Did the exodus really happen?

The exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and their travel to the Promised Land is one of the key events in Jewish religious history, and, therefore, in christian belief as well.

But did it actually happen? Did something like 2 million people cross the Red Sea and through the Sinai, aided and guided by miraculous interventions by God?

Scholars from various disciplines have argued about the facts for years now, but perhaps there is some sort of consensus emerging. Perhaps.

History and belief

Historical study isn’t like science – most historical events can’t be repeated like a science experiment. So when dealing with an event like the exodus, historians have to depend on the often meagre evidence available – archaeological remains, artefacts, ancient texts, often written a long time after the event, names, etc.

Miraculous events generally leave no miraculous trace. Even if they occurred, the evidence for the miraculous is likely to be close to non-existent. Perhaps something unusual occurred, but was it an intervention by God, or was it a coincidence; has it been exaggerated?

Take the crossing of the Red Sea as an example. Perhaps the whole story is a legend. Or perhaps God did part the Red Sea miraculously. The event left such a lasting memory in Jewish lore that maybe something did occur. But what can historians investigate? There is the evidence of the scriptural text, but historians want substantiation from some other source. So some look for a natural explanation for the parting of the Red Sea, and some argue that a geological event such as a volcano or earthquake, or a tsunami or wind storm might have had that result, and computer models apparently show this may have been possible.

But whatever the outcome of such investigations, they will always fall short of demonstrating the full range of supernatural events associated with the exodus.

So each of us will be left to form our beliefs, or disbelief, based on the evidence we have. It is that evidence, not belief or disbelief, that I am discussing here.

Maximalists and minimalists

Up until the twentieth century, most Old Testament history and archeology was based on a belief that the Old Testament was a true historical record, and the historical and archaeological evidence would support this. But gradually scholars began to have doubts – archaeological evidence was missing, dates didn’t add up, it was hard to fit some parts of Old Testament history with other historical records, and some anachronisms were found in the Old Testament.

In the last few decades, the scholars tended to separate into maximalists, who thought the Old Testament text contained good historical evidence, and the minimalists, who wouldn’t accept the text unless it was supported by other, preferably hard archaeological, evidence. Many other scholars, perhaps the majority, took a middle position.

The historical doubts about the exodus

Apart from the Biblical text, there is little evidence for the exodus, and some against it.

Archaeologists have found no evidence of a large group living for 40 years in the Sinai desert or the area just south of Palestine. Normally the lack of archaeological evidence means little – very little of ancient remains are still intact and discoverable – but in this case, experts believe that something should remain at locations like Kadesh Barnea, where 2 million Israelites are recorded to have camped for many years.

The biggest difficulty is the sheer number of people. If 2 million really travelled to Canaan, and they walked 2 metres apart and 100 abreast, the column would be 40 km long. Walking at 4 km/hour would mean the last of the group would leave 10 hours after the first. Addressing a crowd of 2 million would be impossible. Whatever else, it is hard not to conclude that the numbers are greatly overstated.

It is also hard to fit in the beginning and end of the story. It isn’t clear when this could have occurred and who could have been the Pharoah, and the loss of 2 million Hebrew slaves from a nation of barely that number would surely have been notable enough to be recorded somewhere. Likewise, the dates of the conquest of Canaan don’t seem to work, and the account in Joshua of the supposed conquest is not much confirmed by archaeology, and even contested in other parts of the Bible.

Reading the text more thoughtfully

But while minimalists may be right in rejecting the full story told in the text, this doesn’t mean there is no useful information in it. And so some recent work has taken a closer look at the non-archaeological evidence.

A conference on the exodus, held at the University of California in 2013, and the subsequent book published in 2015, contained papers by many leading scholars, minimalists, maximalists, and centrists, from a wide range of disciplines. The books editor, anthropology professor Thomas Levy, wrote:

“There was also considerable agreement that an Exodus event or series of events took place on a much smaller scale than the one depicted in the Hebrew Bible.”

Now Professor Richard Friedman is about to publish The Exodus, which outlines the evidence for the historical exodus. Like Levy, Friedman has concluded that a smaller group of “Hebrews” did indeed leave Egypt and travel to Canaan.

The new historical arguments for the exodus

There were Semites in Egypt at that time

It is known that different peoples from the area of Canaan and nearby were living in Egypt, and travelling to and from Egypt, in the middle and later second millennium BCE. It wouldn’t be at all surprising if a coherent group left Egypt, perhaps fleeing oppression.

The Levites were one such group

This to me is the most interesting aspect of Friedman’s argument.

The Levites in Israel were the group associated with temple worship, and the one tribe that didn’t have its own territory. Friedman points out that it is the Levites who commonly have Egyptian names (Moses, Aaron, Miriam, Phinehas and others), and Levites who are associated with circumcision, the tabernacle and the Ark, all of which have parallels in Egyptian religious practices.

So there seems to be a definite association between the Levites and Egypt.

Levitical sections of the Old Testament contain the stories

Many scholars, including Friedman, believe that the Old Testament is composed of four main sources, commonly labelled J, E, D & P. (The first two are named Jahwist and Elohist after the names for God found in those sources and are the earliest; Deuteronomic is named after that book, and Priestly is based on the view that it was written by a priest.)

Friedman says that the E, D & P sources are related to the Levites, and it is they that tell the stories of the plagues and the exodus, which include episodes also found in Egyptian lore: “the hidden divine name, turning an inanimate object into a reptile, the conversion of water to blood, a spell of three days of darkness, death of the firstborn, parting of waters, death by drowning, and stories of quotas for brickmaking and the use of straw in mudbrick”.

These sources also give commands about slaves and aliens

The Levitical sources give all the Old Testament commands about slaves and aliens, and more than 50 times say that aliens are to be treated the same as Israelites “because you were aliens in Egypt”. No such statement is to be found in the J source or anywhere else in ancient Near Eastern law.

