This is a break from my usual line of topics, but it seems worth talking about. A year or two ago, I asked a Jewish rabbi (of the school called Orthodox by those who adhere to Reform or Conservative Judaism, and simply Jewish by those who consider that the latter two schools are not Judaism at all) a question about the sojourn in Egypt and the Exodus. I couldn't quite picture the conventional view that Rameses II was a likely candidate for the Pharoah who suffered ten plagues and lost his army in the Reed Sea chasing after his departing slaves. Rameses II had armies all over the middle east. If he had suffered a humiliating loss chasing after the Israelites, surely he would have caught up to them considerably less than forty years later. Yet there is no mention of any Egyptian presence in "the Promised Land" for 400 years or so.
He confirmed that this is definitely the crux of the problem with conventional timelines for Egyptian and middle eastern history. There is, however, a much more plausible point in Egyptian history for the sojourn of Jacob's descendants, and their eventual enslavement and Exodus. It is the end of the Middle Kingdom, prior to the invasion of the mw, or as modern scholarship labels them, Hyksos.
Then, I ran into a discussion on Hank Hanegraaff's blogwhich eventually touched on this very point. So, I have assembled a summary of the points offered by the rabbi, which I am posting here, as they are too lengthy to impose as a comment on anyone else's site. Anyone who wishes is free to link to them. This summary is my best understanding of a series of ten emails, but any errors in presentation are mine alone. On the off chance that this attracts any serious commentary, all comments will be considered and looked into, and changes may be made in this presentation as new data seems to warrant.
The events of the Exodus were so cataclysmic that they could never bave been concealed by the Egyptians. Their state was laid prostrate. Either the account happened, or it did not. The only possible period of Egyptian history to fit the facts is the end of the Middle Kingdom, which ended in chaos and destruction, and was immediately succeeded by the Hyksos conquerors. In fact, there is ample evidence for a catastrophic event occurring at the end of the Middle Kingdom, in which there was a mass escape of Egyptian slaves, described in terms which reflect the biblical account (of Eastern origins, eaters of abomination), and a series of events which preceded that escape, and laid the Egyptian state low. Some of this evidence may be found in two papyri and in a naos inscription of late Middle Kingdom or early New Kingdom provenance. The Exodus took place during, and in fact caused, the collapse of the Middle Kingdom.
Professor Jan van Seters, in his book The Hyksos, inadvertently shows many, many parallels between the account of Yosef and the subsequent Egyptian bondage and the end of the Middle Kingdom. In addition, as the late Prof A. S. Yahuda also demonstrated, many features of the Joseph story, including certain vocabulary peculiarities, match the late Middle Kingdom period exceptionally well. Such a dating also provides for the proximate cause of the biblical famine, i.e. the devastating climatic effects of the eruption of Thera (the modern Greek island of Santorini). The sojourn in Egypt was certainly not the time of the so-called Hyksos rulers (this is not an Egyptian word, despite the common assertion that it is; these despised foreigners were called, in all hieroglyphic texts referring to them, by a word spelt ‘mw, and probably pronounced something like Amu).
So the conventional view of ancient history by the archaeologists is simply wrong, and in their error, they have created about four centuries of alleged history, most of which they term a Dark Age for the very good reason that they can’t find any documentation of it. There is a serious chronological problem which especially continues to afflict members of this school of thought, who insist on trying to assign the time of the Exodus (even when they think it didn’t happen!) to the New Kingdom. This is done in order to be able to demonstrate that there is no evidence for it. Removing these erroneous years allows history, and non-Jewish sources, to make a great deal more sense, and not uncoincidentally, largely validates and confirms the Jewish sources.
Furthermore, if you read the books of Joshua and Judges and Samuel, you will be struck by the fact that there is no mention of Egypt at all, save in a historical sense (e.g., Rachav, in Yericho, tells Joshua’s spies that they had heard of what happened at the Reed Sea to the Egyptian army); there is no mention whatsoever of Egypt as a world power, with any influence at all on events in Israel. This covers a period of some four centuries, not uncoincidentally, the very period in which the Hyksos are said to have dominated Egypt. Had the Pharaoh of the Exodus been a New Kingdom pharaoh, the empire which Egypt possessed in western Asia could not not have failed to find mention in Jewish sources. Yet, it is conspicuous by its absence.
There are, however, many references to a barbaric people called Amaleq in Hebrew (the first two consonants of which, ayin-mem, are identical with the two root consonants of ‘mw). Significantly, shortly before King Sha’ul’s final campaign against Amaleq, David is called to defend a town called Tziqlag. He arrives too late to save the town, but he does find a wounded Egyptian slave who had been abandoned by the Amaleqim, who told David at Tziqlag which way the Amaleqim had gone after their raid. How did they come to be in possession of Egyptian slaves? The Oral Torah sources, also, tell us that Amaleq had access to the archives of Egypt. How could that be? It is only after Sha’ul broke the power of Amaleq that Egypt re-emerges on the world stage. Akhenaten and Tut‘ankhamen lived considerably after the sojourn of Israel in Egypt; the political world of the al ‘Amarna tablets is, in fact, the world of the divided kingdoms of Israel and Yehuda.
Now, nearly all of the Pharaohs of the New Kingdom were constantly meddling in the affairs of Israel, which they referred to as Rtn(w) -- so such terms as "Canaan" are projections by the Egyptologists of what they expect or hope it to be, rather than what the Egyptians wrote. The Egyptologists cannot account for this 400+ year hiatus, during a period in which Egypt was clearly a powerful state with great influence on its Eastern Border. On the other hand, the history of the Kings of Yehuda (in I-II Kings) is chock full of Egyptians.
This therefore means that the period of the New Kingdom roughly corresponds to that of the Kings, both the united kingdom of Sha’ul, David and Shlomo, and the divided kingdom which followed. There are ample references to Egyptian interference in the affairs of Israel and Yehuda during this period in Kings and Chronicles, and if the el ‘Amarna letters are read (in the original Akkadian, if possible, though to my way of thinking Samuel Mercer’s edition from the 1930’s is the least bad translation of which I’m aware) in this light, many correspondences can be identified.
For example: There are numerous references to a "Canaanite" king, to some extent a client or vassal of the Egyptians, who is consistently identified by two Sumerian ideograms read Rib Addi. As it happens, Rib is a maternal brother in Sumerian, and addi is father in the same language. The name of the well-known king of Israel, Ach’av, means "brother (ach) father (av)." Take a look at the passages in Kings which refer to Ach’av.