Moses And The Exodus
I've been pondering the story of Moses and the Exodus as found in the Bible.
The problem is that we have no supporting archeological or historical evidence for it as described in the Torah.
Using the Biblical account as evidence, somewhere between 2 and 2.4 million Israelites left Egypt and wandered in the wilderness of Sinai for "forty years" ("forty" was frequently used as a rounding up number in the Old Testament to indicate "a great many" similar to how we say "a couple of dozen" or "a few hundred" and did not necessarily mean literally 40 of anything).
That's a lot of people to move around in a single group. Their camp/s would be larger those most cities of the era -- far larger.
Yet they left no trace of their wanderings:
No fire pits where they cooked food, no garbage dumps, no latrines, nothing.
Nor is there any record of a group of Hebrews that size in any of the histories of various other tribes / cultures / cities / nations of the era.
Skeptics have pointed to this as proof the story is wholly fictional.
I wonder if the answer is much simpler...and smaller.
When we read the story of Exodus, in particular the back and forth between Moses and Pharaoh before the Passover, we see Moses was lying to Pharaoh re his intentions.
He told Pharaoh that he and the Hebrews just wanted to go out into the wilderness for a few days for a religious observance then come right back. (Pharaoh was having none of that, BTW.)
You don't uproot 2+ million people for a week in the wilderness.
So either Moses was a particularly inept liar, or...
...the numbers aren't right.
If the number of Hebrews who left Egypt was much smaller -- say in the thousands or tens of thousands -- it's a much more plausible proposal.
If the number was even smaller, say a few hundred, it becomes even more plausible.
We know from Biblical evidence that the Hebrews actually enslaved in Egypt did not represent the sum total of the Israelite nation: There were cousins and related tribes scattered throughout the Middle East.
So maybe the number of 2.4 million isn't far fetched if we assume they were spread over a wide area and living in local communities with non-Israelites.
I'm thinking maybe the Exodus wasn't the Cecil B. DeMille mass migration we imagine, but rather a small group (a cult?) that coalesced around their prophet and roamed the Middle East not because they were being punished by God but because Moses & his followers were visiting local Hebrew communities and recruiting them for that far off day when they would have a homeland of their own (or reclaim a land already granted to them, depending on your POV).
Nobody was really particularly interested in reclaiming the land until their prophet actually died.
Then it became make-it-or-break-it:
Either God had a reason for them to wander "forty years" that was now rendered null & void because the original members and prophet were dead, or it was all a BS grift that failed to deliver.
So Joshua, realizing it was now or never, summed all the tribes together and presuming even a sizeable minority of them joined his ranks, set out to conquer the land of Canaan.
And sunuvagun, because Canaan had been softened up by plagues and locusts and famines, losing much of its population to emigration, he pulled it off!
So at that point these scattered tribes come swarming into Canaan.
And since they weren't there when all this stuff was going on in the wilderness, their understanding of what actually did happen was not based on first hand observation but on what they interpreted the stories that were written down to be.
We don't have the original Hebrew account:
We have a version translated into Greek centuries later, then re-translated back into Hebrew centuries after that. And that's not taking into account the societal pressure on that translation -- centuries of shared common retellings not necessarily based on factual histories, immediate societal needs that shade the interpretations to fit those needs.
There are parts of the Bible that absolutely can be read as carefully recorded contemporary documents, and there are parts that are essentially historical fiction because they were written decades or centuries after the fact, and there are parts that have more or less be rendered into parables that have a starting point in historical accuracy but wander far afield by the time they are written down.
I'm coming to believe the story of Moses and the Exodus, while containing a seed of factual history, has been grown and pruned and shaped into something that doesn't necessarily match the actual events.
© Buzz Dixon