The Exodus
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The Exodus

Departure of the Israelites (David Roberts, 1829)

The Exodus (Yetzias Mitzrayim in Hebrew, literally: "Exodus/Leaving [from] Egypt"), is the founding myth of the Israelites.[1][a] It tells of the departure of the Israelites from Egypt, their wanderings in the wilderness, the revelations at biblical Mount Sinai, and their wanderings in the wilderness up to the borders of Canaan.[2] Its message is that the Israelites were delivered from slavery by Yahweh their god, and therefore belong to him by covenant.[1]

The consensus of modern scholars is that the Bible does not give an accurate account of the origins of the Israelites, who appear instead to have formed as an entity in the central highlands of Canaan in the late second millennium BCE from the indigenous Canaanite culture.[3][4][5] Most scholars believe that the story of the Exodus has some historical basis, but that any such basis has little resemblance to the story told in the Bible.[6][7]

The story of the Exodus is spread over four of the biblical books of the Torah or Pentateuch, namely Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. There is a widespread agreement that the composition of the Torah took place in the Middle Persian Period (5th century BCE),[8] although the traditions behind it are older and can be found in the writings of the 8th-century BCE prophets.[9][10]

The Exodus and its laws remain central to Judaism, recounted daily in Jewish prayers and celebrated in festivals such as Passover. Belief and observance of and in the Biblical Exodus are extremely central in Orthodox Judaism. It has also resonated with non-Jewish groups, from early American settlers fleeing persecution in Europe, and African Americans striving for freedom and civil rights, to South American liberation theology.[11][12]

Biblical narrative

Israel in Egypt (Edward Poynter, 1867)

The story of the Exodus is told in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, the last four of the first five books of the Bible (also called the Torah or Pentateuch).[2] In the first book of the Pentateuch, the Book of Genesis, the Israelites had come to live in Egypt in the Land of Goshen during a famine due to the fact that an Israelite, Joseph, had become a high official in the court of the pharaoh. Exodus begins with the deaths of Joseph and the ascension of a new pharaoh "who did not know Joseph" (Exodus 1:8). The pharaoh becomes concerned by the number and strength of Israelites in Egypt and enslaves them, commanding them to build at two "supply" or "store cities" called Pithom and Rameses (Exodus 1:11).[b] The pharaoh also orders the slaughter at birth of all male Hebrew children. One Hebrew child, however, is rescued by being placed in a basket on the Nile. He is found and adopted by Pharaoh's daughter, who names him Moses. Moses eventually kills an Egyptian he sees beating a Hebrew slave, and is forced to flee to Midian, marrying a daughter of the Midianite priest Jethro. The old pharaoh dies and a new one ascends to the throne.[2]

Moses, in Midian, goes to Mount Horeb, where Yahweh appears in a Burning Bush and commands him to go to Egypt to free the Hebrew slaves and bring them to the promised land in Canaan. Yahweh also speaks to Moses's brother Aaron; they both assemble the Israelites and perform signs so that they believe in Yahweh's promise. Moses and Aaron then go to the Pharaoh and ask him to let the Israelites go into the desert for a religious festival, but the Pharaoh refuses and commands the Israelites to make bricks without straw and increases their workload. Moses and Aaron return to the Pharaoh and this time ask him to free the Israelites. The Pharaoh demands for Moses to perform a miracle, and Aaron throws down Moses' staff, which turns into a snake; however, the Pharaoh's magicians[c] are also able to do this, though Moses' staff devours the others. The Pharaoh then refuses to let the Israelites go.

Lamentations over the Death of the First-Born of Egypt by Charles Sprague Pearce (1877)

After this, Yahweh begins inflicting the Plagues of Egypt on the Egyptians for each time that Moses goes to Pharaoh and Pharaoh refuses to release the Israelites. Pharaoh's magicians are able to replicate the first plagues, in which Yahweh turns the Nile to blood and produces a plague of frogs, but are unable to reproduce any plagues after the third, the plague of gnats.[15] After each plague Pharaoh allows the Israelites to worship Yahweh to remove the plague, then refuses to free them. In the final plague, Yahweh kills all the firstborn sons of Egypt, and the firstborn cattle, but the Israelites, who have been commanded to kill one lamb per family and smear its blood on their doorposts, are spared. Yahweh commands that the Israelites observe a festival as "a perpetual ordinance" to remember this event (Exodus 12:14). Pharaoh finally agrees to let the Israelites go after his firstborn son is killed. Yahweh leads the Israelites in the form of a pillar of cloud in the day and a pillar of fire at night. However, once the Israelites have already left, Pharaoh changes his mind and pursues the Israelites to the shore of the Red Sea. Moses uses his staff to part the Red Sea, and the Israelites cross on dry ground, but the sea closes down on the pursuing Egyptians, drowning them all.[16]

