Hebrews, Israelites, & Judaeans
© Charles Chandler
The section on the Patriarchs and Judges concluded with Ramose camped on the East Bank, preaching the core beliefs of Atenism to Habirus, beginning in . Then, in , Horemheb explicitly outlawed Atenism in Egypt. There would have been a backlash, and it would have made sense for Horemheb to allow the most fervent and influential Atenists to leave the country, reducing the risk of an insurrection. This is when the Seder says that the Exodus occurred, so the 1312-Exodus was the flight of Atenists who preferred to take their chances in the desert rather than go back to the old ways under Horemheb. This could have involved a couple hundred or a couple thousand people, but not more than that, or we'd see more Egyptian influence on things like pottery, construction, tools, and language in the Levant (as mentioned near the end of the section on Archaeology & Secular Literature). Still, the story of these people leaving Egypt contributed significantly to the lore. But by , Ramose was 76 years old, and yielding power to Eglon.1 Ramose had been denied admittance into the Promised Land,2 but after he and all of that generation had died,3,4 the new leader of the Hebrews in Moab might have thought that it would be OK to march westward. The hereditary governors on the West Bank wouldn't have appreciated this, and it's possible that they sought to consolidate their power to hold off the advancing Hebrews.
In , Jacob would have been 46 years old, and thus old enough to have children ready for marriage. In the Torah, one of his daughters became the center of a nasty conflict — Dinah had caught the eye of Shechem, who was the lord of the principal city in the northern province.5 Marriages between the clans of Jacob & Shechem were eventually approved, on the condition that all of the males in the city of Shechem get circumcised,6 which was an Egyptian custom, and which was required of all of the males descended from Abraham.7 But Jacob's sons Simeon & Levi took exception to the alliance, killing all of the men who had gotten circumcised.8 Jacob then gathered up all of the likenesses of pagan gods that he could find, along with the earrings from everybody with him, and "hid" them under a famous oak tree in the city of Shechem.9 Then he continued on to Bethel, where God gave him the new name of Israel.10 This was the foundational event for both the Levites and the Israelites, but taken at face value, the story asks more questions than it answers. So we need to fill in some details to get a clearer picture of what happened.
That famous oak tree in Shechem was where God had confirmed the grant of Canaan to Abraham.11 A "sanctuary of the Lord" (as worded in the KJV) had been built there, and this was where Joshua erected a monument as testament to the loyalty of the people to God.12 This was also where Joseph's bones were later buried.13 It sounds like Jacob "hid" the idolatry and jewelry in the most important temple in the northern province. Of course, "hiding" something in a temple is more commonly called an offering. So after a bunch of his recruits got killed, Jacob paid his dues at the regional temple, to get on God's good side. But the God of the Hebrews wouldn't have appreciated the idolatry, not to mention the polytheism, so it wasn't a Hebrew temple. Rather, a temple where Mitanni princes renewed their covenant with "God" in return for property rights on the Egyptian frontier, and where idols of pagan gods were worshiped, would have been an Egyptian temple, and the covenant being renewed was with the pharaoh. So after the bloody conflict, Jacob reaffirmed his loyalty to Horemheb. Thereafter, neighboring townsfolk didn't attack Jacob for looting the city, since now the fear of "God" was in them.14 Hence Horemheb acknowledged Jacob's offerings, and afforded him protection.
Next, "God" (=Horemheb) gave Jacob the new name of Israel. Scholars are unsure of the etymology, but the obvious inference is that Israel was a concatenation of Isis, Ra, and Elohim.15,16 Note that in Egyptian, Isis is spelled Is.t, where the trailing "t" is the feminine modifier not used in concatenations. Likewise, El was the combinatorial form of Elohim. Since concatenations of the names of gods were common during this period (e.g., Amun-Ra, Otni'el), it's hard to imagine how the people at that time would have thought anything except that Is-Ra-El was a marriage of Egyptian and Canaanite gods.
Note that the Song of Miriam mentions Philistia, Edom, Moab, and Canaan, but not Israel.17 Linguistic analysis reveals that this is one of the oldest passages in the Tanakh, lending credence to its geography. The passage occurs just after the parting of the Red Sea, when the exiles were casting their thoughts to what lay ahead. So Israel didn't exist prior to the Exodus.18 In the present thesis, this is because Horemheb changed Jacob's name to Israel after the 1312-Exodus, and after Ramose had passed away in .
But Horemheb granted Jacob more than just a name. Despite Esau being Isaac's heir apparent, "God" (=Horemheb) renewed the covenant with Jacob instead.19 So Jacob moved to Hebron.20 Shortly thereafter, Isaac passed away, being 76 years old in , which sealed the deal with Jacob,21 forcing Esau to move to Seir.22 This would have been the substance of the claim that Jacob had tricked Esau out of his birthright, not the story about the lentil stew,23 or about the old & blind Isaac mistakenly blessing Jacob instead of Esau.24 Rather, Jacob gave the booty from Shechem to Horemheb, and Horemheb rewrote the covenant in Jacob's name.
