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===The Ancient Hebrews===
The term “Hebrew” will be used here because it is more anthropologically and historically accurate as it refers to the language spoken by a specific group of people from the Levant (the area roughly congruous with the modern day
natio-states of Israel, Palestine, and southwestern Syria). Although the Hebrews would later establish the Kingdom of Israel and become known as Jews, during the period of the biblical Exodus they were without a kingdom. During the period when they were in Egypt, the Hebrews were just another Semitic speaking people from the Levant who were closely related to other Canaanites and for the most part indistinguishable from them in the eyes of the Egyptians. <ref> Kuhrt, Amélie. <i>The Ancient Near East: c. 3000-330 BC.</i> (London: Routledge, 2010), p. 417</ref> The history of the Hebrews’ sojourn in and exodus from Egypt is heavily documented in the Old Testament, which although historically based, was “ideologically motivated . . . to drive home particular lessons of the past.” <ref> Kuhrt, p. 417</ref> With that in mind, it is important to consider some of the more important biblical passages that relate the early Egyptian-Hebrew relationship.
In the Old Testament, the Hebrews’ first major encounters with the Egyptians take place in the Book of Genesis. The book describes Abraham’s descent into Egypt (Gen. 12:10-19), which some modern scholars believe took place around 2116, or during Egypt’s Tenth Dynasty of the First Intermediate Period (ca. 2125-1975 BC). <ref> Redford, Donald. <i>Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times.</i> (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1992), pgs. 258-9</ref> After Abraham, Joseph was the next major Hebrew figure to spend considerable time in Egypt, which was followed by a large migration of Hebrews into the Nile Delta.
Genesis 47:11 describes how Joseph gave his family land in the “land of Rameses” and later, in Exodus 1:11, the Hebrews are described as having “built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Rameses.” The references have helped modern scholars narrow down the chronology of the Exodus somewhat – there were eleven kings named Ramesses who ruled in the Nineteenth and Twentieth dynasties over a more than 200 year period. Of course, the movies portray the Exodus as taking place during the rule of Egypt’s most famous Ramesses, Ramesses II or Ramesses “the Great” (ruled ca. 1279-1213 BC), which seems to be supported by the Egyptian textual and archaeological evidence as will be discussed more below.
The area of the Hebrews’ settlement within Egypt was referred to as Goshen (Gen. 47:27). The Bible never relates many details about Goshen’s location or its topography, but based on evidence that will be discussed more later, it was almost certainly in the northeast Nile River Delta.
===The Exodus and the Egyptian Sources===