African Crossroads and Responsible Reading

By Rev. Clinton Chisholm

My friend Dr. Ikeal Tafari has written two pieces in [the Nation] newspaper raising questions on the historical roots of Israel. Unfortunately the main source he seems to be drawing on is Gary Greenberg’s book The Bible Myth: African Origins of the Jewish People. I say unfortunately because Greenberg (whose work I have scrutinised carefully) makes the popular mistakes of an amateur—assertion without supporting evidence, hasty conclusions without consideration of alternative explanatory options and an inadequate grasp or knowledge of the breadth of literatures, languages and artefacts of the ancient Near East (the world of the Old Testament). For anyone afflicted with Greenberg’s contagious disease the antidote I recommend is a healthy dose of reading anything by Kenneth Kitchen, a world-renowned specialist in the field of Egyptology, Archaeology and ancient Near Eastern Languages and Literatures, especially his 2003 book On the Reliability of the Old Testament.

If you are a responsible reader expecting documented sources of every major idea you will be frustrated by Greenberg but delighted above measure by Kitchen.

Dr. Tafari, in his article of February 11, alleges that Greenberg argues cogently—this is either supreme kindness or credulity— that “The roots of the Jewish people are in 14th century B.C. Africa during the reign of the fiercely monotheistic pharaoh Akhenaten. Moses was the chief priest of the pharaoh’s revolutionary Aten cult…” Moses fled Egypt after Akhenaten’s death and returned with Shechemites after Horemheb’s passing to attempt a coup which “brought the nation to the brink of civil war and ended with a negotiated truce, guaranteeing the insurgents safe passage out of the country – the Exodus!” Give me a break!! Where is the evidence for this hypothesis, in any Egyptian source? Greenberg most certainly does not provide any. If Dr. Tafari believes that this is a cogent argument when does he believe the Exodus happened? Why is this question important?

Well, Akhenaten ruled in Egypt from 1352-1336 BC while Haremhab’s reign was 1323-1295 BC. There are only two viable options for the biblical Exodus among scholars today: either a 15th century BC date (approx. 1447 BC, so Alfred Hoerth, Bruce Waltke, et al) or a 13th century BC date (approx. 1290 BC, so Donald Redford, Kenneth Kitchen et al). If the earlier date for the Exodus is correct then Moses predated Akhenaten by almost a century so that leaves only the later date as a live option for Tafari/Greenberg unless of course Greenberg can dream up another baseless novel hypothesis.

Can you imagine a former chief priest of the Aten cult claiming to have received revelation from another deity called Yahweh, which forbids making and worshipping images of the deity (Ex. 20.4-5)? Bear in mind too that Moses, while addressing the people of Israel, refers to this other deity Yahweh as “our God” (Heb. elohenu Deut. 5.2). Does this sound plausible or credible to you?

Notice that critics of the Bible keep asking for corroboration of what the Bible says but they don’t usually make the same request concerning Egyptian or other documents.