Note: This is the third in a series of three posts where I’ll be examining the doubts surrouding the historicity of the Exodus narrative.
As I have already discussed in Part I and Part II, there are many reasons to doubt the historicity of the Exodus narrative; and, indeed, they have been long called into question.
But even more than that, there is reason to doubt that anything in Exodus ever happened whatsoever — a much more serious allegation than the claim that the story was simply exaggerated (i.e., Moses may not have parted the Red Sea with his staff, but the Israelites did escape from Pharoah).
First, there is a strong lack of archaeological foundation. In this series’ first post I identified a lack of archaeological evidence among Egyptian records and settlements. But there is also a significant dearth among Israelite settlements, too. Archaeologists, in fact, have found, among all of the earliest Israelite settlements in what was then Canaan, zero influence from Egypt. What does this mean, exactly? In the Israelite settlements, there were no Egyptian-style tools, pottery, or scripts, nothing, as scholar James Kugel notes, “to indicate that the earliest Israelites had any sustained, firsthand contact with life in Egypt” (How to Read the Bible, 205). If in fact the Israelites had long lived under Egyptian control, it is logical to think that the settlements would, in some way, reflect that (and regardless of whether they were eventually released from Egypt because of miracle, fiat, or sheer luck, the influence would still be there).
The second problem with the entirety of the Exodus account is that there is, according to most historians, a strong historical foundation for the origins of the Israelites independent and separate of Egypt. Without exploring this in too much detail, the gist is that there is actual evidence of sustained Israelite society and settlement that stretches back to before the putative historical period of the Exodus. In other words, judging by the archaeological record, it’s as if the ancient Israelites were never in Egypt.
Couple these two arguments with the issues I discussed before — namely, the logistics of six hundred thousand males slaves plus families moving in a coherent group — and you have a pretty strong case for being dubious about the Exodus.*
*In a future post, I plan on looking at the historical evidence for the Exodus. But at this point, at least in my personal opinion, the weight of the evidence/argument tips toward the other side. That is something, of course, that each reader can make up his/her own mind about.