DNA evidence

DNA studies show that most Jews have similar DNA to other modern day people of Canaanite descent (e.g. Palestinians, Bedouins and Druze). However, while “there is no clear Levite-specific genetic signature”, studies show that the Kohanim (Levites who descend directly from Aaron through their male line) have a distinctive DNA that “represents a unique founding lineage of the ancient Hebrews” (Hammer et al, 2009).

Friedman argues that this lends support to the hypothesis that Levites, especially the Kohanim, originated elsewhere than in Canaan.

So what happened …. perhaps?

The idea is that Israel in the last few centuries BCE was composed of tribes that originated in Canaan, plus Levites who travelled from Egypt and, though they may have conquered a few small settlements, generally assimilated into the existing population. This may explain why they were not recorded as having any land of their own, while the other tribes had clearly defined territories.

These Levites appear to have brought some religious ideas with them from Egypt, and these seem to have formed a significant basis of the monotheistic priestly sacrificial religion of the later Israelites and also some of their ethical beliefs related to caring for aliens and loving one’s neighbour.

On this hypothesis, the exodus story we have in the Tanakh and the Bible is ‘fictionalised history’ – an historical event that has been handed down and embellished as a foundational legend that provides a sense of identity for the Israelites, who were, after all, just minor players in the history of those times. We cannot know for sure how much of the story is historical and how much is legendary.

This interpretation of the evidence is not a consensus among scholars, but it may be moving towards one. The extremes of minimalism and maximalism are perhaps less accepted these days.

Is this a threat to christian belief?

If the exodus is a foundational belief for christianity, and yet many of the elements of the story are legendary, doesn’t this threaten the truth of christian belief?

I don’t see why. More than half a century ago, CS Lewis (who wasn’t a Biblical scholar, but was trained in ancient history and literature and expert in myth) said that the Hebrew Old Testament began with myth and something close to pagan religion. This was gradually purged and deepened, especially by the prophets, and slowly became more historical, until it more closely reflected the character of God and prepared the way for the coming of Jesus.

I think that broad picture is still reasonably accurate. It doesn’t actually matter how historical the early Old Testament is. History or myth/legend, or a combination of the two, can equally well prepare the ground for the coming of Jesus, which is well-based in history.

Christians who are uncomfortable with this approach can still hold to the historical accuracy of the exodus story in scripture. It will be based on faith rather than historical evidence, but that isn’t unreasonable if they don’t claim historical evidence that isn’t there.

But I think it would be better to put the historical question completely to one side once we are aware of the facts. The exodus is a foundational story for our faith, and it can teach truth whether it is seen as a legend or a fact, or a mixture. We don’t really need to decide or define. And we certainly don’t need to argue.

Graphic: Free Bible Images

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28 thoughts on “Did the exodus really happen?

  1. limey says:

    Ref the DNA evidence. Shouldn’t there be evidence for shared ancestry with Egyptians? Lack of that would be pretty damning.

    Regarding the question of should it challenge Christianity? Yes it should. Because the Exodus is one of many stories in the OT that are retold fables. The Exodus is not a sole fiction in a book of truth. It is one of many fictions in a book which claims to be all truth. That is the problem for Christianity. The very foundation of it is a lie and the Exodus is just one of the nails that kills it.

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  2. unkleE says:

    I have tried to find out more about the DNA, but finding it hard to get something definitive. But if the levites were Semites who lived in Egypt for a while, then left again, as the Bible portrays them, than they’d have little shared ancestry with Egyptians.

    Why do you think a “retold fable” (assuming for the moment that is a reasonable description) 1500 years before Jesus challenges the truth of christianity?

    If Romulus and Remus was a fable, that makes no difference to the subsequent history of Rome. If the Vikings believed in their Norse gods, that didn’t make the Viking raids on England any the less real. Surely what matters is the historical truth, or otherwise, of the gospels?

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  3. limey says:

    It challenges the truth of Christianity because the roots of the religion are not what is claimed by the religion. If the history on which the religion builds itself isn’t true then the claims of a miracle working creating god are not true either.

    Romulus and Remus are a fable, which means that Rome wasn’t built by brother who were raised by wolves. The difference in the history of Rome changes significantly between a world where they were real and a world where they are but a fable.

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  4. Kevin says:

    Eric, I think you would agree that archaeology has confirmed the historical accuracy of the Bible: it has verified many ancient sites, civilizations, and biblical characters whose existence had been previously dismissed by the academic world. And archaeology has demonstrated the accuracy of many Bible prophecies. (Personally, I believe the evidence for the historical accuracy of the Bible will only continue to grow.)

    But, would you also agree that we do not live in a spiritual vacuum? That humans are influenced by spiritual forces both benign and malignant (with mention of “malignant” forces being noticeably absent in your thoughtful discussions)?

    Rationalistic academics in white lab coats are NOT immune to these forces: their work is SUBJECTIVE, because they too are “subjected.” (Yes—gasp—I’m talking “conspiracy”: the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers. 2 Cor. 4:4.)

    On that note, would you please consider the following competing information with an open mind?

    1. “PHARAOH’S CHARIOTS FOUND IN RED SEA? ‘Physical evidence’ of ancient Exodus prompting new look at Old Testament,” at http://www.wnd.com/2003/06/19382/

    2. A video of Dr. David Kim, a Korean physician who was the personal physician for the Prince of Saudi Arabia for 16 years, and who, during that time, made repeated trips into Midian to search for traces of the Exodus and Mount Sinai (to substantiate purported evidence published by Ron Wyatt, mentioned above), at http://gospelministry.org/items/forbbiden-pictures-revealed-did-ron-wyatt-tell-the-truth/

    Also, Professor Lennart Möller, whose disciplines include medicine and molecular biology, of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, which awards Nobel prizes, has corroborated some of “amateur” archeologist Ron Wyatt’s discoveries, including his evidence of the Red Sea Crossing. Möller’s book, The Exodus Case, and his stunning documentary entitled “The Exodus Revealed: Search for the Red Sea Crossing” (Questar, Discovery Media, 2002), both at Amazon, are worth consideration.

