In the Jewish Bible reading cycle, this week marks the beginning of the book of Exodus. Subsequent articles will look at the stories and their interpretations.We begin, however, with a look at history.
Did the Exodus happen? Yes.
Where’s the proof? In our hearts.
When Did the Exodus Happen?
Scholars have not pinpointed a precise date for the Exodus. Jewish tradition holds that it began around 1313 BCE. The early twentieth century biblical scholar Edwin Thiele used the dating and genealogies of the various kings in the Bible to arrive at the date 1450 BCE.
Later archaeologists, however, disputed this date, pointing to the lack of any concrete evidence of a mass exodus of Jews in the Egyptian records. The primary voice of this school, William Albright, suggested the date 1250 BCE as a starting point. He argued that the archaeology suggested that Israelite cities did not exist prior to that date.
More recently, a theory put forwarded by Simon Jackobovichi and popularized in a history channel documentary entitled The Exodus Decoded, proposed the date 1550 BCE as the start of the Exodus.
This theory rests on the notion that the Hyksos, who were a Semitic people expelled from Egypt at that time, are actually the Israelites. This theory was first proposed by the Roman Jewish historian Josephus in the first century BCE, but it has been largely dismissed by scholars as far-fetched and lacking in concrete evidence.
The Radical Scholars
Some scholars have begun to argue that the Exodus as described in the Bible never actually occurred. According to this school of thought, the Israelites were a native Canaanite people. Sometime in the sixth century BCE, a group of scribes wrote the Exodus story as a way of coping with their exile from the land of Israel. The story was meant to give the Israelites hope that at some point in the future, God would restore them to their homeland.
Adherents to this approach point to the lack for archaeological evidence for a mass migration out of Egypt. Nothing in Israel has been found suggesting the arrival of over a million people at the time when their arrival would have occurred.
Furthermore, no Egyptian records of the Exodus exist, which is surprising given their recording of other significant events. Scholars suggest perhaps a small group of Israelites migrated to Egypt, stayed a while, and returned to their home in Canaan. But a wholesale migration and return, they argue, lacks any serious evidence.
Why The Facts Don’t Matter
This view seems ludicrous to me. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Archaeologists have still discovered only about one percent of what is under the earth in the ancient Near East. Evidence reshaping our current perspective may turn up in 30 days or 30 years.
In any case, the precise facts of the Exodus story do not affect the the spiritual lessons it conveys. The story has been told for thousands of years because it captures essential human truths. We can become enslaved. And faith can set us free.