Skeptics who challenge the Bible’s accuracy often point to the story of Joseph in Egypt recorded in Genesis 37–50. First, the Bible tells of Joseph being sold by his brothers to a passing caravan and then sold as a household slave to an Egyptian officer named Potiphar. Next, after being falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife, Joseph lands in prison, becoming a model prisoner. Finally, by interpreting Pharoah’s dream, he becomes second in command in Egypt. Then the famine Joseph predicted forces Joseph’s brothers to go to Egypt for food. Eventually, the whole family settles in Egypt in an area the Bible refers to as Goshen (Genesis 47).
Living in Egypt continues for 400 years (Exodus 12:40). Eventually, a new pharaoh becomes unhappy about this foreign group residing in his land, perceives them as a threat, and enslaves them (Exodus 1:8-14). Then a leader named Moses helps the enslaved people escape, pursued as far as the Red Sea by the Egyptian army. Finally, after 40 years of wandering, they end up back in Canaan.
Atheists and skeptics claim that the story of Joseph in Egypt can’t be accurate because there is no record of any of this outside of the biblical account. Therefore, they say, it must not be true. However, Biblical Archaeology Review magazine (Fall 2021, pages 40-47) carried an article by Rachel Hallote titled “Does Archaeology Confirm Joseph’s Time in Egypt?” It said, “Egyptian material is nearly identical with the short summary of the biblical account.”
The problem seems to be that the Egyptian sources referred to the Canaanites as “Hyksos.” Secular writers often fail to recognize that the Hyksos were the descendants of Jacob and his son Joseph. The article concludes that “the stories of Joseph and his brothers are clearly rooted in the rise of the Hyksos in Egypt.” Thus the biblical story of Joseph in Egypt does not conflict with archaeological evidence.
The “Does God Exist?” ministry is concerned about education. We try to draw on factual evidence and the best scholarship available to inform people who are willing to learn, but we do not claim to know all the answers. Much of the disagreement between atheists and believers is rooted in misunderstandings by both. One misconception involves pyramids and bricks.
We recently heard an atheist rant about the fact that there is no evidence that the Israelites built the pyramids. He claimed that proved the Bible stories about Joseph, Moses, and the exodus were all just silly myths. There are several mistakes in that statement. First of all, it is true that the Israelites did not build the pyramids. The pyramids were built hundreds of years before the time of Abraham. They were made of native stone and were built by native Egyptians who specialized in stone construction. There are even inscriptions on some of the pyramid stones identifying the primary engineer of the structure. Stone was used because it was permanent and not affected by weather or environmental change.
other building material used in Egypt was mudbricks made from Nile
alluvium which contained clay and sand. The amount of clay determined
the properties of the bricks. If the amount of clay was low, the
bricks tended to fall apart. By adding straw, the clay content could
be low, and the bricks would not fall apart as they dried. Making
bricks was a job done by slaves. Slaves were not allowed on the
pyramids because of the significance of the structure, but they made
bricks for use in building storage depots and other logistical
Exodus 1:11 tells us that the Israelites built “storage cities” for the Pharaoh. In Exodus 5:7-13, we read of the Israelites being told that straw for the bricks would not be made available to them. There are reliefs found in many places in Egypt that show slaves gathering straw, making bricks, and building temples and houses with them. The evidence indicates what the Bible says about brick-making is correct. We should not confuse stone pyramids and bricks.
Biblical Archaeology Reviewhas published several articles on brick construction and Israelite slavery. See “With and Without Straw: How Israelite Slaves Made Bricks” in March/April 2014. Also, “Brick by Brick” in the Spring issue 2020 pages 54-57.
In 1347, history’s worst disease outbreak began when the bubonic plague, or “black death,” spread across Europe. In the following years, one-third of the human race died from that disease. Five-hundred years later in 1847, a cholera outbreak threatened London. In one year, 72,000 people died. These events bring up some questions. Can we blame God for these tragedies? Does God cause disease outbreaks? Do these plagues prove that God does not exist, because a loving God would not have allowed them to happen?
