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

The following are sources and leads which I received from friends on Facebook and elsewhere. I received these after putting out a request for input for Exodus topics I should study.

  • 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

A Levite man and woman marry and produce a baby boy whom the mother protects from the Egyptians for three months, after which point she knows she can hide the baby no longer. The infant is then placed in a papayas basket made watertight with tar and oil, and then placed in the Nile river in the reeds near a place of bathing. Pharaoh’s daughter soon comes to the river with her maids who walk along the shoreline. Spotting the basket, the daughter instructs her maids to bring it to her. Upon opening the basket she discovers a crying baby boy which softens the young woman’s heart. Meanwhile, the baby’s sister has been watching from afar, and now approaches to ask pharaoh’s daughter if she should fetch a nursemaid to care for the baby boy. The girl is sent away to find a suitable nurse, and returns soon with the baby’s mother, who pharaoh’s daughter promises to keep in return for suckling and caring for the babe, whom she names Moses.

After he is grown, Moses observes an Egyptian slave master beating a Hebrew man terribly. Noting there are no men about, Moses strikes down the Egyptian and buries the body in the sand. The next day Moses seeks to intervene in the argument of two Hebrews, when one of the men asks if Moses will slay him too? Realizing that word of his deed has got out, Moses fleas to Midian while pharaoh tries to locate and kill Moses.

When he arrives in Midian, Moses stops at a well where seven sisters wait to water their father’s flock. Herdsmen are preventing the women from accessing the water. Moses intervenes, and the men depart. Moses then helps the sisters water the animals before the sisters return home. Upon arriving back home, the girl’s father asks how they could return so fast. The seven daughters explain about the stranger who helped them, and their father sends then to bring him to their home in order that he may eat and stay with them. Eventually, the man gives his daughter Zipporah to Moses to wed. The couple have a son, whom Moses names Gershom, saying “I have become a foreigner in a foreign land.”

During this time pharaoh dies, and God hears the cries of his people in Egypt. And he remembers his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And God was concerned then for his people.

I can’t believe I’m reading my Bible in bed… But I’m gonna get through this Exodus 3 tomorrow if the piety kills me!

“God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’”
– Exodus 3:14

Isn’t that Popeye’s line?

Here’s an interesting fact I uncovered while studying Exodus 3 and Moses’ encounter with God on Mt. Sinai. It turns out ancient Near Eastern deities often lived on mountains, including Yahweh’s arch-rival Baal who lived stop Mount Zaphon in Western Syria. The mountain god Moses is alleged to have met may have been the mountain god whom Bedouin shepherds called “Yhw” in the land we now call Sudan.

OMG!! My Bible study has uncovered a commandment that may be relevant to current events! Exodus 40:39 “Thou shalt not harm any child for the sake of making America great again.”

In the past I’d always imagined Yahweh descending on Mt. Sinai as simply a convenient place to meet Moses. The Old Testament scholarship I’m reading this morning around Exodus 3 suggests people of the ancient world would have regarded the mountain not just as a meeting place, but as Yahweh’s actual home; and thus the necessity of the portable tabernacle constructed by the Jews to carry God away. I know that God elsewhere in the Bible declares his omnipresence, though at this early stage of Exodus he still appears quite the local guy.

I always thought Moses was speaking with God directly through the Burning Bush. Yet Exodus 3:2 clearly states “There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush.” Thinking its an angel seems to lessen the story a bit. Maybe that’s why we prefer to think Moses was actually speaking to God.

The epic of Gilgamesh pre-dates the Old Testament by seven hundred years, and I was just now listening to an audio reading of book one while descending into the desert. Is it the heat, or doesn’t this opening story include a near identical Genesis Fall of Man story? With a women leading a pure man to sin, fall from grace and become expelled from a blessed life. Why wouldn’t anyone think that the Bible simply lifted this motif from this much older tale? 

While listening to the Epic of Gilgamesh just now I was struck by the Goddess Ishtar laying up grain against seven years of famine. That story sounds a lot like the tale of Joseph in Genesis, though Gilgamesh pre-dates the Old Testament by hundreds of years.

