Having just gone through the festival of Passover celebrating the Exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt, we have asked many questions, here’s another. What has the Greek island of Santorini got to do with the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt? There are certain elements of the Exodus story that are possibly explained by natural phenomena.
The islands that make up Santorini (also known as Thira) are in the shape of a circle, all that is left of what was originally a huge volcano that around ca. 1600 bce caused one of the biggest eruptions ever recorded in history. Anyone who visits the island of Santorini and the museum there will see evidence of the Minoan civilization from Crete found at Akrotiri, the ancient city that has been excavated on Santorini. The center of the Minoan civilization was in Crete at Iraklion (Heraklion) some 75 milies due south. There is much evidence that points to this civilization being destroyed in a cataclysmic event that is generally accepted to have been the eruption of the Santorini volcano and the subsequent tsunami that swept across the Mediterranean and destroyed the coastal cities of the Minoans. The volcanic eruption would have buried large areas of land, as found at Akrotiri and as the volcano of Vesuvius did at the Roman city of Pompeii, and the volcanic ash would have blotted out the sun causing a long term darkness, leading to the destruction of crops and the raining down of hail and ash from high in the atmosphere over a huge area. These events would in turn have resulted in human death and injuries as well as abnormal results such as plagues of insects.
A very characteristic phenomenon associated with a tsunami is the lowering of the sea level before the huge tsunami wave crashes in. This phenomenon has been described many times, including the tsunami that caused havoc around the Pacific rim in 2004 starting from an earthquake in Indonesia. Such tsunami waves travel at great speeds (500 mph) over huge distances. The coast of Egypt is 400 miles from Santorini. This is very similar to the description of the Exodus, when the sea level was lowered, allowing the Israelites to walk across the Reed Sea (Yam Suf in Hebrew) and then the sea came back as a huge wave drowning the Egyptians pursuing them. Note that “Red Sea” is a mistranslation of the Hebrew and the Reed Sea probably refers to the area of what is now the Suez Canal, namely what was the shallow Lake Ballah.
In 1986 Lake Nyos in Cameroon turned overnight from a deep blue to a bright red color, that was explained by gas deposits trapped in the bottom of the lake escaping and bringing iron oxide to the surface. Not only that, but the gaseous eruption was carbon dioxide (CO2) gas that formed a cloud that swept over the local area and silently killed ca. 1,700 people living in nearby villages because it replaced all the oxygen. But, not everyone was killed, people sleeping on high ground and roof-tops escaped because the CO2 gas is heavier than air and so it remains close to the ground. There are many geological faults in the area of Egypt, including the Syrian-African rift that includes the Red Sea and one that includes the Nile valley. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that a similar effect could have occured in Egypt and become included in the Exodus tale.
In Egypt from 1800-1600 bce a nomadic Semitic people named the Hyksos (the Greek form of the Egyptian meaning “foreign rulers”) settled in the Nile Delta area and had their capital at Avaris, the name of which is retained in the Egyptian town of Hawara. Excavations at Avaris have discovered Minoan artifacts, pottery and jewelry. Avaris was destroyed by the Egyptian Pharoah in around 1600 bce, and his name was Ahmose I, in Hebrew “Ahmose” means “brother of Moses,” although there are of course other interpretations. It is possible that the Hyksos and the Hebrews were one and the same people and the tale of the Exodus describes their travails as they were expelled from Avaris in 1600 bce coincidentally as the terrible eruption occured in Santorini.
Note: some of this information comes from an Israeli-Canadian documentary entitled “The Exodus decoded” produced by archaeologist Simcha Yakubovich (Jacobovici) and James Cameron (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Exodus_Decoded) shown on Israel TV Ch 1 on 31/3/13.