An Italian doctor first presented the concept of germs in 1546, but the idea was not proven and accepted until the late nineteenth century. During those hundreds of years, there were more outbreaks of the plague, cholera, and other diseases. Very slowly, people began to realize how to prevent these deadly outbreaks. The answer was in proper disposal of sewage, prompt and proper burial of the dead, cleanliness and washing, and quarantine.
It seems obvious to us today, but it took centuries for humans to discover those secrets. Actually, they were not secrets at all. Thousands of years earlier they had been revealed in a book. Dispose of sewage properly—Deuteronomy 23:12,13. Bury the dead promptly; avoid touching dead bodies; clean and wash with water, ashes, and hyssop (which contains the antiseptic carvacrol); and quarantine—Deuteronomy 21:23; Numbers 5:2, 3; Numbers 19:1-22; Leviticus 13:45, 46. Those instructions were written in the first books of the Bible by Moses, a man trained in the customs of Egypt for 40 years.
So did Moses learn this from the Egyptians? Absolutely not! Ancient Egyptians mummified dead bodies with their bare hands and then spread the germs around to others. Even Moses admitted that there were “horrible diseases” in Egypt. (See Deuteronomy 7:15.) How did Moses have this life-saving information 3500 years ahead of his time? We think that God revealed it to him.
In Genesis 8 we read about a plague against Pharaoh that involved frogs. The frogs came upon the land of Egypt in such numbers that they got into everything, including beds and food preparation areas. Verse 5 indicates that this abundance of fogs came from the rivers, ponds and streams. Is a plague of frogs possible?
Skeptics have suggested that such an event is not possible. They have even suggested that this is just an attempt at humor by the biblical writers. Preachers have generally just shrugged their shoulders and said, “Well, God can do anything.”
Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, recently experienced a mini-plague. In March of 2019, people awoke to an infestation of thousands of baby bufo toads covering the city. There were so many that one resident described it as a plague of frogs “covering every square inch. You couldn’t walk through grass without stepping on one.”
A singe female frog can produce a vast number of eggs. It isn’t hard to visualize how this plague could happen. Like all of the plagues directed at the Pharaoh, the message is more important than trying to figure out how the plague was accomplished. But, of course, “God can do anything that is according to His will and nature.”
Yesterday we began to consider Exodus 4:21 which says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. What did God mean when He told Moses that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart? Can we see how Pharaoh’s heart was hardened?
Pharaoh was a political leader whose kingdom was under siege. He would obviously be on an emotional and intellectual roller coaster. God simply allowed Pharaoh to see the cost of letting the slaves go. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart by strengthening his resolve as a political leader to realize what was happening. It made Pharaoh strong intellectually and emotionally, but that doesn’t mean he was a robot with no choice in the matter. He would not want his people to see him as a weak, condescending ruler giving in to a bunch of slaves over things his own court magicians could do. At least in the beginning, Pharaoh would become strong, hard, and determined to stop Moses. That is how Pharaoh’s heart was hardened.
Let me give you a personal parallel. Many years ago my wife Phyllis and I made arrangements to adopt a child. After a month or so, we saw that the child had many congenital problems including blindness, cerebral palsy, schizophrenia, a form of muscular dystrophy, and mental retardation. Our awareness of all of this came one step at a time beginning with blindness and ending seven years later with a diagnosis of muscular dystrophy and schizophrenia. By law, the adoption agency was obligated to take the child back. However, we could choose to go ahead with the adoption.
My heart and my wife’ heart softened and hardened. Mine more than hers. My atheist parents tried everything to make us give up the child. They even threatened the agency with a lawsuit if they didn’t forcibly take him from us. My fellow teachers almost universally told me I would be crazy to keep the child. Close friends showed me what keeping him would mean financially, socially, and professionally. My heart was hardened to the point that one afternoon I put him in the car seat and prepared to return him to the adoption agency.