    You say, “If the exodus (sic) is a foundational belief for christianity (sic), and yet many of the elements of the story are legendary, doesn’t this threaten the truth of christian (sic) belief?” Many would answer, “Yes!” As you know, many have left their faith over less. But I would argue there is no compelling reason to believe ‘many of the elements’ of the Exodus were merely legendary.

    Again, I believe the evidence for the historical accuracy of the Bible will only continue to grow. So…am I being influenced by a divine, or a demonic spiritual force in such an outlook? Is there an actual Spirit of Truth trying to lead men? OR, are there no SUPER-natural influences at work on any of our thought processes or judgments, whatsoever?

    Shalom.

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  5. unkleE says:

    Hi Limey, I am interested in what you say.

    “If the history on which the religion builds itself isn’t true then the claims of a miracle working creating god are not true either.”

    Can you give me any reason why this might be true? Do you mean to argue that unless everything written about a subject is true, nothing about it is true? It seems to me that is the only way to get from:

    1. Some parts of the OT are legendary.
    to
    3. The whole thing is false.

    Perhaps you can present the argument as you see it please?

    Romulus and Remus serve as an example. If we agree that the story of R & R is a fable, then we can use your argument:

    “If the history on which the Roman Empire builds itself isn’t true then the subsequent historical accounts of the Empire are not true either.”

    Perhaps you could explain how the two cases differ in your view, please.

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  6. unkleE says:

    Hi Kevin,

    Thanks for your contribution. But I cannot go along with all you say, I’m sorry.

    ” I think you would agree that archaeology has confirmed the historical accuracy of the Bible:”

    This is a very general statement. The stories in the Bible cover two millennia (more if we include Genesis 1-11), and they were written in different genres at different times by different authors. That is way too much to generalise.

    I think the evidence shows that the main events of the second half of the OT are well supported by archaeology, and the NT is supported by the little relevant archaeology we have. But the first half of the OT (say before David) is not well supported. Even if it was all literally true, we wouldn’t expect much from those nomadic times to have survived, but it isn’t true that archaeology confirms that early history.

    I read the rest of your information with interest, but with insufficient knowledge to assess it. But if all that is true, then it will find its way into the literature and into acceptance by historians. The only way that won’t occur is if there is a giant conspiracy against it. It is common for people with fringe views (whether about moon landings, or the death of Elvis or JFK, or climate change, or Jesus mythicism, etc) to claim conspiracies are preventing their discoveries from being accepted, but I am very doubtful about that. So I will wait to see if these ideas become accepted by the experts.

    Thanks.

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  7. limey says:

    “Do you mean to argue that unless everything written about a subject is true, nothing about it is true? It seems to me that is the only way to get from:

    1. Some parts of the OT are legendary.
    to
    3. The whole thing is false.

    Well, the exodus is highly doubtful. If it’s false, it means no Moses and no wondering about the desert because they upset god. It means no Joseph which puts Jacob into question too. The tentacles of doubt go way beyond wading across a bit of water.

    Without an exodus, the whole premise of a promised land is removed. The miracle of a rescuing god is but a lie. The history of the Israelites is but a fabrication, a nonsense story of self elevation.

    Exodus isn’t the only one. In fact every major god event is in doubt. Not a single claimed god event is confirmed to be an actual god event. Which means that the very birth of what became Christianity is but a fabrication, a string of myths bound together but not known to be true. So yes, no confirmed god events means no god and no god means that all god claims are false.

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  8. limey says:

    “1. “PHARAOH’S CHARIOTS FOUND IN RED SEA? ‘Physical evidence’ of ancient Exodus prompting new look at Old Testament,” at http://www.wnd.com/2003/06/19382/

    You do realise that is a hoax and not a real find don’t you! Check it out, how come no follow up excavation? How come the quoted fork lift engineer isn’t a real person? The clues are all there.

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  9. Kevin says:

    Unklee, you say, “It is common for people with fringe views (whether about moon landings, or the death of Elvis or JFK, or climate change, or Jesus mythicism, etc) to claim conspiracies are preventing their discoveries from being accepted, but I am very doubtful about that. So I will wait to see if these ideas become accepted by the experts.”

    As you know, expert “consensus” can be a long time in coming, when it comes at all. And as to “experts,” we each choose our own. We each weigh evidence based on our view of reality; we each draw our own conclusions; and we each sometimes reassess our conclusions when we are challenged.

    Again, I would argue that there is a greater reality, and a lesser reality. We are all being influenced by intelligent outside forces. And, no, I don’t think they are extraterrestrials, or “ascended masters.” They are either God or fallen angels. Furthermore, I would argue that outside the influence of the Holy Spirit, there is no true objectivity.

    Darwin, Marx, and Freud were highly intelligent men, who were pulled around by their noses by deceiving spirits. They were unable to discriminate truth from error, because they did not have the Spirit of Truth in them. They saw men as animals or machines, who inhabit a universe controlled by impersonal forces. They believed that our behavior and our thoughts are purely the result of the forces of biology, chemistry, and the environment (which some others may argue includes EVOLVED intelligences from other planets).

    Such a materialistic conception of reality has infected virtually every area of our culture, from politics and economics to literature and art. But why such a hard time for so many to follow a loving Creator? Well, because God (for the time being) gets such brilliantly bad press from our common enemy, the “god” of this world, that is, Satan.

