Ten Plagues


Archeology in the past 30 years has reduced the historical probability of the Exodus from slim to none. There is not a lick of proof of the destination of Exodus. Even though we should have extensive amounts of evidence of an invasion of Hebrews into Canaan, we have none. No proof for the Exodus itself. We have evidence of nomads crossing the desert, but nothing of 2 million (or 20,000 if you prefer the variant reading) wandering about this area.

We have no proof, no archeological fact, not a single historical writing that the beginning of the Exodus occurred—the Ten Plagues. Using the very familiar “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” Christians often claim that the reason there is no evidence is that the Egyptians would not record these events as embarrassing, or as a cover-up for their incompetence.

The problem is—these events would have too large of an impact--politically, militarily, economically and socially, to have covered them up. Have you ever read the story of the Plagues and thought about the results in the society? Egypt would have been wiped off the map! The Ten Plagues could not have happened as recorded in the book of Exodus.


First of all, the length of time between plagues is not recorded. Did this happen over one year? Did it happen over a period of years? Depending on the convenience of the apologists, opinions differ. The impression given is that this happened in a short period of time. We have seven days between the first and second plague. There is the implication that within the same harvest time some grain is not wiped up, and subsequently it is wiped out. On the other hands, animals keep re-appearing, after having been allegedly killed off on previous plagues, which would imply this was over longer periods of time.

If it happened in a short time, as we will see, all Egyptians would be dead. If over a longer period of time, more archeological evidence and writing would have happened and didn’t. Either proposition is difficult.

Secondly, there is a question as to how far-reaching these plagues were. When it says “every” is that just exaggeration for “quite a bit”? Were they localized? The problem with this proposition is that God intended this to be a demonstration of His glory. A local sickness, killing a few cows, or a bad summer storm would not be remarkable. If the Christian wants this tale to be the jumping-off point for the establishment of Israel, it would have to be more than a few bugs.

To say, “This was so grand that God provided a way for 2 Million people to exit Exodus” and then follow up with “but it wasn’t all that as recorded in the book” is to want one’s cake and eat it too!

Finally, there are substantial reasons to determine these stories are allegories—never happened. For purposes of this particular blog, I am addressing those Christians that hold these were historical facts, and asking them to think about the implications.

Water to Blood The Nile, every stream, every river, every pond, even water stored in vessels turns to blood. 7:19. (All verses from Exodus.)

First of all this would mean the loss of drinking water. The Bible notes this problem. 7:24. How does one transport the water from rivers and streams inland? The effort must be made to dig new wells, then transport it. This could not be done in any short time at all. We still have images of victims of Hurricane Katrina, and the water problem of New Orleans. This is in an industrialized nation, with motor vehicles, planes, boats, and organizations specifically designed to respond to these types of needs. We have stored water, and could transport water from other locations. ALL of the water in Egypt turned to blood. They had no reserves. There would be a loss of life due to dehydration.

Secondly, while there would be alternative drinking sources (milk, juice, even wine) concentration would be placed on re-obtaining water itself. This would bring any industry to a halt, as people would be concentrating on the water problem, and not the work at hand.

But most important would be the loss of marine life. The fish (and other sea creatures) died. 7:21. Later, this will have in impact as to a food source. Environmental water systems, such as rivers, ponds and streams, have a necessary balance. By wiping out all of the fish, this balance would be irrevocably upset. It is not as if the blood turned back to water, and fish all of a sudden re-appeared. They were gone. It would take decades, if ever, for marine life to replenish and re-habit the rivers.

Birds that relied upon the fish for food would migrate or die. Crocodiles that relied upon the birds and fish for food would look to alternative sources. Every creature, dependant on marine life, would find alternatives, leave, or die.

Arguably, this would be enough to cripple Egypt. And we are on the first one!

Frogs, flies, boils and darkness While none of these plagues would be necessarily deadly; they would bring the economy of Egypt to a halt. There would be no building projects. No working in the fields. No fishing (as if there were fish), no transportation, no commerce, no trading. Interspersed among the other plagues, the fact that the nation was immobilized would result in only a few deaths, but would be crippling to its economy.

Anyone caught in the August 2003 blackout of North East America is familiar with how industry can come to an immediate halt. Again, even in an industrialized nation, a little thing like no electricity caused entire states to come to a standstill, and caused a ripple effect across America, regarding transportation and industry. Imagine the results in 15th Century BCE Egypt!

Death of Livestock The beginning of the terrible plagues. Every Egyptian cow, horse, donkey, oxen, camel and sheep are killed. This would cause devastating problems in a variety of areas. In transportation, every thing would have to be done on foot. Any heavy lifting or tilling of the ground would come to a standstill. The bodies would have to be buried (under dead frog carcasses, if they were still around).

But most importantly would be the loss of meat. While the Egyptians could live on grains, fruits and stores, animals would be necessary for protein input. (Don’t forget, we already lost all our fish.) Wild game would be the only option, and would start to be hunted with a vengeance.

There are no babies to grow into the next generation of animals, no cycle of life happening. The Egyptians would be forced to turn to outside sources to obtain new animals—both fully grown, as well as young to replenish the stock.

At this point, we would see a huge influx of Egyptian goods being traded to outside countries for their animals. An outpouring of gold, weapons, pottery, farm goods, rope, anything to replace these animals. While there would already be some trafficking of animals, nothing on the scale to provide animals for all of Egypt! Traders would be desperately attempting to get animals from neighboring countries, to sell to the Egyptians for ten times the price.

This is not a matter of weeks, or months, but rather years to attempt to replace a portion of these animals. Imagine being an Egyptian farmer in the interior of Egypt, and you just lost 10 sheep. How do you replace them? By the time you walk to the border, every other person has arrived before you, bartering for sheep. The price is exorbitant; more than you can ever afford. Within a day or two, there are no longer any sheep even for sale.

But you hear a rumor of more sheep coming in. So you wait a week. As more traders come in, more people arrive, and the princely sums paid the first days appear to be bargains now. Another week, another week. Every sheep is snatched up if even a bleat is heard. Egyptians start traveling farther to cut-off the traders.

After a few months, you realize that you will not be able to afford sheep this year. No more coming in, all have been bought. You go back and hope for next year. Or the year after that, maybe. But you probably won’t live that long—look what is coming next.

Hail Wipes out many of the animals that were just obtained from other countries, some servants, and much of the crops. 9:25. Again, the prices of animals would skyrocket from already unobtainable prices. Traders already completely depleted would see repeat customers begging for more.

Other nations could not help salivating at the ripe plum Egypt had become for capture. Extremely diminished, if any cavalry. No chariots to speak of. People desperate. Rioting over a caught sparrow. All efforts concentrating on survival, not production.

And for the animals that are left, what do you feed them? People have no meat, and now have no grain to eat. Stealing would be rampant. Any laws would break down at this point, and enforcement would be impossible. Stores would be rampaged and emptied. The officials indicate how bad this is by claiming that Egypt is destroyed. 10:7

Now the traders would be aware that it was grain that was in high demand. All the animal auction tents would be immediately converted to grain auction tents. The prices would go up.

And people would starve.

Locusts A killer. Every single plant is gone; nothing green is left. 10:15. (Note: this would have done within the same harvest as the hail. 10:12)

The few animals left would have nothing to eat. They would die. What would the people eat? There is no marine life. No wild animals now. No cattle, sheep, or even pigeons. But more importantly, no grain. No fruits. No vegetables.

The only food source possible would be from outside sources or roots dug up. The riches of Egypt, gold statutes, gold plates, weapons, anything of value would literally pour out of Egypt. Due to the amounts that could be charged for just a handful of wheat, the poor would die. The rich would soon be the poor.

Those in the interior of Egypt would not have access to the trading from other countries. They would be limited by transportation. Traders at the exterior of Egypt could not get stores from nearby countries fast enough to keep people from starving. We would see a mass migration away from Egypt at this point—people leaving to go into any other country just to eat grass and live.

Reflect where we are at. There was a lack of water for a period, causing dehydration. Then frogs, gnats and boils, causing sickness, and limiting commerce. A loss of animals, causing a loss of food source, and significant transportation problems. Any animals replaced are killed. All vegetation wiped out. No food, sickness about, weakness within the people the social structure, the economy, the military and economy.

Tenth Plague The firstborn of every family dies. Including the firstborn of the livestock. (Where do these animals keep coming from? And to the point of having firstborns?) Every single home in Egypt has someone die. 12:30.

This would be completely demoralizing. We have had mass deaths already from sickness and starvation. An additional death in every household. The nation would crumble. Frankly, taken literally, I would not see how there would be that many people even alive in Egypt at this point, as it was.

