The Exodus Enigma refers to the fact that while there is no archeological evidence supporting the Exodus account, the Biblical reckoning is so specific that it seems likely that there is at least a hint of truth to the story. Goshen, for example, appears to have been in the Eastern Nile Delta where excavations have uncovered evidence of Asiatic (i.e. Semitic) settlement. Further, the landslide described at the very end of the Exodus in Joshua Chapter 3 reads like a description of a rare natural event.
Yet, for the most part, the archeology of the excavated towns and villages of what is now Palestine (West Bank) and what was then Judea and Samaria do not show the destruction layers one would expect from the violent seven year conquest described in Joshua. Instead, they show a gradual transition from polytheistic worshipping Canaanites to Montheistic worshipping Canaanites who no longer reared and ate pigs. This naturally led to the conclusion that the proto Israelites were in fact Canaanites who adopted (over time) a Monotheistic religion where the highest male God in their pantheon (El) became conflated with Yahweh the new personal name for the Generic El. Before Moses met Yahweh on Mount Sinai, God is referred to in the Tanakh by a variety of names such as El, Elohim, Elyon, and El Shaddai. The archeology does allow that perhaps there was a migration of nomads from the southeast (Midian, Idumea, Sinai) who brought a monotheistic religion centered on Yahweh in but beyond that, there is scant archeological support for the biblical narrative of the influx of a large group of formerly Egyptian slaves after a 40 year sojourn in the wilderness.
But in the third Chapter of Joshua we find the following
14 So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. 15 Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, 16 the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. 17 The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.
The bolded text above is a description of a landslide creating a natural dam. To put this description in modern terms, it states that upstream at the town of Adam, the steep banks of the Jordan River collapsed forming a natural dam which caused the river downstream to dry up thus allowing the Israelites to cross the previously unpassable Jordan River.
The last time something like this happenned was in 1927 during the Jericho earthquake. The shaking from this earthquake caused the banks of the Jordan River to fail, creating a landslide which dammed up the river and caused the Jordan to run dry for 22.5 hours (Avni  and Avni et al. ).
13th century Arab chronicler Nowairi wrote of another instance in 1266 AD (AH 664) when flood waters caused a bank collapse into the Jordan near the town of Damieh creating yet another natural dam. This also caused the river downstream to run dry.
It has been noted that Damieh seems etymologically similar to Adam and, in fact, modern Arab names frequently preserve older names of towns and villages (e.g. Nablus is derived from the old Greek name Neopolis and Saffuriya is derived from the old name Sepphoris).
The map below from the Palestine Exploration Fund illustrates the geography at the time of the Exodus combined with 1266 AD.
There is another report of the Jordan River running dry in 1546 AD associated with a large earthquake that struck the area. For this occurrence, we have as a source 18 lines of Hebrew text written by an anonymous author and appended to a booklet titled Ot Nafshi.
On Thursday llth, of the month Shevat, year Hashav [14 January 1541], at one in the afternoon, there was a great earthquake and there was almost total destruction of Jerusalem,
And the gentiles report that the river Jordan is dry and they crossed it on dry land and that this lasted three days. Worse than the fall of their houses, they lamented their [loss of] water, … which turned into blood for three or four days. And… the Jordan was dry and desolate because two big hills fell into the river, and others say that the earth cracked and swallowed up the waters of the Jordan.
Thus what we have is, in addition to Joshua 3, four further reports of the natural damming of the Jordan River in
- 1266 AD
- 1546 AD
- 1906 AD – reported by Braslavski, J. (1938),
- 1927 AD
meaning that the description in this very old Biblical account is both plausible and extremely rare strongly suggesting that it actually occurred. Whether it occurred with the timing reported in Joshua cannot be known until a search is performed to examine landslide history on the River Jordan in the Exodus time window (~1560 BC – ~1150 BC). Perhaps one of the reasons the other clues for the Exodus have confounded archeologists and historians is that we don’t know precisely when in this ~400 year time window, the Exodus occurred. If we could date Jordan River landslides during this Exodus window, we might be able to identify when the Exodus actually happenned.
I will be working out my exploration strategy for this at the link below
A thorough but readable write up on the history of Jordan River damming can be found here.
A caveat is advised for the above link. While it is very thorough in chasing sources for these landslide reports, it’s author is Bryant Wood a Biblical Literalist and an Archeologist who, although he does very good work, is committed to proving that the start of Exodus is dated to 1440 BC (and the end therefore in 1400 BC). This is due to a passage in 1 Kings stating that Solomon built the first Temple (in ~960 BC) 480 years after the Exodus. Fitting the Exodus into this time window requires redating the abandonment of Jericho from ~1560 BC ( a date accepted by archeological consensus) to 1400 BC. Wood argues for this based on pottery but he also clearly has an agenda to fit the timing of the Kings 1 biblical narrative. It should be noted that archeological excavations in the West Bank do not show the presence of Monotheistic Israelites until ~1200-1150 BC and another alternative date for the start of the Exodus is 1600 BC. This date is biblically possible if one counts up years of rules in Judges (citation needed). Further, 480 is a numerologically significant number that may be more symbolic than quantitative – 480 = 40 *12. Exodus truly is an enigma and as a Scientist, I view all of this conflicting evidence as a reason to search for the landslide at the end of the Exodus over a broad time window (~1560 BC -~1150 BC)
Avni, R. (1999). The 1927 Jericho Earthquake. Comprehensive Macroseismic Analysis
Based on Contemporary Sources (in Hebrew). Beer Sheva, Israel, Ben Gurion University of the Negev.
Ben-Menahem, A. (1979). “Earthquake catalogue for the Middle East (92 BC-AD 1980)” Bollettino di Geofisica Teorica e Applicata 21: 245-313.
Braslavski, J. (1956), ‘The earthquake of the year 1546’, Eretz Israel, Bull. Isr. Explor. Soc.,19,230-235.
Klein, S. (1939), ‘Remarks on the article by J. Braslavski’, Zion, N.S, 4, 90