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Did the Exodus Really Happen? Pondering Passover

crQuestioning the veracity of the Bible is nothing new. However, once a story starts to be told and accepted as fact, unless a fact-checking group like Snopes becomes involved, you can forget trying to ever unravel that ball of tangled string….

As Passover (and Good Friday) starts tomorrow, the voices start to clamor. Looking at it from an academic background, as well as a spiritual background, yes, there’s plenty of “evidence” for the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt and for the resulting Conquest of Canaan. The question is: why don’t some accept it?

The date of the Exodus comes from the Bible itself. Long said to be allegorical and meaningful in a way that was outside the realm of facts or history-writing, the Bible tends to be both an overview (from a point of view promoting its own agenda, namely God’s), as well as quite specific.

Here’s a friend’s quick synopsis:

In brief, the conquest hypothesis maintains that Canaan was settled in ca 1400 BCE by the Israelites.  crHeld as slaves in Egypt for hundreds of years, an exodus took place by which 603,550 men (Nm 1:46-47), not counting Levites, women and children, escaped and spent forty years in Sinai (Jos 5:6). Following the demise of the older generation due to their lack of faith in God, the next generation led the Israelites to conquer parts of the land of Canaan, entering the land from east to west, beginning with Jericho. The rather exact date is specified in the Hebrew Bible, according to 1 Kings 6:1, stating: ‘Now it came about in the four hundred and eightieth year after the sons of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv which is the second month, that he began to build the house of the LORD’ (NASB). While some argue this to be a figurative number, the conquest hypothesis proponents take the date of Solomon’s fourth year, 967 BCE, and add 479 years to the date, culminating in a fifteenth century exodus date of 1446 BCE and a resulting Israelite entrance into Canaan ca 1406 BCE.

crOthers have dated the Exodus, using Talmudic sources outside of the the Bible, calculating Jubilee years and cycles to an exact date in April of 1446, but it’s a bit much for non-academics who want an easy gloss. Here are a few objections to the Biblical account not being accurate:

The Red Sea or the Reed Sea – Yes, the Bible actually refers to a “Reed Sea” (Yam Suf), so many imagine this to mean a marshy area where the Israelites would stroll right across, but Pharaoh’s chariots would become mired down. Really? The Israelites’ census records list over 600,000 men leaving Egypt, along with women, children, flocks and a “mixed multitude” who joined them. That’s maybe 2 or 3 million people… slogging through a marsh? And the marsh killed the hot-in-pursuit army?

The Path Through the Wilderness – The Israelites traveled in a roundabout way – not along the Mediterranean coastal highways of the day. Why? There were forts – migdalim – of the Egyptians there along the coast. Makes absolute sense.

What About Ramesses II? – This was not the Pharaoh of the Exodus. The name Ramesses was added at a crlater date since he ruled in the 1200s BCE, this was both a pharaoh and a place in Egypt. It’s like saying, “Let’s go and take a look at that archaeological site associated with Christopher Columbus – it’s near the McDonald’s by the shopping mall….” These are used as place markers that are anachronistic, not of the same time period. The Merneptah Stele’s inscription indicates that there was an entity known as “Israel” in the land of Canaan prior to 1200 BCE and the group was feared by the Egyptians.

Why No Archaeological Evidence of Israelites in the Wilderness? – Today, when we study Iron Age Israelite dwellings in the hill country of Israel, there are simple houses, terraces, cisterns, pottery and other indications of an upturn in population starting in about 1200 BCE. People were moving from urban to rural areas and taking over the countryside. We have indication of this, but we have absolutely no burials, no graves, no human bones to prove it. Why? Were they simply shrounded, buried outside of human settlements, did their religion not allow for elaborate graves to be venerated? It should come as no surprise that groups camping in tents, not engaging in industry, moving from place to place thousands of years ago should have limited, or no, material remains left behind. Plus, the Sinai Desert is a pretty big place to search for any signs.

And on we could go. One of the best quotes comes from the late Nobel prize winner Elie Wiesel who said in a 2004 interview with Biblical Archaeology Review magazine:

cr“…even if people tell me they have historical proof [that it is not historical], that doesn’t really bother me. I read the text; and then I come to the Shirat ha-Yam, to the Song of the Sea (Exodus 15), to the poetry. Who could have written such a poem except someone who went through it? It is so full of life, so full of truth, of passion, of concern. And the thousands and thousands of commentaries in the Talmudic tradition that have been written on it. It had to have happened….”
Wiesel had a grasp of human suffering and Divine redemption. Having come through the Holocaust, he had many existential questions, many questions for God.
To have questions is not a sin. To never open our hearts and minds to the answers that are out there, is.
The Passover is a story of hope, of redemption, of God intervening in the impossible situations of our life. Open your heart today to the possibilities that God has for you.


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