I finished listening to the 4000 year old Epic of Gilgamesh. There are so many parallels to the Bible! Most striking was the flood story in book five. However, instead of one god there are a whole host of gods and goddesses who decide to drown mankind, not because we’re wicked, but simply because we talk so loud at night that the gods can’t sleep! Noah’s name in this story is Uma Pashto, and he does all the same things as the Biblical Noah, including letting loose a dove and a raven at the end of the flood. There’s even a great burnt offering after the ark makes landfall on a mountain; and the story goes on to describe the smell of the burning meat as drawing gods to the offering like a “swarm of flies.” This story is so clearly fiction, and pre-dating the Old Testament as it does, must surely be the story upon which the myth of the story of Noah is modeled upon.

Exodus 3 (the burning bush) has been a difficult chapter to complete, as every path of inquiry leads quickly away from the Jews to the more ancient people of Mesopotamia. It’s almost as if the stories of the Old Testament are simply reruns of the tales of much older gods.

Exodus 3 – Moses and the Burning Bush

While tending his father-in-law’s flocks, Moses wanders to Mt. Horeb, the home of God, where an angel of the Lord appears to Moses in a burning bush. As Moses draws near, God speaks to him, telling Moses to remove his sandals and approach no closer, for the ground upon which Moses stands is holy. God then tells Moses of the plight of his chosen people in Egypt and instructs Moses to return at once to liberate the people from pharaoh. Moses is to first go to the elders of Israel and to then tell them he was sent from God. Moses shares with God his concern that the people might not believe him, at which point God tells Moses to say that he was sent by “I am who I am” and that “I am” sent me to you.

Moses is then told by God that he should go before pharaoh together with the Israelite elders and then demand that pharaoh allow the Israelite slaves to travel three days into the wilderness to pray to God. But God warns Moses that pharaoh’s heart will be hardened, and that it will take nothing less than the mighty hand of God demonstrating his power before pharaoh will at last allow the people to go.

God finishes by telling Moses that before they leave Egypt the Israelite women must take from the Egyptian households of bondage items of gold and silver which are to be placed upon the Israelite children.

Exodus 4 – Signs for Moses

Moses asks the Lord what he should do if the Israelite elders do not believe his story of receiving instructions from God. The Lord instructs Moses to throw down his staff, which then quickly transforms into a snake. God then tells Moses to pick up the snake by the tail which causes the snake to promptly transform again into a staff of wood. God then tells Moses to show this trick to the Israelite elders and pharaoh that they might believe. When Moses doubts again, God tells him to place his hand into his cloak and then pull it out. When the hand is removed it is covered in leprosy which then promptly goes away after the hand is again placed in the cloak and pulled out. Moses still doubts anyone will believe, and God – somewhat frustrated – then tells him he should next draw water from the Nile river to throw upon the ground, and that once the water is on the ground will become blood. God reminds Moses to use these three magic tricks to convince others that he speaks on behalf of God.

Moses then returns to his father-in-law Jethro, asking permission to return to Egypt to see if any of Moses’ family are still alive. Jethro agrees, and Moses saddles his ass and places his wife and sons upon it before heading out. At an inn, God comes to kill Moses, and is only thwarted when Moses’ wife Zipporah grabs a sharp rock and circumcises their son on the spot. She then wipes the bloody foreskin on Moses’ groin, uttering the words “surely you are the bridegroom of blood to me.”

Moses yet again begins to doubt God’s selection of Moses to carry out this important task. Moses goes on to remind God that Moses has never been very good with words, and therefore he may not know what to say to the Israelite elders and pharaoh. God reminds Moses that he’s dealing with God and should trust better that God will be with him. Still, Moses doubts, and God finally relents and instructs Moses’ brother Aaron to join Moses and become Moses’ spokesman.

After Moses and Aaron arrive in Egypt they perform their magic tricks and speak God’s words, which amaze the Israelite elders who then promise to follow and support Moses and Aaron.

