A first-century C.E. Aramaic translation rendered ‘eµreb_ rab_ as “numerous strangers”; in the Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible that was begun in Egypt in the third century B.C.E), both terms are translated as “mixed multitude” (Greek, epikmitos polys), thereby affirming the historical equation of the two groups.
Earlier, in the patriarchal narratives, the term “stranger” (geµr) is used to describe the future condition of the Hebrews in “a land not theirs” (Genesis 15:13) and to define the status of Abraham in Canaan (Genesis 23:4).
This message is subtly anticipated in the etymology provided twice for Gershom, the firstborn son of Moses in Midian, whose name incorporates the Hebrew term geµr. Gershom, we are told, is so named because Moses was a “stranger in a foreign land” (Exodus 2:22, 18:3). The Bible does not specify whether in Egypt or Midian, but in the biblical law codes, the foreign land is always Egypt.
One might argue that the legal distinctions among Hebrew and non-Hebrew citizens were incorporated into the law codes at a later date in history, when settlement in Canaan brought the Israelites side by side with diverse ethnic groups in the Promised Land. This may well be the case for such classes as slaves, hired laborers, foreigners and “natives” (Hebrew, ’ezraµh.), but I believe these classes must be separated from the category of geµr because of its use in Egypt.
It is often assumed that the legal and moral principles invoked in laws concerning the geµr are based on the account of the Hebrews suffering during the bondage in Egypt. But surely the geµr laws also recall this earlier period as well. According to Exodus 1:8–11, the Hebrews were mistreated only during the last phase of their stay in Egypt.
On the text, see Alan H. Gardiner, “Davies’ Copy of the Great Speos Artemidos Inscription,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 32 (1946), pp. 43–56. Gardiner rendered the word sðm3w, “foreigners,” as the harsher “roving hordes.”
To be sure, there have been modern proposals for an early Exodus date. During his excavations at Jericho in the 1930s, John Garstang proposed a 15th-century B.C.E. date. More recently, John J. Bimson (Redating the Exodus and the Conquest [Sheffield, UK: Almond Press, 1978]), having reexamined archaeological evidence from key sites in Canaan, argued for an Exodus c. 1470 B.C.E. But these remain a minority view. We should note that rabbinic reckoning, based on an oral tradition, placed the Exodus in 1312 B.C.E., in the so-called Era of Contracts, exactly one millennium before the beginning of Seleucid rule in 312 B.C.E. (see Barry Weitzel, “The Era of the Exodus in the Talmud,” Mizraim 8 , pp. 15–19).