Kurt Bell

A life of courage, joy and independence.

Exodus

Is The Story of Exodus True?

Exodus is the origin story of the Jewish people, and their history of escape from bondage in Egypt, and subsequent travel to the land promised to them by God. The story covers the last four books of the Torah (Pentateuch); including Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The story is foundational to the rest of the Bible narrative and represents a central theme referenced throughout the rest of the Old and New Testament, as well as within the traditions and faiths of the various Abrahamic religions.

WHY IS EXODUS IMPORTANT?

Everything in the Bible rests on the historical validity of the tale of Exodus. If the Hebrews were never slaves in Egypt – and therefore never escaped with Moses into the wilderness – then there is no reason to believe in the covenant of Sinai, or the promise of a home in the land of Canaan.

ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT EXODUS

As with any research project, it’s good to begin by cataloguing our assumptions about the subject matter to be studied. This helps to identify where biases or gaps in knowledge may exist, to be then remedied and addressed with facts and reason. The following are my own assumptions about the state of the world in relation to the story of Exodus:

  • Narratives within the book of Exodus are foundational to Jewish belief
  • Deliverance from slavery forms the basis for the Jewish people’s relationship with God
  • Events on Mt. Sinai establish the covenant referenced throughout the rest of the Bible
  • The story of Exodus is integral to the identity of the Jewish people
  • Exodus forms the basis for Zionist claims for a Jewish homeland
  • Events in Exodus took place during Egypt’s New Kingdom period (550 – 1069 BC), probably around 1250 BC

POINTS TO CONSIDER

I will consider the case for Exodus from several perspectives. Namely, if the Hebrews were ever in Egypt in large numbers, and if so, were they slaves? Also, what about the plagues described in Exodus? Is there any record of these recorded in sources outside the Bible? And what about the escape from slavery? Exactly how many thousands of people were involved in Exodus, and what impact might their departure have had on the Egyptian economy, society and culture?  Of course no treatment of Exodus can skip the parting of the Red Sea. Is there any good and compelling evidence this actually happened? And where exactly is Mount Sinai? Is there any evidence the Israelites were ever there? And last of all, what about the forty years wandering in the desert? How many people were wandering around? Did they leave any clues or evidence of their passing? What follows is my brief summary of answers to the questions above; opinions developed from informal research of the various sites listed below.

  1. HEBREWS IN EGYPT
    The fertile Nile delta was a breadbasket of the ancient world, and people came from many surrounding lands to trade with the Egyptians. Ancient Egyptian records do include references to Semitic people visiting and conducting trade in Egypt. There are even records of a branch of Canaanites called Hyksos who gained great power and influence over much of lower Egypt, and who were later expelled by the Egyptians. The Semites were certainly in Egypt, though there numbers, status and economic roles are not well understood.
  2. HEBREWS AS SLAVES IN EGYPT
    Though slavery was common in Arabia, Yemen, Canaan, as well as with the Greeks and Romans, slavery was not a well established institution in Egypt, which relied instead on cheap and readily available labor. However, Semitic slaves were indeed found in Egypt, likely arriving as prisoners of war, as tribute payment, or as victims of the slave trade from the surrounding lands. It’s noteworthy to point out that there were no slave markets in Egypt for the buying and selling of human beings, and it is unlikely that a very large population (600,000 Hebrew male slaves according to the Bible) ever lived there at one time. This is especially true if you consider that the number may have been as many as two or three million if we count the women and children who made up the remainder of the Hebrew slave population.
  3. JEWISH SLAVES BUILT THE PYRAMMIDS
    This one’s easy. The Hebrews did not build the pyramids, as there were no pyramids built during the time the Israelites were thought to be in Egypt. The Piya and Taharqa pyramids were built far too late, and all other pyramids were constructed far too soon.
  4. THE TEN PLAGUES
    Evidence for these Biblical events are found in fragments of ancient papyrus which recount events, which a creative mind might associate with the ten plagues. Not very compelling evidence, though some of the similarities are noteworthy.
  5. ESCAPE FROM EGYPT
    Exodus 12:37 tells us that 600,000 men “besides women and children” left Egypt. This means the total may have been upwards of two or three million Hebrew slaves. That’s a huge number! Historians estimate there were only between three and four million people in Egypt during the New Kingdom period, which tells us that an exodus of the numbers related in the Bible would have resulted in a devastating blow to the Egyptian economy. In fact, with such numbers, the enslaved Israelites could have easily taken over Egypt for themselves.
  6. THE CROSSING OF THE RED SEA
    There is simply no compelling evidence that the “Red” Sea (mistranslated, as it should be “Reed” Sea) ever took place. Nobody is even sure where the crossing might have occurred.
  7. MOUNT SINAI
    The problem here is that nobody seems to agree on the location of Mount Sinai; this, along with the lack of any real evidence at any of the proposed locations. The fact that some place names reference “Moses” may be explained by the fact that humans are quick to capitalize on any association with celebrity for monetary purposes, or the glamor of name association. This doesn’t mean that place names with Moses in them aren’t evidence, but just that such places may not be very good evidence, and will require additional supportive evidence to be taken seriously.
  8. FORTY YEARS IN THE DESERT
    I spend a lot of my free time wandering about in the California desert, where evidence of the past is very well preserved. As well preserved as, well…an Egyptian mummy. For example, despite over seven decades of weathering it’s still possible to see the tank tracks in the sand which General Patton’s army left from practice maneuvers in the East Mojave Desert. The dry, arid climate of the desert preserves artifacts – including human remains – for astonishing periods of time. The fact that there is absolutely no evidence that up to three million Jewish people spent forty years around the desert east of the Holy Land is pretty ample evidence they were never there. No camps. No graves. No dumps. No monuments. Nothing.
  9. THE DATE OF EXODUS
    There appears to be much confusion regarding the actual date of Exodus, which many scholars roughly agree occurred around 1250 BC. A problem with this date is the lack of evidence from this time period in Egypt to support the Exodus story. An alternate theory places the Exodus event two hundred years back at 1450, where there is some interesting archeological evidence which may suggest some of the Biblical events did occur. This later date is sometimes supported by those citing Kings 6:1 which says “And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Zif, which is the second month, that he began to build the house of the Lord.” The problem is that we don’t really know when King Solomon reigned, and therefore we can’t easily use the 480 year reference to pinpoint the event of Exodus. There are many opinions on this point, and much confusion.