    Regarding the most amazing archeological discoveries confirming the Bible, I point you and Limey again to material from the late Ron Wyatt, found, for example, at ronwyatt.com . (Please note: this is one of several competing sites presenting these discoveries. I do not support Seventh Day Adventism; and by the end of his life, neither did Ron Wyatt.)

    Blessings.

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  10. unkleE says:

    Hi Limey, I read your argument, but I don’t see any evidence to support it. Let’s see if we can clarify the argument first. I think you are saying something like this:

    1. There is doubt about most aspects of the exodus.
    2. Therefore there is “no Moses and no wondering about the desert, no Joseph and probably no Jacob.
    3. Likewise there is no Promised Land and no rescuing God.
    4. “In fact every major god event is in doubt. Not a single claimed god event is confirmed to be an actual god event”
    5. Therefore “the very birth of what became Christianity is but a fabrication, a string of myths bound together but not known to be true.”

    Have I fairly represented your argument?

    If so, can you clarify the following questions please:

    (a) What evidence do you have to go from #1 to #2 & #3?
    (b) What is your evidence for #4?
    (c) If I made a similar argument about doubts about Romulus and Remus leading to doubts about the historicity of the Roman Empire, how would you reply?

    Thanks.

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  11. unkleE says:

    Hi Kevin,

    Thanks for your response. I want to say up front that I recognise that while you disagree with me, you have responded courteously. That doesn’t always happen, and I am appreciative.

    “expert “consensus” can be a long time in coming, when it comes at all.”
    It may take a decade or two, but things have changed dramatically in my lifetime. Doubtless it took a while for the previous consensus to be defeated, so we have to be content to wait in this case too. But I think it isn’t going to happen as you suggest, because I think the experts have already examined the evidence and are not convinced. When an amateur thinks he or she has found something the experts have missed, it is almost always the case that the experts are right and the amateur just doesn’t understand.

    “And as to “experts,” we each choose our own.”
    I think this is sadly true as a statement of what human beings do, but I oppose this idea in the very strongest terms. It is the antithesis of truth to seek the “experts” who most support our own views, even if the majority concludes otherwise. I’ve met Jesus mythicists who resolutely hang on to the opinion of a single or a couple of amateurs against the almost total consensus of secular historians, and somehow think they are being rational. I think we all should make a commitment to start from the consensus of the experts, and be careful how far we move from that.

    “I would argue that there is a greater reality, and a lesser reality.”
    I don’t disagree, but you have perhaps made assumptions about this. I see no in principle reason to think that God is on the side of the conspiracy theorists rather than the experts. I think we should look at what the experts say is true, and see if there is any reason to suppose that isn’t God’s truth. In general, I haven’t seen any reason to think otherwise.

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  12. limey says:

    “(a) What evidence do you have to go from #1 to #2 & #3?
    (b) What is your evidence for #4?
    (c) If I made a similar argument about doubts about Romulus and Remus leading to doubts about the historicity of the Roman Empire, how would you reply?

    a – the evidence that one would expect from the story does not exist. tens of thousands of people living in Egypt and then wandering the dessert and yet it can’t be confirmed that they were there? That’s the evidence that the story is false.

    b – tell me which major god event has be shown to be an actually major god event. You can’t. The list of zero length. That’s my evidence.

    c- doubts about R and R are very valid reasons for denying the claim that the roman empire was founded by twins who grew up with wolves. The roman empire must then have an alternative source and the R & R story can safety be discarded as myth.

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  13. unkleE says:

    Hi Limey, sorry to be delayed, I have had a few things to do.

    I think you must have a different idea of evidence to me. You seem to think that an assertion alone is evidence. But I think it is reasonable to ask for something more.

    (a) I asked you for evidence for your assertions that if many of the facts about the exodus are doubtful or unlikely, that therefore there was “no Moses and no wondering about the desert, no Joseph and probably no Jacob …. no Promised Land and no rescuing God.” All you have done is address the “no wandering in the desert” part of your assertions, and your “evidence” is “it can’t be confirmed that they were there”. That is not evidence! And you have offered no evidence at all for the rest of your assertion!

    (b) In defence of your statement “Not a single claimed god event is confirmed to be an actual god event” you say “tell me which major god event has be shown to be an actually major god event. You can’t”. That is NOT any evidence to support your statement, it is asking me to defend a different statement. If you make a statement, you surely must be able to offer SOMETHING to support it.

    (c) I agree here. The fact that R & R is a myth doesn’t prevent there being other evidence for the Roman Empire. So the same principle must apply to the exodus. The fact that the exodus has legendary elements doesn’t prevent there being other evidence for many of the following events recorded in the later OT and in the NT. Which means that your original argument suggesting otherwise was incorrect.

    So we end up with this. The exodus is a partly legendary story, but the rest of the Bible needs to be assessed on its merits. I’m happy with that. How about you?

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  14. limey says:

    I think you’ve misunderstood some of my comments.

    a) The Bible makes specific claims regarding the Exodus. The evidence that one would expect to be there if those claims were true, does not exist. That is the evidence for those claims being false.

    b) The same logic applies. There is not a single god event that has been shown to have occurred. That is the evidence that there are no god events.

    c) R & R being a myth, shows that the stories of them founding Rome is but a legend, it does not make Rome itself something that does not exist. Ditto, with Christianity, the origins stories being myth means that the claimed source of Christianity is legend. That does not make the existence of Christianity false, only it’s origins claims. The origins claims of Christianity being false, does give justification to doubt other claims of Christianity.

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  15. unkleE says:

    “I think you’ve misunderstood some of my comments.”

    Yeah, I may have. I’m sorry if I have, I’m certainly trying to understand. But ti seesm to me that you have made a number of comments that you have offered no reasons why anyone should accept them, despite my asking several questions about them. So let me try again. (I have bolded my three main questions to you.)