To put it all together, the year was , and Jacob was in the process of assimilating the clan of Shechem, which would have given him control over the principal city in the northern province. Somebody must have thought that this would make Jacob too powerful, and tried to foil the maneuver by killing all of the males in Shechem. In consideration of how the events unfolded, that "somebody" would have been the Levites, formerly confined to the East Bank, but now gaining a foothold in Canaan. So Jacob grabbed up all of the booty and gave it to Horemheb, who returned the favor by granting Esau's inheritance to Jacob. Horemheb also designated Is-Ra-El as the new official group of gods to be worshiped. Since Aten wasn't one of them, the message was clear — people could still worship a Sun god, as long as they were willing to go with Ra instead of Aten, and assuming that they'd renounce the exclusivity demanded by Atenism, forced by the inclusion of Isis in the mix. This would have split the sun-worshipers into two groups: the hard-liners who would continue to swear allegiance to Adonai, and the moderates who would shift their loyalty over to Israel. This would cut the size of the Atenist camp in half, making it more manageable. This would also reduce the chance of another open conflict, since Atenists fighting former Atenists would be less likely than Atenists fighting Elohists.
The difference in point of view between Hebrews & Israelites was never fully resolved, even after several redactions over the next several hundred years. For example, the actions of Simeon & Levi were reprehensible, and Jacob cursed them.25,26 Deborah later neglected to mention their clans,27 thinking that they had been duly suppressed. Yet Ramose blessed the Levites,28 who went on to become the priesthood. The names Simeon & Levi are still popular for Jewish boys, and the manliness of what they did (?) is memorialized in the bar mitzvah, which occurs at the age of 13, because that was the age of Simeon & Levi when they massacred the Shechemites.29 Clearly, somebody thought that the young men were heroes. So the same conflict looked very different, depending on the allegiances of the observers.
But the Levites still didn't give up. In , Bedouin tribes from Moab pressed forcibly into Canaan.30:29,31:409
Their tribal chiefs are in coalition and they are gaining a foothold in Palestine; they have taken to cursing and quarreling, each of them slaying his neighbor, and they disregard the laws of the palace.
By this time, any Hebrews waiting for Ramose to deliver on his promise of land in Canaan gave up waiting, and set out to take it by force if necessary. Eglon had taken over, but the lack of solidarity among the Bedouins certainly suggests the absence of a respected leader. The mayhem prompted a campaign by Seti I to restore law & order. Shortly thereafter, Hebrew settlements started popping up throughout the Judaean Mountains,32:35 especially to the north. So the order that Seti imposed included tolerance of Hebrews on the West Bank, and thus it was by his hand that the first Hebrew nation () was established. By , the Judaean Mountains were recognized in a treaty as "the land of the Habiru of the Sun",33:96,34:28 which in the present thesis would be the Hebrews.
The animosity between Hebrews & Israelites persisted, since Jacob didn't stay in power and adopt the immigrants — he rather was displaced by them. Seti installed Ehud as the governor, and then commissioned the construction of a summer palace near Avaris, attracting workers from Canaan. Since there were over 3 million people in Egypt at the time, and less than 50,000 people in all of Canaan, it's odd that there would have been a need to import laborers from the frontier, suggesting that there was a political reason. Perhaps Seti decided to let the Hebrews have whatever they thought had been promised to them on the West Bank, but then he had to make it up to the Israelites, so he created jobs for them in the delta. Ramesses II commissioned a whole new city to be built at Avaris, which he renamed Pi-Ramses, and which brought in a lot more migrant labor.35:618 This could have been a continuation of the same policy.
Of course, the Torah doesn't say that the Israelites moved to Goshen as consolation for surrendering land to Hebrews, nor would we expect anything like that, since later redactors would have blurred the distinction between these groups in trying to tell it as the story of one people. So the Torah just says that Canaan was struck with a famine,36 and Jacob's son Joseph negotiated a deal with the pharaoh to let the Israelites settle in Goshen.37 There is no secular record of a famine early in the , but there might have been a little bit of truth to the Israelite account. On the 1312-Exodus, the Atenists learned not to intermingle with people who did not observe their customs concerning hygiene & diet, because every time they did, they had another bout of the plague.38 The incident with Dinah & Shechem reinforced the divide between Hebrews & Israelites, as did the golden calf fiasco. Once settled in Canaan, the Hebrews avoided doing business with the indigenous population.39 Rather, the pastoral nomads set up their own farming communities, such that all of the grain and livestock were exchanged between Hebrews. Thus the Israelites would have been beset with the economic hardship of a shepherd boycott, which got recorded as a "famine". While Jacob was granted some prime real estate in the delta,40 the rest of the people were so poor that they sold their livestock, and then themselves, in return for food.41 After the "famine", they continued on as tenant farmers, owing 1/5 of their crops to the pharaoh.42 The account mentions Ramesses,40 who ruled , and the "long period" of their stay in Egypt was his 66-year reign — the longest in the New Kingdom.43,44 Ramesses is often regarded as the greatest pharaoh of the Egyptian Empire,45 and the population and wealth of the delta swelled during this period.
Then, in , Ramesses was succeeded by Merneptah, who had a different opinion of the swelling population in the delta.
Exodus 1:6-10

Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, but the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them.

Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. "Look," he said to his people, "the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. 10 Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country."

Merneptah's fears were prophetic (if only by way of a redactor's postdiction). In , the Bronze Age Collapse hit the eastern Mediterranean. Famine swept the land, prompting a coalition of Libyans, Sea Peoples, and various tribes from Canaan to attack the delta for want of food. Merneptah repelled the attack, and then campaigned in the Levant to destroy the power-base of the coalition. He then moved the capital back to Memphis, canceling the public works projects at Pi-Ramses. The laborers would have then been released from their indentured servitude, and allowed to return to Canaan. This could be interpreted as an exodus of sorts — hereafter the "1208-Exodus".
Due to the specificity and historicity of the aforementioned passages in the Torah, many scholars have considered this to be the story of "the" Exodus, with the Israelites enslaved in the delta, with Ramesses as the pharaoh of the oppression, and with Merneptah as the pharaoh of the Exodus.46:256,309,310 But there are intractable problems with this. Remember that the was both the age of Ramesses in Egypt, and precisely the period in which Hebrew settlements were popping up throughout the Judaean Mountains, which was known in the secular records as "the land of the Habiru of the Sun". So why do we have clear evidence of Hebrews in the Judaean Mountains, and yet no such evidence at Pi-Ramses? And how could Israelites released from slavery in Egypt go settle in Canaan, just when Merneptah was bragging that their "seed was no more"? And why did the conquest of Canaan require the suppression of Adoni-Bezek,47 which was a Hebrew name?
If we let all of the evidence stand firm, the riddles will solve themselves. There is incontrovertible evidence of both the establishment of a Hebrew culture in the Judaean Mountains, and a migration of people from Canaan to Goshen to help build Pi-Ramses, at precisely the same time — the early . So both happened. Furthermore, they were related. The advance of Atenist Habirus into Canaan in Seti I's time displaced the indigenous population, who were granted refuge in Egypt, and were put to work building Pi-Ramses. In other words, with Atenists pressing into Canaan in , who is petitioning the pharaoh for asylum in the eastern delta in ? Surely not the Atenists — they were the ones trying to get away from the pharaoh! Rather, the ones traveling in the other direction were the indigenous people who were being displaced. They would not return until after Merneptah's campaign in . And since the new Hebrew settlements were more numerous in the north (i.e., Israel), there would have been more Israelites than Judaeans displaced. So it would seem that Seti I allowed the Atenist Habirus to cross the Jordan and settle on the West Bank, and as consolation for their losses, the Israelites were allowed to move to Goshen. But the Israelite camps in Goshen show none of the signs of Hebrew culture, because this was before the Hebrew & Israelite cultures had merged, which didn't begin before .
We might also note that it was later still that the cultures in the northern & southern provinces of Canaan merged. The earliest mentions of the Exodus are by the prophets Amos (possibly) and Hosea (certainly), both active in Israel during the . Prophets in Judah writing in the same period, including Proto-Isaiah and Micah, never mention it.48:327 This would make sense if both the Hebrews and Israelites were based in northern Canaan, and thus they both had their own Exodus stories, but the Judaeans weren't from Egypt, so they didn't flee from Horemheb in , nor were they involved in the migration to Goshen, so they didn't flee from Merneptah in — thus there wasn't any "exodus" in Judaean history. The accounts of the trek out of Egypt are largely drawn from the Elohist and Priestly Sources, and the occasional awkward injection from the Jahwist Source should perhaps be read as a third-person observation.
In conclusion, some of the details in the story of "the" Exodus match up with the exile of Atenists in , who pressed into Canaan in , and were known as "Habirus of the Sun", and who left no pig bones in their trash heaps. They were Hebrews. Then other aspects of the story match up with people who had moved to Goshen during the reign of Ramesses II, and who moved back on the heals of Merneptah after . They were Israelites. Both groups had been in Egypt, and had moved to Canaan, but in two different periods, and under very different circumstances. 600 years later, these two stories were merged during the Deuteronomic Reform. Josiah had inherited a country of mixed ethnicity that he wanted to unify. To do this, he had to convince everyone that they all had a common heritage. So details from both the Hebrew and the Israelite "conquests" were fused together, making both cultures stakeholders in the new official version.49:227


