Skip to comments.Did the Exodus happen?
Posted on 04/18/2014 9:01:57 AM PDT by SeekAndFind
With Passover here, it is a propitious time to address the central issue of the holiday: the Exodus.
Specifically, did the Exodus happen?
My friend Rabbi David Wolpe announced some years ago that it didnt matter whether the Exodus occurred. In his words, writing three years later: Three years ago on Passover, I explained to my congregation that according to archeologists, there was no reliable evidence that the Exodus took place and that it almost certainly did not take place the way the Bible recounts it. Finally, I emphasized: It didnt matter.
The Torah, he continued, is not a book we turn to for historical accuracy, but rather for truth. The story of the Exodus lives in us.
I cite Rabbi Wolpe because of my respect for his intellectual honesty, for his Jewish seriousness, and because what he says represents the thinking of many modern Jews.
I do, however, differ. I think it does matter if the Jews were slaves in Egypt and whether the Exodus took place. First, the Jewish people would not have survived, let alone died for their faith, if they had not believed that the Exodus really happened. It takes much more than metaphors for a small, dispersed and horribly persecuted people to survive for thousands of years. And this will be equally true in the future. If Jews come to believe that one of the Torahs two most important stories (the other, as I will explain, is the Creation) never happened, it is hard to imagine that they will devote their lives to Judaism no matter how much truth a myth may contain. The ancient Greek stories, as, for example, those of Homer, also contained truth. But they didnt perpetuate Greek culture, which was wholly taken over by Christianity. And few, if any, Greeks outside of Greece have ever retained a strong Greek identity thanks to Homers stories.
Second, as noted, the Exodus is one of the two essential stories not only of the Torah, but of Judaism and Jewish history. Our prayer book regularly contains the phrases zecher lmaasei bereshit and zecher litziyat mitzrayim to commemorate the acts of Creation and to commemorate the Exodus from Egypt. Just as Christianity is founded on two events the atoning death and the Resurrection of Jesus, so Judaism is predicated on two events: Creation and Exodus. The Shabbat Kiddush consists of two paragraphs. The first recounts Creation; the second, the Exodus.
Apparently God (or, if you prefer, whoever gave the Ten Commandments) thought the Exodus significant enough to open the Ten Commandments with reference to one event the Exodus: I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the Land of Egypt. Even one who doesnt believe that God gave the Ten Commandments would have to explain why reference to something that never happened would so move the ancient Israelites. In addition, the two versions of the Ten Commandments the one from God in Exodus and the one from Moses in Deuteronomy differ with regard to the reason for Shabbat. The first versions reason is the Creation (by keeping the Shabbat, we reaffirm weekly that God created the world); the second versions reason is the Exodus (You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and only free people can have a day of rest each week).
Third, if the Exodus never happened, what biblical story did? Did Abraham live? Did Moses? Was there a revelation at Mount Sinai? Did the Jews enter the Promised Land? Did King David live? According to scholars such as Niels Peter Lemche, an internationally recognized biblical scholar at the University of Copenhagen, The David of the Bible, David the king, is not a historical figure.
Are they all fables? If so, its really hard to make the case for taking the Bible particularly seriously, let alone base ones identity and values on it.
Fourth, that we cannot prove that the Jews were in Egypt means little to me. Many biblical stories that were once dismissed as fables were later shown to have a historical basis. Therefore, my belief in the Exodus story does not depend on archaeologists telling me whether they have concluded that Jews were enslaved in and later left Egypt. In any event, what archaeological evidence can one expect to find? The Egyptians didnt record defeats. And the Jews were in the desert/wilderness with temporary dwellings that would hardly leave traces after 3,000 years.
Logic, however, does strongly argue for the historicity of the Exodus story. What people ever made up as ignoble a past as the Torah and the rest of the Hebrew Bible relate about the Jews? Every other people in the world made up a grand and powerful history for themselves. They were all mighty and courageous. We Jews, on the other hand, were slaves, idol worshippers, rebels and ingrates.
Why make that up? And why make up that so many non-Jews were heroes such as the daughter of Pharaoh, the Egyptian midwives and the pagan priest Jethro? Why make up that Moses was raised an Egyptian? Why credit God for the Exodus rather than bold Israelites?
At the Passover seder, you have good reason to believe avadim hayeenu beretz mitzrayim, we were slaves in the land of Egypt. Recite it with conviction.
Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host (AM 870 in Los Angeles) and founder of PragerUniversity.com.
Dennis...if you are Dennis....I like you and you’re a smart guy. But I hope you do a little archeology research before you write about things outside your ‘thang’ in the future. I declare that there is no credible evidence you wrote this narrative. Dennis would have known better.
The OT is full of references to “You were a slave in Egypt.”
“I brought you out of the house of bondage in Egypt.”
There are too many references to Egypt to just be a myth.