Oddly, the book records that the Hebrews asked the Egyptians for gold, silver and clothing, and since the Egyptians were favored toward the Hebrews, they just gave it up. 12:35-36. After reading what the plagues were doing, does this make any sense at all?

Army wiped out Although technically not a plague, it is an important event that happened immediately on the heels of these national tragedies, that would further demonstrate how Egypt would no longer be in existence if the Plagues happened as recorded.

Pharaoh pursues the Hebrews with all of his army, all the chariots and horsemen (where DO those horses keep coming from?), and his captains. 14:9. And they are wiped out. 14:28.

At this point, there is no military defense to a crippled nation. Remember, the Philistines were right next door, and were so warlike not even YHWH wanted to take them on. 13:17. And to top this all off, the Egyptians lose a slave labor force.

Can anyone take this literally? We have massive death, economic ruin, military exterminated, society destroyed, and yet what do we see when reviewing the Egyptian history? Nothing. Not a thing. Not a blip, not a burp, not even a hiccup. No massive graves. Egyptian goods stay in Egypt. The military remains a powerful force. Marine life, harvest, livestock all remain as they were.

Even assuming the Egyptians desired to eliminate the history by not recording it, the effects would be evident. If God did it to demonstrate his Glory, then he immediately removed all traces of it happening. Removed all the bodies. Replaced all the animals. Took the gold/silver from the traders and replaced it in Egyptian coffers. Restored the military. Re-established the society.

Is that what Christians are saying happened? A miracle that, once recorded in people’s minds, all effects were miraculously removed?

OR, is it more likely this is a story. A legend. In stories and legends, we don’t have to worry about the effects. We can introduce animals, or remove animals as necessary. We can “wipe out an entire crop” and not worry about what the actual results of such actions would be. It is a story.

45 comments:

Bruce said...

Dagoods, this is an easy one. Christians already know that archeology can't be trusted. Just like God planted all of those fossils in the ground to give the appearance of age, he also destroyed all the evidence of the plagues after the fact as well. Why? Well of course, to test our faith.

You sound like some sort of archeological apologist to me :-)

ephphatha said...

Dagoods,

As you know, I don't know enough about this subject to debate, but I am skeptical of what you say about the impossibility of the plagues. From what I have read, these kinds of plagues have always happened in Egypt, and they continued even into the 20th century. You may be able to argue that the accounts in Exodus are exaggerated, but it seems a stretch to say so confidently that it's impossible for them to have happened at all.

I went to my school's library page to access the journal databases of JSTOR and EBSCO to see if I could get a feel for what kind of scholarly concensus there was. If what you said is true about archaeology in the last 30 years reducing the historical probability of the exodus to none, then I would expect there to be a pretty strong concensus to that effect. It didn't take me too many articles to find that such a concensus is lacking.

I'm also reading an article about the Exodus in the Anchor Bible Dictionary. There's a section called "Modern Opinions about the Exodus-event," and according to that historiography, there is no concensus.

In a section of the article titled, "The Ancient Cultural Context," the author, K.A. Kitchen, brings up something you spoke to (which I thought was interesting), so I want to quote it:

It is sometimes remarked that we have no Egyptian record of an Exodus such as the OT narrates (however interpreted). But several pertinent factors must be borne in mind. Military mishaps (like the loss of a large chariot squadron) are never the subject of triumphal temple inscriptions--Egyptian theology could only be sustained by successes, not failures. The flight of even a large body of slaves would only have been recorded in administrative daybooks and journals, like that excerpted in Sethos II's reign about the flight of two slaves, but over 99 percent of such records for the delta have long since totally perished. A handful of wine-jar lables under Rameses II is all we possess, and they only give vintage dates!

In that same section, Kitchen makes so many comparisons between Egyptian culture and what the Bible records that I'm pretty convinced that whoever wrote the story had to have at least lived in Egypt for a long time.

Sam

Inquisitor said...

ephphatha,

If you also do a search on the archeological consensus of whether or not the Earth was formed on the back of big turtle, I doubt you will find anything. Archeologists don't waste their time trying to form a consensus on the myths in Exodus. It would be like an archeologist writing a scholarly paper on the fact that he didn't find a big wooden horse in the ruins at Troy.

As for these plagues having always happened in Eqypt, not even close. The Nile has never turned to blood, and there has never been an even that wiped out all the first borns. The other plagues are extreme enough as to be very unlikely.

The point of the article is that if all these plagues had actually happened, then there would have to be some historical or archeological evidence of it. It would be too catastrophic an event for it to be lost. This is an example of the absence of evidence acting as the evidence of absence.

DagoodS said...

Hey, ephphatha. Welcome.

O.K., Let’s say they are exaggerated. How much? Was the Plague of Hail a bad storm? Was “Darkness” a very cloudy day? Was the close time frame exaggerated? Did these happen over 10 years? 100? Can we come up with any methodology by which we can make this determination?

Worse, depending on one’s dating, these events were written down anywhere from a minimum of 200 to 1000 years after they occurred. How likely is it that these events did not all happen in one year, and someone remembered a big storm of one year, another remembers a bad year of insects, another remembers when mad cow disease struck.

And the person writing them down decided to exaggerate them, place them in a short period, and attribute them to God.

And if the Plagues were exaggerated, maybe the Exodus was as Kitchen points out,. If the Plagues were, maybe the Flood was more of a local affair. Joshua’s genocide a village skirmish. King David a local hero. All of those stories of the Tanakh look more and more likely as exaggerated myths, or stories.

Precisely my point.

While I was not blogging on Exodus, can you give me one single positive proof that Exodus happened as recorded in the Book of Exodus? One pot? One Egyptian artifact? One sandal strap? In fact, the ONLY positive proof we have of Exodus happening is the Book of Exodus itself. A book you seem to be conceding has a tendency to exaggerate.

Much of the reason that I wrote this blog was to dispel the notion that “just because we don’t have Egyptian writings, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.” While that is certainly a part of it, the actions themselves would have such monumental effects, we wouldn’t need writings to see the ramifications of it. Can you address them as how this could have happened and Egypt survive intact? That no person would even take note?

We don’t have a single writing of the Hyskos. Not one. Yet the effects of what they did in Egypt were recorded, recognized, and observable.

We need to deal with the realities of what Exodus says regarding the Plagues. How could a nation survive with these things happening? Where did the horses keep coming from? How could they have been obtained?

Notice how Kitchen also indicates it was an exaggeration.

“all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, his horsemen and his army,” turns into “a large chariot squadron.”
2 Million people turn into a “large body of slaves.” (How big is a “large body”? 10? 20? 12?)

I would be the first to agree that a few bad seasons, over a period of years, and some escaped slaves could have happen in 13th Century BCE. (By the way, if you rely upon Kitchen’s dating, how do you get around 1 Kings 6:1 placing it almost 300 years before he places it?)

Is that what is happening in Exodus? An exaggeration? Is that how God shows his glory to Egypt? By exaggerating some natural occurences?

Out of curiosity, how does Kitchen get around the lack of influx of Egyptian artifacts at the end of Exodus? Or how the Hebrew writing developed from the Phoenician language, not Egyptian? Could they have lived there for 400 years and not picked up the Egyptian language? No Egyptian writing? No customs, no dress, not even a pot? How could 2 Million people live, as slaves, and develop a completely separate society, writing, and culture, and not be influenced even one bit by the Egyptian culture?

Why does the writer have to live in Egypt? I have never lived in England, but after hearing tales of King Arthur, I can describe a castle of Middle Age Great Britain. I am not saying these stories were made up out of thin air in 600 BCE. They were probably traditions that were passed down, just like we pass down tales. The original stories may have come from an Egyptian tale.

I have never argued that the stories of the Plagues do not appear human. Far from it. I think they appear VERY human. Just not historical.

Sandalstraps said...

Dagoods,

No time to give your wonderful essay the attention it deserves. I just wanted to say that, offhand, I can't come up with a single mainstream (fundamentalist scholars, their impressive language skills notwithstanding, don't count, since their epistemological approach is so flawed) Bible scholar who argues that the plagues described in Exodus represent historical reporting. Some argue that they point to cultural memories of historical events, but most doubt even that.

More interesting is their take on Moses, who, according to Johanna W.H. van Wijk-Bos (I know I reference her a great deal, but she's that good) represents a composite of several different leaders of the wandering tribes which became ancient Israel. The stories about him point to memories of oral stories of many different leaders across generations.

Her treatment of the plagues is very similar to this.

The question that people who take the text seriosuly ought to bring to it is not one of whether or not these events happened as described in the Bible, but rather it is one of why these stories were remembered and recorded. What did they mean to the people who preserved them?

