Did Moses Really Exist And Did The Exodus Ever Take Place?

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                                              The Mummy of the 'Pharaoh of Moses'

By Zahi Hawass
April 24, 2009
Al Ahram Weekly


I recently read on the Internet the story of Ramses II's mummy.

We know that during the late 1970s the French president, Giscard d'Estaing, asked President Anwar El-Sadat if the mummy of Ramses II could be sent to Paris for conservation and preservation. Being that this mummy did not require any treatment, the real reason behind their request lay in their search for the Pharaoh of the biblical Exodus whom they believed to be Ramses II, also known as Ramses the Great, third ruler of the New Kingdom's 19th Dynasty. This ulterior motive, however, was never voiced to the authorities.

According to the holy books, the Pharaoh ruling in Moses's time drowned in the Red Sea during an epic chase after the parting of the waters. The French scientists were seeking evidence to prove the occurrence of this miraculous event.

The mummy of Ramses the Great was given a royal welcome at Le Bourget airport. Even the French president attended the glamorous ceremony. The mummy was then transferred to the French archaeological centre for examination.

One of the scientists responsible for the mummy's examination was a very dishonest man. He stole strands of Ramses II's hair and kept them for himself. Later on, his son attempted to sell the strands of hair on the Internet. With the help of our ambassador to France, Nasser Kamel, we were able to put an end to this and return the strands of hair to Cairo.

On the mummy's return to Cairo, reporters interviewed the French scientist about his findings. He stated that, inside the mummy, he had discovered a strange insect. The reporters laughed and called it a French insect. I seriously believe that sending the mummy of Ramses II to France was a big mistake.

Numerous false ideas about the mummy have recently been published. First, it has been said that the hands of the mummy are positioned differently than all other royal mummies, especially the left hand. This is inaccurate. Both Ramses II's arms are laid on his chest, just like all the other royal New Kingdom mummies. It has also been said that when the linen surrounding the mummy was untied the left arm jumped up, leading to the conclusion that the embalmers forced the mummy's arms position. Finally, some have stated that the laboratory results demonstrated the remains of salt inside the body of Ramses II, and that X-rays showed that many of his bones were broken. According to theorists, these results indicate that the Pharaoh drowned in the sea. They claimed that the strange position of his left hand indicated that he was holding the reins of a horse, while swinging a sword in his right. Furthermore, they added that while the Pharaoh was drowning he was attempting to push the water with his left hand, hence the reason for the embalmers having to force the left arm back into the traditional position.

I do not think that any of these ideas is correct. Egyptologists know that salt was used in the mummification process and that a great amount of salt is always found while examining mummies. For example, about 28 large jars full of natron, the type of salt used in mummification, were recently discovered in tomb KV 63 in the Valley of the Kings. Therefore, the fact that salt was found inside the royal mummy of Ramses II does not, by any means, prove that he drowned in the Red Sea. This said, I do not believe that there is any real evidence demonstrating that Pharaoh Ramses II drowned at all.

All these theories posted on the Internet are inaccurate, as the research conducted was not scientific.

It is my opinion that we should conduct further research into the lineage of Ramses II. Now that I have successfully had the mummy believed to be that of Ramses I flown back to Cairo from Atlanta, our scientists can investigate further into the true identity of this mummy. Lastly, with the help of the DNA labs and CT-Scanning machines in Cairo, the Egyptian Mummy Project can begin to determine the true identity of Ramses II's family members. These tests could, perhaps, also help us answer the everlasting question of whether or not Ramses II was truly the Pharaoh of the Exodus. Most importantly, the CT- Scanning machine can take up to 1,700 images which will reveal to be important evidence for our research.

It will be the first time that an Egyptian team has attempted this study.


Copyright Al-Ahram Weekly 


The ancient Exodus from Egypt has been a rich symbol for liberation movements and literature, but those who try to dig up the evidence of the mass migration say the proof is nowhere to find.

For the past several years archaeologists searching for desert routes or evidence of Joshua's conquest of Canaan have encountered a dead end.

Yet Bible scholars and historians continue the quest, amassing what circumstantial evidence they can find, but no real proof....


                                        Did Moses really exist and did the Exodus ever take place?

Let's start with the prequel to the Exodus, the story of Joseph and his family. Excavations in the eastern delta
of the Nile have revealed a gradual increase in Canaanite pottery, architecture, and tombs, beginning about
1800 B.C.

As explained by Donald Redford, professor of Near Eastern studies at the University of Toronto, in his book Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times, these findings are broadly consistent with the tale of Joseph, the visits of his family to Egypt, and their eventual settlement there.[1] Archaeologists have identified the site of Avaris, the Egyptian city of that period that was the capital of a people known as the Hyskos, a name which translates from the Egyptian as "rulers of foreign land." Inscriptions and seals bearing the names of Hyskos kings indicate that they were Canaanites.

