What Do We Know About the Exodus? Part 1: Preliminary Considerations

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egyptVery few events have drawn so much skepticism, defense, and attention as the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt. Most skeptics assert it never happened, many in the Judeo-Christian tradition claim it is undoubtable history, and in the middle are some who are essentially undecided on the issue. Personally, I never devoted much time or energy to forming an opinion on the matter until an acquaintance made the claim that the Exodus is historical myth fabricated by Canaanite tribes, and, as a result, the entirety of the Christian canon ought to be discredited as further myths.

In light of so much controversy, this will be the first in a series of articles discussing what we ought to make of the Exodus. Going forward, there are three possible conclusions which we may entertain, and use to explain the available evidence. The first possible conclusion is that the entire narrative of the enslavement of the Hebrews and the liberation of them by YHWH working through Moses is a pure fabrication. The second possible conclusion is that the Exodus is more of a legend as remembered by a small tribe through an oral tradition with elements of truth at its core, but very modest ones at that. The final conclusion is that the Exodus narrative is essentially true; preserved within the Hebrew tradition with the utmost accuracy.

Going forward, we must keep in mind that in order to affirm the first conclusion, there must either be direct historical contradictions to the narrative of the Exodus, or at the very least a complete absence of evidence when there ought not be such an absence. If it is to be seen that there is an absence of evidence, but that absence of evidence is to naturally be expected for whatever reasons in such a way that does not let us confirm or deny the Exodus, then a claim that the Exodus never happened would not be justified by the lack of evidence. In such a scenario, one may naturally believe that the Exodus did or did not happen based on their pre-conceived biases concerning the Judeo-Christian paradigm, but to argue that it did not happen due to a lack of evidence would be fallacious.

For the sake of argument, it is worth noting that if, as we go forward, we discover that there is unquestionable historical or archaeological evidence contradicting the account of the Exodus, or if we discover that there is an absence of evidence when there ought to be evidence in order for the account to be true, then that finding alone does not call into question the reliability of the narrative of the New Testament. The two narratives were written in different millennia, by different authors, with different bodies of external and internal evidence. If the Exodus or the New Testament narrative are to be questioned, it must be on the merit of their own evidence, distinct from each other. The truth or falsity of the one does not necessitate the truth or falsity of the other.

Nevertheless, it is the opinion of the author that there is enough evidence to confidently reach the second conclusion; that at the very least, there is sufficient evidence to believe that there are modest elements of truth within the Exodus narrative. Furthermore, it is perfectly feasible that the narrative of the Exodus is essentially true in all of its important claims. By the end of this series of posts, it is the hope of the author that the reader will see that there is no historical evidence directly contradicting the Exodus narrative, that the lack of external evidence from Egyptian records is not evidence against the Exodus (to the contrary it is to be expected given the nature of the region and Egyptian record keeping, but more on that in the next post), that the reader will be able to make an informed decision on the population of the Exodus, and that the reader will be able to make an informed historical evaluation of their current opinion on the Exodus. The Judeo-Christian will hopefully see that there is no reason to doubt their belief in the veracity of the Exodus as is recounted in Scripture, and the skeptic should question their skepticism in light of historical evidence; at least to the point of reaching the conclusion that the Exodus happened in more modest terms.

This post is admittedly unexciting and tedious, but before we can embark on a meaningful inquiry concerning the Exodus, we must do so with the stated considerations in mind. The next post will observe the lack of Egyptian records, the post after that will deal with the population of the Exodus (which is often a contentious issue), after that we will explore the possible routes that the Hebrews might have taken through the Sinai Peninsula up into Canaan and the existing historical evidence for those routes (or lack thereof), we will also explore possible dates for the Exodus, and finally we will conclude by evaluating whether the Hebrew account of the Exodus ought to be taken as a fabrication, a legend, or as an historical narrative.

 

Kyle Huitt
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Kyle Huitt

Part of the multitude that has lost their faith, but part of the few that has returned to it. This blog is my attempt to describe why I returned to the faith, and to maybe prevent somebody else from leaving it in the first place. Studying philosophy and history at Hillsdale College. Member of Delta Tau Delta fraternity.
Kyle Huitt
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