I'm often asked both my non-religious skeptics and by religious fundamentalists if I'm saying that stories such as the ones you pick apart here are "just stories." No, I don't think that they are "just stories," I think that they are stories, and that isn't a reduction of their value.

Anyway, that was a very thorough refutation of the historicity (at least in a literal and detailed form) of the plague stories from Exodus, and it is for that reason that most people who take both the text and our innate ability to reason seriously cannot treat the text literally. Literalism is the death of the Biblical tradition.

(As an aside before I have to get off the computer, I wasted two hours today debating the literal-historical truth value of stories like this with my missionary cousin this afternoon.)

exbeliever said...

Sandalstraps,

The question that people who take the text seriosuly ought to bring to it is not one of whether or not these events happened as described in the Bible, but rather it is one of why these stories were remembered and recorded. What did they mean to the people who preserved them? (emphasis mine)

How can people "remember and record" non-historical events?

Do you mean to say, "The question that people who take the text seriosuly ought to bring to it is not one of whether or not these events happened as described in the Bible, but rather it is one of why these stories were made up and invented"?

Answer: A group of priests makes up myths to bolster claims of a god only they have access to so the people will obey what they say.

Tommykey said...

Supporters of the Exodus story would have to demonstrate evidence of a military decline of Egypt during and after the time period of the events described in the book.

It is very possible some Canaanite people were in Egypt or proximate to them. From what I read, the ancient Egyptians practiced circumsision, and the pharaoh Akhenaten introduced the concept of monotheism. Egypt could have influenced the ancient Israelites in this fashion.

ephphatha said...

Inquisitor, when I said there was no concensus about there not being plagues or an exodus, I didn't mean scholars didn't even address the issue. The reason there's no concensus about whether the earth was formed on the back of the turtle is because that question isn't even addressed. But that isn't the case with the exodus and the plague. That question is addressed, and from what I've read, there's no concensus. If the case against the exodus and the plagues were are solid as Dagoods makes them out to be, I would expect there to be more of a concensus, but there isn't. That's why I'm skeptical of his claim.

Dagoods, I'm not going to sit here and try to prove the exodus happened or that the plagues happened. I've already told you I'm not equipped to debate the issue. I simply point out the lack of concensus on it puts your strong assertions into serious question. If you had said archaeology makes it unlikely, I would have less to question, but you said the exodus and the plagues could not have happened. From what I've read, I find that highly doubtful, and your questions, while they may challenge me to probe deeper into the subject, don't do anything to advance your argument.

Sandalstraps said...

Exbeliever,

1. It is quite easy to "remember" non-historical events. Hamlet, for instance, is not only my favorite work by Shakespeare, but it is also a part of our cultural memory. It is a remembered story which still speaks to many of us. We see the patterns of behavior presented in Hamlet in our own lives, and also in contemporary situations.

2. To say that the Exodus story does not represent a series of literal-historical events does not mean that it does not point to history. Most scholars that I know of treat it as "authentic memories"; that is, as cultural memories which point to something that really happened (that it, there was once a people enslaved in Egypt who in some way escaped slavery and Egypt, bonded together, and formed gradually formed a new civilization: ancient Israel.

So, while it is possible, and in fact quite easy, to "remember" that which never literally happened, these stories point to something which did happen. They are myths because they are an attempt to explain and provide meaning to a very real cultural event.

Their value is not found in whether or not the event happened as described, but rather in giving us a window into how these people interpreted their own history. They are an example of how ancient Israel saw their history in the context of a relationship with their God.

I'll spare you the rest of the lecture, since your interest here is in discrediting an already thoroughly discredited reading of the text in question. We do not disagree on that, I simply don't think that a text is without meaning or value simply because it doesn't relate literal history; particularly since its purpose is less to relate history and more to preserve cultural myth.

Daniel said...

Sandalstraps,

You are obviously a thoughtful Christian. I agree entirely that myths are not invaluable. I also agree that if everyone recognized myths as myths, much money and frustration would be spared [especially in Creationism -- ID].

How do you reconcile the admittedly mythic parts of the Bible with those that demand some semblance of historical foundation to provide truth value to your religion? IOW, if you admit the mythic nature of the Hebrew creation myth, flood, and exodus, how much of the Torah is historical, and thus how much of Jesus is based on myth and lore? Even if the Jesus was a real person who did 99% of what the gospels record, if the Torah is historically BS [as I think] in what way does Jesus make sense from the POV of atonement, reconciliation, etc.?

I am not interested in a theology-book size or style answer, just a personal insight. Thanks.

Krystalline Apostate said...

Hi.
That's an interesting post, 1 that I can identify w/in so many ways.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't a large portion of the plagues a signature of volcanic activity?

Also, the Exodus has, as the post stated, no archeological data whatsoever.

Remember Akhenaton (aka Amenhotep IV)? He instituted monotheism in 1358 BCE, was overthrown, & all records of his reign were supposed to be wiped out of history. But we still know of him today. If the Egyptians wiped out all records (admittedly, a Pharaoh) of 1 man, but we still have an historical account, how could 3 million Jews vanish from their history?

The Hyskos are on record as having ruled Egypt (for approx. a century), & then being thrown out.

So there may be some basis for the myth, but it's a thin premise. Hyperbole is the word that comes to mind.

I am opened!

DagoodS said...

Ephphatha –

“lack of consensus”? You quoted one historian that is previously wedded to the idea that a literal Exodus happened, and even he states that the events recorded must be an exaggeration.

No historian or archeologist uncommitted to a literal Exodus in the past 25 years, claims there is evidence for it. The only ones that do:

1) are literalists, predisposed to an Exodus,
2) State there is no evidence that Exodus did not occur (a far cry from presenting evidence that it did occur)
3) State that the record of Exodus is exaggerated.

How does that help your position? Understand historians are more than willing to agree that events as recorded in the Bible are historical. No one (that I know) argues against the Babylonian Captivity, for example. But literalists cannot convince one single non-believing historian of the Exodus. Doesn’t that concern you?

Shouldn’t these events be obvious to all? Why would your God wipe away every single trace of its existence?

Further, if Exodus is exaggerated, is the input of God exaggerated as well? Look, the best you get is a literalist stating that it is not impossible that some slaves escaped and a few charioteers disappeared. And if Exodus is exaggerated, yet divine, what else in the Bible is exaggerated, yet divine?

Allowing Exodus to be an exaggerated account, introduces an interesting methodology as to the other events of the Bible—is the account of a traveling rabbi/cyric philosopher exaggerated into the story of Jesus?

I ask these questions to give you some direction in your study, not that I expect an answer. There is only one answer that I have seen—the events of the Book of Exodus are not historical. What you do with that is up to you.

No, I am not saying that it is impossible for a few slaves to disappear in the same year there were winter storms. But is that what you want to base the Plagues on? Wasn’t God displaying His glory? What is so remarkable about humans exaggerating a story to make it glorifying to God?




RA –

I am familiar (broadly) with the argument that the plagues happened because of a volcano. And that the crossing of the Reed Sea was at a low tide, or a tsunami-type removal of water. (Not long enough, by the way. The Crossing would have taken months to happen.)

Again, we have a complete lack of information. And we are left with the replacement of animals, the exaggeration, the extensive deaths, the collapse of society, etc.

Always fascinating how the Christian mixes miracles/reality. Like the flood. IT was a miracle, but the fitting of millions of species of animals in the ark was simple engineering. God could have lifted Noah, his family and the animals to float over the water, but instead makes them go through the process of building a boat to survive.

God could have wiped out the Hebrew’s enemies, but instead holds the sun to let them do it. God uses Samson to kill Philistines with miraculous strength.

I am unconvinced of the volcano theory. I doubt Christians would use it. We don’t need to.

ephphatha said...

Dagoods, you made a couple of claims that I questioned, and now to defend yourself, it seems that you're defending completely different claims. The original claims you made that I questioned were (1) that archaeology in the last 30 years has reduced the probability of the exodus to none, and (2) the plagues in Exodus could not have happened.

I question both of those claims because of a lack of concensus that reflects them among scholars (and none of the ones I read seemed to be the Bible believing literalists you'd like them to be).

Now, instead of defending your intial claims or addressing my reasons for questioning them, you change the subject. Now the issue is whether there is any evidence for the exodus outside the Bible. Even if we grant there is no extrabiblical evidence for it, that's far from saying that the probability is none.

But literalists cannot convince one single non-believing historian of the Exodus. Doesn’t that concern you?

Dagoods, is it really your impression that the only people who think the exodus happened are believing Christians and Jews?

Whether the Exodus account of the exodus or the plagues is exaggerated or not is irrelevent to my initial point. If they happened at all, that would falsify both of your initial claims that I questioned.