The whole “I am who I am” thing led me to research why the God of the Bible would refer to himself in such a peculiar way. Turns out, this is an Egyptian trick to signify a deity’s characteristics without revealing the god’s actual name. This is because knowing a god’s real name grants the knower some of the god’s magical powers (think about the magic tricks god later teaches Moses in Exodus 4). So the god of Moses is behaving like an Egyptian god in his roundabout revelation of self as “I am who I am” and simply “I am” in order to gradually prepare and empower Moses for the great task he will soon perform in delivering the Israelites from bondage.

God attempts to kill Moses at the end of Exodus 4 and is only saved when Moses’ wife quickly circumcises their son, which act quells God’s anger. Why would circumcision prevent murder? It turns out this idea pre-dates the Bible too. In a Phoenician myth the god Kronos circumcises himself to appeases another angry god and instructs his followers to do the same. Moses, of course, was already circumcised and this is the reason his son had to stand in. The Phoenician trick seemed to work, and Yahweh forgave Moses for his murder of the Egyptian slave master, clearing the slate for Moses’ return to Egypt.

Editorial notes in my Christian Bible (NIV) tell me that God wanted to kill Moses as punishment for Moses killing an Egyptian man, while editorial notes in my friend’s Jewish Bible explain it was because Moses failed to circumcise his son. How can we determine which explanation is correct? Claiming both are right is unsatisfactory as neither account then paints the complete picture.

Exodus 5 – Bricks without Straw

Moses and his brother Aaron go to pharaoh to ask that the Israelites be allowed to travel three days into the wilderness to worship their god. Pharaoh denies this request, citing that the Israelites must be too idle if they are entertaining such thoughts, and pharaoh orders instead that his slave-masters should instruct the Israelite overseers to withhold straw – essential to making bricks – and require the Israelites to find and collect their own straw while maintaining their daily quota for brick manufacture. After a few days the Israelite overseers then go to pharaoh to complain of this poor treatment. Pharaoh then chastises them as lazy, and having too much free time on their hands, and citing this as the reason they would ask to go away to worship their lord. Pharaoh refuses to change the new rule, requiring still that the slaves find their own straw while fulfilling their quota of bricks. Returning from their interview with pharaoh, the Israelite overseers meet Moses and Aaron along the way and complain to them of their sorry lot, asking that God look upon Moses and Aaron and consider what has happened to his people by way of their instruction.

I’m learning that Jews and Christians may read the Old Testament very differently. To gain the Jewish perspective I’ve begun reading rabbinical commentary on each chapter I study. My thanks to Coby Salowitz for sharing this idea with me.

In Exodus 4 God informs Moses that the Lord will harden pharaoh’s heart in order that God may have a reason to demonstrate his power. So much for free will.

Exodus 6 – Family Record of Moses and Aaron

The Lord attempts to reassure Moses, who is unsettled due to his unsuccessful attempt to convince pharaoh to let the Israelite people go free. Moses is further frustrated by the resentment he detects from the Israelites themselves, who now suffer under pharaoh’s punishment for Moses’ early demands of freedom. God attempts to bolster Moses’ spirits by telling Moses that the Lord’s real name is Yahweh, which name he never did disclose to Moses’ ancestors. Moses remains unconvinced. God nevertheless again commands Moses to go forth unto pharaoh who will certainly at last let the people go. The rest of the chapter is a recounting of the families of Israel and the lineage of Moses and Aaron.   

So, Moses’ mother was also his great-aunt? No wonder these begets are so confusing.

