodus, James Hoffmeier, Trinity International University.


Text & Memory

*Keynote Lecture* Exodus and Memory: Remembering the Origin of Israel and Monotheism, Jan Assmann, University of Konstanz.

The Exodus and the Bible: What Was Known, What Was Remembered, What Was Forgotten, William Dever, University of Arizona and Lycoming College.

The Exodus Based on the Sources Themselves, Richard Friedman, University of Georgia.

The Omerta on the Exodus, Baruch Halpern, University of Georgia.

The Exodus Account in Recent Pentateuchal Interpretation, Konrad Schmid, University of Zurich.

Sources of Judicial Power in the Moses Story, Stephen Russell, Princeton Theological Seminary.


History & Memory

Hero and Villain: Outline of the Exodus Pharaoh in Artapanus, Caterina Moro, University of Rome Sapienza.

Leaving Home: Jewish-Hellenistic Authors on the Exodus, Rene Bloch, University of Bern.

Exodus in the Quran, Babak Rahimi, University of California, San Diego.

From Liberation to Expulsion: The Exodus in the Earliest Jewish-Pagan Polemic, Pieter van der Horst, University of Utrecht (delivered in his absence by Kathleen Bennallack).

The Despoliation of Egypt: From Stealing Treasures to Saving Texts, Joel Allen, Dakota Wesleyan University.

In Search of Israel’s Insider Status: A Re-Evaluation of Israel’s Origins, Brendon Benz, William Jewell College.

What Was the Exodus? William Propp, University of California, San Diego.

Interested in the latest archaeological technology? Researchers at the University of California, San Diego’s Calit2 laboratory recently released the FREE Biblical Archaeology Society eBook “Cyber-Archaeology in the Holy Land — The Future of the Past,” featuring the latest research on GPS, Light Detection and Ranging Laser Scanning, unmanned aerial drones, 3D artifact scans, CAVE visualization environments and much more.


Myth & History

*Keynote Lecture* The Exodus as Cultural Memory: Poetics, Politics, and the Past, Ronald Hendel, UC Berkeley.

Outside of Egypt: Joseph, Moses, and the Idea of Pastoralism Across Distance, Daniel Fleming, New York University (video unavailable).

Moses the Magician, Gary Rendsburg, Rutgers University.

The Revelation of the Divine Name to Moses, Thomas Römer, University of Lausanne.

The Exodus Narrative Between History and Literary Fiction, Christoph Berner, Universität Göttingen.

Mythic Dimensions of the Exodus Tradition, Bernard Batto, DePauw University.

Exodus and Exodus Traditions After the Linguistic Turn in History, Garrett Galvin, Fransciscan School of Theology and Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, and University of San Diego.


Science & History

“The First Memory of Things”: Isaac Newton on Exodus and the Chronology of the Egyptian Empire, Mordechai Feingold, California Institute of Technology.

How Calculations Invaded the Deep Past, Jed Buchwald, California Institute of Technology.

Times of Darkness: Extreme Events, Long-Term Environmental Change, Mythology and History, John Grattan, Aberystwyth University.

Radiocarbon-Based Chronology for Egypt Over the Periods Relevant to the Exodus Tradition, Michael Dee, University of Oxford (co-authors C. Bronk Ramsey, T. Higham).

The Thera Theories: Science and the Modern Reception History of the Exodus, Mark Harris, University of Edinburgh.

Exodus: A Geophysical Perspective, Steven Ward, University of California, Santa Cruz.

Inspired by a Tsunami? Computer Simulations of Potential (Tsunamigenic) Scenarios Related to the Exodus Narrative, Amos Salamon, Geological Survey of Israel (with co-authors S. Ward, F. McCoy, T. Levy).



EX3: Exodus, Cyber-Archaeology and the Future. Thomas E. Levy, UCSD.


Opening Remarks Video

Exodus Welcome and Introductions, Thomas Levy, Conference Chair; Jeff Elman, Dean, Division of Social Sciences, UCSD; Ramesh Rao, Director, Qualcomm Institute; Pradeep K. Khosla, Chancellor, UC San Diego

Welcome, Seth Lerer, Dean, Division of Arts + Humanities, UCSD



Closing Remarks

Out of Egypt Conference: Summation, Thomas Schneider, University of British Columbia.

Closing, Thomas Levy, University of California, San Diego.


Lecture videos courtesy of conference host Thomas E. Levy, distinguished professor and Norma Kershaw Chair in the Archaeology of Ancient Israel and Neighboring Lands at UCSD. All videos originally published on the Out of Egypt: Israel’s Exodus Between Text and Memory, History and Imagination website, which features additional Exodus research and more information on the UCSD conference. For more on research at UCSD, visit the Levantine and Cyber-Archaeology Lab.

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  • Aquilla says

    Check out Night Signs by Aquilla Fleetwood.

  • Mervyn says

    Has none of the “experts” ever read “Ages in Chaos” by Dr. Immanuel Velikovsky?
    Perhaps they keep silent about his great work so that they can cling on to their out-of-date ideas about the Exodus – and therefore all later Israelite history, They would have nothing left to speculate about!
    Joe mentioned that the Exodus Pharaoh was the last of the Hyksos/Amalekites but the Hebrew Bible tells us clearly the as the Israelites were LEAVING Egypt (heading roughly east) the were attacked by the Amalekites heading WEST towards Egypt. The “Hyksos” (a descriptive name invented by the Greeks very many centuries after they entered Egypt after the devastation caused by the plagues and the destruction of Egypt’s army and king at the Sea of Reeds. Anyway we know from the Book of Samuel, the name of the last Amalakite pharoah and it was NOT the name Joe gave. Reasd alkl about it in “Ages in Chaos”.

  • Joe says

    Ummm, it seems no one has considered that the “Egyptians” from whom the Israelites fled were in fact the Hyksos. More specifically, the pharaoh of the Exodus narrative who was confronted by Aaron and Moses was Khamudi, the last of the Hyksos pharaohs. The devastation of the Hyksos army in the Sea of Reeds would have left the Lower Delta wide open to invasion by the Theban Ppharaoh Ahmose, but only after a few years had passed since the devastation of the Nine Plagues (the Tenth was exclusively for the Hyksos people), being cause by volcanic activity to the west (in the Tibesti Massif) would have affected the Egyptians as well. By the (more or less) standard Egyptian chronology the Israelite exodus from (Hyksos-controlled) Egypt would have occurred around 1550 BCE, certainly not a century before, nor a century (or more) after. That means the “experts” have gotten the Biblical exegesis/chronology all wrong. Oh well, maybe the next generation will finally get it right.

  • Matheny says

    When “biblical” publications call the Exodus “a mixture of historical truth and fiction” composed of “historical details [and] folklore” and “historical myth”; we have “true lies!” May God deliver us from such! Will they next “help” explain the gospels and the life of Christ; will the resurrection then become an “historical myth”? If they believe the Exodus was an “historical myth,” what would that say about the Ten Commandments, which were given during the Exodus? They are using the good name of the Bible to attract believers but may they take the word Bible off their publications. Read EXODUS: The Route, Sea Crossing, God’s Mountain, this book deals with those “Who changed the truth of God into a lie…” http://www.amazon.com/EXODUS-G-M-Matheny-ebook/dp/B005DHNWXC/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=

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