Were Hebrews Ever Slaves in Ancient Egypt?

Clues to Israelite presence in Egypt

Conclusively, Semitic slaves there were. However, critics argue there's no archaeological evidence of a Semitic tribe worshiping Yahweh in Egypt.
Because of the muddy conditions of the East Delta, almost no papyri have survived – but those that did, may provide further clues in the search for the lost Israelites.
The papyrus Anastasi VI from around 3200 years ago describes how the Egyptian authorities allowed a group of Semitic nomads from Edom who worshiped Yahweh to pass the border-fortress in the region of Tjeku (Wadi Tumilat) and proceed with their livestock to the lakes of Pithom.
Shortly afterwards, the Israelites enter world history with the Merenptah stele, which bears the first mention of an entity called Israel in Canaan. It is robustly dated at is 1210 BCE, i.e., as of writing, 3226 years ago.

2628941880The Merneptah Stele, which states: "Israel is laid waste, its seed is no more." Not quite.Webscribe, Wikimedia Commons
These Yahweh worshippers were in ancient Egypt well after the Exodus is supposed to have happened. Members of the Yahweh cult may have existed there earlier, but there is no solid evidence for that. There are, however, indications.
According to the scribe Manetho, the founder of monotheism was Osarisph, who later adopted name Moses, and led his followers out of Egypt in Akhenaten's reign. Akhenaten was the heretic Pharaoh who abolished polytheism and replaced it with monotheism, worshiping only the sun disc, Aten.In 1987, a team of French archaeologists discovered the tomb of a man named Aper-el or Aperia (his name is spelled both ways in Egyptian inscriptions), commander of the charioteers and vizier to Ahmenotep II and to his son Akhenaten.
The vizier's name ending in -el could well be related to the Hebraic god Elohim; and the ending Aper-Ia could be indicative of Ya, short for Yahweh. This interpretation supports the argument that Hebrews were present in Egypt during the 18th dynasty starting 3600 years ago (1543-1292 BCE).
The famed British Egyptologist Sir Matthew Flinders Petrie holds the reverse view: that Akhenaten was the catalysis for the monotheistic views of the Hebrews, and that the Exodus happened in the 19th dynasty (1292-1189, around 3300 years ago).
So did the Exodus happen? Ask Hatshepsut
Ex. 12:37 says “600,000 men on foot, beside children” went out from Egypt. That extrapolates to around two million people making the exodus (extrapolated from Numbers 1:46) .
If around 2 million people left Egypt, when the entire population has been estimated at around 3 to 4.5 million, it would have been noticed, and would have resounded in Egyptian records.

56497921 1The mummy, originally found in 1903, finally identified as Queen Hatshepsut in 2007. Reuters
Note that Herodotus claims that a million Persians invaded Greece in 480 BCE. The numbers were undoubtedly exaggerated, as in most ancient records. But nobody claims the invasion of Greece never happened.
That said, as the Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen points out, the Hebrew word for thousand, eleph, can mean different things depending upon context. It can even denote a group/clan or a leader/chief. Elsewhere in the bible, "eleph" could not possibly mean "a thousand”. For example: 1 Kings 20:30 mentions a wall falling in Aphek that killed 27,000 men. If we translate eleph as leader, the text more sensibly says that 27 officers were killed by the falling wall. Bv that logic, some scholars propose that the Exodus actually consisted of about 20,000 people.
The absence of evidence of a sojourn in the wilderness proves nothing. A Semitic group in flight wouldn't have left direct evidence: They would not have built cities, built monuments or done anything but leave footprints in the desert sand.
Yet more support for the Haggadah may lie in an interesting poem copied onto a papyrus dating to the 13th century BCE (although original is believed to be much older), called the "Admonitions of Impuwer or the Lord of All").
River of blood
It portrays a devastated Egypt haunted by plagues, droughts, violent uprisings – culminating in the escape of slaves with Egypt's wealth. In short, the Impuwer papyrus seems to be telling the story of Exodus from the Egyptian point of view, from a river of blood to the devastation of the livestock to darkness.
Also, the Egyptians were not above altering historical records when the truth proved to be embarrassing or went against their political interests. It was not the praxis of the pharaohs to advertise their failures on temple walls for all to see. When Thutmose III came to power, he tried to obliterate the memory of his predecessor, Hatshepsut. Her inscriptions were erased, her obelisks surrounded by a wall, and her monuments were forgotten. Her name does not appear in later annals.
Moreover, records of administration in the east Delta seem entirely gone.
Generally, the biblical writers interpreted actual history, rather than invent it. The ancients knew that propaganda based on real events was more effective than fairy tales. A chronicler might record that King A conquered a city and King B was defeated. A royal scribe might claim that King B offended a God and therefore was punished by the God, who allowed King A to seize his city. To the ancients, both versions would be equally true.
However many Egyptologists or archaeologists dance on the head of a pin, each will have his own perspective on the Exodus story. None will have any evidence beyond contextual evidence to support their theories.
The Exodus could be a distant Semitic memory of the expulsion of Hyksos, or small-scale exoduses by different tribes and groups of Semitic origin during various periods. Or it could be a fable.
Psychologically, though, why would scribes invent a tale about such a humble and humiliating beginning such as slavery? Nobody but the Jews describe their community's beginning in such lowly terms. Most people prefer to connect their leaders to heroic deeds or even to claim a direct lineage to Gods.
At the end of the day it the story of the Exodus is all matter of faith. This article does not aspire to prove the historicity of the Passover Haggadah, or that the Land of Israel was promised to slaves coming out of Egypt. It just proves that there were historical figures and events that could have inspired the Exodus account. So as we lift our cups and recite the “The coming out of Egypt,” let us think about the story that has captured the imagination for millennia and remember that sometimes, truth is stranger then fiction; and think back on Aper-el, a Hebrew slave who did not disappear in the mud along with the Yahweh-worshiping nomads who settled in Egypt.