THE CASE FOR EXODUS

The following are links and quotes I’ve found or which were shared with me (the sharer’s name is cited) related to this topic and in SUPPORT of the story of Exodus.

“In Palestine it is in the Iron I period that remains of a distinctly Israelite character begin to appear and continue to predominate throughout the Iron II period (1000 – 586 BC).

NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, Zondervan, 201

“Although we are told that the sacred mountain was somewhere in the Sinai Wilderness— an area which includes eastern Egypt, together with southern Israel and Jordan— the Bible does not directly reveal its whereabouts. There are hundreds of mountains in the Sinai Wilderness, an area of over fifty thousand square miles of largely inhospitable country, so which one was Mount Sinai? If we examine the Old Testament, we find that it does provide important clues to lead to its location, but they are dispersed throughout different passages.”

Mountain of God: Where was the real Mount Sinai, Ancient Origins

“I’m not arguing that everything in the Bible is factual. I may not believe, for example, that the world was created in seven days, or that humanity began with two naked people and a magic tree and a talking snake. But real evidence exists that the Exodus is historical, with text and archaeology mutually supporting one another. What lies next for us is to give due consideration to this evidence and refine it further in our work.”

The Exodus is not Fiction

THE CASE AGAINST EXODUS

The following are a list of links and quotes for resources making the case AGAINST the historicity of the story of Exodus.

“The book of Exodus yields too little information to establish a precise and convincing historical framework.”

“Little historical evidence offers corroboration of an escape of slaves from Egypt on the order of the large-scale exodus described in the Bible.”

NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, Zondervan, 2016

“Indeed, the exodus itself is said to be without any plausible basis or other non-historical explanation.”

“No texts ever discovered in Egypt mention Moses or Aaron.”

 Exodus, Carol Meyers, Cambridge University Press, 2005

“Most historians of ancient Israel no longer consider information about the Egyptian sojourn, the exodus, and the wilderness wanderings, recoverable or even relevant to Israel’s emergence.”

 Israel’s Exodus in Transdisciplinary Perspective, Thomas E. Levy, Thomas Schneider, William H.C. Propp, Springer, 2015

“No Jews built the pyramids because Jews didn’t exist at the period when the pyramids were built,”

Egypt: New Find Shows that Slaves Didn’t Build the Pyramids, Amihai Mazar, professor at the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

“Really it’s a myth… Sometimes as archaeologists we have to say that never happened because there is no historical evidence. If they get upset, I don’t care. This is my career as an archaeologist. I should tell them the truth. If the people are upset, that is not my problem.