Albert said...

Another viewpoint
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0060514043/103-4315370-5443037?v=glance&n=283155

John W. Loftus said...

When Moses confronted the Egyptian Pharaoh of his day we read: “Aaron threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake. Pharaoh then summoned wise men and sorcerers, and the Egyptian magicians also did the same things by their secret arts: Each one threw down his staff and it became a snake.” (Exodus 7:10-12).

Never mind for the moment that we’re told that Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs, because whether or not this happened is in question. We’re told that the Egyptian magicians were able to turn a staff into a snake, turn water into blood (Exodus 7:19-22), and duplicate the plague of frogs (Exodus 8:18), just as Moses did. And the Egyptian sorcerers weren’t surprised at doing so? They weren’t surprised at all? Not even Moses nor Aaron were surprised by this, nor was the writer of this account, nor the ancient people who believed such a story. That’s very strange to modern ears, that these sorcerers weren’t surprised at doing this. But we would be, wouldn’t we?

This whole story and the plagues that follow are folk tales, myths. You cannot believe that the plagues took place as reported and at the same time deny what the Bible says the socerers did. These socerers used magic, just like those in Daniel's time, who became head of the magicians. Do Christians really believe in magic and sorcery today? Would they believe it if someone claimed a sorcerer turned a staff into a snake today? Magic. Myth. Tales. No evidence to speak of. Those who are so inclined to believe the Bible do so because of a prior faith in it, conservative scholars included.

exbeliever said...

Sandalstraps,

Hamlet was presented as a piece of literature; the story of the Exodus was repeatedly used to make people obey the government. "God brought you out of Egypt, therefore you are to . . ."

Deuteronomy 5:15--"Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day." (emphasis mine)

Time after time, this "exodus" account is given to manipulate people.
"Fight this war."

"But we are afraid."

"Remember Egypt!"

. . .

"You have neglected the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, be ashamed."

On and on, the guilt is piled high. Egypt is repeatedly invoked to get people to obey (which should be all to familiar to people living in post-9/11 America under the Bush administration).

You said the question of this story wasn't it historicity, but why it was preserved. Well, look for yourself why it was preserved. It was kept to be used to guilt people into following a goverment. It was used to motivate them to fight wars or attack other countries.

Is this really something you think is a valuable remembrance?

I'll spare you the rest of the lecture, since your interest here is in discrediting an already thoroughly discredited reading of the text in question.

Blogs are terrible at conveying a person's attitude, but I can't help but read a fair amount of condescension in this statement (again, I may be misreading, but it seems present to me).

First, it sounds as if you are saying that posts like these are a waste of time because we don't realize that these issues are truly already "settled." Ironically, however, you earlier wrote, "I wasted two hours today debating the literal-historical truth value of stories like this with my missionary cousin this afternoon." Apparently, you think the conversations do mean something or you wouldn't still be arguing with you cousin about it.

Second, you are very quick to brush off the vast majority of people who call themselves "Christian." You say that you don't know of a single mainstream Biblical scholar who takes a literal approach to the plagues and parenthetical say that "fundamentalist" scholars don't count.

In that brief statement, you dismiss the vast majority of Christians in America who do believe the events to be literally true. You make it sound as if yours is the majority opinion, and if it isn't the majority opinion, it is the only one that really counts because all the other Christians have a "flawed" approach.

It really seems to be an arrogant position (again, this is just how I read it; I may be wrong). I mean, thank Ford that you liberals came around in the past two hundred years to correct all of those millions of people who came before you with their flawed epistemological approaches!

You so easily brush aside the firm beliefs of the vast majority of Christians who have ever lived, and you do it with an air of incredulence that anyone could believe otherwise.

I simply don't think that a text is without meaning or value simply because it doesn't relate literal history. . .

And neither do I. I think myth is a very useful teaching tool.

But look at how this myth has been used in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles. It has been used to manipulate just as 9/11 is used to manipulate Americans. "Remember . . . therefore you must . . ."

The Exodus myth is a dangerous myth. It should not be valued.

ephphatha,

The original claims you made that I questioned were (1) that archaeology in the last 30 years has reduced the probability of the exodus to none, and (2) the plagues in Exodus could not have happened.

DagoodS first claim is justified if by "exodus" one means the literal events as described in the Hebrew Bible. It is improbable to the point of absurdity that the things that are recorded in the Bible literally occurred because events like these would have been recorded elsewhere.

DagoodS is also an attorney and thinks of proof in legal terms. The probability of this event meeting judicial standards of proof is "none."

His second statement is justified by the same terms.

Whether the Exodus account of the exodus or the plagues is exaggerated or not is irrelevent to my initial point. If they happened at all, that would falsify both of your initial claims that I questioned.

This is ridiculous. If by "Exodus" DagoodS means "the Exodus as described in the Hebrew Bible," the fact that some people escaped Egypt would do nothing to falsify his point. DagoodS nowhere suggests that some people didn't leave Egypt. He has only shown that the Exodus account in the Bible is improbable to the point of having no chance of having occurred as described.

DagoodS said...

ephphatha – I did not state only “Bible believing” literalist archeologists hold to the Exodus. There is an important political reason for holding to Exodus as well.

You seem to hold to the exaggeration-theory. As if you are stating as long as a few slaves escaped in a year with more than the usual number of flies, this constitutes “enough” that there is some basis to the Exodus.

I find this fascinating for two reasons:

1) You seem to be agreeing that the Bible must bend to non-biblical evidence. If the Bible says “All were killed” but that becomes inconvenient, or improbable in light of the evidence, the Bible must give way to our evidence.

Can you stay consistent within that methodology? If science tells us of a 4.5 Billion year old earth, and evolution, must the Bible give way? If we have no geological evidence for a Flood, must the Bible give way? There is only one (1) contemporaneous extra-Christian mention of Jesus, and it is highly disputed. Must the Bible give way, here as well?

Again, I ask, if the author of Exodus was exaggerating about the events of the Plagues and the Exodus, could he/she not equally be exaggerating about the involvement of YHWH? Perhaps Moses did NOT see him face-to-face. That this, too, is an exaggeration. Maybe Moses merely prayed and thought he heard God. Which brings me to:

2) Again, what methodology do we use to determine what is factual in the Bible or what is exaggerated? I look for confirmation through other sources, including supportive, neutral and adversary. Through other historical events. Through anthropology, study of language, study of culture, and good old common sense. I see humans today justifying their actions in the name of a God-mandate, and it appears they did the same in the Bible.

What method do you use? Other than, “It is inconvenient, so I will call it an exaggeration,” how can I apply your method to determine whether King David, for example, is historical or exaggerated?

If, however, your initial point was solely that some people still state that there is no positive evidence whatsoever for the Plagues/Exodus, however it is possible the stories themselves have a historical basis, no matter how slight, even one slave escaping under a cloudy day, they you are correct. Such an escaped slave is possible.

I keep looking at the big picture. How much more of your “divinely-inspired” book is grossly exaggerated?

I hope you continue to study the Exodus, as it is a fascinating study. Remember—keep you eyes on the details. That is what trips up a story every time. Please don’t be satisfied with “As long as something happened, that is enough for me.”

DagoodS said...

Steve, over at Triablogue has kindly addressed the actual substance of this blog. There are a few things that need to be clarified.

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2006/04/plagues-of-egypt.html

Dating of Exodus Again, steve brings up Kitchen, and the complete lack of evidence of Exodus not necessarily meaning it never happened. I did not intend to go through all the problems with the Exodus itself in this blog, just the Plagues. (Too long!)

However, as an example, I would encourage anyone to read the excerpt of Kitchen. It shows how forced the archeologist must go to attempt to maintain any viability to the Exodus. Kitchen notes that where the Hebrews allegedly lived was primarily mud, and therefore writing would not have existed.

Now I would hope that steve would be at least a little more skeptical. Why do the records have to ONLY be written where the slaves lived? There would be other records of slave trade, not necessarily JUST in the Delta. Further, is Kitchen claiming that the Hebrews were ONLY used in the Delta? Part of the reason for the dating of the Exodus in the 13th Century BCE is to place their existence in the reign of Rameses II, at the time of building the cities Pithom and Ramses. (Ex. 1:11) Is Kitchen stating that these cities were made of mud?

I apologize for not getting any deeper in terms of the Exodus, and again encourage anyone to go read some books (not websites) as to the problems involved.

And steve, the dates are NEVER irrespective of the evidence. Those that favor an earlier date do so because of the inability to coordinate the evidence with the later date. Those that favor a later date recognize the problems intrinsic with the earlier date. Those that favor an entirely different millennium (!) see the problems with both of these dates.