The Israelites now begin to complain about Aaron and Moses, as Yahweh miraculously provided them first with water and food, eventually raining manna down for them to eat. Amalek attacks at Rephidim but is defeated in battle. Jethro comes to Moses with Moses's wife and sons; on Jethro's advice, Moses appoints judges for the tribes of Israel. The Israelites reach the Sinai Desert and Yahweh calls Moses to Mount Sinai, where Yahweh reveals himself to his people and establishes the Ten Commandments and Mosaic covenant: the Israelites are to keep his torah (i.e. law, instruction), and in return he will give them the land of Canaan. Yahweh establishes the Aaronic priesthood and various rules for ritual worship, among other laws. However, in Moses's absence the Israelites sin against Yahweh by creating the idol of a golden calf, and as retaliation Yahweh has the Levites kill three thousand people (Exodus 32:28) and Yahweh sends a plague on the Israelites. The Israelites now accept the covenant, which is reestablished, build a tabernacle for Yahweh, and receive their laws. Yahweh commands Moses to take a census of the Israelites and establishes the duties of the Levites. Then the Israelites depart from Mount Sinai.[17]

Illustration of the Exodus from Egypt by the Providence Lithograph Company, 1907

Yahweh commands Moses to send twelve spies ahead to Canaan to scout the land. The spies discover that the Canaanites are strong, and, believing that the Israelites cannot defeat them, the spies falsely report to the Israelites that Canaan is full of giants so that the Israelites will not invade (Numbers 13:31-33). The Israelites refuse to go to Canaan, so Yahweh manifests himself and declares that the generation that left Egypt will have to pass away before the Israelites can enter Canaan. The Israelites will have to remain in the wilderness for forty years,[17] and Yahweh kills the spies through a plague except for the righteous Joshua and Caleb, who will be allowed to enter the promised land. A group of Israelites led by Korah, son of Izhar, rebels against Moses, but Yahweh opens the earth and sends them living to Sheol.

The Israelites come to the oasis of Kadesh Barnea, where Miriam dies and the Israelites remain for forty years.[17] The people are without water, so Yahweh commands Moses to get water from a rock by speaking to it, but Moses strikes the rock with his staff instead, for which Yahweh forbids him from entering the promised land. Moses sends a messenger to the king of Edom requesting passage through his land to Canaan, but the king refuses. The Israelites then go to Mount Hor, where Aaron dies. The Israelites try to go around Edom, but the Israelites complain about lack of bread and water, so Yahweh sends a plague of poisonous snakes to afflict them. After Moses prays for deliverance, Yahweh has him create the brazen serpent, and the Israelites who look at it are cured. The Israelites are soon in conflict with various other kingdoms, and king Balak of Moab attempts to have the seer Balaam curse the Israelites, but Balaam blesses the Israelites instead. Some Israelites begin having sexual relations with Moabite women and worshipping Moabite gods, so Yahweh orders Moses to impale the idolators and sends a plague, but the full extent of Yahweh's wrath is averted when Phinehas impales an Israelite and a Midianite woman having intercourse (Numbers 25:7-9). Yahweh commands the Israelites to destroy the Midianites and Moses and Phinehas take another census. They then conquer the lands of Og and Sihon in Transjordan, settling the Gadites, Reubenites, and half the Tribe of Manasseh there.

Moses then addresses the Israelites for a final time on the banks of the Jordan River, reviewing their travels and giving them further laws. Yahweh tells Moses to summon Joshua, whom Yahweh commissions to lead the conquest of Canaan. Yahweh tells Moses to ascend Mount Nebo, from where he sees the promised land and where he dies.[17]

Covenant and law

The climax of the Exodus is the covenant (binding legal agreement) between God and the Israelites mediated by Moses at Sinai: Yahweh will protect the Israelites as his chosen people for all time, and the Israelites will keep Yahweh's laws and worship only him.[18] The covenant is described in stages: at Exodus 24:3-8 the Israelites agree to abide by the "book of the covenant" that Moses has just read to them; shortly afterwards God writes the "words of the covenant" - the Ten Commandments - on stone tablets; and finally, as the people gather in Moab to cross into Canaan, the land God has promised them, Moses makes a new covenant between Yahweh and the Israelites "beside the covenant he made with them at Horeb" (Deuteronomy 29:1).[19] The laws are set out in a number of codes:[20]

Origins and historicity

There are two main positions on the historicity of the Exodus in modern scholarship.[3] The majority position is that the biblical Exodus narrative has some ultimate historicity, although there is little of historical worth in the biblical narrative.[7][6][1] The other main position, often associated with the school of Biblical minimalism,[21] is that the Exodus has no historical basis. Both positions are in agreement that the biblical Exodus narrative is best understood as a founding myth of the Jewish people, explaining their origins and providing an ideological foundation for their culture and institutions, not an accurate depiction of the history of the Israelites.[22][1] A third position, that the biblical narrative is essentially correct ("Biblical maximalism"), is today held by "few, if any [...] in mainstream scholarship, only on the more fundamentalist fringes."[3]