In Sinai desert, no traces of Moses, Zahi Hawass, an Egyptian archaeologist and formerly Egypt’s Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs, said of the Exodus and Passover story, the Israelite’s’ biblical flight from Egypt and the 40 years of wandering the desert in search of the Promised Land

“The big problem is that the whereabouts of Mount Sinai seems to have been forgotten, and later wrongly located. The site considered to be Mount Sinai by today’s church is the mountain of Jebel Musa in eastern Egypt, but this tradition only developed in early Christian times and there is no archeological or biblical evidence to support it. In fact, the local geography fails to match Old Testament descriptions of the place it refers to as Mount Sinai. Consequently, biblical scholars have long debated the sacred mountain’s true location.”

Why isn’t there any record of millions of Jews wandering in the desert?, Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry

“There is no direct evidence that people worshipping Yahweh sojourned in ancient Egypt, let along during the time the Exodus is believe to have happened. There is indirect evidence that at least some did. What’s for sure is that thousands of years ago, Egypt was crawling with Semetic-speaking peoples”

Were Hebrew slaves ever in Egypt? Yes. – Haaretz

“Really, it’s a myth. If they get upset, I don’t care. This is my career as an archaeologist. I should tell them truth. If the people are upset, that is not my problem.

-Zahi Hawass, Egyptian

No supportive evidence of biblical accounts of the wandering 12 tribes of Israel was found by the archeologists in their 12 years of exploring this majestic desert terrain.

New York Times

The Five Books of Moses were not written by Moses but by authors of four main texts, known as J, E, P, and D. Three of the four texts—E, P, and D—are traced to authors who were Levite priests, and these three are the only ones telling the story of Moses, Pharaoh, and the plagues. The fourth main source, called J, the one that shows no signs of having been written by a Levite priest, makes no mention of the plagues. It just jumps from Moses’ saying “Let my people go” to the story of the event at the sea.

The Exodus is not Fiction

REFERENCES FROM FRIENDS

  • Francesca Stavrakopoulou is a good source for this kind of thing” – Tom Wash
    What a fantastic resource Ms. Stavrakopoulou is. Very interesting perspective on Biblical history.
  • Study the eruption of Santorini that took place in 1628 BCE” – Alice Kell EA
    A big thank you to Alice Kell EA who recommended I study the eruption of the Mediterranean volcano, Thera in connection with the story of Exodus. This is the kind of evidence that gets me excited. Good geology. Good archeology. And strong apparent consensus between the Bible and ancient Egyptian writing.
  • Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus, is worth watching. Its chock-full of interesting stuff” – Ashlen Frandle
    I studied this and it turns out that the movie is based in large part upon the revised historical claims of Egyptologist David Rohl who claims there is a serious flaw in our current historical chronology, which is due to a misreading of some early Egyptian hieroglyphs, His claim sounds very convincing, though it has received mixed reviews from the community of Egyptologists, who agree with his contention that the current historical timeline is flawed, and requires some improvement, though they do not largely agree with his central claim of language misuse at the time he describes. The key written words which were central to the mixup were in fact quite distinct.
  • The Mission of Moses by the German poet Friedrich Schiller ” – Fredrick Laverdiere
    Interesting story – kinda – but not a trace or hint of actual evidence that the Exodus event really happened.
  • The Exodus Revealed: Searching for the Red Sea Crossing – Coby Salowitz
    This documentary weaves very sparse facts to form a narrative and conclusion which do not seem warranted by the evidence. For example, the discovery of Canaanite settlements in Goshen only evidence of Canaanites in Goshen, and not that the decedents of Jacob were living  there. Likewise, the cited evidence of Hebrew slaves does not tell us anything of the number or circumstance of the slaves. For example, we know that Egypt had Canaanite slaves due to tribute, conquest and some participation in the Mesopotamian slave trade. We should expect some slaves in Egypt. However, there are certainly no records of the large number (millions) of Hebrew slaves needed to fulfil the tale of Exodus.
  • The Exodus Is Not Fiction – Juan Carlos (Facebook)
    This may be the best case I’ve yet encountered in support of the story of Exodus (thank you Juan Carlos). However, the resulting account looks nothing like the Biblical narrative, and at best rests upon a paucity of historical evidence without a hint of supernatural intervention. The author summarized his position well when he compared the Jewish cultural story of Exodus to the American tradition of Thanksgiving.  More thoughts on this article: Speculation based on the lack of evidence is nothing more than speculation. Identifying Exodus with a small group (the Levites) of people leaving Egypt is a convenient way to saddle a cultural migration onto a desert caravan. I don’t think there are camels strong enough to carry an entire society on their backs. However, the idea that Levite names come from Egypt whereas the names of other Israelites do not is indeed interesting. The article falls flat a few times in asserting that the Levites are separated from the other tribes of Israel, while offering no explanation for this separation, and furthermore identifying the tribes as being together at the event of the golden calf. Which is it? Nevertheless, this article puts forth a fairly convincing case for a Levite Exodus from Egypt. However, such an exodus falls far short of the drama and grandeur of the Biblical story. Furthermore, there is no evidence stated for events such as the Red Sea crossing. Altogether though, this is a very worthwhile and interesting read.
  • Is the Exodus a Myth – Coby Salowitz
    There is no evidence at this site. Just another unjustified claim.
  • Revealing God’s Treasure – Red Sea Crossing – Technonewt
    The video on the other end of this link was like so many others before it, filling in the image they want to portray with bits and pieces of evidence shown from the perspective of the producers with no counter-evidence or contrary opinions expressed. I’m not interested in stating my own reasons for doubting the evidence shown in this video as I’ve already covered nearly all of it in my other writings on this subject.

