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I heard a verbal account of a historic source called the Mari documents that appear to be letters written from Egypt to Vassal Kings warning of the Habiru people—unreliable wandering gypsies who are a problem in the desert. Supposedly we have few contemporary sources in part because the Egyptians "lost" documents that didn't paint them in a good light but these documents survived elsewhere.

Barry Webb also refers to these documents in his commentary on Judges.

What are these documents, are they reliable extra-Biblical sources, and do they substantiate the account found in Exodus of the Israelites wandering in the desert? Do they contain any background information not included in the Biblical account that could be useful in interpreting it?

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You conflate two different findings, neither which you seem to understand –  user1985 Feb 6 '14 at 14:26

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The question as posed appears to be confusing the Mari documents (which are of several kinds) with the Amarna letters. As one can see from the Mari link provided, it is clear that this is a site in what is now Syria - so, then, not a source of letters sent from Egypt.

The letters sent from Egypt (also referred to in Webb's commentary, linked by OP) are the Amarna letters which are a rich and fascinating resource. The standard treatment in English is by William Moran. (There is also an electronic "edition" available for those who know Akkadian.) They contain a wealth of valuable (and "reliable") extra-biblical information about their times (14th C. BCE), but nothing to shed light on any wilderness wanderings, I'm afraid.

The closest that extra-biblical records can possibly get is with the Merneptah Stele which dates to c. 1205-ish BCE, and makes reference to "Israel" - the oldest known occurrence of the name.1


This is the evidence which provides a date when "Israel" needs to be in Canaan, but it offers no direct evidence (again) for any wilderness wanderings.

1 Has this really not been mentioned on BH.SE up to this point? It seems not.

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