Mainstream scholarship no longer accepts the biblical Exodus account as accurate history for a number of reasons. No modern attempt to identify a historical Egyptian prototype for Moses has found wide acceptance, and no period in Egyptian history matches the Biblical accounts of the Exodus.[23] Some elements of the story are clearly meant to be miraculous and defy rational explanation, such as the Plagues of Egypt and the Crossing of the Red Sea.[24] Lester Grabbe argues that "attempts to find naturalistic explanations [for these events] [...] miss the point: the aim of the narrative is to magnify the power of Yhwh and Moses."[25] The Bible also fails to mention the names of any of the Pharaohs involved in the Exodus narrative.[26] While ancient Egyptian texts from the New Kingdom mention "Asiatics" living in Egypt as slaves and workers, these people cannot be securely connected to the Israelites, and no contemporary Egyptian text mentions a large-scale exodus of slaves like that described in the Bible.[27] The earliest surviving historical mention of the Israelites, the Egyptian Merneptah Stele (c. 1207 BCE), appears to place them in or around Canaan and gives no indication of any exodus.[28] The numbers of people involved in the Exodus as given in the Bible are fanciful, as the Sinai Desert could never have supported the 603,550 Israelites mentioned in Numbers 1:46.[29] Archaeologists Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman say that while archaeology has found traces left by small bands of hunter-gatherers in the Sinai, there is no evidence at all for the large body of people described in the Exodus story: "The conclusion - that Exodus did not happen at the time and in the manner described in the Bible - seems irrefutable [...] repeated excavations and surveys throughout the entire area have not provided even the slightest evidence."[30] Instead, modern archaeology suggests continuity between Canaanite and Israelite settlement, indicating a primarily Canaanite origin for Israel.[31][32]

A majority of scholars nevertheless still believes that the Exodus has some historical basis,[6][7] with Kenton Sparks referring to it as "mythologized history."[1] Evidence in favor of historical traditions forming a background to the Exodus myth include the documented movements of small groups of Ancient Semitic-speaking peoples into and out of Egypt during the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Dynasties, some elements of Egyptian folklore and culture in the Exodus narrative,[33] and the names Moses, Aaron and Phinehas, which seem to have an Egyptian origin.[34] Joel S. Baden notes the presence of Semitic-speaking slaves in Egypt who sometimes escaped in small numbers.[35] He writes that while "[a] onetime mass exodus of all Israelites from Egypt cannot be maintained, a relatively steady trickle of Semitic slaves making their way through the Sinai to the northeast seems eminently reasonable."[36] Avraham Faust and William Dever argue that a group of Egyptian origin, whom Dever cautiously identifies as "the house of Joseph",[37] may have joined the Israelites after their initial formation in Canaan, and that their story could have become adopted as the national myth of the Israelites.[38][39] It is also possible that oppressive Egyptian rule of Canaan during the late second millennium BCE may have aided the adoption of the story of a small group of Egyptian refugees by the native Canaanites among the Israelites.[40] The expulsion of the Hyksos, a Semitic group that had conquered much of Egypt, by the Seventeenth Dynasty of Egypt is also frequently discussed as a potential historical parallel or origin for the story.[40][41][42] Most proposals for a historical Exodus of any sort place it in the sixteenth, fifteenth, or thirteenth centuries BCE.[43] Alternatively, Nadav Na'aman argues that oppressive Egyptian rule of Canaan during the Nineteenth and especially the Twentieth Dynasty may have inspired the Exodus narrative, forming a "collective memory" of Egyptian oppression that was transferred from Canaan to Egypt itself in the popular consciousness.[44]

There is an increasing trend among scholars to see the biblical exodus traditions as the invention of the exilic and post-exilic Jewish community, with little to no historical basis.[45] Lester Grabbe, for instance, argues that "[t]here is no compelling reason that the exodus has to be rooted in history,"[46] and that the details of the story more closely fit the seventh through the fifth centuries BCE than the traditional dating to the second millennium BCE.[47] Rejecting the traditional view that the Exodus records pre-exilic traditions, Philip R. Davies suggests that the story may have been inspired by the return to Israel of Israelites and Judaeans who were placed in Egypt as garrison troops by the Assyrians in the fifth and sixth centuries BCE.[48] Historian Graham Davies has criticized minimalist scholars for relying too heavily on archaeology, stating "a historian cannot simply ignore the textual evidence (both biblical and non-biblical) that is relevant to an issue, and in this case the textual evidence purports, at least, to give a different view from that which archaeologists now tend to favor (or most of them, anyway)."[49]

Development and final composition

Ezra Reads the Law to the People (Gustave Doré's illustrations for La Grande Bible de Tours, 1866)

The earliest traces of the traditions behind the exodus appear in the northern prophets Amos (possibly) and Hosea (certainly), both active in the 8th century BCE in northern Israel, but their southern contemporaries Isaiah and Micah show no knowledge of an exodus.[9] (Micah 6:4-5 contains a reference to the exodus, which many scholars take to be an addition by a later editor.)[d] The story may, therefore, have originated a few centuries earlier, perhaps in the 9th or 10th BCE, and there are signs that it took different forms in Israel, in the Transjordan region, and in the southern Kingdom of Judah before being unified in the Persian era.[51] The Exodus narrative was most likely further altered and expanded under the influence of the return from the Babylonian captivity in the sixth century BCE.[52]

