Israel has its roots in the Exodus of bands of slaves from Egypt. And it is to Egypt that a scholar has returned to discover evidence of the detailed biblical itinerary of the flight to the Promised Land.
In an article in the latest issue of the Biblical Archaeology Review, Charles R. Krahmalkov says that Egyptian maps from the Late Bronze Age period, when the Exodus occurred, list sites described in the Book of Numbers.The maps provide at least a partial answer for some modern scholars who question the historical authenticity of the Exodus account because archaeologists have found no evidence that the cities of Dibon and Hebron existed in the period from 1400 B.C. to 1200 B.C., according to Krahmalkov, a professor of ancient Near Eastern languages and northwest Semitic philology at the University of Michigan.
"This is a historical exercise. I am a historian," Krahmalkov said in an interview. "For me, it's merely a confirmation that the historians of ancient Israel did preserve an amazing record of that period."
But John van Seters, a professor of biblical literature at the University of North Carolina, said the itinerary in Numbers 33 is not historical.
Even if it could be shown that the cities of Dibon and Hebron existed in the Late Bronze Age period, he said, archaeologists know that some of the other cities listed in the biblical itineraries "simply were not there."
Numbers 33 lists Israel's itinerary from Egypt to the border of Canaan. The Transjordanian route taken by the Israeli invaders as a prelude to their conquest of Palestine included the ancient city of Dibon.
Elsewhere, in Numbers 13, Moses sent spies to look over Hebron in preparation for the Israelite invasion. When the invasion came, Krahmalkov notes, Hebron was a principal target, according to the books of Joshua and Judges.
Some scholars who question the authenticity of the Exodus accounts have pointed out that excavations at Tell Dhiban, ancient Dibon, have revealed nothing earlier than the ninth century B.C.
And some also believe it was only at the beginning of the 10th century B.C. - again, long after the Exodus is believed to have occurred - that Hebron was regarded as an important center.
With regard to Numbers 33, van Seters said the itinerary is artificial.
"You're just whistling in the wind to try to identify most of the places that are listed on that list," he says.
But Krahmalkov said that the Egyptian maps from the Late Bronze Age period, when Egypt ruled Palestine, provide evidence that places mentioned in the biblical accounts, including Dibon and Hebron, did exist.
Krahmalkov said this does not confirm the existence of specific people or events, although he realizes some of those who believe in the historical authenticity of the Exodus passages in the Bible will greet the findings warmly.
He said he hopes that the finding will at least encourage archaeologists to reconsider their investigations of some of the cities.