Think of this—the single most important event in Hebrew history, and the archeologists/historians cannot even agree which Century it happened in, due to the problems with evidence!

But let’s move on to the Plagues:

I see, you too, fall into the concept that “every” does not mean “every” and “all” does not mean “all” and the person writing this was using grandiose generalizations. Is God always this indistinct in his inspiration? When the Flood covered the whole earth, does this just mean “some” of the earth? (Gen. 7:17) When the author states that every living thing perished, is this just more hyperbole? (Gen. 7:21-23)

While you claim the patter is from “general to specific” you give no examples in the Plagues. Where does God state, for example “All Egyptian livestock died” (Ex. 9:6) and then later specifically state it was only the livestock of a certain area, or personage? (Psuedo-Exodus 58:52??)

I certainly agree that there is a mean between a single cow and the every Egyptian cow killed. Does your Bible indicate where, on this mean, the Plague fell? Why, yes it does—it says “every.” Can you give us a method by which we can even remotely determine where, on this mean, the author intended us to be persuaded that fewer than “every” cow died?

Water to Blood You did read Ex. 7:19, right? Every bit of water God stated he would strike—every pond, every stream, ever canal, every reservoir, every bit of water in a wooden bucket or stone jar.

It would not be just the Nile. All the fish in Egypt would die.

True, I am not a biologist, and would never claim to be. I am, though, at least familiar with environmental eco-systems, and have owned a fish tank or two. What happens when you drastically change the ph level in water? The fish and aquatic life either radically adapt, or die. According to your Book, it was the latter.

No, the fish do NOT just start to wash down from the upper river, and replenish the lower river. They would have nothing to eat! The large fish need smaller fish, the smaller fish need insects and algae, and all of those items would be gone. There would be no eggs or young or tadpoles or anything left in the lower river to reproduce and repopulate. That, too, would have to come from the upper river.

I am not saying it could never happen, but it would take years on the river systems alone. The canals, ponds and streams would take decades.

And I did not take into account the blood washing into the headwaters, affecting that portion, NOR the problem of coagulation. I gave the Christian the benefit of the doubt that God kept the blood with some viscosity, and ended the Plague prior to it hitting the ocean. If the blood did thicken, and scab, all underwater plant life would die as well. The ecosystem, in that case, would be completely destroyed. It would take more than decades.

The only reason I mentioned crocodiles was to actually get people to think about the full implications of the plague. Not just “all the fish were gone. Now all the fish are back.”

I did like the response—“crocs don’t need to eat very often.” It reminded me of debating with inerrantists. Often, when pointing out contradictions between two verses, the inerrantist peels one verse down to just a phrase at a time, and shows how each individual phrase does not contradict the other verse. Yet when taken as a whole, it makes no sense.

Yes it is true that a crocodile can go a long time without food. Are you saying that every crocodile had just happened to eat prior to the plague? That there wasn’t a single crocodile that may have been hungry, and by being deprived of food, wouldn’t start to go out looking?

Or perhaps it was another miracle in which God told all the crocodiles to fill up immediately before the plagues so as to survive. He wanted his people to leave Egypt with stylish belts, shoes and bags.

Unfortunately, God was not so kind with the fish, giving them a pre-warning. They all died. Just like all the fish in the Flood. To all you people out there with an emblem on the back of your car, here is news- God Hates Fish! (Strangely, Jesus used them to pay taxes and sustain a post-mortem body. Perhaps my next blog will by “Jesus couldn’t be God, because he likes fish!”)

Frogs Not destroyed? Are you serious? I thought the idea of an enormous bunch of frogs was supposed to be some kind of miracle. Whether we started with 1 or 100, the idea was that God created a bunch more frogs out of nothing. Are you saying that of all the plagues, the frogs were natural?

At least I have the courtesy of reading the plagues as being miracles before showing the results would have destroyed the country.

Livestock Ah. Now you are saying that all the livestock were not killed. So what do we do with 9:6 where it says….uh….”all the livestock of the Egyptians died.” Sure I know there are livestock in the next plagues. Where do they come from? I guess you are saying we should not trust the narrator of the story when he says “all died.” What else can’t we trust them on?

Oh, and if the Tanakh went from general to specific, how come vs. 3 says “livestock in the field” and vs. 6 says “all.” Now you are saying that the narrator went from specific to general? Which is it?
It is not that hard to keep up with the apologetic. If you want general to specific (like Gen. 1 to Gen. 2) you say (without a lick of proof) that narrators went from general to specific. If you need it to be an alternative, you say it is an exception.

Trading with Hebrews I purposely left this out. The relationship between the Hebrews and the Egyptians is so muddled throughout these events, any position one holds, makes no sense.
Pharaoh (if you go with the later dating of Exodus) has enough power to kill all the Hebrew baby boys (1:15) as well as ordering them to work without materials. (5:7) Why trade with the Hebrews, if he could just take their cattle? But in 10:24, Pharaoh is asking Moses to leave their livestock behind. Asking? Why not swoop in and take them?

As of 12:36 the Egyptians were favorable to the Hebrews to the point of simply giving them Gold and silver.

If the Hebrews had cattle, and the Egyptians did not, there would be cattle riots. And sheep and donkey riots. The story acts as if these two nations were peaceably living side by side, with bad things happening to the Egyptians and good things happening to the Hebrews.

Even if they DID trade cattle, there would still be the issue of how to negotiate with the Hebrews. And the influx of Egyptian items (all sadly lost in the wilderness. Whoops, not there, either, since archaeology can’t find them in Canaan, and can’t find them in the desert. Must have dropped them in the Reed Sea.) And the loss of livestock being replenished and lost again.

I stayed away from any interaction between Egyptians and Hebrews, since the book is so contradictory as to the events, and any scenario proposed by me would be (rightly) pointed out as contradictory by some verse. I can’t help it that your book contradicts itself.

The Egyptian granaries. Enough to sustain a nation? And not a single record kept of their depletion? Not a note made of the loss of grain? And even with stores, they would STILL require outside assistance.

Royal Stables. Where were those stables, again? Oh, that’s right. That takes archeology. And the absence of evidence of royal stables doesn’t mean there weren’t any. And are you saying the person that ran the Royal Stables was one that feared YHWH? 9:20. I could point out that technically Pharaoh would have “owned” the horses, and HE did not follow YHWH, so his would have been killed.

Only the cavalry? (14:23) O.K., so God was lying in 14:17 and 14:4 when he claimed he would “gain glory” through all of Pharaoh’s army. (See also 14:9 and 28) Ya sure this is the apologetic you want? Not all the army died, so God was lying? Or incompetent? Note also Moses’ song in 15:4 indicates it was the entire army. I’ll grant you that it is song, not history, so was Moses exaggerating, too? Seems to be a common problem in these parts.

Natural possibilities? O.K. So you are saying God didn’t have any part of this at all? That his part was “written in” at a later time? And this is all an exaggeration.

Hmmmm…I thought that was my line!!

Sandalstraps said...

Exbeliever,

I wonder sometimes if you are trying to "win" some argument with me. At no point did I argue that DagoodS was "wrong." At no point did I claim to refute any part of his argument. I am simply offering another way of looking at the stories in question.

The purpose of my discussion with DagoodS is not for one person to be "right" and the other person "wrong," as though conversation were a zero-sum game with a "winner" and a "loser." I suggest you read me more carefully, and see that I am not engaged in the same competition as you.

Brother Danny,

Excellent questions. I'm not sure how to give you any sort of an answer without writing, as you say, a theological book on the subject. But I'll do my best.

1. I don't think that Exodus is purely myth, if by myth you mean something entirely devoid of historical content. I think that it points to memories of historical events - the liberation of a group of people from Egypt, and the formation of those people into the civilization of ancient Israel. But many of the stories contained in it are not literal history, but rather reconstructed myth, a compliation of oral legends written down long after the events.

2. I don't think that the stories of Jesus are pure history. Rather, they too reflect memories and interpretations. In the Gospels we get stories concerning the life of Jesus which are much more theological than historical, though that does not mean that they never touch on history. We get how some followers of Jesus remembered him, and how the earliest Christians thought of him.

In both cases (Exodus and the rest of the Torah, and the Gospels) you have a mixture of myth and history; historical myths and mythologized history.

To me it matters very little which parts are literally historical and which parts are purely mythological. But there is a group of scholars who have dedicated themselves to the search for the historical Jesus. I'm sure that you've heard of the Jesus Seminar. From them you can learn how they attempt to get some distance between the myth and the history.

My favorite historical Jesus scholar is Marcus J. Borg, who teaches at Oregon State, and who has written many excellent books, particularly Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time; his take on the teachings of the "historical Jesus." Like me, however, Borg sees the value of the myths concerning Jesus, and doesn't seek to remove them or downplay their religious significance. They show us how some of the earliest follers of Jesus responded to him after his death.