Evidence from the Bible suggests that the Exodus from Egypt formed a "foundational mythology" or "state ideology" for the Northern Kingdom of Israel.[53] The northern psalms 80 and 81 state that God "brought a vine out of Egypt" (Psalm 80:8) and record ritual observances of Israel's deliverance from Egypt as well as a version of part of the Ten Commandments (Psalm 81:10-11).[54] The Books of Kings records the dedication of two golden calves in Bethel and Dan by the Israelite king Jeroboam I, who uses the words "Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt" (1 Kings 12:28). Scholars relate Jeroboam's calves to the golden calf made by Aaron of Exodus 32. Both include a nearly identical dedication formula ("These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt;" Exodus 32:8). This episode in Exodus is "widely regarded as a tendentious narrative against the Bethel calves".[55] Egyptologist Jan Assmann suggests that event, which would have taken place around 931 BCE, may be partially historical due to its association with the historical pharaoh Sheshonq I (the biblical Shishak).[53] Stephen Russell dates this tradition to "the eighth century BCE or earlier," and argues that it preserves a genuine Exodus tradition from the Northern Kingdom, but in a Judahite recension.[56] Russell and Frank Moore Cross argue that the Israelites of the Northern Kingdom may have believed that the calves at Bethel and Dan were made by Aaron. Russell suggests that the connection to Jeroboam may have been later, possibly coming from a Judahite redactor.[57] Pauline Viviano, however, concludes that neither the references to Jeroboam's calves in Hosea (Hosea 8:6 and 10:5) nor the frequent prohibitions of idol worship in the seventh-century southern prophet Jeremiah show any knowledge of a tradition of a golden calf having been created in Sinai.[58]

Some of the earliest evidence for Judahite traditions of the exodus is found in Psalm 78, which portrays the Exodus as beginning a history culminating in the building of the temple at Jerusalem. Pamela Barmash argues that the psalm is a polemic against the Northern Kingdom; as it fails to mention that kingdom's destruction in 722 BCE, she concludes that it must have been written before then.[59] The psalm's version of the Exodus contains some important differences from what is found in the Pentateuch: there is no mention of Moses, there are only seven plagues in Egypt, and the manna is described as "food of the mighty" rather than as bread in the wilderness.[60] Nadav Na'aman argues for other signs that the Exodus was a tradition in Judah before the destruction of the northern kingdom, including the Song of the Sea and Psalm 114, as well as the great political importance that the narrative came to assume there.[52] A Judahite cultic object associated with the exodus was the brazen serpent or nehushtan: according to 2 Kings 18:4, the brazen serpent had been made by Moses and was worshiped in the temple in Jerusalem until the time of king Hezekiah of Judah, who destroyed it as part of a religious reform, possibly around 727 BCE.[61][e] In the Pentateuch, Moses creates the brazen serpent in Numbers 21:4-9. Meindert Dijkstra writes that while the historicity of the Mosaic origin of the Nehushtan is unlikely, its association with Moses appears genuine rather than the work of a later redactor.[62] Mark Walter Bartusch notes that the nehushtan is not mentioned at any prior point in Kings, and suggests that the brazen serpent was brought to Jerusalem from the Northern Kingdom after its destruction in 722 BCE.[61]

The revelation of God on Sinai appears to have originally been a tradition unrelated to the Exodus.[63] Joel S. Baden notes that "[t]he seams [between the Exodus and Wilderness traditions] still show: in the narrative of Israel's rescue from Egypt there is little hint that they will be brought anywhere other than Canaan--yet they find themselves heading first, unexpectedly, and in no obvious geographical order, to an obscure mountain."[64] In addition, there is widespread agreement that the revelation of the law in Deuteronomy was originally separate from the Exodus:[65] the original version of Deuteronomy is generally dated to the 7th century BCE.[66] The contents of the books of Leviticus and Numbers are late additions to the narrative by priestly sources.[67]

Scholars broadly agree that the publication of the Torah (or Pentateuch) took place in the mid-Persian period (the 5th century BCE), echoing a traditional Jewish view which gives Ezra, the leader of the Jewish community on its return from Babylon, a pivotal role in its promulgation.[68] Many theories have been advanced to explain the composition of the first five books of the Bible, but two have been especially influential.[69] The first of these, Persian Imperial authorisation, advanced by Peter Frei in 1985, holds that the Persian authorities required the Jews of Jerusalem to present a single body of law as the price of local autonomy.[70] Frei's theory was demolished at an interdisciplinary symposium held in 2000, but the relationship between the Persian authorities and Jerusalem remains a crucial question.[71] The second theory, associated with Joel P. Weinberg and called the "Citizen-Temple Community", proposes that the Exodus story was composed to serve the needs of a post-exilic Jewish community organized around the Temple, which acted in effect as a bank for those who belonged to it.[72] The books containing the Exodus story served as an "identity card" defining who belonged to this community (i.e., to Israel), thus reinforcing Israel's unity through its new institutions.[73]