SOME THOUGHTS AS I STUDY

I’m making my way steadily through the Exodus research suggestions you guys sent me. Added to my own study, what results so far is a bedrock of sorts in the uncertain state of scholarly research on the subject, with various less-scholarly ideas branching off, supported or objected to with strict adherents and detractors. This reminds me a lot of the search for the Grand Unified Theory of physics, with a lot of “we dunno yet” from the establishment, and tons of certitude and argument from the fringe. I guess that’s a pretty good sign that the verdict is still out.

My preliminary study of Exodus has been eye opening. I always pictured Moses being followed around by a fairly large group, numbering no more than a few thousand freed Hebrew slaves (think Charlton Heston). Turns out the real number is somewhere between two and three MILLION if we extrapolate from Exodus 12:37. That’s an astonishing number of people to lead around the desert for forty years. This fact is even more amazing when we consider that they left no physical trace of their passage. No camps. No graves. No trails. No temples. Nothing. One is almost tempted to think that they were never really there.

Why didn’t the Egyptians mention the Hebrew slaves in their histories? Three million foreigners in your land for four hundred and thirty years must have been at least a little newsworthy.

A big thank you to Alice Kell EA who recommended I study the eruption of the Mediterranean volcano Thera, in connection with the story of Exodus. This is the kind of evidence that gets me excited. Good geology. Good archeology. And strong apparent consensus between the Bible and ancient Egyptian writing. Thanks, Alice!

Last call for Exodus proofs… I’ve completed my review of all the links and references folks sent me, most of which were evidence against the historicity of Exodus. If anyone’s got some good stuff to share then please send it along now, as I really want this consideration to be as comprehensive as possible; as deciding if Exodus is true of false will have enormous consequences to my subsequent reading of the Bible. I really do appreciate your help. Thank you, sincerely.

PS You can send me a message privately via email at dinnerbytheriver@gmail.com.

Alice Kell’s thoughts and observations about Exodus are very interesting. Particularly, her suggestion that the massive volcanic eruption of Thera near Egypt at the time of Exodus might indeed explain the Biblical narrative of God’s presence as a “pillar of smoke by day, and fire by night.”

Last week, I watched a ninety minute documentary laying out evidence for a 1250 BCE Exodus. This week, I watched an hour-long show making the case for Exodus at 1450 BCE. Maybe this is the reason real historians don’t take these TV documentaries seriously.

Israel controlled the Sinai Peninsula from 1967 to 1982. Recognizing this unique opportunity, Israel dispatched teams of archaeologists to the region to search for signs of Moses and the wandering twelve tribes. No evidence was found. That’s pretty astonishing when the Jewish state admits there is no evidence for Exodus.

I learned this morning that I was wrong in my statement yesterday that Moses did not follow his original path to Midian. Apparently he did, and the Bible states his reasons clearly in the Book of Exodus. I stand corrected.

Two solid weeks of deep Exodus study may be taking its toll. I feel like I’ve been cramming for a final exam which’ll never happen. Maybe this is the reason many believers may not actually study the Bible? As it may be easier to believe something you don’t actually know.

One of my final lines of study in the case for Exodus is the evidence for the parting of the Red Sea. What a disappointment! Forget the fact nobody’s clear where this event may have happened. That said, research mounted at the likely spot of the Aqaba Gulf would fail to get a passing grade in a sixth grade science class. Interpreting chariot wheels in coral outcroppings is like seeing angels or dragons in a Rorschach test…there’re in there if you look hard enough. And claiming the scattered coral formations look like a debris field makes sense only if you can then demonstrate there are no such coral “debris fields” elsewhere in nearby waters where the crossing would not have occurred. And finally, sending a robot down to film the deeper waters, and discovering not sand, but firm sea floor WITHOUT any of the bronze or gold you claimed was within the shallow water coral outcroppings, simply ruins the credibility of your shallow water claims. Good science is less about simple observations to prove your favored premise, and much more about designing experiments which both test and attempt to falsify what you suspect is true. Only then can your results gain credibility and respect. Otherwise, you can always try to sell your pseudoscience on the History channel.