Does that answer your question?

Sandalstraps said...

typo alert: "follers" = "followers"

ephphatha said...

John:
I am probably just reading too much into your post, but I'm curious if you mean to say that since the incident with the rods and snakes didn't happen, the plagues therefore didn't happen. Is that what you're saying?

Dagoods:
Again you stray from the topic. Let's stay focused, shall we? In light of exbeliever's comments, I'd like you to clarify something for me. When you say the plagues and the exodus as recorded in the Bible could not have happened, do you mean simply that while plagues and an exodus may have happened, they could not have happened in every detail the Bible records? If that's all you mean, then I'm not going to argue with you. I haven't read an article yet that claims every detail of the Biblical account is true.

I haven't advanced a theory of my own. As I've reminded you twice now, I don't know enough about the subject. All I've said is that my reading of a lot of scholarly articles in the last few days have caused me to seriously doubt the two claims you made (or that I thought you made).

ephphatha said...

sandalstraps, I must be a good guesser. From reading your posts, I guessed that you had been influenced by Marcus Borg. My favourite book by him was Conflict Holiness and Politics in the Teachings of Jesus.

exbeliever said...

Sandalstraps,

At no point did I argue that DagoodS was "wrong."

At no point did I accuse you of doing so.

At no point did I claim to refute any part of his argument.

At no point did I suggest that you did.

I suggest you read me more carefully, and see that I am not engaged in the same competition as you.

I find your suggestion that I read more carefully a little ironic, frankly. I have not accused you, at any point, of disagreeing or arguing with anyone here about your position, yet this is how you've read what I wrote.

What I've attempted to point out in both posts is that, historicity aside, this myth is not a valuable one. I accepted your rejection of the literal occurrence of the Exodus myth. You go further than that, though.

You wrote, "the question [is] . . . why these stories were remembered and recorded. What did they mean to the people who preserved them?"

I assume that you think there is a noble reason these stories were remembered and recorded. In both of my responses to you, I have challenged this "noble reason" and have suggested, instead, that the Exodus myth was used to manipulate the people of Israel.

I do not disagree with you that myth is valuable. I do, however, disagree with you that this myth is valuable. If the Biblical record can be trusted about how this myth was used, it indicates a malicious purpose. It was used to embolden people for war and to manipulate them, through guilt, to follow the orders of the priests.

If, for whatever reason, you think I have said more than this, I refer you to your own advice--"I suggest you read me more carefully. . ."

Sandalstraps said...

Exbeliever,

As you have noted is the nature of blog "warfare" (not that I am engaged in any sort of a "war" with you; I just think the term is useful for the sorts of discussions which often take place on blogs) tone and attitude are left entirely in the hands of the reader. You have read into my comments an attitude which is not there, and evidently I have done the same to you.

Here is my take on what constructive meaning these stories might have. It is a much more charitable reading of the text than yours.

While we agree on the historicity of the stories of the plagues (they didn't happen), we disagree - I think - on the historical value of the Exodus story. I say, with the aid of many scholars (particularly Johanna W.H. van-Wijk Bos, whom I refer to so much that it must get annoying) that the Exodus story, while it constructs the details of the story after the fact and does not represent a literal telling of history, does, in fact, represent the authenitic cultural memories of a people who really were enslaved in Egypt, and who see their God as having rescued them from their captivity. As such the Exodus story is not only a myth which speaks to many communities of faith today, but it is also a story of national origin and identity.

In the passages you quoted, you see the reference to delieverance from Egypt as a means by which to manipulate and control. But in its historical context those references encourage and embolden. You are right that the acts committed by the emblodened Israelites are, in our context, morally repugnant. But the references to enslavement in Egypt are responcible for the courage to at ct in the face of fear, rather than for the moral value of the acts committed.

The cultural memory of liberation, in other words, did not inspire the Israelites to want to exterminate their enemies (not an uncommon sentiment, by the way, and certainly not limited to ancient Israel, who was often in danger of extermination herself). Rather they gave the Israelites courage to act in the face of their fears. The moral value of the actions has more to do with the historical and cultural context than it does with the myths used to encourage and embolden.

Anyway, the far too long piece which I provided a link to, titled Exodus as a Macro Story, should give you some insight into my constructive interpretation of the myth. It is by no means authoritative, as I am not a Bible scholar, and consulted no Bible scholars while writing that essay. It is merely my feeble attempt to re-mythologize those stories in a constructive way.

Alas, time will most likely not permit me to participate any longer in this discussion.

exbeliever said...

Sandalstraps,

In the passages you quoted, you see the reference to delieverance from Egypt as a means by which to manipulate and control. But in its historical context those references encourage and embolden. You are right that the acts committed by the emblodened Israelites are, in our context, morally repugnant.

But your point, in your first comment, was that the value comes in why this myth was remembered and recorded, not that it may have unintended Messianic intonations that are later read into it.

It seems clear from the use of this myth that the reason it was remembered and recorded was to manipulate people to do things that you admit are "morally repugnant."

We have experienced a similar myth in our own time that is used the same way. We were told that we were under an imminent threat from Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction. This myth was used to "embolden and encourage" this country to support a war against Iraq. This was a dangerous myth.

That you are, now, able to read this myth in a way to encourage you is good, I guess, but this is not what you stated in your first comment. You said we should concentrate on why the myth was remembered and recorded. I think that the answer is obvious, i.e. it was remembered and recorded for the purpose of manipulation.

Oh, well. Thanks for the dialogue.

DagoodS said...

Of course I stray from the topic. I want to confirm (having asked repeatedly) what method you propose we use to determine fact from fiction in the Exodus account. I am giving you full and fair forewarning that I intend to hold you to that method when talking about other topics at a later date.

I have been doing this at least long enough to know that Christian apologists often proposed a solution or a method, and then, in a later conversation, propose the exact opposite to wiggle out of another problem. I am heading this off at the pass, as it were.

For example, (warning: Off-topic) we hear the resolution of “General to specific” when apologists attempt to resolve the two creation accounts of Gen. 1 vs. Gen. 2. Now, when talking about the plagues, we see specific to general. Which is it? Should it be consistent? If not, how can we tell the difference between an author going from general to specific, or two different authors, each telling a different tale that was later merged?

Of course I meant the events as in every detail. That is why I listed each detail in the original blog! As I have said time and time again, conflicting stories get caught up in the details. I am glad you now recognize that the every detail of the Biblical account cannot be true.

Let’s advance from there. (Yes, I know you haven’t studied this area. Yet. But these questions, and statements can give you direction, and perhaps some purpose in reviewing the events in question. And at least you have a new area in which you have studied, eh?)

For a moment take out the Book of Exodus. Presume it was never written. In studying Egyptian history and Canaanite history, we would NEVER claim that an outside group, known as the Hebrews, invaded and conquered Canaan. We would NEVER claim that this group wandered about as a cohesive unit for an extended period of time immediately prior to this conquest. We would NEVER claim that this group of Hebrews were enslaved under Egypt, and lived as a separate culture for 400 years.

There is no writing, no archeology, no history, no anything to support these claims. We wouldn’t make the claim in the first place, as no one would think of it. Sure, we agree that there was fighting and battles in Canaan. That there were wandering Bedoins in the desert. That Egypt had slaves. And, is it possible that some slave escaped from Egypt, traveled with the Bedoins, and later joined some mercenaries in Canaan. This does not an “Exodus” make.

The only thing we have is the Book itself. Now, this, in and of itself, at this point does not mean it didn’t happen, but it places us on heightened awareness of the unlikelihood of the events contained therein. (I should also point out that the Book was not written until at least 200 years after the event, and while the stories contained therein may have formed contemporaneously with the events claimed, there would be no way for the author to confirm or deny them, even if they cared to.)

And now we confess that the Book itself is inaccurate. The next obvious question is ”HOW inaccurate it is?” Was it a few frogs, 100,000 frogs, a country covered with frogs? Was it three days of darkness, one afternoon, three gloomy days? Was it 2 Million, 200,000, 20,000 or 20 slaves? Was it all the cattle, some of the cattle or one really sick cow?

Due to the complete lack of outside verification in archeology, history or common sense, I can find no safe landing spot, somewhere in the middle, to say the Book exaggerated an event out of proportion. But that is just me—that is why I keep asking others what method THEY propose to use, to find us that safe middle ground.

Look, if there was some record of a bad year of locusts, killing much of the crop, at least we could determine the Plague may have been overstated, but we can see how much. Or if there was a record of escaped slaves of sufficient size to say, “It may have not been 2 Million, but here is a record of 20, out of which the story grew. I can “safely” land on 20, being in the middle of none and 2 Million.” But we have none of that.

