The Book of Genesis and Book of Exodus describe a period of Hebrew servitude in ancient Egypt, during decades of sojourn in Egypt, the escape of well over a million Israelites from the Delta, and the three-month journey through the wilderness to Sinai. The historical evidence does not support this account. Israelites first appear in the archeological record on the Merneptah Stele from between 1208-3 BCE at the end of the Bronze Age. A reasonably Bible-friendly interpretation is that they were a federation of Habiru tribes of the hill-country around the Jordan River. Presumably, this federation consolidated into the kingdom of Israel, and Judah split from that, during the dark age that followed the Bronze. The Bronze Age term "Habiru" was less specific than the Biblical "Hebrew". The term referred simply to Levantine nomads, of any religion or ethnicity. Mesopotamian, Hittite, Canaanite, and Egyptian sources describe them largely as bandits, mercenaries, and slaves. Certainly, there were some Habiru slaves in ancient Egypt, but native Egyptian kingdoms were not heavily slave-based.
In the Elephantine papyri, caches of legal documents and letters written in Aramaic amply document the lives of a community of Jewish soldiers stationed there as part of a frontier garrison in Egypt for the Achaemenid Empire. Established at Elephantine in about 650 BCE during Manasseh's reign, these soldiers assisted Pharaoh Psammetichus I in his Nubian campaign. Their religious system shows strong traces of Babylonian polytheism, something which suggests to certain scholars that the community was of mixed Judaeo-Samaritan origins, and they maintained their own temple, functioning alongside that of the local deity Chnum. The documents cover the period 495 to 399 BCE.
The Hebrew Bible also records that a large number of Judeans took refuge in Egypt after the destruction of the Kingdom of Judah in 597 BCE, and the subsequent assassination of the Jewish governor, Gedaliah. (2 Kings 25:22-24, Jeremiah 40:6-8) On hearing of the appointment, the Jewish population fled to Moab, Ammon, Edom and in other countries returned to Judah. (Jeremiah 40:11-12) However, before long Gedaliah was assassinated, and the population that was left in the land and those that had returned ran away to Egypt for safety. (2 Kings 25:26, Jeremiah 43:5-7) The numbers that made their way to Egypt are subject to debate. In Egypt, they settled in Migdol, Tahpanhes, Noph, and Pathros. (Jeremiah 44:1)