The present instability in Egypt once again puts a question mark over the archaeology of the country. Over the years, the rulers of Egypt have attempted to control the past by controlling what archaeologists say, hiding finds in the bowels of the Cairo Museum and, in the case of the legendary city of Avaris, forcing the lead archaeologist, Manfred Bietak, to cover his site every year.
Almost forgotten, in the tiny museum of Isma’ilya, some 125 km northeast of Cairo, is an artifact that corroborates the Biblical Exodus. The museum curator does not realize its significance. It’s known as the “El Arish Stone”. It is a piece of black granite weighing two tons, measuring 4 feet in length, and 2.5 feet in width. It was found in 1887 on a farm at El Arish, lying on its side. At the time, it was being used as a water trough for cattle. When archaeologist Frances Llewellyn Griffith found the slab of granite, his clue to its value was the hieroglyphics. By the writing, he dated the object to the Ptolemaic period, specifically the 30th Dynasty (380-360 BCE), when it was probably used as a shrine. The inscriptions seem to refer to events some 1200 years earlier (c. 1500 BCE) and appear to tell the story of the Exodus, but with a twist: this story is told from Pharaoh’s point of view.
The black granite inscription corroborates the story of the parting of the sea, as told in Exodus 14. There is a unique hieroglyph on it: three waves and two knives.
Searching for a way to translate this symbol, Griffith rendered it as “whirlpool”. But Egyptologist James Hoffmeier has suggested that we look at the hieroglyphic literally. Seen in this way, the obvious translation is the “parting of the sea” or the “parted sea”.
The El Arish stone is one of four similar shrines that were once a part of the Temple of Per-Sopdu at Saft el-Henna. The shrines were later disassembled and dispersed, one shrine remained on site and the other three placed at the major points of entry into Egypt (Canopus, Nubia and El Arish). They seem to have served some kind of amuletic function, protecting ancient Egypt from similar disasters.
Because the El Arish stone was being used for water for cattle, some of the inscriptions have been eroded, leaving the ones on the right and back sides of the monument mostly intact. In all, 74 lines are still legible. One line seems to be referencing Moses: he is referred to as the “Prince of the Desert” and his Israelite followers are called the “evil ones” or “evil-doers”. The Egyptian text also tells about how Pharaoh chased the Queen Mother, Tefnut, presumably the royal princess that once raised Moses, as she was leaving with the departing Israelites. This corroborates the Talmud (Sotah 12a) which states that the princess left on the Exodus, marrying the Israelite leader, Caleb son of Yefuneh.
The stone also seems to be reporting some of the Biblical plagues, including prolonged darkness and a terrible tempest. Furthermore, it mentions a specific location next to where the sea parted. The place is called “Pekharti”. Remarkably, this exact place is mentioned in Exodus 14:2,9 as the location where the Israelites camped just prior to the parting of the sea. In the Book of Exodus, it is called “Pi-hahiroth”. If all this is not enough the Torah states that, as he was dying, the Biblical patriarch Jacob/Israel blessed his son Joseph wishing for Joseph’s children to “fishify” i.e., that they ”increase in the land like fish”. For this blessing, he made up a new word; “fishify”, “Idgu” in Hebrew (Genesis 48:16). Later, when the Israelites are leaving on the Exodus they take the bones of Joseph with them to the Promised Land (Exodus 13:19). Shockingly, the El Arish stone says that when the “evildoers” left Egypt, they took “Dagai” with them. The exact nickname given by the Torah to Joseph!
Isn’t is curious how academics can ignore inconvenient archaeology? Instead of going back to the original hieroglyphics and doing a proper translation and reassessment of the text, scholars have pointed to seeming inconsistencies between the Exodus and the El Arish granite and then ignored the text ever since. Time to return to it!