Exodus 6 is the first chapter of the Bible where I’ve begun using a Jewish translation of the Torah along with a King James and NIV editions, and the results are very interesting. God says his name is “Lord” and “Jehovah” in NIV and KJ respectively, and “YHWH” in the Jewish text (Ex. 6:3). A little research revealed that Jewish scholars omit the vowels in God’s name, which is the reason for the curious consonant-only spelling of the more familiar “Yahweh.” A little more research revealed that “Jehovah” is a solid misread by non-Jewish scholars trying to figure out the consonant-only Jewish writing scheme. This is big! As it means the King James edition has got God’s name completely wrong (not to mention the Jehovah’s Witnesses) – which I expect will piss God off at least as much as using his name in vain (which – incidentally – I learned is the one sin God will never forgive). Also, NIVs got it wrong too, as “Lord” doesn’t sound anything like “Yahweh.” And why’s God need a name anyway? And who gave it to him in the first place? Maybe it’s questions like these which drive priests to drink… cheers! 🙂

Could Yahweh be one of the god’s of the Anunnaki pantheon? The timing, location and people all seem right. The Akkadian people who first promoted the Anunnaki after 2150 BCE were eastern Semitic, and living in the same region where Moses first met God. Moses’ father-in-law Jethro was a priest, possibly of the Akkadian tradition. Might the periodic Bible references to plural god’s such as “we” and “us” be evidence of Yahweh’s true origins?

Good gosh. It’s taken me since Saturday to get only halfway through Exodus 6. The more I study the Bible the deeper I go. I’m pretty sure now I’ll be dead before I discover how it all ends. And won’t that be an eternal bummer…

I’m becoming convinced that the Jewish people owe more to Cyrus than Moses for the story of Exodus. History informs us that after conquering Babylon in 539 BCE, King Cyrus decreed that the exiled Jews there could return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. He even provided silver and gold to help with the project. Now, it’s not a very compelling exodus story to relate how a few Semitic nobles returned to Canaan under the patronage of a heathen king, so why not simply make up a story of slavery and liberation from bondage in Egypt? This would certainly explain the lack of evidence for the story of Exodus, which makes a great origin myth, but doesn’t seem very well grounded in history.

Since beginning my Bible study I’ve had two people contact me to let me know they’d begun reading the Bible. I wonder if I should  start some sort of ministry outreach? What would I call such a thing?

I’ve been contacted by an Israeli atheist offering to answer my questions about the Torah. I have a feeling this is a rather rare and interesting opportunity.

I feel really awkward asking my atheist Israeli pen-pal questions about Judaism. The reason is that being Jewish seems as much about culture and identity as religion, and phrasing my questions about his PAST faith feels like I’m asking him about how he gave up his humanity.

I’m still working on Exodus 6, which has led me to an interesting fact. Apparently, there is only one mention of “Israel” in all Egyptian history. It’s found on a 1210 BCE monument to Pharaoh Merneptah, which includes Israel in a long list of peoples whose butts the king kicked during a punitive expedition into Canaan. I guess one might look at this as possible evidence for a fifteenth-century exodus, though I think it scraps the thirteenth-century schemes, as there simply wouldn’t be enough time to wander in the desert, conquer and then settle into the Promised Land.

Finally, I’ve made it through Exodus 6. It wasn’t the first round of begets which bogged me down here, but the long trail to gods and goddesses before Yahweh which required walking. In particular, the gods Ishtar and Ahura Mazda, and the Anunnaki pantheon were particularly interesting. I feel like I’ve gotten to know the family from which the god of the Bible did emerge.

Exodus 7 – Aaron’s Staff Becomes a Snake

Sensing Moses is once again faltering in his resolve to fulfill the Lord’s will, God tells Moses that he has made Moses as a god unto Aaron, who will be as a prophet unto pharaoh and the people. God commands Moses and Aaron to go again before pharaoh in order to perform the magic which God has taught them. Aaron is to throw down his staff before pharaoh in order that pharaoh might witness the staff transform into a snake. God tells Moses that the Lord will harden pharaoh’s heart so that God may reveal his wonders, but that one day pharaoh will relent.

Appearing before pharaoh – who instructs them to demonstrate a miracle – Moses directs Aaron to demonstrate the power of God through the staff, which Aaron throws upon the ground where it promptly turns into a snake. Pharaoh then orders his magicians to do the same and their staffs also become snakes. Aaron’s snake then becomes a staff again before somehow consuming the various staff of the magicians. Unconvinced, pharaoh sends Moses and Aaron away.