Exactly. And the only arguments against this people who were so brutally honest about their own history are nothing more than arguments from silence, most of which have been disproven since:
They told us that there was no evidence that the Hitties ever existed, that the Bible just made them up. Then we found their libraries.
They told us that Ninevah could not possibly have been as big as the Bible claimed. Then we found the ruins, and it indeed matched the Bible's descriptions--it was just so thoroughly destroyed that it took a long time to find it.
They claimed that there was no evidence of the Jews living in the Land before the Babylonian exile. Now we've found numerous stellas and seals that prove the opposite--some of them from David's time.
They told us that Pontius Pilate was never procurer of Judea. Then we found his plaque.
They told us that Acts was full of historical inaccuracies and must have been written in the 2nd-3rd Centuries. Then Sir William Ramsey actually went to Turkey to do the excavations and found out that Luke got every detail right.
Every time they attack the Bible's historocity on a particular point, God provides the evidence needed after stringing the skeptics along for a few decades. I predict that He'll do it again now.
A great part of humanity believes that the holocaust is a fable. Germany invented Photoshop it seems. Archeologists who have evidence of biblical confirmation are scorned by their peers...and forced.....kneeling... to mutter under their breath that “ It does move.”
I saw a History Channel show that asserted that the Hebrews were contractors hired to build temples and pyramids, and were chased out after trying to rip off the Pharoah’s stuff.
And what was the historical or archeological or documentary basis by which they determined that the Hebrews tried to rip off the Pharoah’s stuff?
I don’t remember what they offered as evidence.
Jews in Egypt were long gone before the pyramids were buillt...according to credible evidence.
Well, since evidence is not important, I’d go out on a limb and surmise that the Hebrews tried to organize a labor union to agitate for better wages and the Pharoah was displeased.
They watched Yul Brenner and determined to twist the plot on an historically inaccurate narrative.
Every Easter it’s the same thing.
The great pyramids were much earlier, in the Old Kingdom, more than 1000 years for the dates usually assigned to the Exodus (which was in the New Kingdom period).
The myth would certainly have to also include a tale detailing man or collection of men writing the ten commandments..
And that man or men used four of those ten to tell others to love, woship and obey something other than the man/men who came up with those commandments...
Our leaders today and historically disprove that possibility daily...
Only one answer.. and people just don’t like the answer...
lol the pyramids are 36,000 years old
Everyone that wants to discredit the Bible really wants to eliminate Sodom & Gomorrah; TV stations that started on doubts about the great flood and divine intervention in Exodus (it was a change of tides) are now pushing the meteor theory for Sodom & Gomorrah.
So they don’t appear as atheists, they throw in those missing “gospels”...
They told us that there was no evidence that the Hitties ever existed, that the Bible just made them up. Then we found their libraries.That's not what happened. The archive was found, and between the world wars Emil Forrer discovered that the cuneiform included a number of different languages, all unknown, one of which he realized was related to his native German; before that time the otherwise unassigned ruins had been given the name Hittite, which was borrowed from the Old Testament.
They told us that Ninevah could not possibly have been as big as the Bible claimed. Then we found the ruins, and it indeed matched the Bible's descriptions...Whomever "They" are, I'd never heard that particular version of that one -- usually the line is that Nineveh, like the Hittites, were said to never have existed. If any actual scholar ever wrote down either of those, it was definitely a unique opinion. It was assumed that the Assyrians had existed, and obviously the existence of the Assyrian Orthodox Church was common knowledge.
They claimed that there was no evidence of the Jews living in the Land before the Babylonian exile. Now we've found numerous stellas and seals that prove the opposite--some of them from David's time.There's the Mesha Stele aka the Moabite stone, which refers to the House of David, and twenty years ago the Tel Dan stele fragment; both were erected by enemies to commemorate a victory over Israel. AFAIK there are no other steles; in very recent years there have been a handful of other written traces, such as a name, or a reference to the monarchy.
The Torah, he continued, is not a book we turn to for historical accuracy, but rather for truth. The story of the Exodus lives in us.
This pretty much sums up the attitude of all modern religion, Jewish and chrstian.
There’s a tradition (I think it was preserved in the rabbinical sources) that among the structures built by the Israelites in Egypt were pyramids, and those particular pyramids (which would have to be Middle Kingdom in date) can still be seen in the Fayoum, and were indeed built of brick rather than the stone used for the Giza pyramids.
and more here.
No offense intended Rabbi, but that is a load of Horsesh!t. The OT and NT get more archeologists' evidence every year that the stories are accurate.
I actually researched a term paper about it back in college. I tried to tie the events in Exodus with things from historical writings. A lot of what happened in Exodus could be explained by a volcanic eruption in the Med at about the same time.
Somebody should tell Mr. Prager that there is a movie on this subject, “Patterns of Evidence,” coming out later this year. Because the composer of the soundtrack is archaeologist David Rohl, who believes evidence of the Israelites has been found in Egypt (e.g., skeletons of plague victims, the house and tomb of Joseph), I’m expecting the movie will assert the Exodus happened much like the Bible described it.
