For extended periods of time the Hebrews led the life of nomads. A special tent was reserved for the high priest and the holy objects, such as the » Menora or the » Ark of the Covenant.
The following pictures show how the creators of the bible exhibition in Lübeck, Germany, 2009 envisioned camp life.
Old testment camp with holy tent
Holy tent with high priest
Menora in the left section. Ark of the covenant in the most holy section on the right.
Holy tent with high priest. View 2
The exodus story (First Book Moses) has certainly the true core that people from Palestine in times of droughts went to Egypt for economic reasons. Paintings have been found that show several Hebrews arrive at the Egypt border with some donkeys. Several Hebrews and some donkeys, not large masses. It is also possible that after many years in Egypt the people wanted to return and the Pharao did not agree so it took a strong leader and tedious negotiations to bring the Hebrews back to Palestine.
It is also plausible that Egypt was struck by several plagues most of which have natural causes and can still be observed today. But there is not the slightest evidence that the Pharao considered these plagues punishment from the Hebrew God so he let them go.
It is not credible, though, that the Hebrews comprised 600.000 men (plus woman and children, total some 2 million people) as the bible says. This number is vastly exaggerated. Leading 2 million people into the Sinai desert without superhuman logistic support will result in a disaster. Vastly exaggerated numbers are a common occurrence in antique texts, especially when describing the strength of an opposing army. So maybe the events took place with a much smaller group.
Authors have tried to find plausible explanations for various incidents of the exodus. Manna does exist. It is some sort of natural chewing gum created by a plant. Striking water from a stone is possible in rare geological formations where an artesian well is found by chance. Some very shallow parts of the Red Sea become dry when the wind comes from the right direction. The river Jordan can dry up temporarily when it is blocked further upstream by a landslide. All these natural events do occur but they are by far not as impressive as described in the bible – and they certainly do not occur exactly when needed. It is a common ploy in religions to contribute natural phenomenon to divine powers.
If, say, 2000 Hebrews wandered from Egypt to Palestine and stayed 40 years in the desert, is it possible to find traces? In general yes. Even if these people camp for just a few week at a place they must have left countless potsherds which are virtually indestructable. We need a place that ideally saw human activity for 40 years near 1200 BC and no human activity whatsoever before and after. In remote regions like the Sinai it might be possible to find such a place. The place will be no ideal dwelling place (otherwise people had settled there before and after the 40 year period). So only a small group of Hebrews was able to live there. So the place is more difficult to find.
As a first step I would ask Sinai archaeologists if some temporary 40 year presence of a foreign group is known.
(C) 2006-2011 Thorsten Straub, www.biblical-finds.com