Hellenistic Egyptian parallel narratives

Writers in Greek and Latin record several Egyptian tales of the expulsion of a group of foreigners that were connected to the Exodus in the Ptolemaic period.[74] These tales often include elements of the Hyksos period and most are extremely anti-Jewish.[75] The earliest non-biblical account is that of Hecataeus of Abdera (c. 320 BCE), as preserved in the first century CE Jewish historian Josephus in his work Against Apion and in a variant version by the first-century BCE Greek historian Diodorus.[76] Hecataeus tells how the Egyptians blamed a plague on foreigners and expelled them from the country, whereupon Moses, their leader, took them to Canaan.[77] In this version, Moses is portrayed extremely positively.[74]Manetho, as preserved in Josephus's Against Apion, tells how 80,000 lepers and other "impure people", led by a priest named Osarseph, join forces with the former Hyksos, now living in Jerusalem, to take over Egypt. They wreak havoc until the pharaoh and his son chase them out to the borders of Syria, where Osarseph gives the lepers a law-code and changes his name to Moses. The identification of Osarseph with Moses in Manetho's account may be an interpolation or may come from Manetho.[78][79][77] Other versions of the story are recorded by first-century BCE Egyptian grammarian Lysimachus of Alexandria, who sets the story in the time of Pharaoh Bakenranef (Bocchoris), the first-century CE Egyptian historian Chaeremon of Alexandria, and the first-century BCE Gallo-Roman historian Gnaeus Pompeius Trogus.[80] The first century CE Roman historian Tacitus includes a version of the story that claims that the Hebrews worshiped a donkey as their god in order to ridicule Egyptian religion, while the Roman biographer Plutarch claims that the Egyptian god Seth was expelled from Egypt and had two sons named Juda and Hierosolyma.[81]

It is possible that the stories represent a polemical Egyptian response to the Exodus narrative.[82] Egyptologist Jan Assmann proposes that the story comes from oral sources that "must [...] predate the first possible acquaintance of an Egyptian writer with the Hebrew Bible."[77] Assmann suggests that the story has no single origin but rather combines numerous historical experiences, notably the Amarna and Hyksos periods, into a folk memory.[83] There is general agreement that the stories originally had nothing to do with the Jews.[74] Erich S. Gruen suggests that it may have been the Jews themselves that inserted themselves into Manetho's narrative, in which various negative actions from the point of view of the Egyptians, such as desecrating temples, are interpreted positively.[84]

Cultural significance

A Seder table setting, commemorating the Passover and Exodus

The Exodus is invoked daily in Jewish prayers and celebrated each year at the feasts of Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot, the two being known respectively as "the time of our freedom" and "the time our Torah was given".[85] The two are closely linked, with Pesach announcing that the freedom it introduces is only fully realised with the giving of the law (the Torah).[85] A third Jewish festival, Sukkot, the Festival of Booths, is associated with the Israelites living in booths after they left their previous homes in Egypt.[85] The festivals now associated with the Exodus (Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot) began as agricultural and seasonal feasts but became completely subsumed into the central Exodus myth of Israel's deliverance from oppression at the hands of God.[85][86]The fringes worn at the corners of traditional Jewish prayer shawls are described as a physical reminder of the obligation to observe the laws given at the climax of Exodus: "Look at it and recall all the commandments of the Lord" (Numbers).[87]

A number of historical events and situations have been compared to the Exodus. Many early American settlers interpreted their flight from Europe to a new life in America as a new exodus. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin recommended for the Great Seal of the United States to depict Moses leading the Israelites across the Red Sea. African Americans suffering under slavery and racial oppression interpreted their situation in terms of the Exodus, making it a catalyst for social change.[88][89][90] South American Liberation theology also takes much inspiration from the Exodus.[12]

In Orthodox Judaism

Belief and observance of and in the Biblical Exodus are central to Rabbinic Judaism as expressed by the beliefs and practices of modern-day mainstream Orthodox Judaism, Haredi Judaism, Hasidic Judaism. Although it may be an unpopular view, but it is irrefutable that the Orthodox, Haredi, Hasidic mainstream regards the Exodus, called Yetzias Mitzrayim in Hebrew, as a key historical event in the development of Judaism and in Jewish history. From ancient Written Torah and Oral Torah sources to modern day websites run by mainstream Orthodox communal and educational organizations, the centrality and veracity of the Exodus cannot be stressed enough. As modern day examples, writing for Haredi Orthodox Aish HaTorah Rabbi Dr. Joshua Berman professor of Tanakh at Bar-Ilan University writes about the "Evidence for the Exodus."[91] Writing for the mainstream Orthodox Union Brad Aaronson writes about "When Was the Exodus?"[92]Modern Orthodox Dennis Prager writes about his "Faith in Exodus."[93] Notable Orthodox Judaism outreach organizations such as Arachim teach their students and online audiences about "The significance of the Exodus"[94] and likewise Ohr Somayach, Jerusalem has articles such as "Archeology & Exodus from Egypt."[95] and "The Ten Plagues - Live From Egypt."[96] Popular writer and Orthodox Jewish scholar Rabbi Yair Hoffman writes about "Exodus: History or Mythic Tale?"[97] Modern Orthodox Yeshiva University Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Yonason Sacks goes into lengthy detail about the obligation to tell over the story of the Exodus in "The Mitzvah of Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim."[98] The website of the Hasidic Chabad movement devotes much time to this topic such as "20 Exodus Facts Every Jew Should Know"[99] some of which are worth mentioning here for their universal acceptance among Hasidic and Haredi, as well as many mainstream Orthodox Jews:

  • The Jewish holiday of Passover celebrates the Exodus of the Jewish People from Egypt, in the year 2448 (1313 BCE).
  • The Egyptian Exile lasted 210 Years.
  • The Jewish People were slaves in Egypt for 116 Years.
  • Moses was the hero who made it all happen.
  • The Exodus happened on the 15th day of Nissan in the year 2448 of the Jewish Calendar (1313 BCE).
  • Passover is celebrated on the 15th of Nissan every year.
  • Many Egyptians left Egypt with the Israelites.
  • Shabbat also commemorates the Exodus.
  • The Israelites were commanded to eat Matzah before the Exodus happened.
  • Jews are commanded to remember the Exodus every day.
  • The Exodus represents our daily struggle to be freed from personal restraints.[100]

Passover and the Exodus

Among mainstream Orthodox, Haredi, Hasidic Jews, the Exodus is to them a key central historical event celebrated on Passover based on their literal reading of the Bible, Passover marks the Exodus of the Children of Israel from Egyptian slavery, when God "passed over" the houses of the Israelites during the last of the ten plagues. Orthodox Jews draw upon the teachings of the Talmud devoted to the events and observances of Passover and the Exodus as taught in tractate Pesachim.

Matzo as symbol of slavery at the Exodus

During the days of Passover, Orthodox Jews, and most religiously observant Jews eat Matzo because of its religious significance: There are numerous explanations behind the symbolism of matzo. One is historical: Passover is a commemoration of the exodus from Egypt. The biblical narrative relates that the Israelites left Egypt in such haste they could not wait for their bread dough to rise; the bread, when baked, was matzo. (Exodus 12:39). The other reason for eating matzo is symbolic: On the one hand, matzo symbolizes redemption and freedom, but it is also lechem oni, "poor man's bread". Thus it serves as a reminder to be humble, and to not forget what life was like in servitude. To separate this spiritual belief from its practical observance, faith and belief is incomprehensible for the religiously observant Jew.

Haggadah and relating the Exodus

The Passover Haggadah recited by virtually all religiously observant Jews has important sections about events at the time of the Exodus, such as in Magid: Relating the Exodus and the story of Passover, when the change from slavery to freedom is told and "this is the bread of affliction" is noted that "our [the Jews'] ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. All those who are hungry, let them enter and eat. All who are in need, let them come celebrate the Passover. Now we are here. Next year in the land of Israel. This year we are enslaved. Next year we will be free." So this too is Jewish belief, meaning religious practice and observance that accepts the veracity of the events as they happened as central to Orthodox belief and practice.

Sukkot after the Exodus

Sukkot commemorates the way the Children of Israel were "housed" following the Exodus. This Jewish holiday is intended, as stated in Leviticus, as a reminiscence of the type of fragile dwellings in which the Israelites dwelt during their 40 years of travel in the desert after the Exodus from slavery in Egypt. Religiously observant Jews take the Sukkah to literally mean and be what is described in the Book of Vayikra (Leviticus) as a symbolic wilderness shelter, commemorating the time God provided for the Israelites in the wilderness they inhabited after they were freed from slavery in Egypt. These are further examples of Jewish theology, meaning the Jewish religion, especially as strictly observed by mainstream Orthodoxy that enacts something they hold to be true. Orthodox Judaism draws upon the teachings of the Talmud in tractate Sukkah and its relevance to the holiday of Sukkot in the context of the Exodus.

Shavuot the apogee of the Exodus

On Passover, the people of Israel were freed from their enslavement to Pharaoh; on Shavuot, they were given the Torah and became a nation committed to serving God.[101]

Song of the Sea glorifies the Exodus and its results

The Song of the Sea (Hebrew: ? ‎, Shirat HaYam, also known as Az Yashir Moshe and Song of Moses, or Mi Chamocha) is a poem that appears in the Book of Exodus of the Hebrew Bible, at Exodus 15:1-18. It is followed in verses 20 and 21 by a much shorter song sung by Miriam and the other women. The Song of the Sea was reputedly sung by the Israelites after their crossing the Red Sea in safety, and celebrates the destruction of the Egyptian army during the crossing, and looks forward to the future conquest of Canaan. The poem is included in Jewish prayer books, and recited daily in the morning shacharit services.