Rohl makes a compelling case, and buttresses his findings with much previous scholarship. Examine his footnotage...and dig. At least it shows the case is yet open. No one can declare the debate is over.
In the absence of unimpeachable historical evidence, the logic of Mr. Prager’s arguments is compelling to me as a non-Jew.
Fingerprints and hidden cameras, of course.
I don't know WHY this particular history is so important nowadays. Jesus always existed anyway, so it doesn't really matter too much about the exact where, when and how of the people among whom He chose to be born, does it?
HE is the cornerstone, He preached, taught and lived. Then He suffered and died for our sins so that we could be reconciled with our Creator.
Easter: He is risen. Alleluia!
Thank you, Lord.
Oh I know David Rohl’s case very well. Ten years ago I got to meet him at a seminar in Clearwater, FL, and currently he is a friend of mine on Facebook.
Tell him I said hi.... :^)
Tell him I said hi.... :^)
I don’t see that many Jews in Egypt these days, Dennis. Do you?
My husband and I were camping on Cape Hatteras a few years ago. During the night their was a violent storm with very high winds. When we awoke the bay had receded from the shore several miles and dry sand extended for as far as we could see. Amazing!
The wind had blown the water of this shallow estuary elsewhere. I have seen the same effect, but not so dramatic, on the Laguna Madre by North Padre Island, Texas.
Please read my post #36.
“Jews in Egypt were long gone before the pyramids were buillt...according to credible evidence.”
On the contrary, there is evidence that the pyramids were built before Noah’s Flood. It is a given that the Isralites were not the pyramid builders, as slaves or otherwise. And the Bible does not suggest this.
RE: The winners of wars usually get to write the history of what happened.
If Exodus is a story of the Israelites being the “winners” over Egypt, then I find it strange that it would record the FAILURES of her people in great detail.
AS Prager observes in the article:
Every other people in the world made up a grand and powerful history for themselves. They were all mighty and courageous. Jews, on the other hand, were slaves, idol worshippers, rebels and ingrates.
In fact, Exodus is the story not only of the defeat of the Egyptian Pharoah but also of the FAILURE and DISOBEDIENCE of the people who left Egypt.
Also, the historicity of Exodus is important to Christians because Christ IS the ultimate passover lamb who was sacrificed to satisfy the wrath of God.
I suspect there were many migratory movements, back and forth, some Jewish, some Egyptian, of varying momentousness, for which a mass movement narrative arose, was transmitted orally through several generations, and was gradually composed into the Exodus narrative.
The struggles of and for such people in its development of the Holy Land make this accreted narrative no less divine and compelling for me.
In the end, it's ALL about Jesus. At least, it is to Christians.
SOME people do, however, focus on the history of Christianity, the Old Testament. It is important but only marginally so (my opinion only, of course) since Christianity is ALL about our savior, our Christ, Messiah--Jesus. Prager knows that too.
To some folks the past is more important than anything. I always think that is rather sad. Our history is part of us, but our present, what we do NOW is who we are. We are products of our upbringing and we CAN always change for the better. That is part of being human.
For some folks, however, the past is WAY too important. I think it always shows a lacuna in their life. That is a part of their personality--what happened in the past:
when they were children
in their school life, especially high school,
with other folks.
I tend NOT to be that way. I don't even think of the future much, because WHO knows...
I TRY to focus on NOW. That, really, is all I have, isn't it?
Thanks for the thoughtful Prager-post, SeekAndFind.
A blessed Easter to you and yours.
pyramids predate Abraham, so I doubt it.
The “hebiru” were part of the workforce impounded to build the cities of Pitom and Ramses. Lots of labor unrest at that time, and apparantly some of them absconded.
since these cities are in the north, where it is swampy, evidence may never be found. Mudbrick doesn’t last long in watery areas...
But 600 thousand? I doubt it.
The best explanation of the exodus was when some military guys examined the evidence and explained how a good general would use flame and smoke to guide people and also to fool the pharoah’s army to wander into a tidal flat, where their wheels would get stuck when the tide came in...
The Giza pyramids predate Abraham. In the Bible there is a figure of 400+ years from Abraham to the exodus, and then another 400+ years from exodus to David. That would put exodus earlier than Ramases II and later than the Hyksus and Thera. In -1500 +/-50 years there was a major eruption of Mt. Etna whose ash cloud I think could have caused many of the “plagues” listed. Since strong volcanoe periods tend to have events in more than one place, and since western Saudi Arabia has considerable evidence of volcanic/magmatic activity, my theory is that the pillar of smoke by day and fire by night was volcanic. Underground magma could have caused “inflation” of the land, which with a good strong wind could have created a temporary land bridge. At any rate I think the Exodus was an 18th dynasty event and probably at or right after the time of Hatshepsut, who definitely was several centuries too early to have been involved with David.