Before I get too far into this book, I wanted to take a brief moment to look at the possible historicity of Exodus. This is a very important chapter as we go on because, as my study bible points out, “there can be no doubt that Israel’s faith rests upon an actual historical occurrence” (Study Bible, p.67).

From the invention of archeology, there have been a great many attempts to prove the historicity of the Old Testament. Noah’s ark is found every couple years, or the tidal patterns of bodies of water that the Hebrews might have crossed are meticulously observed… In 1883, Edouard Naville, acting on behalf of the Egypt Exploration Fund (since renamed Society), believed that he found Goshen – the land in the Nile delta where Joseph settled his family. He believed that he found the lost city of Pithom (built by the Hebrews according to Exodus 1:11). For an annual subscription fee, the Society agreed to send members “a genuine Hebrew-made mud brick!” (Hobson, World of the Pharaohs, p.40) – a promise that they were not able to keep due to the size of the bricks…

One of the great stumbling blocks in the way of definitively dating (and therefore verifying) the exodus is that the ruling pharaoh is never named. Even so, it’s generally dated to around the time of Ramses II. There are a few reasons for this, such as the destruction of several Canaanite cities around that time that could be attributed to Joshua’s invasion (Study Bible, p.1538), for example. Another common dating marker is the mention in Exodus 1 of the building of Pithom (Per-Atum) and Rameses (Pi-Ramesse). We don’t know when Pithom was built, but Pi-Ramesse can be dated to the reign of Ramses II. But, of course, all this proves is that the accounts were written “at some time after the building of Pi-Ramesse and Per-Atum” (Collins, Hebrew Bible, p.57).

There is also mention of a group called the Apiru in Egypt and some scholars believe that the name may be a corruption of the word for Hebrew. But even this is problematic, because “nowhere is any revolt mentioned; on the contrary, the principal known foreign community of the time – the workmen of the land of Midian (modern Eilath) – were clearly a free group trading with Egypt” (Grimal, History of Ancient Egypt, p.258). The linguistic argument also has its shortcomings or, as Anson Rainey puts it in “Unruly Elements in Late Bronze Canaanite Society”: “The plethora of attempts to find some way to relate [apiru] to the gentilic [ibri] are all nothing but wishful thinking. The two terms never were related, and […] the social status and the activities of the [apiru] bear no valid resemblance to the ancient Hebrews.” It is a “classic example of unbridled imagination totally lacking in linguistic or semantic acumen” (Pomegranates and Golden Bells, p.483). That’s a burn, folks.

Of the other details that can be matched up to Egyptian history or culture, Collins says that “these suggest that there is a certain amount of Egyptian ‘local color’ in the story, [but] they fall far short of establishing the historicity of the exodus” (Collins, Hebrew Bible, p.57). There are no Egyptian records of the events (Study Bible, p.67), or even in any ancient non-biblical source. “The Egyptians kept tight control over their eastern border and kept careful records. If a large group of Israelites had departed, we should expect some mention of it” (Collins, Hebrew Bible, p.55).

In conclusion, Exodus is not telling us history, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t telling us something about the ancient Hebrew experience. The large migration described is out of the question, but “some scholars now suppose that the biblical account may have ‘telescoped’ several small exoduses, which took place over centuries’ (Collins, Hebrew Bible, p.57). In other words, Exodus may be an exercise in mythic/experiential history rather than factual history.

And with that out of the way, let’s find out WWMD!