In light of some Exodus talk, and some Christian commenters here defending its historicity, let’s look at the utter ridiculousness of the accounts found in the Bible. Here are some notes I use for my God on Trial talk.
The movement of the enslaved Hebrews out of Egypt with Moses (and Aaron) as their figureheads, and the plagues and resulting mayhem caused by both the plagues (including the Passover) and a crashing sea destroying an army, is well documented in the Bible.
My goal with this post is to show how this account, now part of our cultural baggage and memory, does not warrant being ring-fenced from critical analysis and lack of belief. It IS ridiculous, and warrants ridicule when seriously entertained as a reliable truth claim.
Let me set out the events of the Exodus account, as well as writing in red why I think the claim is entirely improbable:
- Jacob and his sons and their families moved to Egypt. They numbered 70. Remember this number! Jacob was father of Joseph (sold into slavery to Egypt and became second in command).
- The “sons of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly, and multiplied, and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them” – they started to populate Egypt with “Israelites”. [Even though that term is an anachronism since the nation did not exist yet]
- A new Pharaoh took up office and did not know Joseph (his brothers and all). [Is it likely that he would have NO knowledge of the second in command of his own country who single-handedly saved them from famine and who famously translated dreams as prophecies?]
- He saw all of these Israelites and got worried. Seemingly in one generation or so, they were THAT numerous that he said: “Behold, the people of the sons of Israel are more and mightier than we. Come, let us deal wisely with them, or else they will multiply and in the event of war, they will also join themselves to those who hate us, and fight against us and depart from the land.” [How quickly must they have reproduced? Something to which I will return later.]
- Thus the Egyptians enslaved all of these Israelites who were already numerous. Just like that. [How could you enslave an entire population of people who were already a threat to national security like that? There is absolutely no archaeological evidence or otherwise for such an enslavement. This biblical claim is the only evidence for such a huge event and its continued happening.]
- The Pharaoh dictated that all firstborn Hebrew children should be killed and thrown in the Nile. [Controlling populations would mean that actually killing off females is more sensible and effective!]
- Moses is born and for 8 months his mother conceals him before sending him down the river for the Pharaoh’s daughter to find him and bring him up in secret. [This part of the Bible was written when the Israelites were in Babylonian Exile and the probability is that they stile stories off their captors and surrounding cultures. This story is a re-telling of the earlier birth story of King Sargon of Akkad, a Sumerian king who was the illegitimate son of a priestess. She brought him forth in secret and placed him in a basket of reeds on the river. He was found by Akki the irrigator who raised him as his own son. This is defended by the mention of a pitch basket in both stories – pitch was not available in Egypt at the time of Moses, but was in Sumeria. Also similar to Osiris’ birth.]
- Moses murders a man and runs away; talks to a burning bush; has his son’s foreskin cut off and touched to his feet or genitals – this is because God was going to kill Moses and his wife suddenly cuts off their son’s foreskin and touches it to his feet and thus saves Moses. [This story is no doubt weirder when read as an adult. Does it sound like the actions of an all-loving and powerful God?]
- Moses returns to Egypt and does some magic tricks (taught to him by a bush), and with the help of his much better public speaker brother Aaron, tells the Pharaoh to let his people go. [This includes the Pharaoh’s magicians matching every magic trick for a time. Thus pagans could actually do magic, according to the Bible – unless God just made them able to do this in order to set up the whole mess.]
- God hardens Pharaoh’s heart. [The only way to understand this claim is 1) The Pharaoh would not have said no, would have said yes, and so God changes his mind so that he can then punish all of Egypt for the Pharaoh’s wicked denial; or 2) God was not sure whether Pharaoh would say yes or no, so God makes sure of him saying no. Therefore, God is not omniscient. God is either evil or not omniscient and evil. He sets up the whole situation SO THAT he could punish Egypt.]
- All the plagues come:
- The Nile turns to blood
- Gnats or lice
- Diseased livestock
- Boils on man and beast
- Thunder and hail
- Death of the firstborn of all people and beasts
- [These plagues are not the work of an all-loving God, especially when see as being a consequence of something God made happen. This punishes not just the entire nation of a country, many who would not even have know who Moses was, as well as every head of livestock. What have THEY done to deserve this??]
- The Israelites mark their own doors as a symbol to the angels of death to Passover their houses so that only Egyptian firstborns die. [God is obviously not omniscient since he does not know where certain people live, and needs symbols so as not to accidentally kill the wrong people.]
- Pharaoh allows Moses to get out of Egypt quickly. [Evidence of the Pharaoh exercising his own will, freely.]
- This is the little know, oft swept-over event. God softens the Egyptians to the Israelites so that his chosen ones can plunder and loot the Egyptian families – Now the sons of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, for they had requested from the Egyptians articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing; and the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have their request. Thus they plundered the Egyptians. [Holy Cow! As if the 10 plagues aren’t enough, God again messes with free will and allows the Egyptians to have all their possessions nicked!]
- 430 years since the day they came to Egypt, the Hebrews / Israelites break free and run off. All 600,000 men armed for battle. And on top of that women, children and livestock. [Remember, 70 people originally have now come to probably something near 2 million. This birth rate is pretty much impossible in any realistic sense. This is a mass exodus. If there was this many of them, how could they not overthrow their captors anyway?]
- They took Joseph’s bones with them. [They had time to do some grave-robbing but somehow did not have time to leaven some bread. Go figure.]
- Whilst the Israelites are in the desert, God hardens the Pharaoh’s heart AGAIN, so that he chases them with his army. [Free will again foiled with huge consequences. God has again set up a scenario where thousands upon thousands would end up dying, not because Pharaoh was bad, but because God MADE him bad, or choose in such a way.]
- The Pharaoh’s army is sent against him. In capturing or killing 2 million people, this army has to be massive. They get destroyed by the sea (Red or Reed). [There is no evidence of this in Egyptian artwork, archaeology or anything. Nothing at all.]
- Some 2 million people are able to wander around the desert for 40 years without finding their way out, and without starving or dying of thirst. [Er, wow. Ok, so not only are these people the worst geographers of all time, but they can also survive amazingly in the desert. I suppose they had manna… Not only this, but there is absolutely no archaeological evidence for this happening. To compound matters for historicity, there is archaeological evidence for contemporary Bedouin tribes. So nothing from 2 million itinerant travellers, and yet evidence of small tribes in tents… If you lined up all of the people in single file, they would stretch the length of the desert…]
- They came out of the Sinai Peninsula to take over cities and take their homeland away from the Canaanites. Which was nice. [Little to absolutely no evidence of this.]
As you can see from my comments, the probability that this actually happened as described, or even at all, is so remotely small as to be laughable.