Historians and theologians seem divided on the subject of the Exodus. The account in the Bible is problematic to say the least. On one side you have those that insist that it happened exactly how and when claimed and on the other side you have those that completely dismiss the Exodus as fairy tale. Each side has very good argument and there really seems to be no consensus between experts. It is puzzling but I wanted to attempt to make some sense of it. I want to say that I am no scholar. By no means is this a definitive answer. It is only my thoughts on a debated subject with a very small amount of time on my part looking at other peoples research that undoubtedly spent their lives studying and verifying.
The story itself is very spectacular but not new. There is very little evidence outside the Bible to support it’s claims. The historical timing and number of bodies moving from one place to another is a problem. For me though, if you dismiss both sides of the spectrum you can come to some interesting conclusions. There seems to be no hard evidence that says it never happened and at least a little proof that suggests something happened. I have a tendency to believe things that are written in the Bible. There always seems to be elements of truth that help us understand history and faith. What I do tend to doubt is our interpretation of it. In this case I think what actually happened does not necessarily line up with how we envision it.
Exodus 12:37 “…there were about 600000 men on foot…” From the outset this number is problematic. First, some historians believe this was more than the entire population of Egypt at the time. Second, a mass moving of a population this size would have been recorded somewhere other than the Bible. Maybe not by the Egyptians, to save face, but certainly the surrounding people would have noticed. Thirdly, the logistics don’t add up. Feeding and moving a population that size would be virtually impossible. What makes more sense is if the number were smaller. In fact, in his book Eden to Exile, Eric Cline suggests that the number was misinterpreted and should actually be 60000. Still problematic as this would have been a very large group and difficult to miss but much more logistically possible.
A more likely possibility would have been for an initial large group to leave first. In an interview with Richard Friedman Th.D, a professor of Jewish Studies at University of Georgia, thinks that a group of Levites may have left first. This would make sense for the religious leaders to head out first and it would explain some things. If the other tribes caught up later over a period of many years then this would also address what historians have learned about dates and leaders of that time. The story would have been handed down through hundreds of years then condensed by those who wrote it down in the version we read today. I find this a more likely version and there is some evidence that this is how it happened. One of which is the sudden adoption of the Egyptian culture into their own including names, architectural design and other teachings. Possible evidence of an infusion of people into the area we now call Israel. Friedman also claims that other writings exist to support this theory.
In my mind this is enough to validate the story of the Exodus. Regardless of what actually happened much can be learned from this book. Even if historians and archeologists come up with proof that the Exodus is fiction, in my mind it does not diminish it’s significance. It can surely be used to teach and learn about those things we put our faith in. What do you think?