1. Lawrenz, J. C. (1997): Judges, Ruth. Northwestern Publishing House

2. Deuteronomy 34:4. (E)

3. Numbers 14:33. (P)

4. Numbers 26:63-65. (P)

5. Genesis 34:2. (J)

6. Genesis 34:15-16. (J)

7. Genesis 17:10. (P)

8. Genesis 34:25. (J)

9. Genesis 35:4. (E)

10. Genesis 35:10. (P)

11. Genesis 12:6-7. (J)

12. Joshua 24:25-26.

13. Joshua 24:32.

14. Genesis 35:5. (E)

15. Maxwell, J. (2015): Matrix of Power.

16. Rhodes, B. M. (2015): The meaning of the name Israel.

17. Exodus 15:1-18. (J)

18. Friedman, R. E. (1987): Who Wrote the Bible?

19. Genesis 35:12. (P)

20. Genesis 35:27. (P)

21. Genesis 35:29. (P)

22. Genesis 36:6-8. (R)

23. Genesis 25:29-34. (J)

24. Genesis 27:1-10. (J)

25. Genesis 34:30. (J)

26. Genesis 49:5-7. (J)

27. Judges 5:2-31.

28. Deuteronomy 33:8-11. (D2)

29. Kalmenson, M. (2017): Simeon and Levi — Paradigms for a Bar Mitzvah Boy?

30. Rowe, A. (1930): The topography and history of Beth-shan: with details of the Egyptian and other inscriptions found on the site. University of Pennsylvania Museum

31. Breasted, J. H. (1905): A history of Egypt from the earliest times to the Persian conquest. New York: C. Scribner's Sons

32. McNutt, P. M. (1999): Reconstructing the Society of Ancient Israel. Westminster John Knox Press

33. Schaeffer, C. (1956): Stratigraphie comparée et chronologie de l'Asie occidentale.

34. Chandler, T. (1976): Godly Kings and Early Ethics. Exposition Press

35. Wente, E. (1992): Rameses. Pgs 617-618 in "The Anchor Bible Dictionary." Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc., Vol. 5

36. Genesis 41:29-30. (E)

37. Genesis 46:31-34. (J)

38. Numbers 25:6-9. (P)

39. Joshua 23:7.

40. Genesis 47:11. (J)

41. Genesis 47:13-19. (J)

42. Genesis 47:23-24. (J)

43. Genesis 47:27. (J,P)

44. Exodus 2:23. (J,P)

45. Putnam, J. (1990): Egyptology: an Introduction to the History, Art, and Culture of Ancient Egypt.

46. Kitchen, K. A. (2006): On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

47. Judges 1:4-6.

48. Lemche, N. P. (1985): Early Israel: Anthropological and Historical Studies on the Israelite. Brill

49. Assmann, J. (2003): The Mind of Egypt: History and Meaning in the Time of the Pharaohs. Harvard University Press

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