As you may be thinking (and should) “if there were only 20, they probably wouldn’t record it”—Exactly! If there were 2 Million, they couldn’t cover it up. This is why coming up with a method of a safe point in the middle is so hard.

We have no outside source of determination, we have a Book that is admittedly inaccurate, and we cannot even agree on the year of the Exodus. What I see is a very obviously human-made book, attempting to be justified by human rationalization.

Most Biblical scholars agree to placing the Temple of Solomon at 980 B.C.E. 1 Kings. 6:1 places this at 480 years after Exodus. Putting us right in the 15th Century BCE for Exodus. The problem being, of course, the complete lack of proof of any conquest in this period, and the relative calm of Egyptian history. No big shake-up.

So other historians, recognizing the improbability of 15th century, place it on a later date, usually 13th Century. This is problematic because it makes 1 Kings incorrect, and does not account for all the years the succession of Judges would require. (Although it is feasible that two people could have been judges at the same time, so this is not necessarily a good argument.) 13th Century also provides for the building of the City of Rameses, but unfortunately, would also result in more writing that is not there.

So, some Christians, in order to avoid both problems, place it back in the 25th Century BCE!

We have no outside sources of determination, a Book that is inaccurate, and Christians cannot even agree within 1000 years as to when Exodus happened. For every Christian that proposes a date for Exodus, I can probably find two groups of Christians that heartily disagree. And disagree with each other as well.

I know you haven’t advanced a theory of your own. Why fear? Whatever theory you propose, there are bound to be some Christians that agree with it, some that agree with part of it, and some that completely disagree with it.

Look at the explanations for the Plagues. That they were to each address a particular Egyptian God. No, no, another Christian apologist tells me, they followed the natural events of a tidal surge. No, no, a third tells me, it was from a Volcano. This one claims that this plague is exaggerated. This one claims another plague is exaggerated.

And some say that it is true right down to ever single detail.

Some say it was 2 Million, some say 20,000, some say a “few slaves.” What I see is that even Christians cannot agree on amount, on the century, on numbers, or how much the plagues were exaggerated.

And those are just the facts of the matter. If they cannot even provide a viable method for that, how can we remotely determine how much supernatural involvement there was? If the frogs were just a natural phenomena, then there could be none at all. If a few cattle died of disease, again, no God required. If a few slaves escaped, God is not necessary.

We are informed the Bible is different. Inspired. Divine in some way. Yet the problems that continue to abound in this one myth make it appear exactly what it is—human.

You are free to doubt the claims I make. But can you convince a neutral person that this myth is more true than any other? Of all the scholarly articles that you have read, can you (or they) come up with a method by which we can determine how much is truth, and how much is fiction in the Book of Exodus? We seem to be in agreement, at least, that not every detail is accurate. How much more is inaccurate?

Sandalstraps said...

Exbeliever,

I found another moment to engage in this discussion.

First, thank you for the discussion.

Now, I don't know why you insist on trying to find contradictions in my position, but it is that trait of your which has encouraged me to read your comments less than charitably. I am sorry for that lack of charity, and I am sorry for your participation in it.

As for the issue of why these stories were remembered, you should recall that I overtly disagree with your reading on them, and have not only captured a contemporary understanding of the stories (as you rightly not) but have also recaptured a much more charitable and constructive earlier reading.

When I say that the Exodus story and the many stories contained within it (such as the plague stories in question) are authentic memories of a community that has been liberated, I am speaking to t the issue of why the stories were remembered, recorded, and preserved.

These stories are the founding stories of a people, and they speak to the way in which that people (ancient Israel) sees its history. They say a number of things, even before we get to my contemporary reading (which supplements rather than replaces the earlier meanings).

The stories speak to an experience of God as liberator. These people were enslaved, and had an experience of their God liberating them from captivity and slavery in Egypt. That is perhaps the most important reason why these stories were preserved.

I am sorry that the cynic in you is incapable of seeing these myths as something other than a mechanism for political control; particularly since these stories speak out strongly against oppression, domination, and control.

These stories help shape the cultural idenity of ancient Israel as a people who see themselves in relationship with and in relation to a very distinct vision of God. I do not always agree with this vision of God, and I cannot say whether or not it is the case that ancient Israel actually had a relationship with a deity by this description; but that does not mean that I have to look for an ulterior reason for the preservation of these stories.

Whether or not they speak to a real experience of God, they certainly speak to ancient Israel's belief of an experience of God. That is a much more likely reason for the stories to be preserved than your explanation, which rests on ascribing the worst sorts of motives to religious authorities.

We do not disagree about the moral value of some of the actions which come out of ancient Israel's sense of chosenness. But that some of the actions which emerge from a sense of being chosen by God are bad does not make that chosen identity an entirely bad thing.

exbeliever said...

Sandalstraps,

. . . I don't know why you insist on trying to find contradictions in my position. . .

I do not believe a god exists. I am on a website dedicated to debunking the reasons people give for believing in the Christian god. You are making comments supporting a Christian worldview. Although, I respect "liberal" Christians for sharing most of my political and moral values, I do not believe there is any need to add (what I understand to be) a mythical god to the equation.

I would much rather have you as a neighbor than I would any Evangelical Christian, but on this site, I am dedicated to debunking Christian positions. I'm sorry if this offends you, but that is the position I take here.

If it is any consolation, most of my friends are either liberal Christians or Evangelicals (I only have one atheist friend). I rarely "try to find contradictions in their positions" (only when we are all talking about the subject). I blog as an intellectual exercise of my atheism.

As for the issue of why these stories were remembered, you should recall that I overtly disagree with your reading on them. . .

Well, only partially, right? You wrote earlier, ". . . in its historical context those references encourage and embolden. You are right that the acts committed by the emblodened Israelites are, in our context, morally repugnant."

I have stated that the texts were remembered to embolden the Israelites to do "morally repugnant" deeds. You agree that this did take place.

I am glad that you oppose slavery and oppression. It seems obvious to me, however, that those who remembered and recorded this myth were not as morally upright as you.

The people who remembered and recorded this myth also remembered and recorded a history of enslaving themselves not long after they were said to be released from their own slavery. If they were supposed to learn a moral lesson against oppression by this exodus myth, it certainly doesn't seem like they were good students. Nothing in their recorded history seems to indicate that they opposed slavery and oppression.

I am sorry that the cynic in you is incapable of seeing these myths as something other than a mechanism for political control; particularly since these stories speak out strongly against oppression, domination, and control.

I think my cynicism is well-founded, a lot better founded than your own optimism, in my opinion. I know that you are diametrically opposed to "concordance theology," but a general search for "Egypt" will yield countless records of the myth being invoked to commit "morally repugnant" deeds or to "guilt" people into following "commands" from "God" (or the priests).

While there are certainly instances in which the Exodus myth is used quasi-positively (e.g. in the treatment of Hebrew slaves), the majority of history says otherwise.

Take Exodus 21:20-21, for instance: "If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property." This closely follows (i.e. in the canon) Israel's supposed release from bondage.

That this myth justifies so much that is "morally repugnant" lessens any value for me that it might hold. While it may not be "an entirely bad thing," it is enough of a bad thing for me to wish they had simply chosen another myth to remember and record.

ephphatha said...

Dagoods,

That's a lot of stuff to respond to. It's hard for me to come up with an overarching method by which to determine true from false. We know different things in different ways. Any answer I give you then (especially not being an expert in this field) is going to have to be very general. In general, I think we just have to take everything we know, apply reason to it, and come to a conclusion. I take it on a case by case basis, and if I'm inconsistent, I hope somebody will point that out to me.

As for me, I'm a Christian believer. Believing in Christianity entails accepting a certain set of propositions as true. But I don't subscribe to each of them with the same conviction. I'm more convinced that there's a God than I am that Jesus is the Christ, for example.

Contrary to what another poster wrote on this blog, I don't think the infallibility of the Bible is necessary for Christianity. I, however, do subscribe to the idea that the Bible is the infallible word of God. However, of all my Christian beliefs, I probably hold this one with the least amount of conviction.

The reason I hold to it at all is because I get the impression that Jesus, the apostles, and most of the early church did. I simply take it on their authority. Admittedly, this doesn't solve the problem of the canon, but it does give me general direction.

Not knowing much about the historical and archeaological research that has gone on concerning Egypt, Canaan, and the Hebrews before around 600 BCE, I assume it's all true based on the Bible. From what little I've read in the scholarly literature, it seems at least possible, and as long as it's possible, I have no trouble taking the Bible's word for it.