Emet Veyatziv: Remembring the Exodus in prayers

There are various mentions of the Exodus in various important Jewish prayers, see Emet Veyatziv: Structure: "1 Emet Veyatziv is the first paragraph. The word emet (truth) is appended onto the Shema Yisrael, and veyatziv appears as the first word. 2 Al Harishonim is the second paragraph. It focuses on the truth of redemption. 3 Ezrat Avoteinu is the third paragraph, and is an elaboration on the Exodus from Egypt. 4 The blessing ends with the paragraph Mi Komokha, ending with the blessing Ga'al Yisrael (Who Redeemed Israel)". So this too is a case of theology held dear as a true belief of historical fact.

Kiddush: Memorial blessing recalling the Exodus

Jewish prayers and blessings often show the centrality of belief in the Exodus. For example in the Friday night (Shabbat) Kiddush (see also List of Jewish prayers and blessings: Shabbat) the one making the blessing loudly declares: "...Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who sanctified us with His commandments, and hoped for us, and with love and intent invested us with His sacred Sabbath, as a memorial to the deed of Creation. It is the first among the holy festivals, commemorating the exodus from Egypt. For You chose us, and sanctified us, out of all nations, and with love and intent You invested us with Your Holy Sabbath. Blessed are You, Adonai, Sanctifier of the Sabbath."

See also


  1. ^ The name "exodus" is from Greek exodos, "going out". For "myth" see Sparks, 2010, p. 73: "Charter (i.e., foundation) myths tell the story of a society's origins, and, in doing so, provide the ideological foundations for the culture and its institutions."[1]
  2. ^ A "store city" or "supply city" was a city used to store provisions and garrison an important campaign route.[13]. The Septuagint version includes a reference to a third "supply city" built by the Hebrews: " On, which is Heliopolis" (LXX Exodus 1:11, trans. Larry J. Perkins).
  3. ^ These magicians are referred to in the Hebrew text as ?artummîm, which derives from Ancient Egyptian ?rj-tp (Demotic p-hritob, Akkadian: ?ar-tibi) a title meaning "chief" and shortened from "chief lector priest".[14] The Pharaoh's magicians are able to replicate Moses and Aaron's actions until the third plague (gnats), when they are the first to recognize that a divine power is at work (Exodus 8:19). In plague four (festering boils), they themselves are afflicted and no longer contest with Moses and Aaron.[15]
  4. ^ Micah 6:4-5 ("I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery; I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam. My people, remember what Balak king of Moab plotted and what Balaam son of Beor answered. Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord") is a late addition to the original book. See ,[50]Miller II, Robert D. (25 November 2013). Illuminating Moses: A History of Reception from Exodus to the Renaissance. BRILL. p. 19. ISBN 978-90-04-25854-9., McDermott, John J. (2002). Reading the Pentateuch: A Historical Introduction. Paulist Press. p. 90. ISBN 978-0-8091-4082-4., McKenzie, Steven L. (15 September 2005). How to Read the Bible: History, Prophecy, Literature--Why Modern Readers Need to Know the Difference and What It Means for Faith Today. Oxford University Press. p. 78. ISBN 978-0-19-803655-5., Collins, John J. (15 April 2018). Introduction to the Hebrew Bible: Third Edition. Augsburg Fortress, Publishers. p. 354. ISBN 978-1-5064-4605-9. Many scholars assume that the appeal to the exodus here is the work of a Deuteronomistic editor, but this is not necessarily so. and Wolff, Hans Walter (1990). Micah: A Commentary. Augsburg. p. 23. ISBN 978-0-8066-2449-5. apud Hamborg, Graham R. (24 May 2012). Still Selling the Righteous: A Redaction-critical Investigation of Reasons for Judgment in Amos 2.6-16. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 156-157. ISBN 978-0-567-04860-8.
  5. ^ "[Hezekiah] broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it; it was called Nehushtan" (2 Kings 18:4).