God then speaks to Moses again, telling him to rise early in the morning and go to the river where he will meet pharaoh who will come to the waters at dawn. God teaches Moses a new trick to use a staff to turn water into blood. Taking Aaron with him, Moses address pharaoh demanding “let my people go” to which pharaoh refuses causing Aaron to use his staff to turn the river and every pond, canal and bucket of water in Egypt to blood. The blood chokes the fish of the river and creates an awful stench. Again, pharaoh is unimpressed, and he orders his sorcerers and priests to do the same trick which they successfully do. The people of Egypt then thirst and must dig in the sands along the bank of the Nile to find fresh water to drink.

It seems that big, angry, vengeful gods arise in cultures where communities are so large that we need some way to gauge the character of others when we don’t know their personal reputation. Sharing belief in a common god may seal the deal of trust, especially if the god in question is prone to punish injustice in the afterlife. Small, homogeneous, or otherwise insular societies may require no such punishing deity, as the culture itself guarantees compliance of its members. Japan comes to mind…where my own wife once told me “being Japanese is my religion.” She may have been on to something bigger than she realized.

I learned these ideas from the Hidden Brain podcast episode I shared earlier today.

Having access to esteemed Jewish scholarship is making my Bible study very interesting. For instance, rabbinical commentary by the famous medieval scholar Rashi informs us that Exodus 7:5 is not figurative, and that a very real hand (God’s?) would emerge to strike Egypt. I never heard that at Sunday school.

I’ve reached the first of the ten plagues of Egypt, which of course is the turning of the Nile into a river of blood (Exodus 7). Less than five minutes of research revealed this myth has its origin with the much older Sumerian goddess Inanna, who twice transformed rivers to blood. The first event was after she was raped by her gardener, while the second was to punish those who did not pay her homage. Like the story of the Fall of Man and the tale of Noah, this first plague seems nothing more than a re-run of more ancient Mesopotamia mythology.

In studying the Bible via both Christian and Jewish texts I’m learning about the very different ways in which these faiths are taught. In Christianity, there’s more reliance on charismatic teachers who capture our attention with their sermons and who gather large followings. In Judaism however, the emphasis seems to be on scholarship, with deference and attention paid more to the ideas of past great thinkers, whom modern Rabbis study, debate and re-teach to the communities they serve. Both rely on dogma, while Christianity is bolstered more by personality while Judaism stands upon authority.

I’m astonished by the level of detail in Jewish scholarship accompanying the story of Exodus. This morning for instance, I learned that the reason God told Moses he could meet pharaoh by the river in the morning (Ex. 7:15) is because pharaoh had been holding his bladder all night pretending to be a god, and would need to sneak out to the river at dawn to relieve himself. How the heck does anyone know that?

Jewish commentary has answered a question I had from Exodus 7. If God hardens pharaoh’s heart so that God has pretext to demonstrate his power, then what about free will? Rabbi Rashi informs us that pharaoh could indeed have changed his mind, thus rescuing his free will. But then doesn’t God simply need to “tune” his heart hardening to just the point pharaoh won’t say “uncle!”? And doesn’t that put us right back where we started with the question of free will?

I was in the shower just now when the word “Utnapishtim” popped into my head… I was like, what? huh? what’s that?? Then I remembered it was Noah’s original name. Maybe I’m reading too much Bible…as I’ve got facts floating around my head like confetti.

I think I see an easy and natural explanation for the first few plagues of Egypt (Exodus 7,8). Here we go: The river turns red (Plague 1) due to a bloom of red-colored, single-called organisms which consume all the oxygen in the water which kills the fish and drives the frogs onto the land (plague 2). The exposed frogs then die in droves drawing lice (plague 3) gnats and flies (plague 4) which spread disease and make the cattle sick (plague 5). Isn’t that a little more plausible than magic?

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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