If after having studied the subject in depth, I come to the conclusion that there are some things recorded in the Biblical account that could not have happened, I've got two options. I can either (1) drop my belief in the inerrancy of the Bible, or (2) adopt something like Sandalstraps' position.

If I drop my belief in the inerrancy of the Bible, I will still be a Christian. I will, to the best of my ability, apply historical and exegetical methods to determine what's true and what isn't. I expect there will always be things where I'll just have to say, "I don't know," and there will be other things where I lean in a certain direction, but I'm not fully convinced. I will, as David Hume said, proportion my beliefs to the evidence. After all, even believing in inerrancy, I'm not sure in every case what's history and what's not.

As Sandalstraps seems to be saying, the question of historical or non-historical is not the same as the question of true or false. You have to take genre into account. Not all stories are intended to be historical, but they still communicate truths. Parables seem to be a non-controversial example.

I do take Sandalstraps' position on some parts of the Bible. I think the Bible represents different genres of literature, and it's not always easy to tell which is which. I think that somewhere between the Genesis account of creation and the kingdom of David, the Bible moves from myth, to history/myth, to history. I don't know where these seams are, but that is my general impression from what little I know of the subject.

DagoodS said...

Thank you for the conversation, ephphatha. It is enjoyable. Much of the reason I post in response to Christianity is that I hope Christians will actually go out and learn, search and gain knowledge. I hope you have learned something more about the Book of Exodus than you did a week ago, through your study.

Which brings me to the one point I would like to make. Up until about 200 years ago, it was almost universally accepted that Genesis and Exodus were historical. Through the advent of technology, translation of hieroglyphics, and accessibility we have learned so much more than they knew even 100 years ago. And more recently, we expected to see the Book of Exodus confirmed through archeology, and the complete lack of support was almost surprising.

It has been the knowledge obtained through current advancements that has given us new pause as to what is historical and what is not.

I found it interesting that because of the knowledge we have obtained, you have become convinced that somewhere between Genesis and King David the Bible moves from myth to history/myth to history. Yet you also hold to some elements of Christianity because Jesus and the apostles held to it.

They held to a historical Moses, Abraham, and Adam.

But now you don’t, because of the knowledge available to you. Does it bother you that you have learned more that what they, supposedly inspired by God, knew? If you hold to Jesus as God, you have learned and know more than what a God knows.

I can’t wait until we discuss the historical Jesus!

ephphatha said...

Dagoods, whether there was an historical Adam or not, I don't know. From my reading of the new testament, I do get the impression that Jesus and Paul thought of Adam as historical. But I'm not convinced that their statements must mean that they took Adam to be historical.

I do plan to discuss the historical Jesus at some point on my blog. I've been planning on writing something about the Christology of Jesus--what he thought of himself.

Aaron M. Rossetti said...

ephphatha,

What did Jesus think of himself? I uploaded some articles I wrote for one of my old websites. It's mostly scriptures aranged with my commentary after some of them. Keep in mind that they were written in the midst of my journey out of traditional Christianity. I was not an atheist at this point so most of what I think has changed (the point is that the comments I made were part of an overall process of some realizations), BUT anyway... it might help in some way anyway. Here's the link for anyone who wants to read 'em.

www.aaronrossetti.com/whoisjesus

Hope it helps.

Aaron

ephphatha said...

Thanks Aaron. I hope answering your question doesn't end up putting me in a position to argue for my answer right now. I plan on writing it some time in the future.

Basically what I intend to argue is that Jesus thought of himself as a prophet and as the Christ. I'm going to focus more on "Christ" than "prophet," though.

Aaron M. Rossetti said...

That's cool. It was a rhetorical question more than anything... only to show what I was going to address.

It's a really great study and was one of the most eye openning in my search. Of course, we assume that what was written was really what was said, but there is a lot of great things you can pull out of those verses when they're just read in 'red and white.'?

To highlight, here were some things that were interesting questions for me?

-How did he view his relationship to god?
-What did he believe about the future?
-How did he see everyone else that he associated with and why?
-What did he value?
-Why did he refer to himself in the 3rd person all the time 'the son of man'?
-Why didn't he come right out and tell anyone who he was (with only a couple of recorded exceptions)?
-Did he have a will that was separate from his fathers?
-How did everyone know his most intimate thoughts with the father and the devil?(40 day fast, etc.) Is there evidence that he shared them with his disciples?
-Was it actually Jesus that ever healed anyone? To what did he give credit to for the miraculous healing?
-If Jesus was the FULLNESS of the GODHEAD, can you imagine a more grand display of the power of God than what he exhibited?
-How does he think we should be in the world? (i.e. less than him, greater than him, equal to him)
-What did/does he expect for/from his followers (Christians today)? (i.e. less than what he did, equal to what he did, or more than what he did)
-Did Jesus preach and offer the same 'Christian Message' that is preached today BEFORE his death, burial, and resurrection? (i.e. He expected Nicodemus to understand being born again BEFORE the attonement of Jesus blood.) AND... (if I may)...If it was possible for someone to be 'the salt of the earth, city on a hill, born again, and even be changed by the holy ghost all BEFORE the attoning sacrifice, then why did Jesus have to die? If it were possible to be right with God according to what he perscribed BEFORE his death, why Christianity?

These were just some of the questions most interesting to me and may not be that interesting to you, but take 'em if you want 'em. There are no forbidden questions when searching for the truth!

Hope this helps.

Aaron

ephphatha said...

Aaron, that looks like it would be quite the ambitious project to study and write about all those questions. They're all interesting, though.

Carol said...

There is a book titled Riddle of the Exodus, by James D. Long, that does an amazing job of offering proof for the Exodus. It puts it in an entirely different time frame that most archaeologists. The author's subtitle is "Startling Parallels Between Ancient Jewish Sources and the Egyptian Archaeological Record."

I would also recommend, for those who have left Christianity or are thinking about it, a book that talks about the earliest Universal Laws for mankind. For those who DO believe that there is a Creator, whatever the name, there's always been a moral, ethical way of life defined by the Noahide Laws (Noahide, not being a worship of Noah, but a recognition that time as a new beginning for mankind). The book is called The Rainbow Covenant.

Julia said...

What good is faith if we're not supposed to be tested? God doesn't reveal all of his miracles and wonders or else why are we here?

Look at the world around you and tell me a higher power, a supreme being didn't create it? It's impossible.

Now Satan wants you to beleive there is no God, because then he can twirl you around his thumb and take away your faith, the faith that will sustain you, the faith that you now debunk. He's grinning from ear to ear.

Congragulations--you're just another one he's ensnared.

Dawn said...

There is proof in nefertari's tomb that she lived through the ten plagues of egypt. This is also true because GOD said it is!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Daniel said...

Dawn,

I would love to hear of this evidence that you cite. Reference? Wyatt, perhaps? [snark]

God has never spoken a word, dear child, only people. The reason is obvious: God doesn't exist.

Anonymous said...

ur guys are retarded god does exist.im sorry ur 2 dumb to see it....

RHFOOTBALL said...

Do you want to see a great visual for the 10 Plagues? See the 10 Plagues Videos at Baytzim.com

hoffster12 said...

"For if you refuse to let them go, and will hold them still, behold, the hand of Jehovah is upon your cattle which are in the field, upon the horses, upon the asses, upon the camels, upon the herds, and upon the flocks: there shall be a very grevious murrain."

The only animals that died were those which were out in the field. None of the Israelites cattle died because God chose not to affect their cattle, but that of the Egyptians did. Do we not house our animals in barns and the like? Do you not think that the Egyptians did the same? That's where all these other animals and cattle came from. The horses used by the armies of Pharaoh would have been greatly taken care of. Probably kept in buildings and fed only the best foods. Not kept in the fields.

michael said...

Sorry but those who are the writers for this website were never faithful christians, the arguments presented here are merely "devils advocate" in nature. There is sufficient archeological evidence to uphold biblical records. Even Egyptian records provide evidence. Is it possible to tust individuals who were christans. People who believed in something then suddenly end up believing in nothing! So whimsical in nature, just like your arguments on this site.
Lets assume that the collective brain power behind this website knew 70% of all the worlds knowledge and facts, the remaining 30% will leave sufficient doubt in most peoples minds that they did not know enough. Please make use of google more efficiently knowledge is power..those who make statements like there is no proof then provide cleverly worded arguments with a lack of evidence to uphold there arguments, are confused and in need of serious guidance. Go back to the bible read it study it..really hard..then look at the evidence supporting it..think hard then try again. This website has inspired me only to become more in love with my saviour, i thank you.
Mike

Urban Legond said...

You know, the Pharaoh didn't believe the plagues could be real either...

Esther said...
This comment has been removed by the author.