  1. ^ a b c d e f Sparks 2010, p. 73.
  2. ^ a b c Redmount 2001, p. 59.
  3. ^ a b c Grabbe 2017, p. 36.
  4. ^ Meyers 2005, pp. 6-7.
  5. ^ Moore & Kelle 2011, p. 81.
  6. ^ a b c Faust 2015, p. 476.
  7. ^ a b c Redmount 2001, p. 87.
  8. ^ Romer 2008, p. 2.
  9. ^ a b Lemche 1985, p. 327.
  10. ^ Redmount 2001, p. 63.
  11. ^ Berlin & Brettler 2004.
  12. ^ a b Baden 2019, p. xiv.
  13. ^ Assmann 2018, p. 94.
  14. ^ Assmann 2018, p. 139.
  15. ^ a b Assmann 2018, pp. 139-142.
  16. ^ Redmount 2001, pp. 59-60.
  17. ^ a b c d Redmount 2001, p. 60.
  18. ^ Bandstra 2008, p. 28-29.
  19. ^ McKenzie 2000, p. 4-5.
  20. ^ Bandstra 2008, p. 146.
  21. ^ Davies 2004, p. 23-24.
  22. ^ Collins 2005, p. 46.
  23. ^ Grabbe 2014, pp. 63-64.
  24. ^ Dever 2003, pp. 15-17.
  25. ^ Grabbe 2017, p. 93.
  26. ^ Grabbe 2014, p. 69.
  27. ^ Barmash 2015b, pp. 2-3.
  28. ^ Grabbe 2014, pp. 65-67.
  29. ^ Dever 2003, pp. 18-19.
  30. ^ Finkelstein & Silberman 2001, p. 63.
  31. ^ Barmash 2015b, p. 4.
  32. ^ Shaw 2002, p. 313.
  33. ^ Meyers 2005, pp. 8-10.
  34. ^ Redmount 2001, p. 65.
  35. ^ Baden 2019, pp. 6-7.
  36. ^ Baden 2019, p. 7.
  37. ^ Dever 2003, p. 231.
  38. ^ Faust 2015, pp. 476-477.
  39. ^ Dever 2003, pp. 229-231.
  40. ^ a b Faust 2015, p. 477.
  41. ^ Redmount 2001, p. 78.
  42. ^ Redford 1992, pp. 412-413.
  43. ^ Redmount 2001, p. 77.
  44. ^ Na'aman 2011, pp. 62-69.
  45. ^ Russell 2009, pp. 11.
  46. ^ Grabbe 2014, p. 84.
  47. ^ Grabbe 2014, p. 85.
  48. ^ Davies 2015, p. 105.
  49. ^ Davies 2004, p. 25.
  50. ^ Lemche 1985, p. 315.
  51. ^ Russell 2009, p. 1.
  52. ^ a b Na'aman 2011, p. 40.
  53. ^ a b Assmann 2018, p. 50.
  54. ^ Barmash 2015b, pp. 10-12.
  55. ^ Russell 2009, p. 41.
  56. ^ Russell 2009, p. 55.
  57. ^ Russell 2009, pp. 41-43, 46-47.
  58. ^ Viviano 2019, pp. 46-47.
  59. ^ Barmash 2015b, p. 8-9.
  60. ^ Barmash 2015b, p. 9.
  61. ^ a b Bartusch 2003, p. 41.
  62. ^ Dijkstra 2006, p. 28.
  63. ^ Baden 2019, p. 9.
  64. ^ Baden 2019, p. 10.
  65. ^ Assmann 2018, p. 204.
  66. ^ Grabbe 2017, p. 49.
  67. ^ Dever 2001, p. 99.
  68. ^ Romer 2008, p. 2 and fn.3.
  69. ^ Ska 2006, pp. 217.
  70. ^ Ska 2006, pp. 218.
  71. ^ Eskenazi 2009, p. 86.
  72. ^ Ska 2006, pp. 226-227.
  73. ^ Ska 2006, p. 225.
  74. ^ a b c Droge 1996, p. 134.
  75. ^ Assmann 2009, pp. 29, 34-35.
  76. ^ Droge 1996, p. 131.
  77. ^ a b c Assmann 2009, p. 34.
  78. ^ Droge 1996, pp. 134-35.
  79. ^ Feldman 1998, p. 342.
  80. ^ Assmann 2009, p. 35.
  81. ^ Assmann 2009, p. 37.
  82. ^ Gmirkin 2006, p. 170.
  83. ^ Assmann 2003, p. 227.
  84. ^ Gruen 2016, pp. 218-220.
  85. ^ a b c d Tigay 2004, p. 106.
  86. ^ Nelson 2015, p. 43.
  87. ^ Sarason 2015, p. 53.
  88. ^ Tigay 2004, p. 107.
  89. ^ Assmann 2018, p. 335.
  90. ^ Coomber 2012, p. 123.
  91. ^ Berman, Joshua. "Evidence for the Exodus: Examining the historicity of the biblical exodus". Aish HaTorah. Retrieved 2020.
  92. ^ Aaronson, Brad. "When Was the Exodus?". Orthodox Union. Retrieved 2020.
  93. ^ Prager, Dennis. "Faith in Exodus". Jewish Journal. Retrieved 2020.
  94. ^ Arachim. "The significance of the Exodus". Arachim. Retrieved 2020.
  95. ^ Ohr Somayach. "Ask the Rabbi: Nile Denial: Archeology & Exodus from Egypt". Ohr Somayach. Retrieved 2020.
  96. ^ Becher, Mordechai. "The Ten Plagues - Live From Egypt". Ohr Somayach. Retrieved 2020.
  97. ^ Hoffman, Yair. "Exodus: History or Mythic Tale?: A biblical scholar reviews the historical claims of the biblical book of Exodus". My Jewish Learning. Retrieved 2020.
  98. ^ Sacks, Yonason. "The Mitzvah of Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim" (PDF). Yeshiva University. Retrieved 2020.
  99. ^ Gniwisch, Leibel. "20 Exodus Facts Every Jew Should Know". Retrieved 2020.
  100. ^ Gniwisch, Leibel. "20 Exodus Facts Every Jew Should Know". Retrieved 2020.
  101. ^ "What Is Shavuot (Shavuos)? - And How Is Shavuot Celebrated?".


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