    “The Bible makes specific claims regarding the Exodus. The evidence that one would expect to be there if those claims were true, does not exist. That is the evidence for those claims being false.”

    I agree with this as a general statement, and in fact that is part of the content of my post. The trick is to decide which things are in that category. I accept that if the numbers were 2 million, you’d expect there to be some evidence, and there’s not. So I think that number is incorrect. What other evidence specifically do you think “should” be there, but isn’t?

    But you went on and said because some details are in doubt (so far we only have that the numbers are false), therefore, as a corollary, there was no Moses and no wondering about the desert, no Joseph and probably no Jacob, no Promised Land and no rescuing God.

    I keep asking you to show me how the conclusion about the numbers being overstated leads logically and evidentially to these conclusions. I haven’t seen any argument for that yet, and I’d really be interested to see it please.

    “There is not a single god event that has been shown to have occurred.”

    I offered the life of Jesus as a God event for which there is evidence. Because I have made that statement, I am willing to outline that evidence. You have made a statement that there is no single god event, so I’m interested to see your evidence for THAT statement – i.e. show that the life of Jesus is NOT a god event. (You may say that the burden of proof is on me, but since we have both made statements, we each have a burden of proof to support those statements with evidence. If you are unwilling to do that, then perhaps your statement doesn’t stand.)

    “Ditto, with Christianity, the origins stories being myth means that the claimed source of Christianity is legend. That does not make the existence of Christianity false, only it’s origins claims.”

    The problem I see with this is that the Exodus story is not the origin of christianity, but one of the origins of Judaism. The origin of christianity is the life of Jesus. That is the story that needs to be shown to be myth if you want to discredit christianity. I am happy to see your evidence for Jesus being a myth and to discuss it.

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  16. westofthebluemountains says:

    The problem I see with this is that the Exodus story is not the origin of christianity, but one of the origins of Judaism. The origin of christianity is the life of Jesus.

    So why bother with the Old Testament at all ?

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  17. limey says:

    You said: [ref the Exodus] “I accept that if the numbers were 2 million, you’d expect there to be some evidence, and there’s not. So I think that number is incorrect. What other evidence specifically do you think “should” be there, but isn’t?”

    Evidence of the Israelites living in Egypt and mixing with them. Evidence of the exodus event. There is no army buried under the sea. Evidence of having lived in the desert all those years. It’s not that there is evidence for a smaller group, there is no evidence at all.

    you said: “keep asking you to show me how the conclusion about the numbers being overstated leads logically and evidentially to these conclusions. I haven’t seen any argument for that yet, and I’d really be interested to see it please.”

    Why is that a bad thing for the bible narrative? I’m stunned you need that explaining. The OT narrative is a sequence of dependent events, you take out the Exodus and there are following events that depend on it (the dessert years and the journey to the promised land) and the are events that the Egypt years depend on (Jacob etc..). Remove the Exodus and there is a gaping wound in the OT narrative rendering it incapable of standing straight.

    you said: “You have made a statement that there is no single god event, so I’m interested to see your evidence for THAT statement – i.e. show that the life of Jesus is NOT a god event. ”

    Like I said, the lack of any demonstrated god event is THAT evidence. The life of Jesus isn’t a life that is shown to be a god event. It’s written about in a holy book but not a single detail is confirmable. Lets assume that there was a man called Jesus, you can not show that any of the bible claims about him are true. That is my point, it’s all man made narrative that you and thousands of others believe, but there is no item that is undeniable fact that points to a god being behind it all.

    finally: “I am happy to see your evidence for Jesus being a myth and to discuss it.”

    Lets not tangent too much, you OP is about the exodus. My point is that when you remove the exodus (which isn’t supported by any evidence) the damage to the bible and to Christianity is significant.

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  18. unkleE says:

    Hi Limey, thanks for those comments.

    ”Evidence of the Israelites living in Egypt and mixing with them.”

    In my post I referenced Prof Richard Friedman’s new book, but I omitted a link to an article he wrote: The Exodus in Archaeology and Text. In it he offers evidence for this. I’m sorry I omitted this before, and I hope it gives you some expert input.

    ”There is no army buried under the sea. Evidence of having lived in the desert all those years. It’s not that there is evidence for a smaller group, there is no evidence at all.”

    In the same article he explains why we wouldn’t expect to see evidence of a smaller group. Why do you think a smaller group should leave archaeological remains?

    How do you know there’s no buried army? All we know is that they haven’t found any. The army story is quite likely legendary, but even if there were a small number of chariots involved, why would you expect they’d be found? Where would anyone even look? As for the rest, Friedman cites an example where 16m of sand accumulated in just 40 years, so why would anyone expect to find evidence of a small group of nomadic people?.

    ”Why is that a bad thing for the bible narrative? I’m stunned you need that explaining. The OT narrative is a sequence of dependent events, you take out the Exodus and there are following events that depend on it (the dessert years and the journey to the promised land) and the are events that the Egypt years depend on (Jacob etc..). Remove the Exodus and there is a gaping wound in the OT narrative rendering it incapable of standing straight.”

    And I am surprised that you would say this. I’m sure you know that the Old Testament is a collection of 39 “books” by many different authors, written over nearly a millennium, and then assembled. Why should the doubts about exodus historicity make any difference to the historicity of later material?

    Whether the exodus and the conquest of Canaan were partly or totally legendary doesn’t alter the fact that we know the Israelites were in Canaan in about the 10th century. So where’s the “gaping hole”?

    We have already agreed that a legendary Romulus and Remus doesn’t change the historicity of the later Roman Empire, so why should it be any different here?

    It seems to me that you have seriously exaggerated the problems, and offered no evidence for your conclusions.

    ”My point is that when you remove the exodus (which isn’t supported by any evidence) the damage to the bible and to Christianity is significant.”