Pseudoscience is the real fake news

I’ve finally finished following, studying and writing about every Exodus lead I could find, and which you guys sent me. That felt like forty years.

MY CONCLUSION

I spent over a month preparing to read the Biblical story of Exodus in order to learn if there is history to confirm the tale. Today I began reading, and the editors of my NIV Bible tell me this in the first paragraph: “The book of Exodus yields too little information to establish a precise and convincing historical framework.” That sentence seems a good and suitable end to my research on this subject.

Exodus 1 – The Israelites Oppressed

Israel is dead. And the twelve tribes who are his descendants thrive and grow vast in number in the land of Egypt. A new pharaoh rises in Egypt, one who does not know Joseph, and who fears the growing numbers of the Hebrew slaves – fearing they might rise up and escape Egypt in time of war. Pharaoh places harsh masters over the Hebrews, forcing the slaves to erect enormous monuments to the glory of pharaoh and Egypt. Still, the number of the Israelites only grows. Pharaoh then commands the Hebrew midwives Shiphrah, and Puah, to kill all newborn Hebrew boys, while allowing the newborn girls to live. The midwives fear God, and for this reason they do not carry out pharaoh’s order, informing pharaoh instead that it is because of the Hebrew women’s “vigor” in giving birth that the midwives cannot arrive in time to perform the cruel deed. The Hebrew people then continue to grow in number, at last causing Pharaoh to issue instructions to drown in the Nile every Hebrew newborn boy. 

I spent over a month preparing to read the Biblical story of Exodus in order to learn if there is history to confirm the tale. Today I began reading, and the editors of my NIV Bible tell me this in the first paragraph: “The book of Exodus yields too little information to establish a precise and convincing historical framework.” That sentence seems a good and suitable end to my research on this subject. 

I think I’ve stumbled upon two new Bible miracles. Exodus 1 tells us the Hebrews in Egypt had two midwives, identifying them by name as “Shiphrah” and “Puah.” I don’t know which is more miraculous – the claim that these two women alone* successfully performed midwifery for a total female population of over 600,000 Hebrew women, or the suggestion that Pharaoh actually believed their weak excuse for not killing the Hebrew baby boys. 

* The World Bank reports 2.3 midwives per thousand women is the average required number worldwide in 2000. 

Exodus 2 – The Birth of Moses

Exodus 3 – Moses and the Burning Bush

Exodus 4 – Signs for Moses

Exodus 5 – Bricks without Straw

Exodus 6 – Family Record of Moses and Aaron

Exodus 7 – Aaron’s Staff Becomes a Snake

Exodus 8 – The Plague of Frogs

Exodus 9 – The Plague of Livestock

Exodus 10 – The Plague of Locusts

Exodus 11 – The Plague on the Firstborn

Exodus 12 – The Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread

Exodus 13 – Consecration of the Firstborn

Exodus 14 – The Parting of the Sea

Exodus 15 – The Song of Moses and Miriam

Exodus 16 – Manna and Quail

Exodus 17 – Water From the Rock

Exodus 18 – Jethro Visits Moses

Exodus 19 – At Mount Sinai

Exodus 20 – The Ten Commandments

Exodus 21 – Hebrew Servants

Exodus 22 – Protection of Property

Exodus 23 – Laws of Justice and Mercy

Exodus 24 – The Covenant Confirmed

Exodus 25 – Offerings for the Tabernacle

Exodus 26 – The Tabernacle

Exodus 27 – The Altar of Burnt Offering

Exodus 28 – The Priestly Garments

Exodus 29 – Consecration of the Priests

Exodus 30 – The Altar of Incense

Exodus 31 – Bezalel and Oholiab

Exodus 32 – The Golden Calf

Exodus 33 – The Tent of Meeting

Exodus 34 – The New Stone Tablets

Exodus 35 – Sabbath Regulations

Exodus 36 – The Tabernacle

Exodus 37 – The Ark

Exodus 38 – The Altar of Burnt Offering

Exodus 39 – The Priestly Garments

Exodus 40 – Setting Up the Tabernacle

What I Learned From Studying Exodus

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