I started the car and then decided to pray about what I was doing. At that point, a Christian brother walked up to the car and began to talk about what might be possible. Could this baby be a messenger to the blind? Could I walk down the street 20 years in the future, see a blind man and wonder if it was the child I gave up. I realized my heart had been hardened. It was not hardened by God, but by all of the world that surrounded me.
Many skeptics of the Bible attempt to suggest that the biblical record of the Exodus, Moses, and Israel is fiction. They say that most of the Old Testament contains made-up stories with no historical support. However, with further discoveries, biblical history gains new support.
Michael Zellmann-Rohrer of the University of Oxford has recently translated a large papyrus document discovered in 1934 at the pyramid of Senusret I at Lisht in Lower Egypt. The text is written in Coptic, an Egyptian language that adapts the Greek alphabet. The document contains references to Abraham and Isaac from the Book of Genesis and quotations from a prayer by Seth, a son of Adam and Eve. This papyrus does not come from the time of the Exodus, but it shows strong connections to the biblical record in Egypt that endured to the time of Christ and beyond. (Reference: ArchaeologyJuly/August 2018, page 16.)
In our websites and publications, we have repeatedly given examples of evidence showing that what the Bible says is true. We also have a DVD series on biblical archaeology by Dr. Harvey Porter. We are currently working on new programs on archaeology and history for our “Does God Exist?” video series. They are taught by John Cooper and recorded in the Clayton Museum of Ancient History at York College in York, Nebraska. Those new programs will be available by the fall of 2018.
Someone said, “If you don’t believe in something you will believe anything.” A lightning rod for people looking for ways to deny the biblical account or the existence of God has been the three giant pyramids near Cairo, Egypt. The Giza Pyramids are listed as one of the “Seven Wonders of the World.” We have seen books, documentaries, and articles attempting to prove that space aliens built the pyramids, or that a super-advanced lost civilization was responsible. Research has gradually answered most of the questions concerning those impressive structures.
The three Giza Pyramids were constructed during the 70 years between 2575 and 2465 B.C. There is no doubt about their purpose. They were tombs for royalty. The blocks that make up the pyramids were cut from quarries along the Nile River. They were moved by men or cattle using sledges. One particular building material was white limestone which faced two of the pyramids (Khufu’s and Khafre’s). It was quarried at Tura on the Nile’s east bank eight miles away from the pyramid site. Granite beams for inner chambers were quarried in Aswan which was hundreds of miles away. The Egyptians dug canals and harbors and used cargo boats to move those huge stones.
In 2013 a papyrus was found stuffed between stones in a building at a harbor used in the construction of the Khufu pyramid. The papyrus is a day-to-day log by an inspector named Merer who directed a cargo boat crew transporting the white limestone from Tura to the Giza Plateau. Archaeologists are making more discoveries as research continues.
Egyptians constructed the Great Pyramid of Giza around 4500 years ago. Ever since then people have admired it, and in recent generations, they have speculated about its construction. Some have maintained that aliens built it because of the complexities of its structure and its relationship to the Sun, Moon, and other planets.
The main interior section of the pyramid is called the “grand gallery.” It is a sloping corridor in the heart of the pyramid linking the burial chambers of the king and queen. Egyptologists have established many facts about the ruler who built the pyramid, and there is now very little question about how they constructed it and how it fits into the religious views of the ancient Egyptian culture.
As scientific tools become more refined, we discover new information about the pyramid. Recently muon radiography has allowed scientists to investigate areas within the pyramid that they were not able to explore. What they found was a room above the grand gallery that is 98 feet (29.3 m) long and 26 feet (7.9 m) high. Scientists don’t know why the room is there and what, if anything, might be stored in it. Unfortunately, they cannot get access to the room without damaging the structure of the pyramid. What it does show is that the engineering and architecture of the Great Pyramid of Giza are even more amazing than we had understood in the past.
We tend to think that our technology and engineering skills are solely a product of our recent evolution. We overlook the fact that ancient people had the same intellectual capacity that we have today. We stand on their shoulders and have the blessing of the foundations they gave us to advance our technology. That does not mean that we are superior in any way.