    The history of jesus is quite unaffected by the historicity of the exodus. Jesus lived, taught, apparently healed, was executed and was believed to have been resurrected, and that can be just as true if the exodus was legendary or if it was factual.

    Can you offer me any reason what that isn’t so?

    Like

  19. limey says:

    “In the same article he explains why we wouldn’t expect to see evidence of a smaller group.”

    The bible is quite clear about the numbers isn’t it? If you say the numbers are wrong, then you are saying that there are elements of the bible narrative that can not be trusted. If the numbers can’t be trusted, then what else can’t be trusted? You’ve effectively admitted that there is good reason to doubt the accuracy.

    “How do you know there’s no buried army? All we know is that they haven’t found any”

    Which is good reason to suppose there isn’t one. Find one and change history, until then, don’t make up stories with no evidence. How many bible archaeologists have been in the area for how many years? There has been enough time for something positive to be found.

    “Why should the doubts about exodus historicity make any difference to the historicity of later material?”

    As I already said, the bible is a continuous narrative of the christian god working in his people. Take away elements and you break up the narrative into a bunch of unrelated random stories.

    “We have already agreed that a legendary Romulus and Remus doesn’t change the historicity of the later Roman Empire”

    It does mean that the miraculous elements are utterly untrue. Rome existing does not mean that any of the events in the bible are true. You’re grasping and clutching there.

    ” that can be just as true if the exodus was legendary or if it was factual.

    Can you offer me any reason what that isn’t so?”

    That is true. Though you do still need to demonstrate those events. With no exodus there is much more of the OT that is effected and without the events of the OT there is no reason for Jesus.

    Like

  20. unkleE says:

    Hi Limey,

    I’m sorry to be critical, but you seem not to understand ancient history. Myth and fact were often intermingled in ancient times, and it is the work of the ancient historian to try to separate them.

    For example, histories of Rome by Dionysius, Livy, Plutarch and others contain the Romulus and Remus story. As far as I know, historians all take the story to be myth, but they still value the history in these works. And it is the same with the Bible.

    So applying that understanding to your comments ….

    ”The bible is quite clear about the numbers isn’t it? If you say the numbers are wrong, then you are saying that there are elements of the bible narrative that can not be trusted. If the numbers can’t be trusted, then what else can’t be trusted? You’ve effectively admitted that there is good reason to doubt the accuracy.”

    Of course I agree that there is reason to doubt the accuracy and historicity of the story, that is the whole point of my post. But doubting isn’t the same as dismissing. In the end, while historians don’t believe the large numbers, the view of most of the experts seems to be that there is a historical basis to the exodus story. Exactly what happened is arguable, but quite likely, they say, some parts of the story are true.

    ”Which is good reason to suppose there isn’t one. Find one and change history, until then, don’t make up stories with no evidence. How many bible archaeologists have been in the area for how many years? There has been enough time for something positive to be found.”

    This isn’t good historical method. There clearly was an Egyptian army. If a small number of Semites left Egypt, it is possible that some army unit opposed them. If the numbers were small, it would be unlikely to find traces of them, and we wouldn’t know for sure. All we can say honestly is that nobody knows much either way. If you read the articles I referenced you’ll see that.

    ”As I already said, the bible is a continuous narrative of the christian god working in his people. Take away elements and you break up the narrative into a bunch of unrelated random stories.”

    Again, this isn’t the case. The Bible is a collection of writings by many different people with different purposes, and only assembled later. Some parts of the story are told more than once, with little attempt to harmonise the accounts. It is not a continuous narrative, some parts are much more detailed than others. Again, same as for the exodus, there are parts the historians conclude are accurate history and parts that are not. The doubtful parts don’t mean the historical parts don’t have value.

    You seem to think history is binary – either all accurate or all useless. But that isn’t even true for modern history, much less so for ancient history.

    ”It does mean that the miraculous elements are utterly untrue. Rome existing does not mean that any of the events in the bible are true. You’re grasping and clutching there.”

    It doesn’t mean that the miraculous elements are untrue at all. What evidence is there for that? That is just your opinion. You can hold that opinion and someone else could believe in miracles, and history couldn’t say either way most of the time. Of course the comparison with Rome doesn’t have anything to say about the accuracy of the Biblical account. But it does show that your argument – that if there’s legendary material in Exodus than everything else is is doubtful too – is simply not true. Each account has to be assessed on its merits.

    ”With no exodus there is much more of the OT that is effected and without the events of the OT there is no reason for Jesus.“

    I’m sorry, but this is simply nonsense. It’s the Romulus and Remus argument again. “With no Romulus and Remus there is much more of Roman history that is effected and without the events of the establishment of Rome there is no reason for Rome.” That is clearly a nonsense argument, yet it is the same argument you have used.

    We have already established that Roman history is judged to be true or not, not because of R & R, but because of the historical evidence for that history. Exactly the same is true for Jesus – his historicity depends on the evidence of his day, not on some half legendary story from more than a millennium before.

    History is more subtle than you seem to think, and we need to listen to the experts, not make claims that don’t fit the evidence.

    Like

  21. unkleE says:

    Hi “West”, sorry, your question got lost there for a few days.

    “So why bother with the Old Testament at all ?”

    Actually, some christians down the ages have suggested that we dispense with the OT, but it has never been a mainstream view. I think people feel that it was the scriptures Jesus knew, and we can only understand him if we understand the OT. But like the aboriginal Dreaming stories, I don’t think it matters whether the OT is totally historical or not, what matters is how the help us understand Jesus.

    Like

  22. limey says:

    ” Myth and fact were often intermingled in ancient times, and it is the work of the ancient historian to try to separate them.”

    I am aware of that, which is why I am suggesting that lack of evidential support of the exodus account means it is myth and not fact.