Although the Egyptian historian Manetho, writing in about 300 B.C. from an Egyptian perspective, asserts that Egypt was brutally invaded by the Hyskos, archaeologists believe the takeover was peaceful. However, the forceful expulsion of the Hyskos as described by Manetho is supported by other archaeological and historical sources. The most reliable evidence, according to Redford, suggests that Pharaoh Ahmose and his forces attacked and defeated the Hyskos in Avaris, and chased them out of Egypt into southern Canaan in 1570 B.C.[2]

The Roman-Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, citing Manetho, equates the expulsion of the Hyskos from Egypt with the Exodus. As Abba Eban points out, "this is plainly impossible,"[3] in the context of the Biblical chronology. The Book of Exodus states that Hebrew slaves built the city of Pi Ramses ("House of Ramses"). According to Egyptian sources, the city was built during the reign of Ramses II, who ruled 1279-1213 B.C. In other words, the Biblical Exodus would have had to have taken place 300 years after the expulsion of the Hyskos.

Of course there is also no evidence that the Hyskos were ever enslaved--or even Hebrews. Again quoting Abba Eban, "few modern scholars would go so far as to assert that the Hebrews and the Hyskos were the same people."[4] If the Hyskos were not the Hebrews, what then, is the earliest non-Biblical reference to this people?


About a century ago, archaeologists found 350 tablets covered with cuneiform writing in the Akkadian language in the Egyptian village of El Amarna. These
tablets, dating to the 14th century B.C., contain numerous references to a people whose name is Habiru (or alternatively Hapiru or Apiru) in the Akkadian
language. The obvious phonetic similarity to "Hebrew" suggested to early scholars that the Habiru of the Amarna tablets and the Hebrews were the same people.

However, subsequent archaeological findings as described by Niels Lemche, professor of Old Testament studies at the University of Copenhagen, in his book Prelude to Israel's Past, indicated widespread use of this term throughout the near east over many centuries during the mid-second millennium B.C. The context of this usage makes clear that 'Habiru' "should not be understood as an ethnic group, but as some kind of social segment." There is no reference to the religious beliefs of the Habiru. The totality of ancient documents discovered, reviewed in detail by Lemche, suggests 'Habiru' is best translated, depending on the context, as 'bandit,' 'outlaw,' 'highwayman,' 'refugee,' 'fugitive,' or 'immigrant,' without any suggestion of ethnicity.[5] Thus, despite the phonetic similarity, the Habiru of the Amarna tablets are not the Hebrews of ancient Israel.

The earliest known non-Biblical reference to Israel is on the 27th line of inscription on a 7.5 foot high granite slab found in Thebes, Egypt, and dating to 1207 B.C.[6] This commemorative stone monument was commissioned by the son of Ramses II, Pharaoh Merneptah, to commemorate his military victories in Canaan, and is known as the Merneptah Stella. Israel is listed as one of eight "border enemies" vanquished by Egypt. The literal translation of the relevant line of Egyptian hieroglyphics is "Israel is stripped bare, wholly lacking seed."


Although this claim is obviously an exaggeration, it is evidence that a group of people named Israel was living in Canaan during the reigns of Merneptah and presumably his father, Ramses II. What is most important, though, is the point emphasized by Israel Finkelstein, director of the Institute of Archaeology
at Tel Aviv University, and his colleague Neal Silberman, in their book The Bible Unearthed: "We have no clue, not even a single word, about early Israelites in Egypt: Neither in monumental inscriptions on walls of temples, nor in tomb inscriptions, nor in papyri."[7]

Similarly, William Dever, professor of Near Eastern archaeology and anthropology at the University of Arizona, states in Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From?: "no Egyptian text ever found contains a single reference to 'Hebrews' or 'Israelites' in Egypt, much less to an 'Exodus.'"[8] The ancient Egyptians were such compulsive chroniclers, albeit biased, that it is inconceivable that they would not record any version of an event as momentous as the Biblical Exodus. We should at least expect some self-serving or biased accounts of this extraordinary event, but there is absolutely no reference to any exodus of Hebrew slaves in the voluminous Egyptian writings.

In addition, archaeological excavations do not support the Biblical Exodus story. Modern archaeological techniques are able to detect evidence of not only permanent settlements, but also of habitations of hunter-gatherers and pastoral nomads all over the world as far back as the third millennium B.C.

However, there are no finds of a unique religious community living in a distinct area of the eastern delta of the Nile River ("Land of Goshen") as described in Genesis. In addition, repeated excavations of areas corresponding to Kadesh-Barnea, where the Biblical Israelites lived for thirty-eight of their forty-eight years of wanderings, have revealed no evidence of any encampments. Finkelstein and Silberman point out that, although the sites mentioned in the Exodus storyare real, archaeological excavations indicate that they were unoccupied when the Biblical Exodus would have taken place. For example, the Bible refers to messengers sent by Moses from Kadesh-Barnea to the king of Edom asking him to allow the Hebrews to pass through his land.

However, the nation of Edom did not come into existence until the 7th century B.C.[9] Melvin Konner, anthropologist and teacher of Jewish studies at Emory University, sums it up this way in his recent book Unsettled, An Anthropology of the Jews: "Except for the Torah text, there is no decisive proof that the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt, that they rebelled and walked away from the place, or that a leader such as Moses arose and took that people into the desert."[10] Futhermore, what evidence we do have, as discussed above, contradicts the Biblical account.

How, then, did this fable come to be written?


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