    “Of course I agree that there is reason to doubt the accuracy and historicity of the story,”

    Do you really? All you appear to be able to do is suggest that the numbers might be over stated. You’ve not at all acknowledged that no supporting evidence is good reason to question the whole account. In fact you’ve gone the other way and criticised me for daring to suggest it.

    “The Bible is a collection of writings by many different people with different purposes, and only assembled later.”

    We’re still talking about the Exodus right? The exodus of the 12 tribes of Israel, destined to arrive at the promised land. The very same tribes from which the lineage of Jesus sprang? You need this story to be true. It is not an unconnected story from a collection. If you do maintain the bible is but a collection of writing, then why are you putting so much store in its words? Why aren’t you on my side suggesting that the Exodus is just a story?

    “You seem to think history is binary – either all accurate or all useless.”

    Not at all, however, in the case of the Exodus, there isn’t anything to confirm any of it as accurate.

    “It doesn’t mean that the miraculous elements are untrue at all. What evidence is there for that?”

    On what basis should anyone believe those miraculous events? Take the sea turning back and creating walls of water and then drowning an army. Go and look at the sea bed, there is no drowned army. That is the evidence that there was no miraculous event.

    “I’m sorry, but this is simply nonsense. It’s the Romulus and Remus argument again. ”

    We know Rome exists, we don’t know the Exodus happened. You suggested a false equivalence. Pick an analogy that works please.

    “In the end, while historians don’t believe the large numbers, the view of most of the experts seems to be that there is a historical basis to the exodus story. ”

    You mean those who are Christians and have a vested interest in the story being true. Go and look at secular historians, those with no axe to grind. Read what they say, you’ll find the historicity of the event is very much in question.

    Like

  23. unkleE says:

    HI Limey,

    I’m sorry, but I think you are still misunderstanding several things.

    ” I am suggesting that lack of evidential support of the exodus account means it is myth and not fact.”
    There are two misunderstandings here, I suggest.

    1. “Absence of evidence” is only evidence of absence if we would expect there to be evidence. Friedman suggests that while we’d expect to find evidence of 2 million people leaving Egypt and spending 40 years in the Sinai, we wouldn’t expect to find evidence if a significantly small number took the trip. Thus, the lack of archaeological evidence tell us nothing about the possibility of a smaller group.

    2. You keep saying there is no evidence when Friedman says there is in fact some evidence. He lists these things):

    * the known presence of Semites in Egypt at the time
    * occurrence of Egyptian names in the story
    * presence of Egyptian customs in the story
    * allusion to Egyptian legends in the story
    * DNA evidence that the Levites didn’t originate in Canaan

    These facts support a possible historical basis to the story.

    Have you read his article? You keep saying things that he contradicts without showing why you think he’s wrong. This makes it just your word, with no evidence beyond the lack of archaeological evidence, which he explains, against this expert.

    ”The very same tribes from which the lineage of Jesus sprang?”
    Are you really suggesting that Jesus is unhistorical because his lineage may be legendary?

    That would make all Jews unhistorical!

    ”Why aren’t you on my side suggesting that the Exodus is just a story?”
    My post is about the doubts about the story, and the considered view of several experts that the story may have some basis in fact. That is what I have said all along. So the question is:

    Why are you insisting there’s no possible basis in fact? Why don’t you accept the view of these experts that there may be a basis?

    ”On what basis should anyone believe those miraculous events?”
    This is another misunderstanding. Neither Friedman or I have suggested there’s a historical basis for the miraculous events. That is a quite separate question. A smaller group could have travelled from Egypt to Canaan without any miracles, and what Friedman has said and I have reported would all be true. Or there could have been miracles, for all anyone knows – that would be a matter of faith, not of history.

    It is common in ancient history for the miraculous to be mixed with the factual. The former doesn’t necessarily invalidate the latter.

    ”We know Rome exists, we don’t know the Exodus happened. You suggested a false equivalence. Pick an analogy that works please.”
    And I’m sorry, but this is the worst misunderstanding of all.

    Your argument has been that if the Exodus, or even substantial parts of it, are legendary, then it throws subsequent Biblical history, including right up to Jesus, into doubt. The form of this argument is: If legend the later events are unhistorical or If L then ~H.

    I then offered the story of Romulus & remus and the subsequent history of Rome as an example of where your arguments didn’t stand up. If your argument was valid, then because Romulus & Remus are legends (L) then Roman history is unhistorical (~H). Again, If L then ~H. But we know in this case, Rome was historical.

    But do you see what you did? You compared the Predicate of the Roman argument (H) with the subject of the Exodus argument (L). I suggested no such equivalence because equating the subject of one argument with the predicate of the other argument is silly, and proves absolutely nothing. The comparison is to compare both subjects (they are both the same) with the both predicates.

    Do you see then how that is no answer at all. So you still have to explain why the Exodus argument is true (in your view) while exactly the same argument applied to Rome is false.

    ”You mean those who are Christians and have a vested interest in the story being true. Go and look at secular historians, those with no axe to grind.”
    And this is yet another misunderstanding. You have committed a logical fallacy here, I think called poisoning the well. Whether a historian is a christian or not has no bearing on the evidence they put forward, it is the evidence that counts. One of the problems with making a statement like this is we don’t know who has axes to grind. Often making a statement like that just means “I will take notice of the ones who agree with me and dismiss the others.” That isn’t how scholarly study works.

    Besides, I doubt Friedman or Levy are christians, they sound more like Jews to me, and yes, they may have a vested interest (if they are Zionist Jews or something) but that is for you to demonstrate, not just make unfounded accusations to avoid evidence you don’t like.

    ”you’ll find the historicity of the event is very much in question.”
    Yes, that is what I started with, and which you have been contesting up until now. It is indeed very much in question, with minimalists denying historicity and maximalists claiming it. But, as I said in my post, the middle ground seems to be that there was a historical events at the basis of the exodus story even though many/most of the details are legendary.

    If this is now your opinion, then we have agreed on that matter.

    Like

  24. Greg says:

    Egyptologist James Hoffmeier is an expert in his field and is open about his role as a believing Christian. He speaks with humility and candor about the lack of physical evidence of explicit affirmation and but argues there is mounting physical evidence that confirms the context and concepts of the narrative within the Book of Exodus. He despairs about fraudulent claims of chariot wheels and challenges such claimants to be open to open examination by at least Christian academics. He also calls for Christians to contend for the spiritual truth of the exodus narrative in the face of its dismissal by scholars who, he suspects, are not as open about their agenda as he is. See one lecture here: https://youtu.be/m2vhrK6Wczs

    Like

  25. limey says:

    ““Absence of evidence” is only evidence of absence if we would expect there to be evidence. ”

    There are specific claims related to the exodus that one would expect to leave evidence. Yet there is none. The absence of this evidence is evidence of the absence of the exodus.

    “[snip] These facts support a possible historical basis to the story.”

    There are probably a great many stories that could be made up (or not made up) that fit those items. The exodus might fit those, but it doesn’t fit others. If the Israelites did spend hundreds of years in Egypt, there would be DNA evidence to support that. Where is it?

    “Are you really suggesting that Jesus is unhistorical because his lineage may be legendary?”

    That isn’t what I suggested, but it is also a possibility, but also not really in scope for a discussion on the exodus. The wider point was that there are parts of the bible that depend on exodus, the bible is a continuous narrative. The exodus includes people who are listed as antecedents to Jesus. The exodus not being a real event brings into doubt those people and therefore creates a problem for the genealogy of jesus. I didn’t say that means there was no jesus. it does mean there is a reliability problem in the bible though.

    “My post is about the doubts about the story, and the considered view of several experts that the story may have some basis in fact.”

    Lay it out then. What parts do you accept? All the miracles? the whole of the moses backstory? Joseph and his coat and dreams? The only bit I am aware of that you are flexible on is the numbers who left Egypt.

    “Why don’t you accept the view of these experts that there may be a basis?”

    Why don’t you accept the experts who say the Israelites were never in Egypt? That whole chunk of the bible that puts them there and then takes them away again, is all a fabrication.

    “then because Romulus & Remus are legends (L) then Roman history is unhistorical”

    What roman history? Does anyone actually take the R&R story as anything other then a cute story? Is there anyone who argues it is actual history? There is roman history, it just doesn’t include the bit about feral brats. There is Israelite history, it just doesn’t include the bit about fleeing Egypt in the dead of night, and every other made up part of the narrative!

    Like

  26. unkleE says:

    Hi Limey,

    I’m sorry, but I don’t think you are addressing the matters I raised. I have bolded the questions I think you haven’t answered so you can find them easily. Thanks.

    ”There are specific claims related to the exodus that one would expect to leave evidence. Yet there is none. The absence of this evidence is evidence of the absence of the exodus.”

    I believe this is historically mistaken. It would only be true if there were only two possibilities – either the exodus happened exactly as written, or it didn’t happen at all. Very few historians think it happened exactly as written. But many think something happened that formed the basis of the story. That is what my post was about.

    So what do you think of the possibility that something happened, but not everything? What evidence would you expect if a small group travelled from Egypt to Canaan?

    ”If the Israelites did spend hundreds of years in Egypt, there would be DNA evidence to support that.”

    I’m sorry to keep saying this, but again you are not addressing the point. The articles I referenced DON’T suggest “the Israelites” spent hundreds of years in Egypt. They suggest some of the people who became the Israelites spent time (not necessarily hundreds of years) in Egypt. That is very different. And there are apparently some DNA studies that support the idea that the Levite clan didn’t originate in Canaan.

    Do you see the distinction between “the Israelites” and “some of the people who became the Israelites”?

    “Are you really suggesting that Jesus is unhistorical because his lineage may be legendary?”

    That isn’t what I suggested

    Well it seemed to me that you did, when you said:

    ”Regarding the question of should it challenge Christianity? Yes it should. Because the Exodus is one of many stories in the OT that are retold fables. The Exodus is not a sole fiction in a book of truth. It is one of many fictions in a book which claims to be all truth. That is the problem for Christianity. The very foundation of it is a lie and the Exodus is just one of the nails that kills it.”

    So are you now saying you are not claiming that the Exodus undercuts the historical claims about Jesus, or do you still make that claim?

    ”Lay it out then. What parts do you accept? All the miracles? the whole of the moses backstory? Joseph and his coat and dreams? The only bit I am aware of that you are flexible on is the numbers who left Egypt.”

    This is another point you seem not yet to understand. My post is saying that we DON’T know these things. There is clearly legendary material there. There may be factual material there, the experts are not agreed and actually don’t know. My post is just referencing two experts who find some evidence behind the exodus. But if you ask my opinion, as opposed to what there is evidence for, my guess is that there is almost always a factual basis behind a legend, but it can be very hard to know how much.

    ”Why don’t you accept the experts who say the Israelites were never in Egypt? “

    Again you miss the point of my post. I do accept the views of those experts and reference them – they are the minimalists. But I also accept that there are maximalists and those in between. And the strongest consensus seems to be somewhere in the middle, probably closer to the minimalists than the maximalists. My post discusses all those views, all of which I accept as being part of expert opinion.

    You are the one making absolute statements, and ignoring all the non-minimalist scholars, including the ones I referenced. Can you tell me why you do that?

    ”What roman history? Does anyone actually take the R&R story as anything other then a cute story?”

    Before we discuss Romulus and Remus any further, can you tell me if you accept my previous comment that in your previous comment you compared the subject of one argument with the predicate of the other, and that this was not a correct way to reason? Thanks.

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